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Title: South from Hudson Bay - An Adventure and Mystery Story for Boys
Author: Brill, E. C.
Language: English
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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 "South from Hudson Bay - An Adventure and Mystery Story for Boys" ***

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     “WHEN LAROQUE’S BOAT REACHED THE LANDING, THE SHORE WAS LINED
                             WITH PEOPLE.”
               “South from Hudson Bay.”    (See Page 82)



                               SOUTH FROM
                               HUDSON BAY


                        AN ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY
                             STORY FOR BOYS

                                   BY
                              E. C. BRILL

                             _ILLUSTRATED_

                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
                         PUBLISHERS    NEW YORK

                         ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY
                            STORIES FOR BOYS


                            _By_ E. C. BRILL


                 Large 12 mo.    Cloth.    Illustrated.


                            THE SECRET CACHE
                         SOUTH FROM HUDSON BAY
                       THE ISLAND OF YELLOW SANDS


                          Copyright, 1932, by
                         Cupples & Leon Company
                          PRINTED IN U. S. A.


                          Copyright, 1932, by
                         Cupples & Leon Company
                          PRINTED IN U. S. A.



                                CONTENTS


  I The New Land                                                       9
  II Fort York                                                        14
  III The Selkirk Colony and the Rival Fur Traders                    24
  IV The Start from Fort York                                         32
  V The Black Murray                                                  39
  VI Toiling Up Stream                                                45
  VII Norway House                                                    53
  VIII The Missing Pemmican                                           61
  IX Hunger and Cold                                                  67
  X The Red River at Last                                             74
  XI Fort Douglas                                                     81
  XII By Cart Train to Pembina                                        89
  XIII The Red-Headed Scotch Boy                                      97
  XIV Pembina                                                        108
  XV The Ojibwa Hunter                                               118
  XVI Letters from Fort Douglas                                      124
  XVII Christmas at Pembina                                          134
  XVIII Mirage of the Prairie                                        140
  XIX Blizzard                                                       147
  XX A Night Attack                                                  154
  XXI The Burned Cabin                                               161
  XXII The Painted Buffalo Skull                                     167
  XXIII Unwelcome Visitors                                           176
  XXIV A Sore Hand                                                   186
  XXV The Travelers without Snowshoes                                193
  XXVI Elise’s Story                                                 200
  XXVII Why the Periers Came to Pembina                              207
  XXVIII The Land to the South                                       214
  XXIX The Coming of the Sioux                                       225
  XXX With the Buffalo Hunters                                       231
  XXXI The Charging Buffalo                                          239
  XXXII To the Sheyenne River                                        245
  XXXIII A Lonely Camp                                               253
  XXXIV Danger                                                       261
  XXXV In the Chief’s Tipi                                           270
  XXXVI The White Trader                                             280
  XXXVII Flight                                                      289
  XXXVIII The Fight at the Bois des Sioux                            299
  XXXIX Safe                                                         309
  XL Conclusion                                                      316



                                   I
                              THE NEW LAND


Before Walter Rossel was wholly awake, even before he opened his eyes, he
realized that the ship was unusually quiet. There was only a slight
rolling motion from side to side, a dead roll. Was she caught in the ice
again, or had she reached Fort York at last? Could it be that the long
voyage was really over? Walter hurried into the few clothes he had taken
off, and ran up on deck, hoping to see land close by.

He was disappointed. He could see nothing but gray water, a line of white
where waves were breaking on a long bar, and the dim, shadowy forms of
the other ships, hulls, masts, and spars veiled in dense fog. There was
no ice in sight, yet all three vessels were riding at anchor.

Eagerly the boy turned to a sailor who was scrubbing the deck. Walter’s
native tongue was French, but he had picked up a little English during
the voyage, enough to ask why the ships were at anchor, and to understand
part of the man’s reply. They had crossed the bar in the night, the
sailor said, and were lying in the shallow water of York Flats. Over
there to the south, hidden in the fog, was the shore.

The news that they had arrived off Fort York spread rapidly among the
passengers on the _Lord Wellington_. Men, women, and children crowded on
deck, gazed into the fog, questioned one another and the sailors in
French, German, and broken English, and talked and laughed excitedly. A
little boy of seven and his older sister, a bright-faced girl of thirteen
with hazel eyes and heavy braids of brown hair, joined Walter and poured
out eager questions.

“They say we are at the end of our voyage,” cried the girl, “but where is
the land?”

Walter pointed to the south. “We’ll see it when the fog lifts. Does your
father know we are almost at Fort York?”

“Yes, he is coming on deck. There he is now.”

A middle aged man, thin and somewhat stooped, was coming towards them,
his pale face smiling and eager. “Well, my boy,” he greeted Walter, “this
is good news indeed. We shall soon be settled on our own farm. Think of
that, children, our own farm, a far larger one than we could ever dream
of having in Switzerland.”

“Yes, Monsieur Perier,” replied Walter, “the voyage is almost over,
and——”

“Look, Walter,” Elise interrupted. “The fog is thinner. See how red it is
in the east. And look at that dark line, like a shadow. Can that be the
shore?”

The fog was certainly thinning. A wider stretch of water had become
visible, and the outlines of the other ships were clearer. Though steam
power was coming into use for river navigation on both sides of the
Atlantic, there were no ocean-going steamships in 1821. The _Lord
Wellington_, the _Prince of Wales_, and the _Eddystone_ were sailing
vessels, sturdily built craft with extra heavy oak sheathing and
iron-plated bows, suitable for cruising ice-strewn, northern waters. That
all three had been in contact with the ice, their scraped and battered
hulls betrayed. From each mizzen peak fluttered the British red ensign,
and the mainmast head bore a flag with a red cross and the letters H. B.
C., the flag of the Hudson Bay Company.

The immigrants aboard the _Lord Wellington_ wasted scarcely a glance on
the other ships. It was the land they were interested in. As the rising
sun drank up the fog, and the shore line grew clearer, the eager faces of
Elise and Walter sobered with disappointment. A most unattractive shore
was revealed. It was low, swampy, sparsely clad with stunted trees, a
desolate land without sign of human dwelling. Fort York could not be
seen. It was fifteen or twenty miles in the interior, on the Hayes River.

Unpromising as the land appeared, it was land nevertheless, and everyone
longed to set foot upon it. To the one hundred and sixty Swiss
immigrants, the voyage had seemed endless. On May 30 they had sailed from
Dordrecht in Holland. Now it was the last of August. For nearly three
months they had been on shipboard. Delayed by stormy weather and crowding
ice, they had spent a whole month navigating Hudson Straits and Bay.
Luckily for them they did not realize what a long and toilsome way they
had yet to travel before they reached their destination, the Selkirk
Colony on the Red River of the North.

Though many of the new colonists looked thin, worn, and even ill from the
hardships of the long voyage, they appeared to be neat, self-respecting
folk, intelligent and fairly well to do. Some wore the peasant dress of
their native cantons, but the majority were townspeople,—shopkeepers and
skilled workmen. Mr. Perier was a chemist and apothecary.

Walter Rossel had not one blood relation in the whole company, but he
considered himself one of the Perier family. For the past two years, as
an apprentice in Mr. Perier’s shop, he had lived with them. When his
master had decided to emigrate, he had offered to either release Walter
from his apprenticeship or take the boy with him. Walter had decided
quickly, and his father and stepmother had given their consent.

The Periers and Walter had breakfasted, packed their personal belongings,
and were on deck again, when a small, open sailboat came in sight from
the direction of the shore. It headed for the _Eddystone_ and disappeared
on the other side of that ship. Presently it reappeared, visited the
_Prince of Wales_, and finally came on to the _Lord Wellington_.

As the little boat drew close, Elise, Walter, and Max looked curiously
down on the crew of sun-tanned, bearded men, strangely dressed in hooded
coats of bright blue or of white blanketing, bound about the waists with
colorful silk or woolen sashes. The man in command came aboard, climbing
the ladder up the side. He was broad shouldered and strongly built, with
reddish hair, bristly beard, and skin burned red-brown. With his blue
coat and bright red sash, he wore buckskin trousers fringed at the seams,
and the queerest footgear Walter had ever seen, slipper-like, heel-less
shoes of soft leather embroidered in colors. They were Indian moccasins
ornamented with dyed porcupine quills.

After glancing about him and inclining his head slightly in a general
greeting, the newcomer shook hands with the Master of the ship and with
Captain Mai, the man in charge of the Swiss immigrants, who had hurried
forward to greet him. He went below with them, but remained only a few
minutes.

As soon as the red-haired man was overside again, the Swiss crowded
around their conductor to ask when they were to go ashore. Captain Mai
pointed to the other ships. Their sails were up and they were getting
under way.

“A pilot has just gone aboard the _Eddystone_,” he said. “We are to
follow her.”

Even before Captain Mai had finished speaking, the _Lord Wellington_ was
waking to activity. The anchors came up, the sails were set, and caught
the breeze. In a few moments the immigrant vessel was following the
supply ships towards the mouth of the Hayes River.



                                   II
                               FORT YORK


The first view of Fort York was as disappointing as the first glimpse of
shore. To Elise and Walter a fort meant massive stone walls and towers,
rising from some high and commanding position. A stretch of log fencing
in a bog was not their idea of fortification. It had the interest of
novelty, however, for it was very different from anything they had ever
seen before. The logs were set upright and close together, and above this
stockade rose the flat, leaded roofs of the buildings. Near the fort
stood a cluster of strange dwellings, quite unlike the Eskimo summer huts
of stones, sod, and skins, with which the Swiss had become familiar since
reaching Arctic waters. These queer skin tents were roughly cone-shaped,
and the ends of the framework of poles projected at the peak. They were
Cree Indian summer lodges. Up the wide board walk from the dock to the
fort gates, men were carrying sacks and boxes. The unloading of the
supply ships had begun.

The Perier family were among the last of the immigrants to go ashore.
Very much like a homeless wanderer, motherless Elise Perier felt as she
stood on the river bank beside her father, with Max clinging to her hand,
and their scanty belongings piled around them. It was good to be on land
again of course, but this was such a strange land. In spite of cramped
quarters, poor food, seasickness, and the other hardships of the voyage,
the _Lord Wellington_ seemed almost homelike compared to this wild,
barren country. Elise tried bravely to smile at her father and Walter,
but she felt as if she must cry instead.

Captain Mai was calling them. “Go right up to the fort, Perier. I want to
get you all together.”

Walter picked up as much of the luggage as he could carry. Mr. Perier was
looking doubtfully at a heavy wooden chest, when a boyish voice at his
shoulder said in French, “Let me help, M’sieu. If you will put that on my
back, I will carry it for you.”

Walter dropped his own load, and he and Mr. Perier lifted the chest and
placed it so it rested on the portage strap, as the young Canadian
directed. Then the latter led the way up the walk. He was a slender,
supple lad, not as tall as Walter, but he carried the heavy load with
apparent ease. The Swiss boy admired the young fellow’s strength as much
as he liked his face, with its bright brown eyes and clean-cut features.

The log stockade proved to be more imposing and fort-like than it had
appeared from the river. It was about twenty feet high, with bastions at
the corners pierced with openings for cannon. The massive entrance gates
stood open, and in front of them was a tall flagstaff, bearing the
Company flag with the letters H. B. C. and the curious motto, “_Pro pelle
cutem_,”—“Skin for skin.” Entering the gates and passing within the
double row of stockades, their guide led the Perier family among
workshops and cabins to an inner court, which was surrounded with
substantial log structures where the officers lived and where the
merchandise and furs were stored. In this court the Swiss were gathered.

Mr. Perier tried to thank the friendly lad, but he shook his head. “It is
nothing, nothing, M’sieu,” he replied, a quick smile displaying his even,
white teeth. “I must not linger. There is much to do.” And he was off at
a run.

When all of the Swiss were assembled, one of their leaders suggested that
it was fitting they should give thanks to God that the dangerous ocean
voyage was over and they were safe on land once more. They stood with
bowed heads while he led the prayer. The lump in Elise’s throat
disappeared and she felt better.

In the meantime, Captain Mai had been arranging with the Chief Factor,—as
the Hudson Bay Company officer in charge of the fort was called,—for
quarters for the immigrants. There was not room for all in the buildings,
so many of the men and boys would have to sleep in tents. A place in one
of the houses was found for the Periers, but Walter was assigned to a
tent with Mr. Scheidecker and his sons, German Swiss from Berne.

That first night on land was a miserable one for Walter. Fort York stood
in a veritable bog or muskeg, firm and hard enough the greater part of
the year, when it was frozen, but wet and soft in the short summer
season. The ground was damp of course, and Walter’s one blanket did not
keep out the chill. To make matters worse, he and his companions were
pestered by the bloodthirsty mosquitoes that bred in inconceivable hordes
in the swampy lowlands. But the discomfort of the night was quickly
forgotten the next day.

A busy and interesting place the Swiss boy found York Factory, as the
Hudson Bay men called the fort. It was not a factory in our common
meaning of the word,—not a _manufactory_,—for nothing was manufactured
there except boats for river traffic, dog sleds, wooden kegs, and such
articles of use and trade as an ordinary carpenter, blacksmith, or
tinsmith could make with simple tools. _Factory_ in the fur trade meant a
trading post in charge of an officer called a _factor_, a commercial
agent who bought and sold.

For more than a century York Factory had been the principal port of entry
for the Hudson Bay Company. There the Company’s ships from England
brought the supplies and trade goods destined for all the widely
separated posts in the interior. To York Factory, in bark canoes and
wooden boats, down rivers and lakes, from all parts of the Company’s
great domain, came the bales of costly furs to be sorted and repacked and
shipped. A considerable staff was employed at the place, a Chief Factor,
a Chief Trader, a surgeon, several clerks and apprentice clerks, a
steward, a shipwright, a carpenter, a mason, a cooper, a blacksmith, a
tailor, laborers, cooks, and servants. The boatmen or _voyageurs_ who
went to and fro into the interior were hired independently for each trip.

Until he sailed for America, Walter had never even heard of the Hudson
Bay Company or the fur trade. Everything in the fort was novel and
interesting to him. A good-natured apprentice clerk, who spoke French
readily, showed him the Indian store, a large room well filled with all
sorts of goods used in the Indian trade, from bales of heavy blankets,
blue and red woolens, calicos of every color, long-barreled trading guns,
kegs of powder, and big iron and copper kettles, to drawers of useful
little things, gun flints, fire steels, files, awls, needles, fish hooks,
twine, beads of all imaginable tints, and ochre, vermilion, and other dry
colors, used by the Indians to adorn both their handiwork and themselves.

“I never saw so many different things in one shop,” Walter commented.

The clerk laughed. “The worst of it is that we have to keep the closest
account of it all. We must know what is in every package sent out and
what post it goes to. Being a fur trader isn’t all adventure I can tell
you. There is a lot of office drudgery, with all the bookkeeping,
invoicing, and checking of lists. We can’t afford to make mistakes,” he
added soberly. “The very lives of the men in some far-away post may
depend on their getting the right supplies. Why, last year——” He broke
off suddenly, and switched to English. “I spoke to the Chief Trader about
your proposal. He says it can’t be done. It’s not the policy of the
Company to send voyageurs out to trade, especially on such long trips.”

Walter had turned to see to whom the clerk was speaking. He had heard no
footsteps, but there, close behind him, was a tall man in blue coat,
deerskin leggings, and moccasins. In his surprise, the boy drew back a
little and stood staring. Of all the men he had seen since coming ashore,
this one was the strangest and most striking. He was tall, powerfully
built, and very dark of skin, with high cheek bones and high-bridged
nose. His long, coarse black hair, slick and shining with grease, was
worn in what seemed to the Swiss boy a curious fashion for a man, parted
in the middle and plaited in two braids bound with deerskin thongs and
hanging one over each shoulder.

“You not give me goods?” The man’s voice was peculiarly deep, not
unmusical but of a hard, metallic quality. His small, dark eyes looked
straight into the clerk’s large blue ones.

The young man shook his head. “No, your plan is too wild, too much risk
in it. That sort of thing is against the Company’s policy.”

The voyageur’s brown face stiffened. His hard eyes seemed to catch fire
as they rested first on the clerk and then, for a moment, on Walter.
Without a word he turned and with long, soft-footed stride, left the room
as noiselessly as he had entered it.

“Pleasant manners,” commented the clerk. “He needn’t have included you in
his wrath.”

“What did he want?” asked Walter. He had understood but little of the
brief conversation.

“A lot of goods on credit. He claims to have great influence with the
Sioux, and he wants an outfit to go and trade with them. Of course we
can’t let him have it.”

“You don’t trust him?”

“We don’t know anything about him, except that he is a good voyageur.
It’s against the Company’s policy to send voyageurs out to trade. And his
scheme is a crazy one. The Sioux country is a thousand miles away. He
said he would bring all the furs back here and take whatever commission
we chose to give, but probably we should never hear of him or the goods
again.”

“Is he an Indian?”

“Half-breed I imagine. Finely built fellow, isn’t he? Has the strength of
a moose, they say. He is an expert voyageur.”

“I don’t like him,” Walter commented.

“Neither do I, and I suppose he has a grudge against me now, though the
refusal wasn’t my doing of course. Well, I must stop talking and get to
work checking this new stuff that has come in.”

Thus dismissed, Walter wandered out into the court, through the open
gates and down to the shore. Everywhere was bustle and activity. There
was much to be done, and done quickly. With the least possible delay the
ships must be unloaded and loaded again with the furs waiting packed and
ready for the voyage to England. The little fleet must get away promptly
while Hudson Straits were still open. All the goods and supplies received
had to be checked, examined, and sorted. The things to be sent to trading
posts in the interior were repacked for transport in open boats up the
rivers, and every package was invoiced and plainly marked. Boats must be
made ready and equipped and provisioned, not only to carry the supplies
and trade goods, but the one hundred and sixty new settlers as well. The
twelve hours a day that the employees of the Company were required to
work in summer, if necessary, were not enough. Most of the men were
simply doing all they possibly could each day until the rush should be
over.

Down by the river Walter found the young fellow who had carried Mr.
Perier’s chest. He was putting a new seat in one of the large, heavily
built boats ranged along the bank. Looking up from his work, he greeted
the Swiss boy with a cheery “_Bo jou_,” which the latter guessed to be
the Canadian way of saying “_Bon jour_” or “Good day.” Walter, who was
handy with tools, offered his help.

As they worked they talked. His new acquaintance’s French was fluent, but
Walter found it puzzling. To a Swiss, the Canadian dialect seemed a
strange sort of French, differing considerably in pronunciation and in
many of its words from his own native tongue. Yet Walter and Louis
Brabant managed to understand each other fairly well.

“I suppose this is your home, here at the fort,” said Walter.

“My home? _Non_, I live at the Red River.”

“Why, that is where we are going!”

“You go to the Selkirk Colony at Fort Douglas. It is not there that I
live, but at Pembina, farther up the river.”

“Is Pembina a town?”

“Not what you would call a town. It is a settlement and there are trading
posts there, a Hudson Bay post and a Northwest Company post. Now the two
companies have united, one of the forts will be abandoned I suppose. You
may be glad the fighting between them is over. There will be better times
in the Selkirk Colony now. They have had a hard time and much trouble,
those poor settlers!”

“What do you mean by fighting,—and trouble?” asked the surprised Walter.
“What is the Northwest Company? Isn’t the Hudson Bay the only trading
company? Doesn’t it own all the country where the Indians and the fur
bearing animals are?”

“Oh no,” returned Louis with a smile and a shake of his head. “Farther
south there is fur country that belongs to the United States. The Hudson
Bay Company has no power there. It is true that the Company claims all
the northern fur country, but the Northwest Company said they had a right
to trade and trap there too, and that was how the trouble began. Have you
never heard of the Northwest Company, and how for years they have fought
the Hudson Bay men for the furs, and how they drove the settlers from the
Selkirk Colony and captured Fort Douglas and killed the Governor?”

Walter shook his head in bewilderment, and Louis went on to tell, briefly
and vividly, something of the conflict between the two great trading
companies, and the disasters that conflict had brought upon the settlers.
The Swiss boy listened in amazement, understanding enough of the story to
grasp its significance.

“But why didn’t Captain Mai tell us all that?” he cried. “Why did he let
us think that everything was all right?”

“Perhaps he thought you would not come if you knew. But those old
troubles are all over. Last spring the two companies became one.”

Louis’ story troubled Walter. He retold it to Mr. Perier and Mr.
Scheidecker, and they carried it to other leading men of the prospective
settlers. Several of them sought out Captain Mai and demanded to know why
they had not been informed of all those wild doings in the colony.
Unsatisfied by their conductor’s explanations, they asked for an
interview with the Chief Factor, and put their questions to him. He
confirmed the statement that the fur-traders’ rivalry and warfare were at
an end. About five months before the arrival of the Swiss, the two great
trading companies had united under the Hudson Bay name. The colony on the
Red River would now have a chance to develop in peace.

In spite of this assurance, the Hudson Bay officer’s replies to some of
their queries left the Swiss in no happy mood. Mr. Perier was stunned to
learn that they still had some seven hundred miles to travel, all the way
through untamed wilderness. But he had no thought of turning back. He had
signed an agreement with Captain Mai, and had paid for his family’s
passage,—a moderate sum, but he could ill afford to lose it. To pay their
fare back again would leave him penniless. Fertile land, one hundred
acres of prairie,—that would not have to be cleared,—had been promised
him rent free for a year. After that he was to pay a rent of from twenty
to fifty bushels of wheat from his crop, or he might buy the land
outright for five hundred bushels. The offer was enticing, and he and
Walter had made many plans for the future.



