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Title: Menotah - A Tale of the Riel Rebellion
Author: Trevena, John, 1870-
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 "Menotah - A Tale of the Riel Rebellion" ***

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MENOTAH

A Tale of the Riel Rebellion

By

ERNEST G. HENHAM


LONDON

HUTCHINSON & CO


MDCCCXCVII



CONTENTS


  Part I--THE HEART'S JOY


  CHAPTER I--THE FOREST
  CHAPTER II--MENOTAH--HEART THAT KNOWS NOT SORROW
  CHAPTER III--THE BUDDING OF A PASSION
  CHAPTER IV--THE FORT
  CHAPTER V--THE FIGHT
  CHAPTER VI--THE BREAKING OF THE DAWN


  Part II--THE HEART'S GRIEF


  CHAPTER I--THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
  CHAPTER II--THE COMING OF DAVE
  CHAPTER III--THE RIVALS
  CHAPTER IV--WHITE WINS
  CHAPTER V--PACTOLUS
  CHAPTER VI--DENTON'S DESCENT
  CHAPTER VII--AN INCIDENT
  CHAPTER VIII--THE PIERIAN SPRING
  CHAPTER IX--THE LAUGH THAT DIED


  Part III--THE HEART'S PEACE


  CHAPTER I--LAMONT
  CHAPTER II--THE LIFE-OBJECT
  CHAPTER III--RESURRECTION
  CHAPTER IV--CHARACTER
  CHAPTER V--THE DEAD HEART
  CHAPTER VI--DURING THE DAY
  CHAPTER VII--DISCOVERY
  CHAPTER VIII--RETRIBUTION
  CHAPTER IX--DARKNESS
  CHAPTER X--McAULIFFE'S RESOLUTION
  CHAPTER XI--THE HEART'S PEACE



PREFATORY NOTE


In the following story of the Canadian North-West Rebellion, Louis
Riel--leader of a hopeless enterprise--has not been introduced as an
active character. He was himself so colourless, so commonplace, that a
true picture must have been uninteresting, while a fictitious drawing
would have been unsatisfactory and out of place with the plan of this
story. He was much like his brother, who lives to-day on an
unpretentious farm in the Red River Valley, dull-witted, heavy-featured
and obtuse--in fact, a French half-breed of the ordinary stamp.

So the plot of this work tends more towards the study of passion, and
dwells upon what was undoubtedly one of the principal reasons for the
revolt, viz., the unscrupulous treatment of the Indian women by the
white invaders. The 'Governor and Company of Adventurers of England
trading into Hudson's Bay,' generally and more commonly known by the
simpler title of the 'Hudson's Bay Company,' had well paved the way for
this miserable laxity in matters of morality.

The mighty shadow which looms behind this tale of the Rebellion is that
of the loyal Archbishop Taché. He it was, though the fact has not been
recognised generally, who, almost unaided, crushed the rising spirit of
independence in half-breeds and Indians, and brought the insurrection to
a close. Surely it is not too late to do justice to the memory of this
truly unselfish prelate.

The writer was present in the riverside town of St Boniface on a certain
still evening during the August of 1894. There all the houses, and even
the trees that lined the streets, were heavily draped in black; men and
women passed slowly with heads uncovered and attitude of grief; it was
as though each had lost his or her nearest and dearest relative. There
was not a sound along that little town of mourning.

For the Archbishop lay dead in the Cathedral. Later, when the sun was
setting over this place of universal grief, the writer came within the
dark building, crept up a winding stairway, to find himself confronted
suddenly by a singularly solemn spectacle. Before the altar, robed in
full pontificals, sat in State the dead Archbishop, while lamps
flickered solemnly, and muttered intercessions arose from the trembling
lips of a ring of kneeling priests.

This strange silence, broken only by the whisperings, or occasional deep
gasps of breath; the feeble glimmerings of lights along the rapidly
darkening scene; the presence of the mighty dead still presiding in the
second Cathedral that his efforts had raised[1]--all this made up a
spectacle dramatically impressive, and one not readily to be forgotten.

The writer came at length to the side of the dead prelate, and bent to
reverently kiss the cold gloved hand of the mighty dead. Then he
departed, with a silent resolve to do such justice as he could to the
memory of this beloved Father and Pastor, who had worked so nobly for
the welfare of the country of his adoption.

Menotah's story is a sad one, yet, for purposes of truth, not sad
enough. The colours might well be painted with a far darker brush, but
the book would then probably be deemed too ghastly and too realistic.
The steady march of civilisation is pushing farther north each year,
while Menotah's history is repeated daily. The only thing which can free
that wonderful land from the vice and oppression of its masters is the
building of the Hudson's Bay Railway. About forty miles of the track
(from Winnipeg to St Laurent on Lake Manitoba) have been constructed,
but the rails lie rotting in the prairie grass. This line would open up
a country of boundless timber and mineral resources, and might well
create many a fresh industry.

The characters in this work are for the most part actual life studies.
None are overdrawn, not even Peter Denton, least of all McAuliffe.

The local colour is simply so much word photography. The particular fort
on the Great Saskatchewan has been described with absolute accuracy of
detail. The river pool (Chap. II.) is there; also the island in
mid-stream, where the fight actually occurred; the great rapids, the oil
swamp, the log wharf--all are there. In fact, description and dialogue
has entailed upon the writer rather an effort of memory than any strain
upon the imagination.


[1] The first Cathedral was destroyed by fire immediately after
completion, when all the parish records were destroyed.



PART I

THE HEART'S JOY


MENOTAH:

A Tale of the Riel Rebellion



CHAPTER I

THE FOREST


'There will be full moon to-night, and a south wind. Then the evil one
will steal from the marshes. For there will be war and fire. War and
Fire!'

Within that deep green shade of the forest, amidst the picturesque
sweepings of the foliage, the heat rays of the sun could scarcely be
felt, for odorous firs overspread their thick tresses above. Here, in
this strange, peaceful retreat, active squirrels leapt with mathematical
accuracy from bough to bough; mosquito hawks, in their green and gold
glories, cut through the slanting beams of light with a sharp hissing of
wings; erratic locusts, on a lower plane, hurled their aimless bodies
clumsily into space, falling wherever destiny might direct.

The speaker remained invisible, while the lingering sounds of the joyous
voice died slowly away. A young man, who heard the sudden cry from the
heart of the surrounding silence, started and listened eagerly for an
approaching footstep, which came not. Only the happy echo broke upon the
calm in a full tide of harmony; this merged into a half gasp of musical
laughter; then came peace again as the last vibration settled into
silence.

The listener wondered, then became interested. There had been no flaw in
the musical cadence of that cry. The fiery utterance--bearing a latent
warning--proceeded surely from the heart of one who found life a time of
joy, who gloried in the exultation of overflowing vitality, who was also
intoxicated by an over-gift of health. This passing sound, like the
flitting shadow cast by an invisible presence, contained a message of
youth's hot passion, of a self-conscious rapture of beauty. Those words
fell from the lips of one who had made no acquaintance with sorrow.

The expectant, yet disappointed, listener shifted the rifle to his
shoulder and rubbed his hands, which were hot and moist, upon a bunch of
flowering moss. He seemed uneasy, if his feelings might be judged by the
anxious attention he gave to each slight movement in the adjoining bush.
But after a period of waiting he drew himself up, inclined his head
forward, and listened attentively. Then he nodded and smiled in
self-satisfied manner, listened again, and finally began to work his way
through the thick undergrowth with the subtle motions of the practised
bushman. Perhaps a rippling echo of that musical voice had travelled
faintly down the wind and touched his ear.

He disappeared, while the boundless forest of the Great Saskatchewan
whispered drearily beneath the soft-stirring breeze of evening.

Lonely, somewhat wild, yet certainly there was a rough grandeur in this
particular arrangement of nature's handiwork; a stern beauty, which must
have fascinated the hunter; a wonderful blending of colours, which would
have caused the heart of the painter to despair. Paths, in the ordinary
sense of the term, were there none, though a sinuous, barely defined
trail, where mocassined feet passed occasionally, writhed dimly away
here and thee. The venturesome explorer who plunged into these unknown
recesses chose out his own particular route, fought a way through the
entanglement of undergrowth, while none might ever follow in his
footsteps.

Tangled masses and bewildering festoons of drooping boughs, tinted to
many a different shade of green; black and grey rocks; red sand
stretches, surmounted by wire grass or huge ant-hills; octopus-like
bushes, thorn-protected and thickly covered with red berries. Such were
the principal objects of distinction beneath a solemn green canopy,
which spread like some threatening cloud overhead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crack!

Wild echoes fled shrieking through the forest, while a pale mist of blue
smoke rose, flouted upward fantastically, curled and lengthened--then
finally melted.

Just before that sharp, whip-like report had cut the air, a splendid
buck deer sprang from the thick of the sweeping branches out into the
open. Away it bounded, with the ease and certainty of a well-aimed
arrow, over a ridge of splintered rocks. Away--across to the opposite
shadows, where lay shelter and life.

But then the weapon screamed death, and spat the bullet forth.

While still in the air, the graceful creature's body stiffened, as
though each muscle had been thrilled and stretched by an electric
current. The nimble feet touched the ground, but not now to dart away in
fresh flight. The deer tottered forward, because the impulse to seek
shelter was a dying passion, but the slender legs gave way. After
staggering blindly, it fell to its knees; then, after swaying backwards
and forwards with pitiful gasping, it finally rolled over upon the moss
bed with a groan, while warm blood trickled cruelly over the short soft
fur.

'Good shot, Winton! You took him fine, boy.'

Then two men stepped from the bushes. The one, who thus spoke his
opinion of the other's aim, was an elderly man, thin and dark featured.
His somewhat sallow face was decorated by nature with a grizzled beard,
while more than an occasional grey hair might have been observed beneath
the rim of his felt hat. Extremely dark eyes and heavy mouth revealed
the fact of Indian ancestry.

His companion, scarcely more than a boy, was unmistakably English. The
breeze stirred his fair hair at an altitude of over six feet above
ground; age could not claim from him more than twenty-one years.

'Shot a bit too far back, though,' continued Sinclair the hunter. 'Don't
say it wasn't difficult to kill from your position, and you took him on
the jump.'

'Dead, isn't it?' said Winton, blowing down his rifle barrel.

The hunter laughed. 'No, sir. Get over there with your knife, and finish
him. Don't leave the poor brute to bleed and sob himself to death.'

The other slung the rifle to his shoulder, drew a long hunting knife,
then made across the open space. He knelt by the side of the panting
creature, wound his fingers round a branching antler, and pulled the
head round to inflict the _coup de grâce_.

Sinclair leaned up against a rock, his arms folded, a smug smile
gradually widening across his features.

'You shouldn't mutilate,' he called out carelessly. 'Shoot to kill
outright--specially deer. It's bad policy to only wound a buck.' Then he
chuckled as he perceived the statuesque position of his companion.

With a necessary hardening of the heart--for the stabbing of a deer in
cold blood makes the man of refinement feel strangely a murderer--Winton
raised his knife and prepared to cut across the long veins swelling at
the side of the palpitating neck. The blade descended, his grasp
tightened, the steel flashed down--when suddenly the graceful creature
lifted its head with a dying effort, and gazed with great, suffering
eyes full into his face. It was then that the young man paused, while
the dry chuckle broke out behind.

For in that seemingly unequal contest the animal won. All strength fled
from the murdering hand when its owner beheld those dark fixed eyes of
his piteous victim. They were large and luminous, while tear drops of
pain trickled along and blackened the surrounding fur. The small black
nostrils quivered pitifully in death gaspings. A heartbroken torture
overspread the face, which reproached him for the cruel deed of his
hand.

A minute later the knife fell unused to the ground. A sickening
revulsion of feeling followed, sweeping over him with overpowering
force, combined with weariness and a hatred of life. His eyes could not
alter the direction of their gaze, for they were held and fascinated by
that dark, reproachful glance, as a bird is rendered helpless by the
snake.

'Got it,' muttered Sinclair. 'Got it bad. But it will be good for the
boy.'

That strange malady, the deer fever, had a firm hold upon Winton. His
entire body became seized with violent ague. He trembled with cold,
though conscious at the same time that his hands and feet were burning.
His quick breath stabbed him with hot gasps. Moisture broke out on his
forehead as a horrible vision presented itself to the imagination. He
himself was the victim, while the conqueror lay before him. His only
chance for life lay in immediate flight, but his feet were chained
together and fastened to the ground. He must therefore remain and die.

'It's what I looked for,' muttered Sinclair into his beard. Then he came
forward across the open space, and picked up the knife.

As he bent over the deer, and as the animal resigned its life with a
deep sob, the man in the trance revived and gazed blankly, first at the
dead creature stretched beside him, then at the grinning face of his
companion.

'What in the devil's name have you been up to, Sinclair?' he said
stupidly.

'Up to, eh?' remarked the hunter slowly, with evident enjoyment, as he
wiped the knife. 'What are you doing anyhow, lying around there half
asleep? Good sort of buck killer you are!'

The young man pulled himself up. 'You've been fooling.'

'I'm a clever chap, then. Reckon I could knock you over in that shape?
Well, well, to think of a strong young fellow like you being beaten by a
harmless sort of half dead beast.'

'You don't say it was the deer?' asked the young man, still dazed.

The hunter laughed. 'That's what. You had the fever, and as strong as
I've ever seen it take a man.'

'Well--that beats all,' said Winton, hanging on each syllable.

'Told you it wasn't well to wound and not kill. Guess you won't fix
another for quite a time.'

'How's that? Lots of them around, aren't there?'

'I reckon,' said the other drily. 'Question is whether you'll be able to
shoot when you sight one. It'll worry you a bit. I'm thinking.'

Winton stretched his long limbs. 'It takes me all my time to understand
this. Course I've heard of the fever--lots of times, but I didn't put
much on hunters' talk--'

'And now you've had it.'

'It doesn't last, though?'

'Won't with you, I reckon. I've known some taken with it when they
weren't any better than boys, and as they got older it didn't show any
wearing off. Whenever they'd start to shoot at a deer, the fever would
come up as bad as ever.'

'But it doesn't happen to everyone?'

'I guess it's the exception. I've never had it. Some say it's no bad
sign when a young fellow gets knocked over with it. For it's generally
men that are good shots who get bothered with the fever. Another
thing--if a fellow goes to knife the beast with any sort of pity--you
had, I know, for I watched you close--he's gone. You're feeling right
again, eh?'

The other assented. 'It goes off as quickly as it comes on, anyhow.'

'And leaves a man none the worse,' added the hunter. Then he hastened to
change the subject, as he noticed the gradual blackening of the
surrounding shadows.

'See here, Winton, it's getting sort of late. Alf will be bothering, if
we're not back by dark. Suppose you wait here, while I make tracks for
the horses?'

'There's an hour of daylight yet,' said Winton. 'Let's sit down for a
smoke. There's lot of time.'

Sinclair glanced round a little uneasily. 'Make it half a pipeful, and I
don't mind joining you. I'm sort of hungry for a bit of plug. But, I
tell you straight, I'm not wanting to hang around here long after
sunset.'

Winton chuckled. 'My turn now,' he said. 'It's my laugh on you. Why,
you're a regular old woman to-day, Sinclair. What's the racket now?'

The hunter bit at his moustache. 'Well, it's this way--I'm a little
scared of the _nitchies_.'

'Pshaw! That's about the tenth time to-day you've shammed fright. Don't
see why we should want to bother, just because the breeds 'way down
south are painting their faces and making alarming fools of themselves.
What's wrong with your courage, Sinclair?'

'That's all right,' said the other sullenly; then paused, while a dim
blue flame shot upward from his pipe. He seated himself on the white
moss near his companion, then placed a hand upon his knee. 'Tell you,
Winton, this rebellion in the Territories is going to be something worth
jotting down in a book of history.'

'Don't think much of it,' said the other contemptuously.

'That's because you don't know the people. I do, because I'm descended
from them in a way myself. And I know Riel. Have seen him, spoken to
him, more than that--I've fought with him knife to knife before to-day.
Nothing's going to stop him, except a chance bullet, or the few yards of
rope your countrymen are fond of allowing any poor devil who tries to
get the better of them. Give me a match.'

Winton complied, while the hunter continued, 'You don't think much of
the rebellion, eh? Still there's a pretty thick crowd of half crazy
Indians and breeds. Darn me if I know what the opposition consists of.'

'Well, I do,' put in Winton. 'What's the matter with the militia and the
police? They're good enough for you.'

'Yes, they're first-class bullet stoppers. Fine, targets, with their red
coats, for the boys to drive their bullets into. Pshaw! The soldiers
can't begin to save the country. I've not a bit of use for the farmers
and settlers. But I allow it can be done, Winton. There's one man--a
single man, with an almighty lot of power, who can swamp up the whole
rebellion as I'd swallow a dram of whisky. Question is whether he'll do
it.'

'Who are you talking of? Not General--'

'Pshaw! Not that sneaking coward. The man I'm thinking on is general of
the Church, not the army. I reckon, Winton, that Archbishop Taché is the
only one who can put a stopper to this rising. What?'

'Well, if that's so, Sinclair, what's it got to do with us 'way up
here?'

The hunter pulled strongly at his pipe, then spat violently on the moss.
'You don't see it, eh? I'll show you, then. I'm as darned sure as though
he'd told me himself that Riel means to stamp the whole crowd of whites
clean out of the land. Course he can't be around every place himself, so
he just sends round messages all over this country.'

'Telling the tribes to rise?'

'And clean out the whites in their district. They're bound to obey, for
they look upon Riel as a sort of nickle-plate god. Besides, they're
scared of his vengeance if they refuse and he comes off victorious.
They're all dead sure he can't be beaten anyhow.'

'You think we shall have some sport round here?' asked Winton, lazily.

'I don't know anything for certain; but it's likely enough.'

'I don't think so. The _nitchies_ around here are not well armed. We
should be able to beat them off easily enough if they did attack the
fort. Your pipe's gone out.'

Sinclair leaned forward. 'Give me a match.' Then he continued in a
changed tone, 'You wouldn't talk like that if you knew everything. You
only see Riel. You don't know a darned thing about anything
behind--who's stirring him up, who's supplying the brains to run this
rebellion, and all the rest of it. I tell you, I know more than any man
living, and when the time comes--by God, I'll use my knowledge.'

He drew the match savagely along his breeches, and relighted his pipe.

'You're a lot safer up here than you'd be down in Manitoba.'

'I'd like to be back,' said the hunter; 'and I'm going by next boat,
whether the hunting's good or bad. I'd no right to leave the wife and
children in these bad times. How can I tell what's going on while I'm
away up here? If they were all dead and planted, I'd be none the wiser.'

Winton stretched himself, accompanying the action with a subdued laugh.

'You're a terrible croaker, Sinclair. Why don't you look on the bright
side? It's just as easy, and a lot pleasanter.'

The old hunter rose. 'Don't know how it is, Winton, but I feel sort of
low-spirited just now.'

'That's something new. What's wrong?'

'Uneasy, I guess. Well, I'm off. It'll be dark presently.'

He picked up his rifle and prepared to move. 'I've no use for fooling
around in the forest at this time. It isn't healthy. There's too much
mischief drifting up, and a fellow never knows when it's going to break.
You'll wait here till I'm up with the horses, eh?'

'I'll watch the meat and finish my smoke.'

'That's it. Guess you know which way to steer for the fort, eh? Make
north-west till you come to the big fir that the _nitchies_ call the
death tree. You can just catch the top of the flagstaff from there, if
you get up before the light goes out.'

'I know,' said Winton, quietly. 'But what are you telling me for?'

'So as you'd be all right if we got parted. Wouldn't do for you to get
lost in the forest if anything happened to me.'

'What in the devil's likely to happen?'

'Nothing, I reckon. Still, it's good to keep on the right side. Well,
don't fall asleep over your smoke; keep the rifle handy.' The next
minute his spare figure disappeared amongst the bushes.

Left to himself, Winton pulled at his pipe and reflected upon the words
of his late companion.

On ordinary occasions the old hunter was never accustomed to suffer from
any such lack of courage, therefore his parting words became the more
significant. Then there was another thing to remember: Sinclair, himself
of mixed blood, understood the native character thoroughly. On his own
confession, he possessed more knowledge--and that of a secret
nature--than most, so after all it might be advisable to attend to his
warning.

Winton settled his broad back firmly against a tree trunk, and
reflected. For a small quarter of an hour he was left to himself in the
dreary forest, at a time most productive of sentimental thought--when
light was gradually merging into night. This was a solemn time, when a
man was induced to think by the nature of his surroundings, and half
unconsciously review the action of a past.

This young man was, without being aware of it, a type of civilization.
He had not much to look back upon. Merely a schoolboy career, in which
he had won a reputation of being the finest athlete and the most
unprincipled character of his time; a year at Oxford, productive of more
laurels, combined with disgrace for many a daring escapade; then the
crowning act of foolishness, the expulsion, a hurried flight abroad,
because he dared not face the wrath of parents, or the sad reproach of a
pretty, petted sister; lastly the burying of his identity in a strange
land.

There were many such characters in the country. At home they were
considered superfluous beings of uselessness. Here they were the
foundation of a new society, the pioneers of an incoming tide of
civilization. Such men--not the stay-at-home successes of the
schools--have often turned the wavering balance to their country's
profit in such a world's crisis as a Waterloo, a Trafalgar. That
recklessness, that daring--once labelled as viciousness by scholastic
guardians--then become England's glory and shield at time of need.

Somewhere in the neighbouring bush a twig snapped with a sharp, dry
sound. Winston glanced round quickly, while the fingers of his right
hand closed mechanically round the rifle as he remembered Sinclair's
warning. But no other sound reached his ears, while nothing unusual
appeared before his eyes.

He began to wonder whether Sinclair's fear had communicated itself to
him. This weakness was excusable, for the forest was growing very
dark--lonely it always was--and full of strange sounds. Solitude works
strangely upon the imagination.

His hand released the rifle, and roamed idly along the ground. Presently
fingers came in contact with certain matter, which was thick and sticky
to the touch. With a slight shudder he withdrew the hand, and when his
eyes fell upon the red fingers he involuntarily uttered a sharp cry of
astonishment and fear--but the next instant he laughed.

He had forgotten the dead animal, which lay stiffening at his side.

'Lucky old Sinclair isn't here,' he muttered. 'It would be his turn to
have the smile.'

He wiped his red fingers upon the white moss, then began to pace up and
down, listening anxiously for the tramp of horses, or cheery cry of his
returning companion.

The minutes fled past in silence. The sun had fallen beneath the black
tree line, which fringed the northern shore of the Saskatchewan.
Glistening dew was settling softly, while a shadowy presence of evening
stirred along the forest.

Winton grasped a bunch of foliage; the leaves were cold and slimy to the
touch. 'Past the quarter hour. The horses must have strayed, so, like a
fool, he's gone after them. I'll give him ten minutes more. If he isn't
here then, I shall make tracks before the darkness gets any thicker.'

Ah! That sound was no work of the imagination.

He wheeled round sharply, with ready rifle to his shoulder. The sharp
rustling of parting bushes brought the heart to his mouth. But he saw
nothing.

Then a branch waved ominously, and he felt it was not caused by the
wind. He strained his eyes to pierce the gloom which surrounded the mass
of interlacing boughs.

Surely that was a dusky face of one who had sworn destruction to his
race. Fierce eyes of hatred were glaring upon him; a mouth was set in
thin line of determination; hands were raised, perhaps preparing to
point a heavily charged muzzle-loader; he was the object of that aim.

Sinclair's words came back, as he sprang aside in a bath of fear. His
one idea just then was immediate escape. Once he slipped in the
thickening blood, then reached the bushes opposite. Once behind the
thick leafy screen, he would be safe for the time.

But, as the clammy leaves swept upon his face, there was a loud,
vibrating report.

For a second, the darkness round his head surged in a red glow. That
Indian face had been no work of the imagination. The echoes thrilled
through his head; a fearful stab, like a hot breath, glowed along his
body.

He was shot. The charge had passed through his chest, and the blood was
trickling forth sluggishly.

The wound might not be mortal. So he staggered forward, every moment
dreading the shock of a second report. He clutched at a branch, which
swayed up and down restlessly. His heart was beating furiously, his
brain was burning, yet he seemed to grow no weaker. Then, with equal
suddenness, there came to his ears, from the surrounding bush, the
gasping cry--the voice of a man in pain, followed by the stamp of
strong, hurrying hoofs.

He knew that the cry had been uttered by his hunter friend.

This brought him back to reason. So he was not shot after all; _but
Sinclair was_. It would be his turn now. The dark enemies were closing
round him to complete their work. There was still beating in his ears
the horrible, dull sound of a shot body crashing through small bushes
towards the ground of which it was then part.

Should he go back in the direction of that sound? What help could he
hope to render a corpse? Besides, the whole bush was alive with
threatening voices and vengeful faces. There was hostile movement
everywhere along the dark, awful forest.

Then these noises increased tenfold and rose louder. A panting, mad
struggling, a furious crashing, with sparks shooting upward from rugged
stones, bridle reins flying and catching, while before sped a mist of
smoky breath. Such was the vision of the grey monster, which loomed
suddenly from the darkness and stumbled heavily almost at his feet.

It was the grey mare he had ridden that day. But where was the dark
horse, and where was Sinclair? Dead, and in that death lay the most
convincing proof of the truth of the last word he had spoken.

Goaded by fear and the desperation of the moment, he had sprung forward.
He was mounted, and dashing furiously through the forest, ignorant of
direction, feeling only the great and terrible fear of the pursued.
Branches cut and bruised his face; small twigs bent and lashed him
angrily; the night wind hissed with menace upon his ears; while behind,
around, in front, the great forest shrieked and raved.

Onward crashed the horse, the white breath streaming away, the flecks of
foam dashing to each side. He bent down and shrank together, his single
idea being to present as small a target as possible. Every second he
expected to hear the crash of muzzle-loaders, to hear the screech of
shot, to feel the sharp sting of lead in his back.

Still on, heading he knew not where in that terrible fright. Sparkling
dew dashed off the leaves; long bushes streamed past his legs; red
sparks shot madly upward from the iron-black rocks beneath.



CHAPTER II

MENOTAH--HEART THAT KNOWS NOT SORROW


Ne-ha-hah! Drip, flash, gurgle. Down from rock to rock--splash,
tinkle--soft, softer, with a long, peaceful swirl of bubbles, as the
lone rushes by the bank shivered again. With a gleam beneath a dancing
ray of sunlight, with a beauty spot of white foam here and there.
Min-ne-ha-hah! Splash, drip-drip--splash! Then a quickening run of black
and silver bars, a long, golden line of light--with a bright singing
voice, and with a peal of music like the chime of distant bells.
Ne-ha-hah!

The place of the laughing waters. Here the sun quivered for colour
music, while wind and water met and kissed with the whispering caress of
an ever endless song. First came the wind, with deep, long sigh through
the bushes, then the sunlight. After this overture, one might listen to
the melody of the waters.

'Ne-pink, ink-ink-ah. Min-ne-sot-ah-hah. Ha-hah-ne-ah-ah! Ne-ha-hah-ah!
Pink-ink-ink. Ne-pink. Ne-ah. Nepink-ah-hah. Min-ha! Ne-ah-ink-ink.
Min-ne-ha-ink-ink! Ne-sot-ah! So-tah. So-tah-ha-hah-ah! Min-ne-ha.
Pink-ink-ink. Ne-ah! Pink-ink-ink. Ne-ha! Ne-hah! Ne-ha! Ne-sot-ah!
Ne-ha-hah-ha! Ne-ha-hah! Ah! Hah!'

Then the wind swelled louder for the great wordless opera. The sunrays
grew whiter and stronger to light up the great rugged stage of Nature.

There was a mighty slab of black rock, which the waves lapped
listlessly, at one side of the river pool. This appeared to shoot
straight from the heart of the forest--part bathed by the water, part
shielded and hidden by a tangle of bushes. To a pendulous branch,
projecting over the black stone, had been attached a coloured streamer
of cloth, which rose and fell gaily with the wind, like the guiding beat
of a conductor's bâton.

Then the voice of Nature was broken into, yet not disturbed, again. A
clear, thrilling cry came from the forest, the careless, happy cry of a
young life.

'There will be full moon to-night, and a south wind. Then the evil one
will steal from the marshes, for there will be war and fire. War and
Fire!'

That same voice again, but now the speaker was nearer and approaching.
In such a place, at such a time, it might almost have been Wasayap on
her way to meet the Heelhi-Manitou at the Passing Place of the Spirits.

The music of the waters swelled a little higher into a louder, purer
burst of melody. The departing sun streamed slantingly across the so-far
empty stage, where a few white grass stems shivered.

'Min-ne-ha! Pink-ink-ink. Ne-ha! Min-ne-ha. Ne-ha! Ne-hah! Ne-ha!
Ne-sot-ah! Ne-ha-hah-ha! Ne-ha-hah! Ne-ha! Ah! Hah!'

The clinging bushes hung around and above without motion. Suddenly they
parted, with quick swish and rapid rustling of leaves, and the next
moment appeared a wonderful vision.

'Men-ha! Ot-ah! Me-e-e-e-ot-ah. Ah-ha! Ha-hah-ha-ah! Me-ot-hah. Ot-ah!
Ah-ah-ah! Ot-ah! Ot-ah! Ah-hah! Men-ot-ah! Ot-ah! Menotah!'

With a noisy, petulant fluttering of foliage the bushes sprang back to
their former position. The vision finally resolved itself into human
form and shape, as it sprang down to the rock with the agile bound of a
young deer. Then the waters smiled into the laughing face of a young and
lovely girl.

With a soft, gurgling laughter, suggestive of sheer happiness and
exuberance of life, she deftly balanced her dainty body upon one tiny
foot, then, with quick clutch, snatched at and captured the overhanging
bough, which bent itself barely within reach of her hand. When she had
pulled this to a level with her forehead, she swung herself airily
backwards and forwards, her feet softly caressing the hard rock with the
beating motions of a gentle dance.

She had thrown her head well back, and thus revealed the delicate
moulding of her velvet neck; her long hair was rippling unbound along
the bright rays of intermittent sunshine; the liquid song-notes of a
native ditty trilled from her red, smiling lips.

She was admirable; she was perfect; she was adorable.

Her skin was dark, yet by no means swarthy. Soft and delicate in its
purity, she resembled more the refined Creole than an Indian girl of the
forest. Her dress, which reached a little below the knees, was of a
coarse material dyed red, while her arms and feet were bare, or, rather,
clothed in their own perfect beauty. Entwined round her temples, twisted
in careless profusion through the cloud of her flowing hair, wound a
festoon of emerald leaves and glowing berries, snatched from some forest
bush as she sped lightheartedly amongst the trees. Radiant as were these
berries, Nature had not painted them with the rich scarlet of Menotah's
cheeks, nor with the deep carmine of her parted lips, through which came
the pearly glitter of the teeth. And above, the dark eyes flashed and
shone, spreading the happy contagion of mirth as they passed, with the
hovering action of the swallow, from one object to another.

So, unconscious of evil, insensible to suffering, she swung herself from
side to side upon the black rock, while her face shone with rapture,
like the laughing water which bubbled beneath her feet. The sun dropped
down to the uneven line of a long ridge opposite, while a fine glow shot
into the sky. Again she swung on tiptoe, and sang in a clear voice a
sweet voice with a thrill in it that sounded through the forest and over
the water, light and sparkling as the tinkling of raindrops upon the
leaves.

In her youthful, ignorant passion she sang to the Spirit for
understanding of life, for knowledge of human secrets, for unending joy
and eternal love in the years to come, while the wind and the water
played her a wonderful accompaniment.

She stopped suddenly, with a musical cry of sheer happiness, then
sprang, lithe and supple as a squirrel, from the higher ridge of the
rock, in mid-air releasing her grasp of the branch. Upward it darted,
with the force of a steel spring, striking down upon the dark tresses a
shower of brown fir spines with many small green cones.

Lightly as a snowflake the girl came to the lower platform of stone,
which lay almost at a level with the water. Her step was sure, for her
young limbs were strong and yielding. She made a dancing step; cast her
arms delightedly above her head, accompanying the action with a merry
burst of laughter; passed two shapely hands beneath a dark mist of hair,
which had streamed forward over her face, and threw it back with a
graceful gesture.

She gazed around and upward, finally fixing her eyes upon the branch she
had lately clung to. It seemed as though she searched for something not
at once discernible. Presently she clasped her hands together with a
short cry of pleasure.

'The Spirit is pleased,' she cried, with a sudden catch to her rich
voice. 'I am always to be beautiful; I am always to be happy. The Spirit
himself has waited here to tell me.'

For the coloured steamer had disappeared. Probably it had been shaken
away to the neighbouring bushes, when the bough had sprung back into
position; perhaps it had then been unsecured and the wind had since
removed It. At all events it had vanished, and this knowledge brought
her happiness.[1]

She paused for awhile, as though in thought. Her soft forehead fell into
little, curved lines, while the beautiful face grew grave. 'It might
have been the wind,' she said doubtfully, speaking slowly to the
rippling waters, 'but, if it was, the wind is a spirit--yes, a good
spirit. Now he has spoken to me. I am beautiful, and I shall be happy.'

A dull roar from the distant rapids beat down ominously along the
evening wind. With the wind that bore the sound came a wave, which broke
itself against the black rock, casting a tiny cloud of spray upward.

The girl's face altered its expression at once. The thought lines
vanished, while others appeared to bend round her mouth in the shape of
a smile.

'Beautiful,' she murmured, alone, yet half bashful; 'the water has told
me so often, and now it calls me again.'

She inclined her head forward, while the smile deepened. 'Listen!'

The waters splashed, rippled, flashed, swung round in a long gurgling
eddy, then splashed again. Out of this rose a low, musical tinkle, with
a soft lap-lap upon the rocks which sounded like a kiss.

'Yes. That was a name. Listen! There it comes again--Menotah! Heart that
knows not sorrow.'

She timidly came to the extreme edge, then fell to her knees. As the sun
disappeared behind the grey-dark ledge opposite, she bent her dainty
head over and down, until the long black hair divided and fell in two
glossy strands, the ends of which floated like seaweed upon the foam
patches.

The river pool commenced to blacken, while flowering rushes tossed their
shivering heads and murmured. The Spirit of the waters called her. So
she leant over--down, nearer, closer, until her fingers curved over the
stone amid the moisture and green slime.

For a moment or so she was motionless, in a set posture of watching and
wonder. Then, with the darting action of a bird, she was up to the
higher ridge of rock with a single bound. Another spring, and she was
upon the grass track at the side. An invisible frog awoke his water-side
orchestra into sharp chirpings with a gruff note. It was time for her to
desert the quiet river pool, for evening was pressing down, and there
was much on hand.

But, as she was about to flit away, a guttural cry proceeded from the
bush behind, while the stroke of a thick staff tapped fretfully upon the
rock platform she had recently abandoned. Casting a glance back over her
shoulder, she perceived an old man, with long hair and scrubby white
beard, emerging from the bushes.

'So, I have come upon you, child. I have found you at length.' Such was
the manner of his greeting.

She turned back, and placed a curling foot upon a point of stone. 'And
what has led your footsteps into the forest, wise Antoine?' she asked
lightly.

'You, child--you.' He spoke slowly.

'What! You wish to borrow my eyes? You have come forth to pluck berries
and gather strong medicines. Come! I will help you.'

The old man fixed his keen eyes upon her laughing face, then drew his
coarse blanket of a gaudy yellow more conveniently over his shoulders.
Then he came forward and said, 'Girl, I have been seeking you for long.
I watched you dart like a sunbeam into the forest, so I followed with my
slow speed to give you warning.'

She tossed back her head. 'Warn me! Of what, and why?'

'The white man,' said the other impressively. 'He is abroad in the
forest. From this time he is our foe. Perchance one might meet you in
such a spot as this, and--'

She interrupted him scornfully, with a proud movement of her head. 'Let
him find me. I am stronger than any man, since I can disarm him with a
woman's weapons.'

The old man raised a reproving hand. 'You speak, Menotah, with the folly
of youth. Now will I answer you with the wisdom of age. For who are you
that you should know the cunning of the white man? He feels not the
emotion of love, for his heart is made of ice, while his dark mind
changes as the waters of yon river. Mayhap you might be captured by him.
Then, what darkness would settle upon the tribe without its heart of
joy? There would be no music in the song, nor passion in the dance.'

The girl laughed with a long musical burst of happiness.

'Child! I have warned you. Listen to an old man's words. Follow his
advice, and keep the heart to yourself.'

For answer, Menotah snatched a long tendril of bright green from a
neighbouring bush. She cast this wreath around the old man's neck, then
danced back, clapping her hands in delight.

'Now you are young again,' she cried joyously. 'You are to forget that
the frost of age has ever stiffened your limbs. You must now cast aside
all your wise sayings, which always fall like cold water upon my ears.
Come! Take me by the hand. Then we will wander forth together. If you
are mournful, I will sing to you. I will dance and laugh, that you may
forget your infirmities. For where I come, sorrow may never be found.'

The red glow on her cheeks deepened, as the light in her eyes leapt into
a flame. The ruddy berries dropped over her temples and kissed the
eyelids when she stirred.

But the old man only shook his white head, and gave back no reply.

Then Menotah stepped to his side, and bent her graceful figure down. She
held her face near his, while the soft mouth twitched in the effort to
restrain its mirth.

'Wise Antoine,' she said, with an attempt at carelessness. 'You have
travelled over much land and water. You have seen many people. Is it not
so?'

Wonderingly he replied, 'It is so, my daughter.'

'Then tell me'--and there was a slight tremor in her voice--'since you
have seen so many women, tell me, have you ever looked upon one more
beautiful than I? Have you seen any more perfect?--more graceful?'

Her face was quite solemn as she finished her question.

The old man frowned, and pulled at the falling blanket with a claw-like
hand.

At length he spoke. 'It is true that I have seen many women. I have
looked upon the daughters of white men, and some of these are fair. I
have watched, also, generations of my own people, as they passed from
childhood to maturity, growing and ripening like green berries in the
sunshine. Many of these were very good to look upon.'

'But I--' she murmured, and then stopped short.

The old Antoine smiled feebly, displaying a perfect row of teeth. Then
he would have turned aside, but she touched him with light, eager hand.

'I stopped your words, old father. What more had you to say?'

'Let us go back,' he said. 'See! the night comes upon us.'

But Menotah only laughed again, while the roar of the great rapids beat
down upon their ears with sound of sombre menace.

She bent her beautiful head over his shoulder, and asked, 'The daughters
of the white men are fair--you have said so?'

'But you are more beautiful than all,' broke forth the old man, half
fiercely. 'Surely. None, on whom my eyes have rested, have owned such
flow of life, such health, such gladness of spirit. These things are
beauty. You are as straight as a young fir, and as fair as the evening
star.'

In an instant her assumed gravity had disappeared. Laughing merrily, she
darted back, with black hair streaming cloud-like behind. But the old
man pursued her with a searching question,--

'Child! Menotah! What dream spirit has whispered into your brain, as you
slept beneath the moon? What is that which has told your mind that you
were more beautiful than others--that you were even fair at all? You
have learnt from me, yet on such matters have I given you no knowledge.'

Menotah was singing gaily, unconcernedly, and for the time appeared not
to notice his quick questionings. But suddenly she sprang aside to the
bushes, and parted them with eager hands. Then she glanced back, and
commenced to chant in loud, distinct tones,--

'Old father, you have taught me much, yet, being a man, you might not
read a woman's heart. You could not tell her all--not that she wished
especially to learn. So she has searched for that knowledge wherever it
might be found. Behold! she has succeeded.'

The Ancient would have spoken aloud in wonder, but the bright girl gave
him no opportunity.

'One day, near the setting of the sun, I came along this way. The
river-pool was already growing black, while long rushes bent and
murmured when they saw me approach. Then, when I stood upon the black
rock, I heard the echo of a soft voice, which arose in music at my feet,
and crept up until it touched my ears. So I knew that it was the Spirit
of the waters who was calling me. And he had knowledge for my ear, and
mine alone. Do you still hear the soft voice calling beneath us, old
father?'

She raised her dainty figure, then uplifted a small hand, inclining her
head forward with a graceful gesture. The waters lapped and whispered
against the slime-green base of the rock.

'Men-ha! Ot-ah! Me-e-e-e-ot-ah. Ah-ha! Ha-hah-ha-ah! Me-ot-hah. Ot-ah!
Ah-ah-ah! Ot-ah! Ot-ah! Ah-hah! Men-ot-ah! Ot-ah! Menotah!'

'Do you hear, old father?' she cried joyfully. 'Can you hear the voice
of the laughing waters? Each night they call me, and bid me come.'

Then the old man frowned, and raised a crooked hand to point upward over
the rock-ledge opposite, where a cold ray of white light struggled
through shadows.

'Hear also the voice of the great rapids, daughter. They shout, and they
call, also. Would you hasten to their bidding?'

She shuddered slightly, then replied, 'Not so, old father. I would not
obey the summons to death and silence.'

Antoine shivered also, as the night chilled his body. 'We tarry past the
sun-setting,' he muttered. 'It is not well to be abroad at this time.'

'Ah! But listen first,' she pleaded. 'Here what the Spirit of the water
had to show me.'

Again he paused, while she wrapped the cold bushes round her waist, and
bathed her fingers in the dew-wet foliage. Then she spoke,--

'I came onward to the rock-brink, yet I trembled. For I feared lest the
Spirit might stretch forth an angry arm to draw me down, and claim me as
his victim.

'So I came with hesitating footstep, and leant with hidden dread over
the great stones, whereon the brown reeds beat their flowering heads. I
looked, yet saw nothing, but the drifting clouds and bright pictures of
evening sunset, for the waters swirled and bubbled, as though in anger.
Again I looked, but there was still nothing, save the shadow of the
bright sky.

'But then a dim mist formed slowly and rose with gradual motions from
the bottom. As it came nearer it gathered together, and took a wonderful
shape, while my heart beat loudly as it rose to the surface, which was
now calm and smooth, for the white foam and curling ripples had fled
beneath the rock. And as I bent down--lower--nearer, until the ends of
my unbound hair kissed the face of the waters, that shadow lay upon the
surface, and held its lips up to mine.

'Then I looked upon a being of beauty. There was a maiden, with eager,
parted lips which were curved into a smile. I saw also eyes, happy but
determined, and thick waves of hair enclosing a blameless face. At the
pleasure of beholding so much beauty I smiled. And, behold! the vision
smiled also, while the waters broke into ripples of silent laughter.
Then I frowned, creasing up my forehead into long wrinkles, and
forthwith the waters moaned with storm breath, while sunshine departed
from the valley. So then I laughed aloud, bringing again joy to the
Spirit, with adornment to the face of the waters.

'For I knew that I was beautiful--beautiful--beautiful!'

She bent her happy face forward, with a small shake of the head at each
repetition of her final word. Then she liberated the bushes. They closed
behind, and she vanished. But her happy song was still borne through the
forest as she glided, bird-like, amongst the trees.

The Ancient was left again to himself He pulled the blanket over his
scanty white locks with weak motions, while his thin lips parted in
unspoken words. His deeply furrowed face was pinched and frowning.

Then he turned, also, and went his way.


[1] It is a native custom thus to hang streamers to some bush after a
prayer. The disappearance of such is a sign that the Spirit is pleased
and will grant the desired favour.



CHAPTER III

THE BUDDING OF A PASSION


Nearer the outskirts of the mighty forest, where between the tree trunks
might be caught, when the bushes sometimes parted beneath a slight gust
of wind, a silvery flash of the sun-kissed river, two men stood side by
side in earnest conference. Very dissimilar were they in every
particular, save in the one important distinction of race. One was much
bent by time's heavy hand; the other enjoyed the full vigour of early
manhood.

This latter was tall and finely shaped; his arms were like strong wire
ropes, and swelled with blue muscles as he moved with the unconscious
animal grace of the native; his dark-skinned face was clearly cut and
set in firm lines of determination, while the keen eyes flashed and the
nostrils expanded as he listened to the words of the shrunk figure at
his side and gave him back reply.

They were completely alone in this great solitude. Close behind there
spread a thick tangle of bush, which gradually merged into the dark
forest line, a luxuriant growth, which might readily have concealed many
an invisible foe. But these men had no fear of their own, and as for the
hostile white--well, there were but very few of them, and these
harmless, since they could not be suspicious of approaching danger.

The old man slowly turned himself from the glowing face of the setting
sun, and raised his wrinkled countenance heavily towards the powerful
features of the young warrior. His cheeks were thickly painted with a
lurid stain of carmine; the effect of the unnatural colour upon the
dried up flesh was ghastly to an extreme. His form was doubled together
almost by infirmity and time, for the weight of over four score years
was pressing him down to the grave.

He extended and spread an almost fleshless hand upon the warm flesh of
the other's rounded arm.

'You have finished all preparations, Muskwah? The young men are now
ready, and each has weapons for the fight?'

'All that I can accomplish as leader of your children has been done,
Father.'

The old man was chief of the tribe and therefore regarded as the titular
father of all.

'But the warriors understand their duties Muskwah? I would have no sad
scene of women lamenting in the encampment. I would not listen to the
low chanting of death songs.'

'I have done your bidding, Father. I have made all things clear,'
replied the young man.

'There has been nothing left undone, Muskwah? I am old, and have often
seen the brave conquered, not by greater strength or skill, but by the
thing unlooked for, the one thing forgotten. This is that which causes
the defeat of the brave. Tell me now the words the wise Antoine spoke
into your ears. Repeat to me the orders you have given to my children.'

He wrapped the cloak round him and bent again in close attitude of
listening. The wind whispered in the pines behind, while the sun went
out and the colours slowly faded into greyness. Then the young warrior
cast out his long arms, drew his figure to its greatest height, and in
clear, sonorous voice declaimed aloud the following spirited
apostrophe,--

'Warriors! O, Warriors!

'Ye, who are brave, ye, who have earned the glad approval of women, draw
round me, and listen to the words of your Father and Chief.

'The Spirit has whispered into his ear, "Destroy now the white men, for
they are wrong-minded and have offended me. Cast them forth from this my
land in death." Your Father and Chief will obey the great command of the
Spirit, lest black sickness come upon the tribe, lest the hunters be
caused to return empty-handed to the tents.

'Warriors! O, Warriors!

'Ye, who speed forth with the great strength of the winds, ye, who dart
over earth like shadows when the moon shines, listen to the voice of
your leader. When the night light casts silver upon the fir tops, and
the spirits crawl from the marshes to their deeds, ye shall be ready and
await my signal. Then shall ye hear thrice repeated the cry of a horned
owl. When the last echo has died, gather ye yourselves round the sad
death tree, where ye shall find me awaiting, and there will I separate
ye into two bands. Those who are young and strong upon their feet shall
descend the valley along by the way of the river-pool, and these shall
wait at the foot of the cliff beneath the fort of the white men. And at
the sound of the first report of a gun, ye shall ascend, each man
bearing dry branches of the fir. These shall ye place around the walls
at the cliff side and apply the fire. And, as for the other band, these
shall advance with stealth upon the open and hide behind the rocks. When
the red fire shoots upward, ye shall fire upon the door. Then will the
white men come forth, driven out by the hot fire behind, and when they
appear they must be killed, nor must one escape to carry away the deed.
For the white man knows not how to pardon.

'Warriors! O, Warriors!

'Ye, who fly over the ground with the swiftness of deer, ye, who laugh
with joy when the hot blood flows, listen to the words of the Spirit.

'Destroy and spare not. Avenge, as ye have been wronged. Spare not your
strength. Lose not your courage. And while ye fight, the women around
the tents will dance, and call upon the Ghosts and Skeletons of the
tribe. Then, also, will the Father's daughter come forth to greet ye
with a smile, when ye return, laden with victory and the glad spoils of
war.

'Warriors! O, Warriors!

'Ye, who are brave, ye, who have earned the approval of women, heed and
obey the words of your Father and Chief.'

The young warrior paused and lowered his arms, while the fire in his
eyes died out. A feeble impulse of passion spread itself over the
Chief's half dead face as he listened with rapt attention to the
recital. Then he spoke in his thin voice,--

''Tis good, Muskwah. You have spoken well. Tell me now, are the hearts
of my children full of a warm courage? Do their eager hands reach out
for their weapons? Do their eyes gleam with thoughts of slaughter and
vengeance? Have they well oiled the body and painted the face? Are they
withal hard to restrain, like our dogs on the clear day of winter? Is it
so, Muskwah?'

The young warrior's brow grew sterner as he shook his head. 'Nay,
Father, 'tis not so. The courage of the young men is faint. This is what
they spoke in my ear, "What calls us to the fight? At this place the
white men have done us no wrong--"'

'False, Muskwah!' cried the old man shrilly. 'They have robbed us.'

'Only the old Antoine thirsts for the blood of the invaders,' said the
other quietly.

The Chief struck his staff in anger upon the ground. 'The young men know
not all. Did you not remind them, Muskwah, how the base white man has
deprived us of our land and food?'

'And their answer still comes, Father, that here we have been deprived
of naught. The hunters take their skins, and the wives carry oil to the
fort. In return they bring back to the tents food for the body, with
tobacco and clothing.'

'There are others, Muskwah,' pursued the old man solemnly. 'There are
many of our brothers far across the great water. These have suffered to
the bitterness of death, and their wrongs still lie unavenged.'

'This did I tell to the young men,' continued the warrior. 'They
listened to my words, but still replied, "We know none of these. If they
have been wronged, let them look to their own. When they rejoice, what
part do they offer us in their joy? Now that they have cause for grief,
what duty calls us to take part in their voice of mourning?" There is
wisdom in the words of the young men. Father.'

The old man but turned at him angrily. 'There is also rebellion,' he
cried, with fierceness. 'It is their duty to obey, and not seek a cause.
Tell them, Muskwah, make known to each one of them, that he who shrinks
from the battle, let the cause be what it may, that man shall be beaten
openly by the women of the camp. I have said it.'

Muskwah bowed his stately head, but replied in defence of his
underlings. 'There are no cowards among the Children of the River, my
Father. Their wish is only for no strife with those who have done them
no wrong.'

The Chief cast his bleared eyes round suspiciously, and finally rested
them on the tall figure at his side. 'But you, Muskwah, what are your
inner thoughts?'

'I obey my Father,' came the instant reply. 'It is not for me to
reason.'

The Chief was satisfied. 'Obedience is a sure footway to power,' he
muttered. He tore apart his shirt with tremulous fingers, to display
many a long black scar crawling across his brown chest.

'See, Muskwah. Obedience gave me these life marks. Still I obeyed, until
that same gift made me Chief of my tribe.'

The young man listened, while the shadow of solicitude gathered slowly
upon his face. Presently he exclaimed his thoughts aloud.

'Is it well to thus provoke the wrath of the white man? Should we not
rather dwell ourselves in peace, and leave those who have suffered to
carry out the work of vengeance?'

The doubts thus expressed aroused the old man, and his answering voice
rang forth loudly,--

'Has the foolishness of my other children touched your brain also,
Muskwah? What did the old Antoine tell you beneath the quiet of the
tent, when the moon was young. Have you no memory for that story? A man
came across the great water,[1] up the river, and along the forest
trail, to pause at our encampment with a solemn message. He commanded
me, in the name of the friend of the Great Spirit, to attack the white
men who dwelt in our land, and to destroy them all. How should I refuse
to listen to the command of Riel? For when he has conquered the white
men and made himself great chief, he will turn to the punishment of
those who have refused to listen to his words. To such he will show no
forgiveness nor pity.'

The young warrior stirred his limbs with a mute gesture of resignation.

'If the Father of the tribe says to us, "Fight," surely we will strive
until the enemy is swept away, or our own feet have been tripped up by
death. Yet methinks the storm will arise when the battle is past. For
then must we face either the vengeance of Riel, or the fury of the white
men. But now is there little boldness in the minds of the young men, for
their hearts have not been warmed by the song, nor has passion been
thrust into each limb by the madness of the dance.'

'True--'tis true,' muttered the Chief, regretfully. 'There has been no
dance of the Ghosts. Yet will the Spirit not for that desert us. The
shrill cries of warriors, as they leapt along the measured circle, and
the loud beating of music must surely have warned the white men. Then
would they have made themselves ready for fight, and perchance have
escaped or defeated our efforts. Our prayers to the Spirit must ascend
in silence, until the fight is over, and victory comes to the Children
of the River.'

At the last words Muskwah picked up his antique gun, and placed it in
the crook of his left arm. Then he pointed ahead with steady brown
fingers. 'The light of the sun has sunk beneath yonder tree tops. The
night comes. Shall we not return?'

The Chief gave no heed to the remark. He but fastened his sunk eyes upon
a bunch of dead leaves which rattled in the wind.

Suddenly he spoke abruptly, and with forehead creased up in a frown, as
he put a question which touched his heart closely,--

'Hast seen the heart of joy, Muskwah, since the sun crossed the centre
of the heaven?'

The young warrior shifted with an awkward motion before replying. 'Nay,
Father. These eyes have not rested upon her beauty since the drying of
the dew. Perchance she wanders in the forest.'

'Too often is she absent,' said the old man fretfully. 'She passes from
place to place like a bright ray of sunlight, and none may stay her.
Often does she forget me and my needs; yet I cannot speak to her in the
voice of anger. Dost think her fair, Muskwah?'

The question came with unexpected suddenness. For a time the young man's
quick breathing was plainly audible.

'Father!' he cried at length passionately, 'what am I, that you should
ask me whether the heart of joy is beautiful? Surely there is none made
of the spirit to compare with her. There is no flower on the earth, nor
star in the night sky, that is so beauteous. And when she speaks, a man
may hear the laughing of waters. Which is he of the tribe, who would not
give life to save Menotah from sorrow, or win from her a smile? When she
is happy, all the Children of the River rejoice; should she see the
shadow of grief, then shall not be found a glad eye or a light heart.'

He paused and panted, while his sinewy chest rose and fell.

The Chief watched him from beneath shaggy grey eyebrows. 'So, Muskwah,'
he muttered slowly, as though in thought, 'the passion flame has burnt
your heart also. A man may not so speak, when the cause moving him is
but some idle fancy of the mind. What, Muskwah, is there more to tell?
Has she cast the glance of favour towards you? Has she ever smiled upon
you as she came across your way? Has she dwelt upon her pleasure, when
you have done the service of her wish?'

The young warrior sought in vain for words with which to fashion reply.
But the old Chief laughed aloud with the feeble sounds of age, and spoke
further with many a sidelong glance, 'Closely have I watched you, until
I came to understand the hidden secrets of your mind. You would be chief
after me. I know it. But first must you win scars and spill the blood of
your foes, that all may learn to fear the utterance of your name. Higher
still does the ambition of the heart lead you, for you seek to make the
fair heart of joy a bride. Who may speak on the future, Muskwah, and
learn that which lies in the beyond? What gifts the Great Spirit may
stretch towards us in his clenched hands we may not know. Yet you are
young, and much lies in front. For me all is behind, save a few poor
shadows.'