                                  III
              THE SELKIRK COLONY AND THE RIVAL FUR TRADERS


What was the Selkirk Colony, and how did it happen that this party of
Swiss had come so far to join it?

When Thomas Douglas, Earl of Selkirk, one of the famous Douglas family of
the Scottish border, planned the settlement on the Red River of the
North, his purpose was to find homes and livelihood for the
poverty-stricken Scotch Highlanders. Hundreds of those unfortunate people
had been turned out of their homes through changes in the system of
management of the great landed estates in Scotland, and there was little
opportunity in the old country for them to make a living. Though a
Lowlander himself, Lord Selkirk had often visited the Highland glens. He
knew the people, and had learned their native Gaelic language. He
sympathized with them in their misfortunes. Seeking for some way to help
them, he realized that their only chance for prosperity and success lay
in emigration to a country where land was cheap and plentiful. He had
heard of the rich soil of the Red River valley, and decided that was the
place to plant his colony.

The lower Red River valley was included in the vast domain of the Hudson
Bay Company. The charter from King Charles II of England issued in 1670
had given to Prince Rupert and the “Company of Adventurers of England,
trading into Hudson Bay”—“the whole trade of all those seas, streights,
and bays, rivers, lakes, creeks, and sounds,—that lie within the entrance
of the streights commonly called Hudson’s Streights, together with all
the lands, countries, and territories upon the coasts and confines of the
seas, streights, bays, lakes, rivers, creeks, and sounds aforesaid, which
are not now actually possessed by any of our subjects, or by the subjects
of any other Christian prince or State.” Not only did the royal charter
grant the “Adventurers” the trade of that vast region,—which, in the
widest interpretation of the terms, included a quarter or a third of the
whole of North America,—but it conferred upon the Company the right to
hold the land “in free and common socage” which means absolute
proprietorship. Whether King Charles really had the right to give away
this vast territory to anyone may be questioned, but the Hudson Bay
Company claimed proprietorship under the charter.

The Red River empties into Lake Winnipeg, and the northern end of the
lake drains into the Nelson River which flows to Hudson Bay. Accordingly
the valley of the Red was included in the territory claimed by the
Company. However, before the time of this story, the purchase from France
by the United States of a vast extent of country west of the Mississippi
River,—the Louisiana Purchase—and the boundary treaties with the British
government, gave the greater part of the Red River to the United States.
Only the stretch from what is now the northern limit of Minnesota and
North Dakota to Lake Winnipeg remained in English possession. It was to
this lower part of the valley that Lord Selkirk wished to take his
colonists. He knew well enough that the Hudson Bay Company would not be
inclined to part with any of its domain for such a purpose, but he had
set his heart upon planting his colony in that particular spot.

Accordingly he laid his plans to get possession of the required land.
Quietly, by buying shares himself and persuading his friends to buy also,
he obtained control over a majority of the stock of the great trading
company. Then he offered to purchase a wide strip of land on the Red and
Assiniboine rivers. As he controlled the majority of votes in the
Company, he got what he wanted, about one hundred and sixteen square
miles, of which he became absolute proprietor.

The first settlers he sent over were of course Scotch Highlanders, with a
few Irish. They arrived at Fort York in the autumn of 1811, too late to
go to the Red River that year. The next summer they reached their new
home on the Red, and were followed within three years by other parties,
numbering in all a little more than two hundred, most of them Scotch.

The troubles of the settlers were many and discouraging. Had the Earl of
Selkirk been a more practical man he would scarcely have undertaken to
plant a farming colony in the midst of a wilderness, hundreds of miles
from any other settlement, and without communication with the civilized
world except by canoe and rowboat over long and difficult river trails.
Not all of the colonists’ troubles were due to natural conditions
however.

The Hudson Bay Company had a strong trading rival in the Northwest Fur
Company. The latter was a Canadian organization with headquarters at
Montreal, while the Hudson Bay Company was strictly English, its chief
offices in London. The Northwest men had established trading posts along
the Great Lakes and far to the west and north beyond Lake Superior. They
had penetrated farther and farther into the country claimed by the Hudson
Bay Company. The Hudson Bay men themselves had done almost nothing to
develop trade in the interior, until the Canadian traders began to go
among the Indians and secure furs that might otherwise have been brought
to the posts on the Bay. Awakening to the realization that the Northwest
Company was actually taking away the trade, the Hudson Bay men also
sought the interior. In this way began a race and a fight for the furs
that grew hotter and fiercer with each year. Everywhere on the principal
lakes and streams of the west and northwest, rival posts were
established, sometimes within a few hundred rods of each other.

The rivalry between the fur traders was approaching its height when Lord
Selkirk founded his colony. From the first, the Northwest Company opposed
the scheme. The fur trader never likes to see the country from which the
pelts come opened up to settlement. He knows that as the land is settled
the wild animals disappear. Moreover Lord Selkirk was now the controlling
power in the Hudson Bay Company, and the Northwesters suspected him of
some deep laid plan to interfere with and ruin their trade. Several years
before, they had established a post called Fort Gibraltar at the junction
of the Red and the Assiniboine, and their route to the rich fur districts
of the west lay up the latter river. They believed that the settlement
was merely a scheme to cut off their trade. So they looked with
unfriendly eyes upon the colony, and even persuaded a considerable number
of the colonists to leave and settle on lands farther east in Canada.
Most of the Northwest traders were of Scotch blood, many of them of
Highland descent, and doubtless they honestly thought that their
countrymen would find better homes elsewhere. The chance that the Red
River settlement would ever succeed seemed, to practical-minded men, very
slender indeed.

The ill feeling between the two great trading companies and between the
Northwest Company and the Selkirk settlement grew stronger and bitterer
as time went on. Mistakes and high handed acts on both sides, in a land
where there was no law, led at last to open conflict. In 1815 the
colonists were driven from their homes and obliged to flee to the shelter
of a Hudson Bay post at the northern end of Lake Winnipeg. The Hudson Bay
men made reprisals by capturing the Northwesters’ posts and interrupting
their trade. The settlers were rallied and taken back to their homes,
only to face a worse disaster the next year. An open fight between the
men of Governor Semple of the colony and a party of half-breeds in the
employ of the Northwest Company resulted in the killing of the Governor
and his twenty followers, and the capture of their stronghold, Fort
Douglas.

Lord Selkirk was in America at the time seeking from the Canadian
government some means of protection for his colonists. Failing to get
satisfaction from a government whose sympathies were with the Northwest
rather than with the Hudson Bay company, he had hired, to guard his
colony, one hundred men from two regiments of mercenary soldiers that had
been disbanded after the War of 1812. While he was traversing Lake
Superior on his way west with these men, he met canoes bringing word of
the disastrous fight of Seven Oaks, the death of Governor Semple, and the
capture of Fort Douglas. Skirting the shores of the lake, Lord Selkirk
went to Fort William, the headquarters of the Northwest Company on
Thunder Bay. There he demanded the release of the prisoners who had been
brought from the Red River. The controversy that followed finally led to
his taking possession of the fort. The fact that he had been appointed a
magistrate for the Indian country and sought the arrest of the
Northwesters who had taken part in or instigated the troubles at Fort
Douglas, gave his action some color of legal right. From Fort William he
went on to his disordered and devastated colony, and gathered together
all the settlers who were willing to remain.

In spite of all the settlement had been through, Lord Selkirk had no
intention of giving up his plans. So many of the colonists had been
driven or enticed away and would not return, that he sought to find
others to take their places. It was then that he hit upon the idea of
bringing over the steady, hard-working Swiss, who would, he believed,
make the very best of settlers.

Captain Mai or May,—the English spelling of his name,—a Swiss who had
served as a mercenary soldier in the British army, and other agents were
sent to Switzerland to secure settlers. Throughout the cantons of
Neuchatel, Vaud, Geneva, and Berne, they traveled, explaining the
advantages of emigration to the Red River country. The pamphlets they
distributed, printed in French and German, gave a highly colored and
alluring description of that country with its many miles of fertile soil
to be had for the asking. Like all emigration agents, Captain Mai and his
assistants told all the good things about both country and colony and
left out the bad. About the civil war between the fur companies and the
troubles it had led to, they said nothing.

Early in May 1821, about one hundred and sixty emigrants were gathered
together at a small village on the Rhine near Basel. In great barges they
were taken down the Rhine, a delightful trip on that famous river with
its beautiful and striking scenery, to Dordrecht in Holland. There they
embarked on the _Lord Wellington_ for the trip to Hudson Bay. The voyage
took far longer than they had realized it would take, the food provided
was inferior to what they were used to, the drinking water became bad,
and storms and ice caused delay. At Hudson Straits the _Lord Wellington_
overtook the two Hudson Bay Company supply ships, and the three were held
for three weeks in the ice with which the Straits were filled. The heavy
swell coming in from the open ocean and rushing between the icebergs,
caused rapid tides and currents in which sailing ships were almost
helpless. Luckily the _Lord Wellington_ escaped serious injury, but one
of the supply ships was nearly wrecked and badly damaged by collision
with a berg. Not far away were two other vessels also caught in the ice,
the _Fury_ and the _Hecla_ carrying Captain Parry and his Arctic
exploring expedition. The _Hecla_ had one of her anchors broken and
several hawsers carried away.

The Swiss emigrants were a hopeful, cheerful folk. They had been together
so long they had become like a large family party, and they made the best
of their hardships. When it was safe to do so, the young and active
climbed down from the ship to the solid ice field, ran races, and even
held a dance on a particularly smooth stretch. At last the ships
succeeded in entering the bay. Skirting the barren shores, the three
vessels destined for the Hudson Bay post reached anchorage off York
Factory in safety.



                                   IV
                        THE START FROM FORT YORK


Finding transport for so large a party of settlers taxed the resources of
the Hudson Bay Company. Several new boats had to be built, and every one
of the immigrants who could handle wood-working tools was called upon to
help.

The boats were to be despatched in two divisions or brigades. Walter had
taken for granted that he would travel with the Periers, but he found
himself assigned to the first division, the Periers to the second. He
asked to be transferred to their boat, but Captain Mai declared the
change could not be made. Only young people were to go in the first
brigade which was expected to make the best possible speed. Walter was
young and strong and without family. The boy protested that he was one of
the Perier family, he had come with them, and was to live with them in
the settlement, but his protest was of no avail. Elise and Max were as
much distressed as he was at the arrangement, and he had to comfort them
with the assurance that they would all be together soon at the Red River.

It was well after noon on the day appointed for departure, when the start
was made. The boat carrying the guide, who was really the commanding
officer of the brigade, was propelled by oars out into the stream, and
the square sail raised. With shouts, cheers, and farewells, the long,
open craft, well laden with settlers, supplies, and goods, was away up
the river.

When Walter took his place he was pleased to find himself in the same
boat with Louis Brabant. In spite of his disappointment at not traveling
with the Periers, the Swiss boy was in high spirits to be away at last,
headed for the wonderful Red River country where his fortune, he felt
sure, awaited him. He waved his hat and shouted himself hoarse in
farewells to those on shore.

It was a picturesque crowd massed on the dock and fringing the river
bank. Mingled with the Swiss were brown-skinned, long-haired post
employees and voyageurs with bright colored sashes, beaded garters tied
below the knees of their deerskin or homespun trousers, caps of fur or
cloth, or gaudy handkerchiefs bound about their heads. A little to one
side stood a group of Indians from the wigwams, in buckskin, bright
calicos, blankets, feathers, and beadwork. One old Cree was proudly clad
in a discarded army coat of scarlet with gold lace and a tall black hat
adorned with feathers. The dress of the Swiss, though in general more
sober, was brightened by the gay colors of shawls, aprons, and kerchiefs,
of short jackets or long-tailed coats with metal buttons, and of
home-knit stockings. As various as the costumes were the shouts and
farewells and words of advice exchanged between boats and shore in a
babel of tongues, English, Scots English, Swiss French, Canadian French,
German, Gaelic, and Cree.

The sail was raised and caught the breeze. Sitting at his ease, Walter
turned his attention to what lay ahead. The surrounding country was not
very pleasing in appearance. Scantily wooded with a scrub of willow,
poplar, tamarack, and swamp spruce, it was low and flat, especially on
the west, where the York Factory stood between the Hayes and the Nelson
rivers. The Nelson, Louis said, was the larger stream, but the Hayes was
supposed to afford a better route into the interior. Certainly the latter
river was not attractive, with its raw, ragged looking, clay banks,
embedded with stones, its muddy islands, and frequent bars and shallows
that interfered with navigation.

The immigrants were not suffered to sit in idleness all that afternoon.
There were two or more experienced rivermen in each boat, but the new
colonists were required to help. When the wind went down before sunset,
Walter expected to be called upon to wield an oar. But the current of the
Hayes was too strong and rapid to be stemmed with oars. The boat was
brought close to the bank, and the sail lowered. Standing in the stern,
the steersman surveyed his crew. Walter, in the other end of the boat,
had not noticed the steersman before. Now, he recognized the tall man
with the braided hair, who had come up behind him so noiselessly in the
Indian trading room at the fort.

In his deep, metallic voice the steersman began to speak, pointing first
at one man, then at another. When his bright, hard little eyes alighted
on Walter, and his long, brown forefinger pointed him out, the boy was
moved by the same strong, instinctive dislike, almost akin to fear, he
had felt when he first looked into the half-breed’s face. The fellow’s
French was so strange that Walter could not grasp the meaning. With a
questioning glance, he turned to Louis Brabant.

“You are to go ashore,” Louis explained. “Murray has chosen you in his
crew. The tracking begins now.”

Walter had no idea what tracking might be, but he rose to obey. With
several others, including Louis, he jumped from the boat to the muddy bit
of beach. The steersman handed each a leather strap, and Louis showed
Walter how to attach his to the tow-line and pass the strap over his
“inshore” shoulder. Like horses on a tow-path, the men were to haul the
boat, with the rest of the party in it, up stream.

The steep, clay banks were slippery from recent rains. Fallen trees, that
had been undermined and had slid part way down the incline, projected at
all angles. The willing, but inexperienced tracking crew slipped,
stumbled, scrambled, and struggled along, tugging at the tow-line. With
maddening ease the tall steersman, in the lead, strode through and over
the obstacles, turning his head every minute or two to shout back orders
and abuse. He seemed to have the utmost contempt for his greenhorn crew,
but he tried to urge and threaten them to a pace of which they were quite
incapable. Every time a man slipped or stumbled, jerking the tow-line,
Murray poured out a torrent of violent and profane abuse, in such bad
French and English, so intermixed with Gaelic and Indian words, that,
luckily, the Swiss could not understand a quarter of it.

Walter understood the tone, if not the words. He grew angrier and
angrier, as he strained and tugged at the rope and struggled to keep his
footing on the slippery bank. But he had the sense to realize that he
must not start a mutiny on the first day of the journey. He held his
tongue and labored on. The boy was thin, not having filled out to his
height, but he was strong. He was mountain bred, with muscular legs, good
heart and lungs. Nevertheless when at last Murray gave the order to halt,
only pride kept Walter from dropping to the ground to rest.

The second shift was led by a fair-haired, blue-eyed man from the Orkney
Islands, off the coast of Scotland, where the Hudson Bay Company
recruited many of its employees. Before his crew were through with their
turn at the tow-line, they came in sight, on rounding a bend, of the
first two boats with bows drawn up on a stretch of muddy beach. Farther
back on higher ground tents were going up and fires being kindled. Murray
ordered out the oars, and boat number three was run in beside the others.

After the tent, bedding, and provisions for the night were unloaded, the
tall steersman, without troubling to help with the camp making, took
himself off. It was young Louis Brabant who took charge. He selected the
spot for the one tent and helped to pitch it. Then he sent a man and a
boy to collect fuel, and Walter and another into the woods to strip
balsam fir branches for beds. Louis himself started the cooking fire,
between two green logs spaced so that the big iron kettle rested upon
them. From a chunk of dried caribou meat,—so hard and dry it looked a
good deal like sole leather,—he shaved off some shreds. After he had
ground the bits of meat between two stones, he put the partly pulverized
stuff to boil in a kettle of water. This soup, thickened with flour, was
the principal dish of the meal. Several handfuls of dark blue saskatoon
or service berries, gathered near by, served as dessert. By the time
supper was ready, the young Canadian’s swift, deft way of working, his
skill and certainty, his good nature and helpfulness, had won the good
will of everyone.

Walter asked Louis how long it would be before the second brigade left
Fort York.

“That I cannot tell. As soon as all is ready. You regret to be separated
from your family?”

“They aren’t really my family. I am apprenticed to Monsieur Perier.”

“The young Englishmen who come over to be clerks for the Company,” Louis
remarked, “sign a paper to serve for five years. Is it so with you?”

“Something like that, and in return Monsieur Perier agrees to give me a
home and teach me the business. When he decided to come to America, he
really released me from the agreement though. He offered to treat me like
his own son if I came with him.”

“If you are twenty-one you can get land of your own in the Colony.”

“I’m not sixteen yet.”

“Is it so?” cried Louis. “Then we are the same age, you and me. Fifteen
years last Christmas day I was born. So my mother told Père Provencher
when I was baptized.”

“My birthday is in February,” Walter replied. “I thought you must be
older than that. How long have you been a voyageur for the Company?”

“For the Hudson Bay Company only this summer. This is the first time I
have come to Fort York. Last year, after my father died, I went to the
Kaministikwia with the Northwest men. But always since I was big enough I
have known how to carry a pack and paddle a canoe. The birch canoe,—ah,
that is the right kind of boat! These heavy affairs of wood,” Louis
shrugged contemptuously. “They are so slow, so heavy to track and to
portage. You have the birch canoe in your country? No? Then you cannot
understand. When you have voyaged in a birch canoe, you will want no more
of these heavy things.”

“Why does the Company use them?”

Louis shrugged again as if the ways of the Hudson Bay Company were past
understanding. “The wooden boats will carry greater loads,” he admitted,
“and they are stronger, yes. Sometimes you get a hole in a canoe and you
must stop to mend it. Yet I think you do not lose so much time that way
as in dragging these heavy boats over portages.”

The wavering white bands of the aurora borealis were mounting the
northern sky before the camp was ready for the night. The one tent
carried by boat number three was given up to the women and children.
Walter rolled himself in a blanket and lay down with the other men on a
bed of fir branches close to the fire. The air was sharp and cold, and he
would have been glad of another blanket. But he had been well used to
cold weather in his native country, and had become still more hardened to
it during the long voyage in northern waters.



                                   V
                            THE BLACK MURRAY


Louis’ voice, almost in Walter’s ear, was crying, “_Leve, leve_,—rise,
rise!”

Surely the night could not be over yet. Walter threw off his blanket,
scrambled up, shook himself, and pulled out his cherished silver watch.
It was ten minutes to five.

In a few moments the whole camp was stirring. Following the usual
voyageur custom, the boats got off at once, without delaying for
breakfast. After a spell of tracking, the Swiss boy was more than ready
for the pemmican and tea taken on a small island almost in midstream. The
Swiss lad had never tasted tea until he sailed on an English ship, but
after the drinking water had turned bad, he had been driven to try the
strange beverage and had grown accustomed to it. Tea was the universal
drink of the northern fur country, where coffee was practically unknown.
He was amazed at the quantity of scalding hot, black stuff the voyageurs
could drink.

Pemmican, the chief article of food used in the wilderness, he had eaten
for the first time at Fort York. The mixture of shredded dried meat and
grease did not look very inviting, but its odor, when heated, was not
unappetizing. He tasted his portion gingerly, and decided it was not bad.
The little dark specks of which he had been suspicious proved to be dried
berries of some kind. Walter had a healthy appetite, and the portion
served him looked small. He was surprised to find, before he had eaten
all of it, that he had had enough. Pemmican was very hearty food indeed.

That was a day of back-breaking, heart-breaking labor towing the heavy
boats up the Hayes. The clay banks grew steeper and steeper. Sometimes
there was a muddy beach at the base wide enough for the trackers to walk
on. Often there was no beach whatever, and they were forced to scramble
along slippery slopes, through and over landslips, fallen trees,
driftwood, and brush. Where tiny streams trickled down to join the river,
the ground was soft, miry, almost impassable. The forest crowning the
bank had become thicker, the trees larger and more flourishing. Poplars
and willows everywhere were flecked with autumn yellow. The tamarack
needles,—which fall in the autumn like the foliage of broad leaved
trees,—were turning bronze, and contrasted with the dark green of the
spruce. There was more variety and beauty in the surroundings than on the
preceding day, but Walter, stumbling along the difficult shore and
tugging at the tow-line, paid little attention to the scenery. With
aching back and shoulders and straining heart and lungs, he labored on.
Each time his shift was over and he was allowed to sit in the boat while
others did the tracking, he was too weary to care for anything but rest.

The boats were strung out a long way, some crews making better speed than
others. Some of the leaders were more considerate of their inexperienced
followers, though most of the voyageurs could scarcely understand why the
Swiss could not trot with the tow-line and keep up the pace all day, as
the Canadians and half-breeds were accustomed to. The steersman of boat
number three drove his men mercilessly. When at the tow-rope himself, he
kept up a steady flow of profane abuse in his bad French, almost equally
bad English, occasional Indian and Gaelic. Even when seated in the boat,
he grumbled at the slowness and lack of skill of those on shore, and
shouted orders and oaths at them.

At noon, when a short stop was made for a meal of cold pemmican and hot
tea, Walter said to Louis, “If our steersman doesn’t take care he will
have a mutiny on his hands. You had better tell him so. We have kept our
tempers so far, but we can’t stand his abuse forever.”

Louis shrugged. “I tell him? No, no. I tell _le Murrai Noir_ nothing,
_moi_. It would but make more trouble. With a crew of voyageurs he would
not dare act so. They will endure much, but not everything. Someone would
kill him. As a voyageur the Black Murray is good. He is strong, he is
swift, he knows how to shoot a rapid, he is a fine steersman. But as a
man—bah! Being in charge of a boat has turned his head.”

“He may get his head cracked if he does not change his manners.”

“We would not grieve, you and me, eh, my friend? But this is certain,”
the Canadian boy added seriously. “_Le Murrai Noir_ can hurt no one with
his tongue. Heed him not, though he bawl his voice away. It is so that I
do.”

Of all the men in the boat, the one who found the tracking hardest was a
young weaver named Matthieu. He was a lank, high-shouldered fellow, who
looked strong, but had been weakened by seasickness on the way over, and
had not regained his strength. Matthieu did his best, he made no
complaint, but he was utterly exhausted at the end of his shift each
time. The weaver was next to Murray in line, and much of the steersman’s
ill temper was vented on the poor fellow.

Late in the afternoon, Murray’s crew were tracking on a wet clay slope
heavily wooded along the rim and without beach at the base. In an
especially steep place Matthieu slipped. His feet went from under him.
The tow-rope jerked, and Walter barely saved himself from going down too.
Murray, his moccasins holding firm on the slippery clay, seized the rope
with both hands and roared abuse at the weaver. Exhausted and panting,
the poor fellow tried to regain his footing. Walter dug his heels into
the bank, and leaned down to reach Matthieu a hand, just as the enraged
steersman gave the fallen man a vicious and savage kick.

The boy’s anger flamed beyond control. He forgot that he was attached by
the left shoulder to the towline. Fists doubled, he started for Murray.
The rope pulled him up short. As he struggled to free himself and reach
the steersman, one of his companions intervened. He was a big, strong,
intelligent Swiss, a tanner by trade, who had assumed the leadership of
the immigrants in boat number three. His size, his authoritative manner,
his firm voice, had their effect on Murray. The half-breed paused, his
foot raised for another kick.

“There must be no fighting here,” said the tanner, “and no brutality.
Rossel, help Matthieu up. He must go back to the boat.”

Murray began to protest that he would allow no man to interfere with his
orders. The Swiss was quiet, but determined. The steersman had no right
to work a man to death, or to strike with hand or foot any member of the
party. The settlers were not his slaves.

Murray growled and muttered. His hard little eyes glowed angrily. When
Louis shouted to the Orkneyman to bring the boat to shore to receive the
worn-out Matthieu, the steersman opened his mouth to countermand the
order, but thought better of it and merely uttered an oath instead. He
could recognize the voice of authority,—when numbers were against him.

After Matthieu had been put aboard, the work was resumed. Murray, very
ugly, plodded sullenly ahead. He seized every opportunity to abuse
Walter, but the boy, now that one victory had been scored over the Black
Murray, did not heed his words.

The sky had clouded over, and rain began to fall, a chilly, sullen
drizzle. Yet the trackers toiled on. The oars were used only when
crossing from one side of the river to the other to find a possible
tow-path.

As darkness gathered, camp was made in the rain. The pemmican ration was
eaten cold, but by using under layers of birch bark shredded very fine,
and chopping into the dry heart of the stub of a lightning-killed tree,
Louis succeeded in starting a small blaze and keeping it going long
enough to boil water for tea.

After supper the tanner asked Walter to go with him to talk to the
voyageur in charge of the entire brigade. Laroque, the guide, a
middle-aged, steady-eyed French Canadian, listened to the complaint in
silence, then shook his head gravely.

“_Le Murrai Noir_ is not the best of men to be in control of a boat,—that
I know,” he admitted, “but it was hard to find men enough. He can do the
work, and do it well,—and there is this to say for him. You settlers know
nothing of voyaging. You are so slow and clumsy it is trying to the
patience. I find it so myself. _Le Murrai Noir_ has little patience. It
is you who must be patient with him.”

“But he has no right to strike and abuse men who are doing their best,
men who are not even employees of the Company,” protested the tanner.

Laroque nodded in agreement. “That is true.”

“Can’t you put someone else in as steersman of our boat?”

“No, there is no man of experience to be spared. Let the young man who is
sick remain in the boat with the women and children, until he is strong
again. I will speak to _le Murrai_ in the morning, and I think things
will go better. These first few days, they are the hardest for all.”

Wet, chilled, aching with weariness, and a bit discouraged, Walter
trudged back to his own camping place. Louis and the Orkneyman had laid
the mast and oars across the boat and had covered them with the sail and
a tarpaulin. Under this shelter the men spent the night, packed in so
closely there was scarcely room to turn over.



                                   VI
                           TOILING UP STREAM


Things did go better next day, as the guide had foretold. What he had
said to Murray in that early morning talk, no one learned, but the
steersman attempted no more kicks and blows. He took his revenge upon
those who had complained of him by riding in the boat all day, devoting
his whole time and attention to steering. Not once did he touch the
tow-line, Louis taking his place. All the men, except the two voyageurs,
were lame and muscle sore from the unaccustomed work, but they were
gradually learning the trick of it. In comparison with trained rivermen,
they made slow time, but they got along better than on the day before. To
Walter it was a great relief to be freed from Murray’s brutality. He was
on his mettle to show the steersman that just as good progress could be
made without him.

On the fourth day of the journey a fork in the stream was reached, where
the Shamattawa and the Steel rivers came together to form the Hayes.
There Murray and Louis took down the mast and threw it overboard. There
would be no more sailing for a long way, Louis explained.

Up the winding course of the Steel the boats were hauled laboriously. The
banks were higher than those of the Hayes, but less steep, affording a
better tow-path. In appearance the country was far more attractive than
the low, flat desolation around Fort York, and the woods were at their
best in full autumn color. Utterly wild and lonely was this savage land,
but by no means devoid of beauty. It seemed to the Swiss immigrants,
however, that they were but going farther and farther from all
civilization. Towns and farms, the homelike dwellings of men, seemed
almost as remote as though on some other planet.

Walter was surprised to see so little game in the wilderness, until he
realized that the constant talking, laughing, and shouting back and forth
must frighten every bird and beast. Wild creatures could not be expected
to show themselves to such noisy travelers. Only the “whiskey-johneesh,”
as Louis called the bold and thievish Canada jays, dared to cry out at
the passing boats and come about the camps to watch for scraps.

Just as the Swiss were growing used to the labor of the tow-rope, they
were given a new task, portaging. Below the first really bad rapid, the
boat was beached, everyone was ordered ashore, and the cargo unloaded.
The traders’ custom was to put all goods and supplies in packages of from
ninety to one hundred pounds’ weight. One such package was considered a
light load. An experienced voyageur usually carried two. That the new
settlers might help with the work, part of the food, clothing, and other
things had, for this trip, been made into lighter parcels.

The Orkneyman was the first to receive a load. He adjusted his portage
strap, the broad band across his forehead, the ends passing back over his
shoulders to support his pack. Picking up a hundred pound sack of
pemmican, Murray put it in position on the small of the Orkneyman’s back,
then placed another bulky package on top of the sack. The load extended
along the man’s spine to the crown of his head, and weighed nearly two
hundred pounds, but the Orkneyman, his body bent forward, trotted away
with it. It was the steersman’s work to place the packages, and the ease
with which Murray had swung the hundred pound sack into position revealed
one reason why he had been chosen.

Walter’s pack of forty or fifty pounds did not seem heavy. He felt
confident that he could carry it easily enough, and imitated the
Orkneyman by starting off at a trot. The portage trail was an unusually
good one, neither very rough nor very steep, yet the boy soon found that
he could not keep up the pace. He slowed down to a walk. His burden grew
heavier. The muscles of his neck began to ache. He tried to ease them a
little, and his pack twisted, pulling his head back with a wrench. He
stumbled, went down, strove to straighten his load and get up again. One
of his companions, plodding along, overtook him, stopped to laugh, tried
to help him, and succeeded only in dislocating his own pack. Louis had to
come to the rescue of both. Walter’s confidence in his own strength had
diminished, and he had discovered several new muscles in his back and
neck. Moreover he had learned that balancing a pack is an art not to be
acquired in a moment.

Another forking of the streams had been reached, where the Fox and the
Hill rivers joined to form the Steel. The Hill River proved shallower and
more rapid than the Steel. Ledges, rocks, and boulders obstructed the
current, and portages became so frequent that Walter got plenty of
practice in carrying a pack. Sometimes the empty boats could be poled or
tracked through the rapids or warped up the channel by throwing the line
around a tree and pulling. In other places the men, standing in the
water, lifted the heavy craft over the stones. Around the worst stretches
they dragged it over the portage trails.

At Rock Portage, where a ridge extends across the river and the water
rushes down in rapids and cascades between small islands, each boat and
its cargo had to be carried clear over one of the islands. Then, to the
great relief of the crews, they were able to row a short distance to Rock
House, a storehouse for goods and supplies for the Selkirk Colony. There
more pemmican, dried meat, flour, tea, and a little sugar were taken
aboard. To make room for the provisions, some of the personal belongings
of the settlers had to be unloaded, but the man in charge of Rock House
promised to send the things to Fort Douglas at the first opportunity.

Traveling up stream had now become an almost continual fight with rapid
waters through rough and rocky country. Walter’s muscles were hardening
and he was learning how to use his strength to the best advantage, but
each night when camp was made, he was ready to roll in his blanket and
sleep anywhere, on evergreen branches, on the hard planks of the boat, or
on the bare ground.

How was Mr. Perier standing the tow-path and the portage, the boy
wondered. The apothecary was far from robust. He had been so hopeful,
too, looking forward so eagerly to the rich land of the Red River. He
seemed to think of that land in the Bible terms, as “flowing with milk
and honey.” They would be too late to do any real farming this year, he
had said, but they could plow their land and have it ready for seeding in
the spring. Of course they would be provided with a house, fuel, and food
for the winter. The contract he and Captain Mai,—in Lord Selkirk’s
name,—had signed, promised him such things on credit. He had brought with
him some chemist’s supplies; dried and powdered roots and other
ingredients used in medicines. He and Walter would set up a shop and earn
enough to buy whatever they needed during the cold weather. Walter had
shared his master’s hopefulness, but now, after questioning Louis about
affairs in the Colony, he was beginning to doubt whether it would be so
easy to make a fortune there as Mr. Perier believed.

September was advancing. Most of the time the weather held good, but the
nights were chilly and the mornings raw, often with fog on the river. One
night, after the boat had been dragged through several short rapids, or
“spouts,” and carried over two portages,—the whole day’s progress less
than two miles,—snow fell heavily. When Walter, stiff with cold, crawled
out from under the tarpaulin in the morning, the ground was white.

“This looks more like Christmas than September,” he grumbled between
chattering teeth. “I’m glad of one thing, Louis, we’re headed south, not
north.”

“Oh, the winter is not quite so long at the Red River as in this
country,” Louis returned with a cheerful grin, “but it is long
enough,—yes, quite long enough,—and cold enough too, on the prairie.”

So the journey went slowly on, rowing, poling, tracking, warping, and
carrying the heavy boats up stream, and there was little enough rowing
compared with the poling and portaging.

Five or six miles had become a fair day’s progress. In the worst
stretches only a mile or two could be made by working from dawn to dark.
The Swiss would have been glad to rest on Sundays, and had expected to
observe the day as they were accustomed to, but the guide and the
voyageurs would not consent. It was too late in the season, the journey
was too long, the food supply too scanty, to permit the losing of one
whole day each week. The immigrants had to be content with a brief prayer
service morning and evening. The Swiss were Protestants, while all of the
voyageurs, except two or three Orkneymen, belonged to the Roman Catholic
church, so they worshiped separately. It surprised Walter at first to see
the wild-looking rivermen kneeling with bowed heads repeating their
“Aves” before lying down to rest. He never saw _le Murrai Noir_ in that
posture, however. He wondered if the steersman was a heathen.

There were accidents in the brigade now and then. Once when the
Orkneyman’s shift were tracking, the rope broke and boat number three
began to swing broadside to the current. At Murray’s fierce yell of
command, the men in the boat jumped into the water nearly to their waists
and held it headed straight, while Louis, keeping his footing with
difficulty in the swift current, carried the remains of the line to
shore.

The next day the boat ahead met with misfortune, while it was being poled
through rapids. To avoid a great rock, the bowman turned too far out into
the strong current. The rushing water swung the clumsy craft about and
bore it down the rapids. It struck full on its side on a rock that rose
well out of water, and was held there by the strength of the current.
There were but two men in the boat, and it was separated from shore by a
channel of rushing white water. The crew of number three turned their own
craft in to shore, and ran to help. Walter, carrying the tow-line,
reached the spot first and attempted to throw the rope to the imperiled
boat. The end fell short. Then Louis tried his hand, but succeeded no
better. He was preparing for another attempt, when the line was snatched
from his hands, and Murray sent the coiled end hurtling out across the
water and into the boat.

Growling and cursing, the half-breed took control of the rescue. Under
his leadership, the men on shore succeeded in pulling the boat away from
the rock, and warping it, half full of water, up the rapids. Walter’s
fondness for the Black Murray had certainly not increased as the days
went by, but he had to admit that the brutal steersman knew how to act in
an emergency.

The toilsome ascent of Hill River was over at last when camp was made
late one afternoon on an island which Louis called Sail Island. The
reason for the name became apparent when Murray, after carefully
examining the trees, selected a straight, sound spruce and ordered Louis
and the Orkneyman to cut it down. The spruce was to be trimmed for a
mast. If a mast was needed, thought Walter, the worst of the journey must
be over. The night was cold and snow threatened, but there was plenty of
fuel, and the camp on Sail Island was a cheerful one.



                                  VII
                              NORWAY HOUSE


The first thing Walter did when he woke the next morning was to notice
the direction of the wind. Though light it was favorable. That made a day
of easy, restful sailing. The weary men sat and lay about in as lazy
positions as the well-filled boat would permit, while the women busied
themselves with knitting and mending. The journey was a hard one on
clothes, even of the stoutest materials, but by mending and darning
whenever they had a chance, and by washing soiled things out at night and
hanging them around the fire to dry, the Swiss managed to keep themselves
fairly neat and clean. They had not been in the wilds long enough to grow
careless.

The following day’s journey commenced with a portage. The brigade was
going up the Jack River, which was short but full of rapids. All the
rivers in this country were made up of rapids, it seemed to Walter. Then
came another period of ease on Knee Lake, so called from an angle like a
bent knee. About twenty miles were made that day, one of the best of the
trip.

The hard work was not over by any means. On Trout River were some of the
worst portages of all. A waterfall, plunging down fifteen or sixteen
feet, obstructed the passage. The boats were unloaded and dragged and
carried up a rugged trail, to be launched again over steep rocks.

On Holey Lake,—named from a deep spot believed by the Indians to be
bottomless,—was Oxford House, a Hudson Bay Company post. The boats made a
short stop there, then went on to pitch camp on one of the islands. The
waters abounded in fish. With trolling lines Walter and his companions
caught lake trout enough for both supper and breakfast. The fish, broiled
over the coals, were a luxury after days of pemmican and hard dried meat.

A narrow river, more portages, a little pond, a deep stream flowing
through flat, marshy land, followed Holey Lake. In strong contrast was
the passage called Hell Gates, a narrow cut with sheer cliffs so close on
either hand that there was not always room to use the oars.

A whole day was spent in passing the White Falls, where everything had to
be carried a long mile. Three of the crews made the crossing at the same
time, crowding each other on the portage. The Swiss caught the voyageurs’
spirit of good-natured rivalry and entered heartily into the contest to
see which crew would get boat and cargo over in the shortest time. With a
ninety pound sack of pemmican, Walter trotted over the slippery trail and
won a grin from Louis.

“You will make a good voyageur when you have gone two or three voyages,”
said the young Canadian.

By the time Walter had helped to drag the heavy boat across three rock
ridges, which caused three separate waterfalls, he felt that one voyage
would be quite enough. Yet he was not too tired to dance a jig when he
learned that his boat had won.

Small lakes, connected by narrow, grassy streams, gave relief from
portaging, tracking, and poling. Muskrat houses, conical heaps of mud and
débris, rose above the grass in the swamps, and ducks flew up as the
boats approached. The sight of those ducks made Walter’s mouth water. His
regular portion of pemmican or dried meat left him hungry enough to eat
at least twice as much. He had not had a really satisfying meal since
leaving Holey Lake. Yet he could do a harder day’s work and be far less
tired than at the beginning of the trip. His muscles had hardened, and he
carried not one pound of extra weight. During the cold nights he would
have been glad of a layer of fat to keep him warm.

The boat was sailing along a sluggish, marshy stream, when Louis, who was
in the bow picking the channel, raised a shout. “The Painted Stone,” he
cried, pointing ahead.

“I don’t see any stone, painted or not,” Walter returned, gazing in the
same direction.

Louis laughed. “There used to be such a stone,—so they say. The Indians
worshiped it.”

“But why make such a fuss about a stone that isn’t there?”

Again Louis laughed. “Do you see that flat rock? Perhaps it was painted
once, I do not know, but it marks the Height of Land. All the way we have
come up and up, but from there we go down stream,—until we come to Sea
River, which is a part of the Nelson and takes us to Lake Winnipeg. Isn’t
that something to make a fuss about?”

“It’s the best news I have heard in many a day,” Walter agreed.

A short portage at the Height of Land brought the boats to the Echemamis
River, where they were headed down stream into a rush-grown lake,
connected by a creek with the Sea River. This stream is a part of the
Nelson, which rises in Lake Winnipeg, so the brigade had to go against
the current to Lower Play Green Lake and Little Jack River.

From a log cabin on the shore of Little Jack, a bearded, buckskin-clad
man came down to the water’s edge. Louis called to ask if he had any
fish. The man shook his head. The first boat had taken all he could
spare. The fisherman, Louis explained, supplied trout and sturgeon to
Norway House.

Many a time during the trip Walter had heard of Norway House, an
important Hudson Bay Company post. “Isn’t that on Lake Winnipeg?” he
cried. “Are we so near the lake?”

“We shall be there to-morrow.”

Before sunrise next morning, the voyageurs bathed and scrubbed in Little
Jack’s cold, muddy-looking water. They appeared at starting time in
clean, bright calico shirts, and new moccasins elaborately embroidered.
Louis and the Orkneyman wore gaudy sashes. A broad leather belt girt the
steersman’s middle and held his beaded deerskin pouch. Around his oily
black hair he had bound a scarlet silk handkerchief. The Orkneyman had
trimmed his yellow beard. No hair seemed to grow on Murray’s face.
Possibly it had been plucked out, Indian fashion.

Little Jack River is merely a channel winding about among the islands
that separate Lower and Upper Play Green lakes, extensions of Lake
Winnipeg. Louis told Walter that the “play green” was on one of the
islands, where two bands of Indians had been accustomed to meet and hold
feasts and games of strength and skill.

Not a hundred yards behind the guide’s boat, number three came in sight
of Norway Point, the tip of the narrow peninsula separating Upper Play
Green Lake from Lake Winnipeg proper. Shouts and cheers greeted the log
wall of Norway House and the flag of the Hudson Bay Company. The Swiss
were in high spirits. Once more they were nearing a land where men dwelt.
Their journey would soon be over, they believed. Not yet could they grasp
the vastness of this new world.

As the boats drew near the post, dogs began to bark and men came running
down to the shore. Voices shouted greetings in English and French, not
merely to the voyageurs, but to the immigrants as well. Though the fur
traders, trappers, and voyageurs were reluctant to see their wilderness
opened up to settlement, yet the arrival of the white strangers, even
though they were settlers, was too important a break in the monotony of
life at the trading post for their welcome to be other than cordial.
Moreover the white men and half-breeds at Norway House, and even the
Indians camped outside the walls, were curious to see these new
immigrants. So the Swiss were welcomed warmly by bronzed white men and
dusky-faced mixed bloods, while the full blood Indians looked on with
silent but intent curiosity.

The first boats to arrive made a stay of several hours at the post, and
Walter, conducted by Louis, had a good chance to see the place. Like York
Factory, Norway House consisted of a group of log buildings within a
stockade, but it stood on dry ground, not in a swamp, and its
surroundings were far more attractive than those of the Hudson Bay fort.

As the two boys were coming out of the big gate, after their tour of
inspection, Walter, who was ahead, caught sight of a tall figure
disappearing around one corner of the stockade. He glanced towards the
shore. The boats were deserted. The voyageurs had sought friends within
the stockade or in the tents and cabins outside the walls. The Swiss were
visiting the fort or wandering about the point.

“Do we take on more supplies here?” Walter asked his companion.

“If we can get them,” Louis returned. “They can spare little here, they
say. Are you so starved that you think of food all the time?” he
questioned smilingly.

“No, I’m not quite so hungry as that. I just saw Murray carrying a sack,
and I wondered what he had.” Louis looked towards the boats. “Where is
he? I don’t see him.”

“He didn’t go to the boat. He was coming the other way. He went around
the corner of the wall.”

“With an empty sack?”

“No, a full one.”

Louis stared at the corner bastion. “He was going around there, carrying
a full sack? You are sure it was Murray?”

“I saw his back, but I’m sure. He has that red handkerchief around his
head, you know.”

“Well, it was not anything for us he was taking in that direction,” Louis
commented, “and we brought nothing to be left at Norway House. It is some
affair of his own. He——”

“Ho, Louis Brabant! What is the news from the north?”