Muskwah would have spoken, but the old man drew away with the uncertain
motions of weak age. 'The night comes upon us,' he said, as he drew the
coarse blanket to his chin. 'There is toil ahead, and we must make
ready.'

Leaning heavily upon his staff, the aged Chief advanced slowly along the
sinuous trail, while in his footsteps came the young warrior with head
erect. There was that within him which words might not express, so his
heart beat wildly with the hot passion of his years, while it seemed to
him good to live.

So they both passed on, the young and the old, until the evening shadows
closed round them at the point ahead.

But the solitude was soon to be again invaded. Scarcely had the two
natives disappeared, when the green tangle of dew-besprinkled bush in
front of which they had made their stand became suddenly agitated, as
though some imprisoned animal held therein, then sought to free itself.

Presently the long sweeping tendrils lifted, small scrub bushes parted
with a sharp hissing of leaves through the air, while the next instant a
young man--he who had listened earlier to the musical voice ringing
through the forest--came forward and stood alone in the open.

He stretched his well-formed limbs and smiled in a self-satisfied
manner. Then he bent, groped among the thick undergrowth, and finally
extracted a rifle from the bush. Quickly he glanced along the sights,
passed the sleeve of his coat along the dark barrel to remove a slight
smear, afterwards looking up again, along the dim trail that wound round
towards the distant point, where the wreathing smoke of the camp fires
lingered.

Then he laughed softly to himself, and spoke aloud, addressing the
weapon which his white fingers caressed lovingly.

'Good business that, though those rascals kept me tied in an aching knot
longer than I'd bargained. So they're going to make a raid on the fort
to-night, are they. _Bien!_ Let them come. It's going to be a fine,
clear night, with full moon into the bargain. Lucky stroke for me--I can
now redeem part of my lost character. As usual, I go to the best side.'

He laughed again. 'I reckon it might surprise them to know who has
overheard their plans. The best shot in the Dominion--likely enough, in
the world. It's something to boast of, having escaped the white chief's
aim.'

Then the smile disappeared, as memory stirred within, and he frowned. At
once a deep line broke along each side of his face, running past the
corners of the mouth to wander away indefinitely along the chin. During
that moment the finely-cut features wore a hard and ill-favoured look,
which disappeared in an instant when the lips were again parted.

He flicked away a savage and belated bull-dog, which had settled upon
his hand. 'I've scored another point,' he muttered complacently. 'My
friends, who are few, have combined with my foes, who are many, to swear
that it's impossible to play the spy on a _nitchi_. Bah! it's as easy as
hating. What if those two had turned me out? The old man was no better
than a child. The other would have dropped for the coyotes before he
could have stirred a finger.'

The rising darkness reminded him of duty to be performed. He fastened
his coat and pulled the felt hat down over his forehead. 'And now for
the fort; I've a good enough passport now.'

He waved his hand lightly in the direction of distant fir tops, where
many branches had been lopped away, where many long shadows formed and
hung. Then he prepared to depart, with the knowledge of such importance
which had unwittingly been imparted to him.

One step away he made, then his foot halted, as the whispering sound of
a quick footstep came from behind through the bush. His senses were very
keen. Round he started like a well-drilled soldier, with a hand to his
side. But the next instant the fingers released their sure grip on the
revolver which lay there concealed. He started, with a sudden
exclamation, as his eyes fell upon the outer fringe of the forest, then
stood again motionless.

For here surely--he felt it instinctively--was the author of that happy
passing voice.

Standing opposite him in the dim light, and at no great distance,
appeared the vision of a perfectly beautiful girl. She was
bareheaded--indeed, she required no artificial covering to that wealth
of hair, which flowed in luxuriant masses down her back and trailed in
confused tresses over her dainty shoulders. A long wreath of red berries
shone jewel-like from the thick of these black coils.

She stood there, for the time, scarce without motion. Her shapely head
was tilted slightly back, as though soliciting a caress; two radiant
eyes flashed across to those of the young man a bold challenge of love;
a pair of red lips were divinely parted in a smile, half mischief, half
passion, beneath which lurked the covert invitation prompted by desire.
In her slender hands swayed a long red-willow wand, plucked by the side
of the black rock platform.

Thus did Menotah, as she passed from the river-pool to the encampment
beneath the evening, present herself to the young Canadian.

And he stood spellbound, completely over-mastered by a new power of
fascination. As he kept his gaze fixed upon this lovely apparition of
the summer forest, all his anxiety for the present, all the necessities
of the present, fled away forgotten.

She was wonderful with the rich colouring of her perfect health, in the
glorious line moulding of her fully matured figure. It was happiness of
itself to stand and feast the eyes upon such a triumph of Nature's
handiwork, and if the stronger was satisfied to gaze, the weaker was
equally delighted to be admired. Yet it was the latter who gave the
first intimation of the monotony of such a pleasure.

So she commenced with those dainty alluring wiles, irresistible yet
dangerous, in which the graceful woman of beauty, whatever her blood or
race, excels. She gave a slight nod of her pretty head, accompanying the
coquettish movement with a wonderful smile. Then she raised the
red-willow wand, and pettishly struck at the tall flowering head of a
plant before her.

The young man felt as though his senses were yielding beneath the subtle
influence of an anæsthetic. In a dreamy mood he watched the curious
evolutions of the beheaded bunch of bloom, as it darted upward, then
settled softly and without sound to the ground.

But this mood changed when she looked across at him again. Then there
surged over his entire being an irresistible impulse, which prompted him
to spring forward and clasp this lovely being in his arms. Menotah, with
the quick skill of her sex, read the keen desire of his mind at a
glance. So, after the manner of women, she but hastened to add fuel to
the growing ardour of his inclination.

An erratic firefly wandered down from the overhanging branches, then
commenced to dart from side to side near her head. She followed its
shining course with her bright eyes, and twisted her little face into a
charming expression, which revealed a sudden glimpse of two gleaming
lines of pearl-like teeth. Then, as the insect tumbled near her, she
made a quick snatch at the glowing point of fire. She missed, of course.
In disappointed resentment, very pretty to watch, she endeavoured to cut
short its career by means of her willow twig, but failed again. Then she
glanced across at the watching eyes opposite. The following second the
silence was broken for the first time by her clear burst of light,
melodious laughter.

Nature has set a varying limit to all human endurance. One extra turn of
the tormentor's screw, and the spirit, so dauntless the moment before,
yields in abject submission. This young Canadian was very human indeed.
Menotah's laughter exceeded the extreme limit of his self-control.

So what happened during the next minute he hardly knew. The forest had
melted away, drawn back as it were into the mysterious night; his eyes
saw nothing but the alluring loveliness beyond his body felt nothing,
beyond the strange warmth of passion. Memory, duty, danger, became empty
words that had no meaning.

He felt that he had moved forward with a sudden motion, and maddened by
impulse. He was conscious of a lovely face with red, curling lips
upturned to his, of liquid eyes, and a soft mouth wreathed in smiles.

So near, so close, he could feel the warmth emanating from her young
body, with the fanning breath playing like a summer breeze around his
neck. This was a gift reserved for him, and sent to him alone.

Then his eager arms darted forward, but met nothing save cold, dewy
bushes. His hot, excited lips came only in contact with the keen air of
a northern night, while the melodious echo of a clear, departing voice
mocked his ears.

So, when understanding returned to his brain, he found himself alone,
standing beneath the gloomy trees, with the night shadows falling
thickly round his head. In the neighbouring bush great frogs were
chirping derisively. The air became suddenly chilly, while life seemed a
burden.

There was something in his hands--his eyes became fastened upon a
trailing festoon of green leaves studded with bright red berries, which
flickered from his fingers irresolutely beneath the breeze.


[1] Lake Winnipeg.



CHAPTER IV

THE FORT


Before a low fringe of willow undergrowth, which gradually led up to the
first thick bank of firs, spread a narrow strip of turf, not more than
fifty feet in width, and terminating in the broken cliff line of the
Great Saskatchewan River.[1] Scattered irregularly along this undulating
grass expanse appeared great rocks, deeply imbedded for the most part in
the soil, some, indeed, not exhibiting more than an iron-grey splinter,
which protruded aggressively from the turf in the shape of a grotesque
nose or elbow.

At one side of this small clearing uprose a single-storey hut. This was
built of unshapen logs, whitewashed, the crevices being filled in with
mud; while, not more than a dozen yards distant, another equally
incomplex building stood close to a lofty fir, which had been denuded of
all branches and converted into a natural flagstaff. Here two flags
indolently whipped the air. Above flew the ever-victorious ensign of
England; below, that of the Hudson's Bay Company.

In a southerly direction, lying between the forest line and cliff brink,
were dotted small huts at long intervals. These were all grass-roofed
and innocent of windows, other than a square cut hole at one side of
each dwelling, while occasionally the smoke-begrimed apex of an Indian
_tépee_ forced itself from the thick of a separate tree clump. Yet, for
all this, no human being appeared in sight; no canoe sped bird-like over
the waters of the Saskatchewan; no sounds of human activity uprose on
the breeze.

In the principal room, or office usually styled, of the log fort, which
was the whitewashed hut situated a few yards from the cliff brink, and
beside the flagstaff, two men were creating conversation by a simple
process of mutual disagreement. A dilapidated sofa, minus legs,
supported on two boxes; a deal wood table, well chipped with knives; an
aged writing desk, and small bookcase crammed to overflowing with all
kinds of literature, ranging from a translation of Homer and
yellow-covered narratives of sanguinary impossibilities to a treatise on
the parables, and a deep work of Hooker's--such were the chief articles
of furniture in the room. Behind the door, unmethodical hands had piled
a stack of dirty boots and empty bottles, while hard by an assortment of
guns and rifles stood supported by the log wall.

Behind were two other apartments, used respectively as bed and store
room, while, running from the centre of the building, a passage had
recently been erected, which led into a diminutive kitchen, where at the
present moment a half-breed cook was preparing supper for the garrulous
mouths within.

From a small window in the back room the great river could be readily
scanned. At this point the stream of the great Saskatchewan was
unusually wide, being divided by a long, though somewhat narrow island,
thickly covered with vegetation, and rising to some height above water
level.

Conspicuous in the centre appeared a tree-environed hut. This rough
habitation was the property of the H.B.C, and had been erected some
years back to afford a harbour of refuge for any officers of the Company
who might be compelled to retreat from the fort on the main bank, owing
to Indian hostility.

Into the office a subtle aroma of supper stew crept insidiously, while
the two disputants became refreshed into other differences by the
pleasant anticipation of a satisfactory meal. Chief Factor McAuliffe
rose from the box on which he had been seated, and having opened the
door gazed up and down along the river bank. This representative of the
most powerful company in the world presented a strange appearance. His
was an average height, yet he was broad and strongly built, of great
strength and activity, in spite of his age, which hovered in close
proximity to the three score. His immense head, posed on a bull-like
neck, and the determined set of every muscle in his face, betokened an
obstinate character, which would never allow itself to be thwarted by
even a superior--either in argument or actual fight--whether he were in
the right or wrong. His black beard and moustache, plentifully
besprinkled with grey, had recently been clipped into short lines of
bristles, evidently by the amateur hand of one of his companions, while
the same inquisitorial agency had ruthlessly reaped the hair on his
scalp as close to the skull as scissors could touch. His costume was
primitive and economical.

The other occupant of the room was a tall, ungainly man, who moved with
stiff motions, and swung his arms with the mechanical action of
semaphore signals whenever exacted. This was extremely often, for he and
McAuliffe were generally bickering over some question, raised by the
one, merely for the sake of argument, and as warmly refuted by the
other. Externally there was little remarkable about Peter Denton, as
this individual was named. He owned a yellow moustache, coarse hair of
the same complexion, and watery-blue eyes. Internally he was complicated
and extraordinary.

The Factor stood at the open door, watching the slowly gathering shadows
lengthening upon the trees. At length he remarked abruptly, 'Don't catch
any signs of the other boys, Justin. Time they were back, for it's bad
travelling in the forest after dark.'

The half-breed was arranging the table. He turned his head, gave a low
grunt, then spread out his fingers in the air. 'Moose,' he ejaculated.

'That's so, I reckon. They're on a fresh track, and don't feel like
giving up.'

'Let boy look,' said Justin, pointing a crooked forefinger. 'His eyes
good.' Then he moved towards the kitchen with a dull chuckle.

The Factor wheeled round, his great face aglow. 'His eyes! I could make
better ones out of a toad's body. They're like a potato's--only fit to
be cut out and chucked away.'

Denton's hollow voice sounded from a corner, where he sat mending a
coat. 'Make use of your eyes in searching after righteousness, as I've
done, Alfred. Perhaps then there would be still a chance of escaping the
lake of fire which yawns beneath your feet.'

'I'm glad you allow you haven't found righteousness, Peter. By the way
you're searching, you can go on until they want you 'way under. I never
found any use striking north when I wanted to get south.'

Denton wagged his head mournfully. 'The time must come when you will be
cut down and perish in your sins.'

'Don't take trouble, Peter. The good are taken early, mind; so there's a
pile of years ahead for you after I've gone.' And McAuliffe chuckled
loudly.

Denton was ready with rebuke.

'I'd like you to listen a few hours to the preaching of our pastor, Dr
McKilliam. But that holy man would refuse to cast his pearls before such
swine.'

The Factor was more interested. 'None of your ministers could knock
spots off my hide. Talk of preaching! Why, I've heard our Dr Bryce
preach on hell-fire, until everyone in the congregation was fairly
sweating.'

Denton groaned and cast his eyes upward. 'Well you might sweat, with
your sins staring you in the face. But if you come to preaching, I've
heard our minister talk for three hours without a break, except to tell
a stranger to quit throwing orange peel around the church. When he'd
finished, the congregation clapped so loudly that he had to bow his
acknowledgments three times from the pulpit. I tell you, we advertised
that in the papers, and filled our church to the doors within the
month.'

'With a lot of bummers who hadn't any comfortable place to sleep in
Sunday nights. I heard one of your ministers preach once, and 'twas
worse than chloroform. They might have taken a leg off me without my
knowing it.'

Here Justin entered with a steaming bowl of stewed moose meat and
prairie spinach. This he set on the table, then pointed maliciously at
Denton. 'Boy preach,' he said. 'I hear him.'

The Factor at once interposed. 'You're right, Justin. This fifth-rate
specimen of humanity the Company's burdened me with, used to be a
minister in the summer and a bar-tender in the winter. When it was hot,
he cursed fellows for drinking cool-eyes, and reminded them there was a
sultry place all ready for their whisky-black souls. During the cold
weather, he put in his time making fellows drunk, and getting full
himself.'

Denton fired up instantly. 'Whoever told you that is a right friend for
you. He's as bad a liar--'

'Then you must have converted him, Peter. He was straight enough when I
last came across him,' said the Factor. 'I suppose you'll say next you
never ran that menagerie?'

'I do,' said Denton, sullenly. 'My only dealings with menageries were to
denounce them as sinful pleasures.'

McAuliffe whistled. 'Better get outside, Justin, before the roof
tumbles.' He glanced admiringly at Denton. You're wasting good talents,
Peter. If I could lie like you, I'd expect to make my fortune in a few
years as newspaper correspondent. See here a minute, Justin, while I
show him up. This spot of dirt turned up one Sunday evening at his
church, so full he couldn't see straight. He started in to work by
cursing all the black sheep that had come to hear him. Of course they
couldn't take that. They'd got to obey their natural instinct of
hyprocrisy, though they might envy their minister's power of language.
So they took Mister Man, and fired him out of the place, which is the
only good deed they're ever likely to have to look back upon. Then he
makes off with another deadbeat, and starts a kind of show outside the
town--this was in Port Arthur, mind. He used to stand on a chair by the
door of the tent, with dollar bills stuck in his hat brim, trying to
catch the people's money. I tell you, what with the menagerie by day,
and with shooting loaded craps by night, these two blacklegs looted a
pile of dollars out of the pockets of decent citizens.'

Denton raised his head from the half-mended coat, and said sulkily,
'You're a shameless liar, Alfred! It stamps a man for life to be seen in
your company.'

'So it does, Peter,' said the Factor, heartily; 'let's shake on that. If
you're seen along with me a few more months, some folks may begin to
think of trusting you. Don't lose heart, lad. There's hope even for the
worst.'

'Not when a man gets to your state,' retorted Denton.

The Factor laughed. 'That's a sharp answer for you, Peter. You're
learning fast under me. If you keep that pace--steer clear of brain
fever and such diseases--you'll perhaps be able to give an answer to a
ten-year-old child in another five years. Can't promise all that, Peter;
but it's wonderful what perseverance will do.'

Denton extended a denouncing and dirty forefinger at the Factor's broad
chest. 'Stop your wicked judgment of fellow creatures!--you, who walk
through life with the mark of Satan on your knee!'

McAuliffe's nether garments were fashioned out of sacking originally
used for packing liquor cases. Consequently, on that portion of the
garment indicated, a lurid red star was visible above the stencilled
letters--'Old Rye Whisky.'

'We differ again, Peter. It's better having it on the knee than the
forehead. You're wonderful jealous to-night. It's the minister talking,
instead of the bar-tender.'

'I never was a bar-tender,' said the other sullenly.

The Factor glanced at the heavens. 'It's going to be a fine night, with
full moon. Don't get spoiling it by bringing up a thunderstorm. Were you
ever a minister? Let's have a bit of truth. You're getting monotonous,
Peter.'

Denton was about to return an angry reply, when the half-breed again
appeared and pointed significantly to the waiting supper.

McAuliffe paced to the door with the exclamation, 'Say, Justin, I wish
those fellows were back.'

'It's near quarter to nine,' muttered Denton.

'And your insides are aching for grub--might as well say so right out.'
The Factor turned back into the room. 'Well, if they must stay away half
the night, they can't expect us to keep a look-out. Come on, Justin.
Pass me over that sturgeon steak before Peter gets his teeth against
it.'

The three gathered round the crazy table, and for a few minutes there
was silence of tongues.

Thus quarter of an hour passed. Then the Factor cleaned a greasy hand
upon his beard, and stretched himself with a sigh of satisfaction. He
drew out his pipe, and had just commenced to shave a plug of T.&B., when
Justin raised his hand and whistled in a manner peculiar. McAuliffe
understood the signal. He listened, and presently there came dull,
distant sounds from without.

His face grew very grave, while the knife in his hand tapped gently upon
the table. An ashen hue crept over Denton's sallow features. Nearer came
the sounds and louder, as they spread towards the fort through
thickening shadows and the white dews of night.

Then McAuliffe spoke. 'That's Kitty. I know that gallop of hers. Goldam!
how she's tumbling through the bush!'

The night was fearfully still--not a breath stirring the tree tops.
Above, the stars were lit one by one.

Justin pushed back the door, and listened stolidly to the crashing of
green boughs, the snapping of dead branches, the sharp click of hoofs
against rock splinters. Inside--no sound, except the Factor's deep
breathing, and an irregular tattoo, produced by Denton's heels tapping
upon the floor. Then he turned, and, without altering a muscle in his
heavy face, began to load the rifles and lay them out upon the table.

The Factor peered into the darkness, for the moon had not yet risen.
'She'll be clear presently,' he said carelessly. 'Reckon young Winton
got switched off from Billy. Then he got bothered by a touch of forest
fright and lost his herd. What the devil you doing, Justin?'

The half-breed was methodically counting out shells. He glanced up and
said laconically, '_Nitchies_!'

'Pshaw! you're crazy, boy. There's no rebellion up here.'

Justin grunted. 'You wrong. Riel send message. They paint and fight. You
see.' Then he coolly fell to oiling his rifle, while a fresh wave of
fear passed over the shivering Denton.

The Factor swore quietly. The next moment a grey mare dashed furiously
from the darkness. At the door she pulled up panting, with blood-red
nostrils, her sides covered with foam-sweat, while a figure tumbled
helplessly from the improvised saddle.

McAuliffe caught him as he staggered forward, and half carried him
inside.

Justin stood by the mare, with his rifle at the ready, and his bead-like
eyes staring into the gloom, but there was no sign of pursuer. The black
trees whispered solemnly in a light breeze.

'Fetch my whisky keg along!' bellowed McAuliffe. 'Give the boy a good
dram, and damn the water.'

Denton shuffled off to obey, while Justin's voice came rolling inside
with weird effect. 'Billy!--be gone!'

The Factor's great hands shook as he administered the liquor. Winton
gasped and clutched at him.

'Don't claw me; I'm not a _nitchi_. Now, then, you're right again, eh?'

The young fellow struggled up and glared round wildly. 'So it's you,
Alf?'

'That's what. Old Billy's coming on behind?'

Winton shuddered. The words rattled forth like shot upon a hollow wall.
'They've fixed him.'

Justin entered in time to catch this. The long hair at the sides of his
face shook solemnly. 'I tell you; _nitchies_ fight. See, boy?'

McAuliffe was wiping his massive forehead with an oily rag the
half-breed had recently employed for gun-cleaning purposes. 'Mix me a
glass, Justin--a stiff one to straighten my nerves out. Goldam! this
corks me.'

Winton blinked his eyes like an owl in the sunlight. 'He's dead. Plugged
by those devilish _nitchies_! Then he briefly told his tale.

'You didn't see him corpsed?' cried the Factor, eagerly.

'Next thing. The shot, groan, the fall--all the rest.'

'This fairly sets me on the itch,' said the Factor, pacing up and down.
'Poor old Billy. Goldam! I'd like to get my axe alongside the skull of
the skunk who did the lead-pumping business. I'd set his body to pickle,
I tell you.'

'Vengeance will fall upon the wicked man who striketh his neighbour
secretly,' came in a weak voice from the corner. 'Let us watch and
pray.' Denton became himself again when he understood that Winton was
unpursued.

'Never mind him,' said McAuliffe, generally. 'He's only a crazy kind of
fool, anyhow. He don't know what he's talking about.'

Again Justin's dark hand shot upward, and the warning whistle sounded.
He set his head forward, then remarked, as though it were the most
natural thing in the world, 'Boy coming.'

Denton's heels recommenced their tattoo, while the others caught up
their guns. The moon was rising now, and some silvery rays slanted
through the window. Suddenly a heavy knock fell upon the door.

'Ho!' cried the half-breed through a crack.

'Open up,' came back the answer in pure English.

'Goldam!' shouted McAuliffe, 'it's the devil, or a pal of his.'

The door creaked back. On the threshold, with the night behind, stood a
young man, a rifle swinging from his hand.

'Chief Factor McAuliffe, I reckon?' he said smoothly, entering the fort.

'That's so,' the burly Factor replied. 'The devil bless me if I know who
you are.'

_'Benedicite!'_ laughed the new-comer, a strange smile crossing his
handsome face. 'My name is Hugh Lamont--at the service of the Hudson's
Bay Company,' he concluded.

'I guess the Company can hustle along without smashing your shoulders,'
returned McAuliffe, who was absolute despot of the district.

'I'm not so sure,' came the cool answer. 'This is a bad time for
modesty, so I'll hurt my feelings to the extent of letting you know that
there isn't a man in the Dominion who can down me at any range with
rifle or revolver. Like to try?'

This was an unfortunate challenge. McAuliffe was accustomed to boast of
being the worst shot on the Continent. It was, however, a fact that he
was perfectly useless as a marksman.

'You've just come from the Lord knows where to tell me that,' he shouted
angrily. 'Just you quit your shooting toy, and get your arms round my
body. I tell you, I could throw your weight from here to the forest.'

Lamont laughed contemptuously. He glanced through the window at the
Saskatchewan burning beneath the moon, then remarked, 'I guess you'll be
hearing an owl pumping out hoots round here presently.'

'Let them hoot,' said the Factor, hotly. 'Goldam! the derned old owls
don't have to ask your permission--'

'These owls don't grow feathers on their skins,' continued the young
man, unmoved. 'The kind that'll be hooting presently are just now laying
paint on their faces, and fixing up their shooters.'

Then the others gathered round him at once.

'What's that?' cried the Factor. 'Never mind my crazy talk. What are the
_nitchies_ after?'

'They're going to clear you out at midnight,' replied Lamont,
nonchalantly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Quarter of an hour later, the position had been discussed and plan of
action determined on. There was only one course open, namely, a retreat
to the island on mid-stream, where they would be fairly safe against a
small attacking force. It was then two hours before midnight, so they
had ample time.

Angry and excited, McAuliffe paced the narrow floor, his great voice
booming forth like a bull's bellow. Lamont took a seat at the table, and
coolly attacked the remnants of the supper with the hearty appetite of
hunger. Winton stood upright, refreshed and ready to meet the men who
had cut short the career of his hunter friend. Nobody noticed Denton
squirming in a dark corner.

'Boys, we must be shifting. Say, Justin, the York boat lies right below,
eh?'

The half-breed grunted, while the Factor continued, 'Let's get. Don't
make more noise than you want to. We'll fix up and come back for you,
Lamont,' he concluded, with the easy familiarity of the country.

The three men left the fort, and followed a winding path along the side
of the cliff. Drawn up on a narrow sandspit, like some antediluvian
monster, lay a black York boat, which was dragged by concerted effort to
the water's edge. Then burdens were disposed of, Justin left on guard,
while the others climbed back up the stony pathway, talking in loud
tones, as though there were no such things as Indians in the world.
McAuliffe, who had given the warning, was of course principal offender.
Yet it was difficult to be low-spirited on such a night.

There was no wind--no sound, except a soft sighing over the waters, and
a whispering through scarce quivering leaves. The moon, rising in her
silvery glory, cast over the lonely forest and glittering river track a
gorgeous mantle of light, investing all things with mystical shadow of
unreality. The shimmering foliage of the bushes, agitated by the bodies
of the men as they passed, appeared bathed in a flood of radiance, while
from the point of each jewelled leaf small dewdrops fell like pearls in
a shower of silver. Across the river a broad ladder of light lay
shivering and burning. Little gilded serpents wound their phosphorescent
coils from wave to wave, darting to each side of the glowing road into
blacker water, then casting tiny lamps of fire and points of beauty upon
the curling crest of each murmuring ripple. Again they darted back, to
receive new energy, while in a breath the eye was dazzled anew by fresh
wonders.

Above, in a clear sky, the constellations glimmered faintly, their
beauty somewhat dimmed by the nearer glories of earth's satellite. A few
fragile _cirri_ floated, like dream spirits, beneath the blue expanse,
while, in the distance, long auroral streamers, indistinct cones and
spindles of vapour, shot upward from an arched smoky cloud, rising a few
degrees above the northern horizon.

'Wonder they didn't make off with the boat,' said Winton, as they
struggled along the difficult track.

'The devils are too clever; it would have given us fair warning. They
couldn't have dragged the old ark far without bringing Justin down. The
old chap can see everything.'

'Grand night, isn't it?'

'Fine,' agreed McAuliffe, slapping his mighty chest. 'Just the time when
a fellow feels like devilry of some sort. Give me the night, a good moon
lighting up the trees, a clear sky and soft wind, and I'm fit to throw a
dozen men one after the other. Time of day makes a lot of difference to
me. In the morning, I feel sort of weak, and want to knock around doing
woman's chores. Noon, I'm for eating; while in the afternoon, I'm bound
to stretch out my legs and pull at the pipe. But when the darkness comes
round, I begin to feel good. I want to use up my spare strength on
anything handy. The night's the time, I tell you. When you're tired,
there's always a glass of whisky and bed waiting. What more can a man
want?'

'Only home and friends,' muttered the other, in a low voice.

Lamont, in the meantime, was left to himself, as he thought, in the
fort. So, as he satisfied the cravings of man within, he speculated upon
the possibility of danger for man without. For that night he would have
his hands full. The Factor was useless as a rifle shot, so they were
very short-handed. Still, his own aim was unerring.

He smiled to himself, as he lay back in a bright ray of moonlight. A
scene of blood, burnt powder, shrieking bullets, and cries of agony rose
before him. He saw again that desperate struggle at Fish Creek. A
gallant, though straggling, line of the 90th, Manitoba's pride, came
charging recklessly up the flowery slope--there were brave boys in the
90th, but they lacked good leadership. Young boys from the Red River
Valley, with sterner fighters from Fort Garry. Up they came, their
beardless faces red with determination and heat of battle. But many of
them were dropped silently at long range, and fell upon the soft bed of
prairie grass, bleeding from a mortal wound.

Lamont's smile grew crueller, as he saw again a lithe, graceful figure
stretched along a declivity in the ridge, with cheek cuddling a rifle
stock. Every time that weapon spoke, one of the 90th boys grabbed the
air and tumbled. Riel had at least one powerful auxiliary at the Creek.

Shuffling movements in an opposite corner brought him back to the
present. He uttered a quick exclamation, then snatched up the lamp and
held it above his head. As a dark body stirred slowly, his brow grew
damp and his face white. But the blood returned slowly to his face, when
the feeble rays smote upon the abject countenance of the miserable
Denton. 'I thought I was alone,' he said, with a short laugh. 'Are you
one of the crowd?'

Denton crept up to the table, with shivering limbs and ghastly eyes.

'You're looking sick,' Lamont continued. 'What were you doing in that
corner?'

'I was asleep,' came the shaky answer. 'My eyes were weary from much
searching of the Scriptures.'

The young man laughed openly. 'I guess a rifle will be of more use to
you than the Scriptures to-night.'

The other grabbed his arm. 'Say, this is just a job you're putting up on
McAuliffe, eh?'

'You keep your ears fairly active when you're asleep. But it's true
enough, siree. The _nitchies_ are on the red-hot jump for us.'

'We shall be killed,' quavered Denton, with hands shaking like river
reeds.

A hearty roar of laughter burst from the doorway as the Factor's burly
figure blocked the aperture. 'The _nitchies_ are after you, Peter, so
you'll be killed sure. Never mind, lad. You're all the time saying you
can see the gates of the heavenly city open before you. Kind of anxious
now whether you haven't switched off on a side track, eh?'

Lamont sprang to his feet, passing his fingers caressingly round the
rifle stock. 'I'm ready to shift, Factor. The sooner we're over the
better. There may be spies around.'

'They're dead sure we're trapped,' said McAuliffe 'Anyway, we'll be as
easy there as here. Get a gait on, Peter. We're going to stick you up
the end of the island, same as we used to fix up a pole with old clothes
on it, in the fields at home, to scare away the crows.'

'Choke off, Alf,' interposed Winton. 'If you chaps start that chin
music, we sha'n't get away before sunrise.'

'Well, I'm not delaying you. Peter's mismanager here. Goldam! listen to
that, will you?'

His face grew stern again, and he held up a great hairy hand.

'The half-breed's whistle,' said Lamont. 'There's danger around.'

'Shut the door!' shouted the ex-minister, wildly.

'Quit your blasted noise. There it comes. Goldam! listen to it.'

Again the weird conflict of sounds proceeded from the forest. There was
a great crashing of branches, the sharp striking of hoofs upon rock, the
heavy plungings of a frightened animal. Up from the river came the
second warning whistle.

The moonlight poured into the room; the Factor dashed outside, with
weighty axe in his hands; the next minute a loud oath rolled off his
tongue.

A black horse was pawing at the turf. At every sound he flung up his
head and trembled, while his eyes glittered savagely.

'You tell me old Billy's been fixed by _nitchies_?' shouted McAuliffe.
'If anyone says that, it's a dam' great lie. There's been filthy work
around here to-night, boys, or I'm talking through my hat.'

Then Lamont came forward, with his usual grace of motion. 'You're
right,' he said slowly; 'the rifle's strapped to the saddle yet. No
Indian would lose such a chance.'

The Factor bit at his moustache, and glanced round towards Winton
beneath heavy eyebrows. Midway his gaze was arrested by Lamont, and the
two stared at each other in the white light. McAuliffe was the first to
lower his gaze.

Kitty, the grey one-eyed mare, came and rubbed her nose against the
black horse. Then an owl hooted loudly from the edge of the bush.

A weird shriek came from the interior of the fort.

'It's the signal!' exclaimed Winton, excitedly.

'That's the genuine moper,' said the Factor, sullenly. 'Come on, boys,
let's get across the water. I reckon the devil himself's among us
to-night.'


[1] The less known Little Saskatchewan empties itself into the lake on
the opposite side, about forty miles further south.



CHAPTER V

THE FIGHT


A long hour had dragged away. The moon, then a glowing disc of radiance,
had reached the centre of the heavens, and cast over the northern land a
shivering mantle of white light.

On the long, wooded island, round which the mighty river hissed and
murmured, five men were stationed at various points. Sheltered behind
the efficient rampart of the black York boat, which had been drawn up on
the shingle beach, Lamont knelt, nursing his rifle. He had taken off his
coat to sling over head and neck, for protection against the mosquitoes
that swarmed in malignant numbers between river and under growth. Before
him a delicate green poplar branch waved from the boat. This concealed
the gleam of his weapon without interfering with his sight.

Not far distant Winton lay stretched along a fir-shadowed rock, the
slime-green base of which was washed by the lipping waves. He kept a
watchful eye on the opposite shore, while pulling strongly at a short
pipe.

In the dark shadows behind, the comedy of a melodrama was being
rehearsed. McAuliffe, self-appointed leader of the defence party, having
placed his crack shots, paced up and down before the log hut, drawing
ghastly pictures of a probably impending fate for the benefit of the
terror-stricken Denton. As his mercurial excitement increased, he swung
his only weapon--a keen-edged bush axe--over his head, while at each
flash of the metal the quondam bar-tender shrank back with a fresh
shudder. Reproof came at length from young Winton.

'Say, Alf, that axe shines like lightning. You're raising an awful
racket.'

The Factor quickly lowered his weapon. 'You're right. I'm just
explaining things to Peter, though. He wants to know which is the
position of danger, as he's dead set on getting it. There's a lion's
heart under Peter's modesty, I tell you.'

Winton chuckled softly, and carefully struck a match. With huge relish,
the Factor continued, 'See here, Peter, when the _nitchies_ get hold of
you they'll start to work and strip you bare as a shell-fish. Likely
then they'll fix you up with a tight suit of paint trimmed with
atmosphere. Wonderful playful they can be when they set their minds to
it. Shouldn't wonder if they didn't pour oil on your wool and touch it
up with a light; just to see how you'd dance, or hear the talk you used
preaching. They've got lots of fun in them, Peter. All they want's a
fellow with humour, one that could see the point of their jokes. You'd
do that fine. Might stick skewers into your stomach to try your
digestion, or--'

Here the rifle Denton had been grasping gingerly fell with a crash.
Small sweat-beads stood upon his white forehead.

'Hold on!' cried McAuliffe, with more concern, 'we haven't got too many
rifles as it is. Pick up that shooter, and just come along with me.
Don't point the derned thing at my stomach.'

'It's not loaded,' stammered the ex-minister.

'Not loaded!' shouted the Factor, in a voice that might almost have been
heard at the mouth of the Saskatchewan. 'You old doodle-nowl! I reckon
you think that when you point it at a _nitchi_ he's going to tumble dead
just to oblige you. Here, hand over your shells, while I pack the thing
for you.'

'I haven't any,' quavered Denton.

'I'd like to know darned well what you have got, outside a lump of
pigeon heart and chunk of white liver. Justin!'

The half-breed appeared at the low doorway.

'Give me some shells,' continued the Factor. 'And--Goldam!'

After his favourite oath, the agile tongue became silent. From the
distant forest came the solemn hooting of an owl. The dreary sound hung
solemnly over the water. Again it screeched forth, then a third time.

Lamont shifted his position slightly, while a light glittered in his
keen eyes. Winton slipped the warm pipe into his pocket, and nervously
rubbed at his arms, to remove a suggestion of stiffness. Justin handed a
fistful of shells to the Factor, then proceeded unconcernedly to the
water's edge. Squatting on his haunches he wrenched a large tobacco-wad
from a black plug, then leaned over towards his neighbour and grunted.

Winton looked across inquiringly. 'Tobak?' queried the half-breed,
extending the greasy plug.

The young man shook his head.

'Good,' affirmed Justin, touching his right eye and raising the rifle to
his shoulder.

'No good to me,' came the answer. So Justin grunted again, while his
jaws moved faster.

McAuliffe dropped his axe and vigorously forced the shells into the
rifle chamber. Then he shoved the weapon into Denton's hand, and hurried
him over the shingle with the remark, 'Now chuck off the fleece, Peter.
Be a ravening wolf, and worthy of the Company. We've got to fight, and
there's no flies on it. You do your biz to-night, and I'll let you hold
a prayer meeting in the fort when everything's over. Think of that,
Peter.'

Then he passed to the others, with axe under arm, kicking up the wet
sand and muttering, 'Darn it, why can't I shoot? I'd give my nose and
ears to be able to send a bullet straight.'

The minutes dragged heavily after the signal had been given. McAuliffe
stood in a deep shadow, leaning forward on his axe. He fixed his gaze
upon the low, whitewashed walls of the fort--where his best years had
been spent in isolation from the world--showing ghastly in the
moonlight; he looked on to the open space, with the black rocks and long
forest shadows, then at the motionless bank of trees, which concealed
the approaching foe. Casting his eyes higher, he beheld the majestic
flag of England swaying listlessly from the denuded fir; yet higher--he
saw the pale stars, and for the moment wondered what lay beyond.

Justin's small eyes were keener even than Lamont's, for he it was who
first perceived dark forms, half concealed by bushes they were carrying,
winding in single file round the base of the cliff. He gave his low
whistle, then deliberately glanced an eye along his sights.

The Factor was sprawling along the shingle, watching the Indians as they
commenced to climb the cliff face, led by one man particularly agile. He
muttered softly, 'They're fooled by the light you left burning, Justin.
Goldam! I'd like to be on top of that cliff now. This old axe of mine
would rattle among their jawbones!'

Then Lamont turned himself and called, 'Say, boys, I want you to give me
first shot.'

A word, then a grunt, came back by way of assent, but there was no third
voice.

'Wonder what Peter's doing,' resumed McAuliffe. 'Hope he won't play
monkey tricks with us, anyway. If he aims this way, we're right enough;
but if he shoots at the _nitchies_, there's a fair chance for one of us
to damage a bullet.'

That unearthly silence still brooded over the great river and lonely
forest. The northern lights crept higher up the sky with a stronger
glow. A few sounds, which intensified the solitude, beat the air--the
sharp chirping of frogs from the white muskegs behind, the sullen roar
of great rapids miles up stream, the piercing refrain of the chief of
insect pests.

The tall leader crept up the cliff front, followed by his companions,
their bodies flattened against the rock. On the island shore lay Lamont,
rifle to shoulder, his cheek caressing the stock, head leaning over as
though in sleep. He might have been a stone figure. Another minute, and
the leader came up to the summit. He shot forth a long arm to seize the
overhanging rock cornice and drag his body over the ledge. But, as he
did so, two or three pale blue smoke rings circled peacefully from the
island, to float down with the murmuring river. Afterwards came a
whip-like _crack_, which set the wild northern echoes shrieking.

The leader flung up both arms with convulsive action, then crashed
backward, down amongst his followers, sweeping them to the cruel rocks
and sand beach beneath. Then Lamont aroused himself and looked round for
criticism.

McAuliffe shambled up from his bed of loose stones with ungraceful
motions. Up and down the beach he went, laughing and bellowing,
bull-like, in his excitement.

'Goldam!' he shouted again and again. 'That beats all! That's the
daisiest thing in long shots I've ever blinked at! Goldam, Lamont!
you're a peach! Brought them all down, by the almighty Jerusalem! Every
dirty, lickspittle squaw's papoose! Here they are again. Pump away your
lead, boys. Goldam! Goldam!'

The attacking party from the forest appeared out in the open. Some
ventured round the corner of the fort, and these discovered the fate of
their companions. But directly they showed themselves, three shots rang
out sharply.

The Factor narrowly escaped wounding his leg with the axe in his
evolutions. He puffed out his beard, while his great red face glowed and
shone. 'I tell you, you're doing fine, boys. You picked off that big
fellow as though he'd been a chicken on a fence post, Justin. Hope he
isn't dead, though; he owes the Company for a pair of blankets. Look at
that, would you?'

Small shot whistled through the air, pattering against rocks, through
leaves, and dropping like hail into the river. The natives had fired a
volley from their old muzzle loaders, which were almost useless at the
distance. Then the attacking party, evidently disappointed and
mystified, withdrew again into the forest.

The defenders left their post and came round McAuliffe, with the
unimportant exception of Denton. A sharp query at once arose, 'Where's
that derned skunk, Peter?'

The half-breed jerked his head towards the trees, and muttered, 'He no
good.'

'The mean devil. He can shoot well if he wants. I'm going to track him
up, then tie him down to his place.'

'What's the good, Alf?' said Winton. 'Let him alone. He won't be any
good if you do find him.'

The other yielded. 'Well, well, I guess you're right. Now I wonder what
scheme the rascals t'other side mean working.'

'Get canoe,' said Justin, abruptly.

'I reckon. Then they'll try their dirtiest to land. I shall have my
chores to see to soon as they cross the Jordan. How many boats, Justin?'

The half-breed held up a hand, then replied, 'Canoe; one boat.'

'Five canoes and a York,' said McAuliffe, interpreting the sign
language. 'That's rough. There's not another tribe in the district with
a York boat. This is an old one; used to belong to the Company. It may
be leaky, still I reckon it'll do the trip.'

'How large is the tribe?' asked Lamont.

'Small. Not more than sixty males, counting the old 'uns and boys. We
should be able to hold them off.'

'Hope they'll soon come,' said Winton, stretching his long arms.

McAuliffe passed his thumb across the axe edge. 'I reckon this is an
interval for refreshment,' he observed. 'There should be a bottle in the
hut, boys. Let's turn in for a nerve-straightener and a bit of plug.
Justin'll whistle out when we're wanted.'

Then they disappeared within, while the night silence grew again.

About half an hour had slipped away, before the half-breed's whistle
gave warning of danger. The men were quickly back in their places, to
see a couple of canoes working up stream, hugging the opposite bank
closely.

Lamont knelt for a time at the side of the half-breed, talking and
explaining. Justin nodded and grunted as a sign of understanding, then
took a fresh wad of chew, and, without the least outward show of
interest, watched the progress of the enemy.

McAuliffe now wore the axe strapped to his back, and appeared with a
huge breech loader, which he had loaded with No. 2 shot and a heavy
charge. This was for close quarters.

But as he scanned the moon-lit prospect, his peace of mind was
considerably perturbed by a slight, yet sufficiently significant omen.
The rope might have been tampered with by some Indian, or the slight
wind might possibly have loosened the rings, but it was certain that the
two flags, which recently had fluttered in their proper places, were now
hanging at half-mast.

The Factor was superstitious, like most northerners, so the sight
troubled him. It did not appear as though the others had noticed the
change--Justin would not have understood the meaning of the sign--and
this was perhaps as well.

A gaunt, flat-bottomed York boat came suddenly round the bend in
mid-stream. Six paddles flashed on either side between water and
moonlight. Even so, progress was slow.

'Ready, Justin?' called Lamont, quickly. A sonorous grunt.

'First canoe.'

Brief silence, then a double report. Two Indians, one at each end of the
leading canoe, staggered and fell over the side. Immediately the
birch-shell overturned, and cast its occupants into the river.

But the black York boat came steadily on. In vain Justin crashed his
bullets through the thick sides. In vain Lamont skilfully pierced the
planking beneath water line. The gaunt bulwarks of this floating castle
grew nearer. Even Justin shook his head and muttered, 'Bad!' McAuliffe
swore and laid a brawny hand upon his axe. The boat was not more than a
stone's throw from the end of the island, when a canoe, just launched
from the opposite bank, came cutting a white line through the water. It
had already reached mid-stream, when a strong cry rose from Winton's
corner.

'What is it?' called McAuliffe, hurrying up.

'A canoe coming down stream. Not fifty yards off.'

'Attacked on three sides,' groaned the Factor, as he came to the young
man's side. 'Half a dozen in it. Anything would send it over. Winton,
boy, you must tackle it.'

'Right, Alf,' said the young fellow simply.

The Factor turned away heavily, but the voice behind called him back.
'Here, Alf, you've been square to the deadbeat.'

An oily, powder-stained hand was extended. McAuliffe clutched it in his
great fingers, then hurried along the loose shingle.

He soon came up with the half-breed, who was firing steadily, but
without apparent success, at the black boat. The Indians reserved their
fire for close quarters. With them reloading was a lengthy process.

For the time Lamont's skill seemed to have left him. Shot after shot he
aimed at the speeding canoe, but with no decisive result. At length his
nerve was restored, and he disabled the Indian in the bows. The next
time his rifle cracked, water poured through the birch bark, and the
frail canoe settled at once, not fifteen yards from shore. Then Lamont
pulled out his revolver, and coolly picked off the dark heads bobbing
among the waves caused by the furious struggles of desperate swimmers.

Hard by, young Winton toiled single-handed. With the speed and coolness
which had won him his football blue during that short 'Varsity career,
he aimed, fired and reloaded, though his boyish face grew pale at the
odds against him. If Lamont had only been by his side, as he so easily
might have been! Opportunities were narrowing down rapidly--the canoe
was perilously close, and so many of his bullets went astray.

Ah! that was a good shot. The canoe had overturned, but there were still
three men uninjured. One held his weapon above water, and clung to the
inverted canoe, which he steered towards land, employing it as a
life-buoy and shield. Also, he could rest his gun on the birch bark, and
take fairly deliberate aim. The other two reached shallow water, and
were making for the bank.

Winton pressed his lips fiercely, as, with a hand that trembled for the
first time that night, he fired at the approaching foe. The tension was
fearful, after the attack of deer fever and the fright of Sinclair's
end. If Lamont would only come! From the other end of the island came
the loud yells of Indians, and over all the roar of the Factor's deep
voice.

For McAuliffe's opening had arrived at last. With the imperturbable
Justin at his side, he 'lay for' that York boat. Hurriedly he explained,
'We must empty their guns, boy. When I call "down," flop for your life.'

With jerky motions the black monster drew down, the water rippling and
gurgling along the sides. Paddles flashed in the moonlight, while drops
rained from the quickly moving blades in fiery points of light.

Not more than a dozen yards distant, and a head appeared. Justin's rifle
flashed from the crook of his arm--a paddle dropped, and floated away
down stream. That was a shot Lamont might have envied. Three more
strokes, and a dozen pointing guns flashed within sight, as many painted
faces glared defiance from the stocks.

'Down!' roared McAuliffe, in a voice that set the leaves trembling.

Before the echoes threw back the sound, they were sprawling against the
wet sand. Literally at the same moment a thrilling report shrieked over
island, up river, across distant forests. Small boughs and bunches of
leaves rained from surrounding trees, while each trunk bled from a
thousand wounds. The shot crashed, like the bursting of a hurricane,
against the rocks, while the air was thick with fluttering wads, and
foul with powder.

A wild shout of triumph burst from the black boat. There were two
lifeless figures stretched upon the beach! So the paddles worked faster,
while the keel ground sullenly on fine sand. There was no thought of
concealment. Every warrior leaned over the side, laughing and howling in
foolish joy.

But as the smoke collected overhead in one large cloud, and commenced to
drift away, extraordinary animation visited one of the supposed corpses.
It sprang to its feet and rushed into the water, pointing a heavy gun.
At a merely nominal distance it levelled a great gun, then pulled the
trigger, with a result that it fell floundering backwards with the force
of recoil. It was up directly, spluttering and jubilant. 'You skunks!
I've fixed your dirty racket. Goldam! if I haven't made a straight shot
this journey, call me Ananias.'

Justin stood behind, stolidly chewing. He grunted and expressed his
feelings by the monosyllable, 'Good!'

The attacking party were quiet enough now, for there was hardly a single
man unwounded. True to their nature, all had emptied their guns
together. Now the foremost idea was immediate departure; so a couple of
men sprang overboard to push the boat off.

But McAuliffe threw down the gun, and swung round his axe. 'I'll spoil
the first man who starts shoving,' he said cheerfully.

The half-breed fired again, and a man who had been endeavouring secretly
to load his gun fell forward in the boat.

This robbed the Indians of their last vestige of determination. They all
cried aloud for mercy.

The Factor was now in his element. 'Throw up your hands! Come ashore one
by one, and fling down your fixings!'

This injunction was obeyed. The warriors threw knives and ammunition to
the beach, then stood with uplifted hands.

'Bring along that new rope, Justin!' The half-breed disappeared within
the hut, while McAuliffe, with the air of a general, reviewed his
prisoners. 'First that makes a break gets a bullet in his liver! If any
want to commit suicide, all he's got to do is move out of his place!'

When the rope was brought, Justin cut it into lengths, while his
superior, with considerable zest, fastened the hands of each warrior
behind his back. To each he addressed a few conciliatory remarks. Such
as to the leader,--

'Well, Muskwah, my boy, you've gone to work and made a derned fool of
yourself to-night. Now I've got to use a good bit of new rope to
decorate your arms; but see here, boy, I shall notch it down to your
score in the store books. You'll have to bring along a gallon of fish
oil to get square.'

However, it was not reserved for Justin to fire the last shot of the
fight.

His share of the work completed, Lamont exchanged rifle for pipe, and
began to chop at a plug of T.&B. Thus employed, he suddenly heard a
rattling of footsteps along the shingle towards his left. He turned,
expecting to see Winton; but it was a native, speeding along stealthily,
with a long knife in his hand.

Lamont dropped smoking materials, and with quick movement jerked up his
revolver. He was lying in a perfectly opaque shadow, so was safe from
the hostile eyes, which, indeed, never glanced in his direction.
Probably this man had some personal grudge against McAuliffe, and meant
now to settle it. How he had managed to elude Winton was a question
Lamont could not attempt to answer.

He crouched lower, and brought the muzzle down, until it finally rested
at the crook of his left elbow. His hand was like a rock. In the dim
light he could see his victim's head through the sight.

'Poor devil!' he muttered to himself, with a smile. 'I'll give him a few
more seconds to enjoy life in.'

The Indian slackened speed, then began to crawl towards a bush. Half a
dozen movements he made, then every muscle in his body tightened with a
strange agony. For a second he knelt, as though turned into stone, then
dropped over noiselessly, with right side pressing the sand, and head
supported on his bent arm, as though he had suddenly been overcome with
sleep. And a sleep it was--yet one which leaves the body for ever
silent.



CHAPTER VI

THE BREAKING OF THE DAWN


The prisoners had been secured to the last man when Lamont came slowly
along the beach. Then Justin tapped the Factor's arm, and said in his
usual direct manner, 'Chief coming.'

The last navigable birch bark was crossing the river in their direction.
When it came closer, the victors perceived two old men huddled together
in their blankets, like a couple of dreary crows. The paddle was wielded
deftly and gracefully by a young, slender girl, who knelt upright in the
centre, with her dark hair streaming and tossing behind.

Along the east, red light was waving and breaking. Misty clouds crept
over the forest, to burst in a soaring dew. Damp air crept from the
bosom of the Saskatchewan and made the men shiver. The night was merging
into a new day.

McAuliffe rubbed his hands briskly, and peered through the shadowy
gloom.

'It's old whisky bottle, sure enough. He's going to tumble to his knee
bones and lick my shoes.'

Lamont was gazing too--but not at the withered Chief. 'Who is the girl?'
he asked, with slow intonation.

The Factor laughed. 'She calls herself his daughter. How the shrivelled
old hulk can claim to be her father, darned if I know. She's a daisy, I
tell you. If she comes pleading for these fellows with her pretty face
held up, and the tears shining in her eyes--well, I shall likely make a
fool of myself.'

'What are you going to do with them, anyhow?'

'Let 'em go, soon as they've sworn not to fight against us again.
They're all heathens here, so will stay by their word. I've just fixed
them up to scare the old chap, and bring him to his senses. Here they
come. You watch me give old whisky bottle a good rubbing down.'

Justin came up with the two old men, not speaking but occasionally
tapping his rifle with a significant gesture, and grunting loudly.
Ahead, Menotah tripped gaily, full as ever of life and happiness, though
she had that night seen her tribe more than decimated. She was safe
enough in the hands of white men, who might be cruel, yet who always
fell down to worship beauty. Therefore she had twisted a fresh wreath
among her black tresses, and volunteered to lead her father with Antoine
to sue for pardon.

The girl's bright eyes were, however, quickly attracted and held.
Lamont, as he stood leaning against a fir, among the shadows slowly
turning from black to grey, was a sight good to look upon. He was
bareheaded, with the cool morning wind passing through his wavy hair.
The excitement of the fight still lingered over his refined face, while
a self-satisfied smile round the mouth and a certain tired look in the
eyes were both singularly adapted to that clear style of masculine
beauty he possessed in no ordinary degree.

To her it was as if the sun had just descended from heaven and taken the
form of a man. For the first time in her short life she found herself
conflicting with nervousness. This was of short duration, however. Then
she gave him a smiling glance, lightly touching with dainty finger tips
the bright wreath which twined along her thick fringe. He recalled the
scene of the previous evening, and smiled back.

This was McAuliffe's opportunity for asserting his power. Before him
stood the Chief, pleading and gesticulating, throwing the blame upon the
shoulders of the conveniently absent Riel and his associates, making
abundant promises for future obedience. Close by, old Antoine, the real
sower of strife, stood wrapped to the chin in his yellow blanket,
malevolent and silent.

The Factor listened with what he flattered himself was a frown of
judicial severity on his genial red face. Then he made a lamentable
effort to deliver himself of fulminations after the manner of the
Chief's grandiloquence.

'You've just gone to work and made everlasting moon-heads of
yourselves,' he thundered. 'You've tried to play monkey with the
Company, and fix its representatives. You've gone a peg worse, for
you've rebelled against the Great Mother.[1] She's not going to stand
your fooling, I tell you.' He shook a great fist in the direction of the
captives. 'Listen here, now. These fellows are all going to be shot
under the hour. As you two are bosses, and might feel sort of hurt going
along with the crowd, I'm going to let you down soft. All I'm going to
do is just string you both up to the big fir 'way side of the fort. May
you jump easy!' he concluded, with a dim sense of being called upon for
commendatory words by way of peroration.

The Chief shook like a jelly-stone, while Antoine began to display
feeble signs of interest. Then the former trembled to his knees and
wailed, 'Great Sun, from whom we receive light and food, have pity upon
your miserable servants. The wicked rebel Riel, who has dared to fight
against the Great Mother, commanded us to rise and destroy, and who am I
to disobey his word? Pardon us, friend of the Great Spirit. Then I and
my children will ever be your slaves.'

'Can't do it,' said McAuliffe, winking towards Lamont.

We feared the vengeance of Riel,' continued the old man, his wrinkled
hands beating upon the shingle. 'His warriors are many, while the white
men are few. Have we not received our punishment? The best of the tribe
are already cold with death. To-night, round the tents will be heard the
voice of weeping; maidens will mourn for lover or father; old men, who
bear the scars of life trouble, will lay their white hair in the dirt
when the pride of their age is borne to the tent. Instead of music and
the dance, there will be beating of death knells, and the belabouring of
breasts. Is not the white man satisfied with such vengeance?'

'Can't be helped,' said the Factor, stubbornly. 'Nobody but the Great
Mother can forgive you.'

'But has she not placed you here to rule over us? The white man is
mighty. He can give pardon to his enemies without fear. The host lies in
his path, and he breathes on them. Then no man may tell where that host
is.'

McAuliffe had no wish to continue argument, as he was tired and hungry.
He had asserted his dignity, which was all that could be required of
him. So he replied, as sternly as natural advantages would allow, 'I've
heard enough of your gas, and now I'll tell you what I've got a mind to
do. I'll let these fellows go, after they've all sworn that they won't
fight again against the Hudson's Bay Company. You two will want to chip
in as well. There's generosity for you! Goldam! don't you think you'd
have slipped out of Kiel's hands like that. He'd have hung first, and
let you off afterwards.'

The Chief would have burst into triumphant thankfulness, but he was
speedily choked off. 'Now then, I'm waiting here for your curses.
Justin, unfix the crowd.'

The half-breed passed behind the captives, and passed a knife blade
across each binding rope. Then they fell into line, the Chief leading,
and filed before the grinning Factor, each with right hand held aloft,
and left spread upon the heart. They swore by Light, by Darkness; by
Sun, by Moon; by the Great Spirit, the Totem[2] the River, never to
fight against the Hudson's Bay Company, nor to break the laws of the
Great Mother. McAuliffe knew that, if occasion arose, they would seal
such an oath with their lives.

Permission was then granted the survivors to reclaim their weapons and
carry away the dead.

'I've a good stock of blankets in the store,' said the Factor, grimly.
'Guess you may be wanting a few to wrap up the corpses with. The
store'll be open about noon. Ten dollars' worth in trade'll buy them.
Oil for choice, as I'm short.'

It was remarkable what little concern Menotah showed for her father's
fate. She certainly listened to the pleading, and had watched the
Factor's glowing face with a satisfied smile, which betokened her
certainty of the result. In her vivacious light-heartedness she imitated
him as he launched his thunderbolts at her crushed parent. She drew up
her slight figure with an injured dignity when he swelled with virtuous
indignation; she frowned, though two sparkling eyes gave the lie to the
soft forehead lines, when he attempted sternness; she threw back her
little head and folded her arms in patience of resignation when he
paused to hear the petitioner.

She was only an ignorant girl, whom Providence had strangely endowed
with beauty. Her one idea was to charm. She could not know that across
success lay the shadow of a life's sorrow.

Lamont stirred from the fir with a soft-voiced remark of flattery. The
young man spoke the melodious Cree with native ease. By way of answer,
Menotah plucked a berry from her hair, and threw it at him. It struck
him on the nose, and she laughed. The tuneful sound was infectious, and
the next minute he was at her side. The over-ripe berry had left a
blood-like stain upon his fair skin. She turned impulsively, and wiped
away the mark with a lingering, caressing touch of her small fingers.

It was then that Lamont's gaze fell to the other shore, and perceived in
the raw light the altered position of the flags. The quick eyes,
watching his movements, noticed the sudden start, so the red lips parted
in a request for explanation.

He looked into her happy face, upturned trustfully. 'The flags!' he
exclaimed, pointing.

'What! You have seen them before, haven't you?' she asked.

'They should be hanging from the top of the fir,' he explained.

'Oh! I did that,' cried Menotah, joyously.

'You!'

'I was pulling at the ropes--it was only for mischief--when they came
tumbling down. They stopped half way, and then I left them alone.'

With careless hand and ignorant heart of happiness, she had set the sign
of mourning for the dead.

'Have I done any harm?' she asked wistfully.

'Of course not,' he replied lightly. 'At least not with your hands.' He
looked at her in a new manner. Again she felt that sudden strange
timidity, which she did not know was the birth of love.

The dawn was scattering rays of light across forest and river. Red and
golden bars stretched along the eastern sky, through which peeped a
glory of the imprisoned sun. The birds shook the dew from their plumage,
and flew from brake and bush in search of food; frogs sank in the slime
of the muskegs and ceased their night song; locusts whirred sharply in
the long grass; Nature shook off the passionless mantle of sleep, and
rose with the smile of opening flowers and balmy odour of earth's
incense. It was the season of new life.

Wiping his massive brow, McAuliffe came up to Lamont and took him by the
shoulder. 'I'm proud of you, boy. You've put in good work to-night all
right, and saved this old hulk from drifting into harbour. Yes, you're
the best shot in the Dominion, sure as I'm the worst. Queer us two
fellows should have come together, eh?'

'Extremes,' said the other, yawning. 'Anyway, you made the shot of the
fight.'

McAuliffe puffed out his beard in a grim smile. 'Goldam! you mustn't
spin shooting yarns before me now. I should chip in and cap the best.
But, say, where's Winton?'

'Haven't seen him.'

The Factor's satisfied smile disappeared. He called at Justin, who was
launching the heavy York, with Indian assistance, but the only answer he
received was a decided shake of the black hair.

'Pshaw! he'll be keeping the bottle company. Come away into the shack,
and fetch him out. He's only a boy, and played out with the work.'

But Winton was not inside the hut. Then the Factor laughed gruffly.
'He's too good-natured a young fool for this world. Tell you what; he's
gone to work and set out to find Peter, just to tell him to keep clear
of me for a while, the dirty rascal. He'd always sort of stick up for
him, when he thought I was laying it on too thick. Goldam! Winton's a
fine boy. You believe me, Lamont.'

'That's so,' said the other carelessly, glancing towards the kanikanik
bush, beside which lay the corpse of the last killed.

The Factor continued, 'I've got a bit of a scheme in this old
razzle-pate. There's a neat pile of shin-plasters getting bigger and
mounting up all the time. When I'm given long leave, I'm going to blow
'em out by taking the boy back to the old country. Got into trouble at
his University, he did, fired out, and came right on here. Derned silly
thing to do, anyway, but he was scared of the folks. He's an only boy,
so I reckon the people wouldn't want to come hard on him.'

'Lots of his class around,' said Lamont, thinking of the heated faces
and desperate struggle at Fish Creek.

'And they're darned sight better-hearted than the good ones that mope at
home. Mind you, Lamont, not a word to the boy. Not a word, or you'd
spoil the racket.'

Justin called to them from the slime-green rock which the big fir
shadowed.

Lamont waved his hand. 'I reckon he's found,' he said shortly.

'What are you driving at anyway? Why should he want to stay out there?
Goldam! you're not making out--'

The sentence unfinished, he hurried away over the loose shingle. Lamont
followed more leisurely, and presently they both stood at the
half-breed's side.

Winton was still at the post of duty, clutching his cold rifle, with
face turned towards the colours of the dawn. McAuliffe stooped, panting,
then burst into a hearty laugh.

'Just as I said right along. He's played right out, and gone off to
sleep. Well, well, I hate to wake him, but we must be getting across.'

Still laughing, he knelt and turned the young man over by his shoulder.
But the sleeping figure was of a board-like stiffness. Then his red face
became grey tinted, and settled in fear.

For the eyes which looked up at his were unclosed and covered with light
film; the forehead was like marble, over which the hair trembled in the
raw air of morning, like grass on the dry rock; but the ears heard no
sound of McAuliffe's deep cry, the stiff and parted lips gave back no
cheerful word of welcome.

Young Winton had done with life and the troubles living brings.


[1] The Queen.

[2] See Glossary.



PART II


THE HEART'S GRIEF



CHAPTER I

THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE


The presence of death, which casts so powerful a shadow of sorrow, and
imposes so profound a silence, brooded along the smiling shores of the
Saskatchewan. In the fort on the cliff summit, Justin had prepared food,
and the two men had eaten, then sought sleep for a few hours. About
mid-day the Factor appeared outside, swinging the store key, while
Lamont stirred himself and began to chop tobacco in the outer office.

On the pure air came distant sounds of lamentation for the dead, shrill
voices rising and falling in monotonous cadence, with dull drum
beatings. Nearer there were different disturbances of the
atmosphere--McAuliffe's deep voice, swearing angrily at some natives,
alternating with the funereal strokes of a spade. The half-breed was
preparing a grave for the cold figure lying in the other room.

The door swung open--no mosquitoes were stirring in that white heat--and
the sun slanted inward with long dazzling rays. Presently a soft,
hesitating step pattered along the planking outside, a shadow crossed
the hot beams, then a face timidly peeped within.

Lamont called out lightly, and Menotah slipped inside. Warm colour shone
in her cheeks, her bosom heaved slightly, while the radiant eyes were
moist. Her red lips parted in a quick little sigh of surprised pleasure.

'I did not know you were here,' she said, the soft fringe dropping over
her eyes. '_He_ said I might come--to say good-bye.'

Lamont bit his lip. 'He is inside.' Then she flashed a sudden look upon
him and disappeared.

Sitting with the smoke rising to the log roof, he presently heard the
sound of a kiss. He started and shuddered. It was a horrible idea for
one so young, so warm, so beautiful, to press a kiss with ripe lips on
the cold blue features of a corpse. When she appeared, somewhat more
solemn and less smiling, he asked, 'Did you like him, Menotah?'

'Yes. He was nice, and used to kiss me; so I have kissed him, now that
he has gone to the shadow land.'

She made a light step onward. Her heart was too happy to feel grief for
long.

At that moment Lamont was almost glad a possible rival had been removed.
This girl was such an entirely perfect piece of nature.

'You may come with me if you like,' she said artlessly, holding out a
small brown hand. 'I will talk to you. Perhaps, if you are nice to me, I
will kiss you.'

Her colour deepened as she made the innocent promise. She had never felt
this warm, elevating desire before. For her it had no name, yet she was
certain it was a thing not to be lost lightly. Somehow she imagined a
contact of lips would intensify that feeling, might bring it nearer
consummation. That the awakening desire was a threatening danger to the
'heart of joy' she did not guess, she could not know.

But he was by her side, and they were walking through the cool of the
forest, soothed by the whisperings of the leaves.

Beneath the spreading fir known to the Indians as the 'death tree,' they
paused, while Lamont noticed that Menotah's long lashes were fringed
with tear dew. 'You are crying,' he said quickly.

She laughed up at him gaily. 'No, I am not. But I am so happy.'

He smiled back at these innocent words, which contained a latent
flattery. Then he looked with a growing tenderness at the dark clusters
of hair and wonderful health bloom on the delicately curved features.
This beautiful girl would obey the natural impulses of inclination. She
was ignorant of life--more, could scarce recognise the first emotion of
love birth. Certainly he must teach her.

It was a strange spot for the meeting-place of lovers. At every breath
of wind overhead branches rocked with a weird sound of bone creaking.
For there were many brown-ribbed skeletons swaying airily among the
chafing boughs. Sometimes the breeze would fan aside a leaf cluster to
disclose a jocund skull secured to the bark behind. They were surrounded
by relics of the dead, for the ground and bushes were plentifully
besprinkled with bones, which had decayed away, and been swept aside
during dark nights when the storm howled through the forest.

'You are happy,' said Lamont almost enviously. 'Have you no wish--'

'Yes,' she interrupted joyously. 'I should like to be wise and know
much, more even than old Antoine. Then I would go over the Great Water
to the City of the Wind.[1] I would show the white chiefs that the poor
Indians, though not great and powerful, are yet beings of flesh and
blood. We see with eyes, hear with ears, speak with tongues and life
breath. The Indian's body casts as good a shadow as the white man's. Oh,
if I might only be wise, and do what I wish!'

'What gives you such a wish?'

With true native reverence for the unknown, she replied fearfully, 'The
Dream Spirit whispers in my ear when I sleep. I do not forget.'

She stopped abruptly, so he added with a laugh, 'Your friends?'

'I could not,' she said simply. 'By forgetting friends you rob yourself
of pleasure; by forgetting enemies you make yourself coward.'

Lamont gazed at the small face eagerly. 'You would seek for revenge,
then?'

'It would be duty,' she returned, with new sternness. 'If it is right to
do good to a friend, it must also be right to punish an enemy. If anyone
should kill my heart with sorrow, I would give life and strength to the
cause of vengeance. I should never turn back.'

A gust of hot wind sighed through the dreary tree. The branches shifted
with sullen movements. But, as she ceased speaking, a brown object
bounded through the rustling leaves and lay on the grass before them,
gazing upward with ghastly mirth.

Lamont started back with white face, and crossed himself hurriedly. But
Menotah only laughed. 'The Wind Spirit is throwing skulls at us. But why
are you frightened?'

He pointed at the symbol of death. 'It is a bad omen,' he said huskily.
'It means approaching evil.'

'To me?' asked Menotah, astounded at this fresh wisdom.

'Or to me--perhaps to both.'

She smiled and shook her small head. 'Ah! but you are wrong; I should
only despise a God, who could only warn me by rolling a skull at my
feet. My heart has always been happy; I know the God would never harm
me.'

'Trouble comes to all at some time in life.'

'No, not to all; never to me. I have been born that I may laugh and be
happy. I must not try to teach you. Yet, when you have made something
with your own hands that you think beautiful, you could never destroy
it, unless you were mad. You would feel you were cutting away a part of
your life. So the God could never destroy my happiness. For he would
have to spoil the work of his own making; and the God is never mad.'

She picked up the skull and ran her bright eyes over the mouldering
symbol. Then, as she perceived, high up on the bony forehead, a small,
rounded fissure, she gave a sad little cry of recognition.

'This is the skull of a white man. But his story was a very sad one.'

'Who was he?' cried Lamont, in surprise.

'I never saw him alive. But when he lay dead, I washed the dry blood
from his face. That was eight years ago, when I was very young. See!
here is the place where the bullet passed.'

'Who was he?' repeated Lamont, in lower tones.

'He came from the Spirits' passing place.[2] His name was Sinclair.'

'Sinclair!' he muttered to himself. 'Pshaw! it's the commonest name of
the Province.' Then to the girl, 'Who shot him?'

'He had an enemy who was a coward. He tracked him down through the
forest as you would follow a moose. One evening Sinclair was resting and
smoking his pipe. Then this other man crept up and shot him through the
bushes.'

Lamont moistened his lips. 'Did he escape?'

Menotah shook her head gladly. 'They caught him, and the warriors tied
him to a tree, then shot at him with arrows. Some day I will show you
that tree. But he was a coward. He cried for mercy when the women tied
his arms.'

'But he was only doing his duty,' argued Lamont, with his careless air.
'You say that vengeance is necessary.'

'But I would never steal upon my enemy and shoot him down. That is the
act of a man who fears to fight. I would meet him face to face. Perhaps
Sinclair had never done this man an injury after all.' Then she laughed
in her happy manner, and set the skull carefully in the cleft of a
stunted kanikanik bush. She turned to him and laid a small hand on his
arm. 'You would not act as he did,' she said.

He looked at the little fingers curved upon his coat sleeve. Then he
placed his hand over and held them. 'Then you do not think me a coward?'

'You!' she said slowly. 'No, you are a brave man, who would fight until
death for any you loved.'

'For you?' he said, bending his head to the soft, waving tresses.

'And even after death; your soul would protect me.'

He drew a little back and laughed scornfully. 'Do you believe in such a
thing?'

She lifted her face, which was animated with belief. 'You may see it; on
the winter's day the shadowy vapour rises to the lips and escapes in
breath. You cannot tell where it goes to. But it is the soul.'

She stopped and glanced half shyly. 'Go on,' he said.

'In the summer we do not need to see it. Then everything is alive and
happy. But in the dreary winter the Spirit shows itself to our eyes.
Then we may know the higher life stirs within us, though the world is
dead. Shall I tell you any more?'

She stood like the child repeating a well-known lesson. Her fingers
twisted within his, and she lowered her eyes. He passed his arm round
the slight figure, and drew her from the shadow of the death tree.

'It is gloomy here; let us go out to the sunshine.'

'Then I must go. I have to bring the old Chief to mourn at the grave.'
Her manner changed quickly as she continued, 'I don't think you believe
in me.'

He laughed outright. 'Have I said so? Don't you think I would keep any
promise I made you?'

They stopped in the dimly-marked forest trail, and he drew her to him.
She looked up quickly, sighed, then passed her right arm impulsively
across to his shoulder. Her long hair, floating unbound, caressed the
hand that held her waist. 'Yes,' she faltered, with a strange little
laugh, 'for you are brave.'

The light darted into her lustrous eyes, and her small mouth twitched.
He placed his hand beneath her chin and raised her graceful head as he
bent his own down. Her quick breathing fanned his face. 'Your promise,'
he whispered. Then the sunlight disappeared.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, a strange procession started from the fort. Winton's body lay
uncovered on resinous pine branches, the ends of which were sustained by
the shoulders of McAuliffe and the half-breed. At a short distance
behind walked Lamont, smoking carelessly.

The grave had been dug about fifty paces from the door. Arriving there,
they placed the body upon the grass, while the Factor mopped his
forehead and remarked upon the weather. He was grinning broadly, as a
necessary covering to his real feelings. Subsequently he confided to
Lamont that he had been compelled to recall the most humorous incidents
connected with his past career as a preventive to foolish signs of
grief. Justin stood by stolidly, and spat into the grave.

'Shouldn't wonder if we didn't get an electric storm presently,'
observed the Factor. There was no reply to this attempt at conversation.
'What'll we do now?' he continued, smiling expansively.

Justin grunted, then pointed expressively to the dark hole surrounded by
fresh grass.

'Plant him, eh? well, I guess so. Got any ropes?'

There were none handy, so the half-breed went off to the store for some.
The Factor filled the interval by relating a ludicrous anecdote for his
companion's benefit, and chopping a pipeful of plug. When Justin
returned, ropes were passed round the leafy bier and the body was
lowered by concerted effort.

Then McAuliffe lit his pipe, and knocked his great boots together
clumsily. He looked across at Lamont, leaning against the tree which
shadowed the open grave. 'How are you on the prayer racket?' he blurted
forth.

The young man shook his head and muttered something unintelligible.

'Seems kind of hard to cover the boy up and get off without saying a
word, don't it? Say, Justin, can't you do something that way?'

The half-breed chewed and grunted a negative. Then there was unpleasant
silence, which was finally broken by the rustling of bushes. The old
Chief appeared, leaning on his daughter's arm. They both paused, silent,
at the brink. Menotah's arms were overflowing with delicate, half-opened
buds of the forest rose, and these pink and white blossoms--recalling
faded life pleasures of the past--she commenced to drop softly upon the
body beneath.

'Goldam!' muttered the Factor, 'I wish I knew what to say, and how to
put it.'

Suddenly his reflection was broken by the pure music of a young voice,
which rang sweetly out upon the air. An ignorant soul poured forth a
message to the unknown God. The heathen girl performed an office which
the Christian men shrank from.

Menotah was kneeling, her fair face raised to the clear blue of the sky,
her chin resting lightly upon brown finger tips.

'Great Spirit, listen to the words of a daughter Thou knowest not, and
grant her that for which she prays. The evil one has stolen the life
from this body and has carried it to the cold shadow land. Do not Thou
permit him to harm the body that we loved. If Thou hast the power to
conquer the wicked spirit, take away that body and place him in the wide
fields of summer, where the devils may not live, and where the souls of
the mighty sweep over the flowering grass, like cloud shadows on a
bright day. Perchance Thou art not able to hear my prayer, for I am but
the child of another god. But if Thou canst hear me, I pray Thee hearken
to my words, and grant him happiness for ever in the Land of the Sun.'

McAuliffe scratched his beard nervously; Lamont smiled; Justin commenced
to fill in the grave.

But the old Chief shuffled aside, and muttered slowly, 'It is not well
to call upon the God of the white men. He has conquered our gods in the
fight. Perchance he may now turn the blood to water in our veins.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Towards evening Justin paddled across to the island to bring off a
miserable figure, who had long been sending forth a loud but ineffectual
appeal for rescue. The half-breed delivered himself of but a single
opinion, and that was when Denton lurched nervously into the birch bark,
half upsetting it. He crossed his wad to the opposite cheek, and
remarked, 'You no good.' Then he wielded his paddle and shot the canoe
swiftly across the river.

The ex-minister had plenty of cool assurance when he knew his body was
in no particular danger. Also his courage was stimulated by hunger, so
he walked to the door of the fort, and at once came upon the Factor and
Lamont, who were seated within. The former raised his head and said
indifferently, 'It's you, Peter, eh?'

'I've come back again, Alfred,' said the other, composedly. 'And--'

'Quit your dirty noise, now. You can swear in churches, if folks are
fools enough to let you, but darn me if you play double face here. If
you begin to talk, I shall start fighting. Then I reckon you'd wish you
were back in your hiding-place. You're a cowardly devil, Peter, if ever
there was one.'

Ominous red streaks appeared on Denton's sallow face. He prepared to
cast back a reply.

'Not a word. I tell you, if you talk back at me, it'll go bad for you.'
He started up and dragged the wretch to the door. Then he pointed to a
dark mound of soil ahead. 'See that? that's where we've just planted
young Winton, who was as much a man as you're a hound. They fixed him
last night when you were skulking in the bush.'

He pulled off Denton's hat and threw it on the ground. 'You're a
murderer, Peter, and darned if I care who hears me say it. If you'd had
the spirit of a woman, young Winton wouldn't have been lying out there.'

Then he took Denton by the shirt collar and pulled him outside. Here he
turned upon him again. 'See here, now, there isn't room for the two of
us in this fort. One's got to get, and I reckon that'll be you.'

Denton's watery eyes grew malevolent. 'You can't turn me out--'

'Quit your row. I don't care where you get, only don't come round here
again. Just take your fixings and lift your feet out.'

'I'm in the service of the Company same as you,' cried Denton, showing
his teeth. 'You've no right--'

'You talk about that, and I'll put my arms round you. I reckon you'd
stand a good show then. You've done an almighty lot to protect the
Company's interests. Anyway, I'm Chief Factor here, so out you go.'

Denton set his back to the door, with white, angry face.

'Your time of reckoning will come,' he muttered, falling into his usual
fanatical mood.

'Yours is here right now,' returned McAuliffe, drily. 'Get, now!'

It did not take the ex-minister more than a few minutes to collect the
few articles he could call his own. Then he reappeared in the office
with his small bundle. Justin was bringing the supper. The other two
were talking and sitting on the dilapidated sofa. Not one took the
slightest notice of him.

But the outcast had no idea of departing without a final word, so when
he was safely on the threshold, he paused to attack his old enemy.
'You've always been a tough sinner, McAuliffe. I reckon you can't keep
it up much longer. Your sins will soon find you out.'

'Yours'll find you out, when they next call round here,' said the
Factor. 'Get outside, now. It makes me tired to look at you.'

The ex-minister stepped over the threshold, but paused to deliver a
final message. 'You are a bad crowd, a terrible bad crowd--I've never
seen a worse. But it's my duty to pray for you. I will pray for you
all.'

A shout of laughter followed his footsteps. Even Justin almost smiled.
'Well, well,' cried McAuliffe, slapping his knee heavily, 'I reckon that
was Peter's last curse.'


[1] Winnipeg--then Upper Fort Garry.

[2] Manitoba. So called from its derivation, _Manitou-toopah_.



CHAPTER II

THE COMING OF DAVE


In the early morning there was excitement at the fort, for the isolated
inhabitants were soon to be placed in contact with the outer world. The
H.B. boat, which, in the summer season, made periodic trips from Selkirk
to the Great Saskatchewan, had entered the river, and was steaming
heavily towards the uneven and broken platform of logs which constituted
a landing stage.

As usual, news of the arrival came through the medium of the
keen-sighted Justin. The excitable Factor clapped a hand over Lamont's
arm, and dragged him forth in shirt and breeches to where the white
waves rushed and bubbled, covered with foam of broken force. Here they
waited for news from the world and sight of other fellow creatures.

Spray dashed up the slimy logs, while a strong river breeze made the
morning chilly. McAuliffe blew into his hands vigorously, always keeping
his gaze on the green screen of firs, round which the boat might any
moment appear.

'Goldam! I reckon the crazy ark's travelled to the bottom,' he cried
lustily.

'The river's running strong. Listen to the roar of the rapids,' said his
companion.

'Justin sighted her at the second bend, and she's not round yet. Us two
could pull the lump of wood along in less time. Goldam! there she is!
That's her old nose coming round.'

The black boat crawled round the bend slowly, with two lines of foam
parting before her keel. Then the watchers distinguished the coarse
features of a man standing in the bows. He held, and occasionally waved
as an entirely unnecessary signal, a small and much torn flag.

The Factor rubbed his hands excitedly. 'It's Dave Spencer, making a fool
of himself as usual. Now we'll have to get to work and pump the news out
of him. Dave's bad on telling things, though it's in his head all the
time. It's like dropping a bucket down a deep well getting anything out
of him.'

He placed a hand to his mouth and shouted, 'Ho, there, Dave!'

The Captain grinned widely, but replied only by a more vigorous wave of
the tattered ensign.

'Thinks a wonderful lot of his breath, don't he?' grumbled the Factor.
'Now, if it had been Angus, he'd have started in to talk 'way back at
the mouth. He don't care if no one hears him. Talks just for the
pleasure of letting his tongue work!'

The boat turned in mid-stream, slightly above the stage, then drew down
cautiously, the captain bawling deep-toned commands, interlarded with
epithets. Presently a rope swung uncoiling through the air. This was
eagerly snatched at by the Factor. Then the boat was made fast and Dave
stepped ashore, mail bag in hand.

McAuliffe gripped him by the arm at once. 'Now, then, Dave, let's have
it!'

'What's the racket?' asked the other composedly, beating his legs. 'I
tell you, Alf, it's ter'ble cold on the water this morning. The wind's a
terror.'

'You derned old oyster!' spluttered the Factor. 'Open up your chin bag,
and put us up to what's been going on.'

'It's wonderful cold for the time of year, sure. How's yourself, Alf?'

'Going to consumption for wanting to pound your head off. See here,
Dave! What's been the latest south?'

'Quite a lot,' said Dave, imperturbably, drawing a big bundle of soiled
newspapers from the buckskin bag.

'Let's hear,' cried McAuliffe, clutching the parcel hungrily.

Dave meditated, while he kicked up splinters from the rotting logs.
'There's old man Roberts. You mind him, Alf?'

The Factor nodded, while Dave continued carelessly, 'He's tumbled off
the perch. All his truck went by auction. I bought up his white
pony--one he used to ride every day, summer or winter. He was a queer
old chap, warn't he, Alf? I'd meet him crawling along the fence of his
half section, wrapped up in all the rags he could lay claws on, if 'twas
winter. His old jaws would be shifting, and the brown juice freezing in
solid chunks on his dirty bunch of beard--'

'Goldam!' shouted McAuliffe. 'Think I care whether old man Roberts's
alive or dead, or gone up like Elijah? What have the _nitchies_ been up
to? Tell us that, Dave.'

'Coming to that. You're in an everlasting twitter, Alf; don't give a
fellow chance to open his lips. Young Munn's dead, too--'

'Well, well, what did he die of?'

'Overdose of lead. Riel's slick shot fixed him at Fish Creek.'

'Bad for his old folks. How goes the Rebellion?'

'There ain't none to speak on--not now, anyway.'

'Not quieted down? You don't say it's over, Dave?'

'That's what. It's the Archbishop's racket. He told 'em not to rise,
and, by the powers, they didn't.'

The Factor gave a long whistle. 'How did the old man do it, Dave? It
must have been a fairly tough job.'

'Bet your neck upon that. He ran through the Province and over the
Territories. He went miles by himself, and told the breeds he'd curse
'em if they jumped with Riel. Times he went horseback; times by canoe;
often on foot. I tell you, Alf, he's straight enough, though he is chief
R.C.'

'It corks me,' said the Factor.

'He's a Christian, sure. The Government's done nothing good for him. Now
he's gone to work and saved them the country. Old Taché and Father
Lacombe are names to swear by right now.'

'It knocks me over,' said McAuliffe, 'catches me right between the eyes.
Tell you, Dave, I never thought there was any good in Catholics before.
Seems queer, too, that fellows who keep little bits of painted images in
cupboards to say prayers to, should be so right down white in the heart.
I'll have a good word for them after this. But how about Riel?'

'He's fairly cornered. There's only one thing for Louis--a gallows and
bit of rope at Regina.'

'The old man won't chip in to get him off?'

'No good; they wouldn't have it. Riel's sworn to fight till he crops.
He'd stay by his word.'

Lamont, standing near, had listened to the conversation with intense
interest, though he had not joined in it himself The close observer
might have noticed a sudden angry gleam in his eyes when the name of the
Archbishop had been pronounced, also the nervous twitchings of his hands
at the mention of the Indian leader's impending fate. When he perceived
Spencer had no further information of definite importance, he walked to
the end of the stage, as if provided with sufficient food for
reflection. Half-breeds were dumping loaded provision barrels upon the
insecure logs, while a couple of Icelanders carried an inanimate figure
between them to the grass space beyond.

To this human bundle the Captain now drew the Factor's attention.
'That's a present I'm going to leave you, Alf,' he said.

'What sort?' demanded McAuliffe, shading his eyes.

'An Icelander. Ter'ble sick, he is. Can't take him on with me in the
boat, for he's turning up fast. You can find some place for him, eh?'

'I reckon Justin can. Wish you wouldn't dump your dying carcases here,
Dave. This place isn't a derned cemetery. I allow, if you'd been here
t'other day, you might have thought it was.'

'What's that?' asked Dave, eagerly. 'What's been going on here, Alf?'

'Lots of things. We've been fighting worse than wild cats.'

Dave was interested. 'You don't say scrapping?'

'It was a terror,' said the Factor. 'The _nitchies_ were hot after our
hides. We had a holy time.'

'What made them rise here, though?'

'Riel sent them up a message; don't know what it was. Anyway, it made
them as crazy as bugs on a hot plate. But, Dave, they fixed young
Winton.'

The other's dull eyes rounded. 'Well, well, that's a lot too bad,' he
exclaimed, hanging on each syllable.

'Sinclair, too. You mind Billy Sinclair of St Andrews, Dave?'

'What! Not him? Never old Billy Sinclair?'

'That's what,' said McAuliffe, not without relish at being the imparter
of startling information.

Dave wagged his head sorrowfully. 'You--don't--say! To think of old
Billy hopping! Why, we've been pards ever since he could bite tobacco.
Married the gal I was more than a little broken on, too. Now she's a
widow with young children. Well, well, well. To think of how Billy used
to walk her out Sunday evenings, while I'd hang round church door and
tell the boys all gals were the same anyway. Here's old Billy gone, with
her a widow, and me still a single man. I reckon that's not my fault,
but gals take some suiting nowadays.'

'Haven't you anything else to tell, Dave?'

'Why, it's you that's got the talking. It makes me dizzy to take it in.
Deaths and murders like a printed newspaper. Young Winton fixed, and
poor Billy gone to the worms. But say, Alf, where's Peter?'

'You don't want to talk to me about him. I'm through with the dam'
cowardly hypocrite. He skulked off in the bush before the fight, and if
it hadn't been for the dead youngster and Lamont over there, I'd
shouldn't have been telling you the truth now.'

'Peter ran off, eh?' chuckled the other. 'What have you done?'

'Fired him out by the neck,' said the Factor, with unction. Then, as a
rapid change of subject, 'You've brought my brandy, Dave?'

'Dozen case of H.B. Good and black, I tell you.'

The Factor beamed. 'We'll have a good night, liquoring up and poker.'

A short figure appeared on the summit of a black rock in the distance,
waving his straw bonnet.

'There's Justin signalling. Hungry, Davey?'

'I'd be a liar if I said no,' replied the Captain.

They turned away together, while Lamont still remained on the wet logs,
despite the Factor's cheery invitation for him to join them. For some
time he stood motionless, regardless of Nature's appeal for breakfast,
troubled, be it said, more by fear for the future than reflection on the
past. Indeed, he was only stirred by hostile interruption.

A tall figure glided quickly from the bush behind, and crossed the
rock-strewn space. When he saw Lamont he paused, as though he had
unexpectedly come upon the object of his search and doubted how to act.

For the young man's growing intimacy with the fair forest queen of the
Saskatchewan could not escape the naturally keen eyes of her watchers.
The aged Chief but shook his weak head, as he watched the light-hearted
girl dancing along the sunshine with laugh and happy song. Antoine,
gloomy as was his wont, limped from hut to hut, muttering low-voiced
imprecations against all white men, and those around in particular. The
youngest and most formidable--Muskwah, leader of the warriors, who
looked upon the beautiful girl as his own life prize, yet with that
reverential sense of ownership the dreamer might regard some glorious
phantasy of his imagination--only awaited opportunity to strike at the
pride of his rival; for surely the imperious white could never descend
to the poor level of the Indian, nor choose a bride from the tents of
the down-trodden race.

So, shadow-like, he had crept behind the young man to the meeting place,
where the dry bones of the dead creaked in the night wind. There, with
burning eyes and throbbing brain, he had listened to a soft-voiced
conversation, yet one in which eyes and hands were more expressive than
tongue. He had stolen away with madness at the heart, with wild desire
to obtain her who was now slipping beyond reach on the ebb-tide of fate.
He would risk his life to obtain its highest desire.

Lamont turned quickly when he heard a guttural exclamation at his side.
With his usual contemptuous air he regarded the young Indian, who was
unarmed, save for the sheathed hunting knife. 'What do you want?' he
muttered angrily.

Then Muskwah raised a hand to point at the boat, rising and falling on
the heavy river swell.

'The white chief will listen to his servant? For his heart bids him
speak, and there is much to say.'

Lamont had started violently and turned pale, when the words 'white
chief,' spoken in a tongue unpleasantly familiar, smote upon his ear.
Then he repeated his question.

The Indian made a strange answer,--

'Is not this land lonely and vast to the white man? See how the black
boat rides upon the waters. In he you may sail away, along the mighty
river, and out upon the Great Water.[1] So you shall come to the cities
of the plain, and be again among the tents of your own people. Also, you
will leave to the Indian the little he may now call his own. Then the
peaceful air will lie like a bird in the sail, while the men's muscles
will swell with rowing. The boat will leap over laughing waters and flit
home, as the muskawk to its lair when the sun dies. In your own tents
you may find happiness, and a white bride, whose face shall be as the
blush of early morning.

'And I--I also shall know the beauty of life. For I may live beneath the
sunshine of Menotah's smiles.'


[1] Lake Winnipeg.



CHAPTER III

THE RIVALS


Ignoring the presence of his rival, Lamont passed aside and entered the
scrub bush which fringed the odorous forest. But, noiseless and agile as
the overhead chipmunk, Muskwah followed in his track, scarce ever
ceasing from his melodious and heartfelt appeal. Since he played the
part of suppliant, he argued with his opponent without heat, though
passion might not be denied. He invoked the higher sense of right.
Surely only the Indian was fit mate for the Indian. Where would be the
'heart of joy' when the brain had been touched by fancy, the mind spoilt
in imagination? Love was the choicest gift of the _Heelhi-Manitou_, a
thing not to be lightly taken, and never to be cast aside as worthless.
In such manner he pleaded, with all the native picturesque imagery of
word expression and imagination.

At length Lamont turned upon him in anger. 'What about the night of the
fight? Perhaps you don't know that my rifle was once sighted for your
heart. A motion of the finger, and you would have gone to your fantastic
paradise. But I spared you, for you were more of the man than your
followers.'

Not a muscle stirred along Muskwah's stolid countenance. 'The gift which
is unsought is no gift. Mayhap I might even now be happier, had you sent
my soul to join those who fell in death. For with one hand you have held
out life, yet with the other have you taken away its light.'

'So now you follow me with the request that I should give you that which
is as much mine as yours. You seek Menotah's love--'

'Surely!' broke in the Indian, with a fury of passion. 'What other woman
is there who can so stir the heart within a man? Who would not die for
her favour, or fight for her love?'

A sneer crossed Lamont's face, while his eyes grew cold. The
keen-sighted Indian marked the change. 'Let not the white chief mock at
my poor words. It is the heart that speaks, and the tongue must obey the
thought. The white chief knows that my love is for Menotah, that my life
joy lies at the utterance of her voice. He would not take away the sun,
the day shine, and leave only the black night of despair.'

'Wouldn't he?' said Lamont, coolly. 'Why not?'

'Because he is merciful,' cried Muskwah, clasping his sinewy hands.
'Every man may love, yet none may resign the heart already bound.'

Lamont laughed. 'What a sickly sentiment,' he muttered carelessly.

The eyes of the Indian flashed, while his bosom heaved. He raised his
hands, with head erect, in a pose of proud defiance. Then in a soft
monotone he poured forth the emotional phrases of his heart,--

There is yet the great truth, which is spirit sent, behind my weak
words. Listen, white chief, while I teach you the power of love.

When I was a stripling youth around the tents, before I was of age to be
made brave, often would I cast eye of longing on some fair maiden as she
passed. So when her eyes met mine with silent message, the heart would
bound within, and I called it love. Yet it was not so, since the pain
would die down, while the wound would leave no scar. Then many moons
grew round and faded in their light as the young Menotah passed from
childhood to youth. Her beauty opened like the flower bud moistened by
the softness of light, and painted with the coloured breath of morning.
For those the gods love are beautiful, and the seasons bring them gifts.
So was it with Menotah. To her, spring came with heart of joy, and
summer with a smile; fair blush, gift of autumn, and winter last with
health.

'But as I watched her, with wonder that the Spirit could make anything
so beautiful, my whole being fled away as the soul at time of death.
Where the heart had once throbbed lurked a living flame, which burnt by
day and night and grew ever fiercer. So I waited for that fire to burn
out, as it had done before. During the clear day, when the strength rose
high and I tracked the muskawk or snared the wolf, I thought I was once
again master of my life. But as night rose and stillness crept through
the tents, the limbs sank in weariness and the fire returned to burn
away manly strength and courage. With it, also, came the loneliness and
a great longing. So I knew that this was love, the sickness that knows
not healing. I knew that the fire would burn, unless desire were
satisfied, until there should be nothing left to consume, until life
reason should have passed, and loneliness be satisfied in the silence.'

They stood together beneath the softly stirring pine branches, where the
green-tinted sunlight stabbed down in narrow rays. Civilised and
barbarian almost; cultured and the untaught. Yet surrounding Nature
might have hesitated in choosing out the Man.

Lamont slunk away sullenly. 'I have no wish to hear your wild love
songs. The feelings are things to be repressed, not blasted into the
ears of those who do not wish to listen.'

The Indian turned too, and with growing passion caught him by the arm.
'I but follow the teaching of my own mind. A man must obey the love
call, though the world rise to hold him back.'

Muskwah spoke from his own by no means narrow philosophy. The workings
of the world were certainly beyond his understanding; the ways of Nature
he was in close touch with. He was pushing dimly towards one definite
aim in life. The Chief was tottering to his death. When the funeral
smoke had cleared, he might well be chosen head of the tribe. Power he
cared not for, except as a path which might lead to happiness. For none
but the heart which knew not sorrow[1] could be the Chief's bride, and
she, Menotah, would surely give all that a man could wish for.

The Chief had placed his footsteps in the right direction, and, in the
callous Indian sex love, had regarded the young warrior with special
favour. Indeed, he had bidden him plead his own cause, but the lover's
bashfulness could not be overcome. Whenever she passed, he trembled
beneath the bright gaze. But then came the message from Riel and the
subsequent struggle, where Lamont had appeared, surrounded most with the
mystery of a god. Menotah beheld the skill and courage of the handsome
white. Such things are pleasing to women. She had looked upon the one
conquered and rope bound; the other victorious and confident. The latter
had addressed her with the soft voice that maidens love; the former was
ignorant of such love artifice. Moreover, she had cast at the white man
smiling glances, for which the Indian would have dared the fire and
mocked the powers above.

And yet the wide world course lies open to all. Prizes are set in the
open, but they are few and the competitors many. The strongest, most
eloquent, highest in skill, take of the best, while the multitude fight
for the poor consolations remaining.

Muskwah still held Lamont back. His flashing eyes and passioned face
were not to be safely trifled with. 'I love,' he cried blindly. 'Nothing
can heal the wound, or soften that suffering. Were Menotah to strike me
down in death, I should fall blessing her.'

Lamont tried to free his arm, but the Indian's fingers closed it round
like steel springs. 'You are a fighter and hunter. Keep your strength,
and do not waste it in the arms of a woman.'

'The white chief is also a warrior. When the blood runs hot, the heart
may thirst for nothing but war and power. But when the fight is done,
and darkness creeps around, he stretches forth his limbs in the tent and
calls for love.'

Lamont feared lest the impetuous lover should again burst into his
passion song. He made a quick movement, released himself, then stepped
back.

'I am going,' he said coolly. 'But I will first tell you that if you
would win Menotah, you must plead for yourself--and against me.'

The judgment was that of Nature. When the object of a careless affection
is about to pass to another's ownership, desire becomes a passion. It is
only the prize which seems irrevocably lost that remains a thing of
perfect beauty; it is the realisation of an ideal that is an imperfect
happiness.

Lamont had been attracted by Menotah's artless beauty, her joyous
laughter, and caressing ways. Satisfied with the fact that she loved
him, her favours yet failed to stir the fire of his heart into a higher
glow than admiration. But now that an Indian rival breathed opposition,
the smouldering flame leapt up into fierce heat, and Menotah possessed
two lovers.

The ghastly pallor, which in the Indian takes the place of the red anger
flush, altered the dark hue of his features. 'Perhaps the white man
spoke without thought. For why should he leave his own cities, to choose
a bride from the lowly tents of the Cree? For him there is the wide
world to choose from. But I have only this one hope, and it is more to
me than the beauty of the world. I will listen again for an answer.'

'I have spoken,' said Lamont, stubbornly. 'I have no more to say.'

Then the Indian started forward suddenly, with vengeance in his face.

'Yet there is something beside. There is an oath. Swear that you will
never speak to her on the heart's pain. Swear by the Spirit. Swear that
you will not enter into her life.'

Lamont stepped against a straight pine, confident in his strength.
'_Diable s'en mêle!_' he muttered. Then to the Indian, 'Get back to the
encampment, you crazy fool.'

Passion raged along every muscle of the grey-dark face. He cast aside
control over voice and actions. 'Am I to lose Menotah after spending my
life for her? You shall swear.' He came excitedly forward, with arms
outreaching.

Two crows flapped heavily in the tree summits, with dismal croakings.
'Another step this way,' said Lamont, coolly, 'one more step, and the
crows will have you. Your eyes will never see Menotah again.'

Yet he knew this threat was useless, for he understood the Indian
character, which is a thing ruled by momentary flashes of strong
impulse. The mental anarchy of the uncivilised mind is short-lived, yet
overwhelming in consequence. The untrained body leaps from devotion to
animosity, from obedience to open rebellion, in a moment. So with
Muskwah, revenge was just then a higher passion than love.

As the anger-fire smouldered in his dark eyes, the long brown fingers
worked towards the keen-edged knife, and he glided forward with the
quick cunning of the grass snake.

Lamont smiled, while the sure right hand darted to his side. Half
fronting he stood, with the left elbow crooked. But there was no
descending flash of a bright muzzle, no sharp report, no dusky rival
writing in death along the moss.

He was absolutely unarmed! At Justin's sudden entrance with the news of
the boat arrival, the impetuous Factor had pulled him out without
allowing time for complete equipment. Those weapons behind which he was
a lion of courage were lying in the fort. He stood alone, confronted by
a merciless rival, in the lonely forest of the Saskatchewan.

Still here was opportunity for displaying that vaunted courage of the
all-conquering white before one of the defeated. He might stand up
against him and fight with the natural weapons of despair, aided perhaps
by the withered branch snapped from the near pine with strength of
necessity. This Indian should be shown how fearlessly the white man
could face danger or death.

With a shrill cry, Muskwah sprang at him. He staggered back a pace,
blenching from the uplifted knife--then ran, with all the speed of his
limbs, with all the white fear of the pursued.

The display of cowardice was needless, for the Indian rapidly
overtracked him. Lamont turned suddenly, with the horror of feeling the
cold slush of the knife in his back, and dropped to his knees. He was
seized by the shoulders; he clutched his enemy by the body.

So together they fought in the solitude, while the sun revolved up the
heavens, and the summer heat grew towards noon. Purple butterflies
flashed unconcernedly in the greenish light over their heads; the
blood-red kanikanik wands nodded; locusts whirred and hurled themselves
strongly against the sweating bodies of the combatants. The beauty of
Nature environed the hot human passions. On the extreme summit of a
feather-pine, the carrion crows croaked and rocked in the soft breeze.

Muskwah's natural strength, aided by passion, which disregarded life
safety, prevailed at length. His rival lay beneath his hands, pressed
upon the white, flowering moss, his face rigid with increasing fear.

The victor's bosom rose and fell exultantly. 'The Spirit has given you
into my power, and bidden me take revenge. Gaze for the last time on the
world light, white man, before I draw darkness across your eyes with my
knife.'

Lamont glared upward despairingly. The hands that held him trembled with
the mighty flood of restrained anger. A knife quivered in hot white
circles between his eyes and the furious face of his opponent.

All his subtle resource in emergency rose in a mighty effort for
preservation of life. There was still a move to be made; desperate, but
yet of possible success. He must pit his trained mind knowledge and
power of will against the weak determination and brain of inexperience.

He was a splendid actor. So he nerved himself and laughed aloud.

Surprise partially disarmed the victor of his blind anger. Then came the
words which caused his grip to loosen,--

'Pshaw! I will in a word take away strength from your arm. You dare not
kill me.'

Muskwah stared upon the lively face of scorn, his own working in
perplexity. 'Tell me why I should spare you,' he said wonderingly.

The answer came with a slow, cruel deliberation, 'Menotah loves me.'

He felt the finger clutch on his throat unfasten, as an overstrained
necklet. He watched the light of knowledge dawning upon the heavy
features. He had fired his shot, as at invisible foes under cover of
night. Now he must follow up his words and make his advantage sure.

By his murder there would be nothing beyond the mere satisfaction of
revenge. But Menotah would mourn and wear sorrow upon her 'heart of
joy.' The Indian had declared entire devotion, yet he was now thirsting
to perform an act which must surely bring suffering into her life. More,
she might even learn, through the process of chance, whose hand it had
been that had destroyed the life of him she loved.

'Kill me, you destroy your own happiness; spare my life--you may yet win
her who has your love.'

Such arguments dashed against a weak knowledge to the overwhelming of
desperation's anger. To the heart came well-nigh relinquished memories
of self-pride and future hope. The dull brain spoke plainly. By
satisfying longing for vengeance, he would banish into the impossible
all life happiness. By extinguishing the flame of life he destroyed the
light in Menotah's eyes. That which she approved was sacred, even though
a rival. So he lifted his simple head, with the understanding that his
opponent's words had brought _salvation_ to three lives. It was again
the triumph of the tongue.

Muskwah sheathed the long knife. 'Now you shall swear to leave this
land, and return to your own place. Behold the black boat lies upon the
waters, and in her you shall sail away, even as I said. You have stood
at the outer door of life, while I was by your side ready to cast you
into whirling vapour. Down you must have fallen, shadow amid shadows,
while I might have gazed into the nether gloom, then stepped back to the
life world. Will you swear not? Surely you shall return thither again.
Then shall I come back alone. You are teaching me the ways of the world,
white man.'

Sullenly Lamont struggled to a sitting posture. In the dim voice of
hatred he muttered, 'I will swear to depart from this place, and never
more speak of love to Menotah. That is the price I am to pay for life?'

'By the Great Spirit, the Totem of your being, the Light and Darkness,
the River, and your own Gods,' chanted the Indian in his deep
monotone.[2]

So Lamont swore.


[1] Such is the literal translation of 'Menotah.'

[2] To the heathen Indian, an oath such as this is absolutely
infrangible. The converted native quickly comes to treat a sacred
promise with the easy elasticity of other Christians!



CHAPTER IV

WHITE WINS


A distant but threatening thunder murmur broke from the heart of a bank
of sulphurous clouds beating closely over the south. The deep sound
rolled over the water and seemed to bury itself in the trembling ground.
Then a serpent of fire writhed along the fringe of the cloud mass and
disappeared, followed by another sullen roar.

It was a strange evening of wild colour and intense calm. Nothing in
Nature stirred, except the wide stream of tinted waves. Sound there was
absolutely none along the stifling atmosphere. Even mosquitoes were
quiescent, and frogs silent.

Lamont came slowly towards the fort, threading a sinuous course among
the black rock shapes. Every slight noise, such as the swishing aside of
kanikaniks, the scraping of boot against stone, the crisp crackling of
dry grass, became abnormal in that profound quiet. There was something
almost ghastly in this terrific silence which could only precede some
unnatural tumult.

'An electric storm,' he muttered. The whispered words became a shriek,
and echoed back from the dark trees on the opposite bank. On such a
night one might well shrink from even thought; for the silent action of
the mind seemed able to create a derangement in the atmosphere.

But as he approached the fort, there were no lack of disturbing sounds.
The Factor and Dave were sampling black H.B. and playing poker. Such
things were never intended to be performed in silence. The two within
made no attempt to infringe upon the rule of custom.

The solitary man came across the open space, longing for a breath of
air, which might alter, if even for a moment, the statuesque rigidity of
the pines, and break the panorama into shifting life. He rounded a
jagged spar, and suddenly came upon the two horses, pulling at long
tufts of grass that shot upward from damp recesses at the roots of the
rock.

His appearance brought animation to the scene. The grey mare started and
shivered, then sprang aside, her ears back, her mouth fiercely open.
Lamont came nearer, and she twisted her neck to bring the single eye to
bear upon the disturber of peace. When she beheld who it was, she again
wheeled and lashed forth violently with her ragged hoofs. He sprang
aside behind the rock with a startled oath, while Kitty cantered to the
forest with many a frightened snort. The black horse followed.

With a distinct feeling of satisfaction that no witnesses had been
present, Lamont walked to the door of the fort. As he entered,
McAuliffe's deep tones struck jeeringly against his ear,--

'Three solid old women and a brace of bullets, Davey! No, lad, it's no
use your trying to bluff a hair off my whiskers. Fixed you this time,
sure. Jackpot, Davey!'

Five sticky cards dribbled from the Captain's shaking hand. 'You're a
teaser, Alf,' he muttered thickly, speaking down his pipe. 'I'm
water-logged, right enough. So let's ha' a drink.'

McAuliffe's huge hand closed round the bottle neck. You derned old
tree-partridge! You didn't reckon there was a full house this side.
Can't fool me with your measly flushes.'

The black liquor fell with a gurgle and splash into cracked glasses.
Then Lamont came inside and seated himself.

'Come and take the pictures,' invited the Factor, genially. 'I've just
cleaned out Davey here, and spoiling for another draw. Davey can't shake
cards worth shucks.'

'Your opinion ain't up to a monkey's grin,' returned Dave, dogmatically.
'There's too many words and not enough sense for me.'

'It's all too deep for you, lad. That's the blessed fact. Your chip of
brain was only allowed you for a bit of a show. 'Tisn't for use, Davey,
and don't you make any mistake. Maybe there's enough to hold you outside
an asylum, but it's a narrow margin, and wants careful looking after.'

'I ain't no Solomon,' said Dave, after a hearty sip at the ink-like
compound. 'Reckon it's safer to be a fool than a wise man, Alf. A
moonhead can say a slick thing once in a while and be none the worse,
but darned if a clever chap can cut didoes. 'Twouldn't pay him by a
jugful.'

Lamont sat in a corner and absorbed his brandy with slow gulps. A subtle
scheme was simmering in his brain, which the fiery liquor now awoke to
full activity. Presently he rose, then began to clean his deadly rifle.

McAuliffe was in splendid humour. He puffed out his beard, and slapped
his chest comfortably. 'Nothing like a few drops of real stuff,' he
proclaimed generally. ''Bout an hour's time I'll feel like talking
nice.'

'Mind old Captain Robinson?' chimed in Dave. 'Lots of whiles I've
started in to talk with him. When he got to reckon he was in for a
brain-squeezer, he'd sort of walk sideways, and say, "Bide here a while,
Dave, while fetch in something from the house." I'd just creep after and
hear the chink of a bottle and glass at work. He always works up his
talk that way. Then he'd be back, with the words fairly dropping off his
tongue like a dog-sweat, "Now, Dave, you're wrong, and I'll tell you
how."

'Then he'd settle right down for the hour. Wonderful fond of his own
noise, was Captain. Never gave anyone else a bit of a show.

'I diddled him once,' chuckled Dave. 'We started in one day, least
Captain did, till I fairly ached for a bit of chin-work. So I just
pulled out a good cigar and handed it over sort of careless, 'though I
didn't care if he took it or not. Captain can't ever refuse a cigar, so
he stretched out for it, all the time talking for what he was worth.
Then I brought out a match, pulled it along my pants, and held it over.
He was a bit anxious and suspicious like, for he seemed to sort of think
he was letting me in. Anyway he stuck his head up and tried to catch a
light without stopping his bandy. 'Twasn't his racket that journey. A
dose of smoke just travelled nice down his throat. Before he could
swallow, I came right in and said, "Now, Captain, I'm going to show you
where you make a mistake." I talked then till I got into a sweat, and my
throat was dry as a hot pea. But I diddled him, sure.'

'You did so,' assented the Factor. 'Captain's a bad listener. He's got
no use for doses of his own poison.'

Outside, the greyness which follows the deep colouring of the sunset was
slowly assuming a darker hue, across which darted every few seconds a
pale blue flash light. McAuliffe lit a greasy lamp with unsteady hands
and replaced the smoked glass. Lamont sat silent, with the weapon lying
across his knees, scarcely taking heed of the conversation going on
beside him, until Dave suddenly struck a note of more immediate
interest.

'No harm come to the gal, Alf?'

'Reckon you mean Menotah. Darn it, Dave, do you think we'd fix a woman?

'Accidents,' suggested Dave. 'She's right enough, eh?'

'Course. I'd spoil the man who harmed her, I reckon.'

'She's a daisy!' said the Captain, fervently. 'Twist her hair up some
crazy way, hang a fine dress around her, and she'd knock the spots off
any at Garry. She's a peach blossom, sure! I don't mind telling you
straight, Alf, I'm thinking of doing the gal a first-class honour. I
tell you, I'm going to make her Mrs Spencer. She's worth the honour, and
don't you forget it, Alf.'

Lamont flashed a contemptuous glance at the insignificant speaker, while
McAuliffe burst into a lusty roar of laughter, and slapped his great
thigh repeatedly.

'Don't see what you're quirking at,' said Dave, sulkily. 'Ain't she good
enough, Alf?'

'She's eighteen carat, 'Twas something else bothering me, Dave. I tell
you, Davey, she's a girl of taste.'