Louis had swung about at the first word. Two buckskin-clad men, one old,
the other young, were coming through the gate. Louis turned back to
reply, and Walter followed him to listen to the exchange of news between
the newly arrived voyageur and these two employees of the post. The Swiss
boy was growing used to the Canadian French tongue, and during the
conversation he learned several things that surprised him.

Walter had taken for granted that the journey would be nearly over when
Lake Winnipeg was reached. Now he was amazed to learn that he had still
more than three hundred miles to go to Fort Douglas, the stronghold of
the Red River colony.

“But how far have we come?” he cried.

“About four hundred and thirty miles the way you traveled,” the
leather-faced old man answered promptly.

“The rest of the voyage will not be so hard though,” Louis said
reassuringly. “There are few portages. If the wind is fair, we can sail
most of the way. Of course if there are storms on the lake——”

“There are always storms this time of year,” put in the old voyageur
discouragingly.

The prospect of bad weather on Lake Winnipeg did not disturb Walter so
much, however, as a piece of news which the old man led up to with the
question, “How is it that settlers are still coming to the Colony on the
Red River now that Lord Selkirk is dead?”

“Lord Selkirk dead?” cried Walter and Louis together.

“But yes, that is what people say. I was at Fort Douglas in June, and
everyone there was talking about it, and wondering what would happen to
the settlement.”

“They did not tell us that at Fort York,” cried Walter. “When did he die?
Since we left Europe in May?”

“No, no, the news could not come to the Red River so quickly. It was last
year some time he died.”

“You haven’t heard of this before, Louis?” Walter turned to his
companion.

“No, I heard nothing of it when I came down the Red River in the spring.
I left Pembina as soon as the ice was out, and at Fort Douglas I took
service with the Company, but I did not stay there long. They sent me on
here to Norway House. I heard no such story. Perhaps it is not true, but
only a false rumor started by someone who wishes to make trouble in the
colony.”

“That must be it,” agreed Walter. “If Lord Selkirk died last year they
would surely have heard it at Fort York. Captain Mai would have known it
anyway before we left Switzerland. No, it can’t be true.”

But the old voyageur shook his head. “Everyone at Fort Douglas believed
it,” he said.



                                  VIII
                          THE MISSING PEMMICAN


About the middle of the afternoon, Laroque the guide began to round up
crews and passengers. His shout of “Embark, embark” was taken up by one
man after another, and the idle sled dogs, that wandered at will about
the post and the Indian village, added their voices to the chorus.

Walter and Louis ran down to the shore at the first call. Most of the
Swiss obeyed the summons promptly. Their fear of being left behind was
too great to permit taking risks. Several of the voyageurs, however, were
slow in appearing. When they did come, they gave evidence of having been
too generously treated to liquor by their friends at the post. After
everyone else was ready to start, Laroque had to go in search of Murray.
Carrying a bundle wrapped in a piece of old canvas, Black Murray came
back with the guide, his sullen face set and heavy, his small eyes
shining with a peculiar glitter. He showed no other sign of drunkenness,
but walked steadily to the boat, placed his bundle in the stern, and
stepped in.

Laroque sprang to his own place, oars were dipped, sails raised, and the
boats were off, amid shouts of farewell and the howling of dogs. Leaving
the handling of the sail to the Orkneyman, Murray remained stolidly
silent in the stern. His steering was careless, even erratic, but no one
ventured to try to take the tiller. Luckily the wind was light, the lake
smooth, and the boats had not far to go. Camp was pitched on a beach of
the long point, where the travelers had an unobstructed view down the
lake to the meeting place of sky and water.

“It seems as if we had come to another ocean,” Walter confided to Louis.
“Why do they call this Norway Point, and the trading post Norway House?
What has Norway to do with Lake Winnipeg?”

“I have heard,” Louis replied, “that some men from a country called
Norway were brought over by the Company and stationed here. Then too I
have heard that the point was named from the pine trees that grow here,
because they look like the pines in that country of Norway. Which story
is true I know not. The post has been here a long time, and always, I
think, it has been called Norway House. When the Selkirk colonists were
driven from the Red River by the Northwesters, they came this way and
camped on the Little Jack River.”

That night’s camp was one of the most comfortable of the whole journey.
The evening was fine, there was plenty of wood, and an abundance of fish
for supper. The Swiss sat about their fires later than usual, talking of
the journey, speculating on what was to come, and planning for the
future. Nearly three weeks they had been on the way from Fort York. Now
they looked out over the star-lit waters stretching far away to the
south, and cheered their hearts with the hope and belief that the worst
was over. At least they would not have to track up stream and portage
around rapids for some days to come.

“How long will it take us to reach the Red River?” The question was asked
over and over again, with varying replies from the voyageurs. Walter
asked it of Louis, and the young Canadian shook his head doubtfully. If
the weather was good, the winds favorable, they might go the whole length
of Lake Winnipeg in a week, but if the weather should be bad, no one
could tell how long they might be delayed.

The autumn weather showed its fickleness that very night. The wind
shifted, the sky clouded over, and the morning dawned raw and
threatening. The breeze was almost directly east, however, a favorable
direction for the travelers, whose route lay along the north and west
shores. So the boats got away early, and, with sails raised, held to the
southwest, well out from land. They made good progress before the brisk
wind, but as it grew stronger the lake roughened. Along the north shore
high cliffs towered, with narrow stretches of beach here and there at the
base. Safe landing places were few, but the waves were growing
dangerously high, and the open boats were too heavily laden to ride such
rough water buoyantly.

Laroque changed his course, tacking in towards a bit of beach. Murray’s
boat was not far behind, and the half-breed handled it with skill and
judgment. At just the right instant, he ordered the sail down, the oars
out. The boat was run up on the sand without shipping a drop of water.

The rest of the brigade were some distance behind. They were forced to
put in close under the cliffs, but by using the oars managed to reach the
beach.

“We’ll have to open that last bag of pemmican,” said Walter to Louis who
was kindling a fire.

“Yes, but we must make it last through the voyage.”

Walter brought the rawhide sack, and Louis cut the leather cord with
which it was sewed. An exclamation of surprise and anger escaped him.
“What devil’s trick is this? Look, Walter!”

Walter looked, in amazement. “Why, it’s not pemmican. How on earth——”

“It is a fraud, a cheat.” Walter had never seen Louis so angry. “Some
fiend has filled this sack with clay and leaves and sold it to the
Company for good pemmican.”

“See here, Louis.” Walter lowered his voice. “This isn’t the bag I
carried over the portage at the White Falls.” He turned the sack over and
examined the other side. “There is no Company mark. Our pemmican has been
stolen and this trash left in its place.”

“No one from the other boats would steal our supplies.” Louis was
puzzled. “It must have been done at Norway House. Yet I think the Indians
would hardly dare to steal from a Company boat under the very walls of
the post. And they did not take the tea. The Indians like tea so well
they can never get enough.”

“Murray had a sack on his shoulder when I saw him dodge around the corner
of the wall, and the sack had the Company mark.” Walter’s voice had sunk
to a whisper. “But why in the world should he steal the provisions from
his own boat?”

Louis was thoughtful. “There might be a reason, yes,” he said. “_Le
Murrai_ might sell that pemmican for something he wanted. He has a bundle
that he did not have before.”

“But how could he?” Walter objected. “They would know at Norway House
that there was something wrong if the steersman of one of the boats
offered to sell them a sack of pemmican.”

“That is true, but he might have traded it to the Indians, or some Indian
friend of his might have sold it for him. I would like to know what is in
that bundle. He slept with his head on it last night.”

“Shall we tell Laroque about this?”

“That this sack is not good, yes, but not about _le Murrai_, no, not yet.
We can prove nothing. It may not have been the pemmican he had.”

“I’m sure it was,” Walter insisted stubbornly.

Louis shrugged. “I am no coward, Walter, but I will not accuse _le
Murrai_ of stealing and then voyage in the same boat with him. We have
yet far to go.”

Louis was right and Walter knew it. Together they went to Laroque and
told him of the fraud, but said nothing about their suspicions of Murray.

The guide was much disturbed. He examined the sack of clay, and
questioned Murray and the Orkneyman. Both disclaimed any responsibility.
The Orkneyman agreed with the boys that the sacks brought from Fort York
had all borne the Company mark. Murray said he had not noticed. He had
had nothing to do with provisioning the boats. If the Company had been
cheated, that was no affair of his.

From his own supplies, Laroque lent boat number three a little pemmican
for supper. The Swiss were indignant at the fraud. Some of them even
wanted to return to Norway House and seek for the culprit.

Before the scanty meal was over, rain began to fall. The beach was not a
good camping ground. If the wind shifted to the south, the waves would
wash over the narrow margin of sand and break against the perpendicular
cliffs. To find a better place was impossible, for the lake was far too
stormy to venture out upon. The boats were pulled well up, the tents
pitched with one wall almost against the cliff, and the sails, masts, and
oars converted into additional shelters. Luckily the campers were
protected from the strong wind, which had become more northerly. But the
water came down the cliffs in cascades, digging pools and channels in the
sand and shingle.

Fortunately the worst of the storm did not last long. The rain became
fine and light like mist driven by the wind, and before sundown ceased
entirely. As the wind shifted farther towards the north, the water
receded from the base of the cliff, leaving a wider stretch of sand. The
lake was still too rough for the boats to go out, but as long as the wind
remained in the north, the beach was a safe camping place.

A little dry driftwood had been collected and put under shelter before
the rain began. So everyone was able to warm and dry himself before
creeping between his blankets. Laroque assigned the voyageurs to watches,
and cautioned each man to walk the beach while on guard and keep an eye
on wind and waves.



                                   IX
                            HUNGER AND COLD


The guide aroused the camp before daylight. Wind and waves had fallen,
and the boats got away quickly. All day they went ahead under sail or
oars along the north shore. Camp was made on a narrow ridge of sand
separating a large bay from the main body of water. A contrary wind kept
the boats at Limestone Bay,—as it was called from the fragments of
limestone strewn along its shores,—until late the following day.

Among the reeds and wild rice ducks were feeding. The voyageurs succeeded
in shooting a number of the birds, made a stew of some, and buried the
rest, unplucked, in ashes and hot sand. A fire was kept going above them
for several hours until they were well cooked. When they were taken out
and the skins stripped off, Walter found his portion very good eating
indeed.

Two days later the mouth of the Saskatchewan River was reached. Walter
was beginning to understand why the length of time required to traverse
Lake Winnipeg could not be foretold. The lake is about two hundred and
sixty miles long in a direct course, but the open boats were obliged to
keep well in towards shore, making the journey upwards of three hundred.
When the weather was favorable, sails were raised and good speed made,
but the autumn gales had set in, and contrary winds were frequent.
Skirting the shore in head winds and high waves was both slow and
dangerous. Sometimes the boats had to be beached through surf, the men
jumping into the water and dragging them above the danger line. By the
time camp was pitched, both voyageurs and settlers were not only tired
and hungry, but usually wet and chilled to the bone.

October came with unseasonable cold, even for that northern country. With
darkness the temperature sank far below the freezing point. One night
Matthieu the unfortunate went to sleep without drying his wet shoes and
stockings, and frosted both feet so that they were sore for the rest of
the journey.

Whenever it was possible to go on, whether at daybreak, noon, or
midnight, the boats were away. Meals were irregular and food scanty. Much
of the time the lake was too rough for fishing, but sometimes ducks were
shot. To Murray’s boat the loss of the sack of pemmican was serious. The
supplies were reduced to tea and a little barley meal.

The boats did not always make the same camping ground, though they tried
to keep together. How far behind the second brigade might be, no one
could guess. Walter worried about the Periers. Surely this must be a hard
experience for Elise and little Max, and for Mr. Perier also.

For two days the guide’s boat and Murray’s were windbound on an exposed
beach where everything had to be carried well above the water line.

Fishing was impossible in this open, wind-swept spot, but Louis shot a
white pelican. The clumsy looking bird with its great pouched beak was a
curiosity to Walter. If he had not been so very hungry he could not have
eaten its fishy-tasting flesh.

Suddenly the weather changed for the better. In less than eight hours
after the boats got away from their enforced camping ground, the lake
looked as if it had never been disturbed. There was not a breath of wind
to catch the sail, not a wave, or even a ripple. Plying the oars, the
crews held a course far out across the mouth of a bay. On and on they
rowed, watching the sunset and the afterglow reflected in still water and
the stars coming out one by one.

The southern half of Lake Winnipeg is very broken in outline, with many
points and islands. One night, reaching the sheltered head of a deep,
sandy bay with a high background of rocks and forest, the travelers found
the sands covered thick with the dead bodies of insects.

“Grasshoppers!” exclaimed Louis. “They have come again!”

Walter was gazing up and down the beach in amazement. “I never knew there
could be so many grasshoppers in the world,” he said. “Where did they all
come from?”

“From the prairie to the south. They’re not ordinary grasshoppers like
the big green ones. These are smaller and a different color, and their
horns,”—Louis meant their antennæ,—“are short. I never saw this kind till
three years ago, and then they came all of a sudden. They ate up
everything. Ugh, how they smell! We can’t camp here.”

The place was indeed impossible as a camping ground. The boats put off
again to seek a spot where the waves had washed the shores clean of the
remains of the dead insects. Louis was right when he said that they were
not ordinary grasshoppers. They were the dread locust,—the Rocky Mountain
locust. At the camp fire that night, the Canadian boy told Walter and his
companions how the locusts had come to the Red River valley.

“I was at Fort Douglas with my father,” he began. “We had just come down
from Pembina with some carts. Everything looked well on the settlers’
farms. The grain was in the ear and ripening. Then came the grasshoppers.
These short-horned grasshoppers fly much higher than the ordinary kind.
Their wings are stronger. They came in great clouds that darkened the air
as if real clouds were passing across the sun. Late in the afternoon they
began to alight, such hordes of them you can’t imagine. Men, women, and
children ran out into the fields, crushing grasshoppers at every step,
the flying creatures dashing against them like hailstones. The poor
settlers could do nothing against such an army. They saved a few half
ripe ears of barley, the women hiding them under their aprons, but that
was all. By the next morning everything was gone.”

“Do you mean that the grasshoppers ate the crops?” asked Walter, scarcely
able to believe what he had heard.

“They ate everything green,” Louis replied impressively, “not only the
grain and the gardens, but every green blade of grass on the prairie.”

“And they have come again this year,” said Matthieu the weaver slowly,
“and perhaps they have again taken everything.” His voice sounded
discouraged.

“I fear it,” was Louis’ grave response.

“What did the settlers do for food?” asked Walter. “Did Lord Selkirk
supply it?”

Louis shook his head. “That was a hard winter. Most of the colonists went
to Pembina, where they could hunt the buffalo. They got some food from
the Company and some pemmican from the Indians. But they had almost no
seed for the next year. In the spring they sowed the little barley they
had saved, and it came up and promised well. Then the young grasshoppers
hatched out from the eggs left in the ground the year before, and ate it
all. So again the settlers were without meal for the winter. The Governor
sent M’sieu Laidlaw and other men into the Sioux country, up the Red
River and down the St. Peter to the great Mississippi where there is a
settlement called Prairie du Chien. It was a hard journey in winter on
snowshoes, but they came back in June with more than three hundred
bushels of seed wheat, oats, and peas. The seeding was too late for a
good crop last year, but this year they hoped for a big one.”

“And the grasshoppers have come again,” Matthieu repeated dully.

Around points and among islands the boats threaded their way, hugging the
shore most of the time, risking traverses across the mouths of bays when
the weather permitted.

No food was left in Murray’s boat, nothing but a little tea. Fishing had
to be resorted to, often with poor luck. Few animals were seen, though
the howling of wolves had come to be a familiar sound at night. Flocks of
ducks and geese passed high overhead, but to shoot them the hunters had
to seek the marshy places in bays or at stream mouths. Bad weather caused
so much delay that to take advantage of calm water or favorable wind
everyone was compelled, more than once, to go breakfastless or
supperless. Walter was reduced to skin, muscle and bone. He felt a
constant gnawing hunger, was seldom warm except when exercising, and
found his hard-won muscular strength diminishing. An hour’s pulling at
the oar almost exhausted him. He wondered at Murray, on whose strength
and endurance starvation seemed to have no effect. Even Louis admitted
weakness and had lost some of his cheery high spirits.

At last the low shore at the south end of the lake, a long point of
shingle and sand, came in view. When the water was high and the wind from
the north, much of the long sand bar was covered, but luckily the lake
was calm when the guide’s boat reached the point. Murray’s craft followed
Laroque’s closely.

Sharing one gun between them, Louis and Walter went, with some of the
others, hunting for their supper. They rowed along the sand spit to the
marsh which was alive with birds,—ducks, geese, tall herons, and many
other smaller kinds. In a little pond several graceful, long-necked swans
were feeding. Walter did not think of firing at swans, but Louis had no
scruples. He brought one down with his first shot.

At sunset the hunters returned to camp with four fat geese, one of which
Walter had killed, two swans, and eighteen or twenty ducks. A party from
one of the other boats brought in almost as many. For the first time in
many days Walter had a chance to really satisfy his appetite. Wrapped in
his blanket, he slept soundly on his bed of sand, untroubled by hunger
dreams.



                                   X
                         THE RED RIVER AT LAST


The mouth of the Red River divides into several channels that wind
through the marsh. The guide chose one of the main waterways, of good
depth and gentle current, and the oarsmen, eager to reach the settlement,
pulled with a will. They had some forty miles, by water, yet to go.

“Why do they call it _Red River_?” Walter asked Louis. “Not from the
color of the water?”

“It is from the Indian name, Miscousipi,” was the reply. “I have heard
that when the Saulteux and the Sioux fought a great battle on the banks,
the water ran red with blood. Both nations claim the valley as a hunting
ground.”

“Then it can hardly be a good place for settlers if the Indians fight
over it,” Walter said doubtfully.

“There are only Saulteux and Crees on the lower river now. The Sioux no
longer dare venture here. The upper river is the dangerous country.”

Where the marsh gave way to firmer ground, in an open space on the low
bank of a creek coming in from the west, stood a group of Indian lodges.
As the boat passed, the Swiss boy looked with interest at the low, round
topped structures of hides and rush mats.

“Those are Saulteur wigwams,” Louis explained.

“No one seems to be at home to-day.”

“No, but they intend to come back or they would have taken down the
lodges. There was a fight in this place many years ago. A band of Crees
came down that stream, and the old people and children camped here, while
the young men went to Fort York with their furs. That was before the
Hudson Bay Company had posts in this part of the country. While the
braves were all away, the Sioux came and killed the old people and took
the children captive. So the stream is called Rivière aux Morts—the river
of the dead.”

“What a fiendish thing to do,” Walter exclaimed, “and cowardly.”

Louis shrugged expressively. “It is the Indian way of fighting. The Sioux
are not cowards, but fiends, yes. And so are the Crees and the Saulteux
in war. I say it though my grandmother was an Ojibwa.”

“Have you Indian blood, Louis?” Walter asked in surprise. “I supposed you
were pure French.”

“I am _bois brulé_, as we mixed bloods are called from our dark skins,
and I am not ashamed of it. My father, he was pure French, and my mother
is half French, but her mother was Ojibwa, Saulteur. Perhaps I do not
look so Indian as _le Murrai Noir_.” Louis lowered his voice. “They say
he is at least half Sioux.”

“Sioux! Well, he certainly doesn’t act like a white man.”

“He has the worst of both the white man and the Indian I think.”

As the boats went on up stream, the banks became higher and covered with
trees, not willows and aspens only, but elms and oaks and maples. The
frosty weather had practically stripped the trees of what leaves the
locusts had left, yet no wide view was possible, for the river ran
through a narrow trench with steep sides.

At the foot of a stretch of rapids camp was made, and a number of small
fish caught for supper. Early in the morning the ascent was begun. The
fall was slight, but the current was strong, and the channel sown with
boulders and interrupted by ledges. After the boats had been tracked
through, the voyageurs delayed for the scrubbing and hair trimming that
preceded their approach to the dwellings of men. Again they put on their
best and brightest shirts, sashes, and moccasins, which they had
carefully stowed away after leaving Norway House.

After he was washed and dressed, Louis, with an air of secrecy, drew
Walter aside. “I have seen the inside of Murray’s big package,” he
whispered.

“You have? How did that happen?”

“He left the package in the boat. I opened it.”

“What did you find?”

“Little things,—awls, flints, fish hooks, net twine, beads, all wrapped
in red or blue handkerchiefs. I had no time to unwrap them, but I could
feel some of them. I wonder what he wants of all those things.”

Walter remembered the conversation in the Indian room at Fort York.
“Can’t he sell them to the Indians for furs?” he asked.

“The Company will not permit a voyageur to trade. Sometimes, it is true,
they may send a man out to buy skins. Perhaps they might send Murray, but
I do not think so, and he would need more goods, a whole canoe or cart or
sled load.”

“But the Company refused to let him have them,” Walter explained. “At
Fort York he asked for a lot of goods, on credit, so he could go trade
with the Sioux.”

“The Sioux?”

“Yes, I heard the clerk tell him that the Chief Trader wouldn’t give him
the goods. The clerk said it was a crazy scheme. Murray must have stolen
our pemmican and exchanged it, or got someone else to do it for him, at
Norway House. He must have wanted those things badly to be willing to go
hungry for them.”

“He can endure hunger like an Indian,” Louis returned, “and one of the
voyageurs in Laroque’s boat has been sharing his food with him. I saw him
do it. He is afraid of Murray for some reason. It may be you are right
about his selling the pemmican. The Indians want all those little things.
They are eager to get them. He might begin——”

“Embark, embark!”