'Well, what's the matter with me?' asked the other surlily.

'A looking glass would tell you straight. There's one t'other room.
You're not so bad, Dave, now I come to think on it. But you don't make
much of a picture to look at.' He doubled up and laughed again, while
the sickly light darted across the window.

Dave sat back with an injured air. 'Gals are too darned particular. Many
a one I've tried to hitch on to, but they've always broken loose and
gone after someone else with dollars, or a different twist to the nose
from mine.'

'Never mind, Davey,' said the Factor, encouragingly. 'There'll be some
old woman waiting on you presently, with a beauty show certificate.'

The Captain swore. 'There's no finding out what they're driving at. One
gal now--Elsie they called her--I felt pretty well sure of. She seemed
to kind of catch on, so I thought 'twas just a case of picking when I
wanted. One Sunday I made up a few nice sentences, with a sort of poetry
jingle. Chose a soft grass spot, I did, tumbled on my knee bones, and
asked her if she'd hold on to me. Well, she thought, 'bout as cool as
though I'd asked her to name her drink, then said she reckoned the
investment wouldn't be profitable enough. That's the way they all go. I
never gave her another chance, bet you, Alf.'

Then they fell back to their poker playing. The night drew on, while the
power of the electric storm grew mightier and more awful. So another two
hours passed.

Inside the fort, the yellow lamp light flickered dully within a
soot-covered glass. Its use was superfluous, as the incessant lightning
kept the room flooded in a wild radiance. Without, the stupendous
silence was appalling--a silence amid the crashing and roar of the
heavens, which but threw the dreadful intervals into more powerful
relief. It was undoubtedly a furious storm, yet not a pine branch
stirred, not a grass stem quivered, not a speck of dust travelled in
airy course; a feather would scarce have found air to float it; the
waters of the Saskatchewan coiled in sluggish circles like oil. Still,
from a thousand points of the copper-coloured sky, lightning streamed
and twisted in furious revelry, before disappearing in a flood of angry
contortions as fresh fire darted into the dead wake. Then that fearful
pause of silence indescribable. After, dull booming of distant
artillery, or waspish whinings of kettledrums.

From the forest limit sped Menotah, with cloak drawn over her hair,
hurrying for the shelter of the fort. She held a rough willow box, which
she anxiously opened when she reached the clearing. The electric light
darted down and converted the contents into a liquid flood of red light.
From side to side the breathless life streamed, crossing and recrossing
in waving threads of gold. This was safe, so she darted across the open,
shrank from a descending flame, which hissed between her body and the
door, then entered boldly, though half dazed and breathing quickly.

Sprawling across the table, his huge head lying upon his hands, she
beheld the Chief Factor, mumbling in incoherent phrases. Opposite, bolt
upright, balanced on an insecure box and sucking at an empty pipe,
appeared Dave Spencer, howling in his coarse voice some unintelligible
song and beating time with an empty bottle which dribbled down his arm.
The girl's bright eyes passed from one to the other, while presently she
began to laugh softly at the two unmeaning comedians.

Lamont, in the corner, with elbows upon knees and face hidden between
his hands, she did not at first perceive. It seemed to him as though he
had suddenly been forced off his own circle of life and been brought
into contact with beings unknown, of different form and custom. His
present environment was unnatural and visionary. Even Dave's mechanical
expletives were insufficient to dispel the illusion. When the girl
appeared, like a visible portion of the surrounding silence, he regarded
her as some fresh vagary of Nature, or creation of the storm. He blinked
his eyes, with the dim idea of seeing her disappear from vision. But
when the cloak fell back and the softly cut features of Menotah were
upraised in the blue light, he reflected,--first, on Sinclair's poor
body, rotting in some thick tangle of bush; then on Muskwah, full of
life, hope and vengeance.

When she laughed, he started at the sound of contrast, and overturned
the cracked glass beside him. Then he rose, crushed the broken
fragments, and came towards the girl with a low-toned question on his
lips, 'Why are you here?'

She looked up gladly. Then he noticed her fingers closing round the
willow box.

'I was in the forest when the fire was cast at my head, so I hastened
here.'

The vagrant thoughts fled off on another tack. He kept his eyes fixed
upon the girl's countenance. She drew back frightened.

'Your eyes are still and cold. Your lips move, yet there is no
word-sound. You did not look at me so--in the forest, when the white
moon peeped over the ledges.'

He cast off the glamour of illusion, and asked again, 'Why have you
come?'

'I told you,' said Menotah, pettishly. 'You did not attend, for you have
been drinking the strong waters--'

'No, I haven't,' interrupted Lamont. 'I have scarcely tasted the stuff.
Why are you out on such a night?'

'The spirits of the dead call us in the storm,' said she fearfully.
'They shriek in the thunder; their hollow eyes stare from the lightning;
their cold breath beats in the rain. It is terrible to stay within, and
hear them fighting. Yet it may be death to venture outside.'

'Why did you?'

She touched the box with light finger tips. 'I kept this buried beneath
a forest tree; but I feared lest a Spirit might snatch it in the storm.'

Lamont laughed. 'Spirits could steal away nothing.'

'They breathe, and the substance vanishes; they touch, and it melts.
Often have I seen the wind carrying a tree uprooted. I have also looked
upon a tent borne on the storm. There is a Spirit in the wind.'

A furious roar of thunder convulsed the dread silence. As it died away,
Dave burst into renewed howlings, and commenced an attack upon the table
with the black bottle.

'You shouldn't have come here.'

'Why not?'

'Two drunken men--and you.' He shrugged his shoulders.

'But when a man drinks much strong water, he is helpless. Besides, you
are here.'

Dave staggered to his irregular feet, dimly conscious that someone was
speaking close at hand, and fell heavily into Lamont's arms.

'Come--have something--to drink, Alfy. Haven't had good drink--with
you--long time.'

Arousing to the fact that his name had been pronounced, McAuliffe
uplifted a strange, shaggy face, to stare helplessly around.

'That 'ud be Dave--old Davey Spencer. Talking through his hat as usual.
No good listening--what he says. He ain't of no account.'

Dave threw his hot arms around Lamont's neck. 'Alfy--you good fellow,'
he slobbered. 'Heard boys run you down--say old Alf McAuliffe wasn't
much good anyway. I've given it 'em straight. Your old pal, Davey, will
stay right by you.'

McAuliffe stuck a bottle to the perpendicular on the sloppy table, and
lectured it with wagging beard,--

'No use at all for chaps that have a lot to say for themselves--no
derned bit of good, they ain't! There's Dave Spencer, now--he's one of
'em. Corks me, he do! I've been talking to him to-night--not a single
sense-bug under his wool. Can't argue worth shucks. Sits sucking a glass
and stares like a derned old owl whenever I talk straight--squirms like
a pesky fish trying to get back to water. It's a terrible waste of time
for fellow like me--lots of brains--to argue with a wooden chunk like
Dave. Don't you forget it now. What I'm saying's the right thing.'

'Damn you, keep off!' shouted Lamont, throwing the unsteady Captain back
against the wall.

'Not going back on friends, Alfy--not on old Davey Spencer? Always drunk
fair with you--never took lager when you had whisky. Just shake,
Alf--show no ill feeling. Then we'll go for a walk and have
something--ter'ble long time 'tween drinks. My treat, Alf.'

'Get a move on, then!' cried the Factor. He rose clumsily. 'Seems to be
a bit of a storm coming around. Don't matter, though. Hook your arm in
mine, Davey.'

But then Lamont caught the speaker and pulled him back to the inner
room.

McAuliffe struggled like a bear. 'There'll be trouble here!' he howled.
'A fellow can do what he darned well likes in a free country!'

'You'll get twisted up by lightning first thing if you go out.'

'We'll try, anyhow,' hiccoughed the Factor, smiling pleasantly.

'Can't spare you,' muttered the other. 'Come along with me. I'll stay
with you, and bring along a stiff eye-opener.'

'You're the stuff!' chuckled McAuliffe. 'I'm right with you. Never mind
Davey; haven't got much an opinion of him. Sort of chap to stand you a
drink, then make you pay for it. We'll go for a stroll presently, eh?
Sun shining nice and bright. I want to pick some pretty flowers for my
gal.'

Lamont laughed cynically, and dumped the great body on the heap of
clothes which stood for a bed. He stood by to check any inclination to
rise, until he was recalled to the office by a sound of scuffling and an
indignant cry. Then he remembered Dave.

Menotah had quickly commenced to ridicule her companion upon his
singular want of graceful motion. The Captain recognised his persecutor,
and smiled broadly with pleasure. 'You're a fine gal, and good-looking
gal,' he declared. 'Come and sit on my knee.'

Which pleasant invitation was scornfully refused. 'I shall stay here,
and you can sit by yourself,' she said. 'What have you been doing
to-night?'

'Thinking of you,' replied Dave, effusively. 'Always doing it--first
thing in morning, last thing at night.'

She regarded his wobbling figure with a laugh. 'It has been too much for
your feet. If you think any more, your legs will give way.'

Dave whined at the imputation. 'I'm all right. See me walk the chalked
line.' Then he commenced to gyrate towards her.

She doubled her little fist. 'If you come any nearer, I shall hit you in
the face.'

The Captain chuckled happily, and made a fresh lurch onward. 'I know you
gals--all the same. Never let a fine-looking man alone. Lots have tried
to catch Dave Spencer--shook 'em off, though, every time. Always
said--going to marry Menotah and settle down comfortable.'

The girl laughed. 'Why,' she cried frankly, 'you are uglier than a
jack-fish, and as stupid as a tree-partridge! Don't you know that?'

The Captain was in a condition only to appreciate compliments. 'You
agree to that quick enough. I know you gals--never let a good chance
slip. Come, give me a kiss.'

Menotah turned to escape, but in doing so stepped upon a fragment of
Lamont's broken glass. She cried sharply, for she was barefooted; but
the next instant Dave had flung two unsteady arms round her, while his
hot tainted breath struck against her cheek.

Yet, before he could put his amorous designs in execution, Lamont was
across the floor, and had seized him angrily by the collar. He dragged
him away, struggling violently, and shouting like a maniac.

'Unfix me. I'll pay you for mauling my carcase. You don't know Dave
Spencer, I guess. Who the devil are you, anyway?'

Menotah nursed her foot upon the lounge, watching her protector with
soft eyes. Dave slobbered along the floor, cursing and groaning, then
turned his dull head round and looked up into Lamont's face. The same
moment Menotah turned up the lamp flame, though scanty light could
penetrate the blackened chimney. Still, the incessant lightning, across
window and half open door, was sufficient by itself.

Suddenly Dave shot a shaking finger upward. 'I know you!' he cried
madly. 'White Chief! Ho, ho! White Chief!'

It might have been the electric light that cast the livid hue across
Lamont's features. Certainly he started wildly, then recollected in
whose presence he stood, and laughed.

'Pshaw!' he muttered, 'if you weren't three sheets in the wind, I'd
stuff you with lead for that.'

The Captain kept his strange dark eyes fixed vindictively. 'I saw you
once,' he shrieked; 'saw you one evening without your paint. White
Chief! I'll hand you over. You will swing along with Riel. You will be
hung!'

The thunder rose from the heart of the great silence, and roared
fearfully. When it died into mutterings, the thick breathing of the
sleeping Factor within was distinctly audible. Lamont kicked the drunken
body, and turned to Menotah with a gesture of contempt.

'Come,' he said, 'I will take you to your home.' She looked at him
pathetically, almost as a wounded stag who expects the death blow. Then
she silently pointed to a scarlet line across the little brown foot.

He fell to his knee and kissed passionately the spot indicated. Then he
drew the silk scarf from his throat and bound up the delicate limb.
While doing so, she bent down and pressed her lips fervently to the
white skin at the back of his neck.

Dave had forgotten his accusation, and, still muttering upon the floor,
was rapidly sinking into a natural stupor. The boat departed in the
early morning, and in her Lamont had sworn to take passage. But much
might be performed before the dawning. McAuliffe lay in a dead sleep;
Justin tended the Icelander in a riverside hut; Denton was safely out of
the way. Good.

'Shall I carry you in my arms, _chérie_?' he asked.

'I can walk now,' she replied. 'We must go before the wind strikes us.'

They stepped from the fort during one of the short, terribly intense
periods of silence. Immediately there rang forth the sullen report of a
muzzle-loader. It came from the opposite shore, and hung over the forest
until dispelled by the thunder.

'It is Muskwah,' said the girl. 'He has hunted the moose since morning,
and now returns. That is his signal. The Chief would marry me to him,'
she concluded indifferently.

They came to the edge of the cliff. The electric fire blazed with
stronger fury, yet not a drop of rain fell from the copper sky to the
parched ground, not a motion of air stole through the solemn pines.
Beneath, the mighty Saskatchewan swelled away, its oil-like water
converted into a sea of fire, overhung by ever-changing blood shadows.

Menotah released his arm with a little cry of fear, as a narrow ribbon
of flame darted along his back and struck across the rock. 'Why have you
the rifle?'

Lamont feigned surprise. 'I forgot,' he said quickly. 'I will cover it
with my coat.' He did so, then turned to the girl again.

'It is not far through the forest, Menotah. I wish you to go to the
encampment by yourself.'

She demurred, but obeyed. He made as though he would return to the fort,
but she gave a little cry, and he turned, to find her standing beside
him with uplifted face. 'You forgot me,' she said pitifully.

'No, _chérie_; I was only afraid of the fire striking you.' He kissed
her many times, then she stepped into the bushes with a backward glance.

So he was alone. The rifle was again uncovered, while he knelt on the
rocky headland, with eyes fixed upon the dark shadows beneath the
opposing bank. Minutes dragged along slowly as he crouched, like a dark
statue, until eyes dimmed with the strained gaze and, in the intervals
of great silence, heart-beats rose in loud pulsations. But it was not
for long he waited. A canoe shot suddenly forth from the dark shadows
beyond. It carried a single occupant, one who headed the frail craft
with dexterous paddle strokes straight for the point. He knelt to his
work; the figure was erect, rejoicing in strength and manhood. It was
the bearing of one who has secured the victory, who sees happiness
before him on the life pathway.

Now he had reached the centre of the great river, and the white paddle
shone like a glass beneath the fire. Then the stern-faced watcher
perceived in the illumination the features, the swelling muscles, the
proud might of the warrior Muskwah. Another stroke, and the canoe half
sprang from the water like a graceful bird, to fall back and dart along,
cutting through the sanguine waters and casting aside two wide lines of
ruddy waves.

'He must not land. The time has come.'

Such words were spoken by an avenging voice from the heart of the storm.
He raised and levelled that murderous rifle; the stock burnt his cheek:
lightning confused the sights; then he settled himself like a rock, as
the forefinger caressed the trigger. The reverberating crack was
swallowed by the revelry above, the gleaming river received in its bosom
the harmless missive.

'Again!' The single word circled from the red mystery of the tempest.
The warrior approached the shore. Should he reach that dark shelter of
the cliff, he must escape beneath the forest shadows, while another life
would pay the penalty of failure.

The rifle came up, with the wild lights playing and leaping along its
narrow length. A bullet darted forth and pierced the brown bark at the
side.

'Again!'

He could see the Indian's frightened face, as he struggled madly towards
the rock-lined shore, the friendly shadows, where he might creep away in
safety; but there was no thought of pity, no compunction at depriving
mortality of its best. Only he passed a hand across his eyes and
straightened himself for a more resolute effort. Then the keen eye
glanced again from sight to sight, while the storm fiend spoke for the
last time,--

'The wind is coming. There will be opportunity only for two more shots.'

Half lifting the gaze from his glowing weapon, he perceived the heads of
the most distant pines on the heaving sky line bend almost double, yet
amid a silence most intense. That fearful calm could have no other
ending. In three minutes the tornado must burst upon them.

An unearthly moaning shuddered over forest and river. At the same moment
the heavens divided into a myriad fiery serpents, writhing and hissing
to every point of the compass. As this avenging host convulsed the livid
sky, a death bullet shrieked from the shore and savagely bit the
warrior's left shoulder.

He dropped with a wild cry; the birch bark overturned, scarlet waters
foamed and twisted like a furnace with the grim struggle. And after came
the common end of all.

In the last interval of stillness, Lamont wiped the sweat from his
forehead, and again covered the rifle. The wind approached. He prepared
to move towards the fort, but the small bush behind trembled with
motion. Then a figure crept forth and caught at his arm with soft
fingers. He cried aloud, when the frightened face and wide-open eyes
appeared in the strange lights.

'Menotah! You here!'

She pointed below to the fire-like river, while her lips moved. At
length words dropped forth. 'Why did you kill him?'

There was time for a hasty reply, though the trees across the water bent
and cracked. Flinging down the weapon, he caught her in his arms and
pressed her to him, until heart beat with heart. Then he whispered
against her ear, 'Because I love you.' Then the wind came.

With a mad fury it drowned the sonorous bursts of thunder. The
Saskatchewan was lashed into white billows of foam; a drifting canoe was
torn into fragments by sharp rocks. Trees groaned and tossed appealingly
heavy plumes to the violent sky; branches and small stones hurtled on
the wings of the tempest.

It was the murderer's storm, and for him alone. As he clasped Menotah,
beneath the raging bush, it poured all its message of retribution around
his head, and shrieked the red words of fate into his ears. His unworthy
love was blood purchased. It was a thing accursed. It would end in
blood.

And, after the wind, came the rain.



CHAPTER V

PACTOLUS


The following morning dawned with clear light in a radiant softness.
Bright sunshine glistened joyfully upon dripping pine needles, drawing
fragrance from the damp ground and dew-lined bushes.

Dave, sulky and forgetful of events closely preceding, partook of a
greasy breakfast prepared by Justin, then slouched outside, where he
might relieve his feelings by swearing at the slowness of his half-breed
assistants. The Factor was abroad yet earlier. Half a bottle of black
H.B. had little subsequent effect upon his vigorous constitution. He ate
with Dave, continually disburdening himself of badly-received jokes at
his companion's expense.

The Captain rose presently with a curt farewell, and blundered finally
from the fort. But McAuliffe was not to be shaken off. He followed,
borrowed a plug of T.& B., then walked along, peeling off thick strips
and reminding Dave of several commissions to be executed prior to a next
meeting. 'Shouldn't have taken so much liquor, Dave. You've got a sore
head this morning, sure.'

The other mumbled an indistinct reply. Then they came down to the
river's edge. Here the boat was lying, bales of furs for English
shipment ready stowed, an Icelander waiting to cast off the last rope.
Dave swore at this latter, then stepped on board. The next minute the
black monster drew slowly away. The Captain took up a stolid position in
the bows, and lifted the torn flag he was grasping in response to
McAuliffe's parting shout. Then the unwieldy craft gurgled round the
bend and disappeared. The Factor turned, to discover Lamont approaching
him from the forest. 'Where you been?' he called, as the young man came
up.

'Around early. Tracked a muskawk, but couldn't get in a shot.'

'That was the old bull's luck. Say, we had a bit of a jamboree last
night, eh?'

'I reckon you did. What with liquor splashing and a tornado howling, it
was a fairly wild night.'

'Don't often get off on a jag,' said the Factor. 'When I do, I'm a
rocket. Bound to go off full rip. Guess you found me a bit of a teaser,
eh?'

'Not so bad as Dave. I've no use for him.'

'He's not much of a chap. Told him that straight lots of times. I
shouldn't have cut such an everlasting dido if he hadn't been monkeying
around. Drank more than I did, too. Dirty mean trick that, for he can
get lots across lake. Quite a little storm rustling most of the while,
eh?'

Lamont smiled feebly. 'Just a bit,' he said slowly.

The Factor looked at him critically. 'Darn it, Lamont, a fellow might
think you'd been on the jag stead of me.'

He was right. The young man's face was colourless and heavy; his eyes
dull and deeply marked with black lines; his appearance thinner and
older. The Factor, on the other hand, represented the perfection of
health. His great face glowed with colour beneath a wide straw bonnet;
his eyes shone; his step was firm and vigorous.

'I'm a bit played out. Up most of the night; out first thing without
grub.'

'That's what,' returned McAuliffe, heartily. 'Come off now; there's a
decent chunk of moose steak lying inside.'

They disappeared within the log fort, while the silence and desolation
grew again.

Through the fresh dampness of the forest came Menotah, with her wonted
happiness and joy of heart. Her hair was unbound as usual; she wore a
tiny pair of beaded and grass-worked mocassins, with dainty leggings of
fringed buckskin. Light notes of joyous music dropped from her smiling
lips as she danced along with scarce a limp or a pause--for the old
Antoine, with the miraculous native art of healing, had rubbed an
ointment upon the wounded foot.

She passed along like a butterfly floating with the wind, threading an
unmarked track for some distance, then glided through torn and rugged
bush, to finally emerge at the edge of a gloomy swamp, where strange
creatures croaked and crawled, where poisonous herbs reared fetid heads
aloft.

Here an unmistakable odour permeated the air. A thick film coated
nauseous puddles of silent water, where circles of bright colour curled
and twisted beneath the bright sunlight. A colossal fortune, open gift
of Nature, lay beneath that lonely wilderness, only awaiting someone to
seize upon it. Yet neither the old Antoine, nor the light-hearted girl,
the two who alone knew of the place, ever had the imagination troubled
with the golden vision of an oil king's dream.

Black rocks pressed closely upon the limit of this slimy expanse, which
spread away to the distance, broken by occasional solemn bushes, or
gaunt stone masses like huge creatures of mythology. Between this cliff
and the precarious edge Menotah picked her light-footed way, until she
came to an open spot fronted by a thick bush clump, which seemed to bar
all further progress.

She stepped across and pulled at a pliant bough. It came back, and she
passed through a dark aperture, the branch closing behind her with
considerable force, like a spring door. Ahead lay another smaller
clearing, with three trees in the centre, growing to form an almost
perfect equilateral triangle. These had been utilised as corner posts
for a small hut constructed out of thick kanikanik rods, overlaid with
white reeds plaited with red wands of the same bush. The roof was
thatched in by layers of leaves and dry grass, the whole being sheltered
by pendulous tresses of the overhanging trinity of pines. At the forest
side a roughly-cut aperture did duty for a window, where a cloth was
stretched across at night, to exclude, as far as possible, the noxious
vapours and the no less unpleasant insects.

Menotah had reached her destination. She stopped and hooted thrice in
soft cadence. Scarce had the low cry passed drearily over the swamp,
when the reed door was pushed back, while a figure, bent and completely
enveloped in a sweeping black cloak, crawled forth slowly. This
apparition the girl regarded with every sign of complacent satisfaction.

'I have come early,' she began in glad tones, 'for last evening I could
not find you. I came to the hut before the storm arose, but it was
empty.'

The figure raised a thin, bearded face, and spoke in a weak voice. 'I
went into the forest--to escape the stench of the swamp for a few hours.
I thought I knew the way, but it gave me trouble to return.'

'You should not have left this place. Some might see you.'

'Don't fear, my girl. I shall lie quiet, till the strength comes. I
sha'n't show my face till the proper time. No one comes here?'

'None can, but old Antoine, for they do not know the path. He comes but
seldom, to gather foul plants and collect creatures from the mud. Then
he makes great medicines and strong poison. Are you not satisfied here?'

The figure shivered, and drew the mantle more closely round his lean
shoulders. 'It is an awful place at night--especially on a quiet night.
Mists rise and hang upon yonder dark pools, while blue lamps shudder
along the marsh.'

Menotah gave a fearful little laugh. 'But you should not venture forth
when the cold moon shines.[1] The _Mutchi-Manitou_ is then abroad, and
his home is in the swamp. He it is who lights those fires, that you may
come to the edge and gaze upon them. Then he would drag you in to feed
upon your blood, while your soul would make another blue lamp. But the
dim shadows are powerless to harm, for they are only poor spirits who
have been sent to the other world without food or light by the way. So
they have lost the right path, and must search through the long night
for it.'

The huddled figure, who already seemed overridden by superstition, bent
still lower in a fit of coughing. Menotah, with her inborn knowledge of
the unseen, had no idea of easing his mind.

'You have not seen that which the Spirit has shown to me,' she
continued, in a half whisper. 'When I was younger, I would sometimes be
very foolish, and would even walk by the edge of the swamp when the moon
was cold and round. I wished to learn some of the mysteries of the
future. So as the night grew older and the south wind blew more
strongly,[2] there rose around me groanings, with louder cries of souls
in torture. Fires darted from side to side, while shadow figures floated
in such numbers that the sky became hidden. Sometimes, when I came by a
black pool, where red patches lay without motion, a blue-veined hand
darted upward, making horrible clutches with bony fingers at the life
air, which the body might not reach from the bondage of death. Then a
ghastly head, with starting eyes and awful features, would be cast up at
my feet, only to roll back into the slime with fearful cries. I could
see the agony in the eyes as the dark water closed around. Also, voices
would call my name, and feet tread beside me as I trembled along.
Invisible hands pulled at me, while hollow eyes rolled and burnt in the
air at my side. Yet I kept to the path and never lost courage. Had I
done so, one of those blue lamps which now frighten you at night would
mark that spot where I had made entry into the other world.'

'You imagined this!' cried the figure. 'It was a dream. I have seen
nothing like that--'

'Because the Spirit has not given you the double vision,' she said
eagerly. 'Some may see more than others can even imagine. These have an
inner pair of eyes with which they may look into the mysteries, to read
the future and the fate of others, though we may never find or learn our
own.'

'Have you the double pair?'

'I cannot tell yet; I am still so young. But I can see very well, and I
know--I know--'

She stopped, then widened her lustrous eyes and gazed on him with a
smile, in which there was certain pride.

'Now I must go,' she said suddenly. 'See how the sun is creeping up from
the low ridge of cloud. Is there anything I should bring you?'

'No. Only keep your tongue as you have managed so far. Then everything
ought to turn out well.'

She stepped back to the leafy wall. 'Last night there was a moose
brought into the camp. I have cut off some nice pieces for you, and will
bring them this evening. Do not lose yourself again.'

She nodded with a radiant smile, the bushes closed behind her flowing
hair as a last bright note of farewell floated back to the stagnant
swamp pools. Then her happy steps turned lightly in the direction of the
dismal death tree, where she was to meet the one to whom she had
dedicated her fresh young heart.

Quickly she came across him, stretched at his ease in the soft green
shade beneath the tinted light. She came to him, full of that love and
trust which is in itself a thing of perfect beauty, yet which so often
proves a serpent to its owner. She knelt by his side, under the
interlacing tangle of boughs, to throw her warm young arms around his
neck in the passion of her innocent devotion. Her tantalising hair waved
round his neck and fondled each feature. It intoxicated the sense, so he
returned her embrace, drew her down beside him, whispering soft words
into her ear, caressing the flushed face with the careless touch of a
man who understands a woman's weakness.

Jealousy had awakened the love flame in his heart. Now the opposer had
been destroyed, and no further obstacle stood in his path. Menotah was
for him. He had but to put forth his hand and receive a bride--surely
she was worth the taking. What mattered the stiff body drifting down an
unknown reach of the Saskatchewan? That could no more interfere between
him and desire. For the time he was sincere. This warmth at the heart
_was_ love; the beautiful being then caressing him with soft fingers had
been the kindling of it.

Nor had she any great consideration for the dead Muskwah. He himself had
explained the truth, when he said that none could think of the moon
while the sun gave light. She breathed within a golden flood of ecstasy,
in which time and season were empty phrases. The warmth and beauty of
that summer day had been created for her alone, while she, in her turn,
had been brought to the world that she might bring joy and satisfaction
to another. Had not the heart been free from sorrow all the days of
life? And now the happiness had been idealised. How magnificent, how
wonderfully coloured, how fantastic and exquisitely enervating was this
supreme intensity of heart joy!

She murmured to him softly, 'You have given me love. I know what it is
now. And the more you give me, more I shall ask for.'

'You shall have it, _chérie_!'

'It is my life now. I should die if I looked for it--and it never came.'

He turned her face up inquiringly and gazed into it.

'Ah! You do not understand that. But, if I thought you had ceased to
love me, it would kill me. You may not live without a heart. We are
given but one, and we cannot part with our best more than once.'

'But when it is returned to you?'

'No; it is a different thing. You then offer that which belongs to
another.'

Lamont looked long into her serious eyes. '_Ma mie_,' he said tenderly,
'all of your age and sex speak so. They mean it, when they give the
thought utterance, yet in a short time they will gladly transfer
affection, and call it again love.'

'I do not understand the world ways. I do not wish to, if such is
custom. Such women cannot possess hearts, or know truth.'

'It is nothing,' he said carelessly. 'Husbands tire of wives, wives
desert husbands. It happens every day.'

'But what comes after that?'

'Often they separate.'

Menotah shuddered, while her face grew very grave. 'When you speak such
words, a cold pain passes over me. It makes me lonely and unhappy. But
tell me more; when the wife is deserted for another woman, what does she
do?'

Lamont shrugged his shoulders and laughed. 'Takes somebody else,' he
said lightly.

Yet he was astonished at her manner of receiving his words. She pushed
him away with a sudden impulse, while her bosom heaved and the bright
eyes flashed.

'Surely she would seek after vengeance? She would punish him?'

'You do not understand the workings of the world, Menotah,' came the
careless answer.

'No--I go higher. For I know the call of Nature. If animals seek to obey
the will of the Spirit, why should men and women do less? I will tell
you what I myself saw last spring. Many herons nested among the river
reeds, and I would watch them often while they fashioned homes and
brought up their young. But one day a female deserted her mate and chose
another. What do you think happened then? The others would not allow
themselves to be thus disgraced; for they were wiser than those men and
women of whom you speak. They waited, until the female bird came to the
encampment, then set upon her, and tore her body in pieces. After that
they turned upon her mate and beat him from the camp. All this I saw
with my own eyes.'

Lamont shifted uneasily, for this style of conversation jarred upon him.
This girl of the forests possessed deep inner feelings, which he felt
she would be better without. There were still things of importance he
must teach her, chief of which was the error of perfect fidelity. To
him, love was the pleasure of an hour; to her, it was the core of life.

It was easy, also delightful, to assure her of the foolishness of
dwelling upon matters which could not concern her. She was willing to be
persuaded, and soon smiled on him again with her customary brightness.

'I have a gift for you,' she said.

'You have given it already. You shall not take yourself back again,' he
replied laughingly.

She patted his mouth with a soft palm and laughed back into his eyes.
'It is something nicer than me,' she said. 'I had it with me in the
storm; now it lies in the hut. There are many beautiful stones, which
were given to my father by the hunter who found them. That was before I
lived.'

He saw she was referring to the willow box. 'What is your gift,
_chérie_?'

'Yellow stones. They are wonderful as sunshine,' she replied.

This was a matter of far greater interest. He drew himself up eagerly to
ask, 'From where did they come?'

'I will tell you how the hunter of our tribe found them long ago. He
travelled far, tracking the moose, and struck in a new direction, until
he came to a strange land, which no man had knowledge of. He went
through much forest, then came out to a country of rocks, where great
red hills overtopped the largest trees; and still he travelled on, down
the rock paths and through the deep clefts. At length he stood upon
lofty cliffs, and looked upon what must once have been a great river,
like our mighty Saskatchewan-god. But then it was dry, while the bed of
sparkling sand, overstrewn with small shells, showed no mark of
footsteps. So he wondered greatly, and let himself down the cliff front,
over rocks the like of which his eyes had never rested on. For they were
white as snow. Then he came upon the ancient river bed and his feet sank
amid the brittle shells. Into the warm sand he worked his hands, then,
behold! bright stones lay there, glittering beneath the sun as though
made of fire. Also he chipped fragments from the white rocks, and saw
wondrous yellow patterns traced upon the heart of the stone. So he came
away with many of the bright creatures in his pemmican bag. When he
returned, after much wandering, he gave them to the Chief.'

Lamont had given this narrative breathless attention. 'Where is that
river bed?'

Menotah laughed. 'Do you wish to walk along the soft sand as well? You
cannot, for none knows where it lies. That hunter has long been dead,
nor could he ever find his way there again. The Spirit brought him to
it, and it was after many weary days of travel. No man could lead you
there. Do you wish to travel through the lone land?'

'I will tell you after I have seen the stones,' was the somewhat
mercenary answer.

'You will meet me to-night, when the moon tips the black rock ledge.
Then I will bring the little box and give it you.'

He agreed; but as he kissed her soft mouth, he thought more upon the
glittering sands, so jealously guarded by Nature, than the upturned face
of sweet beauty and the trusting heart that throbbed so happily against
his breast.

But Menotah had flitted among the trees, and disappeared with a glad
song upon her lips. Scarce had Lamont reached the open, when a shrunken
form approached slowly from the direction of the river. He stopped, and,
leaning against a rock, waited for the old Chief to come up.

The latter had perceived his daughter as she passed at a short distance,
with scantest form of recognition. He groaned and struck his staff upon
the ground in the bitterness of his heart. The white oppressor had taken
from him everything, save only the light of his eyes. And now, even the
heart of his child had been turned against her own. Especially did the
old man hate Lamont, who had dealt destruction in the fight, who, as he
now shrewdly imagined, might have some knowledge regarding the
disappearance of Muskwah. So he would have passed without a word, had
not the young man caught a fold of his blanket and brought him to a
standstill.

Then he turned his bleared eyes and deeply wrinkled countenance to
inject the question, 'Did you see her, who left me as you came up?'

Quickly the other found words. 'Can a man see the sun at noon? Who could
wish for beauty when Menotah stands by?'

'You're right enough,' said Lamont, carelessly. 'She is--'

'What is she to you?' broke in the old Chief violently. 'No longer will
she look upon those of the tribe as equals, no longer does she respect
the needs of her sire. When I call for her, the answer comes, "She is
absent; she has gone to the forest." When I search, failure but mocks my
efforts. What have you done to her? Why have you turned her against her
own people?'

'She is a good deal to me,' said Lamont. 'I am going to make her my
wife.'

The old Chief clasped claw-like hands and trembled to his knees.

'Leave me this, only this,' he wailed pitifully. 'See, I would not bow
myself to the white man for a small matter. But now I will humble myself
for Menotah's sake. The white man has taken everything from me. He stole
my land, driving me back to the forest, which is worthless to him; he
killed the buffalo,[3] and took away our life support. Now, if we rise
to reclaim our own, he takes away our life. White man--give me back my
daughter. Take not away the only gladness of my last days.'

'Get up,' said Lamont, scornfully. 'What are you grovelling about there
for? I am as good a man as any of yours.'

'May the Great Spirit aid me. May he save my child from her fate.'

'I guess your god will listen, if you shout loud enough; but he
certainly can't stop me from making Menotah my bride.'

The aged Chief rose in feeble manner, a strange picture of crushed
humanity. 'What good can come from such a marriage?' he quavered. 'Does
the crow mate with the gull? Nature herself teaches you to take a wife
from your own tribe. Yet, I tell you this, should you treat her wrongly,
an old man's curse shall follow you to death. The earth will hate you,
and the wind shall blow poison through your veins.'

The other laughed cynically. 'Good!' he exclaimed. 'You talk well, old
man; it is a pity you will not live to see my downfall.'

'I do not wish to. I have seen much sorrow, and now look for sleep. It
is the great love for what I may call my own that speaks in me.'

'Well, I have told you--I love her, too.'

'With the white man's constancy. No true fire burns within your heart. I
know the white man's fair promise and the white man's love. You change,
as the day in early summer. At one time all is bright, but even while
you gaze black clouds roll up, the tempest beats. So will the love
sunshine turn to dark forgetfulness before another moon has grown
round.'

The young man smoothed his fair moustache. 'Have you done?' he asked
listlessly.

'The wind will receive my prayers and carry them to the Spirit. He will
act between you and me. White man, for the last time I plead to you.
Give me back my daughter, the warmth of my life, the pleasure of my
failing eyes. This is all I ask.'

Lamont's lips curled into a slow smile. Then he leaned forward, until
his face came near the ancient head. 'You ask for your daughter. Have
you never thought I might be unable to return her to you?'

The old man breathed thickly. 'What is the meaning in your words? I am
aged, and the sense is feeble.'

The smile grew deeper as the words came deliberately. 'Perhaps it is
already too late.'

Then he burst into mocking laughter, and turned towards the fort with
swinging step.

But the Chief lifted two dim eyes upward, while the great sorrow
consumed his ebbing life. Pitifully he cried and wailed to the peaceful
nature encircling him, 'The God has spoken. Be it good or evil, what
matters it? Yet, when he makes known his will, what have men to do but
bow the head?'


[1] 'Stay within when the darkness falls, for the night is bad. The evil
one has his power.'--Cree proverb. The dogma is interesting, as to it
the title 'Manitobah' (now Manitoba) owns derivation.

[2] Spirits may only travel on the south wind.

[3] Though it has frequently been denied, the Hudson's Bay Company are
alone responsible for the extinction of the buffalo.



CHAPTER VI

DENTON'S DESCENT


Abandoned by Lamont, the Factor discharged a few duties in the store,
made a selection of heterogeneous entries in his books, then set forth
for the hut beneath the cliff. Here the Icelander, considerately left by
Dave for 'planting,' was sheltered, watched over by the taciturn and
skilful Justin.

The petty king of the district walked by the outlying scrub for some
distance, then turned sharply and worked his great body with
extraordinary agility down the almost perpendicular cliff. This was a
journey he had often made before, chiefly for the sake of enjoying the
breathless exercise of a somewhat hazardous climb. Presently he came to
the bush-covered roof of the one-roomed hut. Here he veered off again,
dropped from the overhanging ledge, and without ceremony kicked in the
door.

Directly opposite the entrance lay the sick man, stretched upon a pile
of sacking; Justin's stunted form moved to and fro; while, squatting on
the floor, with an open Bible across his knees, and an odour of
hypocrisy emanating from his very garments, appeared no less a personage
than Peter Denton.

The latter was not anticipating a visit from his natural enemy, though
he was quite prepared to act on emergency. Feigning complete ignorance
of the Factor's presence--somewhat of an exaggeration in the restricted
space--he bent over the book, and drawled forth in his nasal tones a
portion of the Lamentations that happened to come handy. He could have
done nothing, as he knew well enough, to more effectually arouse
McAuliffe's ire. Nor did the latter lose any time in acquainting him of
that fact.

'Quit that noise now, or I'll fire you outside; and darned quick, too.
What are you doing here, anyway?'

The ex-minister droned forth his Jeremiads, swinging his angular body in
regular motions.

'Do you hear? Quit it, or the river will have a drowning job first
thing.'

Then Denton looked up, and closed the book mournfully. 'Did you speak,
Alfred?' he asked smoothly.

'I just whispered,' shouted the Factor. 'You're a peach of a Christian,
ain't you? Who told you to dump your carcase here, eh?'

'You turned me out of the fort without authority. I had to find a place
for myself,' said the ex-minister, who was more afraid of McAuliffe than
in the days previous to the fight.

'This shack's owned by the Company. I tell you that.'

'Well, and I'm one of their officers,' said Denton, sulkily. 'I sent a
letter by this morning's boat to Garry. I've just put them up to how
I've been used by the Chief Factor. The answer may bother you a bit, I
reckon.'

'That'll be a sure thing,' said McAuliffe, rubbing his hands
delightedly. 'But it's no good your going in for fiction. There's too
many at it already. Mind you, lad, my report went along by same mail.
There was some reading in it which would have made you fairly blush. I
recommended you for promotion, hinted at a Victoria Cross, to say
nothing of a pension when you were past lying. You're tough, Peter, and
there's no denying it. I wonder that Bible don't burn a hole in your
pants.'

Justin interposed. 'He no good. Make boy worse,' pointing to the
Icelander.

'He's a waste of breath wherever he is. Fellows like him ain't a bit of
good, until they're planted. Then they do keep a few worms going and
enrich the ground a bit.'

Denton drew himself upright with poor dignity. 'I have my call, and I
obey it. I am here to care for the soul of our sinful brother.'

McAuliffe burst into a lusty roar. ''Scuse me smiling, Peter. Think he
wants you to trouble? Tell you, he'd be a lot more interested if you
looked a bit after your own. How's the fellow, Justin? Going to snuff
out?'

The half-breed gave a loud grunt of dissent, then bent again over the
sick man, who was apparently asleep.

'He's not, eh? Well, you'll do fine, boy, if you drag him back.' He
pulled forth a massive watch and continued, ''Bout time for my grub.
Suppose you fix him up and hustle across to the fort. I've got a hungry
sort of faceache on me just now. So long, Peter; it's made me regular
tired seeing you again. Why don't you croak off, and make some of us
happier?'

Followed by an indistinct reply to this gracious sentiment, the two left
the hut and passed along in the white sunlight, taking the narrow
shingle path which ran between the cliff base and low ebb of the waters.
The taciturn half-breed was kept at a short double by McAuliffe's long
strides, but at the tree-covered headland the latter paused to get a
light for his pipe. There was a cool patch of shade beneath the
overhanging rock, so Justin stopped willingly and rubbed the heat from
his wrinkled forehead. Then he bit deeply into a black plug, while
McAuliffe swore at the pungent sulphur which had found its way up his
nose.

The great river swirled along, with a lazy gurgling beneath the bright
light. Sweeping kanikaniks bent over and lay upon the cool surface,
entangling small driftings that occasionally came down on the stream.
There was something caught in the red strands now, and the half-breed's
keen eyes soon perceived it. He pointed with his usual sonorous grunt.

McAuliffe puffed blue smoke through his moustache. The sunlight was
dazzling, so at first he saw nothing but the red lines crossing and
recrossing foam patches. Then, beyond the small waves which licked the
shingle, he caught sight of a shining surface rising and falling
feather-like, fretting at the restraint. 'Goldam, boy!' he exclaimed,
'it's a paddle.'

Justin grunted and again pointed, this time to a fragment of bark
twisted up among the pendulous strings.

'Looks as if a _nitchi_ had been overset here,' said the Factor.
'There's been a canoe smashed, and it's a sure thing he didn't escape.
He wouldn't have gone off without the paddle. Must have been in the
storm, boy.'

Justin merely expectorated skilfully across the flat of the white blade.

'May have been monkey work going on,' continued McAuliffe. 'I was too
everlastingly raddled to know anything. See here, boy, you were around
best part of the time. Anyone cutting a crooked dido, you reckon?'

The half-breed shook his head slowly. 'Lightning, thunder, wind, rain.'
He waved his hands towards the white rolling cloud masses. 'I in the
hut--all night.'

'Did Peter shift his carcase outside any time?'

The decided shake of the half-breed's head was sufficient to exonerate
the ex-minister.

McAuliffe pulled a deadwood stick from the bush, then brought the paddle
to shore. 'One fellow gains by another's loss. It's a first-class
paddle, boy.'

They continued along the shingle, worked up the cliff, and were already
within sight of the fort, when the old Chief crawled painfully from the
dim forest track and waited for the representative of justice to come
up. With his great hand McAuliffe screened his eyes from the white
stream of light, and presently observed the bent figure.

'Hello, whisky bottle! What're you after?'

The old man replied in his weak tones, 'I wish to speak to the white
father. Now I have found him on the way.'

'That's what. No charge for talking to-day. Pump it out quick, though,
for I'm wanting my grub.' He stopped, but Justin went on to the fort.
Then the Chief came nearer, and stretched out a skinny hand.

'Muskwah answers not when we call. The leader of the young men has
departed from us as the star before the light of day.'

McAuliffe whistled and grew interested. 'What's that? Quit your foolery
about the sun and stars. Tell me straight what you're driving at.'

The young man went forth to hunt in the forest of the north. Then the
Storm Spirit spoke and all trembled at his voice; but in the morning,
when many of the tribe came for water to the river, there were portions
of the canoe lying upon the stones. Then we knew Muskwah had gone to the
unknown; also that there had been treachery in the manner of his death.'

The Factor shook his shaggy head slowly. 'That's bad; I'll have to look
into this. We've no right to shoot down the boys, 'cept in self-defence.
Besides, it's bad for trade.'

The old man feebly pointed with his staff. 'The father remembers the
promise he made to his servants--they should no more be punished for the
fight of rebellion. Also have we sworn not to fight against the white
men. Yet none of my children could have slain the leader of the young
men.'

McAuliffe was much perplexed. 'I'll have to think over it, boy. I'm
derned sure I didn't fix Muskwah. Can show an empty brandy bottle, and
prove an _alibi_.' Then he reflected; Peter wouldn't have owned the
pluck to be round in the storm. That only leaves Lamont, and he's not
likely to have done it. Why should he? He wouldn't want to be practising
long shots, especially on such a night. Besides, a fellow doesn't go
around potting others as though they were tree-partridges, just to see
if he can hit them. Then to the Chief, 'Keep your old eyes awake, boy.
Might have been someone in the camp who had a sort of feeling against
him.'

The other shook his head. 'There is no such man.'

'Look around, anyway, and come to me if you pick up anything.'

He began to move, for a thin line of smoke was ascending invitingly from
the stove pipe which marked the fort kitchen, but the Chief still
detained him with the words, 'I would speak on another matter with the
white father. Que-dane, the half-breed, has stolen the wife of one of my
young men. He is not of us, therefore will not obey my word The
messenger whom I sent he beat with a heavy stick. My children fear him,
for he is a mighty fighter. Will the father command Que-dane to give
back the wife?'

'I'll go round this evening and fix things up with him. Glad of the
chance, too, for he's a crooked lot.'

He walked off as he spoke, still holding Muskwah's paddle, which the
Chief's dim eyes had not perceived. The latter turned back to the
forest, and made his slow way in the direction of the camp.

Denton, in the meantime, left in charge of the sick Icelander, found
himself situated in an entirely agreeable position. Justin had given him
to understand that his patient was not to be disturbed, but the
ex-minister had no idea of allowing a man to remain in comfort, when he
imagined he could easily make him miserable. So, directly the door
closed behind the two, he shut the Bible with unnecessary commotion and
crossed over to his victim's side. Then he squatted upon a log of wood,
aroused the sleeper, and commenced operations with an ominous groan.
'How are you feeling?' he asked, in a voice suggestive itself of a
funeral procession.

Like most northerners, the Icelander could understand English perfectly,
and speak it fairly. When he heard the sepulchral voice, he stirred and
turned his blue eyes upon the speaker.

'You needn't bother to speak,' continued Denton, zealously. 'You are not
half so strong as you were this morning. You're getting worse every
minute.'

The man groaned and tried to speak, but Denton flowed on. 'The pain's
getting duller all the time, isn't it? That's a sure sign of death.'

The Icelander shifted painfully, while his lips parted.

'Don't you know you're dying? You must go; no power can save you.'

Denton spoke in hollow tones, bending over the sick man, and shaking his
cadaverous features impressively at each word.

The Icelander fastened two frightened eyes on the unpleasant face. 'No,
no,' he said.

'But it's yes, yes,' continued Denton, now thoroughly happy. 'There
wouldn't be any chance for a man not half so sick as you. I guess you'll
live through this night. You may perhaps see the sun rise in the
morning, though I tell you it's unlikely. By this time to-morrow you
will be dead--likely enough under the ground. We shall plant you
directly you turn up.'

'No, no,' came again from the patient.

'It's bad to think on, I know. Still, you've got to get accustomed to
the idea. Mind you, the end is very near now. Its terrible to be like
you, only having a few more hours to look for.'

'But Justin say--I live.'

'You didn't see him laugh at me when he did it. He thought he was doing
you a kind turn telling you a lie; he knows you're dying fast. But it's
my duty to tell you the truth; I'm a minister of the Gospel, and I must
prepare you for the end. Do you understand?'

The Icelander lay back, with his mouth open and pale eyes staring.

'I reckon you've been a vile sinner,' resumed the weird voice. 'Now,
you'll be wanting to know whether there's any chance of your being saved
at the last moment. I'll just find out and let you know; but don't raise
your hopes, for I'm getting afraid you're one of the poor lost brothers.
Now, listen to me.'

He sat more upright and upraised a dirty hand. Then he half closed his
eyes and groaned fervently. 'Have you always regularly attended your
chapel and prayer meeting? Have you steadily helped towards your
minister's income?'

The other shook his flaxen head. 'On lake in summer; bush work, winter.
Not been near church.'

Denton's face lengthened in telescopic fashion. 'Have you ever joined
with the immoral company of card players?'

Such a question aroused not unpleasant memories. 'Played poker nights at
camp. Held a royal in diamonds one time. Diddled 'em all. 'Twas a
jackpot, too. I won quite a bit that night.' He smiled, with more of the
content of pride than sorrow of sinning.

'Perhaps you have even gone so far as to take part in lascivious
dancing, or enter some hell of a theatre?'

But the ex-minister had quite defeated his own ends. This probing of
conscience brought nothing but a flood of joyful memories of the past.
In such a pleasurable review the Icelander quickly recovered from his
fear, and replied, with an irreligious chuckle in his voice,--

'Had lots of good dances with the gals--best fun I've ever put in. When
I was in Garry, would always take in the show when there was one. I'd
like to see another, fine. Tell you, some of them gals could kick up!'
He leaned back with the smile of reprobation, and rubbed his hands
weakly.

Denton was distinctly frustrated, but, not being sensitive, he
instituted a fresh attack. 'It is my duty to give such a wretched sinner
as you every chance. Have you ever passed your time--the time for which
you must now give account--in saloons, drinking with those equally
vile?'

This mystified the Icelander, who did not know which way to take it.
'Always drunk fair, it that's what you're driving at. I've never dropped
off a glass behind, then tried to make out I was level up.'

Denton rocked to and fro with deep groans of fanatical horror. 'Poor
brother!' he wailed; 'for, miserable sinner as you are, I must still
call you brother. You must yourself see that your damnation is assured.
Nothing could save you, even it you do now repent--'

'But I don't,' broke in the sinner cheerfully. 'There's no harm in those
things. They're right enough.'

'They are the wiles of your master, Satan. Poor dying brother. How
dreadful it is to look on you! I must tell you where you are going to,
and so complete my duty.' He opened the Bible, moistened a finger, then
whipped over the pages, leaving a dirty impression on each. 'Here it
is!' he cried in solemn triumph. 'The lake that burneth with fire and
brimstone. That's where you're going to. They'll dump you right in, and
won't care how much you howl or jump. It'll frizzle you. You'll jerk
around like a hot pea. A sulphur match up the nose will be nothing to
it.'

But the ex-minister, in his hypocritical zeal, had overshot the mark.
His intended victim merely laughed stupidly in his face, then remarked,
'You've made me tired; I'm off to sleep. So long.'

Denton banged the Bible upon his misshapen knees. 'It will be the sleep
of death,' he cried tragically. 'You may never wake in this world, and
yet you will not listen to a minister of the Word. You will be damned,
poor brother. Do you hear that? You will be damned.'

'Go away. You're a dam' fool to talk such truck. You're a dirty, mean
liar, sure.'

After which, the Icelander turned towards the log wall, pulled the
ragged coverlet above his shoulders, and sank placidly again into
slumber.



CHAPTER VII

AN INCIDENT


The sun had almost reached the tree line along the horizon, when the
Factor, accompanied by Justin, left the fort and switched off to the
trail which led to the bigamist Que-dane's shack. McAuliffe was in
splendid spirits, for the prospect of a tough wrestling bout--the
stalwart half-breed was unlikely to obey command without
persuasion--suited him to the finger tips. He could use thews and
muscles to good advantage, even though the eye and hand steadily refused
to work together whenever there was any shooting to be done. By his side
trotted Justin, dog-like, his jaws working as usual, and a secret
satisfaction lurking at his heart. For, an hour or so earlier, he had
forcibly ejected Peter Denton from the riverside hut. The Icelander's
condition on his return had inspired suspicion, and upon questioning, he
discovered who was the guilty cause of the man's prostration. Thereupon
he had furnished himself with a cudgel and bestowed attention upon the
ex-minister, who, with his unfailing discretion in time of danger, had
promptly evacuated his former position, and wandered forth to seek other
shelter.

Justin had sufficiently trespassed upon taciturnity to jerk forth this
incident for the benefit of the Factor, who but expressed sorrow that
Denton had escaped the 'pounding' he was legally entitled to. 'I'd have
gone to work and kneaded him up if I'd been around,' he said, then
inquired who was tending the sick man.

'Rosalie--she look after him.' This lady was wife to a friendly Indian,
who could be trusted.

They proceeded for some time in silence. Strangely enough it was Justin
who re-opened conversation with the question, 'You going to fight
Que-dane?'

'Bet your life,' returned McAuliffe, promptly. 'Going to give him a
first-class hiding. You'll see some fun, boy.'

A feeble interest spread over the other's dusky countenance. A light
crept into his small eyes. 'He great big man, and strong. No man beat
him yet.'

The Factor laughed loudly. 'Don't trouble about that, boy. Tell you I
shall knock the spots off him in short order. He's never had a fellow
around him who could wrestle before.'

'What you beat him with?'

'Goldam. I never thought of that.' He stopped in the centre of the rough
trail and scratched the thick hair at the back of his head for
inspiration.

'Say, boy, who lives in the shack yonder?'

'Old wife--by herself.'

'That's good. Hustle over there; scare the old woman into lending you
her axe. If she don't want, I'll forgive you if you steal it.'

The half-breed was very nearly astonished. 'Surely,' he exclaimed, 'you
not going to kill the man with the axe?'

'My racket, boy. You hump along and fetch it.'

Justin obeyed, and presently returned with the implement, followed at a
distance by the inquisitive old wife herself. He came upon his master
standing in a thicket of young oaks, which had sprung up in a small fire
clearing. The Factor grabbed at the axe and severed three saplings at
the roots, then rapidly trimmed them down to a four foot length. This
accomplished, he took each stick--they were about three inches in
diameter--placed his big foot on the large end, and twisted violently,
until they were like ropes. Then he grimly handed them to Justin, the
two continued their journey, and later halted before the closed tent of
Que-dane, bigamist and robber.

McAuliffe pulled aside the hanging flap, and immediately came upon his
quarry within. Indeed, he had taken him red-handed, for the half-breed
was seated on the ground in the centre, between his two wives, clothed
in nothing more pretentious than a small breech-clout. He had just been
oiling his body. The limbs shone like dull copper, emitting an odour
evidently not displeasing to a waving cloud of mosquitoes, which hovered
around and filled the hot tent with their thin note of defiance.

The malefactor, who was not entirely surprised at the visit, stared
heavily at the Factor, while the two wives followed his example. The
stolen one appeared perfectly contented with her wrongful owner; the
lawful wife seemed to be untroubled by any qualm of jealousy; but
McAuliffe had no compunction about destroying the peace of this domestic
circle.

'Guess I've caught you all right,' he said, with unction.

Que-dane had no doubt whatever, and began to look a little troubled. He
feared the Factor more than any man in the district. So he merely made
an awkward movement nearer his legal wife, and discreetly remained mute.

'Come out of it now,' continued the visitor; 'I'm going to talk to you.'