The two boys hurried towards the boat. As they went, Walter whispered,
“Are you going to tell about that package?”

“I think so. Not to Laroque, but to the Chief Trader at Fort Douglas.”

When Murray stepped into the boat, he stooped to examine his bundle.
Would he discover that it had been opened? It was an anxious moment for
Louis and Walter, but the steersman took his place without even looking
in their direction. Walter would not have thought of opening Murray’s
package. But the Canadian boy’s upbringing had been different.

The banks bordering the rapids were gravelly, the growth thinner and
smaller. Then came lower, muddy shores, and Walter got his first glimpse
of the prairie. On the west side, only a few trees and bushes edged the
river. The country beyond stretched away flat and open, but it was not
the fertile, green land the Swiss boy had heard about. The plain was
yellow-gray, desolate and dead looking. In one place a wide stretch was
burned black. Could this be the rich and beautiful land Captain Mai had
described?

Walter’s disappointment was too deep for expression. All he said was, “I
thought the prairie would be like our meadows at home. It doesn’t look as
if anything could grow here.”

“Oh, things grow very fast, once the ground is broken,” Louis assured
him. “Wheat, barley and oats, peas and potatoes, everything that is
planted. And the prairie grass is fine pasture. The buffalo eat nothing
else. It is as I feared though. The grasshoppers have taken everything.
But the grass will grow again. It is coming now. Look at that low place.
It is all green. Wait until spring and then you will see. The prairie is
beautiful then, the fresh, new grass, and flowers everywhere.”

“And the grasshoppers come and eat it all up,” Walter added dejectedly.

“They may never come again. No one at Fort Douglas or Pembina had ever
seen the short horned grasshoppers till three years ago. And they didn’t
come last year. Perhaps we shall never see them again.”

Walter knew that Louis was trying to cheer him, and he felt a little
ashamed of his discouragement. He put aside his disappointment and
forebodings, and tried to share in his friend’s good spirits. In a few
hours the long journey would be over, and that was something to be
thankful for. He hoped it was nearly over for Elise and Max and their
father. The second brigade could not be very far behind.

The current was not strong and there were no rocks, so making their way
up stream was not hard work for the boat crews. The first person from the
settlement who came in sight was a sturdy, red-haired boy of about
Walter’s own age, fishing from a dugout canoe. He raised a shout at the
appearance of the brigade, and snatching off his blue Scotch bonnet or
Tam-o’-Shanter, he waved it around his head. Then he paddled to shore in
haste to spread the news.

Log houses came in view on the west side of the river at the place Louis
called the Frog Pond. Lord Selkirk himself, when he had visited the
settlement four years before, had named that part of his colony Kildonan
Parish, after the settlers’ old home in Scotland. The little cabins were
scattered along the bank facing the stream, the narrow farms stretching
back two miles across the prairie. From the river there was but little
sign of cultivation and scarcely anything green to be seen.

From nearly every house folk came out to watch the brigade go by. Roughly
clad, far from prosperous looking they were, in every combination of
homespun, Hudson Bay cloth, and buckskin. Some of the men wore kilts
instead of trousers, and nearly all waved flat Scotch bonnets. Walter’s
heart warmed to these folk. Like himself they were white and from across
the ocean, though their land and language were not his own. One bent old
woman in dark blue homespun dress, plaid shawl, and white cap reminded
him of his own grandmother.

All the Swiss were waving hats and kerchiefs, and shouting “_Bon jour_”
and “_Guten Tag_,” the women smiling while the tears ran down their
cheeks. The long journey with all its suffering and hardships was
over,—so they believed. At last they had reached the “promised land.” As
yet it did not look very promising to be sure, but they would soon make
homes for themselves. The thin face of Matthieu, the weaver, who had been
so disheartened when he heard about the grasshoppers, was shining with
happiness.



                                   XI
                              FORT DOUGLAS


“Where do we land, Louis?” asked Walter.

“At Fort Douglas, where Governor Sauterelle lives.”

“I thought the Governor’s name was Mc-something.”

“It is McDonnell, but people call him Governor Grasshopper because, they
say, he is as great a destroyer as those pests.”

“What do they mean?”

“They do not like their Governor, these colonists. You will soon hear all
about him.”

A few cabins, set down hit or miss, less well kept than those on the west
bank, and interspersed with several Indian lodges, came in view on the
east shore. Black haired, dark skinned men and women, and droves of
children and sharp nosed dogs were running down to the river.

“_Bois brulés_,” Louis explained, using the name he had given himself. It
means “burnt wood” and is descriptive of the dark color of the
half-breed.

The boat made a turn to the east, following a big bend in the river.
“This is Point Douglas, and there is the fort,” said Louis, pointing to
the roofs of buildings, the British flag and that of the Hudson Bay
Company flying over them. Point Douglas had been burned over many years
before, and was a barren looking place. The fort, like York Factory and
Norway House, was a mere group of buildings enclosed within a stockade.

When Laroque’s boat reached the landing, the shore was lined with people;
Hudson Bay employees, white settlers, and _bois brulés_. As each craft
drew up to the landing place, the boatmen sprang out to be embraced and
patted on the back by their friends. The new settlers’ warmest reception
came from a group of bearded, bold eyed, rough looking, white men. When
one of these men spoke to Walter in German, and another in unmistakably
Swiss French, the boy’s face betrayed his astonishment.

The first man, a red-faced fellow with untrimmed, sandy beard, laughed
and switched from German to French. “Oh, I am a Swiss like you,” he
explained, “though I have not seen Switzerland for many a year. I am a
soldier by trade, and I served the British king. We DeMeurons are the
pick of many countries.”

Walter did not like the man’s looks. He had seen swaggering, mercenary
soldiers of fortune before, and he was not sorry when his bold-mannered
countryman turned from him to make the acquaintance of his companions.

The voyageurs were hastily unloading. They had reached the end of the
journey and were in a hurry to be paid off. Murray did not even wait for
the unloading. Carrying his big bundle, he strode quickly towards the
fort. Louis looked after him, swung a bale of goods to his back, and
trotted up the slope.

Seeing no reason why he should stand idle when there was work to do,
Walter shouldered a package and followed. As he reached the gate, three
men came through, and he stepped aside to let them pass. The leading
figure, a red-faced man of middle age and important air, cast a sharp
glance at the boy. Walter’s clothes betrayed him.

“Ye’re na voyageur.” The man spoke peremptorily in Scotch sounding
English. “Put down that packet and follow me. I’ve a few words to say to
a’ of ye.”

Walter had learned enough English to understand, and the tone warned him
that obedience was expected. He left his load lying on the ground, and
followed down the slope towards the river. From the red-faced man’s
dictatorial manner, the boy guessed him to be Alexander McDonnell, the
“Grasshopper Governor.” He was obeyed promptly, but the sullen, even
angry, looks on the faces of the half-breeds and Scotch settlers who made
way for him, showed that he was not popular. Only the ex-soldiers seemed
boldly at their ease in his presence.

The new colonists were quickly gathered together so that the Governor
might address them. To make his meaning plain, he used both English and
French. His manner was abrupt, yet what he said was reasonable enough,
discouraging though it was to the newcomers. After a few words of welcome
to the Selkirk Colony and an expression of hope that the Swiss would be
industrious and would prosper accordingly, he told them frankly that they
had come at an unfortunate time. The settlement was ill prepared for
them. The grasshoppers had utterly destroyed the crops. The food supply
for the coming winter was inadequate. There was not enough to feed the
colonists already established. Most of the settlers, old and new, must
spend the winter farther up the Red River at Fort Daer, the Colony post
at the mouth of the Pembina. Game animals, especially the buffalo upon
which the people must depend for food until new crops could be grown,
were much more abundant and easily reached near Fort Daer. Pemmican could
be obtained there from the _bois brulés_ and the Indians. Some of the
settlers had already gone. Every one of the newcomers able to endure the
journey must leave on the morrow. They might pitch their tents near Fort
Douglas for the night. Fuel for their fires would be supplied and food
for the evening meal and for the journey to the Pembina. More than this
the Governor could not promise. At the Pembina they would find timber for
cabin building, game for the hunting. Some other necessaries might be
bought at Fort Daer. In the spring they could return, and land for
farming would be assigned to them. The Swiss had arrived at a bad time
when the Colony could do little for them. They would have to do the best
they could for themselves.

It was a sober and depressed group of immigrants who listened to Governor
McDonnell’s speech. In spite of what they had heard and seen of the
ravages of the locusts, they had clung to the hope that their worst
troubles would be over when they reached Fort Douglas. They had expected
to be housed and fed for a little while at least, until they could make
homes for themselves on their own land. Now that dream was over. They
must go on,—all of them who could go on. And when they reached a stopping
place at last, it would be only a temporary one, with the doubtful
prospect of depending on hunting for a living, and perhaps starving
before spring. No wonder discouragement and foreboding rested heavily
upon their hearts. Even Walter Rossel, young and strong and hopeful, was
dismayed at the Governor’s words.

The Swiss were a steadfast and courageous people. They soon roused
themselves to make the best of a bad situation. Food and fuel for the
night at least had been promised them. They left the future to
Providence, and set about pitching camp. Heretofore the voyageurs had
done part of that work. Now, having reached the end of their journey,
having unloaded the boats and been paid off, they joined their own
friends at Fort Douglas or crossed the river to the _bois brulé_
settlement on the east bank. Only Louis Brabant lingered to lend
encouragement and help to those whom the long journey had made his
friends.

After their first curiosity, the old settlers showed little interest in
the new. To the Scotch and Irish, the Swiss were foreigners in speech and
ways. The colonists knew from experience the hardships of the voyage
across the ocean and of the wilderness trip from Fort York. They could
understand the discouraging situation in which the newcomers found
themselves, but they could do little or nothing for them. They were not
hard hearted, but, pinched for food themselves, they could not be
overjoyed at the coming of all these additional hungry mouths to be fed.
Had the Swiss been actually starving, the old settlers would have shared
with them the last pint of meal and ounce of pemmican, yet they could
scarcely help resenting the arrival of the strangers. Why did the heirs
of Lord Selkirk keep on sending settlers without providing for them even
the barest necessities? No wonder the old colonists grumbled and growled.
If their attitude towards the new was not actually unfriendly, it was far
from cordial or encouraging. Only the ex-soldiers mingled freely with the
Swiss, and even invited certain families to their cabins.

Walter did not like the appearance and manner of these men, but they
aroused his curiosity. “Who are the DeMeurons?” he asked Louis. “How did
they come here, and why do they call themselves by that name?”

“They came with Lord Selkirk when he recaptured Fort Douglas from the
Northwesters. They were soldiers brought over from Europe to fight for
the King in the last war with the Americans. After the war they were
discharged and Lord Selkirk engaged about a hundred of them to protect
his colony. Because most of them had belonged to a regiment commanded by
a man named DeMeuron, the settlers call them all DeMeurons. Lord Selkirk
gave them land along the _Rivière la Seine_, which comes into the Red
about a mile above here, but they do little farming, those DeMeurons.
They would rather hunt. I blame them not for that. The other colonists
have no love for them.”

“I don’t like their looks myself,” Walter replied, “but they seem kinder
to strangers than anyone else here is.”

“The DeMeurons are all bachelors,” Louis explained with a grin. “They
seek wives to keep their houses and to help them farm their lands, and
perhaps they think Swiss girls will work harder than _bois brulés_. So
they are kind to the fathers and brothers that they may not be refused
when they propose marriage to daughters and sisters. Soon there will be
weddings I think.”

“I should hate to see a sister of mine marry a DeMeuron,” was Walter’s
emphatic comment. He changed the subject. “Have you found out,” he asked,
“if it is true that Lord Selkirk is dead?”

“Yes, it is true. He died, they say, a year ago last spring.”

“Then who owns the Colony now, the Hudson Bay Company?”

“I don’t quite understand about that,” was the doubtful reply. “I asked
one of the Company clerks at the fort and he said that the land and
everything belong to Lord Selkirk’s heirs. But M’sieu Garry, the
Vice-Governor of the Company, as they call him, was here during the
summer, and with him was M’sieu McGillivray, a big man among the
Northwesters, and now, since the two companies are one, of the Hudson Bay
also. They were much interested in the settlement, the clerk said, and
made plans about what should be done.”

“Lord Selkirk was one of the owners of the Company, wasn’t he?” Walter
questioned. “Then his heirs must own part of it. Perhaps the Company is
going to run the Colony for them. Does Governor McDonnell belong to the
Company?”

“That I don’t know. It was Lord Selkirk who made McDonnell governor.
Truly it is _he_ who runs the Colony now, with a high hand.”

Mention of Governor McDonnell brought Walter’s own personal problem
uppermost in his thoughts. “Do you suppose they will really send us on up
the river to-morrow?” he asked.

“Yes, truly. It is the only place for you to go. Here you would starve
before spring. Perhaps a few may stay, those the DeMeurons have taken
into their cabins. You, Walter, will go of course, and I am glad. Pembina
is my home, and we go together.”

“But I can’t go until the Periers come,” the Swiss boy protested. “I
intend to stay with them wherever they are, and I ought to wait for
them.”

Louis shook his head. “I think the Governor will not let you. What good
would it do? As soon as the second brigade arrives, they will be sent on
to Pembina. You can wait for them there as well as here. Come with me
to-morrow. My mother will make you welcome, and we will find a place for
your friends. Perhaps we can have a cabin all ready for them. They would
be glad of that.”



                                  XII
                        BY CART TRAIN TO PEMBINA


Louis slept with friends on the other side of the river, Walter remaining
with his country people. The weather was sharp and cold, but Governor
McDonnell’s promise of fuel and food was fulfilled. After a hearty meal,
the newcomers, in spite of their disappointment, passed a more
comfortable night than many they had endured during the long journey.
They were somewhat disturbed, however, by the sounds of revelry borne on
the wind from Fort Douglas. That the voyageurs and their friends would
celebrate hilariously, the Swiss had expected, but not that such wild
revels would take place within the fort walls, where lived the Governor
and his household.

“The Colony is short of food, so they say,” Matthieu the weaver
complained bitterly, “but the folk in the fort must have plenty to eat
and drink and make merry with.”

Walter clung to the hope that the departure for Pembina might be delayed
until after the arrival of the second boat brigade. But early in the
morning word came from Fort Douglas that the Swiss must make ready to
leave at once. The boy resolved to ask the Governor to let him remain. He
went up to the fort, and felt encouraged when he was admitted at the gate
without question, but his request to see the Governor met with flat
refusal. The Governor was busy and could not be disturbed. He had given
his orders and those orders must be obeyed. Walter was well and strong
and able to travel. He had no friends in the settlement to take him in.
Well, then, he must go on to Pembina.

Finding it useless to plead his cause to the Governor’s underlings and
impossible to get to McDonnell himself, the angry, discouraged lad left
the fort. He found Louis Brabant at the Swiss camp, and poured out his
story wrathfully. “I have a notion to stay here anyway,” he concluded
stubbornly. “I can find someone who will give me lodging for a few days.”

“Yes,” Louis admitted. “At St. Boniface, across the river, I can ask my
friends to take you in, but if the Governor learns you have disobeyed his
command he will be most angry.”

“What can he do to me? I have a right to be here.”

“Perhaps, but when the Governor is angry, he does not think of the rights
of others. You would have to go anyway, tied in a cart as a prisoner, or
he would shut you up in the fort, or send you out of the Colony.”

“Where could he send me except to Pembina?” Walter questioned, still
unconvinced.

“To Norway House,—to be taken to Fort York in the spring and sent back to
Europe in a ship,” was the startling reply. “Oh, yes, as Governor of the
Colony, he could do all that.”

“But surely he wouldn’t do it, for such a little thing?”

“Governor ‘Sauterelle’ does not think it a little thing when he is
disobeyed. He is not gentle to one who opposes his will. No, no, Walter,
you must not think of it. At Pembina you will be far enough away to do as
you please, but not here. Come, you shall stay at my home, and we will
find a place for your friends and make all ready for them. It won’t be
long until they join you.”

Reluctantly Walter yielded to the Canadian boy’s advice. He did not want
to yield, but, if what Louis said of the Governor was true, the risk of
disobedience was too great. He himself had seen enough already of
Alexander McDonnell to realize that he was not the kind of man to be
lenient with anyone who disobeyed his orders. So the Swiss boy set about
getting his own scanty belongings ready for the journey. He had taken for
granted that the party would travel by boat, but he had returned to the
camp on the river bank to find his companions’ baggage being loaded into
carts.

Clumsy looking things were those carts,—a box body and two great wheels
at least five feet tall, with strong spokes, thick hubs, and wooden rims
three inches wide and without metal tires. Between the shafts, which were
straight, heavy beams, a small, shaggy, sinewy pony, harnessed with
rawhide straps, stood with lowered head and tail and an air of dejection
or sleepy indifference.

“What queer vehicles,” Walter exclaimed. “Are we to travel overland?”

“Yes, the journey is much shorter that way. By water, following the bends
of the river, is almost twice as far. You never saw carts like these
before? No, I think that is true. The _bois brulés_ of the Red River
invented this sort of cart. It is made all of wood, not a bit of metal
anywhere. Every man makes his own cart. All the tools he needs are an
axe, a saw, and an auger or an Indian drill. I have a cart at home I made
myself, and it is a good one. In this country you must make things for
yourself or you have nothing.”

Examining one of the queer contrivances, Walter found that Louis had
spoken the simple truth. No metal had been used in its construction.
Wooden pegs and rawhide lashings took the place of nails and spikes. Even
the harness was guiltless of a buckle. The carts were far from beautiful,
but they were strong and serviceable. The Swiss boy, who knew something
of woodworking, admired the ingenuity and skill that had gone into their
making. Enough vehicles had been supplied to transport the few belongings
of the Swiss and to allow the women and children to ride. Now other
carts,—with the families and baggage of the Scotch settlers who were
leaving for Pembina,—began to arrive at the rendezvous, the discordant
squeaking and screeching of their wooden axles announcing their approach
some time before they came in sight.

It took so long to gather the cart train together and make everything
ready for departure, that Walter kept hoping for the appearance of the
boat brigade. But not a craft, except a canoe or two, came into view
around the bend of the river, and no songs or shouts of voyageurs were
heard in the distance. The boy, still determined to plead his cause, kept
a lookout for Governor McDonnell, but he did not appear. He left the
carrying out of his commands to his assistants.

The start was made at last. At the sharp “_Marche donc!_” of the drivers,
the sleepy looking ponies woke into life and were off at a brisk trot.
The carts pitched and wobbled, each with a gait of its own, over the
rough, hard ground, the ungreased axles groaning and screeching in every
key. The discord set Walter’s teeth on edge, as he walked with Louis
beside the vehicle the latter was driving.

At the head of the column the guide in charge, Jean Baptiste Lajimonière,
rode horseback, followed closely by the cart carrying his wife and
younger children. The whole family had come from Pembina a short time
before to have the newest baby christened by Father Provencher, the
priest. Behind the Lajimonières, the train stretched out across the
plain, the two wheeled carts piled with baggage and household belongings
or occupied by the women and children sitting flat on the bottom, their
heels higher than their hips. The drivers sat on the shafts or walked
alongside. The Swiss men and boys went afoot, but some of the Scotch and
Canadians rode wiry ponies and drove a few cattle. The riders used
deerskin pads for saddles and long stirrups or none at all. Spare cart
horses ran loose beside their harnessed companions.

Not all of the Swiss were in the party. Several families, taken into the
cabins of the DeMeurons, had been allowed to remain. Matthieu and his
wife also stayed behind. The baby was ill and Matthieu himself scarce
able to travel. The Colony had started a new industry, the manufacture of
cloth from buffalo hair, and the weaver was to be given employment. When
Walter learned that Matthieu was to remain, the boy entrusted to him a
letter for Mr. Perier, explaining how he had been forced to go on to
Pembina.

Leaving Point Douglas, the cart train turned southeast, traveling a
little back from the west bank of the river, along a worn track across
open prairie. Beyond the narrow valley, scattered cabins could be seen
among the trees on the east side.

“That is St. Boniface settlement,” Louis told his companion. “Père
Provencher is building a church there.”

About a mile south of Point Douglas, the carts approached the junction of
the Assiniboine River with the Red, the place Louis called _Les
Fourches_, the Forks. On the north bank of the Assiniboine stood a small
Hudson Bay post, and not far from it were piles of logs for a new
building or stockade.

“The Company is going to make a new fort,” Louis explained. “M’sieu Garry
and M’sieu McGillivray chose this spot. There was an old Northwest post,
Fort Gibraltar, here, but five years ago M’sieu Colin Robertson, a Hudson
Bay man, seized it, and Governor Semple had it pulled down. The logs and
timber were taken down river to Fort Douglas. Fort Gibraltar had been
here a long time, and so has this trading house. Les Fourches is an old
trading place. Men say there was a fort here a hundred years ago, when
all Canada and the fur country were French, but nothing is left of those
old buildings now.”

The cart train halted near the trading post, as some of the men had
business there, and Louis asked Walter to go with him to see the Chief
Trader. “At Fort Douglas I told a clerk how our pemmican disappeared and
about _le Murrai’s_ package of trade goods. _Le Murrai_ had received his
pay and had left the fort. The clerk knew not where he had gone. He told
me to report the affair to M’sieu the Chief Trader here. Come with me,
and we will tell what we know.”