The half-breed did not appear anxious for the conversation, so he added
deafness to other defects, and refused to budge.

The Factor frowned capaciously. 'Well, come out you' he ordered,
apostrophising the wives, who obeyed with alacrity.

Then McAuliffe rolled up his shirt sleeves--coat he had none--and
continued, 'If you won't come when you're called, darned if I won't have
to make you.'

He sprang inside the tent, and, knowing the advantage of getting 'first
hands,' closed upon Que-dane as he rose from the ground to repel the
assailant.

But McAuliffe quickly discovered that he was not to down his opponent at
a first onslaught. The half-breed was chiefly himself, and the
well-oiled flesh was as difficult to clutch as an eel's body. There was
no purchase for the hands, which glided and slipped along the greasy
surface in ineffectual fashion. Having the advantage of first catch, the
Factor succeeded with his great strength on forcing Que-dane to his
knees. But here the profit ended, for the other, with cool deliberation,
dived at his opponent's ankles, bringing him down heavily, to the stolid
perturbation of Justin, who began to reflect whether, after all, his
master would emerge from the struggle with untarnished reputation.

But the Factor, as he himself would have expressed it, was 'wonderful
tough.' In spite of years and bulk, the sturdy old northerner received
no material damage from his fall, for he was up again in a breath, as
full of energy as before.

After more dodging around the narrow space, McAuliffe came in again,
this time getting two arms, like a couple of iron bands, round the
greasy body of his antagonist. They linked behind, while the pressure
soon became sufficient to remind the half-breed that breathing was a
chief necessity for existence. So he replied by hurling himself forward
with careless violence, succeeding by this manoeuvre in breaking the
Factor's grip.

A fresh struggle for supremacy was long and fierce. Que-dane's naked
flesh was marked with scarlet lines and patches, where catching fingers
had dug in vain; McAuliffe's face glowed with sweat and oil drippings
from the half-breed's body. Still they fought and swayed across the
narrow space, while the evening shadows began to creep along the ground,
and mosquitoes blinded their eyesight.

The round ended abruptly and disastrously for the Factor. He was thrown
with considerable force. His body was pressed firmly against the caked
mud floor, held down by Que-dane's lubricated limbs. The right arm was
free, but bent beneath his body. The position was serious. 'Wouldn't
surprise me to hear I was fixed,' he muttered to himself. 'Darn it,
every _nitchi_ in the place will start to kick me if I am.'

The two squaws were watching the contest, without displaying the
smallest show of interest. Justin had been hovering round the writhing
figures, continually expectorating in firework fashion. Now he presented
the hammer side of the axe, with a suggestion that he should with it
gently tap the victor's skull.

'Git away, boy,' shouted McAuliffe, suddenly. 'Gold am! haven't been
trying yet.'

He saw his opportunity. As he finished speech, the tent shook with a
convulsive effort. This was followed by a furious howl of disappointed
rage--the first sound Que-dane had given utterance to.

Skill had come to the front with valour beaten. The half-breed's hair,
which was long and thick, had been plaited by the hands of an obedient
wife into a single tail, which fell in a straight black line down his
back. When Justin approached with his axe and suggestion, Que-dane half
turned, apprehensive of attack from behind. Then McAuliffe made his
effort. He forced his body slightly above ground, freed the right arm,
then, before the half-breed could turn again upon him, seized the
pigtail in his great fingers. With a rapid motion he wound it round the
owner's neck, and, with a fresh effort, brought him prisoner to the
ground at his side. The next second they rolled over once more, then the
Factor assumed the more comfortable position. He knelt upon the
captive's chest, and triumphantly called to Justin for one of the oak
saplings.

'Told you so, boy. I was only fooling first part. Tell you, it's no
trick at all to diddle this chap.'

With deep-throated chuckles, Justin selected one of the twisted sticks
and handed it over, while the wives gravely seated themselves to watch
further proceedings. These were interesting chiefly to Que-dane, for the
Factor at once commenced to bring the stinging fibres across his naked
flesh with measured strokes of a muscular right arm. While administering
justice, he lectured. 'This'll teach you. It'll be a kind of hint for
you not to monkey around after other fellows' wives. Do you catch on,
Que-dane?'

The half-breed struggled furiously, howled fiercely, and poured
imprecations upon the head of the chastiser. But he could not release
himself, and the Factor flogged on, until the tough sapling flew to
pieces in his hand.

The wives began to chatter and laugh widely, when the fragments were
discarded, and Justin imperturbably handed over the second torturing
implement. This was a spectacle of delight not presented to the eyes
every day.

Dull reverberations echoed out into the still solemnity of the evening.
Indeed, the flagellation was continued with such unfailing energy that
even Justin gave an exclamation of dismay.

'Surely I you kill the boy.'

'It'll do him good,' panted McAuliffe. 'Goldam! it'll show him I'm going
to be boss around here.'

'See! he jump like a frog,' said the half-breed, more interested than
merciful.

'He'll jump like a derned locust before I'm through with him. Pass over
t'other stick, boy. This one's getting sort of used up.'

Justin obeyed, but wagged his head. 'You kill him. He not jump any more.
He lie quiet now.'

It was as he said. Que-dane had ceased struggling and profaning. Now he
lay along the ground, limp and motionless.

'He's right enough. Only shamming a bit.' Then he ceased his muscular
exercise, and bent over the prostrate figure. 'See, here, Que-dane, are
you going around wife stealing again?'

There was no answer nor motion, while Justin shook his head again.

'You're right, boy. I've chloroformed him, so he's missed the lecture I
was going to let him have. It'll be a wonderful good lesson, I reckon.'

'You beat too hard,' said Justin, bending over the bruised body, and
touching the injuries with dark, deft fingers.

McAuliffe stretched his limbs luxuriously. 'Pshaw! don't trouble about
that, boy. You get to work and take the woman back to her husband. Tell
him he's got me to thank for seeing her again. I'm going down to the
river to wash some of this dirt and oil off my hide. Give me the axe;
I'll leave it with the old wife as I come along.'

Justin gave a grunt of compliance, then walked over to the rescued woman
and pulled her up by the arm. Accustomed to obedience she followed him,
but whether she was anxious to return, or willing to stay, did not
appear. None could have told. Such a thought, likely enough, did not
trouble her own brain.

The two disappeared along the forest trail as the moon came up over the
ledges. McAuliffe prepared to descend to the river, but first he paid
attention to the half-breed's lawful wife.

'There's a job for you,' he said, looking over the bowl of his pipe, and
raising a sulphur match, which spluttered with blue light in the
darkness. 'Guess 'bout best thing it can do, is to look after what's
left of your darned thief of a husband.'



CHAPTER VIII

THE PIERIAN SPRING


That same evening, the old Antoine, after listening to the Chiefs last
tale of sorrow, sought Menotah in forest and by river, forgetful of age
and weakness. At nightfall he came upon her, tripping lightly along the
path, with song on her smiling lips and the usual joy at Tier heart. He
stopped and drew her--anxious to please, though unwilling to obey--aside
to his own tree-environed hut.

Here, with the dramatic force and fantastic word-painting of his race,
amid the long blackening shadows, he disclosed his heart. He spoke of
the mysterious death of Muskwah, on the stricken mind of her father, and
finally appealed to her, by all she held sacred, to return to the people
who were her own, to break from the perfidious white, who would soothe
the mind with flattery, while with deceit he broke the trusting heart.

The Ancient spoke without previous reasoning, for he had sufficient
knowledge to understand that opposition must ever increase
determination. At that hour he entertained but one central thought,
namely the freeing of Menotah from the life bondage she was accepting.
Here was the single bright spot in a dark heart, the only elevating
attribute of an embittered nature, his love for the happy girl, who had
sprung among them, as he himself had often expressed it, 'like a
solitary flower waving in the heart of the rock waste.'

With her customary careless air, Menotah listened to the Old man's
eloquence, hands clasped behind her back, radiant eyes wandering from
point to point of interest. When he paused, before a fresh effort, she
drew a little away and said quietly, 'I am sorry Muskwah is dead.'

So in truth she was, though with the kind of sorrow that breeds joy. For
Lamont had assured her how necessary had been his removal. She
understood that the Indian had sworn to take her lover's life; that if
one was left the other must go. It was far better to lose Muskwah than
her handsome white. So she was resigned, and looked upon the murder as
part of the dark lot of necessity.

But when she spoke there was no emotion of the voice, nor tear in the
eye. This was so evidently a lip sorrow that Antoine's anger ebbed forth
in reproach.

'You say there is grief at your heart, child, yet you will give no sign.
The man was your lover, and now is dead. In the camp there are maidens,
whom he was never wont to favour more than with the passing glance. But
these beat their breasts for the sorrow of his end. You, for whom he
would have dared all, stand unmoved, and speak of your grief in tones
that well might express joy.'

Menotah's soft brow doubled in a frown. 'You are over-ready with words,
old Father. Remember, T have cast aside childhood, and may therefore
know my own mind. He, who has gone to the shadows, was no lover of
mine.'

'You lie, girl,' cried the Ancient, smiting a feeble palm upon his
staff. 'Has not the old Chief, your father, told me of his favour
towards Muskwah? More, the young man himself has spoken of his warm
hope. Many a time did he tell of his love, beneath the still evening,
when he sought me for counsel.'

'Did the Chief also tell you that I looked upon Muskwah with eyes of
love? Did the young man come ever with the tidings that I had promised
to be his bride? You would ask me riddles, old Father. Now must you also
be ready with answers.'

''Tis not so. You are but a girl, and one made to obey. Since your
father chose, with the wisdom of age, a husband for you, it was your
duty to receive him, and thank the Spirit that he had sent you so
perfect a man. You know not, child, the peril that lies in self-choice.'

Menotah stepped forward with all her lithe grace. She raised her
beautiful features to the coloured air of evening, while the cheeks
warmed in a glow of anger. Then she parted her proud lips for reply.

'I have not your learning, old Father, for I am but a girl, yet one who
would wish to know. But I am the equal of those who call themselves men.
You are wiser? I can draw you from your knowledge path with a glance.
You are stronger? I can disarm you with smile or frown. I can outwit you
in your slow movements. Now you would hold out to me advice. I scorn it,
though I have listened for the sake of the love you bore me once. But
when you cast blame at me, I will throw back your words and tell you
that I have planned out my own life path, that I will follow it to the
end, in spite of you and all. Do you heed, old Father? Once you taught
me the power of ready speech. Now it is the master who is put to
silence.'

The Ancient tottered to the door of the hut, then paused, leaning in
helpless fashion upon his staff. His shrunken form seemed more dwarfed
than ever, the wrinkled face more deeply lined. There was suffering in
every slow movement.

Weakly he quavered forth, 'I am old, so old that I have lost count of
the years in the past. Now my age is mocked by those who were crawling
children when I was already weak with time. Is it to be sorrow to the
end, nothing but sorrow, until my body is brought to the fire, and
memory fades away?'

The girl was touched by her old mentor's genuine misery. 'Surely,' she
said in soft accents, 'none may pity those who sorrow when there is need
to rejoice. Old Father, I would not cause you suffering.'

The dull ears were quick to note the change in voice. All that was good
in his withered heart poured from him, like a death gasp, in a last
pitiful entreaty,--

'Have I not always loved you, daughter, child of the laughing heart?
Even now would I have shown you hatred, for loving one of the hated
race, but I could not. Love is stronger than mind, greater than Nature,
for it conquers both, and binds them down in chains. It must live and
burn, nor may it be quenched at desire. Child, fair child, by such
love--the only gift an old man can give--I pray you, be guided by my
counsel. Come back to your people, and forget the past. All will stretch
forth arms of love, to clasp you close. There will be joy in the
encampment, with a song at every heart. For the tribe will not lose the
sunshine, its morning and evening light. See! I am an aged man, and I
beg this of you.

'Well can I look upon the days when you were but a crowing child. Then I
would raise you in my arms and clasp you to my shoulder, while you would
lift your baby head to smile into my face. Then I first felt the love
fire stealing silently from your holding limbs to my old heart. So in
the white winter I would clutch you to my heart, to warm the body which
had never known the power of love. Also, when you were older, with
uncertain steps you would walk at my side, while I would point out tree
and rock by name, that I might list in to the music of your voice raised
to imitate the sounds.

'Yet seasons came and went, each finding you beauteous, and leaving you
more perfect. But one day, when I gazed on you in the sunlight, I knew
you were formed to a woman, a being enriched with what loveliness and
grace the Spirit may give. Jealously I watched you, flitting lightly, as
the wind-borne flower blossom, from forest to river, always with the
pure joy smile and the same heart gladness. Then I knew we had truly
given you the name of Menotah--the heart that knows not sorrow.

'Then the white company came to our land. I feared, for I saw your
beauty; also I knew the black hearts of those who had robbed us of our
own. Yet now that which I have feared and fought against has befallen
you.

'Menotah, daughter of love, light of my age, listen once again to the
weak old Father. Grant me that for which I ask. See! I will come to my
knees; I will kiss your hands. Never have I humbled myself to any
before. Child! give me back my love, and hear my words.'

Tears of heart grief coursed drearily along the cheek wrinkles. His
clenched hands shook, while the senile body trembled with emotion. The
words fell without meaning against his ears. Sad thoughts were at his
heart, and the tongue gave utterance, but whether the two agreed he
might not tell.

He had cause for sorrow; for he spoke truth, when he said the girl
before him was the only being he could love. Now the great affection,
enshrined in a weak body, was held a thing without worth; it was to be
laughed at and cast aside. A single satisfaction remained, and that a
sad one. Future might bring change, she might yet learn that the love
she now discarded was a thing unchanging, which would burn at the time
of need with the steady flame of constancy. After the reckless passion
of youth, this would be the final haven of shelter, the last rock on
which the broken soul might pause and rest a while, before continuing
the pitiless march of despair.

'Girl, I have done. Forget an old man's tears. Yet bear in memory one
thing: when his aid is needed, he will be found, with hand
outreached--to save, or to avenge.'

The last word fell forth in a sharp whisper. Then he leaned in
exhaustion against the log wall, while there was silence save for his
deep breathing. Menotah stood near, a resolute determination upon her
paler face, defiance in every proud pose of her body. Presently she
spoke,--

'Better had you saved breath and strength by silence, old Father. Must I
again say that I have my will, that none shall turn me from following
the desire of my mind?'

'I but spoke the innermost thought, child. Perchance it has given you
pain.'

The Ancient was humbled in his weariness.

'It was as casting a handful of feathers to the wind,' said the
rebellious girl. 'Even the memory has now faded.'

He raised his head half fiercely. 'It will return. A time lies in the
future when the echo of my words will deafen your hearing. You will come
back to me then. Yes, you shall return, and pray for my aid.'

'I shall not need it. There will be one to protect me, stronger than
you.'

He shivered as her words touched him. 'But I look forward, child. I gaze
into the black shadow beyond. My eyes are clear in spite of age, while
yours are blinded with mistaken trust.'

He cast off his weakness and faced her. The blanket crawled from his
lean shoulders and rustled to the ground. The eyes shone wildly, with
that strange, prophetic instinct of the uncivilised mind.

'I tell you, girl, that time _shall_ come. Even now it is not far
distant. Then you will seek me out, you will creep to me with a prayer
on your white lips. You shall come as a suppliant to me, seeking
vengeance on the head of him you now proudly call your life support.'

Night had now fallen; the forest had grown black and weird; shivering
spindles of the northern lights crept tremulously, with whispering
movements, backward and forward across a blue-white sky.

Menotah stepped back in all her happiness. Then her bright laugh rang
forth, drowning, for the minute, soft moanings of the night breeze in
the tree tops.

'Laugh, girl; yes, laugh. It gives me joy to hear your happiness once
again. In the coming sorrow I shall never listen to that sound which has
so often brought warmth to my weak heart.'

She laughed again, while the pines shook and muttered. 'You shall hear
my laughter while you walk in life,' she cried merrily, 'unless you
would stop your ears to it. Old Father, I shall leave you to your sleep.
You are speaking on strange things to-night.'

She picked the blanket from the ground, and arranged it, with soft,
womanly attention, round his body. Then she took his arm and led him to
the door.

'It is a truth,' he quavered. 'Surely as to-morrow's sun will kiss
yonder trees, shall you cry for vengeance on the betrayer.'

With a slight shudder--the night air was chill--Menotah stepped back
from the hut. 'You cannot kill my heart with your bodings, old Father,'
she said sternly. 'To-morrow, perhaps, you will speak in a different
manner.'

But, at the moment of departure, a tall figure, enveloped in a long
cloak, came quickly from the shadowy trees in ghostly fashion. It might
have been man or woman. As this apparition reached the clearing round
the hut, Menotah beheld it and cried aloud with startled surprise.

The old Antoine came to the door at the sound. But when his eyes fell
upon the cloaked figure, a mighty fear of the unknown overwhelmed him.

'To the water, child!' he cried shrilly. 'Tis the _Mutchi-Manitou_. He
comes from the swamp to seize you. To the water! His power is only upon
land.'

But she showed no such fear. She merely caught the black cloak, and
said, 'You should not be here. Why have you come?'

'You haven't been near me all day,' said the figure. 'I am out of food,
and hungry.'

She drew this apparition back to the forest with eager hands. 'I will
come when the moon shines, and laugh at the spirits of the dead. But
there is someone within the hut.'

The figure stepped away silently, while Antoine came feebly forward.

'What is this, child?' he asked, yet with tone of suspicion.

Menotah turned to him in her liveliest manner, and again drew him back
to shelter. 'We two have looked on much to-night, old Father. We have
seen and spoken with the evil one himself.'

Then her joyous laughter rose again and circled in the night.



CHAPTER IX

THE LAUGH THAT DIED


That short season, which northerners compliment by title of summer, had
almost come to its last day of warmth. There were wonderful colours by
day, with clouds of floating gossamers at night. Occasionally the wind
veered, then brought along from the Arctic shores icy blasts, which
angrily bit with foretaste of approaching winter.

The last boat of the season, leaving that year later than usual, lay
along the log stage ready for departure, with its fur and feather
freight. Soon after sunrise on the coming morning she would leave the
Saskatchewan, to escape the ice fields which would rapidly form along
her wake. For the sharp cold of that evening was sufficient to drive
anxiety into the pilot's heart. Already the greater part of the trees,
that shed the green mantle in winter, had parted with summer beauty; the
long grass shivered in dry white stems; birds of bright colour had
escaped to the more hospitable south, leaving in their place clouds of
dainty snow-birds, that broke the silence of the cold air by the sharp
hissing of constant short flights. Earlier in the day a slight frost
flurry had suddenly fallen, which the dry wind had drifted in pools of
fairy crystals beneath the sheltering rocks, and in thin, white line
along the rugged fringe of the desolate forest.

Little matter of importance had occurred since the day Antoine had made
ineffectual appeal to Menotah in the bush-trailed hut. The girl had left
the people of her life to dwell with her nominal husband in a small
forest shanty some distance from the fort. Here, during those few short
weeks of dying summer, she found continuation of that perfect
heart-whole happiness she had lived upon always. This was all she wished
for, with the addition of love, and she was granted both. Never had she
so entirely proved her right to the name of 'heart that knows not
sorrow,' as she flitted along from morning to night, a bright ray of
pure joy, with the face of laughter and fresh mind of confiding love.

For a short time Lamont was altogether satisfied that he would never
wish for change. His young girl--she was wife in the sight of heaven and
earth, for what is a ceremony when hearts respond?--fascinated him with
her childish ways and caressing affection, her enticing laughter and
joyous bursts of song. During those days the withered Antoine always
heard, as he snuffled daily alongside of the hut, the clear music of her
perpetual joy. She was like unfading sunshine as she lavished worship of
limb and tongue upon her heart's god, so it may readily be conceived how
Lamont fell for the time beneath the glamour of attraction, until he
came to feel that he might contentedly live thus for ever, away in the
summer forest, with the bright, beautiful girl, laying aside all
association, forgetting the call of civilisation. But, to a man of his
temperament, this, could be nothing beyond a dream, from which he must
awake gradually, yet surely. There are other seasons than summer, and
there are times when the flower is scentless, the tree no longer green.

So the rapturous heart-warmth in his body faded with the cold approach
of Nature's winter, and as the days grew shorter, the north wind keener,
desire became re-awakened, the roving spirit of adventure called to him
from distant lands. At length the surrounding desolation, growing more
intense as autumn lengthened, became wearisome. Following on this he
discovered for the first time a restraint on his movements. Then came
the passionate longing for change, that indefinite and empty resource of
the vacillating mind. He longed desperately for southern connections,
actuated not unentirely by a curiosity to learn the actual fate of Riel
and his followers, with whom he felt a sympathetic interest. There was
but one more boat--a final chance for escape. If he allowed it to slip,
he would be chained down to the lonely regions for many months during
the intense cold of the Arctic winter. Days and weeks of monotony in
such a spot! The very thought was intolerable. This hopeless prospect
settled, without a shade of remorse, the wavering balance of his
determination.

But there was an ulterior motive. The 'yellow stones' given him by his
fair bride were, as he quickly discovered, singularly pure, though
small, nuggets of gold. Such a chance of great wealth as was here
afforded should not be allowed to merge through lack of application. So
he had resolved to collect a few companions, return to the north
immediately the spring winds opened the waters, and institute a search
for the ancient river bed, where Nature seemed to have so lavishly
scattered her treasures.

Nor was he alone in such determination. As may have been observed, Peter
Denton was more of the knave than fool. This gentleman of uncertain
antecedents, about the time of the punishment of Que-dane, found his
position too uncomfortable for toleration. The very Indians despised him
for cowardice; Justin openly reviled him on chance meetings; the Factor
swore at him with unnecessary unction; as a final degradation, he had
narrowly escaped a thrashing at the hands of the Icelander, when the
latter, contrary to all the expectations of Dave, attained the stage of
convalescence. So he became more than anxious to place himself within
the bounds of civilisation. But he had no intention of returning empty
handed. Sneaking round the hut one night, he beheld, through the window,
Lamont closely examining the box of glittering stones. With undivided
interest he watched further, while the unsuspicious owner returned the
treasure to a hole in a corner of the earth floor. Then he crept away,
with an idea simmering in his brain of negotiating a small _coup d'état_
before leaving.

Herein he was favoured of fortune. Of course the hut was always open to
an invader, though generally occupied. But, by careful watching, he
found his opportunity. When the others were assembled on the stage to
welcome the boat, he crept into the hut, unearthed the small box, then
absconded rapidly. The next day he took canoe to the mouth, caught the
boat as she passed, and journeyed south, with joy at his avaricious
heart.

This was a fortnight back, so he was safe away. Now, on the drear
September evening, when the shadows closed round quickly, the last boat
of the year rocked and grated against the rotten logs, while Captain
Angus smoked strong plug and quaffed draughts of black brandy with
McAuliffe in the fort.

But human passion and action only ebbed into full play after fall of
night. Then, within the reed-covered hut by the petroleum swamp,
Menotah, her head and shoulders wrapped by a blanket of many folds, was
talking with a dark figure half enveloped in a long cloak. Around them
reigned an almost perfect silence; so peaceful that it was quite
possible to hear the rustling of crisp leaves as they lightly floated
across stagnant pools, to note the formation of crystal ice spears as
they lengthened over some shallow water patch, slowly converting liquid
into solid.

From the low roof swung a lantern, casting strange shadows around the
open space, faintly illumining Menotah's happy face, and at times the
rugged features of her companion.

'But what are you going to do?' she asked. 'I tell you, the boat sails
very early in the morning. If you do not go on her, you must stay here
all the winter. Are you well enough to go?'

'I'm strong enough. Pshaw, girl! I'm as good as ever I was.'

'But shall you go?' she asked again.

'I'll think. Can't fix your mind to these sort of things at one jump. I
reckon you know what I'm making at?'

Menotah looked at him strangely, as a shudder passed over her. Perhaps
it was the biting wind, for she drew round her blanket more closely. 'I
cannot understand you. Why won't you explain to me, as you said you
would?'

The other laughed hoarsely. 'What's the good of it to you?'

She made an impatient movement. 'Well, I want to know. Perhaps I am
curious; I believe most women are. Why did I find you as I did that
night? Who is it you are going to kill? Why have you made me hide you
and keep quiet myself?'

'Keep it back a while longer, and I'll tell you the whole thing.'

'But I want to know now. I have helped you right along, though you would
tell me nothing. You said no woman's tongue could be trusted. As if I
could not have kept quiet!'

'There was a risk, anyway,' replied the figure shortly; and then, 'Is
the Chief alive yet?'

She shook her head, while a faint shadow of sadness crossed her bright
brow. 'Ah! he has breath, but nothing besides. He has shaken off
strength, and is fading fast to the shadow land. Perchance he will not
see the sun of another day.'

As she finished speaking, the dull braying of a distant horn floated
along the icy wind, to hang in throbbing echoes above the swamp.

They stared at each other in the dripping light of the lamp.

'The boat horn!' exclaimed Menotah.

The dark figure bent and bit his fingers. That heavy sound recalled to
memory many things; chiefly a home and connections in the 'Spirits'
Province.' He too was reminded of the bleak prospect which lay behind
any further delay. So he merely put the question, 'You're sure the boat
leaves in the morning?'

'Yes; Angus told me. I have never known her to leave in the night except
once. They were afraid of the ice.'

'It's cold enough now to scare them.' He drew a deep breath and beat his
hands together. Then he muttered, 'I mustn't lose sight of him again.'

'What are you talking about?' said Menotah, with a short laugh.

The other started. 'You heard, eh? No matter, girl; it's all my racket.'

She shook her small head with a puzzled air. This man was certainly an
enigma, with his strange conduct and general silence. He wished to be
avenged on someone who had done him a great wrong. Before the departure
of each boat he had never failed to ask her for the names of those going
in her. Even then, unsatisfied by her declaration, he would steal
secretly to the point, and, crouched behind the willow scrub, would scan
the black monster as she passed. The keen-eyed girl had watched him
closely, and learnt much, though not the one matter which was alone of
vital importance.

Such thoughts as these she now put into words. But the response obtained
was merely, 'Nobody saw me moving about, except you?'

'And old Antoine,' she added; 'you know the evening you came upon us
both? It was just after Muskwah's death.'

The remark, made carelessly, had an invigorating effect upon her
companion. A look of utter incredulity passed across his worn face. 'You
don't tell me he's dead?' he cried.

'Of course,' she returned, somewhat unfeelingly 'Surely I told you
that?'

'Never,' he said violently. 'Tell me now.'

She shrank back a little. 'After all, I am wrong. I remember I did not
wish you to know. But he was killed during that great storm of the last
moon. His body was swept away along the great river. Nobody knows
anything further.'

'Except you, I reckon,' said the figure bluntly.

She had spoken the lie unfalteringly, but at this covert accusation her
cheek went white, and the one guilty thought of the mind stabbed her
with remembrance. She stepped forward with her lithe motion and pulled
the cloak from his spare shoulders. 'What do you mean by that?' she
cried. 'Why should I know anything? Do you dare accuse me of killing
Muskwah?'

He drew away from her angry hand. 'Pshaw, girl! there's more fire in you
than I thought for. 'Course I thought you'd know more about him than
others.'

'But why?' she persisted, in the same passionate voice.

'Well, he was your husband, and I suppose you liked him in a sort of
way.'

Her face broke up at once, and she laughed outright. 'He wasn't my
husband, and never would have been. The Chief wanted me to take him, but
I--well, I was satisfied with someone else.'

She glowed afresh with the thought of her present perfect happiness.

'You're strange creatures, you girls,' said her companion, with a half
smile. 'Muskwah was a fine enough looking fellow in my fancy. Which of
the gang did you pick out, anyway?'

Menotah's clear laughter rang forth joyously in the pure heart rapture.
The sorrowless waves of sound circled above in the frost-gleaming air,
and beat far around into the forest, over the crisp ground, above the
nauseous marsh. But it was for the last time. Neither the figure before
her, nor old Antoine; nor even the cold winds that sighed round her head
to lift the dark tresses in sport, heard that laugh again.

'Why!' she exclaimed, panting for her pure breath, 'it was not an Indian
at all.'

A presentiment of sombre fact flashed across the listener's brain. His
shrouding cloak whispered to the ground as he sprang upright and seized
the girl's shoulder. His fingers dug into the soft flesh, until she
would have cried aloud. But fear in his eyes froze up the power of
speech.

'Good God! don't say it's _him_--not him. What's the name, girl? Who is
it?'

His voice was deep and hoarse. The words were forced from his tongue in
jerky syllables, barely intelligible. She moved her red lips--scarce
knowing if she spoke. Yet a sound proceeded therefrom in a whisper,
forming a word, a single name, which caused the figure to clench his
fists and swear furiously. Then she almost fell upon him. 'What do you
mean?' she cried pitifully. 'Tell me what you mean.'

The forbidding exterior concealed a kindly heart. He looked upon the
delicate, upturned face, the small nose, moist eyes, quivering mouth,
all framed within the dark wreath of hair. He saw the slight figure,
already ripening into the rounded lines of maternity. He thought of the
meaning of treachery to that perfect piece of humanity. There might yet
be opportunity for saving the heart from death.

'It's nothing, girl,' he said in surly manner. 'I was a bit astonished
for a moment.'

'No, no,' she cried, 'it was not that. I cannot be deceived so easily. I
saw fear in your face, and there was pity. Ah, yes, there was pity for
me; I could see it. Why--tell me why? I have always been so happy. You
cannot pity me now. Why should you?'

'It's all right,' he said, with slight knowledge of comforting. 'It's
all a mistake of mine, anyway. Don't you bother yourself.'

'I can't believe you. I am trying to, but it is no use. There was that
pity upon your face. Ah, tell me. Tell me all--all--all.'

Her voice died into a wail of distress, as she fell on her knees and
grasped his hand. This pitiless work had been performed unintentionally;
the warmth and young life had been in a moment swept away by a mere
suspicion of truth. Without the hut, blasts of north wind blew colder,
with flurries of snow, while thin ice sheets formed slowly upon each
black swamp pool.

'Where's he now?' came the abrupt question.

'I do not know. I have not seen him since noon.'

'The last boat leaves first thing in the morning.'

The echo of his words had scarcely died away, before a deep sound came
vibrating along the wind from the direction of the river. Here was
direct contradiction to his statement.

'To-night!' screamed Menotah, springing to the doorway. 'It is the
second horn.'

The figure joined her. He was calm, though the face was vengeful. The
long cloak had been cast aside, and he was now fastening a buckskin coat
round his body.

'Make for the point,' he said shortly. 'Go for all you're worth. I'll
meet you there. We may catch her as she passes.'

'It is a long way, and the paths are slippery with frost.'

They escaped from the labyrinth surrounding the swamp, and, when in the
open, Menotah sped along with the agility of a deer. She easily
outstripped the man, who followed at his best pace, the felt hat pulled
closely over his forehead, as though he were still fearful of detection.

       *       *       *       *       *

'So long, Angus. Sorry you're not staying the night. I'll have to finish
off the bottle with my own neck now. The frost's getting sharp all
right. I guess it isn't safe to stay.'

'We'll soon be clear of the river, anyway. The current's strong, with
wind the right way.'

'That's so. Well, good biz, Angus.'

'S'long, Alf. Keep right till I see you in the summer.'

The last rope was thrown over, a dark sail hoisted, then the boat swept
down, like a huge bird, towards the tree-covered point.

Here, concealed behind a sparse kanikanik bluff, a passenger awaited the
boat. He was angry and dissatisfied enough. As minutes dragged past, he
uttered many an invective against the absent personage, who had robbed
him of the small treasure on which he had in great part depended for
future enterprise. When the horn brayed discordantly forth, he slung the
rifle carefully across his back, then crept forth to gaze along the wide
reach of the river. Presently the black monster appeared. He stamped
upon the rock to warm his half-frozen feet, then let himself carefully
down the steep incline. A minute later he stood upon the shingle, at the
spot where Muskwah had encountered his fate. The boat bore down over the
cold waters, the steersman responded to his signals. With a distinct
feeling of relief he found himself floating rapidly away from an
inhospitable region.

Menotah did not proceed directly to the point. She turned very slightly
aside to visit the hut, their rude home, which yet was for her filled
and over-shadowed with the most blissful memories of life. There, she
felt instinctively, might be found decisive answer to that torturing
fear which now began to gnaw at the innocent heart of love. She must
know at once whether the mysterious figure had erred, or whether he had
spoken with the conviction that knowledge brings.

Never, not when the heart was at its lightest, had she sped through the
forest with such hasty flight. Her sobbing breath--distress of mind and
body--came and went in short hot stabs, as she burst from the last
bushes upon the clearing. The hut was black and silent. There were no
warm rays streaming from the half-open door. The only sound within was
the melancholy chirping of a discursive frog.

Her shadow flitted across the threshold, then she sprang to the opposite
corner, to dig away the loose dust soil with her trembling, slender
fingers. The box of yellow stones. By this time she knew he would not
depart without them, for he had lately explained to her their value.

Search was short and unrewarded. Then, when she perceived pursuit to be
vain, she began more fully to comprehend the meaning of that look of
pity which had so bewildered her trusting mind. His rifle, that usually
leaned in the angle of the wall--why was it gone? He would not be
hunting that night. Many other small articles, now remembered and looked
for with sharp tension of memory--where were they? Above all, why did he
stay out so late? Where was he?'

'Gone!' moaned the north wind, as it crept wailing into the hut. 'Gone!'
cried her shuddering heart. 'Gone!' whispered each dull, inanimate
object of her surrounding.

'Forsaken! Abandoned! Betrayed!'

So shrieked every waving tree, each lashing bush, the separate patches
of white grass, awesome in the night. Her tired and bruised feet sped
along once again. The eyes, burning and tortured, stared frightfully
upon the black, distant headland, where the last pitiable hope of life
joy yet reposed.

On and on, through the growing rigours of the night, while the heart
that knew not sorrow slowly broke and died.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the boat had drifted away, McAuliffe lit up his pipe and made his
way back to the fort over the crisp, frost-spangled grass. An otter cap
had taken the place of summer's straw bonnet; thick woollen gloves
wadded his great hands; above the breeches he wore Arctic socks, secured
at the knee with gaudy little tassels. Standing by the water had made
him chilly, so he reflected cheerfully upon the black bottle which
awaited him behind the blot of yellow light ahead.

'Goldam! the cold's a terror,' he remarked to himself. 'And I'm stiff as
a frozen-in gold eye. Why, Kit, my girl! Where have you sprung from?
Where's your pard, eh?'

He patted the grey mare, as she emerged from the bush with a soft
whinny. 'You'd be a lot better fixed in your stable, night like this.
Not much of a place, eh, old woman? Too strong on the ventilation
question, I guess. Better than fooling around here, though.'

He pulled off a glove and rubbed the frost from her soft nostrils Then
he noticed she was trembling and breathing strangely. Her white breath
floated along the cold wind like steam clouds. Repeatedly she turned her
head to sniff into the darkness behind.

'Something up,' mused the Factor. 'Kitty's scared, or she wouldn't play
the old fool like this. I reckon there's someone there behind.'

The mare backed violently, almost throwing him down. 'Goldam! you're no
chicken on my toes, I tell you, Kit. What's wrong with you, anyway?' He
craned his neck forward, and presently muttered, 'Heard a sort of sound
then. Kitty's derned cute. She don't rocket around for nothing.'

The breath released by the utterance of such words had scarce floated
away, before the bushes parted with sudden movement. The following
second a figure ran forth by the mare's side, and disappeared instantly
in the darkness. McAuliffe had peered beneath the animal's neck, and, as
the auroral lights shot for an instant into brilliancy, his eyes fell,
for a breath only, upon that face, that figure. Then he shambled to his
knees and embraced a frost-coated rock with hoarse exclamations, while
the mare cantered briskly across the open space, snorting fiercely.

'I've got 'em,' moaned the Factor, rocking himself backward and forward
in the strange, ghost-like light. 'I've been warned of 'em, and now
they've come. O Lord! O Lord! I never prayed in my life, and it's too
late now. Besides, I wouldn't know what to say. Now I'll have to go away
and be locked up in an asylum presently, while the little blue and green
devils hop and tumble around all the time. I drank square with Angus
right along, and never mixed. There was only brandy, anyway. Now I've
got 'em. I'm an old moonhead from this night forward. O Lord! O Lord!'

      *       *       *       *       *

'He won't come back again,' the dark figure was saying, half kindly,
half angrily.

The two stood upon the wind-swept headland. The boat had long since
vanished into the night. Below rushed the mighty river, type of
eternity's unceasing course. Above, the aurora flashed red shafts, while
a soft moaning filled the sky.

She was sobbing fearfully. 'He has only gone for a short time. He
desires something--for me, perhaps. Then he will return to me.'

The other placed a rough hand on her arm. 'It's no good, girl. You've
just got to look square at a nasty truth. We all have to at times. He's
gone by this last boat. He couldn't get back if he wanted to.'

Her head was bent, the face concealed in small fingers. 'But he loved
me,' she wailed.

Her companion laughed hoarsely. 'He said so. Lamont was always clever
with his tongue. But he can't love, girl. He hasn't got the heart for
it.'

She looked at him with sore, tearful eyes. 'You know him, then?'

He stared in surprise. 'Well, I should say so! You know I've been
hanging round here for the chance of fixing a certain man. I reckon you
can guess his name now.'

'I shall hate you,' cried this strange girl; 'hate you, if you speak
so.'

'There's no reaching? the bottom of a woman's heart,' he said
carelessly. 'You must do what you like.'

'Oh, this is terrible, terrible,' cried Menotah, frantically. 'I have
been saving you all this time from death, that you might murder the man
I loved more than my life. But you have not yet succeeded, and now I
know. How can I think wrong of him? He loves me; he told me so. He
always said so.'

'That's a tale all girls will believe easily enough. But he's betrayed
wiser folks than young women before this night.'

She had stopped weeping, and now looked at him with cold, fierce eyes.
'If I had let you die, he would have been safe.'

'The country is his enemy,' he said significantly, 'but I have his
secret. He might have laughed all right if I'd snuffed out.'

In the same hard voice she continued, 'If I could kill you now, that
secret would die with your life. Then he might be safe.'

The remark was so unexpected, that he was some time before replying.
Then he said, 'You're a fool, girl, if you can't see the difference
between friend and enemy. You've done lots for me, and I'll stay by you
now.'

'How can I tell whether there be such thing as truth or right?' she
burst forth. 'If he has deceived me, you may do the same. You, too, are
a white man. If I had the power, I would kill you now!'

'Pshaw! you're crazy, girl. Doesn't matter to me whether you trust me or
not We've both got the same enemy, that's all.'

She shuddered dreadfully. 'He is my enemy,' she said slowly. 'Oh! no,
no!--not my enemy! Yours--not mine!'

The figure came up to her, and turned her pale face to the flashing
lights of the north. 'You can't love him yet, girl?'

'I gave him my heart,' she moaned, tearing herself away from him. 'You
cannot love against inclination, neither may you hate at will. I would
hate him, but I'm too weak--I cannot.' A moment's pause, then she cried
at him again, 'Why should I hate him--because he is your enemy? Tell me,
how has he wronged me--tell me that?'

It was difficult indeed to convince that innocent trusting heart of a
man's treachery and faithlessness.

'All right,' he said again, with the same touch of pity in his voice.
'Listen here a few minutes while I tell you.'

Then he stood by her side and narrated a tale of black treachery, of
darkest cowardice. A man had committed the crime, which might not be
forgiven. He had fled from deserved retribution, knowing there was one
man who held the damnatory secret. Then he had encountered that man, and
determined to silence him for ever.

But when he again became silent and wiped the cold frost dews from his
face, the girl bent like a crushed flower, knowing that the joy of life
was gone--that the dark shadow of grief had settled eternally across her
path. Amid the sighing of the wind and the sharp passion of her own
sense came the clear memory of her own words:--_'If anyone should kill
my heart with sorrow, I would give life and strength to the cause of
vengeance. I should never turn back.'_

The man at her side was astounded at the entire change that had passed,
like the devastating breath of the cyclone, over the girl. A plain,
blunt man, and inartistic, he could not know that pure happiness is one
of the principal factors of human beauty, that its dissolution should be
attended by such startling alteration, both of face and form. Menotah
was a different being, of new appearance and manners. The bright light
had faded from the lustrous eyes, now forbidding and snake-like. The
unrestrained laugh had left the mouth, which was now set in a hard line
of purpose. From her sunken cheeks had departed the rich health colour,
from her hanging head that haughty pose of conscious perfection. Within,
the heart was dead--cold--unresponsive. No longer did it pulsate with
mingled delicious emotions of devotion and trust. It was now controlled
only by an unrelenting design--by the inexorable duty of the future.

There was no further use for the attributes of beauty. They had been
once utilised for the purpose of attraction. They had succeeded--fatally
so. Now their work was over, and they might well be laid aside.

She was calm now, and the voice was steady when she spoke. 'We will take
each our own path,' she said. 'I have a husband to find, you an enemy. I
shall be before you. He is mine. I have his word for it' (Her eyes
flashed fiercely.) 'He shall be my victim!'

'Let it alone, girl,' said the other, in a voice meant to be kind. 'A
man can best do a man's work.'

But she turned at him again, with the fury that was part of her new
nature.

'What do you know of vengeance? I know a man's honour, a man's method.
He will shoot from behind a tree, stab with a knife into his foe's back,
then go away satisfied. No one but the wronged can punish the wronger.
You call death the worse, but there are many things more bitter than the
destruction of life. If you cannot believe that, look upon me and
consider what I was. You men are weak after all when it comes to the
point of vengeance. We women apply what we lack in muscular strength to
the passion of the heart. We do not fail at the great moment.'

'It's no good crossing you--that's a sure thing,' said the figure.
'Still, I shall have the chances--'

'I can make mine,' she interrupted. 'A man may give up disheartened
after first failure; a woman will return with fresh energy to the attack
after a hundred reverses. Listen to what I say; judge me if I fall away
from my oath. This man has betrayed me; he has broken my life, my
happiness; he has abandoned me as the scorn of my people; he has cast me
aside like a broken weapon. Mayhap he is now laughing at my broken
heart.

'Therefore I swear by the Great Spirit, by the Light and the Darkness,
by the River--even by the Great God of the white men--that I will have
my vengeance, that he shall suffer for my sorrow!'

So they passed together, from the sullen gleaming of the Saskatchewan,
to where the fires glowed red in the encampment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, on that same dark night of sorrow, the aged Chief lay in his
miserable hut, dying. By his side stood Antoine, more withered and
time-stricken than even his fast fading companion. Behind, at a short
interval, appeared the heavy countenance of Menotah.

Outside, within the ruddy circle of the smoke fires, squaws squatted in
statuesque positions, softly beating at drums to keep aloof the evil
spirits. Also, many dark shadows of warriors crossed and recrossed,
muttering incantations to the weird cadence of the music, as they passed
round the enclosure with arms waving wildly above their heads. The
strangely coloured scene was unnaturally impressive.

The tale of Menotah's grief was known, even to the dying Chief. For he
had heard a muttered conversation at his side, and had prayed Antoine to
tell him all. The news, expected though it was, convulsed his feeble
frame with a last passionate fury. He drew himself frantically upright,
and stretched out a claw-like hand.

'Why did we not slay him? That would but have called down the wrath of
others. Better their vengeance than my daughter's despair. Antoine, why
did you not poison him with strong drugs?'

The Ancient stood motionless, though his lips trembled as he mattered
fierce words of execration. He had looked for this end from the first
days of opening passion. He had besought the girl he loved to learn the
lesson of hating the perfidious white, even as he did. Words had been
useless; no prayers might avail against the will of the stubborn heart.

'Trouble not, my father,' said Menotah. 'I have knowledge now, and can
avenge myself.'

A dull light crawled into Antoine's eyes as he raised his head and noted
her expressionless face. 'You speak like a daughter of the tribe,
child--as one that I have taught. 'Tis well. You must live for
vengeance. Before this night I told you thus. Behold it is true.'

'Vengeance! Vengeance!' came in thick utterance from the now prostrate
figure.

'You shall look from the hunting lands, old friend, and behold your
daughter avenging herself upon enemies. The sight will gladden your
heart, as you sweep over the fields, and slay the buffalo with hand that
misses not its aim.'

'I shall see her ... you, also, aiding her.'

'Surely. Then, when the work is over, we shall hasten to join you in the
sun country of joy. There sorrow will be lost in success.'

'Is there light?' asked the dying wreck, struggling to raise his head.

'There are the red fires below, and the cold ghost lights in the sky.
The light is sufficient.'

'I see no longer ... the blood is ice in my veins ... to-morrow you will
give my body to the flames ... I shall go forth with my weapons along
the way of shadows ... young again, with eternal strength.'

'Far from the white man, and beyond the reach of his cruelty.'

The Chief groaned, while the deep breathing grew more difficult. The
fires crackled sharply, while the drum rattling rose louder on the night
air.

'Daughter,' he gasped, 'come to my side ... put your hand upon mine and
swear.'

Silently she obeyed. The blue fingers closed hungrily round the warm
rounded hand of his child. For a space he lay silent, fighting for life
breath.

'Menotah, my child-love, my age-light, I shall see you again in the joy
land whither the Spirit calls me.... You must swear, by that you hold in
honour, you must take the great oath, never to pause on the path of
vengeance ... until you avenge your wrongs on the life of the vile
white.... Good Antoine will aid you.... Strike, child, and pity not. Let
his blood be spilt for your lost honour.'

The effort had been too great. He lay, throbbing with death agony, while
a thin stream of blood trickled from the mouth and coursed slowly along
a deep furrow of the chin.

'He passes,' muttered Antoine, hoarsely. 'It is time. On such a night
was he born. So does he die, amid the north wind and biting cold. Swear,
child, lest he die cursing you.'

A hollow exclamation ascended from the withered form. 'Swear!'

Then she placed the right hand on her father's head, and raising the
other aloft, with stern voice and unflinching determination, took the
oath which might not be broken.

The final flicker of strength darted into the exhausted frame, that
sudden flash of energy which heralds the silence. 'Antoine,' he
whispered, 'raise me to the light. So will I die cursing the white man.'

The Ancient raised the emaciated form in his shaking arms. For a few
seconds, faint, yet intensely bitter words of condemnation and hatred
fell from the blood-stained lips, before life faded away into the
unseen. Menotah, still holding the hand, felt the shudder of the
departing soul, and caught the distant echo of a voice--forced, as it
seemed, from the cold body, after the passing of the Spirit, 'I go,
daughter ... it is dark.'

The dreary death chant and low groaning of the women beat upon the
night.

Half contemptuously Menotah turned from the still form, with passion
unexpressed. Antoine lifted his slow, watering eyes from the withered
remains, to gloat upon her hopeless aspect.

'You grieve not, daughter?'

'I have done with such things as joy or grief,' she said savagely. 'My
destiny calls, and I leave the emotions for the sport of fools.'

The Ancient shivered, for the cold bit into his stiff limbs, 'You speak
as he would wish to hear. You shall have your desire, child. I have said
it.'

Half mad, she turned to the open door and called to the dusky-featured
ones squatting at the fires,--

'Shout louder, women. Howl until the voice breaks the wind and scatters
the ghost lights.[1] Beat your breasts for the sorrow that lies within
the camp. Louder, I tell you. Cry louder.'

Antoine laughed hoarsely. 'Ay, shout! He hears you not. Perchance the
god has an ear open to our cries.'

The uncouth strain of savage melody swelled fitfully upward in long,
suffering cadence, then fell, dying away in shuddering murmurs, to
ascend again more loudly, yet more bitterly.

Menotah clenched her small hands and bit the pale lips in the agony of
the yet living heart. Then Antoine was at her side, nervously plucking
at the blanket that trailed from her shoulder.

'Hearken, daughter. To-morrow we must burn the old Chief, and send him
forth upon a long journey. Then there is duty--'

'You may forget,' she broke in coldly, 'but I--'

'Peace, child, let me have speech. You were ever over ready with your
words. I am aged, and strength is not mine. I must be satisfied with
controlling the striking weapon. So I can only aid by cursing your
enemy, and by praying to the God.'

'May your god-hunting be successful,' she said scornfully.

'The God of the white men has the greater power,' he continued unmoved.
'He has conquered ours, and bidden the enemy rule over us. Therefore,
daughter, I would for the time follow that God.'

'You, who always hated the white, become one of them! What plan is
this?'

'Then I should be one of His followers, and He would hear my prayers.
Now I have other gods, so He could not listen to me. I would beseech Him
each day, to grant us vengeance upon the white man.'

'Will you sport with the lightning?' she said calmly.

'I care not. I will take canoe, before the ice binds the river, and
paddle for six days. Then I shall find one of their doctors. I have
heard the wanderers tell of him. They call him Father Bertrand. He must
tell me what I am to do, to join the followers of the white God.'

She turned from him wearily, longing vaguely for silence and isolation.
'Pray to whom you will; all gods are the same. They laugh at sorrow, and
they heed not.'

'You shall see, child. I have greater wisdom than you. But now we must
take our part in mourning for the dead.'

He took her cold, resistless hand, and together they stepped within the
ruddy glow. Then he raised his sh king hands and cried aloud,--

'Mourn, warriors! The Chief, who led you to battle, who kept you in
peace, who gave you wise counsel, your father, your ruler, is dead. Cry
aloud to the Spirit, and sing your songs of grief.

'Mourn, women! The Chief, who loved you, who protected you, who smiled
upon you with favours, your father, your husband, is dead. Scream your
lamentations, tear your hair, dig the sharp nails into breasts, and cry
aloud in your grief.'

The unearthly melody surged upward in a tumultuous wave of sound, until
the auroral lights flickered like flames in the blast. The air became
thick and silvery with frost crystals, while sharp cold settled along
the ground. This was a night of frost, of death--of fearful and
unutterable despair.


[1] The shout of the human voice repels and scatters the auroral lights.
Hence many Indian legends.



PART III


THE HEART'S PEACE



CHAPTER I

LAMONT


A radiant flood of light poured from the white moon upon the rippling
waters of the Red River. A grove of black oaks along the bank waved
silently in the clear night; frogs chirped merrily from the fenced in
fields, where fireflies sparkled and flashed before a long dark
background of foliage. Along that portion of the shelving bank, where a
young man and a dark-haired girl walked closely together, might be
perceived on looking back the twinkling lights of Fort Garry, from whose
stone walls the shadow of war had now lifted for ever. Nearer, outside
the actual fort, a grey stunted tower shot upward from the thick of an
oak bluff. Here rested in their last quiet many of the brave English and
Canadian boys who had fallen in the late Rebellion.

Winter and spring had passed since the desertion of Menotah. That time
had wrought change to the western and northern country, a change, sad
perhaps, yet necessary from the standpoint of civilisation. The last
traces of vengeful fire in the breasts of those who had joined the
insurrection had been stamped out, the final agreement had been made,
the white again triumphed. Louis Riel had swung upon the gallows at
Regina, before the eyes of many on that dreary, treeless plain, that no
traveller who has once seen can forget. There was no leader, no keen
spirit left. So the survivors gladly snatched at that, only thing they
could now ask for--pardon.

Yet the question of justice, from the position of the conquered, may be
still worth considering. One of the half-breeds most zealous to the
cause spoke thus in the echoing valley[1] before his priest,--

'Why did I fight, my Father? I, who have the blood of the white men in
me. It was for that reason that I fought, and that I killed. The white
man came into a country which was not his, which had belonged to others
for many hundreds of years, and he saw that the country was good, and
full of animals. Also he perceived that the women were beautiful. So he
said, I will make this place my home, and call my friends to come here
also. These men came, and brought with them guns and fire-water. Then
they took the women, first one and then another, and had children by
them. So was I born, and I have brothers and sisters of many different
mothers. Yet the father was the same. But what could the Indians do
against the white man's guns? They said, give us back our wives and our
daughters, also our land and our buffalo. But the white man only
laughed, and gave them fire-water, which ate away their manhood and
their courage. So they said at length, we will rise up and reclaim our
own. We have now nothing to lose, for the white man has taken all from
us, except life. Let him take that also, or give us back that which
makes it happy. That is why I fought, my Father.'

It is a strange fact in modern times, and one so far unrecognised, that
the Rebellion should have been crushed by the power of the Roman
Catholic Church. Standing merely upon the path of duty, Archbishop
Taché, with his band of gallant priests, amongst whom Father Lecompte
must stand predominant, succeeded in quenching the flame of human
passion entirely by means of that extraordinary devotion entertained by
these ignorant children of the Rebellion for their kindly teachers.

Actuated the Archbishop certainly was by a high sense of duty, yet it
was also right that he should subsequently look for that reward which
the Government had promised, as some slight return for the salvation of
a country. It is notorious that such reward was never paid. It is, or
should be, universally known that there was but one care which
distressed 'the man of the great heart,' as his 'children'
affectionately named him, upon the deathbed at peaceful St Boniface,[2]
still a care heavy enough to almost break that generous heart The
Government had steadily refused to redeem their promise, or to grant to
Manitoban Catholics that separate school system which is their right and
their due, which above all has been solemnly assured them. Still, it may
not yet be too late to perform a tardy justice, which, on the side of
the Government, is a duty.

Now the days of the bloody scalping knife have sunk into history. The
nondescript individual, who to-day answers to the title of Red Indian,
is a very different being from the noble prairie trackers of the olden
days, before the introduction of whisky and vice. Up in northern
districts, far from the damning pollution of traders and treasure
seekers, may still be found at long intervals the haughty heathen
warrior with his paint and feathers of liberty. But in all other parts
the immorality of the white man has done its work too successfully. Is
proof required? Then listen. It may be doubted whether there is at the
present time a single full-blooded Indian alive on the Canadian
prairies!

Should such types of humanity--Longfellow's 'Hiawatha' accurately
depicts them--be utterly extinguished? Look at the Menotah, the Muskwah,
of this work. These are true life studies, which may hardly be found
to-day, never until civilisation, with all its attending evils, has been
left far from sight. Is the taciturn, morose half-breed, heavy in
feature, abnormally dull in intellect, an efficient substitute for such?
At that particular spot on the Great Saskatchewan where the scene of
this narrative is for the most part laid, any at this day might well
blush at owning affinity with white men. That once noble race, the
origin of which is beyond all conjecture, who possess secrets, powers
and occult arts beyond all our discoveries, must be blotted out during
the lives of most. Riel made an effort to save it, not an unselfish
effort, still he did his best. Where he failed, none may succeed.

But to return to narrative.

One of the two figures on the Red River bank to the north of the fort
was Lamont. His companion was a young girl of French extraction, named
Marie Larivière. She spoke the English with a pretty accent, and hung to
the arm of the handsome young man with clinging tenderness.

The gates of Garry were now thrown open wide. Any might go forth upon
the surrounding prairies or enter the young city. All danger of
hostility was past, and the land was at peace.

'But talking about being constant,' the girl was saying; 'it is such an
easy thing when the one we love is present.'

'And rather too much the opposite when he's away, eh, my Marie?' said
Lamont, with the lover's softness.

'Well,' she said, with dainty hesitation, 'one naturally looks for that
which custom has made us long for.'

'But when I was away, you found others to take my place, didn't you?' he
asked, gazing eagerly at her small face, with the dark crisp curls
nodding over the forehead.

'It's not a fair question, Hugh. You may be jealous if you like, but
still I have something against you. That long mysterious journey north;
you can't give me a reason for that.'

'Business, _chérie_. I thought of you all that time.'

She laughed. 'You were quite satisfied with thought only. Come, tell me
the truth. Was there not some hidden attraction there? I have heard that
the Cree girls are beautiful--some of them. Was it one of them?'

He joined carelessly in her mirth. 'Who is jealous now? Are you afraid
of an Indian rival, my Marie? But who are these?'

Two other figures came along the trail in the white light. One was tall
and stooping, the other short and brisk of step. They were talking
together in French. So still was the night, their voices might be heard
before they were themselves visible.

The couples advanced and met. Then Lamont gave a quick exclamation--more
it seemed of fear than surprise--and pulled off his hat. 'The
Archbishop!'

He it was, enjoying the cool of the evening. The tall priest by his side
was Father Lecompte, the man of his right hand. This latter looked
careworn and very ill.

It was, in truth, a kindly face that turned towards the young couple as
they passed--smooth, clean-shaven, with a pair of soft eyes, crested by
wavy hair. At that time it bore a tired, anxious expression, result of
recent incessant toil. The privations he had suffered for the country of
his adoption had been great. Through heat and cold, by river, prairie
and forest, he had travelled; on horse, on foot, by boat, for many days
and weeks. Often without food, always lacking rest, until the great work
was accomplished, and he had won. A truly noble-hearted man that.'

'God bless you, my children,' he said, in the quiet, thrilling voice
which all knew so well, as he smiled upon them.

'I couldn't speak,' said Marie, breathlessly. 'It is strange that one
should be overawed by such a good man. I couldn't thank him, or
anything.'

'He was the last I expected to meet along here. I didn't know he had
returned.'

'Doesn't Father Lecompte look ill? You know he accompanied the
Archbishop on his travels, and it has broken his health.'

There was a silent pause, while they came slowly towards the brilliant
lights of the inner fort. Then she said musingly, 'So Riel is dead.'

'What made you think of him?' he asked quickly.

She raised a hand to point towards the grey tower, into the shadow of
which they now entered.

He thought of the dead that lay around, and shuddered. Then there came
back to him the recent execution at Regina; the dark figure, champion of
a hopeless cause; the lines of mounted police; the cosmopolitan crowd;
the dreary plain. He thought also on a certain figure in that crowd, one
who had watched the mournful and dramatic scene with almost a wild
interest. It was only a disreputable loafer, with ragged garments and
dirt-begrimed features. It was, in short, a man with identity fearfully
concealed.

'Come,' he said suddenly, drawing her gently on, 'let me take you home.
It is late, and to-morrow will be busy.'

After seeing his _fiancée_ to her home, Lamont set out along the
irregular street, which followed the meandering of the river, towards
his lodgings. The brightly illumined window of a saloon attracted his
attention, and allured him to enter for a chat with the proprietor on
latest matters of local interest. So he came into the smoky bar, where
the usual throng of deadbeats--broken-down English gentlemen for the
most part--were talking or shouting, according to the amount of liquor
imbibed. Some of the figures that loomed through the thick cloud of
smoke were decidedly unsteady. Very prominent among this latter class
was a certain individual of cadaverous complexion and yellow moustache,
at the sight of whom Lamont started with a short oath of gratification.
The man was unquestionably Peter Denton.

He quickly nodded to the bar-tender, who knew him, then passed to a side
room, where those who placarded themselves in the outer world as
exclusive devotees to the cause of temperance were wont to be served in
strict privacy. Here the wielder of the cocktail flasks soon joined him,
with the usual salutation, 'How goes it?'

'Who's the chap over there, that one with the sandy hair?' asked Lamont,
pointing towards the bar through the drifting smoke.

'That? Just a crazy sort of ranting fellow. Ter'ble drunken lot he is,
too.'

The other laughed in his self-satisfied manner. 'See here,' he said,
catching at the bar-tender's shirt sleeve, 'I've been after him since
last fall. He made off with some shiners of mine. Guess they're stowed
at his lodgings, if he hasn't got away with them all.'

'You don't say,' said the man, making an accurate shot through the fog
at a distant spittoon. 'He looks a crooked tool, right enough. Still,
I've not heard much talk against him, and long as he can pay for liquor,
it's not my biz to speak. What'll I do?'

'Load him up. I'll stand the racket.'

'I tell you, he can take a fancy quantity. What's the plan?'

'When he's too raddled to know me, I'll offer to see him home.'

'Then search round the shanty for the dosh?'

'That's what.'

The bar-tender chuckled. 'That'd stand some beating. I'll go and fix him
up with a drop of drugged spirit. You'll wait here, eh?'

The scheme could not fail to succeed. Denton was 'ready' for his enemy
in less than quarter of an hour. Some trouble was experienced in getting
him to the street, but once there he was quite prepared to accompany his
newly found companion. Leaning heavily upon his arm, he staggered, with
the unfailing instinct of the drunken man, towards his home, which was
nothing more pretentious than a dirty little shack in a sheltered spot
without the fort.

Once inside, Lamont went promptly to work without loss of time. There
were but two inodorous rooms, the innermost of which contained a truckle
bed. Upon this he dumped the garrulous Denton, then left him, singing
cheerfully a hymn of doubtful wording for self-edification. Afterwards
he lit a broken lamp and made search for his missing property.

First impressions conveyed the idea that, if the gold had been secreted
in this place, it would not be difficult to come across it. For, beyond
a bed and box in the one room, table, two chairs, cupboard and crazy
bookcase, which hung gingerly to the loose plaster, in the outer, there
was literally no addition to the original building. Carpets and curtains
were luxuries unknown; coarse paper had been fastened across the lower
portion of dirty window frames; a rickety stove was propped against the
wall by means of a couple of bricks. Lamont searched everywhere, in each
nook and dirt-encrusted cranny, by the greasy light of the lamp, which
dropped faint yellow rays along each sordid article. Then he dragged the
proprietor from the bed, pulled off the coverlet, searched mattress and
floor beneath. He ransacked the shreds of rusty clothing, tapped the
crumbling plaster, examined every part of the flooring. But there were
no traces to be discovered of Menotah's first and only material gift.
Denton must have parted with the whole under pinch of want.

Lamont turned up the flickering flame--the oil was failing--then kicked
the drunken wretch on the floor. The ex-minister responded with an
unsteady homily on the joys of humility. Then Lamont reflected.

He felt certain that this was the culprit who deserved punishment at his
hands. That would be a simple matter. All he had to do was to dash the
dying lamp to the floor, then depart. This crazy shanty of dry wood
would be in ashes within the hour, and the drunken body of its owner
cremated.

So he stood for the moment undecided, then smiled slowly and shook his
head. Nerve was wanting, even for such a little thing as that. Perhaps
he was getting weak. It might be that there were already sufficient
unpleasant shadows haunting the past. An addition to such might well
prove beyond tolerance.

Denton's tongue had ceased its unmeaning flow of words, as its owner
slowly sank into the deep slumber of inebriation. Lamont went into the
other room, placed the lamp on the table, then seated himself, still
following up the new line of thought recently suggested. To-morrow he
would be married to a girl he believed he sincerely loved. Then he would
settle down to a changed life, and restart with a new set of morals. The
past, as a thing gone, was to be forgotten. He would now become a
respectable citizen of the new western metropolis.

Then his eyes wandered carelessly round the darkened room, as he leaned
forward to turn up the flickering flame from its dull red smouldering.
Light darted through the heavily smoked glass, and he found himself
gazing upon Denton's large Bible, which stood on the bookcase shelf. His
lips curled into a contemptuous smile. Then he went across the dry,
creaking boards and pulled down the worn book. To his surprise the
balance was uneven, while a hollow rattling came from within. All
attempts to open it failed, as the leaves appeared to be firmly bound
together. But when he came to look at it more closely in the dim light,
he realised that what had once been a book was now a box. There could be
no doubt on the matter, for a small keyhole was visible immediately
beneath one of the boards.

He placed this imitation between his knees and burst the lids apart. A
quantity of paper, with a small buckskin bag, fell out upon the floor.
The next instant he held in his hands his recovered treasure, or rather
the larger portion only of the original gift. Denton had evidently laid
them aside as a private bank from which he could draw from time to time.

Examining the case, he saw that it had once been a Bible, but that a
hole had been cut in the centre of each leaf, the remainder at infinite
labour having; been fastened together securely.

There was nothing to keep him after this discovery. Leaving the book on
the floor, in close proximity to its sleeping owner, he pocketed the
bag, then stepped out on the beaten trail and made for his lodgings. On
this occasion he reached them without incident.


[1] Qu'appelle. (Who calls?)

[2] See prefatory note.



CHAPTER II

THE LIFE OBJECT


'Say, Dave!'

The Captain turned his head slowly, then drew the short stone pipe from
his mouth.

'Hustle over here.'

Dave came leisurely across the grass space.

'When are you getting, Dave?'

'Morrow; noon,' came the brief reply.

'Call it day after, and I'll come,' said the Factor.

The Captain looked surprised. 'How'll you manage, Alf?'

'Don't tell you everything, Davey. I've got my leave all right. Justin
can fix things while I'm away. Goldam! it's time I had a bit of a rip
up.'

'Well, I can't do it, Alf.'

'You can, Dave. Just think a while. You're on good time this trip. A day
this way or that won't go for anything. I'll fix it up for you, Dave.
The skins weren't quite ready to be shipped; the darned old boat wanted
some pitch on her side--scraped her over a sunk rock, you know, Dave.
Lots of easy lies, if you like to make them. I can fix five
first-classers while you're thinking out one hoodoo, Dave.'

'You can't by a jugful,'said the Captain, hotly. 'I've more practice
than you, Alf. There's generally something to reckon for, end of the
trip. Tell you, it strains a fellow's invention pretty hard sometimes.'

'See here, Dave. Early morning, Thursday, we start south.'

'Suppose it wouldn't make such a lot of difference, anyway.'

'Course it won't. You don't get me for a passenger every trip, Dave.'

'That's so. There'll be another beside you, though.'

'Who? There's nobody round here, far as I know.'

'Someone's going all the same. She's under my protection, too.'

'She! it's never Menotah?

Dave nodded. 'Mrs Spencer that's going to be.'

'You're fooling, Dave. She hasn't got the stuff to pay her passage.'

'We've fixed that. Tell you, I'm looking after her.'

'But she's not going to hitch on with you?'

'That's what,' said the Captain, stolidly. She's been after me for a
long time. Reckon she's caught me at last.' He sighed with an air of
resignation.

McAuliffe burst into a lusty laugh and slapped his knee repeatedly. Then
his great face suddenly grew grave, as he thought on the darker side of
the picture. What could have induced the heart-stricken girl to a
promise of marriage with the ugly little Captain? Perhaps she had lost
all sense and reason, poor girl. Then he said, 'Tell how you managed it,
Dave.'

'This way,' said the Captain, nothing loth. 'I was fooling round by the
boat, watching the boys loading her up, when Menotah comes round to me
all of a sudden, and asked if I'd take her across lake. She couldn't pay
for the passage, but she did her beautiest to make me say I'd agree.'

'Well! well!'

''Course I hopped at the chance. Said I, see here, Menotah, you want me
to take you south. Just say you'll splice with me, and I'll put you
across the lake many times as you like.'

'What did she say?'

'Fairly corked me, I tell you. Didn't think, or stop a minute, but just
said yes at once. Made me promise I wasn't to come round her, till she'd
done some job or other down Garry way. But say, Alf, what's come over
her? Her eyes are like a couple of chunks of ice, while there's never a
smile to be seen on her face. She's a darned pretty gal yet, all right.
Queer things gals, ain't they, Alf? There's no understanding them. Guess
she's been after me all this time. Well, well, she's caught me now, so I
reckon she ought to be happy.'

The Factor was deep in thought. 'You wouldn't take her across, 'cept she
promised to be your wife, eh?' he said slowly.

'You wouldn't want a fellow to lose a good chance, would you?'

'Well, Dave, if you want my opinion, I'll give it you straight. I call
it a sort of mean trick to serve the gal. I know her better than you do,
mind. She's got some scheme in her brain. It's a thing she's dead set
on, and when it's done, she'll likely drop you. You mark me, lad.'

'She won't marry me, eh? See here, Alf, you don't know the first darned
thing about it. I tell you, I'll make her.'

'And that'll be a tough sort of job. You'll find Menotah isn't the sort
of gal to stand making. Bet you what you like you don't marry her,
Dave.'

'You're getting cranky,' muttered the Captain. 'It's no business of
yours, anyway. I'm going to marry my gal. If I reckon she's not going to
stay by her word, I won't take her across. She don't play any of her
women's tricks on me.'

McAuliffe laughed. 'I'll get even with you there, Dave. Derned if I
won't pay her passage myself. You'll have to take her then. How's that,
lad?'

At this decided cheek, the angry Captain moved off and made toward the
stage, muttering diatribes against men who interested themselves
overmuch in the affairs of others. Finally he found relief to his
feelings by kicking an Indian, who had taken advantage of the Captain's
absence to get a comfortable siesta in the shade.

From beneath heavy eyebrows McAuliffe watched the retreating figure with
low chuckles. He enjoyed getting the better of Dave. Yet in the kind
heart, which beat beneath a very rugged exterior, there lurked a secret
and real pity for the broken girl, once the sunshine of that land, now
the emblem of its misery. From long contact with the natives of his
district he had learnt much of their religion. He knew with them
vengeance was not merely a gratification of passion, but a duty which
might not be neglected. He shrewdly guessed that Menotah possessed some
secret design against the life of the man who had professed for her such
love, who had yet cast her aside and gone back to the world, heedless of
the misery he had created.

McAuliffe was right. Dave had also spoken truly. It was Menotah's
intention to cross the lake, and that she might obtain her wish, she had
consented to marry the Captain of the boat.

For the desolate girl had concluded that it was time to discharge the
last duty of a short life. Then, and not till then, she had a right to
release the breath, and return to the Manitou, that hazy land of the
Beyond, where her father dwelt. There, if she first obeyed the will of
the god, the heart might find its peace.

Those long past months of winter and early summer had been charged with
the fulness of horror and loneliness. As she lived for an object, so
mind and body strength never entirely forsook her. For herself she cared
not, nor for happiness of others. But she only struggled on beneath the
overwhelming weight of life, until the time should come when the spirit
called to the sombre duty of fate.

To her, in that misery, day and night, sunshine and storm, were alike.
What mattered it whether the ground was flower vested, or mantled with
snow? There was no difference in the touch to her bare feet. Whether the
trees were joyful in summer, or black with winter? The picture of Nature
was unchanging to those eyes. Whether faces surrounding her were kind or
stern? The heart had done with the idle phantasy of affection. Each day
dragged its hours away, detail with that preceding, to be replaced by
another equally lengthy, not less dreary. Environment partook of the
nature of a constant hallucination. As there was little life within,
there could be but slight animation in surroundings. When she had been
happy, her light-heartedness found novelty in things that had in
themselves no real change. Now that she was so deeply sunk in the slough
of despair, the shifting moods of others expressed always the same, the
monotonous sentiment--hatred of herself. For she had cut herself apart
from the people of her name by a forbidden alliance. By her own selfish
act she had drawn disgrace upon the tribe.

The birth of her child, though it brought another pang of torture,
proved perhaps the means of preserving reason. Maternity was detestable,
yet it carried responsibilities which might not be neglected. Bitterly
she reflected that here was another creature born to despair and misery.
Surely it would be better for this smiling boy to die, and know not the
horror of living. But when the tiny voice was first lifted in
unconscious appeal for nurture, resentment perished beneath the sudden
passion of early motherhood. What if the father was villain and traitor?
Here was at least a portion of her own body, flesh of her flesh. The
child should learn the name of mother, but never that of father. It
should love the one parent and hate the other. Often she dimly reflected
as the infant lay, breathing softly in healthy sleep, upon her knees,
knowing not that he was the child of misery and the son of a broken
heart. And such were her thoughts: Ah! if I might only live to bring
this boy up to manhood and teach him the lesson of his life. Then should
one appear far greater than Riel, one who would gather together the sons
of the Ancient Race from the four winds, from the ice ocean to the count
of the wind, who would swoop, like the Spirit of the Storm, across the
land, from lake to forest, from rock-land to prairie. Then, with his
justice and his might, he would blot the white traitors from the plains
which were not theirs, he would drive them from the wide fields they had
wrongly stolen from others. Then the country would come back again to
its own children, and there would be joy at the heart of all.

But, at length, she felt within her that hot flame which warned her of
duty. Then appeared the black boat upon the river. It but remained to
secure passage in her across the Great Water. Dave was repulsive and
hateful, yet she gave ready consent to his demands. No obstacle could be
allowed to stand in her path at that stage. 'When I have finished my
work, I will again think of joining myself to a man,' she had spoken
bitterly, as she turned back to the dreary hut.

Before that long journey to the south, one detail of the plan required
attention. So, on that evening when Dave and the Factor had a difference
of opinion regarding herself, she turned her heavy footsteps toward that
place where she knew the old Antoine might be found. Very feeble was her
mentor now. Outside the door of his hut he crouched in the last
sunshine, the nodding head leaning against his staff, quivering hands
tapping feebly on skeleton knees, bleared eyes deeply sunken, ears
uncertain of sound. To any passing along that silent pathway he might
have appeared as a very personification of grim sorrow. To the
grief-stricken woman he was fit emblem of the vengeance she sought,
worthy representative of the evil one himself.

With the child resting upon her back within the blanket, she came and
laid a hand upon the Ancient's shoulder. He peered up with dreary eyes
and would have forced a smile into the long wrinkles of his shrunken
countenance.

'So, child; you have come.' Such was his greeting.

'For the last time, old Father. To seek one more service, then to
trouble you no more.'

'It is no pain to succour those we love. The life fades from my body,
yet the warm love remains still within. Sit at my feet, child, as you
were wont to do. Tell me what it is you desire.'

She did so, yet in the motion a soft fluffy head brushed the old man's
knee. A shudder convulsed him, as he endeavoured to drag the stiff limbs
from the hateful contact. Feebly and vengefully he cried, 'Take that
away, child! Why have you brought him here to torment my eyes?'

Not a muscle of the girl's face moved. 'I forgot,' she said coldly.

Then she arranged the blanket at the foot of a tall pine, wrapped up the
child in it, and returned.

The Ancient spoke. 'Daughter, I know the matter on which you would
speak. Make speed with the work, for my body strength has gone. I would
wish to see the end, so may I tell all to your father in the joy land.
Memory is now a faint shadow of the past. Yet will I speak on those
things I may see dimly with the mind. A white man has destroyed your
heart, my daughter; he has betrayed you; he has left you to the death
misery. You would have punishment brought upon that man. Is it not so,
my daughter?'

'It is so, old Father,' came the stern reply.

'Methinks there is still a faint shadow of memory remaining. It tells me
that on a certain night I prayed you to listen to wise words. But you
cast aside the love advice. So the anger grew upon me, and I said that
surely a day would come when you would creep to me with a heart of
sorrow, when you would pray me for help in the work of vengeance.
Methinks that memory is not all shadow.'

'It is truth. I ask not for pity. I have prepared this suffering for
myself. Let the dead past lie dead.'

'I would not call up the black tale of grief to wound you, child. Youth
follows the unreasoning heart always. Now it but remains to find the
remedy, to strike, to kill.'

All the malevolence in his nature poured forth in the whispered sounds.
His wrinkled face grew hideous as he looked at her, the grey-white hair
hanging in sparse lines along the neck.

'For that I have come,' she said defiantly.

''Tis well. Am I not living but to aid you? Ah, child, might I only
listen to your soul laughter again. Might I hear your song of happiness,
I would go then with contentment to the fire, and breathe away my life
with joy. Can you not find one smile, child? Is there not hidden in the
cold heart a last laugh, my daughter?'

He would have said more, but she frowned and interrupted him. 'That
which is left of the heart is not for joy or sorrow. To feeling it is
dead. Were I now to laugh, the sound would strike terror to your soul.
Can the ice thaw on the winter's day?'

'The heat follows,' he muttered. 'The flame of the sun will lick up the
ice.'

'The heat will come; you speak truth, old Father. It is the fire which
must consume my body.'

'Talk not of it, child. Even now the vision closes round me. Each day I
look for the end. For you, life lies in the Beyond.'

Her passion was at length awakened. 'Life!' she almost shrieked in his
withered face. 'Dare you speak of that which has passed? Already I have
lived, and now stand ready for death. For, when misery comes, what is
life but a memory, and what is memory but agony, and what is agony but
death? May not I speak on such things? Happiness _is_ life. When it is
gone, that which is left is death. Perchance the body may still move and
ask for food; may hate--it cannot love; may grieve--it cannot rejoice.
Within all is dead. Only a hot clinging to action for the sake of
vengeance holds the body from corruption.'

A small portion of the old colour returned to her thin cheeks. Her
breath came and went quickly. The old man weakly upraised his shaking
hands. 'Cease, child. The senses fail me,' he gasped. 'Speak into my
ear. Tell me what it is you wish.'

She raised her face, until the young lips touched the scanty locks. With
set face and hard voice she spoke a few words into his ear. He listened
with slow nods of his feeble head. 'I have it, daughter. The materials
lie within the hut.'

'It would be successful?' she asked indifferently.

'Unless the Spirit robbed it of power. The plan is well thought of, my
daughter.'

'In the early morning I will come. Will it be prepared?'

'A shorter time will be sufficient. No, it cannot fail. Often have I
made trial of it. Not in vain have I passed long nights beneath the
moon. Not in vain have I plucked the strange herbs, and fed the plants
with black blood of the dead. Much knowledge was given me by those who
went before. Yet there will be more for those who follow me. Daughter,
find me here when the moon touches yon distant ridges. Then can I say
farewell, and lay my old body to the sleep.'

She gazed at the trembling figure and the palsied limbs. 'Perchance the
sleep will be deep.'

'No, my daughter; there is time yet. Hot life burns within me, fierce
life. The fire yet lives after the dying down of the bright flames. You
shall find me here when you return. You shall pour into my ear the glad
song of your vengeance. The young are swept aside suddenly, but the old
survive and see the world decay.'

'Is this the teaching of your new religion?' she asked scornfully.

'I but spoke the mind thought. Of the new religion all things baffle
belief. When your work is done, I may gladly return to the gods I have
loved.'

'What is there in the new faith which passes understanding?'

'I can see nothing clearly. The doctor, who threw water on my forehead,
and drew thereon a charm, told me we should love those who have made
life bitter to us. It were great evil to punish them, for in the hands
of the God alone lay the might of vengeance.'

'Should we then treat friend and foe as alike?'

'The doctrine is false,' he cried shrilly, as the evening shadows rose
from the river. 'What is the gift of the hand when the thought at the
heart is hatred? The doctor further told me that the God once lived as a
man and walked the earth. More, He was even killed by the men He had
called into being.'

'Why pray to One Who is dead?'

'He lives again. Now He has come through the unknown of death, no power
may touch Him. Therefore is He God.'

'I believe it not,' cried Menotah, clasping again the child in her arms.
'Behold! it is now my turn to give you advice. Return to your own gods,
who bid you take vengeance and crush the foe. Not willingly would you
harm those you love. Why then should you have pity for those you hate? I
trust not to such teaching.'

She turned to depart, yet the old man sent after her quavering words,
'Let not anger prevail over the mind, my daughter; for when the blood
runs hot, and the heart rages with passion fire, the hand may tremble
and the eyes may fail. See there is no need for the second blow.'

She cast the words back at him as he sat huddled before the door. 'You
may throw aside your fear. Have I kept this strength to fail at the last
hour, when retribution lies like a gift in my hand? I, child as you call
me, am older even than you. The day of sorrow is longer than the year of
joy.'

'You will return?' he muttered, dimly perceiving that she moved away.

'When the moons dips upon the ridge summits,' she said. Then, with the
child clasped to her bosom, she disappeared with slow step amid the fast
gathering darkness.



CHAPTER III

RESURRECTION


A big bluff man, with wide, glowing face and stentorian voice, entered
the precincts of Garry about the end of July. He came invigorated by the
prospect of a fortnight's leave, with the outspoken intention of
enjoying himself. At every saloon--for he visited each
impartially--there was a resonant welcome from many boon companions.
McAuliffe was popular in his way among those of his own set.

So, three days after arrival, he might have been seen proceeding along
the principal street, accompanied by half a dozen elderly men, lined and
bearded, yet all disporting themselves like boys released from school.
They were all 'Company lads,' down on leave from northern posts,
actuated by a single idea of padding their few days of emancipation by
as large an amount of dissipation as possible.

Presently this gang rolled round an abrupt corner, to collide heavily
with a thickset man, buttoned up to the chin in a thick blue coat, and
smoking a cigar of abnormal dimensions. With difficulty he retained his
balance, though he completely failed to preserve contact with the undue
length of tobacco, which was dashed from his jaws by the force of
impact, and lay in the white dust. Before the owner could reclaim it,
McAuliffe had seized him in a bear-like grip.

'It's Captain!' he bellowed. 'Darned if 'tisn't old Captain Robinson.'

'Why! why! Alf McAuliffe, if I'm not a liar,' gasped the other. 'Well!
well! Hold on there, Alf. There's an hour's smoke lying on the trail.
Wait till I get my fist round it.'

'Boys!' said McAuliffe, turning to his companions, 'I'm going off for a
while. Want to have a talk with Captain here. Pass over the basket,
Pete.'

'You'll turn up later?' cried the satellites in unison, one of them
handing over a small brown hamper, which he seemed to relinquish not
unwillingly.

''Course. I'll meet you round the tent. Think I'm going to miss the
fun?'

Every beard wagged, each eye twinkled, at the prospect of approaching
diversion.

'Come on. Captain,' shouted the Factor, 'So long, boys. You're spoiling
for a good scrap, the whole derned crowd of you.'

'S'long, Alf.' Then the chorus, influenced by entire mutual
understanding, wheeled into an adjacent saloon, whither McAuliffe
followed them wistfully with his eyes.

He was, indeed, consuming with badly suppressed excitement. 'What do you
think is the last racket. Captain?'

The other blew a mighty cloud of germ-destroying smoke, and shook his
head.

'Never could guess a thing, Alf. Let's hear it.'

'Peter's preaching!' burst forth McAuliffe, in a voice that might have
been heard the other side of Garry.

'What, never old Peter? No: Peter Denton, that used to serve drinks at
the Tecumseh? I mind him well. Terrible on praying he was. Used to say a
grace before and after every glass of liquor. Not him, Alf?'

'That's who,' continued the Factor, heartily, 'That same living lump of
hypocrisy. He's got a big tent fixed up 'way north side of the fort, and
he holds what he calls revival meetings there every evening this month.
There's a sermon, then he takes up a collection--for rescuing unsaved
brethren. Least that's how he puts it, but I've got a fairish notion
that the only unsaved brother who has a look into that money is Mister
Peter himself. Don't tell a lie about it anyway, do he, Captain?'

The other chuckled behind his unwieldy cigar. 'What's your racket now,
Alf?'

'Going round there later, along with the other boys. We're going to put
ourselves in front seats and take in the whole darned show. We'll have
some fun, sure. Peter don't know I'm around here. He'll feel wonderful
surprised when he sees my old face peeking up under his nose. Wouldn't
wonder if it didn't come near spoiling his sermon.'

'Well! well! You're a teaser, Alf. But say, what's that you've got in
the basket there? Seems to me sort of uncomfortable to the nose.' He
blew a cloud of smoke, then sniffed suspiciously.

McAuliffe was almost ashamed of himself. 'Well, now, I'm a derned sort
of old-fashioned baby, ain't I? It's disgraceful at my time of life.
See, I don't often get a holiday, Captain. When the chance comes, I'm
bound to kick around a bit and knock up the dust. This is just a sort of
modest surprise party I've fixed up for Peter--to mind him of old times,
and show there's no ill feeling, you know. Captain.' Then he produced
from behind his back the brown hamper. The same appeared particularly
attractive to the flies, for a multitude of every species and size
hovered and buzzed over the straw cover. 'Don't touch. Captain. I tell
you they're as hearty as skunks.'

The Captain coughed suddenly, as an unsavoury odour assailed his
nostrils.

'What is it, Alf? Been buying up old fish?'

'Just eggs,' came the modest answer. 'But they weren't laid yesterday.
Tell you, Captain, if you look close, you can pretty near see the
feathers shooting out of the shell.'

'You're sort of hard on old Peter, strikes me,' began the other, but
McAuliffe choked him off at once,--

'Nothing's bad enough for the cowardly rascal. Shouldn't be surprised if
we cut the tent ropes before we're through with him.' He laid the
redolent hamper on the ground, that he might rub his hands in delight at
the thought.

This public demonstration called forth the astonishment of a passing
Chinaman, who stood and gazed blankly at the big man's evolutions.

'Here's more of your pards coming around,' said Captain Robinson.
'They'll be running you into a cool place presently, Alf, if they see
you cutting these sort of didoes.'

'Dern his gall!' exclaimed McAuliffe, catching up the hamper and
thrusting it against the Celestial's face. 'You git home, Johnny, and
wash your clothes.'

With unusual alacrity this command was obeyed.

'Now, Captain, come on back to the hotel and have a feed with me.'

'Can't do it, Alf. Got a whole crowd of things to fix up. Come round
later, if you like.'

'Well, be up half past nine. Sharp on time, you know; I'll be there.
Room No. 14. You'll find your way there by the smell of whisky. Least
that's what Dave said. Wonderful nose Davey has for that sort nothing,
anyway.'

'Right. If you don't turn up, I'll reckon the police have got hold of
you for making a disturbance, eh?'

McAuliffe picked up his basket with a chuckle. 'I'm young enough to play
the fool, but I'm too old to get caught,' he said. Then he made speedily
towards the saloon, where he knew his elderly companions might still be
found. A few minutes later he was vigorously quarrelling with the
bar-tender, who wanted to eject him and his unhealthy burden.

It was a strange spectacle, one which probably might not be seen in any
other country, thus to find several men, all of them distinctly past the
prime of life, indulging in capricious acts of rowdyism which could only
befit the average schoolboy. The officials of the H.B.C. chained down as
they are for the greater part of life to the monotonous loneliness of
some northern station, form a class apart from all others. As such a
class they are especially distinguished by a strong craving after
liquor--a natural product of a continued solitary existence--and a
juvenile impetuosity of manner, which can only exhibit itself during
their few days of leave, when they can return to civilisation to feel
themselves again surrounded by fellow creatures. The reaction is a
natural one. The anchorite who returns to the world generally plunges
deeply into the whirling vortex of pleasure, to make up as far as
possible for all he has lost. A conclusion points at once to the axiom,
that folly is no respecter either of age or person.

It was half an hour after the time appointed, when McAuliffe, arm-in-arm
with Dave Spencer, tumbled noisily into the hall of the hotel, where
Captain Robinson was waiting behind another cigar of great proportion.

'Fact is,' burst forth the Factor, as he entered in cyclonic fashion,
with a cut across the forehead and his big face adorned with several
bruises, 'we had a bit of a row with some of the fellows. Come on
upstairs. Captain; there we'll have a smooth time for next few hours.
Yes, 'twas a regular set-to tussle,' he continued, as they arranged
themselves upstairs. 'It wasn't so very far from a free fight. But we
got the best of it. Yes, we diddled them--though we weren't much of a
crowd, far as numbers went. Davey here came along just the right time,
and mixed himself up fine. I tell you, Captain, you'd have curled up if
you'd have seen Peter's face, when he spotted me sitting right down
front of him, with a grin on my face you might have measured by yards.
What with me encouraging him in a sort of whisper all the time, he
couldn't talk worth shucks. I just wish I could have got his face
photographed later on, when old Billy MacIntosh caught him per-lump on
the end of the nose with a fairly meaty egg. Tell you, it would have
drawn a grin out of a fence post. Dave was squirming around like a pesky
worm.' He dropped heavily into a chair, and shook again with laughter.

'It's too bad, boys,' said Captain Robinson. 'Here were you having a
smooth time, while I was putting in hard work.'

'Never mind. Captain,' said Dave, 'we're right in it now. Where's the
liquor, Alf?'

The Factor, with true hospitality, was helping himself first. Then the
bottle went round, the air became charged with smoke, conversation grew
discursive.

'Quite a long time since I saw you last, Alf. Dave I'm meeting down in
Selkirk pretty often. I reckon it's three years since we ran up.'

'It's all that since I was down. Garry's changed more than a little in
the time. You're the same, Captain. I reckon you've chewed your weight
in baccy since then.'

'I guess. How about yourself? How's the shooting, eh? Crack shot yet,
Alf?'

The Factor growled out a low laugh, and beat his great fist upon the
insecure table. 'Not a darned bit of it, Captain; it's no go. Tell you,
I'll never be able to shoot. Getting worse all the time. Listen here to
what happened a few days before I came away this trip. I was out early
to chop logs, and first thing I saw was a fat old tree-partridge,
settled on that big pine 'way outside the door. So I said to Justin,
"Fetch over your gun, boy, while I show you the way to knock down
partridges." I thought to myself, this is a slick shot right enough.
I'll have this old chap for breakfast. Well, I guess that bird knew
something about me, or maybe its pards had put it up to a thing or two,
for he kind of jerked his head a one side and looked at me, much as to
say, "What derned trick are you up to, anyway? Think you're going to fix
me, eh?" So Justin chucked me over the gun all ready, while the old fowl
sat tight as a rock. Then I took a good, steady aim and fired. Suppose I
must have brought down about a bushel of cones and truck. But when the
smoke cleared off, there was that partridge sidling along the bough
towards me, pleased as anything with himself, looking at me straight,
with as near a grin across his beak as any bird's ever managed yet.
"I'll shoot you by proxy, anyway," I shouted, and gave the gun over to
Justin. But before he could get a fair hold of it, that partridge was
off. You needn't tell me birds can't think out things for themselves.
Tree-partridges can, if other birds can't. That old fool knew well
enough I couldn't hit him, but he was pretty darned sure Justin could.
He reckoned it would be too risky to wait and see if he was right second
time.'

Dave reached across and turned up the lamp flame with deep-throated
chuckles. The Captain knocked an inch of ash from his cigar without
perceptibly shortening it. McAuliffe suddenly blew the stub of his out
upon the floor, in a shout of laughter.

'Goldam! can't get rid of old Peter's face time it stopped that egg.
Here! pass over that box of sharpshooters, Dave.'

It was now dark and silent outside. About the only sound round the
window was the dull, vibrating hum of mosquitoes. Presently the Factor
began to narrate his experiences during the previous year.

But when he came to relate a certain incident, which had occurred on
that autumn night of the boat's departure, the jocular lines were
stamped from the two faces, as their owners listened intently to the
narrative. Then the Captain spoke. 'You were full, Alf.'

'I was sober. Goldam! I was ridiculously sober.'

'Mind, there was Kitty as well,' put in Dave.

'That fixes it, if my words don't. I saw him plainly, just as I can see
you boys now. You can't guess how terrible scared I was the next few
days. I couldn't dare leave the fort after dark I made Justin hide away
the whisky keg. You can call me a razzle-witted old fool, but I hadn't
even the courage to walk over young Winton's grave in broad sunlight.'

There was a short interval of silence, then the Captain expanded his
nostrils. 'Reckon there's something burning in here.'

McAuliffe sniffed capaciously. 'You're right, Captain. Darn it, there's
my cigar stub working out a nice hole in that matting. I'm the sort of
fellow to be in a civilised place, ain't I?'

He went on his knees to examine the amount of injury done. 'Pass down
some water, Dave; there's a hole right here I could shove my head
through, and it's burning all the time.' When he had deluged the
flooring to his satisfaction, he continued, 'Now we'll just shift the
table, so that one of the legs will nicely go over the bald spot. Then
it won't get stuck down to my account. I reckon hotel servants never
move anything.'

Hardly had he spoken, when a deep, wailing sound throbbed forth and
echoed weirdly round the room.

The three started, then Dave shambled across and leaned as far from the
window as the insect frame would permit. Presently it came again--a
resonant iron cry, which solemnly thrilled the heart in the quiet night.

McAuliffe was still squatting on his haunches near the burnt matting. 'I
know what it is!' he said suddenly; 'Father Lecompte's dead.'

For it was the single bell of the dim church opposite.

'Sure of that, Alf?' said the Captain, in awe-struck tones.

'Dead certain. He's been terrible sick. Old Taché never left him all
last night. They said this morning he couldn't pull through to-day.
'Well, it's nice to be a good man, though they've got to go, same as us
bad 'uns.'

The muffled cry rang again. Then McAuliffe dragged himself back to the
chair. 'We've got to die, sure enough. They needn't get to work and
remind us of it, though, just as we're feeling good. Fill up, Captain.'

'Shut down the window,' cried Dave. 'Enough to give a fellow the
megrims, listening to that racket.'

'Too hot, Dave,' said the Factor. 'Here, we'll have a round of poker.
Wait till I get out the cards.'

_Plang!_

'Goldam! queer that a dirty bit of metal should put three men in the
suds. Cheer up, Captain; you're a chicken yet.'

He threw the cards across the table, then brandished a bottle round his
head.

     'When round the bar,
        A short life and a merry 'un
      Is better far,
        Than a long life and a dreary 'un.'

The other two took up the last line and howled it forth with the lusty
strength of unimpaired lungs.

'That's your style, Alf!' shouted Dave. 'Fill up the glasses, pard, and
to hell with the blue devils.'

_Plang!_

Three glasses were raised, emptied in a quick gulp, then replenished.
There were hurrying footsteps through the night beneath, while a
stranger, more solemn sound uprose from the church, where the windows
were filled with yellow light. A solemn mass was being sung for the
repose of the soul of the dead priest.

'Hold it down, Dave!' cried the Captain. 'Five cent ante, boys.'

The amber-coloured liquor gurgled pleasantly from the bottle neck and
splashed into the Factor's glass. His eyes shone as he gathered up the
five cards. 'We'll have our little jamboree well as them over the way, I
reckon.'

'Quit it, Alf,' said the Captain; 'I'm religious, mind. No blasphemy
here.'

McAuliffe laughed thickly into his glass. 'You're all right, Captain.
Mind how you won twenty dollars off me one Sunday, just before starting
for church? Reckon your religion wouldn't drag you from this bottle over
to yon service, eh?'

_Plang!_

'I'll raise you, Dave. That's nothing to do with it, Alf; I'm religious
when--when--'

'You're sick, eh?'

'There's a time for everything,' said the Captain, with the solemnity
that was liquor induced. 'I'm religious at the proper time, mind you,
just at the proper time. Other times I'm gay.'

'This is the gay time. Captain. You're a great lad! It's your pot. Ante
up, Dave.'

'Reckon it's time the bottle passed this side,' said the latter.

'Got to go by me first, Davey. Never mind, lad; I'll leave you the cork
to chew. That's right, Captain; hold your hand round it.'

_Plang-ang!_

'Bellringer's tight. Now then, Dave. Half for you, half for me. I'll
have the big half, and you take the little 'un. What's that, Captain? I
reckon I just will raise you.'

'Pass,' said Dave, clutching the bottle frantically.

'See you,' said the Captain, jerking his head forward over the table.

'Full house,' cried the Factor.

'Like us,' added the Captain. 'Good, Alf. Three kings.'

_Plang-ang._

'What's that?' cried Dave, quickly.

'Why, the pesky bell, you old rocket. You're everlastingly raddled,
Dave.'

'I'm not. There's somebody monkeying around outside.'

'Boil your head,' muttered the Captain. 'It don't matter, anyway; all
bad folks are asleep by this time.'

'I'm darned sure there was someone. Heard footsteps, then a sound like
striking a match to look for a number. Some of your pards after you, I
reckon. Alf.'

'Let 'em come. Lots of liquor for 'em. Fetch up that full bottle from
the corner,' shouted the Factor.

'Ante up first, Dave. You're the worst I ever saw for trying to sneak in
your nickles.'

Strong knuckles fell determinedly upon the door panel to prove the truth
of Dave's words.

'It's your pals, Alf,' said the Captain, with a chuckle. 'Bring 'em in,
and we'll make an everlasting night of it.'

'Bet you; it'll be the boys. They're after giving me a surprise party.
Lucky I'm not in bed, or they'd have dragged me out first thing.'

The heavy knocking came again, this time lasting longer.

'Come on, you old razzle-pates!' shouted McAuliffe. 'What are you
standing outside making that darned row for.'

'Come in and have a drink!' yelled the Captain, equally excited. Dave's
harsh voice also extended the invitation.

'Gimme that bottle, Dave. You're too derned full to get the cork out.'

Then the door opened slowly, but no more than two figures entered, and
one of these was a woman.

The three turned upon them with hearty cries of salutation; but the next
instant they were all upon the dirty matting, tied up in a knot of legs
and arms, clawing at one another, rolling over and over, with strange,
animal-like cries of fear.

_Plang-ang!_

'Old Billy!'

'Billy Sinclair!'

'Lord! Lord! I've got 'em this time!'



CHAPTER IV

CHARACTER


The old hunter stood by the table, with a slow smile breaking upon his
thin face as he looked upon the grovelling, snake-like figures at his
feet. Then he sniffed at the atmosphere, and began to comprehend.

'Sit here,' he said to the girl, whose head was covered in a flowing
blanket, pushing a chair into the corner. 'I'll have to sort some order
out of this crowd.'

Then he pulled at a leg which wriggled from beneath the table. It
belonged to McAuliffe, and its owner bellowed fearfully at the clutch.

'It's got me, Captain. Hold on to my arm, Davey. It's going to drag me
off.'

'Come out, Alf. Don't you know an old pard?'

It was ineffectual. The Factor only raved and struggled the more. So
Sinclair turned his attention to the others, who proved more amenable.

'It is you, Billy?' said the awe-stricken Captain. 'There's no foolery?
You're not a pesky spirit come to scare us for our sins?'

'Get up and put your arms round me,' said the hunter, a trifle testily.
'I never had much flesh to carry; what I've got now is solid, though, I
reckon.'

Then Dave peered up, a queer object with stains of liquor and sodden
tobacco down his cheeks. 'We reckoned you were fixed, Billy. 'Way up the
Saskatchewan by the _nitchies_.'

'Well, I wasn't. Pull Alf up, and I'll give you the yarn.'

Captain Robinson shook the prostrate figure. 'Git up, Alf. It's the
square thing. Old Billy's here, skin and all.'

'I didn't drink much. Captain--only a few glasses. There was a lot of
water in that last lot. You saw me mix it. Captain.'

'Didn't take you for a coward, Alf,' said Sinclair. 'I'm here, good as
ever, with Menotah as well.'

'Where?' blurted forth Dave. 'My gal! Darned if there isn't my gal!'

He would have shambled off towards her, but the hunter stopped him. 'Let
her alone, poor girl. She's had more than enough trouble.'

'She's next thing to being my wife, though. Guess she's wanting me.'

'You bet,' said Sinclair, smiling ironically.

'It's hard on a fellow not being able to speak to his gal.'

'Well, have a drink; that's pretty near as good,' said the Captain.
'Come on, Billy. Lord! it makes me feel queer down to the knee bones, to
see you standing upright there.'

The hunter laughed. This well-remembered sound almost entirely removed
McAuliffe's fear. Slowly and cautiously he dragged his head from the
matting, then gazed fearfully upward. 'That was Billy's laugh,' he
muttered. 'I don't reckon any ghost could raise such a racket.'

'Yes, Alf; you're scared of me, eh?'

'No, I'll be darned.' He clambered ungracefully to a sitting posture. 'I
never was afraid of old Billy not when he was alive; so it sha'n't be
said I'm scared of his ghost.'

'Well, shake, then,' said the hunter.

McAuliffe was still distrustful. 'Let's see you put down a dram first,'
he said. 'If you can still drink whisky, you're Billy. If you can't,
you're his ghost.'

'I was just waiting to be asked,' said the hunter, filling himself a
glass. 'Here's to you, Alf.'

The latter was up in a second, grabbing at his hand. 'Sit light there,
Billy,' he cried, forcing him into a chair. 'Tell us the yarn from start
to finish. Darn it, I'm glad it wasn't the whisky. This is the second
time you've scared me, Billy. I tell you, boys, straight, I thought I'd
got 'em a terror. As there's no danger of the jumps, I reckon we'd
better drink Billy's health, eh?'

A fresh bottle of spirit was cracked, and the glasses charged. 'I'm real
glad to drink to you again, Billy,' continued the Factor, sniffing
appreciatively the ascending aroma. 'Though, I tell you, you've
shortened our lives by suddenly returning to yours. You haven't dealt
square, Billy. Why didn't you turn up before? See here, now; there's got
to be no more larking off to the grave, and rising again to drive your
pards to total abstinence. Yes, Billy, if you'd been a ghost to-night, I
should have turned temperance orator. I tell you straight I should.'

'But the yarn, Billy,' cried Dave. 'Didn't the _nitchies_ try to fix
you?'

'No,' replied the hunter. 'Somebody did their best to shoot me, but it
wasn't a _nitchi_.'

'Who?' they all asked with a single voice.

'Lamont.'

A faint sound--it might have been a groan--came from the dark corner.
The Factor tilted his glass in his amazement, until the liquor splashed
upon the scattered cards. The Captain was shouting, 'Who's he?'

The hunter's spare face appeared almost frightened. '_The White Chief_,'
he said slowly.

McAuliffe growled like a bear, and dropped the glass outright; the
Captain sat upright, with the ash end of the cigar in his mouth; Dave
gave a deep cry.

'I mind it now,' the latter shouted. 'Was dead sure I'd seen his face,
but couldn't fix it nohow. Now I mind it. 'Twas one night I came upon
him sudden at the Lower Fort, without his paint.'

McAuliffe collapsed into a chair. 'Goldam!' he exclaimed weakly, 'to
think I should have lived with him. You're wrong though, Billy. He
fought for us that night. If it hadn't been for him, we'd all have been
fixed--'

'Lamont goes on the strong side. He knew it was all over with the Riel
racket. If he'd been taken up there, it was all up with him. He knew
that.'

To remove the veil of mystery which so far has environed the 'White
Chief':--

Riel was not, never had been, the prime factor of the revolution.
Himself a dull man of irregular habits, yet one whose mind might easily
be moulded; in unscrupulous hands, he was powerless to act as sole
leader; he could not forecast future chances without assistance. Left to
himself, he would never have struck the blow for right and liberty. But,
when sitting outside his shanty one summer evening, a young man came to
him. His sudden arrival was in itself mysterious, and from the first he
cast a powerful glamour over the great half-breed. The darkness came up,
night gathered round, and still Riel talked with the young Canadian, who
was, on his own confession, the finest rifle shot in the Dominion,
perhaps in the world at that time. Proofs of this were not wanting. The
heavy-featured man became delighted with the skill and flattery of the
fascinating white, who soon began to pour into his ears a vividly
painted word picture where his own name recurred frequently, in
conjunction with such expressions as power and wealth unbounded. He was
aware of Riel's intentions--his desire to reclaim the land from the
oppressor. To be brief, he had come to aid him.

The next scene represents the revolt from authority itself. Riel was
nominal leader, but in all things he was guided by the cunning brain and
persuasive voice of his white subordinate. This latter kept disguised as
a blood Indian, with the paint, feathers, buckskin and bead work of the
native warrior. For long none suspected the true identity, except, of
course, the Indians themselves, to whom he was known generally as the
'White Chief,' or the 'Father's Friend.'

While this disguise remained, Riel triumphed. In every struggle Lamont's
unerring rifle accomplished its pitiless work, until police and soldiers
grew to dread the report of the Indian marksman's weapon. He kept
himself always in a place of safety, well out of the direct flight of
hostile bullets.

But an Indian traitor--there were many of them--who entertained a grudge
against him, narrated the tale to hunter Sinclair of St Andrews one day
while tracing up a moose. Lamont had formerly been an acquaintance.
After learning this story he found a means of coming upon him suddenly,
to prove the truth of the Indian's word. The name, of course, had been
changed, but Sinclair penetrated to the identity by the report of his
wonderful shooting powers. In his surprise visit, attended though it was
by considerable risk, he was successful. The meeting was a dramatic one.
After an appeal had been wasted, the hunter threatened to capture and
hand him over to the Government. Lamont replied by snatching a revolver
and firing at him. The hunter had moved quickly aside when he saw the
intention, so escaped the bullet. In the dark night he escaped without
further risk. Later the story became known widely, while a reward was
offered for the apprehension of the White Chief. Yet Sinclair alone held
the knowledge of his actual personality. To all others he was merely a
name and a marvellous shot. Lamont suspected that Sinclair would not
open his mouth, in the hope of himself obtaining the reward, coupled
with the _kudos_ of having, unaided, captured the Indian auxiliary. His
only chance now was to follow up his former friend and kill
him--especially as he now began to understand that Riel was doomed, that
the Rebellion must fail inevitably.

His motive in thus allying himself to Riel must be sufficiently obvious.
He had previously gone over all ground, had reckoned every chance, as he
thought, to finally arrive at the conclusion that an insurrection of
Indians and half-breeds must be successful. He was but an ordinary
adventurer, yet of more than average intellect. He would sway the mind
of Riel, the invaders would be conquered and driven out, the half-breed
leader would be chief of the entire country--nominally only. The reins
of power would actually rest in his own hands. To depose the dull-witted
half-breed and obtain entire leadership would then be a comparatively
simple matter.

But most men omit in their reasonings the single detail of importance.
In this case he had reckoned entirely without the influence of the
Church, and the extraordinary power which it held and could exert over
its ignorant and superstitious children. When the Archbishop with his
assistants first commenced their efforts, he had smiled disdainfully at
the wild fancy of men being such fanatics as to be priest led. But this
gratification endured no longer than a fortnight, by which time he found
many on whom he had confidently relied laying down their weapons,
returning to their homes with the declaration that they would abide by
the command of their religion. The Intrepid Archbishop had conquered.

So he abandoned Riel to his fate and fled, with the price of blood upon
his head, to remorselessly and energetically follow up Sinclair's trail.
He might easily have escaped from the country, but the lust of vengeance
was hot within him. Besides, he fancied himself in love with Marie
Larivière. After the silencing of the hunter, he might be able to fan
the flame of passion into a fiercer and hotter rebellion. So he followed
the trail, even to the forests of the Great Saskatchewan.

'Well, well, Billy,' said the Factor, half an hour later, 'it's a
wonderful experience you've had. I tell you, if you could have seen
young Winton that night, and old Blackey rocketing around, you'd have
reckoned yourself you were dead.'

'What's the matter with drinking Billy's health?' said Dave, thirstily.

'You're a cute lad,' said the Captain; 'fill up and pass the bottle.
It's all right; Alf pays the racket.'

'I mind now,' broke in Dave. 'It was when I was raddled in the fort I
recognised Lamont. Called him White Chief, I did, and he turned a sort
of green colour. I mind it all now.'

'You were full, Dave,' chuckled the Factor; 'what I've said right along.
That's the only time you're sensible, lad. Come on, Billy, drink your
own health.'

The hunter had told his story amid constant interruptions of the above
character. After leaving Winton, he had set forth through the gathering
darkness to bring up the horses. He found them tethered as left, but
when about to depart fancied he could detect--with the sharp hearing
instinct of his profession--sounds of a stirring body in the bush
adjacent. There were no repetitions of these motions, so he got the
animals clear and began to move on the return journey. Then the conduct
of the grey mare aroused fresh suspicion. She refused to approach a
thicket of red willow lying slightly to the right of their path. He
hesitated for a time, then, thinking her fear was probably due to some
passing Indian, placed himself between her and the bush. Still he
advanced with what speed he could muster. The loose rocks were slippery
with dew, and the undergrowth tangling to the feet. He had passed, and
breathed a sigh of relief At the same instant that brushing aside of
bushes sounded again. Then a stone flew from the centre of the bush and
struck the mare full on the side. She broke from him, plunging like a
wild creature, and finally rushed away into the forest.

That same instant a low, vengeful voice broke forth in the gloomy
silence. 'Sinclair,' it said, with a stifled laugh, 'I've fixed you
now.'

That dreaded rifle cracked. There came the shock of the bullet, and he
had fallen unconscious to the ground.

Here McAuliffe had interrupted eagerly, 'Tell now, Billy, was the pain
bad?'

'Didn't feel a thing, except an awful sudden shock, same as you might
receive from an extra strong electric battery,' replied the hunter. 'A
fellow couldn't wish for a nicer way out of life. It's a case of alive
one quarter second, dead the next. There's no suffering nor worry. You
just hop out of life and step into eternity. That's what death by
shooting is. 'Course only when it comes sudden and unexpected.'

'Diddled you fine, Captain,' said the Factor, rubbing his hands. 'See
here, Billy, Captain and I had a big argument on that one time. He said
a man couldn't be killed right off by a bullet. Suffered bad he did,
before dying. I told him he didn't know the first thing about it. The
fellow would turn up right away. I'm right again. Yes, Captain, got you
fine. Here's old Billy jumped out of his grave, purpose to let you
know.'

Captain Robinson blew forth a mighty fog of smoke, and remarked that
McAuliffe was talking through his hat.

So, for once in his life, Lamont had made a mis-shot. At the time he
must have been over-excited. Then his enemy was very close, and he was
too confident. Still he had been quite satisfied that his skill could
not fail, for he had gone off at once, without waiting to examine the
body.

Menotah, passing happily from the river pool to the forest encampment,
had come upon him immediately after. Half an hour later, and the triumph
of the White Chief would have been complete, for his victim was rapidly
bleeding to death; but the girl's skill, aided by the advice and
health-giving restoratives of the old Antoine--who of course knew
nothing of the rescue--had brought him back to life and strength. Her
pity had gone out to this wounded man, who was far from home and
friends. She was anxious to save him from suffering, so had cared for
him as he lay for some days and nights beneath the red willow thicket,
and when strength served, had led him to the hut by the swamp. For he
had explained his wish for privacy.

'Say, Billy, where's that hut, anyway?' asked the Factor.

''Way down the swamp. Only she and the old medicine man know of it.'

'Thought I knew all the district. Wonder I never struck it.'

'It's well hidden. Petroleum swamp, too. There's a shining fortune lying
around there.'

'No way of shipping it, and no market. But think of you hiding down
there, and then larking out of the bush that night on me and Kit. You
made me swear off liquor for a month, Billy. Why didn't you come back to
the fort?'

'Didn't dare,' said Sinclair, shortly.

'Don't see what there was to be scared of.'