The men of the little post were busy outfitting boats to go up the
Assiniboine with goods and supplies for stations farther west, but the
two boys had a few minutes’ conversation with the Chief Trader. Louis
told the story and Walter corroborated it. The trader looked grave and
shook his head perplexedly. The charge against Murray,—stealing supplies
and exchanging them for goods with which to trade on his own account,—was
a serious one. Could it be proved? The trader did not doubt the story of
the contents of the bundle, but Murray might have come by the things
honestly and for a legitimate purpose.

“He is due here to-day to go with the Assiniboine brigade,” the trader
explained, “but I have seen nothing of him. You have no proof that he
took the pemmican and substituted the bag of clay. If he denies it, the
only thing I can do is to report the matter to Norway House at the first
opportunity. They ought to know whether anyone exchanged pemmican for
goods while your brigade was there. Of course Murray didn’t make the
bargain himself. Someone else did it for him. It won’t be necessary to
mention your names at present, to Murray I mean. You would find the Black
Murray a bad enemy.”

“Yes,” Louis agreed. “He does not love either of us now. I thank you,
M’sieu.”

“The thanks are due to you, from the Company, for reporting this matter.
Don’t you want to sign for the Assiniboine voyage? We can use you both.”

Walter shook his head. He had had quite enough voyaging for the present.
Louis answered simply, “No, M’sieu. I go to my mother at Pembina.”



                                  XIII
                       THE RED-HEADED SCOTCH BOY


Instead of continuing on the west bank of the Red River and crossing the
Assiniboine, the cart train turned to the east, followed a well-traveled
track down to the Red, and forded that river below the Forks. The country
just south of the Assiniboine was marshy and thickly wooded with willows
and small poplars. By following the east bank of the Red the almost
impassable low ground was avoided.

The carts were now on the St. Boniface side, where the stream that Louis
called _Rivière la Seine_, and the Scotch settlers, German Creek, entered
the river. Some of the DeMeuron cabins were near at hand, and the Swiss
who were to remain there were on the lookout for a chance to say good-bye
to their friends. Walter saw again the red-faced ex-soldier who had
boasted that he and his comrades were the pick of many countries. He
carried a gun on his shoulder and looked as if he had been drinking. The
boy liked him even less than before.

The carts crossed the creek, which was narrow and shallow where it joined
the river. Ten or twelve miles farther on, they forded the Red again,
above the mouth of the _Rivière la Sale_, a small, muddy stream coming in
from the west.

Their way now lay across the open prairie west of the Red River; treeless
plains such as the Swiss immigrants had never seen before. Trees grew
along the river bank only. The few elevations in sight seemed scarcely
high enough to be called hills. This was the fertile, rich soiled land of
which the new settlers had been told. Its grass ravaged by locusts, dried
by the sun, withered by frost, in some places consumed by sweeping fires;
the prairie showed little outward sign of its fertility. The immigrants
gazed across the yellow-gray expanse and the unsightly black stretches,
and shook their heads wonderingly and doubtfully. Many a heart was heavy
with homesickness for native mountains and valleys.

Walter Rossel was not a little heartsick, as he walked beside the loaded
cart or took a turn at riding on the shafts and driving the shaggy pony.
He was trudging along, absorbed in his own thoughts, when he was startled
by the sudden dash of a horse so close that he instinctively jumped the
other way. Looking up, he saw a freckled, red-haired lad in a
Tam-o’-Shanter, grinning cheerfully down from the back of the wiry, black
pony he had pulled up so short it was standing on its hind legs.
Instantly Walter recognized the horseman. This red-headed boy was the
first of the settlers he had seen when the brigade approached the Scotch
settlement of Kildonan. He was the fisherman who had waved his blue
bonnet to the boats.

The Scotch lad was greeting Louis as an old friend, and the Canadian
responded smilingly. “_Bo’jou_, Neil MacKay,” he cried. “So your family
goes again to Pembina.”

“What else can we do?” was the question. “We must eat, and there is sure
to be more food at Pembina this winter than at Kildonan. We will hunt
together again, Louis.”

“Yes, you and I and my other friend here, Walter Rossel.”

Walter and Neil responded to this introduction by exchanging nods and
grins. The red-haired lad dismounted, and, leading his pony, fell into
step by Walter’s side. The conversation of the three was carried on
principally in French. The Scotch boy had learned that language during
his first winter at the Red River. That winter, and several of the
succeeding ones, he had spent at Pembina. Among the French and _bois
brulés_ he had had plenty of practice in the Canadian tongue. Indeed he
spoke it far better than English, for his native speech was the Gaelic of
northern Scotland. Already familiar with Louis’ Canadian French, Walter
had little difficulty in understanding Neil, except when he introduced a
Gaelic word or phrase.

The Scotch boy answered the newcomer’s questions readily and told him
much about the Colony. Neil had come from Scotland with his father and
mother, brothers and sisters, before he was nine years old. He was just
fifteen now. When the MacKays and their companions had reached the Red
River, they had found the settlement deserted, the houses burned. The
settlers were gathered together again and spent the winter at Pembina,
returning to Fort Douglas in the spring. Then came Cuthbert Grant and his
wild _bois brulé_ followers. Governor Semple was killed and Fort Douglas
captured for the Northwest Company. The colonists, including the MacKays,
were compelled to go to Norway House. They had returned when Lord Selkirk
and his DeMeurons arrived and had gone on with their farming.

There were some two hundred settlers at Kildonan now, Neil said, and
about a hundred DeMeurons along German Creek. How many Canadians and
_bois brulés_ really belonged at St. Boniface it was hard to tell, they
came and went so constantly. “They do little farming on the east side of
the river,” the boy remarked. “Hunting and fishing are more to their
taste. I don’t blame them. They can get enough to eat more easily that
way. Raising crops here is discouraging work. You will learn that soon
enough.”

“Isn’t the soil good?” asked Walter. “We were told it was rich.”

“Oh, the soil is all right, after you get the ground broken. Breaking is
hard work though, when you have nothing but a hoe and a spade. There is
scarcely a plow in the Colony. There hasn’t been an ox till just lately.
The Indian ponies aren’t trained for farm work. Things grow fast once
they are planted, but what is the good of raising them when the
grasshoppers take them all? I would go to Canada, as so many have done,
or to the United States, but my father is stubborn. He won’t leave
Kildonan. He has worked hard and he doesn’t want to give up his land. Yet
if the grasshoppers keep coming every year, they will drive even him
away.” Neil shook his red head, his face very sober.

The settlers, he went on to say, had no sheep and few pigs. Until a few
weeks before, they had had no cattle. Alexis Bailly, a _bois brulé_
trader had come, during the summer, clear from the Mississippi River with
a herd of about forty.

“He got a good price for the beasts,” Neil commented, “but he deserved
it, after bringing them hundreds of miles through the Sioux country. Why
the Indians didn’t get every one of them I can’t understand.”

“It was a great feat truly,” Louis agreed. “But most of those cattle will
be killed for food this winter.”

“I’m afraid so. It will be hard times in the Colony, and everyone is deep
in debt to the store now.”

“The prices are high there I hear,” Louis remarked.

“High? Yes, and that’s not the worst of it. The Colony store isn’t run
honestly. So many of the settlers can’t read or write, it is easy to
cheat them. My father can write and he keeps account of everything he
buys, but they won’t let him have anything more until he settles the bill
they have against him. Half of that bill is for things he never had, and
he swears he won’t pay for what he didn’t buy.”

“I should think not,” cried Walter indignantly. “Why doesn’t he appeal to
the Governor?”

Neil laughed shortly. “He tried, but it did him no good. If the Governor
doesn’t do the cheating himself, he winks at it. Governor ‘Grasshopper’
is one of the Colony’s worst troubles. He thinks he is a little king,
with his high-handed ways, and the court he keeps at Fort Douglas, and
the revels he holds there.”

“We heard something of that last night.”

“Aye, it’s no uncommon thing. McDonnell is not the man to be at the head
of the Colony. We’re all hoping he won’t last much longer. Many
complaints have been made to the Company, to Nicholas Garry and Simon
McGillivray when they were here in the summer, and even by letter across
the sea.”

The prairie track the carts followed ran well back from the wooded river
banks. As the sun was setting behind a far distant rise of land across
the plain, the guide turned from the trail. The squeaking carts followed
his lead, bumping, pitching, and wobbling over the untracked ground.
Supposing that Lajimonière was seeking the shelter of the woods, Walter
was surprised when the guide reined in his mount at a distance of at
least a half mile from the nearest trees. His cart stopped also and the
flag it bore was lowered, as a signal to the rest of the train. Camp was
to be made on the prairie in the full sweep of the sharp northwest wind.

“This is a poor place it seems to me,” the Swiss boy commented. “Farther
over, among the trees, there would be shelter, and plenty of wood.”

“Lajimonière prefers the open. It is safer.”

“What is there to fear?”

“Nothing probably, but we can’t be sure.” Neil MacKay spoke quietly but
seriously. “Out here on the prairie, we can see anyone approaching.”

“You mean Indians? I thought the Saulteux and Crees were friendly.”

“They are. Lajimonière is thinking about Sioux. Whether the Sioux are
friendly or not is an open question just now. Didn’t you hear what
happened at Fort Douglas a few weeks ago?”

“The visit of the Sioux?” questioned Louis. “I was told of it last night
at St. Boniface. It was a most unfortunate affair.”

“What was it?” Walter asked. “I didn’t know the Sioux ever came to Fort
Douglas. Louis told me their country was farther south.”

“So it is,” replied the Scotch lad. “A Sioux seldom ventures this far
down the Red River nowadays, but a party of them did come clear to the
fort a while ago. They said they had heard how fine the Company’s goods
were and what generous presents the traders gave. So they came to pay a
visit to the Hudson Bay white men. They were friendly, almost too
friendly. They expected drink and gifts. The Governor was away, and one
of the Company clerks was in charge. He didn’t know just what to do with
such dangerous guests. He told them there wasn’t any rum in the fort, and
gave them tea instead. Then he fed them and distributed a few trinkets
and little things. If they would go back to their own country, he said,
the Company would send traders to them with goods and more presents.”

“The Company will get into trouble with the American traders if goods are
sent to the Sioux country beyond the border,” Louis commented.

“Yes, but he had to promise something to get rid of the fellows. If they
stayed around, he was afraid of trouble with the Saulteux. The Sioux
seemed satisfied when they left the fort. But several Saulteux were
hiding in ambush in the fort garden. They fired on the Sioux, killed two,
and wounded another, then escaped by swimming the river and dodging
through the willows. Of course the Sioux were furious. They said the
white men had given the Saulteux powder and shot to kill friendly
visitors. One of them boasted to a _bois brulé_ from St. Boniface,—who is
part Sioux himself and speaks their language,—that they were going back
to the fort to scalp the clerk. The half-breed went right to the fort
with the story. Things looked serious. If the party of Sioux had been
larger they might have attacked the fort or massacred all of us, but they
knew they were far outnumbered. Somehow they learned that the men in the
fort had been warned of their plot. They decamped suddenly, and nothing
more has been seen of them. Probably they have gone back to their own
country, but no one knows. They may be hiding somewhere waiting for a
chance to attack any Saulteur or _bois brulé_ or white man who comes
along.”

Louis nodded soberly. “When an Indian seeks revenge he is not always
careful what man he strikes. Lajimonière does well to camp in the open.”

Neil’s story had sent a chill up Walter’s spine. Hardship he had become
used to during the journey from Fort York, hardship and danger from the
forces of Nature; water and wind, cold and storm. But this was the first
time in his life that real peril from enemy human beings had ever
confronted him. He had known of course that there might be danger from
Indians in this wild land to which he had come, but he had never actually
sensed that danger before. He glanced towards the woods, and saw, in
imagination, half naked, copper colored savages concealed in the shadows
and watching with fierce eyes the approaching carts.

Although camp was pitched out of musket range from that belt of trees,
the woods nevertheless must be penetrated. The beasts must be taken to
the river. Water and fuel must be brought back. After listening to Neil’s
story, Walter was surprised at the apparent light-hearted carelessness of
the men and boys who started riverward with the horses and cattle. Neil
had a cow and three ponies to water, and he offered one of the latter to
Walter.

“Ride the roan,” he advised, “if you’re not used to our ponies. He is
older and better broken.”

Neil took for granted that Walter wanted to go with Louis and himself,
and the Swiss boy, who was far from being a coward, did not think of
declining. He had not been on a horse for several years, but before his
apprenticeship to Mr. Perier, he had been used to riding. The roan was
unusually well broken and sedate for a prairie pony. Though obliged to
ride bareback and with only a halter instead of bridle and bit, Walter
had no trouble with the animal. The horse knew it was being taken to
water and needed no guidance to keep with the other beasts.

The boy could not help a feeling of uneasiness as he approached the
woods, and he noticed that Louis, though he seemed to ride carelessly,
kept one hand on his gun. The irregular cavalcade of mounted men and boys
and loose animals passed in among the trees,—sturdy oaks, broad topped
elms, great basswoods, which Louis called _bois blanc_,—white wood,—and
Walter _lindens_. All were nearly leafless now, except the oaks, which
retained part of their dry, brown foliage, but the trunks stood close
enough together to furnish cover for any lurking enemy. Without alarm,
however, the animals threaded their way through the belt of larger growth
to the river bank. The steep slopes and narrow bottom were covered with
smaller trees and bushes, aspen poplar, wild plum and cherry, highbush
cranberry, saskatoon or service berry, prickly raspberry canes, and,
especially along the river margin, thick willows.

Following a track where wild animals had broken a way through the bushes
and undergrowth, dogs, cattle, horses, and men made their way down the
first slope, along a shelf or terrace, and on down a yet steeper incline
to the river bottom. The sure-footed, thirsty beasts made the descent in
quick time, and crashed eagerly through the willows to the water. The Red
River ran sluggishly here. It was smooth and deep, with muddy shores. In
the dried mud along the margin were the old tracks of the animals that
had broken the trail down the slope.

When the boys had dismounted to water their horses, Louis pointed out the
prints, which resembled those of naked feet. “Somewhere near here,” he
said, “the bears must cross. They have regular fords. Once in the fall I
watched a band of bears cross the Pembina. I was up in a tree and I
counted nineteen, old and young, but I was too far away for a good shot.”

The bear tracks led up stream. Leaving the horses to bathe and splash,
Louis and Walter, who preferred to drink at a less muddy spot, pushed
their way among the willows. A hundred yards up stream, they came to a
bend and shallows, caused by a limestone cliff.

“This is the bears’ fording place,” said Louis, “and a good one too. Not
only bears but men have been here,” he added quickly, “and not long ago.
Look.”

On the bit of beach at the base of the cliff lay a little heap of charred
wood and ashes. Near by, clearly imprinted in the damp sand, were foot
tracks and marks that must have been made by the bow of a boat.

“Indians?” questioned Walter, the chill creeping up his spine again.

“Or white men,” Louis returned. “These are moccasin prints, but the color
of the feet inside those moccasins I know no way to tell. There were two
men, that is plain, and one is tall, I think, for his feet are long. They
were voyaging, those two, and stopped here to boil their tea. They have
not been gone many hours. That fire was burning since last night’s
frost.” The Canadian boy’s tone was careless. His curiosity had in it no
suggestion of fear.

Walter was more concerned. “Those Sioux,” he ventured. “Do you suppose——”

“No, no,” came the prompt reply. “The Sioux had horses. They didn’t come
by river. Sioux seldom travel by water. These men were white, or _bois
brulés_, or Saulteux, or other Ojibwas. They had a birch canoe. No clumsy
wooden boat or dugout made that mark.” Louis examined the footprints
again. “That one man is a big fellow truly. See how long his track is.”
The boy placed his own left foot in the most distinct of the prints. “He
must be as tall as _le Murrai Noir_.”



                                  XIV
                                PEMBINA


Without alarm or hint of lurking enemy, men and beasts made their way
slowly up the steep river bank and through the woods to the prairie. The
carts, shafts out, had been arranged in a circle, and within this
defensive barricade camp had been pitched. Families fortunate enough to
have tents had set them up. Others had devised shelters by stretching a
buffalo skin, a blanket, or a square of canvas over the box and one wheel
of a cart. The ponies, hobbled around the fore legs or staked out with
long rawhide ropes, were left to feed on the short, dry prairie grass,
and to take care of themselves, but the few precious oxen and cows were
carefully watched and guarded against straying.

With the fuel brought from the woods fires were kindled within the
circle. Kettles were swung on tripods of sticks or on stakes driven into
the hard ground and slanted over the blaze. Pemmican and tea had been
supplied to the Swiss. The older settlers had, in addition, a little
barley meal for porridge and a few potatoes which they roasted in the
ashes. Louis and Walter eked out their scanty supper with a handful of
hazelnuts that had escaped the notice of the squirrels in the woods. The
autumn was too far advanced for berries of any kind.

After the meal, Walter made the acquaintance of the MacKay family, Neil’s
burly, red-bearded father, his mother, his two sisters, and next younger
brother. The eldest brother, who was married, had gone to Pembina nearly
a month earlier. Mrs. MacKay, a tall, thin woman with a rather stern
face, spoke little French, but with true Highland hospitality she made
Walter and Louis welcome to the family fire. Wrapped in a blanket and
knitting a stocking, she sat on a three-legged stool close to the blaze.
At her right was her older daughter patching, by firelight, the sleeve of
a blue cloth capote. On the other side, the father was mending a piece of
harness, cutting the ends of the rawhide straps into fine strips and
braiding them as if he were splicing a rope. Neil too was busy cleaning
and oiling his gun, and his younger brother, a sandy-haired lad of ten,
was whittling a wooden arrow. The two little children had been put to bed
in a snug nest of blankets and robes underneath the cart. The sight of
this family gathering around the fire gave Walter a feeling of
homesickness and loneliness that brought a lump to his throat. The
feeling deepened as he and his companion strolled from cart to cart and
fire to fire. Everyone in the camp but Louis and himself had his own
family circle, and Louis was on the way to home and mother.

It was the Lajimonières who gave the two boys the warmest welcome and
made the Swiss lad forget his homesickness. They were old friends of the
Brabant family, and Louis called Madame Lajimonière “_marraine_.” She had
acted as his godmother when Père Provencher baptized him. Indeed she was
godmother to so many of the Canadian children at St. Boniface and Pembina
that the younger members of the two settlements seldom called her by any
other name. There was no Indian blood in Marie Lajimonière, and she had
lived in the valley of the Red River longer than any other white woman.
Several years before the first band of Selkirk settlers had reached the
forks of the Assiniboine and the Red, she had come with her husband to
the Red River country from Three Rivers on the St. Lawrence. When, in
1818, the Roman Catholic missionaries, Father Provencher and Father
Dumoulin, had arrived in the Selkirk Colony, Madame Lajimonière had
received them with warmth and enthusiasm. She was a devout member of
their church, and she gladly stood sponsor for the Canadian and _bois
brulé_ children brought to the priests for baptism. Louis had a warm
affection for his _marraine_, and Walter took an immediate liking to her
and her family.

One of the Lajimonière children was a girl of about Elise Perier’s age, a
slender, black-haired, red-cheeked girl named Reine. When Reine, somewhat
shyly, questioned the Swiss boy about his long journey from Fort York, he
told her of Elise and Max and Mr. Perier, and how anxious he was about
their welfare.

“Oh, we will all help to make them comfortable and happy when they come
to Pembina,” Reine eagerly assured him. “It will be delightful to have a
new girl, just my age, who speaks French. The Scotch girls are so hard to
talk to, when you don’t know their language or they yours. I shall like
your sister I know, and I hope she will like me.”

At Louis’ urging, Jean Baptiste Lajimonière told Walter of the greatest
adventure of his adventurous life. In the winter of 1815 and ’16 he had
gone alone from Red River to Montreal. He carried letters to Lord
Selkirk,—who had come over from England,—telling how the Northwesters had
driven away his colonists. All alone, the plucky voyageur faced the
perils and hardships of the long wilderness journey. He came through
safely, to give the letters into Lord Selkirk’s own hands and relate to
his own ears the story of the settlers’ troubles. Lajimonière told his
tale well, and the boy forgot his own perplexities as he listened. Not
until the story was finished did Walter realize how late the hour was,
long past time to seek his blanket. Madame Lajimonière and the children
had already disappeared under their buffalo skin shelter, Louis had
stolen quietly away, and the whole camp was wrapped in silence.

Walter thanked the guide, said good night, and hurried back to his own
camping place. The horses and cattle had been brought within the circle
and picketed or tied to cart wheels. The settlers were taking no chance
of Indian horse thieves making away with their beasts. Everyone in the
camp, except the guards stationed outside the barricade, was sleeping,
and the fires were burning low. The night was dark, without moon or
stars. How lonely and insignificant was this little circle of carts, with
the prairie stretching around it and the vast arch of the sky overhead!
The flickering light of the fires, only partly revealing picketed beasts,
clumsy carts, and rude shelters, seemed merely to intensify the darkness,
the vastness, the loneliness beyond.

Not a wild animal, except a few gophers, had been seen all day; the cart
train was too noisy. But now the wind that swept the prairie brought a
chorus of voices, the high-pitched barking of the small prairie wolves,
and the long-drawn howling of the big, gray timber ones. The dogs
answered, until their masters, waking, belabored them into silence. The
camps along the rivers and the shores of Lake Winnipeg had seemed remote
enough from civilization, but not one had impressed the mountain-bred lad
with such an overwhelming sense of loneliness as did this circle of carts
on the prairie.

He found Louis already asleep, and crawled in beside him. There he lay,
listening to the wolves and, when their howlings ceased for a time, to
the faint and far-away cries of a flock of migrating birds passing high
overhead. Then he drifted away into sleep.