'Lamont. I tell you straight I was afraid of him. He's a strong will,
while mine after that shot got a bit broken. I was weak and nervous as a
baby all summer. Then, I reckoned, if I lay quiet till I got fixed up, I
might be able to get in a dirty sort of shot at him to level matters.
Yes, I was cowardly mean enough to want a pot at him, same as he put in
at me.'

There was no remark, so the hunter continued,--

'When Lamont made off, last boat in the fall, my idea was to follow.
Menotah helped me again. Through her I got a canoe with a couple of
_nitchi_ boys, who paddled me away across to Horse Island.[1] From there
I was lucky enough to get a passage in a late fishing boat. It was a
terrible risky journey. We were frozen in twice; but it broke and we got
back. Even since then I've kept away from Garry, until I'd got
everything ready fixed. Didn't want Lamont to see me. He's round here,
you know.'

'What's the plan now, Billy?' asked the Captain.

Sinclair smiled. 'A warrant will be out in the morning. We're going to
arrest him in the night.'

'Any trouble getting it?' asked McAuliffe.

'Took time, of course. But, I tell you, the Commissioner took down what
I had to say, as though 'twas a plateful of oysters.'

'There's the reward as well, Billy,' put in the Captain.

'Yes. He said my services would be referred to the Government--'

'Don't you believe it, Billy,' interrupted the Factor. 'I know that sort
of darned business. They'll refer to each other, and this joker will
write to another baldhead. He'll go on to some other fool, and that one
will refer the whole crowd back to first correspondence. Then they'll
start to work over again. By the time your grandchildren are getting
oldish, you'll get a letter to say they won't give you anything, owing
to lapse of time, incorrect information, and a lot of other truck.
That's how they do business in Government offices. They work for
eternity, they do.'

'Near shifting time,' said the Captain. 'I'll be finishing my smoke
presently, then we'll make. Wake up, Dave.'

The latter gentleman was lolling over the table, breathing deeply.
McAuliffe poured some water down his neck with instant result.

'It's your ante, Dave; hustle yourself. There's going to be a picnic
round here. We're going to have Lamont arrested and strung up at Regina.
We'll go there together, Dave, and cut a dido.'

It took yet another half hour for Captain Robinson to finish his cigar,
so the others filled in the interval by much loud conversation, heedless
of time, or peace of others in the little wooden building.

Ever since her entrance, Menotah had sat quietly in the dark corner
allotted to her, without motion or speech. Frightened by the busy motion
and numerous faces of Fort Garry, she had followed Sinclair with an
almost dog-like submission, obeying his every word, yet only keeping
silence on the matter that lay nearest her heart. Night and day she
carried in the warmth of her bosom a black substance enwrapped in dry
grass. It was of the appearance and consistency of solid glue. This was
Antoine's last gift--a drug, which, when introduced into the blood, cast
the body into a consumptive shivering no human art could cure. The time
for its use had almost come, but she said nothing. They must not suspect
her object.

But she was not to be left altogether to the quiet her soul desired. As
the time for departure arrived, Dave, who was far from sober, suddenly
caught sight of her. At once he lurched across the room.

'Here's my gal waiting here for me all this time,' he said. 'Darn it,
boys, you've left my gal out of the fun. Come along with me, Menotah,
and have a sit on my knee.'

He caught at the blanket and pulled it from her head. The beautiful
unbound hair flowed down over her shoulders, framing the pale face,
which looked up so pathetically at her tormentor. Hunter Sinclair
thought of the deer fever when he saw those mournful eyes.

'Come on, gal,' cried Dave, coarsely. 'No moping when I'm around.'

She held out a little hand to him. 'Ah! leave me,' she pleaded
pitifully.

'I brought you across the lake. You're going to be my wife, ain't you?
No going back on your word now.'

'Come on, Davey,' cried the Factor, in a ripe voice, 'I'm waiting to see
you home. No drunks allowed in Garry after nightfall.'

'My gal's asking for a drink. You're a mean dirty crowd finishing up the
whisky, and not giving my poor gal a drop.' He lurched to her side, and
took her cold little face between his hot greasy hands. 'Never mind,
Menotah; I'll give you a good kissing instead. That'll be better than
liquor, eh?

She struggled with deep panting breath, and weak little cries for pity.
Poor stricken girl! her cup of misery was very full indeed. She was a
woman and weak, but an Indian. They were men and white, therefore cruel.
This distinction was wide and sufficient.

'Ah! let me go, if you are man and have a heart,' she wailed, with
broken sobs. 'You made me promise you would leave me to myself for a
time. Will you keep that promise thus? If you have pity, leave me.'

The others stood around with loud laughter and coarse jests as Dave put
his amorous designs into execution. And these were men, loyal-hearted
Canadians, who loved their queen and flag. The life of one of them had
been preserved by the struggling girl he now refused to aid. True, they
were all over-mastered by liquor, otherwise McAuliffe would certainly
have interfered, probably also Sinclair on the lowest grounds of
gratitude. But let it be remembered far worse things have been done, are
done to-day, by such men, in full possession of their faculties, with
sober and deliberate intent to ruin.

'You blasted gal!' shouted Dave. 'Can't you give decent kisses to the
man you're going to hitch on to?'

'Wants harnessing, Dave,' said the Captain. 'Here, I'll hold her, while
you smack her on the lips. Ain't she got a pretty little kissing mouth,
too?'

He did hold her, careless of her moans and choked sobs. Dave twisted his
hand into her silken hair and dragged her small head back, then pressed
his dirty, liquor-tainted face across hers. She cried from her bleeding
heart to the Great Spirit that he would aid her, and judge between her
and these. And doubtless the Spirit heard that cry.

'I'm going, Dave,' stammered the Factor. 'B'lieve I'm nearly full. Must
have some fresh air before bed.'

'Give us a show, Dave,' shouted the excited Captain. 'It's my turn, I
reckon.' He pushed Dave aside, then tried to kiss the trembling,
miserable girl.

But Dave was at him in an instant, with a dim idea that his rights were
in danger of infringement. 'You'll insult my gal, will you? Darned if I
won't fight you, Captain. I tell you, you don't know Dave Spencer. He's
terrible tough when roused.'

He pulled off his canvas jacket, and danced like a figure on wires round
the Captain. The other two interfered, and soon the whole four were
quarrelling together noisily.

In the midst of this tumult, Menotah rose and quickly slipped to the
closed door. Dave immediately wheeled round and lurched after her. She
struggled with the handle, which she could not understand. He caught her
by the arm just as the door came open. She clenched her teeth, then, as
a spark of the old fire shot into her lustrous eyes, she struck him with
all her strength full in the face with her free hand. Half dazed, he
dropped to the floor, while she disappeared--out into the hot, clear
night, beneath the kind gleam of the stars she knew and loved.

The quarrel ended. Dave was raised by jocular arms, swearing fearfully.
He announced his intention of going at once after the girl and smashing
every bone in her body. McAuliffe offered to join him, so the two
tumbled heavily down the narrow stairway. The Captain and Sinclair
lurched off in an opposite direction.

The former couple forgot all about Menotah, even before reaching the
outer air. They stumbled along cheerily for a short distance, only
intent upon their own happiness.

'Say, Alf, where are we anyhow?' asked Dave, thickly.

'We're all right, Dave. Straighten up, now; this is New York City,' came
the confident reply.

'Don't say. Well, well, sort of thought I was in Fort Garry to-day.
Couldn't have been, Alf, eh?'

'Course not. Ever been in New York before, Davey?'

'First visit, Alf. Fine place, ain't it?'

'Bet your life. First-class saloons, I'm told. We'll sample 'em, eh?'

Dave sniggered. 'I reckon.'

More he might have said, but at that instant they came upon a log lying
across the road. Without the least hesitation they both took a header,
then lay sprawling on the other side in the dew-wet dust.

They sat up, more pleased with themselves than damaged by the fall. 'Was
it a cyclone, Alf?' asked Dave, blankly.

'Whist, Dave. Don't make a racket, or we'll have the police on us.
They'll say we put that thing across the sidewalk. Disgraceful in a
great big city like this, ain't it?'

Dave sympathised, then the Factor's note changed to anger. 'Goldam! I've
split up my right boot and half smashed a toe. I shall go to a lawyer's
office first thing, and sue the corporation of this darned city.
Sticking obstacles on the sidewalk to smash the toes of honest citizens.
Sha'n't be able to walk in Central Park to-morrow, now my boot's broken
up.'

'Never mind, Alf. You can get boots half price from the Company. Nothing
at all, if you cook the books.'

'Davey,' said the Factor, reproachfully. 'I couldn't do it. I'd like to
cheat, but dern it, Davey, I can't. I'm too high-minded.'

For some time longer they talked from their respective dust heaps, while
mosquitoes sang in the air, and frogs chirped in the grass around them.
Then they climbed to their feet to continue aimless peregrinations.

'I know, Davey,' said the Factor, suddenly, as they came to a corner
house. 'There's a nice little saloon right up here. Come on, and I'll
drink your health, lad.'

'Isn't it next turning?' said the other, merely for sake of argument.

''Course not. That 'ud take us down to Broadway. Think I don't know my
way about?'

'Long time between drinks, ain't it, Alf?'

'You're right, Davey. Wonderful fine place New York, ain't it? We'll
have a drink, then I'll take you around on a car, while we take in the
show.'

'I'm right on,' hiccoughed Dave. 'Come on, Alf.' They linked together,
and staggered up the byway in the darkness. The road and themselves soon
ended in a ditch.


[1] Geographically known as Selkirk Island, though wrongly placed on all
maps.



CHAPTER V

THE DEAD HEART


While the lonely, heart-broken girl sat in that tainted room, her whole
being bowed with grief, the drunken revellers shouting before her, many
thoughts passed and flashed across the highly-strung mind.

Position, before that brutal assault, was as nothing. It mattered not at
all that she looked on others enjoying themselves in the manner to them
most congenial, that she was outside all this, barred by the law of race
from having any part in their festivities, even had she wished it.

But why should men be cruel to her, she who had harmed no one? Why,
because she was Indian, should she be treated as animal? She knew she
was beautiful--once that knowledge had been the chief joy of the heart;
she had, to the ruin of that joy, succeeded in attracting the desire of
a handsome white; he had told her she was perfect in face and form, that
she was in fact the divine woman of Nature. Yet he had taken her, under
the seal of a false love, but to while away a few careless hours of
leisure.

He would not so have treated the woman of his own race. Had he ventured
to, others would have risen to prevent the insult Yet the same
justice-mongers would have raised no bar to the ruin of the poor girl,
more perfect, more trusting, infinitely more loving than her white
sister. She might be trampled on, despised, destroyed. And why? Because
she was merely the girl of the forest, the Indian, not a human being in
their sense of the word.

Her brain could not unravel this paradox.

The tears of blood dripped forth silently. Once had she been Menotah,
now time and treachery had changed that happy heart into dead fruit. The
lively girl had grown to a revengeful woman. In such a state, sympathy
would have been gall. True, there were none who would offer pity. Had
there been, what balm of healing could their compassion bring to that
diseased mind? Every incident in the bright past had faded, each hope
and warm pleasure had been shrivelled up like a dry leaf and swept away
For the one hour of deepest misery drives into oblivion all memory of
the lapsed years, when joy was ever present, into forgetfulness each day
of laughing sunshine, each hour of unburdened delight.

Each man or woman in the last despair can live upon the dreary phrase,
'There was a time.' All, whether in poverty, in death, or time of lost
honour, may repeat the sad and mocking words for what consolation they
contain. There was a time of youth, when sorrow was unknown, when the
mind was always a butterfly with its light hope, when the heart was hot
and large with love. It was summer then. Now it is winter--all is
coldness and desolation.

Yet the hour of vengeance approached, when that terrible life duty must
be discharged. She felt the substance warming in its poison by her
bosom, and, in the bitterness of her grief, smiled. She must make
entrance into her husband's room and find him alone. This drug had no
internal effect, though its commingling with the human blood meant a
death lingering and terrible in its slow wasting. She would place a
portion in her mouth, then approach the destroyer with tears and bitter
protestations of yet living love. As a last favour she would beg
permission to kiss the hand which so often had fondled her. This he
could not refuse. Then she would bite deeply with her poisoned teeth
into the flesh, and watch him, as he fell away from her, with the
fearful greyness spreading over his features, as the racking cold seized
every limb and made each muscle shiver. Afterwards she might go away and
look for peace.

Yet, supposing that he relented at the sight of her, that he renewed the
vow of love, that he swore again to be constant. Should she grant
pardon, if only for the sake of healing her own deep wound?

Never! Take again that which had been given in pure confidence, the gift
which had been despised? She had given him her best, her all. He had
broken it with scorn, had cast it down, and trampled on it with his
feet. Perhaps he might even now offer to return it as a proof of his
manly affection. What would be the value of such a gift? What would be
the true feeling at the heart of such a man?

Then forget the wronger, and search for the true-hearted. If some men
are faithless, there are others, and many, who are honourable. If there
is one enemy, there are others who are friends. Surely such a vile man
is not worthy of remembrance. Forget that black clouds of treachery have
ever darkened the sunshine happiness of a past.

Forget! This, alas, is the ever-present impossibility of life. None may
forget death, when its grim power lies across the body, nor may the
wound be disregarded, while the red blood pours therefrom. Can the heart
forget when it has been robbed of life, of health, of joy, of hope, of
all that makes the world beautiful? There is but one thing that in such
case may be brought as food for oblivion--the vanished happiness of the
past.

For this wound was deep as death itself. There was nothing left but
vengeance, and after that--after that--Rest comes only after duty.

How mighty were these white men in their creations! How weak were they
in themselves! For, in the lust after power, they had cast aside Nature
and her works. They knew nothing of the sacred fire, of the beauty of
life. Across the mighty water they came in great vessels to seize upon
the territories of the weak Indian. With might they had driven out
right, and made the former owners slaves in their own land. But when
these conquerors lay beneath the cold shadow of death, whom would they
call upon for aid? The Indian, with his deep knowledge of healing
medicines. When food was desired for the body, to whom would they turn
for assistance? To the Indian, who alone could lead them to the spot
where the animals lay concealed. When it was their wish to feast the
sight upon things of wonder, whom would they summon? The Indian, with
his inscrutable knowledge of Nature's inner secrets. Finally, when they
wished to learn the power of love, it were useless to search for it
among their own habitations. They must turn to the tents of the despised
race, then depart with knowledge gained. Yet, by the law of justice, the
white ruled the world. The Indian lay beneath his feet and looked to him
for life.

Stranger than all this was the story of the white man's God. If the old
mentor had not been advised wrongly, this God had walked the earth for
years, to teach His children the lesson of life and death. This God must
have taught them that women were of no account. One was to be taken and
sported with, then cast aside for another. Their tears and their sorrow
were to be laughed at and counted as nothing. This was strange teaching,
for why should the woman be held so inferior to the man?

But perchance the white man had many gods, who gave each a different
teaching. Yet no, it could not be. From all sides came the same
unvarying tale of treachery and desertion. There were many white men in
the country, yet they were all the same. All treated the women with
cruelty, all were inconstant. Some there were who married, then deserted
their wives for other women. The faith of the white God must be a cruel
one. She would have none of it.

Yet, in obeying the prompting of her own mind, the will of the Spirit
had been disobeyed. She had allied herself to one outside the tribe, and
now but suffered the penalty of wrong-doing. A man who could not love
joined to a woman with a heart. The result of such union meant misery to
one, death to both. The heart continued its musings on the mystery of
love.

Man is man, and woman, woman, whatever race or colour. They mingle
together and pass daily, until one is strangely stopped by power of
attraction for another. The man looks upon the woman, and sees that she
is beautiful. She regards him with the growing thought that he is good
and strong. Then, as the time passes, he comes to know that here is the
life being whom the Great Spirit has brought into creation and led
across his track, that he may take her to his home and call her his. For
she was brought into life for him, and he for her. So he takes her by
the hand in the evening time, and whispers in her ear, 'Let me twine my
life with yours. Let us live as one, with soul to soul, having one mind,
one wish.' Then she will agree, and the solemn compact is made, with the
Great Spirit as witness. He has promised to shelter and clothe her, to
care for her in time of sickness, to rejoice with her in happiness, to
grieve with her in sorrow. She, also, promises to lighten his burden of
daily toil with her soft love touch, to devote herself to him alone, to
prepare his comforts, to make his home the centre of heart joy. But what
shall be done to that man, who has fallen away from the great oath, by
her who has remained true and faithful?

Let him be forgotten and forgiven? It were impossible. The heart, when
it stirred into faint life, prompted otherwise. The teaching of the God
was different. What justice was there in treating the apostate as though
he had remained constant? Nor could it bring satisfaction to the
stricken mind to see the God performing the work of vengeance.

Was there strength at the heart? Resolution for the meeting and the
work? Doubtless, yet the strain and tension would be well nigh
unbearable. There would be the journey, the watching for the
opportunity, the anticipating of others, then the dread discovery before
the once loved. After that must come the actual bitterness of the
struggle. To look upon that face, which had been so indelibly stamped
upon the memory; to behold again that well-remembered form; to speak and
plead, with a love assumed, while hatred burnt within; to hold that
hand, which had so often caressed her in the days of innocence. All such
must be endured before commission of the act. The poison would be
dissolving and stirring within her mouth, mingling with the breath,
lying upon the tongue which had softly spoken to his ear the sounds of
love. Another moment of strength, one more wave of feeling, and the work
would be accomplished. The hand would be seized within hers, the touch
electrifying each subtle sense current in her body. She would raise it
to her lips, and she would kiss--yes, she would kiss first, then bite,
burying her white teeth in the flesh with the mad intensity of the
passion hatred, feeling his blood dripping and surging hotly across her
mouth, mingling with the poison, which must then commence a deathly
revelry along his veins. If the heart strength lasted for so long, all
would be well. She might then crawl away to a place of quietness, cast
down the aching body, and suffer the final pangs of ebbing life.

Was the heart of joy entirely dead? Had the single ice-stroke deprived
it of all consciousness, blotting out the warm love and flowing vitality
in a breath? The limb, frozen by the rigours of Arctic cold, is
wax-like, cold, and dead to feeling. Yet it may perhaps be gradually
revived and restored again to use and animation by assiduous attention.
Was there not then some sensitive fibre of the heart, at present numbed
by the intense frost of sorrow, yet which might be re-animated into at
least a portion of the old happiness by tender nurture? The heart is so
great in its far-reaching sympathies, so diversified in its range of
feeling. Was there not a spot, as yet untouched by the mortification,
one slight nerve which could yet respond to the anxious voice of
friend--more, to the soft sound of lover's voice? Assuredly not. The
heart was dead to feeling of human passion, alive only to its ice-cold
determination of duty. Nothing could stir its sluggish pulsations as it
lay within the flesh tomb. Not the excitement of her mission, nor the
taunts of those who should have been men enough to have protected her
from insult, not even the contemplation of again facing him she had so
wildly and so foolishly loved, could awake that heavy, torturing burden
within to a semblance of its past activity, to a shadow of the former
brightness. All light and colour had been stripped from life. Even the
body was cold, shrunken and debilitated. The mind had no resource to
lean upon, the body no satisfaction to hope for. For the latter there
remained death; the former looked only for silence.

A faint colour crawled into her thin cheeks and became constant,
increasing in intensity of shade. The remainder of her face and the dull
eyes became ghastly by contrast. Such a bright colour had once marked
the rich stain of health; then it had altered to the pure heart blush;
now it was the slow spreading fever of the mind. It seemed, indeed, as
though the fire which had long been consuming her heart, after burning
away the vitals, had spread to the exterior, there to consummate its
work and consume the poor remnants of life.

There was one more thought at the dead heart, one doubting and
perplexing query. Well might it trouble her, for none could have given
answer to that constant cry--what is the rest that comes to the mind of
sorrow after death?



CHAPTER VI

DURING THE DAY


Next morning the sun came up brightly in a clear blue sky. Two hours
later a hot wind began to blow softly from the direction of the
international boundary, bringing with it a heavy haze which soon settled
over the entire heaven. Then the breeze dropped, while a dead calm
brooded above and around Fort Garry. But the heavy atmosphere remained,
enwrapping the place in a sweltering, mist-like shroud, through which
the blinded rays of the sun fell sullenly in a stifling glare. Later,
the heat became fear fully intense. Men, scantily attired, might have
been seen stretched indolently in every patch of shade along the shelter
of each house, fanning their perspiring faces with wide-brimmed hats.
Insect pests, prominent among which appeared flying ants and malevolent
'bulldogs,' revelled in the thick air, to feed joyously off abundance of
human and animal flesh.

Two strange-looking apparitions dragged their limp bodies from the
depths of a profound ditch, which may even now be found to the west of
the modern city of Winnipeg, and gazed around, then at each other, in
utter bewilderment. Their faces were red with insect bites, and very
dirty; their clothes were torn and covered with grass marks; they wore,
in fact, the appearance of men who had unconsciously enjoyed a night
out.

Presently the more genial looking of the two bethought himself of
speech. 'Well, Dave, strikes me we've been camping out.' When the idea
fully struck him, he slapped his knee as he sat on the edge of the
ditch, and laughed lustily.

Dave was sulky and large headed. One side of his nose was much swollen,
while a great thirst irritated his soul. He merely growled forth an
incoherent reply.

'Tell you what it is,' continued the Factor. 'You've been loaded up
again, lad. Guess I was seeing you home, when you went to work, tumbled
into this ditch and dragged me in after you.'

The plausible explanation roused a sense of injustice in the other's
breast. 'Why didn't you get out and go home, then?'

'It's a steep fall, Davey. Mind I'm getting oldish now. Reckon the shock
would have stunned me. Must have been that, for I feel sort of queer in
the head.'

Dave was panting like a dog, and vainly endeavouring to moisten his
cracked lips. 'I've got a terrible thirst, Alf,' he exclaimed
pathetically. 'I'm pretty near bad enough to drink water.'

Here the other could sympathise. 'You're bad, Dave, all right,' he said.
'Now you're talking, I almost reckon something cool would sort of make
me easier. Come on, let's git.'

They dragged themselves upright to retrace the steps of the previous
night. 'Goldam!' exclaimed the Factor, 'it's going to be a scorcher
to-day.'

Presently they came out upon the Assiniboine. By a tacit and mutual
understanding they shambled down the long shelving bank. Then, stretched
at full length along the ground in luxurious fashion, they plunged their
faces into the cool stream and sucked up long draughts of the pure
water. Physically refreshed after this act of temperance, they sat for
some time on a grass patch renovating their garments.

'Tell you, Alf,' proclaimed Dave more good-humouredly, 'folks'll be
wondering what's lowered the river.'

They filled their pipes, though tobacco smoke was almost stifling in
that atmosphere. Then they struck along the homeward trail.

'I'm terrible mixed up, Dave,' confessed the Factor, after a silent
interval. 'Seems to me old Billy Sinclair turned up again last night. A
fellow gets hold of queer notions at times, don't he?'

Dave assented, though somewhat doubtfully. 'I've got a sort of idea
there was a whole crowd of us. A good crowd, you know, Alf, just having
a quiet talk.'

'Then some bell started a racket, and old Billy's ghost turned up to
scare us. Remember that, Dave?'

'Queer we should both get hold of the same notions, I mind hearing a
laugh right by my ear, and I said to myself, well, well, that's just
like old Billy's voice grin. Couldn't have been, Alf?'

'Don't see how,' said the Factor, unwillingly. 'Billy got fixed last
summer.' But then a direful thought came upon him. He stopped and
grabbed at his companion. 'You saw him, Dave? You saw Billy, same as
me?'

'I didn't say that, Alf. I couldn't swear to it. I sort of thought I saw
him. Put it that way, Alf.'

'How am I looking, Dave? Kind of wild the eyes--crazy, you know, Dave?'

'You look right enough. Eyes are same usual, 'cept for a bit of dirt
under them.'

'Well, well,' muttered the Factor, reassured, was terrible scared I'd
got 'em. But if I have, you've got 'em, too. That's sort of consoling,
anyway.'

Dave was alarmed. 'We'll have to fix this up right away. It's ter'ble
having to walk around, not knowing if your brains are right. What do you
think, Alf?'

McAuliffe was inclined towards the gloomy side. 'It's a matter of doubt,
clean enough. If we can see men that ought to be lying quiet in their
graves, it can't be anything but a bad sign. We'd best make off to bed,
Dave, and see if we can't sleep it off.'

'There's my nose, too. It's painful, I tell you. Feels as if someone had
been dancing on it. That's another mystery, Alf.'

'There's lots of 'em,' said the Factor, mournfully. 'How did we come in
that ditch, Dave? Billy's ghost couldn't have chucked us there. I'll
make inquiries soon as I get back to the hotel, and find out if they
know anything.'

'They wouldn't have seen Billy's ghost,' interrupted Dave.

'It's true enough, Dave. I tell you, I don't like it, for my head feels
a bit shaky. It would be terrible if we were both locked up in an
asylum.'

Dave shivered at the thought. 'I guess it's the heat, Alf,' he said
hopefully. 'I'm feeling a bit beetle-headed--but not crazy. No, Alf, not
crazy.'

'Then there was Captain smoking a cigar,' continued McAuliffe, blankly.

'I mind it. 'Twas how I reckoned the time watching it getting shorter.
Well, well, Alf, we've had strange dreams this night, sure.'

'It's been a terrible bad night, Dave,' replied the Factor, ominously.

Then they quickened speed, in spite of the increasing heat, anxious to
get back to the hotel and learn the worst. Their remaining remarks were
divided impartially between mutual sympathy for a terrible affliction,
and disputings as to whether the hunter's appearance had been real or
imaginary. McAuliffe's final opinion was that Sinclair had actually
appeared in the flesh, but that Dave was 'terrible crazy, anyhow.'

It was late afternoon before Sinclair felt himself disposed to stir
outside into the white, stifling glare. But business called him, so he
presently made off to attend to preliminaries of the approaching night
work. This accomplished, he turned towards the hotel where he had made a
dramatic appearance some hours earlier, but had not journeyed over half
the distance when he encountered no less a person than Captain Robinson,
as usual buttoned up to the neck in his blue coat, and pulling at a
formidable cigar. This latter gentleman appeared to have no appreciation
whatever of heat.

They linked arm in arm at once, though the hunter was unwilling to walk
abroad for any distance. 'Don't want Lamont to get sight of me,' he
said. 'It would scare him badly, I've no doubt, but then he might take
it into his head to clear out before night.'

'Which direction does he live?' asked the Captain.

Sinclair nodded his head backwards. ''Way north,' he said. 'Comfortable
little shanty. Married, too.'

'He's a daisy. Well, Billy, he's run down at last.'

'Sure enough,' agreed the hunter.

Then their conversation veered towards the events of the night
preceding.

'Wonder where Alf is,' said Sinclair.

'I've just come from the hotel. Fellow there said Alf and Dave Spencer
came tumbling in this morning, looking a bit used up, and crazy to know
whether you'd turned up last night. They got mixed up over the drinks,
so couldn't be sure whether they'd seen you or your ghost. Alf was
wonderful relieved when he found out 'twas you right enough. Took
another drink on the strength of it. He'd gone out again then. Guess
we'll find him bumming around some place.'

Sinclair chuckled. 'Alf can't be still long, when he's awake. Got lots
of life for his age.'

'Reckon I know him better than you, Billy,' said the Captain, who was
dropping into a talking vein. 'Last night he was accusing me of being
religious--so I am, mind you, Billy--but it may surprise you to hear
that Alf himself gets the fit at times. No, you never would suspect him
of getting any idea on religion. Before he went north as Factor, he was
clerk in a store down Port Arthur way. I knew him well then. He used to
have a whole lot of literary truck someone had sent him up from the
States. Always reading these books, he was. You know, Billy, they
weren't the sort of thing you could safely put before a Sunday school
class. Well, 'bout twice a year regular, I'd get a bundle from Alf with
a sort of note, which would read this way, "Got a bit of religious fit
on me. If I kept these, reckon I should tear them up. I'd be sorry for
that later. Sending them on to you to look after till I'm all right
again. One in the blue cover's best for reading." A week or so later,
another letter would turn up, something this way, "It's all right.
Captain. Religious fit over. Send along books soon as you can." One day,
though, the fit came on him sudden, before he had time to mail off the
books to me; so he burnt them all right on the spot. Tell you, he was
mad when the fit passed.'

They were now approaching the business portion, as represented by a
short length of sidewalk, and a few stores crowned by offices. When
about a hundred yards distant, they both became attracted by the
spectacle of a knot of people, in the centre of which gleamed hotly the
red coats of a couple of the militia, who at that time were responsible
for the orderly conduct of those living in the Red River Settlement. The
band approached slowly through the heat, while shouts and derisive
laughter ascended continuously. There was a certain deep roar, which
completely drowned all other voices.

The two outsiders became more interested. 'I'm dead sure that was Alf,'
said the hunter.

'There's fun going on, sure,' said the Captain, beaming at the thought.
'Let's get over there, Billy.'

Sinclair soon spoke again. 'It's only a blackleg pulled up, Captain.'

The soldiers just then had particularly strict orders to immediately
arrest all suspicious characters seen about the fort, because many
unprincipled actions had latterly been committed by members of the
loafer fraternity. Therefore the smallest unprincipled action
perpetrated in Garry during these days, immediately subsequent to the
Rebellion, seriously endangered personal freedom of action.

Then they came up to the excessively hot yet jubilant procession, which
was composed somewhat as follows,--

A motley crowd of loafers and deadbeats, who jeered in unison, and part
sympathy for the law-breaker, at the perspiring efforts of the police
behind; a plentiful sprinkling of the omnipresent small youth, and
ubiquitous dogs; then the culprit himself, half dragged, half supported
by the two soldiers; close behind appeared the master of ceremonies, one
Alfred McAuliffe, closely attended by a jovial party of grey-bearded
men, who strenuously seconded the efforts of the chief speaker by
pelting the prisoner with language and what missiles came convenient;
the procession closed by more loafers of assorted classes, with other
specimens of small fry, both human and canine.

All interest was centered upon the prisoner, who was being forcibly
projected along the strip of sidewalk, indulging in language more varied
than seemly. He was no less important a personage than Peter Denton.

The factor was in a condition bordering closely upon extreme bliss.
Shouting with the full force of his great voice, he strode along the
walk, inciting the already too-willing small boys towards the
persecution of the luckless prisoner. A huge felt hat crowned the red
face, which was glistening with heat and delight, while big drops
coursed unregarded along his nose, to be buried and lost within the
mazes of his thick beard.

'Reckon we've found Alf,' said the Captain, blowing a greasy smoke cloud
from his lips.

'Well, I should remark!' said the hunter.

'Pick up good chunks of mud, boys,' shouted the Factor. 'Don't bother
about the stones. Fifty cents to the younker who first catches him on
the nose.'

'Make way, there!' ordered the police.

The advance guard of deadbeats yelled derisively.

'What's he done?' asked the hunter, stopping an individual with a
bibulous nose.

'Hooked some bills that he found lying around a bit too handy--'bout
fifty dollars, they say,' came the answer.

'They'll tan his hide for that,' chuckled the Captain. 'Where was it?'

'Don't know for sure. But while ago he started in to paint the
Archbishop blue. Putting out some terrible talk he was.'

'They wouldn't stand that,' said the hunter.

'Bet you they wouldn't. The boys were hot at him, before the boiled
'uns[1] came round. Ter'ble thirsty day, ain't it?'

But this hint passed disregarded.

'Don't hit the bullet stoppers, boys. They're only for show, and won't
stand rough handling.' The Factor's bodyguard loudly applauded this
sally against the unpopular police force.

Then an old man, who was hobbling briskly along with the assistance of a
couple of sticks, delivered himself of an opinion. 'I tell you, boys
all, this chap's as crooked as the river. If I was asked to lend a hand
to splice him to a tree, don't know that I'd refuse.'

'Right enough. He's a teaser,' said another. 'He was swearing bad, right
out in the middle of the road, with ladies passing and all.'

'That's so. I was listening to him. After a while I swore back at him,
but it warn't any use,' said a fat man, with the air of one who has
executed an unpleasant duty. 'My pard, Sammy swore at him as well.
Didn't you, Sammy?'

He gazed round, but Sammy was only conspicuous by absence.

'He was using fearful words of blasphemy,' said a weird-looking
individual, in the mottled garb of a minister.

'You and he wouldn't quarrel on matters of religion, then,' retorted the
deadbeat of the bibulous nose. The noise became at once increased by an
exchange of vocal amenities, in which, be it said, the minister more
than held his own.

The procession reached a drinking saloon. Here it might have been
noticed that a perceptible diminution in the crowd took place. But the
Factor refused all such temptations, and remained faithful to the end.

'You're speaking your own language now, Peter,' he shouted, in his
stentorian voice. 'There's no hypocrisy in you now. Keep it up, boys!'

'Hit him for me!' said a malicious little man with a squint. 'That
blackleg cheated me out of five dollars the other day. I've never been
able to get square.'

'All your friends coming up, Peter,' continued McAuliffe. 'Goldam!
wouldn't have missed this--not for a hundred dollars, cash down!'

'What there, Alf!' cried the Captain.

McAuliffe turned, and recognised the two. 'Come on, Captain! Here's more
fun than a bagful of monkeys. Hello, Billy! Goldam! this is the first
time you haven't scared me. Join right on with the crowd. After we've
seen Peter to the cooler, we'll go and get some supper.'

They did as directed, while the Factor returned to business.

'It'll be a case of a big fine, or a few months on the stones!' he
shouted, with considerable unction. 'Know you haven't two five cent
pieces to rub together, Peter; so we'll have to part from you for a
time. Guess a few of the saloon keepers will have to shut up after
you're gone.'

The procession wheeled sharply round a corner, and made for the place of
detention. Here McAuliffe was compelled unwillingly to part from his
victim and return to the hotel. When there he put a leading question to
the hunter, 'Got the warrant out, Billy?'

Sinclair nodded. 'We're going round to net him soon as it's dark,' he
replied.

No question was asked as to the whereabouts of Menotah. Indeed, for the
time they had forgotten all about her. She was not one of them, she had
nothing to do with their affairs, so why should they think about her?
Her sorrow could not concern them.

[1] The soldiers.



CHAPTER VII

DISCOVERY


The cool breeze, which usually blows nightly in north and west, did not
rise after the sun setting. On the contrary, though the thick atmosphere
cleared slightly, and the wearisome white glare disappeared, oppressive
heat stillness grew yet more intolerable. Sleep in such a hot bath
became almost impossible. Shortly before dark, there were visible above
the southern horizon small clouds of a copper tint, which ascended with
peculiar, twisting motions, to break into incessant lightning on
reaching a certain higher point.

That portion of the prairie, which receded from the north wall of the
fort, was known as the least wholesome quarter in the district. It was
infested by a cosmopolitan crowd of the poorest class, chiefly Jews and
half-breeds, whose miserable shacks were scattered everywhere within
dirty enclosures. Beyond this unfragrant belt were several small houses
of light framework, surrounded with high fencing, which might almost
have been dignified by the title of palisade. The furthest of these
improved dwellings was the first to show a light on that evening. A lamp
stood near the ground floor window, which was standing open, and cast
long, yellow rays across the open space in front.

The dark figure of a solitary woman came from the deep shadows beneath
the north wall, and made in the direction of this house. Though her feet
were bare, she walked indifferently, without flinching, over the broken
fragments of bottles and other refuse which everywhere strewed the
grass. Her features were concealed by a black cloak wrapped round head
and shoulders. Yet, even so, at times might be seen the quick glitter of
determined eyes as she glanced suspiciously towards the occasional
figures that drifted along distantly in the gathering gloom. She passed
from grimy tent to tarred shanty, until the unsavoury quarter had been
left behind. At length she reached the tall fence which protected the
house where burnt the guiding lamp. Here she paused, as though the
journey's limit had been attained, and crouched into the long grass,
half concealed by a bush maple which sprang up alongside the fence.
Eagerly, as the tiger lying in the jungle for its prey, she kept her
gaze fixed upon the illuminated window, which was scarcely more than a
dozen paces distant.

By this time it was quite dark. A few gauzy moths and cumbersome beetles
circled drearily round the drooping flower heads. The night air was
stifling. Soon soft lightning began to play incessantly along all parts
of the sky.

The woman remained bent in her cramped position, unconscious of the
deadness, of sharp pricking of the limbs, disregarding the wounds in the
soles of her feet, where blood trickled forth slowly. Her straining eyes
were constantly fixed ahead. She could not note such trivial torments as
attacks of insect or any mere suffering of the body.

A sullen roar broke from the south and trembled along the ground, while
a faint air wave rippled through the night. Then silence and heat
settled down again.

But, before the echo of that sound had rolled itself away across
prairie, a deep groan burst from the woman's lips as she sank back in a
trembling heap. Every muscle in her body shuddered; her mad fingers
fought into the dusty turf; she sobbed and wailed so piteously that any
chance listener might well have wondered at so great a sorrow, yet
withal so quietly that the sounds covered a very slight interval. This
was weakness, but nature dies hard.

For in the full light of the lamp stood two figures within that room--a
man, and close to him a girl, slender and dark. His arm was encircling
her waist, she was pressed to him in an embrace, while he was looking
down upon her upturned face with a smile--doubtless, also, with words of
love.

This was an ordinary sight, surely, that of a greeting between husband
and wife on the former's return from daily toil. The woman in the dark
heat outside was surely strangely influenced by trifles.

During those past few days Lamont had been making mental preparations
for departure. He felt that his continued presence in Garry was
perilous. Any day there might enter the fort some Indian or half-breed,
who could recognise his former leader, and who might feel inclined to
place himself in comfortable circumstances by denouncing him to the
Government. Sinclair, his especial enemy, had been dead for some time.
Nothing but an accident could now divulge his identity as the notorious
White Chief. Still, with the roving passion of the adventurer, he longed
for another country, for fresh faces.

He had practically abandoned the idea of instituting a search for the
river of gold which lay hidden in the distant north. The journey was a
difficult one, and failure probably lay at the end. Then it would be
almost impossible to find companions in whom he could trust--to venture
alone would be madness. Besides, once in that district, there lay the
danger of crossing some Indian warrior, who would strive to avenge
Menotah's lost honour.

So far, the attraction which had bound him down to the western land was
his real affection for his dark Canadian wife. He had been duly married
to Marie by the rites of her religion, and for the time--as with
Menotah--he was quite satisfied with his heart choice. But Sinclair had
spoken truly to the Indian girl when he said, 'Lamont can't love; he
hasn't got the heart.' So he had recently made the inevitable discovery
that her presence had ceased to bring him pleasure; in short, that he
was growing tired of her, as he became weary of anything which had a
tendency towards daily repetition. This fact Marie, with woman's quick
discernment, perceived, and--not possessing Menotah's tender
devotion--resented, as she had indeed a right to do. Slight quarrels had
arisen, like first mutterings of the yet distant storm, which could not
fail to widen the breach which had been already formed by his growing
indifference. On more than a single occasion actual bitterness had shown
itself, and though such scenes more usually ended with kiss and fresh
protestation of love, memory survived, converting the lip promise into a
mechanical action which had no consent of the heart.

So Lamont was only now waiting for a favourable opportunity to steal
away from the country, and join the forces of some insurrection in any
other part of the world. His wife would be left behind as a matter of
course. There were women to be found everywhere. Doubtless he could
discover many as beautiful in the new land of his choice. Had Sinclair
set the wheels of the law revolving but a month later, he might have
found himself too late.

On that particular day they had quarrelled--the heat had made him
irritable--but as evening approached and an indefinite feeling of fear
tormented the mind, he had made such humble overtures towards
reconciliation that Marie was astonished at the change. As she was
sincerely fond of her husband, when it so happened that his moods agreed
with hers, she was perfectly willing to meet his advances half way.
Consequently it appeared that the threatened storm had been averted.
Then the lamp was lighted in the little sitting-room overlooking the
dark prairie, the window was left open on account of the heat, while
they listened to the first smothered exclamation of the distant thunder.

Then Lamont began to experience that dim presentiment of approaching
evil, which is such a real and such a terrible truth. He became suddenly
so entirely lonely, and in so fearful a mood, that he was compelled to
turn to his weak wife for protection as well as sympathy. It was
impossible to remain any time in one position, while thought became
intolerable.

'How irritable you are!' she said, when he began to pace up and down the
room.

'The place is full of mosquitoes. It is the lamp light. Shall I shut the
window?'

'If you like,' she replied. 'They don't trouble me, though.'

He did not go to the window, but sank into a chair. 'Marie!' he called
suddenly.

She looked up in some wonder, when he called again. Then she crossed to
his side. He threw his arm round her and drew her on his knee, to
whisper in her ear, 'You love me, _chérie_, don't you?'

She did not know what to make of this sudden change of front. Somewhat
doubtfully she replied, 'Yes, Hugh, when you're nice to me.'

'You don't say that in the way you used to.'

'And you haven't kept all the promises you once made. You were never to
speak a harsh word to me; never dream of quarrelling with me; I should
always have my wish; you would always love me devotedly; and--oh! I
don't know how many more.

He put his hand over her mouth, then caressed her half fondly, half
nervously.

'I always love you, _chérie_. You know I do, so you must forgive me. And
you will always remain faithful to me, won't you?'

'Yes,' she said carelessly.

'You will always take my part? You will protect me--'

She gave a short laugh. 'How can I protect _you_?' she cried, with some
scorn. 'What's the matter with you, Hugh?'

He passed a hand across his forehead. 'I'm unsettled. I hardly know what
I'm talking about to-night.'

'Go and lie down. I'll bring you something to drink presently.'

He took no notice of her words, but pressed her to him eagerly.

'You will never desert me, Marie mine? You will be faithful to me
always?'

'Of course,' she replied petulantly. 'At least so long as you are
faithful to me--and country,' she added, as an afterthought.

He started wildly, all his worst fears aroused. 'What has that to do
with us? If I am true to you, why think about country?'

The small patriot became infected by his strange mood. 'It is the true
man's first thought. Home and country must always go together.'

'Pshaw! What has it done for us? If it is to a man's interests to go
against his people, let him do so.'

He was almost startled at the horror on her face. 'Fight against your
own land, against your own people! Do you mean that?'

'Why not?' he said huskily.

'It is the vilest thing a man can do,' she cried hotly. 'Look at the
Rebellion that is just over. Don't you think with me that the traitor
they call the White Chief is an evil spirit, and not man at all?'

The next instant she had approached him with solicitude, for his face
was ghastly. 'Why, what is it, Hugh? You are not well.'

'The heat,' he muttered. 'I'm faint.'

Then there came a loud, hollow knock upon the outer door.

Lamont forgot his infirmity and sprang up excitedly. 'What is that?'

'I believe you are crazy, Hugh!' said his wife angrily. 'The paper, of
course.'

'Don't go, Marie,' he pleaded. 'Stay here with me. I'm not feeling well.
I don't want to be left alone.'

She stopped irresolutely at his side, and looked up at the nervous face.
He was greatly excited, and trembling. With the woman's sympathy for
suffering, she placed both hands on his shoulders, then said kindly,
'I'm just going for the paper. Then I will sit by you and read the
latest news.'

With a soft hand she pushed back the hair from his forehead. It was
moist with heat and his fear of the unknown.

'You really are unwell.'

He put his arms round her; then, yielding to a sudden impulse, he said,
'Kiss me, _chérie_.'

She did so, though with a perplexed smile, and with no conception of the
idea that this was the last embrace which was to pass between them. As
she released herself, the deep roar broke forth again from the southern
night.

'The storm's coming,' he muttered, thinking on the night of Muskwah's
end, 'It's the only way such a day could end.'

She was not gone more than a few minutes, yet when she returned her
husband was standing near the window in a pitiful state of alarm. As she
came questioningly to him, he clutched her arm with the weak action of
the child who seeks protection from invisible dangers.

'There was a face--a white, revengeful face.'

'Where?' she asked, quickly with a strange glance. 'At the window. Only
for a moment. The eyes were terrible. There was death in them. Didn't
you hear me call out?'

Marie advanced to the open window, where a few mosquitoes sang their
mournful, high-pitched note. There was nothing, except the soft
lightning playing incessantly through the hot air. 'It was your
imagination,' she said, with a certain wondering contempt. 'Come and see
for yourself.'

But he did not stir. 'I hear footsteps. There are men coming through the
grass.'

'Well, the prairie is public. People have a right to pass if they like.
_Ciel!_ Get rid of this folly of yours.'

She drew him to a chair, then seated herself beside him, and opened the
single vilely printed sheet published in Garry at that time under the
title of newspaper. That evening it was larger than usual.

He was completely beneath her influence, so obeyed her light touch,
casting many furtive glances in the direction of the window, which was
constantly flooded in a pale blue light. The thunder now commenced to
roll and roar through the stifling night.

Outside, between the fence and the bush maple, still crouched the dark
figure, never shifting her position, and always gazing into that room.
Occasionally she could even hear a portion of the conversation.

Marie's attention was drawn at once towards the black lettered headlines
of the opening column. 'It is an account of Father Lecompte's death,'
she said solemnly.

'He is dead, then?' said Lamont, blankly, his thoughts on other things.

'You know he is. Didn't you listen to the bell tolling last night? You
said it kept you awake.' Then she began to read from the closely printed
sheet. 'The Archbishop has lost his right hand. The good priest, who
fought with him so loyal-heartedly in his endeavours to quell the Indian
rising, will be seen in our midst no more. During the Rebellion, when
there were traitors--'

'The Rebellion!' he interrupted violently. 'You're always talking on
that. I tell you, it's over and done with. I don't want to hear about
the priest's death, Marie. Heaven knows this night is dismal enough
without making it worse by reading such things.' Ho shuddered as he
spoke.

With a little petulant movement his wife turned over the sheet. Her eyes
were immediately caught by another headline, announcing far more
significant intelligence. She read the paragraph that followed quickly,
then turned to her husband, who sat motionless in his chair.

Sinclair, the simple-minded hunter, had reckoned without the journalist
in the laying of his plans. He knew nothing of the searching curiosity
of the reporter, with whom nothing is sacred, reputation least of all.
During a moment of incautious jubilation in official circles, the secret
must have leaked into the ears of clerks, each a type of garrulity, and
the keen-scented news maker, who could track copy in the air, had made
the tidings his prey. The newspaper is always the criminal's most
faithful ally, the friend when everything human has dropped away from
him. Now it came very near to wrecking Sinclair's well-devised plans.

Marie spread the sheet across her knee and smoothed it out excitedly.
'Listen, Hugh. Here is something that really will interest you.'

He made no reply, nor was there any curiosity in his manner. Full of the
startling intelligence, she continued quickly,--

'It is about the White Chief. He has been discovered.'

She bent her head to read from the paper, but at the moment a strange
sound of deep gasping came to her ears. She looked up hurriedly, and
then her own face for the moment grew white with fear.

He stood in the centre of the room, a livid hue crossing his face, knees
knocking together in weakness of extreme terror, hands clutching at the
table for support. His entire being was transformed.

Marie came forward, trembling. 'What is it? Tell me, Hugh--'

He reached out towards the paper, and tried in vain to speak. The shock
had been so terrible, so fearfully sudden.

'It is _that_, then,' she said, with a strange light growing in her
eyes. 'Would you like to hear the rest?'

She held the sheet beneath the lamplight. 'Information has been given by
a man who for some time was believed to be dead, hunter Sinclair of St
Andrews.'

It was all over now. There could be nothing worse than this, so
strength, the unreasoning strength of despair, liberated his tongue and
brought energy back to the limbs. He forgot the presence of his wife,
everything save his awful position. He stood surrounded by a blood-red
atmosphere, where lightnings blazed and thunders crashed; before him he
saw the limp figure of Riel swaying at the rope's end; in his ears
sounded the mad shouts and execrations of the people. He was a man by
himself, outside all mercy, with a country shrieking for his blood.

'Sinclair is dead!' he cried, in an awful voice. 'He never rose, never
moved. I could not have missed my aim. He is dead--dead.'

His wife shrank in her turn, the horrible truth worming into her heart.

'Speak!' she shouted at him. 'Tell me the meaning of this.'

He did not notice her. 'There is no one else. Spencer had no proofs.
Sinclair is dead.'

He shuddered frightfully, then staggered across the floor.

Motion removed the numbness from his mind. The first paralysing wave of
terror had passed, so now he saw again clearly. He looked upon his wife,
with hatred growing in her eyes; he thought of the possible foes already
in wait outside the door; he beheld the window, and knew that salvation
lay there.

Thither he went, with an attempt at a smile upon his features. Ah, there
was shelter and life in that dark night. But then the lightning burst
forth wildly, converting the outer blackness into a weird atmosphere of
shuddering blue.

He fell back with a shout no effort could repress. In the brief space of
light had been plainly visible a knot of men crossing the prairie in
that direction.

But his wife had seen them, too. The dreadful truth, so far a suspicion,
now became a certainty. Unwittingly she had taken to husband the vilest
and most cowardly of all her country's treacherous sons.

'I see,' she said, bending forward like the snake about to strike. 'You
are afraid of these men. They are coming here. Perhaps you know why.'

One minute of perfect coolness, and he would be safe. He could escape by
the door, pass out at the back, reach open prairie, then make for the
bush. None could touch him there. But he must first secure his weapons,
which lay in the next room.

So he laughed feebly, and smiled in ghastly fashion upon his wife. 'It's
all right, Marie, _chérie_. The heat has knocked me over altogether. I'm
just going out for a bit.'

But as he crossed the floor, she stepped forward and put herself in his
way.

'Where are you going?'

His tongue and throat were parched. All he could say was, 'I'll be back
in a few minutes. I can't tell you.'

She held his arm. 'Before you go, tell me what you know of the White
Chief?' There was a pause, broken by the rattling of the thunder, then
her voice came again, 'Why did you try to kill Sinclair?'

He tried to move onward--naturally the one idea was immediate
flight--but she hung to him.

'I can't tell you. I know nothing.'

Then she placed herself between him and the door. Her face was hard and
stern.

'You shall not go. I believe you know who this villain is.'

Again he tried to laugh. 'Yes--but I couldn't tell you, or anyone. He's
a friend, who often has done me good service. I can't forget him now. He
lives in Garry, so I am going out to warn him. I shouldn't like to see
him hung.'

The last words were spoken in a thick whisper, while he turned a
frightened glance towards the window.

'You liar!' she burst forth. 'Why did you speak to me on fidelity to
country? What was the reason of your fear, and why did you see an enemy
in every passer by? Why did you almost lose reason when I read that
paragraph from the paper? Why did you yourself confess that you tried to
shoot Sinclair?'

Deceit was now a useless weapon. The last resource lay in the power of a
terrible name coupled with brute force.

'Damn you,' he said in a soft, sinister whisper, which had often aided
him better than muscular strength, 'I AM THE WHITE CHIEF! Stand aside,
and let me pass.'

'Never!' Then she compressed her lips fiercely.

He clenched his fists and made a menacing movement. 'Come away from that
door!'

'You shall not pass.'

Then she locked the door and drew forth the key.

'It will have to be over your body. The choice is yours.'

She raised a denouncing finger, and met him with the single word,
'Traitor!'

He was cool again now. 'Too late for that,' he began, but her passion
was fully aroused.

'See! Those men are waiting outside for a signal. They have come to
arrest you. I shall see you hung at Regina, if the people do not kill
you here.'

Her concluding words were almost drowned in a crash of thunder. A lurid
picture of the bloodthirsty lynchers, with a prospect of horrible death
by burning, flashed across his mental vision. Weakness returned, and he
trembled.

'There are footsteps. There is someone coming up to the window.'

He would have rushed there, but dared not. Escape by the door was his
only chance.

'Dare to lay a finger on me, traitor. I am a free woman now. Your
perfidy has divorced me from you.'

'The key!' he cried in hoarse tones many times.

'There is the open window. Leave the house that way. The soldiers are
waiting to receive you.'

The sweat broke on his forehead. 'I give you another chance. Stand
aside, and let me pass.'

She drew herself up proudly. 'No man shall ever say of Marie Larivière
that she feared a traitor to her country.'

This return to her maiden name showed him how completely isolated he was
from all human sympathy.

He swore fiercely, then sprang forward at her. But the little patriot
was ready; she doubled her fingers and struck him across the eyes.

_'Perfide!'_

The bold action aroused his entire fury. He seized her by the waist and
flung her brutally to the floor. Bravely she clutched the key within her
two hands. He bent over, and furiously struggled to wrest it from her
grasp. But it is no easy task--even with far greater strength--to open
the fist which is closed in a grim determination. She panted and sobbed,
yet fought nobly; he swore and threatened, but could not succeed.

It was terrible. The sweat flowed from his face. Any second he might
find himself surrounded by soldiers and his last hope gone. The demon
within triumphed. He struck the girl twice upon the side of the head.
She sank upon the floor, while the fingers yielded limply. Feverishly he
clutched the key, again seeing the world of liberty opening and
spreading before him.

He reached the door. With shaking hands he endeavoured to force the key
into its place.

Suddenly a new flood of terror passed into his being and robbed the
hands of strength. They were unmistakable sounds in the room. Someone
had entered. As he started round, a low voice gave utterance to the
pitiless words,--

'It is no good.'

Standing in the centre of the floor was a woman, barefooted, bareheaded,
with hair streaming wildly over her shoulders, with hungry set look on
her colourless face.



CHAPTER VIII

RETRIBUTION


It was Menotah.

Calmly she looked again upon her betrayer, the man who had won her
heart, he who had lightly stolen her happiness. No shadow of doubt
crossed her brow, nor was there; any sign of swerving from the path of
duty in her passionless face. She had completed a dreadful journey to
avenge, as her religion directed. Now that the moment had arrived, she
would not be the one to display lack of resolution.

And again he looked upon her, his former and present lawful wife. Even
then, with vision obscured, with eyes failing by heat and his fervent
fear, he marvelled at the complete change which time and his perfidy had
worked. There was something familiar in that figure, in the stern
features, in the cold voice as it delivered its mortal message. Could
this hard-featured woman have owned at any time some connection with the
laughing girl he had taken to himself in the lone forests of the
Saskatchewan? Yet, if so, where were the eyes that always danced with
joy, where was the colour that had played like chequered sunshine across
her cheeks? What sickness had robbed her step of buoyancy, what hand had
deprived her of all the numerous graces that had contributed towards
making her so adorable a thing of life?

Even in that moment of selfish terror he could realise that Menotah had
vanished with all her youth and beauty; that, from the ashes of her dead
heart had sprung another being, bearing her name, though lacking all her
womanly qualities. This figure had but one object in view. The words of
the careless, beautiful Menotah of the summer forest rang forth with the
thunder, and flashed within the lightning in letters of fire, _'If
anyone should kill my heart with sorrow, I would give life and strength
to the cause of vengeance. I should never turn back!'_

Yet, outside everything remained quiet, save for the tumult of the
elements. There were no visible signs of other enemies. This woman,
though terrible perhaps to gaze upon, was devoid of strength. As he had
no feeling apart from his personal safety, he began to breathe again.