The approach of dawn was beginning to gray the blackness in the east when
every dog in the camp suddenly began to growl. The horses grew restive,
neighing and moving about. Startled wide awake, Walter, thrilling at the
thought of a Sioux attack, asked his comrade what the matter was. Louis
did not know. He had thrown aside his blanket and was crawling out from
under the cart. As Walter followed, he heard the guide calling to the
watchers beyond the barricade. The guards replied that all was quiet on
the prairie. They could see nothing wrong, discern no moving form.

For a few minutes everyone in the camp was awake, anxious, excited, but
nothing happened, no war whoop came out of the darkness. The dogs ceased
growling, the ponies neighing, and soon all was silence again. What had
caused the alarm, whether prowling wild beast or skulking man, or the
mere restlessness of some sleepless dog or nervous horse, no one could
tell.

The camp was astir before the sun was up, and the first task was to water
the horses and cattle. Louis remained behind to get breakfast while
Walter rode the pony to the river.

The late start from Fort Douglas made getting to Pembina that day
impossible. After plodding along the prairie track and crossing several
small streams, the cart train passed a cold and stormy night in the open
beyond the wooded bank of a muddy creek that Louis called Rivière aux
Marais. Pembina was reached next day in a driving storm of rain, sleet
and snow.

The Pembina River took its name from _anepeminan_, the Ojibwa term for
the shrub we call highbush cranberry. The junction of the Pembina with
the Red was an old trading place. The Northwest men had established
themselves there before the close of the eighteenth century, and in the
early years of the nineteenth all three rival companies, the Northwest,
the Hudson Bay, and the New Northwest or X. Y. Company, as it was called
by the old Northwesters, maintained posts a short distance from one
another. Those old posts were gone,—burned or torn down,—long before the
time of this story. The two forts then standing had been built at a later
date. Fort Daer, the Selkirk Colony post, dated from the autumn of 1812,
when the first of the colonists, under the leadership of Miles McDonnell,
had come to the Pembina to winter. It stood on the south bank of that
river near where it empties into the Red. Just opposite, across the
Pembina, was a former Northwest fort, which had become, since the uniting
of the companies, a Hudson Bay trading post.

Some of the Scotch settlers and all of the Swiss except Walter were to be
lodged at Fort Daer until they could build cabins of their own. Louis had
asked Walter to be his guest. The cart he was driving, which was not his
own, was loaded with the household goods of some of the settlers, and had
to be taken to Fort Daer. After leaving the fort, the two boys, carrying
their scanty belongings in packs, made their way to Louis’ home. The
little village of log cabins was not actually on the Pembina, but near
the bank of the Red a mile or more from the junction point. The arrival
at Fort Daer of a cart train from down river was an important event, but
the abominable weather curbed curiosity, and the boys saw few people as
they made their way against the storm to the Brabant cabin.

Louis’ mother, hoping that he might have come with the party from Fort
Douglas, was on the lookout for him. Before he could reach the door, it
flew open. Followed by the younger children and three shaggy-haired sled
dogs, Mrs. Brabant ran out into the sleet and snow. Very heartily Louis
hugged and kissed her. When he presented his companion, she welcomed
Walter warmly. The children greeted him shyly. The dogs, inclined at
first to resent his presence, concluded, after a curt command and a kick
or two from the moccasined toe of Louis’ younger brother, to accept the
newcomer as one of the family.

To the Swiss lad, weary, soaked, and chilled through, the rude but snug
cabin with a fire blazing in the rough stone fireplace, promised a
comfort that seemed almost heavenly. He had not spent a night or even
eaten a meal inside a building for many weeks. The warmth was so
grateful, the smell from the steaming kettle that hung above the blaze so
appetizing, that for a few minutes he could do nothing but stand before
the fire, speechless, half dazed by the sudden transition from the wet
and the bitter cold.

He was roused by Mrs. Brabant who offered him dry moccasins and one of
the shirts she had been making for Louis during his absence. Walter had a
dry shirt in his pack, but he accepted the moccasins gratefully. His
shoes were not only soaked, but so worn from the long journey that they
scarcely held together. The cabin, one of the best in the settlement,
boasted two rooms, and Louis’ mother and sisters retired to the other one
while the boys changed their clothes. As soon as they were warm and
partly dry, supper was served.

The household sat on stools and floor in front of the fire, each with his
cup and wooden platter. From the bubbling pot standing on the hearth
Madame Brabant ladled out generous portions. The rich and savory stew was
made up of buffalo meat, wild goose, potatoes, carrots, onions, and other
ingredients that Walter did not recognize but enjoyed nevertheless. It
was the best meal he had tasted in months, and he ate until he could hold
no more.

The hunters had returned only a few days before from the great fall
buffalo chase, and there was abundance of meat in the settlement. It was
during the autumn hunt two years before that Louis’ father had been
accidentally killed, and the Brabant family had not accompanied the
hunters since that time, but Mrs. Brabant’s brother had brought her a
supply of fresh and dried meat and pemmican. The goose thirteen-year-old
Raoul had shot, and the potatoes and other vegetables were from the
Brabant garden. The grasshopper hordes had missed Pembina. Mrs. Brabant
expressed sympathy for the poor Selkirk colonists who had lost all their
crops. She listened with lively interest to the boys’ account of the trip
from Fort York, and asked the Swiss lad many questions about his own
people.

Walter was so grateful for shelter, warmth, food, and the kindly welcome
he was receiving that he could not have been critical of the Brabant
family whatever they had been. As it happened, he liked them all
heartily. He was to discover, within the next few days, that this
household was considerably superior to most of those in Pembina. The
interior of the cabin was neat and clean, differing markedly in this
respect from many of the _bois brulé_ dwellings. Her straight black hair,
smoothly arranged in braids hanging over her shoulders, her dark skin,
and high cheek-bones betrayed the Ojibwa in Louis’ mother, but in every
other way, especially in her ready smile, lively speech, and alert
movements, she seemed wholly French. She wore deerskin leggings with
moccasins, but her dark blue calico dress, belted with a strip of bright
beadwork, was fresh and clean. Her little daughters were dressed in the
same fashion, except that Marie, the elder, who was about ten years old,
wore skirt and tunic of soft, fringed doeskin, instead of calico. The
dark eyes of both little girls sparkled when Louis, unknotting a small
bundle wrapped in a red handkerchief, handed each one a length of
bright-colored ribbon, one red, the other orange, to tie in their long
black braids. For his mother he brought a silk handkerchief, a gilt
locket, and a packet of good tea, the kind, he had been told, the Chief
Factor at Fort York drank. Raoul was made happy with a shiny new knife.

Louis and Walter were tired enough to take to their blankets early. Mrs.
Brabant and the girls slept in a great box bed, made of hand-hewn boards
painted bright blue, that stood in the corner of the room where the
fireplace was. In the smaller room, which was nothing but a lean-to shed
with a dirt floor, was a curious couch for the boys. It was made of
strips of rawhide stretched tightly on a frame of poles, and was covered
with buffalo robe and blankets. This cot Louis shared with Walter, who
found the rawhide straps not nearly so hard as bare ground. Raoul rolled
himself in a robe and lay down in front of the fire.



                                   XV
                           THE OJIBWA HUNTER


Walter was anxious to get a place ready for the Periers, but he found
that every one of the fifty or sixty log cabins in Pembina was full to
overflowing. Indeed he marveled at the number of men, women, and children
of all sizes that could be packed into a one-room cabin. The houses were
built of logs chinked with clay and moss, and roofed with bark or grass
thatch, and few had more than one room.

A straggling, unkempt place was the settlement, the cabins set down hit
or miss, with cart tracks wandering around among them. The tracks and
dooryards were deep in mud, which was stiff with frost when the boys
started out that morning. As the sun softened the ground, Walter found
walking in the sticky stuff something like wading through thick glue, it
clung to his moccasins so. Gardens were rare. The surroundings of most of
the cabins were very untidy, cluttered with broken-down carts, disorderly
piles of firewood, odds, ends, and rubbish of all sorts. Shaggy, unkempt
ponies, hobbled or staked out, and wolfish looking sled dogs, running
loose, were everywhere.

The people were most of them _bois brulés_ whose hair, skin, and features
showed all degrees of mixed blood from almost pure white to nearly pure
Indian. They seemed good-natured and very hospitable. The merrymaking in
celebration of the return of the hunt was not yet at an end. Everywhere
Louis and his companion were urged to share in a feast of buffalo meat,
to join in a gambling game or in dancing to the scraping of a fiddle. So
pressing were the invitations that declining was difficult.

The neatest, best kept buildings in the village were the mission chapel
and presbytery. Father Dumoulin was setting a good example to his flock
by cleaning up his garden patch. Looking up from his work, he greeted
Louis by name. The priest was a striking looking man, tall and strong of
frame, his height emphasized by his long, straight, black cassock. His
face was strong too. Walter, though not of Father Dumoulin’s church, felt
instantly that here was a man to command the respect of white men,
half-breeds, and savages. When the priest learned that the boy was one of
the newly arrived immigrants, he asked a number of questions.

Near Fort Daer, in the edge of the woods bordering the river, a cluster
of better kept cabins housed some of the more thrifty of the Scotch. In
one of the largest and best of the houses, the two lads found the MacKay
family settled for the winter. Neil was eager to arrange for an immediate
buffalo hunt, but Louis replied that he could not go for a while. There
were things he must do for his mother, and Walter did not want to be away
when his friends arrived.

From the MacKay cabin the boys went on to Fort Daer. Like all the forts
in that part of the world, Daer and Pembina House, the old Northwest
post, consisted of log stockades enclosing a few buildings. They stood on
opposite sides of the Pembina and the land about each had been cleared of
most of its trees and bushes. The Pembina was a good-sized stream, deep,
sluggish, and like the Red, colored with the mud it carried. At Fort Daer
Walter talked with some of his countrymen, who were feeling somewhat
encouraged. They had been well fed, and were grateful for warmth and
shelter. Real winter, the bitterly cold winter of this northern country,
might come at any moment now to stay.

If Walter was to hunt to help supply himself and the Periers with food,
he needed a gun. With Louis he went to the Company store at Pembina House
to buy one. He could not pay for it in money, but hoped that he might get
it on credit, paying later in buffalo skins and other furs. The Hudson
Bay Company frowned on fur hunting as well as on Indian trading by the
colonists, but the settlers would be obliged to hunt that winter if they
wished to eat. Louis thought that if Walter agreed to turn over to the
Company the pelts of the food animals he killed, and not to engage in
barter with the Indians, he might arrange for a gun and ammunition.

The two were explaining Walter’s needs, when an Indian burst suddenly
into the room. His buckskin clothing was covered with mud. Blood matted
his black hair and stained one dark cheek which was disfigured by a great
scar. His eyes glittered, and his manner was wild and excited. The boys
thought for a moment that he was going to attack the trader. The Indian,
however, had no weapons,—no gun, hatchet, or knife. He began to talk
rapidly, angrily. Walter could not understand a word of Ojibwa, but he
could see that the Indian’s speech startled both Louis and the trader.
The latter replied briefly in the same tongue, then darted out of the
door, the Ojibwa after him. Before Walter could voice a question, Louis
was gone too. The Swiss boy turned to follow, hesitated, and decided to
stay where he was.

In a few moments Louis was back again. “What is it? Are the Sioux
coming?” Walter asked anxiously.

“No, unless this affair is the work of spies.”

“What affair? Could you understand what he said?”

“Most of it. He was so wild it was hard to follow him. He has been
attacked. He was down at the river loading his canoe. Two men came along.
While one was talking to him, the other stole up behind him, knocked him
over the head, and ‘put him to sleep.’ When he came to his senses, the
goods he had just bought and his gun and knife were gone. There was a
hole cut in his canoe. Of course he may be lying. He may have hidden the
things and made up the story.”

“Why would he do that?”

“To get a double supply of goods and ammunition. The trader believes him
though. He is sending men in search of those two fellows.”

When the trader returned he added further details to the story. The
Ojibwa, he said, was an honest, trustworthy hunter, who had been bringing
his furs to the Company for several years. He had come alone from Red
Lake to get his winter’s supplies and ammunition. Having finished his
bargaining, he was loading his boat at the riverside when another canoe,
with two men, appeared, coming up stream. One of the men shouted a
greeting in Ojibwa, they turned their boat in to shore, jumped out, and
engaged him in talk. Entirely unsuspicious of treachery, Scar Face was
answering one man’s questions, when the other struck him from behind and
knocked him senseless.

“Does he know the fellows?” questioned Louis.

“He never saw them before.”

“Could they be Sioux passing themselves off as Ojibwa?”

“No, one was a white man, he says, and the other,—the man who attacked
him,—was in white man’s clothes, but looked like an Indian. He wore his
hair in braids, had no beard, and spoke like a Cree. He was a very tall
man, strong and broad shouldered.”

“Do you think he is telling the truth?”

“I’m sure he is. Scar Face is a reliable fellow, always pays his debts,
and has never tried to deceive us in any way. You saw the blood on his
face. He has a bad cut on the side of his head. One of our men is
dressing it for him. No, he isn’t lying. His description of the men is
good, and he was not in the fort when they were here.”

“They have been here? You know who they are?”

“I think so; beyond doubt. Two fellows answering to the description were
here this morning and bought some tobacco. They said they had just come
from St. Boniface with a letter for Father Dumoulin. The white man is a
DeMeuron, a red-faced fellow with a sandy beard. I don’t know his name.
The other one is a _bois brulé_ voyageur called Murray.”

“Not Black Murray?” cried Walter.

“That’s the name he goes by. You know him?”

“_Vraiment_, we know him,” put in Louis emphatically. “So he did not go
up the Assiniboine with the western brigade, but came this way. He must
have started before we did, to get here by water so soon. We found his
tracks and those of his companion, where they had landed to boil their
kettle. They were ahead of us then. He wasted little time at Fort
Douglas, _le Murrai Noir_.”

“Whatever possessed him to attack that Ojibwa?” queried the puzzled
trader.

“I think I can guess,” replied Louis slowly, “though I know not for sure.
He wanted the Ojibwa’s supplies. He plans, I think, to become a trader.
To trade he must have some goods to commence with. This is not the first
time he has obtained them dishonestly.” Louis told the story of the
missing sack of pemmican and Murray’s bundle of trade articles.

The Hudson Bay man listened intently and nodded thoughtfully. “That must
be what the rascal is up to. Well, I have sent men out on horseback, up
and down the Red River. The thieves haven’t come by here on the Pembina.
They’re not likely to show themselves in the neighborhood of the forts.
Perhaps they will be caught, though I doubt it. They have a good start
and there is plenty of cover to hide in until the going is safe. It is
useless to try to overtake them by canoe.”



                                  XVI
                       LETTERS FROM FORT DOUGLAS


The white man and the half-breed were not caught. Had the thieves trusted
merely to speed in paddling, the men sent out from the post must have
overtaken them. Even down stream, canoemen, obliged to follow every bend
and twist of the river, could not make as good time as mounted men riding
along the bank. Probably the two had crossed to the other shore and had
concealed themselves and their canoe until the search was over. There was
little chance that Pembina settlement would see or hear anything more of
them for a long time.

The Ojibwa being a skilful hunter whose goodwill was worth retaining, he
was supplied with another outfit. He went away contented with his
treatment at the post, but seething with desire for vengeance on the men
who had robbed him.

When questioned, Father Dumoulin said that the white man, Kolbach, had
brought him a letter from his superior, Father Provencher, at St.
Boniface. “The Father said in his letter,” Dumoulin explained, “that
Kolbach had just come to tell him that he was going to Pembina. He asked
if the Father had any message to send me. So Père Provencher wrote
hastily, while Kolbach waited. Kolbach is a DeMeuron, a German Swiss. He
is a wild, unruly fellow who comes but seldom to confession. I felt
surprised that he had taken the trouble to do Père Provencher and myself
a kindness.”

Louis and Walter had failed to find an unoccupied cabin that could be
made ready for the Periers. When Louis suggested that they set to work at
once to build one, his mother interposed. It would be better to wait, she
insisted, until the Periers arrived. They could stay in her house for a
few days. The cabin would be a little crowded to be sure, but there would
be room enough to make three extra ones comfortable. “Then M’sieu Perier
can decide where he wishes his house and can help to build it,” she
concluded.

Walter rather doubted if the apothecary would prove of much help in cabin
building, but he yielded to Mrs. Brabant’s decision. He knew she would do
everything in her power for the comfort of the homeless immigrants.

While he waited for the coming of his friends, Walter helped Louis
prepare the Brabant home for winter. They put fresh mud chinking in the
holes between the logs, mended the bark roof, cut firewood and hauled it
in Louis’ cart. The cart itself had to have one new wheel rim. The rim,
which was about three inches thick, was made in sections, and put
together without nails. Louis wanted a new dog sled, and Walter would
need snowshoes. For the sled, thin oak boards were bent at one end by
steaming them over the big kettle, and lashed together. Louis called the
affair a _tabagane_, the French version of an Indian word. Nowadays we
spell it _toboggan_.

The snowshoe frames were of birch wood bent to the required racket form,
the toes turned up a little to prevent tripping. The netting of sinew,
Louis explained, must be put in with the greatest care. Where the weight
of the foot would rest he used a fine mesh of _babiche_ or twisted sinew.
The ankle and toe loops he was careful to make just the right size to
slip on and off easily, yet not too loose to hold the foot in the proper
position. Walter had been trained to use his hands, and he was deft and
sure with them. He made one of the shoes himself, and did a workmanlike
job. Learning to walk with the awkward things might be more difficult
than making them, he thought.

Louis examined his dog harness and shook his head. “The beasts need a new
harness truly,” he said, “but that will have to wait until we can kill a
buffalo, and get fresh _shaganappy_.”

Though the buffalo hunt had been postponed, Walter found plenty of
opportunity to use his new gun. Migrating flocks of water fowl passed
every night, and many of them stopped to rest and feed by day along the
rivers and in the marshes. It was the boys’ duty to keep up the food
supply by shooting as many ducks and geese as possible. The weather was
now cold enough so the birds could be kept several days. Those that the
Brabant and MacKay families could not use were disposed of at Fort Daer.
Neil MacKay and Raoul Brabant, who was almost as good a shot as his elder
brother, were included in the hunting party.

Every day Walter watched for the Periers. Whenever he heard the creaking
of a cart, he hoped that another brigade was arriving from Fort Douglas.
He never went a mile from the settlement without wondering if his friends
would be there when he came back. As the days passed, he grew more and
more anxious. Had disaster overtaken the boats of the second division?

One day, just at dusk, as the four hunters were returning along the bank
of the Pembina, there came to their ears, faintly at first, from the
prairie to the north, the screeching of ungreased axles. As the noise
grew louder, the boys realized that such a squawking and screaming could
never come from two or three carts only. A whole brigade must be
approaching. Leaving the woods along the river, the lads started across
the prairie to meet the cart train. They could hear it much farther than
they could see it in the gathering darkness.

Louis was the first to make out a line of black objects against the sky.
He and Walter were some distance ahead of their companions when they met
the guide of the brigade riding in advance. Louis shouted a question and
the reply in Canadian French came promptly:

“We come from Fort Douglas. We bring some of the new colonists.”

At the guide’s words, Walter dropped his gun and his birds and ran
towards the carts. He was too impatient to wait for them to come to him.
The first vehicle belonged to the guide and his family, but walking
beside the second was someone Walter knew, Johan Scheidecker. He and the
Scheidecker boys had shared the same tent at York Factory. As he greeted
Johan, Walter looked eagerly around for some sign of his friends.

“Where is Monsieur Perier?” he demanded.

“He is not with us.”

“Not with you? Why, what has happened?”

“Nothing,—to the Periers,” was Johan’s reassuring reply. “They remain at
Fort Douglas. A man named Kolbach has taken them into his house. I have a
letter for you that will explain it all.” He handed Walter a folded
packet of coarse paper.

The boy was dumbfounded. The possibility that the Periers might not come
on to Pembina had never occurred to him. It was too dark to read his
letter, so he fell into step beside Johan and questioned him.

“Are they all right? How did they stand the trip? Are they well?”

“About as well as any of us.”

Even in the darkness Walter could see that Johan was very thin. His voice
was husky, and he plodded along with drooping shoulders and bent head.
“We were all nearly starved, and some of us were sick, when we reached
Fort Douglas,” he explained. “Elise and Max were as well as any, but
Perier himself had a bad cough. One of the soldiers who live above the
fort, a Swiss, took them into his house. My sister Marianne stays behind
too. She was married to one of those soldiers the morning we left. Tell
me, can we get food at Fort Daer?” he asked abruptly.

“Oh, yes. Wait a moment.” Walter had remembered his gun and birds. He ran
to where they lay, and, returning, thrust the two fat geese into Johan’s
hands. “Take them,” he cried. “They are good eating and we have more.”

Walter did not accompany the cart train to Fort Daer. He and the Brabant
boys made speed to the cabin, where, by the light of a candle of buffalo
tallow, he read his letters. There were two, one from Mr. Perier, the
other from Elise. Mr. Perier’s was brief. The trip had been a very hard
one, but he and the children had come through safely. Matthieu had given
him Walter’s note, and he appreciated the boy’s thought for their
comfort. It seemed best, however, for them to remain at Fort Douglas. He
was suffering with a bad cold and was scarcely able to travel farther.
One of the DeMeurons had shown them great kindness. He had offered to
share his cabin with them and had assured them that by hunting and
fishing he could provide food for all.