But she divined his thoughts. Deliberately she drew from the folds of
her cloak a small knife, then, with the indifference of a butcher about
to slaughter, examined the point. The brightness of the metal was dulled
at the edge by a brown stain.

Stealthily she came round the room and crept near the door. He was
fascinated by her eyes, and fell back as she approached. Then she spoke
in a dull voice, 'There is poison on the knife point.'

Then he understood the deadly nature of that brown stain. She slipped
into his late position near the door, still watching him with eyes that
never twitched or closed.

Soon Marie recovered partially and dragged herself to a sitting posture.
With large, wondering eyes she stared upon the intruder.

'I am changed since the time you last saw me,' said Menotah, in
passionless tones. 'Why am I another woman, while you remain the same
man?' She paused, as though waiting for reply. When none came she
continued, 'I will tell you.'

But she did not, for with the thought came other recollections--the aged
Antoine and his last weak words; her dying father and the oath she had
sworn over him, using words which might not be lightly set aside.
Already had she failed in the appointed course of action. She was
threatening, where she should be pleading. Still, before the final act,
she would trifle with this man, as he had played with her. She would put
his courage to the test. But first she turned to Marie, and said in her
_patois_ French,--

'Do you love this man?'

The girl was half dazed, but she directed her gaze towards the pitiless
face. Then Menotah, attracted possibly by sympathy for one who was to
suffer her pangs, drew nearer and looked closely at her features. Then
she said, 'You are his wife?'

The other moistened her dry lips. 'I was,' she muttered.

'He deserted me for you.' She hung on every syllable. 'When he said he
loved me, you were at his heart; when he caressed me, he thought of you;
when he spoke tenderly, he forgot it was not you he was addressing.'

An angry flush of shame crossed Marie's brow. 'He never cared for
me--the traitor. And I hate him.'

Menotah turned. 'So; she who was your wife before your own people has
nothing for you but hatred.' Then she picked up the key, which Lamont
had dropped in his sudden fright. 'It is time,' she said quietly, then
unlocked the door and threw it wide open. She cast aside the cloak,
while the knife glittered as she stretched forth her arm. 'You may pass
if you wish.'

He was stupefied at this new move, and wondered at her meaning. Beyond
he could see the lamp light flickering in the hall, and further, half
hidden in shadow, the dim outline of the outer door. In that direction
lay liberty. How simple it was! A quick bound forward, two or three
steps, and life would be his again.

But then the cold voice struck on his ears again,--

'First I will warn you. As you pass I shall strive to wound you. A touch
with this knife is death.'

He stood irresolutely, while a contemptuous smile broke over Marie's
white countenance.

'I am waiting for you.'

He gazed from the open door to that terrible window, where the dreaded
power of justice perhaps even then lay concealed.

'It will be over in a single moment.'

He tried to nerve himself for the act. With a single motion of his hand
he might hurl the slight girl from the door; with one blow of his
powerful fist he could paralyse that arm. But she was quick, and
fearfully determined. The risk was too great.

'Coward!' she burst forth in a first expression of passion. 'I am but a
weak woman--how weak you can hardly tell. But even for your liberty you
will not attack me, for the gift of your life you dare not pass me.'

There was silence, until the splashing of heavy raindrops on the shingle
could be distinctly heard.

'Hark! there are other sounds than the rain and the thunder.'

'I hear footsteps,' said Marie, in a barely intelligible voice.

Menotah barred the doorway with a trembling arm. 'Your chance is gone,'
she said, yet with a peculiar deliberation. 'You know why these men have
come. You do not deserve to live, for you have been false to everyone.
They will take you with them, and treat you as they did Riel. They will
hang you as they did him.'

She fell back as she spoke against the wall, while the hot breath choked
her.

Another thought occurred to him. If he could reach the next room he
might obtain his weapons. Armed, he would be not only a brave man, but a
formidable foe. But Menotah still guarded the threshold, the deadly
instrument in her hand, her eyes following his every movement.

'You cannot escape,' she murmured with low, fearful accent. There was a
new expression upon her face which Marie wondered at. 'You are captured
by a weak woman. You did not think to set eyes on me again. You thought
I should crawl away to some quiet spot, there to sob away my life as the
wounded deer. Yet I have followed your footsteps to repay you for the
wounds you have inflicted upon me. The time is here now--the hour for
vengeance.'

The last words fell from her lips in a frightened whisper. For the first
time since that fatal night of desertion, emotion awoke in her
colourless face, while a strange moisture started into her eyes.

But where was the plan for vengeance, and why did she not follow it out?
For this meeting she had waited and planned. Now it had arrived. Why did
she not make use of opportunity and act quickly? The deadly drug still
lay unused in her bosom. Why did she not make use of it? _Because she
had then forgotten its very existence._

Again came the sounds On this occasion Lamont fancied he could detect a
creaking of the storm door outside.

'They are coming,' said Marie, in a hushed tone.

Menotah looked upon her wildly. She repeated the words as though
doubtful of their full significance. Then in a tremulous half whisper,
'Perhaps they are all round the door. He might escape by the window.'

'Escape!' half shouted Marie, excitedly.

Menotah's face had broken and changed, like the sky after a storm. The
cruelty had melted and gone. A look of fear crept into her pain-filled
and lustrous eyes. Suddenly, after a short and mighty struggle with
herself, she turned and loudly cried at Lamont,--

'The window!'

The guilty man started at the change in that voice. Again he saw Menotah
in the full sunshine, flitting along by the high cliff of the
Saskatchewan, with bright song and laughter.

'There is still one chance left.'

Lamont could not move. He was divided between paralysing dread and
suspicious perplexity. But she came towards him. He shrank from the
knife with the brown stained point. Fearlessly she took him by the arm,
then compelled him across the room.

'See!' Her voice was low and fervent. 'You may yet escape, with this
knife to aid you. Make for the bush on the river's opposite bank. There
you will be safe.'

There was a trembling pity in every motion, while her limbs shook with
weakness. Upon her he turned his dazed eyes. Then he saw that her cheeks
were burning, as though with fever, that the look on her face was wild
and cunning.

'Let me go for my rifle,' he said.

'You cannot. They will see you. Go! For the love you bore me
once--escape.'

Marie passionately intervened. 'You have jested with him enough. Take
care, or he will snatch the knife from you.'

'Jesting!' cried Menotah, piteously. 'Ah, no. I am the coward now. I
loved him. I gave him my heart and wrapped my soul round his life. Now I
am called to avenge. I cannot. I cannot. The pain has returned--back to
my heart. I thought the flame dead and cold. But it has sprung up again.
It lives! It lives!'

She sprang at Lamont, and hung to him with an embrace. 'There is still
time. Go! Go!'

'Stop!' cried Marie, furiously. 'You are in league with him. He shall
not escape.'

'Do not listen to her. See! I will hold her arms.'

Marie advanced with a loud cry, but Menotah was upon her with all her
lithe strength, holding her back, stifling her screams.

'The knife!' cried Lamont, with his usual selfish thought.

She threw it at him, but in the effort Marie cast her aside. Frantically
she cried, in a piercing voice which rose above the storm, 'Help! He is
escaping. The window!'

A second of silence, then there came deep voices and sounds of hurried
footsteps.

'There is death on the point of the knife.' Again she held back the
struggling Marie.

Lamont sprang to the window. Freedom was his. Another second--one more
step forward, then the darkness would have received him, the night would
have covered his flight. But that step was not to be made.

A man rose up suddenly from the gloom, a spare man with thin, nervous
face. There could be no passing, no resisting, this new opponent. He had
not strength to raise his hand against that figure.

'Sinclair!'

The single word burst from him as he fell back in a bath of terror.
There was no hope now.

For hostile sounds uprose on every side. Like a man in a dream, he
watched an officer, followed by two soldiers, entering the room at the
door. These men were deemed sufficient to arrest one who would be
unprepared. A larger band might have excited suspicion; besides, there
might still be partisans of the White Chief hanging round the enclosures
of the fort.

But as these entered a dreadful cry rang forth. Menotah was upon her
knees, crying bitterly in this new sorrow. 'We may not turn back, if we
have sworn to hate. If we pray for vengeance, the God will force it on
us against the will.'

Sinclair advanced with an oath, and took her by the shoulder. 'What are
you doing here? Helping him to escape--eh?'

'Yes,' cried Marie, fiercely. 'And she would have killed me--the
savage!'

'You'd better get out while we give you the chance,' said the hunter,
'or you'll be taken and hung along with him.'

She raised her streaming eyes to his, until the grandeur of her romantic
beauty touched even him. 'I care not. I am woman again now. That is why
I could not harm him whom I had loved. Take me and hang me. See! I ask
it of you. It will be pleasure after my suffering.'

Trembling and hopeless, Lamont stood against the wall, though the knife
gleamed threateningly in his hand. Sinclair covered the window, one of
the soldiers was backed against the closed door, before him stood the
officer. The latter held a bright object, which glittered ominously
beneath the lamp light.

'Come, Sinclair,' said the latter, 'leave that _nitchi_ girl alone. She
can't trouble our plans, but if we fool around here for long, some may
turn up who will. We may have been watched coming here, and, mind, the
Rebellion hasn't been long over.'

'You're right,' said the hunter. 'Well, I'm ready.'

The officer pointed. 'This is our man--the White Chief, eh?' he asked,
in his strident tones.

Fiercely Menotah turned upon him. 'No! it is not. This man is innocent.
The White Chief is dead. I know he is. I myself saw him--'

'Quit your darned noise,' interrupted the man. 'What the devil have you
to do with it? I'll fire you out of the window, if you talk another
word.'

'That's the White Chief, all right,' said Sinclair, with a slow, savage
satisfaction. 'He's your man, officer.'

Menotah could not be repressed. 'You dare not touch him. That knife he
holds is poisoned.'

The men looked at each other. Close quarters with the traitor meant
certain death. But the officer was equal to the emergency.

'I've got a warrant for your arrest, and I'm going to take you alive or
dead. I allow I'd rather have you alive, so I'm going to give you two
minutes by my watch to chuck down that knife. None of us mean to be
fixed by any more of your dirty tricks.' Then he raised his hand, with
the revolver levelled against the prisoner's heart.

The last faint hope died, though he still mechanically retained his
grasp of the knife.

Sinclair chuckled. 'I reckon I shall get square for that scar on my
shoulder now,' he muttered.

Then Menotah passed before him and knelt before the officer. She lifted
her beautiful moist eyes, with a last request, 'May I speak to him
first--just for one moment? He was my husband once.'

The others burst into coarse laughter. Then the officer pushed her
aside. 'I told you not to say another word, didn't I?'

'Don't let her speak to him,' cried Marie. 'She wants to free him.'

'How can I do so?' flashed Menotah. 'There are four men here, and I am
unarmed. What can I do?'

'Better put her out of the house,' said Sinclair.

Her face was grand as she turned at him. 'Who saved your life in the
forests of the Saskatchewan?'

The hunter turned red, and muttered something awkwardly.

'Ah! let me wish him good-bye. He was my husband, and I love him.'

Her excitement, the heat of returning passion, had made her again
lovely. The hair fell in luxurious disorder, the bosom heaved, and eyes
glittered between wet lashes. The officer observed all of these things,
and did not give the order for her ejection. On the contrary, he bent
down and whispered something into her ear. The others guessed what this
was, and laughed again.

She did not flinch when the proposal was made. It was indeed what she
had expected. 'Honour is nothing to me now.'

'It may be risky all the same,' said Sinclair, addressing the man in
command.

She smiled bitterly. 'Are you still afraid of one weak girl?'

The officer bit at his moustache. Then he said, 'You can't have more
than half a minute.'

'She may give him something,' cried Marie.

'Hold my hands.' She stretched them forth proudly.

The officer nodded, and the two soldiers came forward. They placed
themselves on either side of the girl, and took each a hand. Then they
crossed the floor.

She twisted herself in front of the men, who stood well back from the
dreaded knife, and spoke a few words into Lamont's ear. Afterwards the
three stepped back, and left him standing by the side of the lamp.

The officer pulled out his watch. 'The two minutes start now,' he said
briefly.

Menotah drew near his side, falling a little behind in the deep shadow.
Perhaps her beauty had never been so remarkable as at that moment. Her
eyes were glowing with unnatural fire, the light intensified by dark
lines beneath, and brilliant scarlet of the cheeks. The lips were parted
half painfully. She was breathing fast, and fighting for each deep
breath. For this was all the last effort of nature. The whole of her
remaining life strength was being cast into one supreme endeavour to
save the man who had wronged her. That colour was but the hot passion
fever of the mind; the brightness of the eyes was closely akin to the
light of madness. During that awful day she had not tasted food; sleep
had scarcely been hers for the past month; now she was nothing but a
shell, containing a single spark of fire, which would flash once, then
die away for ever.

The officer had raised his revolver, and now covered Lamont. The traitor
stood motionless in the same spot, still clutching the death knife. The
seconds of time which made up that first minute ticked away without
action on his part.

Lamont glanced wildly at the dark window, the silent soldier guarding
it, then at the standard lamp which stood between them. Every eye was
upon him. Sinclair knew that his triumph was complete. Marie, with large
eyes of hatred, regarded the man who had won her young affections and
had so grievously dishonoured her life. None thought of Menotah, as she
stood in the shadow. She never for a second removed her gaze from the
officer within reach of her hand; she noted his slightest movement;
deliberately she counted the rapid pulsations of these two terrible
minutes.

And the last of these now drew towards its close, Lamont had not
stirred, nor did he show any sign of dropping the murderous weapon.

'Fifteen seconds more.'

'You're a fool, Lamont,' muttered the hunter. 'Chuck the thing away, and
be a man.'

'Ten.'

Menotah was quivering like an aspen in the breeze.

Grimly the watch ticked off the last few seconds.

The officer took a more deliberate aim, while every man held his breath.

'Time.'

Almost before the word had formed into sound, Menotah dashed the
revolver from his hand.

'Now!'

Lamont hurled the lamp to the floor in front of him, then bounded
forward in the darkness. The soldier moved to meet him, despite the
almost certainty of death from the poisoned knife. But, instead of the
fugitive, he caught in his arms the figure of a girl. Menotah had cast
herself against him to assist the escape. They rolled together on the
floor, and Lamont tumbled over them both. Then, with a desperate
movement, he dragged himself to the window, until he clutched the ledge
with his fingers. But the man caught him by the ankle. Menotah
deliberately threw her whole weight upon the detaining arm, and it broke
down beneath the strain.

The next second Lamont had dragged himself free. Then he clambered to
his feet, and in almost the same motion leapt from the window. All heard
the furious shaking of bushes beneath, the hurried click of a gate in
the palisade, followed by loud beating of feet upon the hard road.

'After him!' shouted the officer, swearing violently in his rage. 'Shoot
him! Club him--anything.'

'He's bound for the river,' shouted one of the men. Then he flung
himself from the window. The other followed, and after him the officer.

Sinclair stood in the dark room, biting his hands. 'If he swims across
and reaches the bush, we sha'n't see him again,' he muttered furiously.

Then he struck a match. The pale, sulphurous flame lit up the room
weirdly. Marie's nerves had given way, and she lay in a chair sobbing
with weakness.

The hunter brought in the lamp from outside. As darkness disappeared,
Menotah rose from the ground and tottered with feeble motions towards
the door. That frightful strain had been removed at last. The work for
which she had retained life and strength was done. Her vengeance had
been accomplished, so she might rest--rest in the peace of death, for
now there remained no further duty in life.

She spoke in a low voice of anguish. 'Has he escaped? They did not seize
him? Tell me.'

Sinclair turned viciously upon her. 'Damn you!' he snarled, 'I could fix
you for this. You've robbed me of my revenge, after all my planning and
waiting. But you'll have to pay the devil now. Wait till they come back.
I tell you, if they haven't got him you'll swing instead. They'll hang
you, right enough, for this.'

Madly she drank in the glad truth of his opening words. Then she moved
again nearer the door, as though she would once more seek a hiding
place.

But tension never fails to find the weakest spot.

Suddenly she flung both hands to her burning forehead, staggered on
another couple of paces, then fell crushed to the floor, with a low,
heart-breaking cry.

The kindly darkness of insensibility blotted away for a time her madness
and her pain.



CHAPTER IX

DARKNESS


Thus the weak hand, which was to have dealt the death blow, gave life to
the traitor and liberty to the betrayer. For a secret tendril of love
still clung and quivered about the dead heart. This might not be killed
entirely, nor stamped out by a mere effort of the will, though for long
it lay quiescent, in the mood of eternal silence. The presence, the
sight of the once loved, aroused that latent force into hot overwhelming
life, banished all recollection of duty, cast into oblivion memory of
the sacred oath, the curse of her shattered life.

She became woman again--that was the difference.

Once he had deserted her, and the heart flickered out in a wild grief.
The one thought then was for vengeance. She lived for it; cried for it
to the Spirit; her soul was fed with the longing, while the waiting for
it maintained the body in strength. Then it came, the life lay in her
hand, she was bidden to crush it and satisfy all longing.

But instead she courted a felon's death in a wild effort to assist him
in escaping. To save him she gladly offered to sacrifice life and
honour, though both of these things were valueless, and dead fruit in
her mouth.

For when she saw the figure she had loved, feeling returned in a mad
torrent. Still she hated him for the vile treachery; she despised him
for the lack of manly courage: but she could not lay a destroying hand
upon the body she had worshipped. For she had loved him with a passion
of which even he himself could know nothing. She made, at the dedication
of Self, no empty lip promise; she offered no meaningless service of the
tongue; but she offered the soul and life happiness.

In her false strength, all through the weary months of the northern
winter, when she rocked the babe upon her knee, she had played the part.
It was then her strong determination to do justice to her people, to
obey her gods, to avenge her dishonoured self. Yet what was the result
of this mighty striving after an imagined duty? When the moment arrived
for the act which should for ever quench desire, when she heard the
steps of the approaching soldiers, when she knew they would seize him
she had loved, hang the one she had fondly caressed, then came the flood
of reaction. The old sharp pain crept back to the body. Again she was
woman, weak, foolish woman, with no thought but to protect, and, save
the man--what mattered it whether he were worthy of the sacrifice?--who
had first lit that sacred fire within her breast. She was fool, traitor,
coward. That is what the disappointed men called her. Perhaps they were
right.

Yet unwittingly she had leaned towards the teaching of the white man's
God--the doctrine she had so heartily rejected. The power of love had of
itself taught the heathen mind to act according to highest admonitions.
Was there then something better and greater in that strange, misty
faith. Could it be that the white God had pointed to the Religion of
Love?

Presently, as Sinclair waited anxiously for the return of the pursuers,
loud shouting uprose from the direction of the palisade. After his
reply, noisy footsteps careered along, and a minute later three figures
put in an appearance--Captain Robinson, behind his cigar; McAuliffe,
with a long-necked bottle protruding from his pocket; Dave, with his
short pipe and smug self-satisfaction. This trio had followed the former
band at a safe interval, and were now burning to learn how things had
gone.

They were somewhat taken aback to find Sinclair standing moodily in the
yellow blot of lamp light, with a young woman sobbing hysterically in a
chair, and Menotah lying without motion along the floor. The unexpected
sight checked their exuberance.

'Goldam!' exclaimed the Factor. 'Say, Billy, what sort of a picnic is
this, anyway?'

'He's gone,' replied the hunter, sourly.

'Not Lamont!' the others cried in unison.

Sinclair nodded. Then he pointed to the corpselike figure. 'She's
tricked us all.'

Dave, who had completely forgotten events of the night preceding, became
greatly concerned when he discovered the identity of the lifeless
figure.

'You've gone to work and fixed her!' he shouted. 'Who did it? By holy
heaven, Billy, if you had a hand in it, I'll fix you right now.'

'Quit it, Dave,' said the Captain. 'There's another gal here.'

'Damn 'em,' shouted Dave, wildly, 'I'll teach 'em to fix my poor gal!
I'm going to start work with Billy here.'

He produced a great revolver from his hip pocket, but before he could
bring it down to his elbow the others held him.

'Don't be a gol-darned fool, Dave,' said the Captain. 'Billy's our
pard.'

Dave struggled and swore. 'My gal's dead.'

'She's right enough,' growled Sinclair; 'only fainted.'

Dave was himself again. 'Gimme your bottle, Alf. I'm going to give my
gal a drink.'

The Factor gave him the bottle, then asked Sinclair to detail events.
'Tell us how the flush was bob-tailed, Billy.'

The hunter obeyed, and startled his listeners by the account of
Menotah's courage.

'Well, well,' said the Captain, when he had finished. 'So he's got right
away.'

'They're after him,' said Sinclair hopefully. 'He didn't get much of a
start, and they're armed.'

McAuliffe had a word to say. 'Pshaw! as if he couldn't get away from
those bullet stoppers,' he cried disdainfully. 'Tell you, Lamont's a
match for that crowd. Might as well try and catch a badger on open
prairie as him. The badger jumps into a hole and pulls it in after him.
Lamont's the same.'

In the meantime, Dave was half choking Menotah with the fiery spirit.
'When whisky fails, order the coffin,' he proclaimed, as she began to
cough.

Sinclair listened at the window. The night was very dark and pleasantly
cool by then. Rain was falling heavily. 'They should be back soon.'

'It's not far to the river, and he'll swim that,' said the Captain.

'Then he'll be all right,' added the Factor. 'The bullet stoppers won't
follow. First place, they can't swim; if they could, they'd be too
darned scared of getting wet.'

The hunter turned to Dave. 'If you want to save her, you'd better get
her away before they come back.'

'I'll chaw them up if they try to start fooling,' said Dave.

'You can't do it. They'd hang her quick enough for this night's
business.'

Dave rubbed his coarse hand along the girl's smooth neck. 'They don't
get her from Dave Spencer. We'll walk our chalks when we hear the bullet
stoppers coming.'

Menotah stirred slightly, while a faint groan burst from her lips.
Slowly she was returning from the bliss of insensibility to the awful
dreariness of life. Then the Factor bethought himself of offering
assistance to Marie.

So he snatched the bottle from the unwilling Dave, came over and touched
her awkwardly on the shoulder. Not for years had he spoken with a
'civilised' woman.

'No darned use in crying, far as I can see.'

Marie dropped her handkerchief a little, but made no reply.

'I reckon tears are sort of unsatisfactory.'

Still no answer.

McAuliffe grew desperate. 'Never mind Lamont. He's not worth troubling
over, anyway. See here! this is first-class whisky. Have a good pull at
it. It'll make you feel fine and comfortable.'

He rubbed his coat sleeve over the neck, then pushed it close to her
mouth.

Then she raised an angry flushed face. 'Leave me alone!' she cried.

'You'll have a drink?' said the Factor, blankly. 'It's fine whisky; I'm
not fooling.'

'I don't want it,' she said, with a passionate movement.

This rendered McAuliffe speechless. The person who refused a drink of
good whisky was, in his estimation, something worse than a criminal.

'If you want to do something for me,' continued Marie, 'you can take her
out of the house. She has no business here.'

'Reckon none of us have,' the Factor managed to exclaim. Then he
comforted himself secretly by means of the rejected bottle.

Here Sinclair buttoned up his coat and announced his intention of going
down to the river. Menotah had sufficiently recovered to walk, so Dave,
with a stubborn determination not to have her captured, proposed they
should return to the hotel and learn final results the next day.

The others agreed. 'How about you, though?' asked Sinclair.

Marie saw she had been addressed. 'I shall stay here,' she said
fiercely. 'I want to learn whether the soldiers have caught that
traitor. To-morrow I can go home.'

'She's provided for,' muttered the Factor. 'Come on, Captain. Dave's got
his gal.'

They went down the slippery wooden steps, while silence fell again over
the frame house where human passion had raged so fiercely that night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three men, heated with running, wet to the skin by the heavy rain, came
to the shelving bank of the Red River. About three minutes earlier
another runner had reached that spot. Without hesitation, he had
ploughed a rapid course through the mud reach and sought the deeper
water. The former had arrived in time to see the latter swimming towards
the opposite shore, putting all the force he could muster into the arm
strokes.

They stopped at the edge of the mud, with the knowledge that the
adventurer had beaten them.

Lightning still played softly across the heavens. The officer pulled his
revolver, then fired shot after shot into the deceptive red glow,
glimmering over the waters round the indistinct and distant swimmer.
With the shot that emptied the chamber they saw the fugitive drag
himself to land by aid of the long willows which swept the stream. For a
moment he paused at the foot of the tree-spread bank, to coolly wave his
hand in their direction by way of farewell. The next minute he was
swallowed up by the dark, pathless line of bush.

'No good following him there,' muttered one of the men resignedly.

The officer swore softly to himself. 'Follow! I should say not. He's as
good a bushman as any _nitchi_!

Sullenly they began to retrace their steps, the officer wondering how he
could summon courage to face his superiors; but before they had gone far
they came across the hunter, tramping stolidly along the rapidly miring
trail.

'Where is he?' cried the latter eagerly, as he recognised them.

The officer was sulkily silent, but one of the men answered for him.
'Safe in the bush.'

The hunter's face fell, for he had allowed himself to hope a capture
might be made in the mud flats.

'Well, well,' he muttered savagely, as he joined the small band and
tramped dismally back with them, 'the White Chief has escaped. That's
the devil's business.'

Lamont did not penetrate very far into the dripping bush. He knew there
could be no search before daybreak, and by that time he would be in a
place of absolute safety. So he rested for some time beneath a bluff of
black poplar, the while he planned his future course of action.

There were plenty of friendly half-breeds in the immediate vicinity. In
one of these huts or dug-outs he could safely hide for a day or so, with
his former disguise resumed. For he could make up and act the part of
the native Indian to the life. Then he would steal or borrow a
_shaganappi_ pony and ride some night to the States, only forty miles
distant in a bee-line across prairie. After, he would escape from that
continent at his leisure.

'There's a rising in Brazil,' he muttered thoughtfully. 'That will be a
good place for me to try my hand in next. A new rifle, and then for the
strongest side. Besides, there are fine women among the Creoles.'

He laughed quietly to himself in the glory of this unexpected freedom
and new life, then gathered up a handful of the clammy red clay which
had earlier given the great river its name. He squeezed forth the
moisture, then rubbed the soft slime across his features.

Next he scraped some powder from the roots of the black poplar and
applied this also in carefully arranged markings. The change was
startling. It would have required a very keen eye to have penetrated
that disguise. Then he made his cautious way into the bush, destroying
his trail as he went. There were no bloodhounds in Garry, very few
Indians or breeds would lend assistance to track the White Chief Even
so, none of them were better bushmen than himself. He was entirely safe
from pursuit.

Once he thought of Menotah, but then he only laughed at the weak
foolishness of a loving woman; he thought, indeed, more of Marie, but
then he frowned with a longing to get her again within his power.

So he passed on until he came to a place of shelter.

Shortly before autumn, he made safe landing at Rio Janeiro.



CHAPTER X

McAULIFFE'S RESOLUTION


By the side of the Great Saskatchewan it was darkness and chill evening,
with dead leaves spreading upon grey rocks, and sharp sting of frost
along the breeze. For winter was again drawing near, closing round the
land that year earlier than usual. The following day would witness the
departure of the last boat, and after that dreary event the days would
roll monotonously one into the other, until it became a matter of
difficulty to reckon the actual flight of weeks. Christmas and New Year
would pass unrecognised, the February blizzards would shriek, and the
ice hills raise snowy caps to a leaden sky. Thus all would remain in
desolation, until spring, rising with warm breaths from south and west,
should disperse the snow palaces, break the ice fetters and bring new
life to earth.

Within the fort a light shone dully. Presently the door opened and
McAuliffe appeared. Somewhat wearily he gazed at the heaving line of
bush ahead, with the black points of rock between. Soon he perceived the
full moon, just rising above the tree tops, defining strongly the
tapering summit of each sombre pine. He shivered, then buttoned his worn
coat tightly. The frost crept noiselessly along, stiffening each grass
blade, while not an insect stirred down the biting air.

Massive in proportion though the Factor still was, he appeared thinner
than on that well remembered night of the fight. Also a careworn
expression had settled over his face, while the grey in hair and beard
was certainly more pronounced. When he stepped out to the open and
commenced to pace up and down, it might have been noticed that his step
had lost much of its former briskness, that the body leaned forward at a
decided angle. He was growing elderly now, and neglected to give the
body such care and attention as the years demanded.

A few hours earlier, he and Dave Spencer had quarrelled with such
bitterness that Justin had been compelled to interfere. Menotah was the
bone of contention. She had prevailed upon Dave to bring her back across
the lake, that she might bid a last farewell to the land of her fathers.
Then she would return with him to Selkirk, as the slave to do his
unpleasant bidding. The time had now arrived. The boat was about to
leave, so Dave had commanded the girl to be in readiness to sail with
him early on the following morning. She had consented, asking only a
single favour--that he would give her that last night entirely to
herself. She wished to sleep in the hut, where she had spent the
happiest days of youth; to go over again each hallowed spot; to revisit
the inanimate objects, each of which brought back some sacred
association. _In the morning she would be his, and he might do with her
whatsoever he desired._

When sober, McAuliffe's heart was large and sympathetic. He was sorry
for the changed girl in his rough way, also secretly disgusted at the
constant manner of Dave's bullying. Besides, he did not want to lose her
from his district. So, as absolute despot of that part of the country,
he had ordered Dave to relinquish his claims. The natural result
followed, and the Factor came very near to smashing Dave up, as he had
threatened. The sequel was that Dave, ejected from the fort after the
manner of Denton, found himself compelled to seek shelter for the night
within the boat.

The Factor was in a meditative mood, as he passed up and down on his
evening exercise, the red sparks of his pipe glowing occasionally in the
silver air. There was the rugged patch of bush, where Sinclair had
frightened him so badly. That was on the night just about a year before,
when Lamont made off, and Menotah went wild with her grief. Further
along was a rough irregular mould, covered thickly with pine needles and
brown cones. He did not clear these away from Winton's grave, because he
had a superstitious fancy that they were keeping the dead body dry and
warm.

Like most men accustomed to much living in solitude, he spoke aloud to
himself as he walked along.

'Sort of seems to me everything's over now. There's not much for an old
chunk like me to do, 'cept settle down quiet and wait for my name to get
stuck on the death list. There's old Billy settling comfortable at home.
Lamont knocking around somewhere, the Lord knows where, likely enough
deceiving some other poor fool of a gal with his handsome face and fine
ways. And here's old Mac himself, planted again in his district, just
about as lonely as ever. Didn't have so much of a time down in Garry
after all. Afraid I made a darned old fool of myself; always do when I
get loose for a while, but then it's so quiet and desolate 'way up here,
with nobody but the _nitchies_ to talk to. Folks don't think, when they
see us old chaps rocketing around, what it is to find yourself in a
civilised sort of place, where there are lots of people, with nice
bright saloons, where you can get your own mixture fresh and spicy, and
a few good fellows on each side of you. Well, well, I'll not be leaving
the fort many more times. Then they'll get to work and plant me
alongside of young Winton. There we'll lie, a couple of good pards,
until the angels come fooling around to wake us. Well, well, life's a
queer thing anyway.

He laughed a little sadly, and rubbed his hands together to restore
circulation. Suddenly he bent quickly. 'Ah! there's that rheumatism
jumping up my leg again. Reckon I shouldn't be strolling around on a
cold night. Guess I'll get inside.'

Presently he closed the door of the fort and watched Justin shoving pine
sticks into the box stove. More interested than usual, he gazed upon the
small bent figure, with grey hair falling over the neck, and heavily
lined, expressionless face. Then he exclaimed,--

'Say, boy, how are the years going for you?'

The half-breed looked up and shook his head slowly.

'Don't know, eh? I guess you can't be far off sixty, boy. Anyway, I
reckon you're older than this child.'

The other merely grunted. Age was a matter of perfect indifference to
him.

'That's what it is, Justin. We're getting two stiff old baldheads. Say,
boy, mind the time I thrashed Que-dane?'

A light crept into the half-breed's heavy eyes. He nodded his head
violently.

'Couldn't do it now. Haven't got the nerve.'

'He walk this way now,' said Justin, shambling in awkward fashion across
the floor.

'Must have twisted his spine. Didn't want to spoil him, but I reckon it
did him good. He hasn't been stealing other men's wives since, anyway.'

There was a dreary pause before the Factor continued, 'We won't lose
track of days this winter, boy. I'll fix the calendar right up behind
the stove, so as we can see it easy of an evening. When I forget to mark
off the day, you let me know before I get to bed. We got terrible off
the reckoning last year. Time we thought Christmas was 'way behind New
Year. We'll have some fun this year, just you and I, boy. I'll make a
fine big pudding, and you shall eat it, eh?'

He laughed heavily, then the half-breed, who was not communicative at
any time, left the 'office' to prepare the supper moose meat. So the
Factor was again left to his uncongenial thoughts.

'Darn it, I'm terribly lonely to-night. Feeling sort of uncomfortable,
too. Got to pull through the winter without a friend to talk to or
quarrel with. An old chap like me ought to have grandchildren fooling
round his knees, digging into his pockets for candies, wanting him to
monkey around with them, or spin long lies by way of yarns. I should
have stayed east and got married. Then I might have known a decent sort
of life. Well, this sort's got to slip off some time.'

He sat at the table, drumming his big fingers on it fretfully. Presently
the virtuous fit wrapped itself more closely round his soul. Then his
musings became of the following nature,--

'Going to turn over a new leaf right now. Going on a different sort of
track from this day forth. There's to be no more deep drinking, or any
such bad habits. I'm going to be what Peter used to try and make out he
was. I start this night. Some fellows are always fixing up new
resolutions--a brand new set once a month regular. Believe they only set
them up just for the fun of knocking them down again. I'm not that way.
'Tisn't often I make a resolution, but when I do I stick to it. Goldam!
I hang on to it by the eyelids. It's time I thought of turning reformed
character, for I'm shuffling along in life pretty fast, getting down to
the last few years at a terrible rate.'

He paused in his reflections, as if summoning courage to form a mighty
resolution. Soon he wagged his head gravely.

'There's my winter stock of whisky just laid up. A fellow can't resist
the smell of a nice mixed glass. If I once start at it, I shall slide
back to the old life, and not be a darned bit better. I'll fix that
racket right off.'

In his stentorian voice he called out to the half-breed.

There was a slow shuffling within the little passage, then Justin
appeared from the kitchen, his tobacco-charged mouth moving slowly.

'You mind my fresh whisky keg--one Dave's just brought along for me,
eh?'

The other grunted in affirmation.

'Roll it outside, boy, turn on the tap, and let it run dry.'

The order sped forth in a breath. After speaking, the Factor sat
sheepishly gazing at the lamp, half ashamed and half frightened.

Justin stared at his master with unspoken sorrow. Even he felt it a
matter of grief, to behold in a man of the Factor's size and strength an
obvious weakening of reason. Had he been commanded to go forth and
murder someone--that would have been explicable. But to waste the
whisky!

'Git now, Justin. Hustle yourself, and let it run. Tell you, this
religious fit won't last much longer.'

The half-breed grunted in more knowing a fashion, then shuffled away,
presumably to execute the heart-breaking mandate.

Left to himself again, McAuliffe muttered softly, 'Well, I've seen
something new to-night. I know now what Justin looks like when he's
surprised. That's my first good stroke of work. Now I must think out
another one.' Then he added regretfully, 'I shall be kicking myself for
having done it in less than a week.'

Then he allowed his thoughts to wander over past events. After a few
minutes his lips parted again, and he drifted off into a fresh
soliloquy, this time addressing the pipe which lay on the table in
front,--

'Now, if I was well enough fixed with shin plasters, I should get to
work, resign my post here, and make off east, 'way back to St
Catherine's. Then I'd settle down in a little frame house and live
comfortable. Wouldn't cost so much. I shouldn't want to go deep into
household expenses. Just that, with a couple of suits of clothes, one in
spring, another for winter, tobacco, and a little bit for the saloons.
S'pose I ought to give that up, though. Well, it's no use thinking about
it. This sort of life's spoilt me for anything else. I've got no
relations, nobody depending on me. Still, it seems a sort of pity and a
waste of your last years to rust out here in the solitude.'

He rose from his chair and paced the narrow floor. 'That's where young
Winton used to sit, sucking his pipe stem; Billy over there, on the York
factory box; while Peter would be snivelling in yon corner.' His face
lit up suddenly into a smile. 'Peter got a fortnight. 'Twas an extra bad
case, the magistrate said. He'd have to leave the fort soon as they let
him out of the cooler. That magistrate's a sharp lad. He could see
through Peter's virtues clean enough.'

After another turn, he bent to rub his legs. 'Well, well, I almost
reckon I'll lie down for sleep. I'm sort of tired, and this dirty
rheumatism is jumping around in my legs again. Nothing like bed on a
frosty night when you're not feeling good.'

A sudden thought perplexed his mind. He stood wagging his great head
slowly. 'There's no real harm in it. Not in moderation. All the best men
say that. Besides, it's hard to go without it, terrible hard. I do hope
Justin didn't think I was talking seriously.'

To ease his mind, he again called out loudly to the half-breed. A
muffled grunt came back from the direction of the kitchen.

'Done what I told you, boy?'

A decided reply in the negative was speedily returned.

The Factor rubbed his hands together cheerfully. 'Don't do it, Justin,'
he called out. 'That crazy sort of fit's over. Say, boy, mix me a good
stiff glass. Take one yourself to keep the frost out.'

After which command he paced the floor again, muttering, 'Darn it,
whisky mayn't be a necessity, still a fellow can't pull along without
it.'

Presently a curious sound came from within, and arrested his attention.
After listening, he dived into the passage, there to discover the cause
of disturbance. Justin was pouring some hot water from a kettle into
glasses half full of a dark brown compound. But, besides this, he was
indulging in an unheard of performance.

He was laughing to himself, with occasional chuckles, as the water
splashed into the glasses, and a mist of steam rose round his head.



CHAPTER XI

THE HEART'S PEACE


Once more out to the lonely forest.

Those dark trees of death, the ever-sighing pines, tossed their solemn
heads in unquiet motion; boughs chafed one against the other with
moaning sound; the wind passed with dreary murmur through hanging
clusters, causing at times the skulls and other grisly trophies of the
death tree to scrape with horrid fitfulness one against the other. It
was late night, and the moon shone with extraordinary brightness, while
frost needles quivered along the silvery air. Even the dead leaves,
carpeting thickly the open spaces, glittered radiantly with Nature's
diamonds, while the soil became crisp and grey. Above the distant trees
might be seen the shivering spindles of the Aurora. These crept up the
sky with strange undecided movement, then retreated with a shudder, to
again advance.

In that unutterably weird conflict of lights, the white walls of the
fort were dimly visible. For long a dull yellow gleam poured from the
single window, casting a tremulous shaft across the open, a sickly beam
of light, in the heart of which trembled the frost crystals. Suddenly a
dark shadow passed unsteadily, the light disappeared, the window grew
black, night settled closely round the log walls.

Even then, at another mean dwelling, situated some way along the faintly
defined trail, a feeble ray appeared. The crazy door was partially open,
while a slow wood fire burnt within, the smoke winding its way from a
hole in the grass roof. At the threshold stood a figure, strangely bent,
gazing out on the white night. He seemed to have no feeling of the
biting cold, though the weak hands were blue and shrivelled, and the
grey face pinched with grief, hideous also with embittered age. Those
bleared eyes saw little, his tottering knees could scarce support the
withered frame, no thickness of clothing might furnish life warmth to
the parched limbs. He was like the dead branch of a tree, which has been
snapped from the parent trunk and lies rotting upon the ground, to be
broken by the feet of those passing.

The trembling jaws moved faster. The dry lips parted to form the words
of his customary evening salutation to the Spirit. Sounds fell from the
almost powerless tongue, murmurs which could not disturb the soft
sighing of the keen, frost-laden wind.

'I live,' he gasped, 'and I shall live, for the gods have forgotten me.
They have left me here to decay and not to die, to fall limb from limb,
while breath remains in the body, and the heart within stirs feebly.
They are all gone, those with whom I lived. The men who sprang up with
me have passed through the fire. Those who were born when I was already
old have gone to the shadow land, white-headed and full of years. But I
live. The god passes me as one not worth the taking.

'What happiness is there in life? Memory has gone from me, and I have
none to call friend. Nor do I love any, be it man or god. She for whom I
lived is traitor. My affection has changed to the bitterness of hatred,
and all that lies upon my tongue is a curse. Where is the beauty of
life?

'The God of the white men would not listen to my prayers, perchance He
had not the power, and to the voice of my pleading was He dumb. Now have
I come back to the gods of my fathers, the great gods, who are at least
as powerful. Yet from them I receive no answer, nor does any message
stir within me through the night. Perchance there are no gods. Perchance
the world is ruled by evil passion and cruel might.'

Dry leaves rustled beneath footsteps. But the useless ears were closed
to all sounds from without.

'I live,' he repeated, clutching with claw-like hand the corner of his
blanket. 'Life is mine, but I need it not. Long have I lived to gather
much wisdom. Ay, and I shall live.'

Along, in the full light of the white moon, came the figure of a woman,
upright and stern. She gazed neither to the right nor left, but kept the
eyes, cold as the crystals that cut her face, fixed upon the winding
path that trailed away in front. She was scantily clad, her head
uncovered, save for the wild beauty of luxuriant hair; her feet were
bare, and crushed, without feeling, the frost-covered leaves. Hanging
from her shoulders was a trembling, frightened bundle. A child,
shivering with the cold, wondering at his mother's sternness; a child,
who touched her icy cheek with tiny fingers, who cried again and again
the one love-word which had always before that night brought to him some
response,--

'Mother! Oh, mother!'

She was insensible, alike to the wailing of her child and the sharpness
of frost bite. Up to the hut door she came, until her cloak almost swept
against the crouched figure, yet without sign of recognition, with no
turn of the head. But the Ancient knew her. As she approached and struck
his vision, he crept feebly back, gathering his blanket more closely
round him, lest it should suffer contamination by touch. As she passed,
unheeding that the last friend had forsaken her, he collected his
failing energies, spat after her, raised his hands with malediction, and
spoke bitter words of execration. All this effort might have been spared
the feeble frame, for she trod on through the night with no heed to his
curses, regardless even of his presence.

So he crawled weakly into the hut and closed the door.

But she kept on her course, dead to the present, forgetful of the past,
conscious only of the immediate future. Her body brushed apart
silver-lined bush, scattered the light hoar frost from dried grass
stalks, and still she gazed before her, still she clasped the trembling
child without word or sign. For her, joy had been spent; now even grief
was a thing of the past. Behind her lay darkness, one stern resolution
lay in front--then darkness again.

She came to a rugged rock, half covered with clinging bush. Here memory
may have stirred the cold mind, for she paused, allowing her eyes to
rest for a moment upon the black, glistening surface. Here had she stood
on the evening previous to the fight; here had she chanted the happy
song of pure heart joy, provoking the envy of all else that was
beautiful in nature; here had Antoine admonished her of dangers
impending, here also had that advice been laughed away. Through the
forest, to the left, spread the river pool, where she had been wont to
lie on summer afternoons to admire the beauty that smiled at her from
the peaceful waters. That pool now flashed beneath the weird lights; the
rock on which she had so often stretched her young body was still to be
found unchanged. But what picture would that mirror now reveal. Where
was the face of beauty, the lips curling into laughter, the eyes dancing
with joy light, the smiles that had once dimpled the waves, and the soft
features moulded into perfect lines of grace? Where? Ah, where?
Vanished--departed--melted.

Gone. Gone for ever. So the dead leaves rained thickly from the cold
trees, while icy winds moaned, and earth shivered at the approach of
winter. For the brightest colours must fade, and everything living must
see decay.

She departed from that spot, yet burying at each step some blissful
memory of youth, and took the trail that led to the river. Soon the rush
and roar of the swollen torrent beat dully upon her ears. At dreaded
intervals the fitful thunder of the great rapids came trembling along
the way. Still the set countenance remained unaltered, nor was there a
word of comfort for the sobbing child.

Presently she broke from the last bushes and stood upon the brink. A
wide stretch of river spread before her, burning and flashing beneath
the gorgeous light of the moon. On the opposite shore, dreary pines
tossed their dark heads and beckoned her to come. Far down the rushing
stream were faint appearances of threatening rocks and a white foam
line. Such were indications of the angry rapids. Here the waters boiled
round jagged rock fragments, and light spray was hurled high into frosty
air. Here roared and shrieked against the pale stars the Niagara of the
Great Saskatchewan.

She stood upon the crumbling rock edge for many weary minutes, fearfully
watching the turbulent waters, the wavering mind filled with many a
strange perplexing doubt. Immediately beneath, rising and falling on the
gentle waves beneath the bank, appeared a canoe, rasping upon the rock
and lightly secured by a birch fibre to a willow branch overhanging the
stream. At the bottom of the frail craft lay a single paddle. But this
gleaming object, and nothing besides.

Presently she spoke aloud to her sole companions--the icy winds and
unknown powers of Nature.

'It is all so long ago, and yet this is but the second winter of time. I
have lived through it, and now must face the end. None may tell me where
I am going. This I myself know--I cannot be punished more than I have
suffered, I cannot suffer more than I have been already punished.'

The auroral lights crept trembling along the sky. Behind her the bushes
shook drearily.

'If there be no happiness in the world whither I am going, there can at
least be no greater sorrows.'

She was now in that complete solitude for which she had craved. Alone,
entirely alone, with none to see, none to pity. The bar of race cut her
off from the rest of the world, and upon her weak shoulders lay the sin
of others. This was the weight which might now be shaken off.

Again she cast her unfathomable glance upon the foaming river, and gazed
at the fragile canoe, which rocked restlessly from side to side.

The dregs of the life cup were bitter indeed. Her own people hated her.
On her approach they had crept away, with hidden faces. She was a
pestilence when she stirred abroad. For she had dared to break the great
oath, to cast dishonour again upon her tribe, to insult the dead
father's memory. This was a crime which might not be pardoned. So her
gods also had turned away, for she had broken their highest laws of
right and duty. Vengeance had been placed in her hands--more, forced
upon her, and yet--yet she had not strength, she lacked courage, to
strike with that fearful weapon when it thus lay within her grasp. For
that, also, she must suffer.

Darkness was everywhere in the world, yet she was about to plunge into a
greater gloom. Who would be there, on that shadow way, to meet the
broken spirit and bid it rest? Not the father, not even Muskwah. They
were surely in the bright joyland, which must be eternally forbidden to
her.

Perchance--how impossible a hope, yet how soothing--there might be
another God of Whom she knew nothing. There might be a God so merciful
as to care even for those who had not called upon Him during life, so
compassionate as to pity one who had been deceived and betrayed. Ah, if
there was such a God to receive her, to take her up in His arms, to
breathe upon the dead heart and give it life again, how joyous would be
the act of immortality!

She bowed her head, and moved slowly forward.

'It is time. Time for the great sleep; time for the peace. Only one
little struggle, one quick gasp as the eternal change takes place, one
stifling moment of agony, then I shall be as many are and all must be.
For to this end must we come, and what lies beyond none may clearly
tell.'

She crept down the steep bank. The child lay upon her back, stiff with
cold, scarcely owning strength to cry. She swept through the willows and
entered the canoe. The next instant she had cast off the clinging birch
fibre. With one bold stroke of the paddle the light skiff darted toward
mid-stream.

Another, then another, until the centre of the mighty river was reached.
Here the waves sobbed round the paper-like keel, leaping aside in bars
of burnished silver. The moon, reddened by the tints of the northern
lights, poured forth a flood of radiance; the grim Spirit of the Waters
uplifted pale arms and cried, 'Come.'

Swiftly the current pulled the canoe round towards the abyss; rapidly it
floated down between the steep banks and gloomy line of forest waving on
each side; down, until the white mass of foam became a snow mountain;
down to the rugged rocks, where black jaws were dripping with flying
spray; down, still down, towards the gate of Eternity.

She knelt, with paddle grasped firmly in both hands. Before her wailed
the child. The baby lips found strength to release faint sounds. Again
that tremulous cry beat upon the freezing air,--

'Mother! Oh, mother!'

Then she bent forward, to gaze earnestly upon the dark eyes, the small,
round cheeks, the curling hair clustering over the little brow, the
delicate shaping of the limbs. Soon she spoke again,--

'We will go together, child, for you are all mine. We may not be parted.
I brought you into this world in a moment of horror; so now we will
leave it together. You shall clasp my neck and lay your soft cheek
against mine. You shall nestle to the bosom that has nurtured you. Then
shall you endure no pang, for I will bear the pain for both. Quietly and
painlessly you shall fall asleep, as you were wont to do upon my knee.
Sleep, until you wake in a fair world on a flowery grass plain, beneath
the full light of the sun. It may be so; yet it may be still darkness.
It may be that when you drop to sleep in yonder waters--that waking will
never come.'

Swifter grew the flight of the canoe, more furious the hungry roar
ahead.

'Oh, son! Child of my body! Best of my flesh! Could you but know what a
service I am rendering you, if you could look back, even as I can, you
would raise your head in blessing and call me merciful. I am saving you.
I am lifting from you the awful burden of life. I am taking you from the
trouble and the treachery, which would surely break your spirit if you
lived. 'Tis only a few more minutes now, then all will lie in the past,
and we shall join the unknown. Ah, you do not know, you cannot
understand that. You cannot feel yourself standing on the last ledge of
life, before that black chasm which is the end of motion. You do not
know that the gate is about to clash behind us, driving us forth into
darkness. Or is it light? That we may soon tell. We may know then, also,
whether there is a God Who gazes upon mortal suffering with the eye of
pity.'

The foaming line was now awfully close; the roar of the waters beat upon
her soul; feather-like spray, caught by the wind, lashed her resolute
face.

Then she raised the paddle on high, before casting it far into the
turbulent flood. Fascinated by this gleaming guide, she watched it
floating away in front, dancing merrily upon the silver-tipped waves.

'So I cast away my life.'

No mortal effort could now snatch them from the inevitable end. Still
down they drifted, nearer--closer to the frightful Niagara of tumult and
death. Once again she bent, to gather in her arms the sobbing child. She
twined the tiny arms round her neck; she nestled the cold cheek against
his; she clasped him close to her heaving breast, and waited for the
end.

Nor was it long in coming upon them. The canoe quivered as the great
waves lashed and licked the frail sides. The paddle struck upon a
black-jawed rock, glanced off quickly, hung trembling for a second on
that unutterable brink, shone like a mirror in the moonlight--then
disappeared. Below, the savage elements sucked it in, roared lustily,
then tossed their white crests with fresh shrieks for other victims.

The livid-faced woman saw, and shuddered for the first time on that
awful journey.

'It has shown me the way; I must follow.'

The canoe swung sullenly round, then darted like a bird towards
destruction. It struck also upon the black rock, where spray flew high
in clouds. Round again, gradually quickening in speed. Sideways it
floated to the awful white line which marked eternity.

Her heart seemed to have ceased its feeble beat; the breath stifled her
with hot gasps. Sky, river, forest had vanished, blotted out by a raging
sea of red flames, boiling and hissing blood-like before her eyes.
Memory came back on the torrent of that grim flood. The past lay
outspread before the mind. Every small detail shot forth in sharp
relief, each careless action writhed from the seething atmosphere of her
horror and imagination.

'This is Death! How awful a thing it is.'

The cold winds snatched the foam from the waves, and tossed it above
rock masses in furious revelry. The canoe had reached that awful line
which marked the extinction of two lives. It shuddered upon the fearful
brink. It hovered, like a bird of prey, before making the fatal plunge
beneath. It trembled, and groaned again with the angry buffetings. It
succumbed to the irresistible force, to the mighty, unseen hand drawing
it down, down--and then--ah, then--

At the foot of the great rapids black rocks glistened in the moonlight;
foam-flecked waves darted up to beat the air; angry waters rolled and
tossed like wind-swept snow heaps, crying forth with the deep voice of
thunder. Ice crystals still danced and shivered in the biting wind.

A blood-red gleam slowly fought its way from the north, ascending the
heavens to dye the shafts of the auroral light a bright rose colour.

On either side of the river, black pines swayed beneath the eternal
whisperings of the forest. The grim hand of winter slowly fringed the
sombre tresses with silvery beauty.

The colours were black and silver, with red above. The blending of the
first two made the complexion of mourning. Is not the last the colour of
life's mystery? Red gold, red blood, red flush of shame, red blush of
love. What else is there in life worth taking?

Onward rushed the Great Saskatchewan, with a sobbing and murmuring,
while loose shingle hissed and rattled upon the shore, and leafless
bushes swept the waters. Then the ice lord crept from drear confines of
the Arctic, with the great chains in his white hand. Soon would he
fasten down those clamouring waves to a long silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

So, to this day, no Indian lands at that point, nor stretches his tent
near the rocky ledge which faces the great rapids. And the name of the
place is still called, _Menotah-toopah_--the passing place of the heart
which knew not sorrow.



GLOSSARY

  Bandy--Flow of language
  Brace of bullets--Pair of aces
  Bulldog--A large horse-fly possessing formidable jaws
  Bummers--Idle loafers

  Chores--Odd jobs
  Corked--Greatly surprised
  Coyotes--Prairie wolves
  Craps--Dice
  Croak off--Die
  Cut didoes--To excessively enjoy, or make a fool of, oneself

  Diddle--Get the better of
  Dosh--Money

  Gall--Impudence
  Goldam--A local expletive
  Goldeye--A small, highly edible fish, common in the Saskatchewan
  Good--Physically well and strong

  Heelhi-Manitou--The good, or great, Spirit
  Hopping--Dying

  Jag (Jamboree)--A drunken spree

  Kanikanik (spelt in various other ways)--The red willow

  Megrims--The 'blues'
  Moonhead--Madman
  Mosquito hawk--A large species of dragon fly
  Muskegs--Moss swamps
  Mutchi-Manitou--The lesser, or evil, Spirit

  Nitchies--Natives

  Quirk--Laugh

  Raddled--Drunk
  Razzle-witted--Crazy

  Scrapping--Fighting or quarreling
  Shaganappi--A rough, native-bred horse
  Sharpshooters--Cigars
  Shin plasters--Dollar bills, _i.e._, money
  Slick--Easy, pleasant, etc.
  Snuff out--Die
  Spoiling--Extremely anxious
  Suds--State of depression

  Totem--Every man is descended from some animal. This animal is
  known as the Totem. Thus one man's Totem may be a buffalo,
  another's a beaver, and so on
  Truck--Miscellaneous articles
  Twitter--Hurry

  Wasayap--An Indian maid of old mythology
  Waterlogged--Done for, beaten, etc.
  Worth shucks--Not worth anything at all

THE END





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Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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