“I am disappointed,” Mr. Perier wrote, “that I cannot open a shop. All my
chemical and medical supplies were lost when our boat was wrecked. I
saved only a few packages of herb seeds that I was carrying in my
pockets. I intend in the spring to plant an herb garden. Through Matthieu
I hope to obtain a place in the buffalo wool factory for the winter. Do
not think that you must come back here to be with us. It would not be
wise. If you have found food and shelter, remain where you are till
spring. Then you can return and we will begin cultivating our land. You
need not be concerned for us, for we have fallen among friends. Our
nearest neighbor will be Marianne Scheidecker who is to be married
to-morrow to one of the ex-soldiers. Several of them have found wives
among our Swiss girls. I would not want a daughter of mine to marry in
such haste. I am glad Elise is still a little girl.”

Elise’s letter, dated November 4th, the day of arrival at Fort Douglas,
told more of the journey. The second division had traveled slowly, and
with many delays. On September the twentieth another boat from Fort York,
carrying the Rev. John West, the English clergyman of the Selkirk Colony,
had overtaken the Swiss. The first of October the weather had turned very
cold, and some nights the travelers had nearly frozen, especially when
everything was so wet or frost covered that the fires would not burn. In
a storm on Lake Winnipeg, the boat the Periers were in was wrecked.

“No one was drowned,” wrote Elise, “but we were all soaked, and we lost
most of our food and blankets and other things. The men had to cut down
trees and split them into boards to mend our boat, and that took a long
time. It rained and snowed, and the nights were terribly cold. M. West
gave Max and me one of his blankets. We had plenty of wood for fires, but
very little food left, only some barley that we boiled. The weather was
so stormy the men could not catch fish, but they shot a few birds. We ate
a big owl and a raven that M. West shot. It was a week before we could go
on. Then Samuel Scheidecker was taken sick and died, and we stopped at an
island to bury him. I feel so sorry for the Scheideckers. By the time we
came to the mouth of the Red River we were starving, but there were
Indians there, and the chief, Peguis, gave us dried fish.”

Elise went on to say that her father had a bad cough and needed a warm
place to stay. So Sergeant Kolbach had kindly taken them in. “This house
is only one room with a loft above that has a floor of loose boards and a
ladder instead of a stairway. But there is a fireplace, and it is warm
and dry. M. Kolbach sleeps in the loft and lets us have the room. It is
rather dirty, but I have cleaned it up a little and will do more
to-morrow. We shall be comfortable here and kind Mr. West wants Max and
me to go to his school and learn English. We miss you very much, Walter,
but Father says you must not come back here till spring. We are going to
be all right now. It is so good to be warm and dry and have enough to
eat, and in the spring we can be together again.”

Walter read this letter aloud to Louis and his mother. “The poor child!”
Mrs. Brabant exclaimed again and again. At the close Louis said
earnestly, “That is a brave little girl, your little sister.”

Walter was disappointed that his friends were not coming to Pembina, but
relieved to know that they were safe and comfortable. He was quite ready
to go back to Fort Douglas and share any hardships they might have to
undergo, but Mr. Perier had forbidden him to do so. Apprentices in those
days seldom thought of disobeying their masters. Moreover Walter felt
that his return to Fort Douglas would probably do more harm than good.
There was no employment for him, no way to earn a living, and very likely
the Governor would not let him stay. Louis was strongly against his going
back.

Walter was not wholly at ease about his friends. “I wonder,” he pondered,
“if that DeMeuron really will provide for them. What will happen if he
doesn’t keep his promise?”

“If there is not food for them they will be sent on here to Pembina
later.”

“Could they make the trip when the snow is deep and the weather very
cold?”

“Oh, yes. By dog sled the journey is easier and, if the trail is good,
quicker than by cart. Dogs can travel where ponies can not. Write to your
friends and tell them if all is not well to send word to you here, and
you and I will go get them. Ask someone at Fort Daer to send your letter
the first time anyone goes to Fort Douglas. Every week or so someone
comes and goes between the two forts. What is the name of that DeMeuron
they live with?”

Walter glanced at Mr. Perier’s letter. “Kolbach, Sergeant Kolbach.
Louis,” he exclaimed, “that was the name of the man with Murray!”

“Kolbach, yes, that was surely his name.”

“I wonder if he can be the same man who spoke to me when we landed at
Fort Douglas. He had a red face and a sandy beard. I don’t like it,
Louis, their living with that fellow!”

“No,” the Canadian boy agreed thoughtfully. “We must go to Père Dumoulin
and ask him about that Kolbach. He may be a wild fellow, and yet be good
to your friends. Oh, yes, that is quite possible.”

The two boys went to see the priest the next morning. They found him at
the mission in the little room that served him as bedroom, living-room
and study.

“Père Dumoulin,” Louis asked, “was the man who brought you that letter
from Fort Douglas Sergeant Kolbach?”

“Sergeant Kolbach? Oh no,” came the prompt reply. “It was Fritz Kolbach,
the sergeant’s brother.”

Walter felt relieved. “What kind of a man is Sergeant Kolbach?” he
inquired.

“Why do you ask?” The priest looked at the boy keenly.

Walter explained, and Father Dumoulin listened with interest.

“Sergeant Kolbach,” he said thoughtfully, “is a very different person
from his younger brother. The sergeant is a man of influence among the
DeMeurons. I do not know him well, but I should think him a somewhat
domineering man, used to authority and fond of exercising it, but he is
quieter, more self-controlled, more steady going than most of the
DeMeurons. He has usually exercised his influence over his fellows in the
interest of law and order. I know no reason why you should fear that he
will not treat your friends well, since he has chosen to take them into
his house.”

“His brother lives with him?” asked Louis.

“I do not think so. Every DeMeuron has his own land, and the Kolbachs are
too unlike to live together peaceably.”

Reassured by Father Dumoulin’s information, Walter did not think of
disobeying Mr. Perier’s instructions. At Fort Daer the lad obtained a few
sheets of paper, and, borrowing quill pen and ink from a good-natured
apprentice clerk, he wrote a letter to Mr. Perier and another to Elise,
addressing them in Sergeant Kolbach’s care. The clerk promised to send
them at the first opportunity.



                                  XVII
                          CHRISTMAS AT PEMBINA


There was no reason now why Walter should hesitate to be away from the
settlement, yet the proposed buffalo hunt was postponed again. The
animals were far from Pembina that autumn. For miles to the south and
west, the prairie had been swept by fires started by careless Indians or
half-breeds who had allowed their camp fires to spread. In that blackened
desolation there was no feed for buffalo. The boys had expected to go
beyond the burned country in search of the herds, but, before they were
ready to start, a heavy fall of snow made horseback travel impossible.
Storm winds swept the prairie, and Louis shook his head at the prospect.

“This will drive the beasts yet farther away,” he said. “They will go
where the snow is not so deep and where there are trees for shelter. We
could travel with dog sleds of course, but we might search for long to
find buffalo, and to hunt them on foot is much more difficult than on
horseback. But perhaps this snow will not last.”

With the coming of deep snow Walter was given his first lessons in
snowshoeing and dog driving. Learning to walk with the clumsy rackets was
not easy, he found. He got more than one tumble before he mastered the
art. Driving a dog sled looked simple enough, when Louis hitched up his
dogs and took his little sisters for a ride. The three animals differed
considerably in size, appearance and breed, but worked well together.
Hitched tandem, they were off with a dash, the little bells on their
harness jingling merrily. They followed a trail already broken by other
sleds, and Louis ran alongside shouting and flourishing his whip. After a
turn on the prairie, they were back again.

“Come, you shall have a ride now,” Louis said to Walter, as the little
girls,—cheeks red and black eyes sparkling,—unrolled themselves from the
fur robes.

Curious to try this new mode of travel, Walter seated himself on the
robes. “_Marche donc_,” cried Louis, and the team was away, the toboggan
slipping smoothly over the well-packed trail. Running alongside or
standing behind Walter on the sled, Louis urged his dogs to their best
speed. When, after a first spurt, they slowed to a steadier pace, he
suggested that Walter try driving.

“Stay where you are. You don’t need to get up. There must be weight to
hold the _tabagane_ down.” Handing Walter the whip, Louis stepped off the
sled.

Louis seemed to manage the team easily, and Walter had no doubt of his
own ability to drive. He shouted to the dogs in imitation of his friend,
and, waving the long whip high in air, flicked the leader’s back with the
lash.

The dogs must have noticed the difference in the voice. They must have
sensed the awkwardness and inexperience of the new driver. Without
warning, the leader,—a woolly haired, bushy tailed beast with fox-like
head and sharp pointed ears,—swerved from the trail into untracked snow.
In vain Walter tried to get him back on the track. The dogs were out for
a frolic and they had it. They bounded and floundered through the soft
spots and raced across hard packed stretches. The prairie, Walter
discovered, was by no means so smooth as it looked. The wind had swept
the snow into waves and billows. The toboggan mounted the windward side
of a snow wave, balanced on the crest, and bumped down abruptly. Shouts
and commands were of no avail. Walter could but cling to the swaying,
jouncing, skidding sled, and let the dogs go where they would.

Suddenly the beasts concluded they had had about enough of the sport. It
was time for the grand climax. With a quick turn, they swung about
towards home. The toboggan turned too, clear over, and Walter went
sprawling. When he picked himself up, the provoking animals were sitting
quietly in the snow, more or less tangled up in their traces, tongues
hanging out, laughing at him. Louis, shouting hilariously, came running
up on his snowshoes to right the toboggan.

For a moment Walter was angry. “You knew what would happen,” he cried
accusingly. “What did you do to make them act that way?”

“No, no,” laughed Louis. “I did nothing. Askimé knew you had never driven
before, and so he played you a trick. He is a wise dog, Askimé, but he
deserves a beating.”

The leader of the team was a hardy, swift, intelligent beast, almost pure
Eskimo, as his name indicated. The other dogs were of more mixed breed.
Both had sharp muzzles and thick, straight hair, brown with white spots
on one, dark wolf-gray on the other. Louis was proud of the husky, whom
he had raised from puppyhood. Nevertheless he picked up his whip and
started towards Askimé.

Walter, his flash of anger past, intervened. “No, don’t thrash him. He
was just having a little fun. He has taken the conceit out of me, but
I’ll get even with him yet. I’ll learn to drive those dogs and make them
behave.”

Louis was still grinning. “Truly you will learn,” he hastened to say,
“and—well—perhaps,” his grin broadened, “I might have told you more
before you tried this first time. Next time it will go better.”

It did go better next time, and before the winter was over, Walter could
handle the dogs satisfactorily, though they never obeyed him as well as
their real master.

The snow remained, and the buffalo did not return to the neighborhood of
Pembina. Winter had set in in earnest, but Walter was used to cold
winters and the Brabant cabin was snug and comfortable. Even the bitter
winds that swept the prairie could not find an entrance between the well
chinked logs.

The Swiss lad cherished the hope of spending Christmas with the Periers.
He planned to go to the Selkirk settlement with a dog train that expected
to leave Fort Daer December twenty-first or twenty-second, but he was
disappointed. A hard snowstorm, a genuine blizzard, with a high wind out
of the north, prevented the sleds from getting away, and he was forced to
remain in Pembina.

On Christmas morning he went with the Brabant family to Father Dumoulin’s
mission. There was no Protestant church in Pembina, he liked and
respected Father Dumoulin, and he did not want to hurt Mrs. Brabant and
Louis by refusing to go with them. The boy was surprised to see how
crowded the mission chapel was with the Canadians and _bois brulés_, men,
women, and children. Very reverently and devoutly the rough, half savage
hunters and voyageurs joined in the service and listened to the priest’s
words.

The rest of the day the simple, light-hearted people of Pembina
celebrated in a very different fashion, feasting, dancing, gaming, and
drinking. Gambling and fondness for liquor were the besetting sins of the
half-breeds as well as of the Indians, though Father Dumoulin was trying
hard to teach them to restrain these passions.

Walter had come to know the rough, wild, but generous and hospitable
_bois brulés_ well. He could not decline all their invitations to join in
the merrymaking. Moreover he was young, and homesick, and he wanted to
share in the festivities. He went with Louis and Neil MacKay to several
of the cabins during the afternoon and early evening, where the three ate
as much as they could manage of the food pressed upon them. The gaming
was carried on principally by the older men, the younger ones preferring
to dance. With a little diplomacy, drinking could be avoided without
giving offence. Louis and Neil, as well as Walter, had been brought up to
be temperate. They did not hesitate to take part in the dancing.

Never had Walter seen such lively, agile jigging as some of the lithe,
muscular, swarthy skinned half-breeds were capable of. Men and women were
arrayed in their best, and the dark, smoke-blackened cabins were alive
with the gay colors of striped shirts and calico dresses, fringed sashes,
gaudy shawls, silk and cotton kerchiefs, ribbons, and Indian beadwork.

After dancing until they were weary, the three boys slipped away early,
before the fun grew too fast and furious. Walter found it good to be out
in the clean, cold air again, away from the heat and smoke and heavy
odors of the tightly closed cabins.

The night was a beautiful one, clear and windless. To the north and
northeast, from horizon to zenith, wavering, flashing bands and masses of
light flooded the sky. Parting with Neil, Louis and Walter trudged
through the snow towards the Brabant cabin. Both were absorbed in
watching the aurora borealis, the ever changing rays and columns and
spreading masses of white, green, and pale pink light, fading out in one
spot only to flash up in another, in constant motion and never alike for
two moments in succession. But when he turned from the beauty of the
night to enter the cabin, there swept over Walter, in a great wave, the
homesickness he had been holding at arms’ length all day. He thought of
the Christmas of a year ago in Switzerland, and he was heartsick for the
mountains and valleys and forests of his native land,—so different from
these flat, monotonous prairies,—heartsick for his own people and their
speech and ways. What kind of a Christmas had this been for Elise and
Max, he wondered. Were they homesick too?



                                 XVIII
                         MIRAGE OF THE PRAIRIE


Early in the New Year, Louis, Neil and Walter set out for the Pembina
Mountains or the Hare Hills, as that ridge of rough land was sometimes
called. New Year’s day, ushered in with the firing of muskets, was
another occasion for merrymaking and hilarity in the settlement. Indeed
the feasting, dancing, and gaiety had scarcely ceased day or night since
Christmas. Many a _bois brulé_ family had shared their winter supplies so
generously with their guests that they had almost nothing left and would
have to resort to hunting and fishing through the ice. Though they might
starve before spring, the light-hearted, improvident half-breeds did not
grudge what had been consumed in the festivities. They would do the same
thing over again at the first opportunity.

The rapid decrease of supplies in the village gave Louis and Neil excuse
for a hunting trip, and Walter was ready and eager to go along. At the
Pembina Mountains they would be sure to find both game and fur animals,
Louis asserted. He had been there the winter before and had found good
hunting. On that trip he and his companion had come across an old and
empty but snug log cabin that had been built by some hunting or trading
party. He proposed to return to the old camp and stay several weeks.

Walter was the more ready to go because, on the last day of the old year,
he had received word from the Periers that they were getting along all
right. The letter, from Elise, was brought by a half-breed who had come
from St. Boniface to be married on New Year’s day to a Pembina girl. Her
father’s cough was much better, Elise wrote. He was working at the
buffalo wool factory with Matthieu. Max had been disappointed to find
that Mr. West’s school was a good two miles from Sergeant Kolbach’s home,
too far for the little fellow to go and come in cold weather. “But we are
both of us learning some English without going to school,” Elise added.

The cabin was warm, and they had enough to eat, principally pemmican, and
fish caught in nets set under the ice in the rivers. “You know I did not
like pemmican,” wrote Elise, “but now I am used to it. For Christmas we
had a feast, a piece of fresh venison, and a pudding made with some wheat
flour M. Kolbach had saved and with a sauce of melted sugar, the sugar
the Indians make from the sap of the maple tree. Have you eaten any of
that sugar, Walter? It is the best thing I have tasted since we came to
this new land. You wrote to me that I must tell you if everything here
did not go well. Of course it is not like home in Switzerland. We are not
as comfortable or as happy as we were there, and sometimes Max and I are
very lonely and homesick. Father does not complain of the hardships and
is always planning what we are going to do when spring comes. We keep
warm, we are well, and we have enough to eat, though we long for bread
with butter, and milk, and cheese. I get the meals and wash and mend our
clothes and keep the house clean. M. Kolbach says it is more comfortable
than before we came. I can’t really like M. Kolbach, though I know I
ought to, it is so good of him to have us here. He is rather harsh to Max
sometimes, but not to me, and yet I feel a little afraid of him. Isn’t it
strange that we can’t like people by just trying to, no matter how hard
we try? But I am very grateful to M. Kolbach for taking care of us.”

This part of the letter troubled Walter a little, but, reading it over a
second time, he concluded that Elise was merely homesick. Kolbach was
very likely a rough sort of man, but he must have a kind heart or he
would not do so much for strangers. There was no mention of the younger
brother. Probably Elise knew nothing of him. Father Dumoulin thought
Fritz Kolbach might not be on very good terms with the Sergeant. Perhaps
after the robbery of the Indian, Fritz had not returned to St. Boniface.
Undoubtedly the trader at Pembina had sent an account of that affair to
Fort Douglas. Kolbach and Murray might not dare to show their faces
there.

The day of their start for the Pembina Mountains, Louis and Walter were
up before dawn. The morning was still and very cold. After packing their
few supplies and belongings on the toboggan, the boys passed a long
rawhide rope, or _shaganappy_, back and forth over the load and through
the loops of the leather lashing that ran along the edges of the sled.
Before the work was done their fingers were aching. They were glad to go
back into the cabin for a breakfast of hot pemmican and tea.

As he went out again, Walter paused on the threshold to stare in
amazement. The sun was not yet above the horizon, but the whole world had
changed. He seemed to be standing in the center of a vast bowl. On every
hand the country appeared to curve upward. And the distance was no longer
distant! Groves of bare branched trees, streams, heights of land that he
knew to be miles away had moved in around the settlement until they
seemed only a few rods distant. To the west the line of hills,—Pembina
Mountains,—that he had never glimpsed, even on the clearest day, as more
than a faint blue line on the horizon, loomed up a mighty, flat-topped
ridge. Once before, in December, Walter had seen the landscape
transformed, but it was nothing to compare with this. Louis, familiar
from childhood with the mirage of the prairie, declared he had never
known such an extraordinary one.

Awed and wondering, the two lads stood gazing about them. Turning to the
east, they watched a spreading ray of crimson light mount the sky from
the soft, low lying, rose and gold bordered clouds at the horizon. The
sun was coming up. As the horizon clouds reddened and the rim of the
glowing disk appeared, an exclamation from his companion caused Walter to
wheel about.

Louis was pointing at two men and a dog team gliding through the
air,—upside down! Every detail was startlingly clear, capotes with hoods
pulled up, sashes, buckskin leggings, snowshoes. The driver with the long
whip looked very tall. He belabored his dogs cruelly. It seemed to Walter
that he ought to hear the man’s shouts and curses, the howls and whines
of the abused beasts. He could see their tracks in the snow, and a fringe
of trees beyond them,—everything inverted as if he himself were standing
on his head to watch men and dogs moving across the prairie. As he
watched, the figures grew to gigantic stature, the outlines became
indistinct. They vanished altogether. The sun was above the clouds now.
The distance grew hazy. Only part of the chain of hills was visible.
Louis turned to Walter, excitement in his voice.

“I think those men go to the mountain too,” he said. “Do you know how far
away they are?”

Walter shook his head. He felt quite incapable of estimating distance in
this fantastic world, where things he knew to be miles away were almost
hitting him in the face.

“At least fifteen miles,” declared Louis impressively.

“Impossible. We couldn’t see them so plainly.”

“And yet we have seen them. The mirage is always unbelievable.”

“What is it anyway, Louis? What causes it?”

The Canadian lad shrugged his shoulders. “The Indians say the spirits of
the air play tricks to bewilder men and make them wander off the trail to
seek things that are not there. Once I asked Father Dumoulin and he said
the spirits had nothing to do with it. He called it a false effect of
light, but that does not explain it, do you think?”

Again Walter shook his head.

“This I have noticed,” Louis went on. “I have never seen the mirage in
winter except at dawn or sunset. In summer I have seen it in the middle
of the day when it was very hot and still. But why it comes, winter or
summer, I do not know.”

Neil’s arrival stirred the others to action. The dogs were harnessed and
good-byes said to Louis’ mother and sisters and rather sulky younger
brother. Raoul wanted to go too, but one of the boys was needed at home.

Fresh and full of spirits, the dogs set off at such a pace that the boys
had all they could do to keep up. When they left the trail and took to
the untracked snow, speed slackened considerably. Louis now went ahead of
the team, though track breaking was hardly necessary. Underneath an inch
or more of dry, loose stuff, almost like sand, the snow was well packed
and held up the dogs and sled. The line of hills had vanished, but the
mirage did not entirely disappear and the landscape resume its natural
appearance until the sun had been up nearly two hours.

The day was cold, much colder than the lads realized at first, for, when
the start was made and for some time thereafter, there was not a breath
of wind. All three wore fur caps and mittens, woolen capotes, and thick
knit stockings under their moccasins. Walter had possessed none of these
things when he came to Pembina, but Mrs. Brabant had made him a capote
from a Hudson Bay blanket and a cap and mittens from a rather well worn
bearskin. She had knit warm, new stockings for both boys from yarn bought
at the trading post. A prickling feeling in his nose was Walter’s first
warning that his flesh was freezing. Stooping for a handful of snow, he
rubbed the prickly spot to restore circulation, and pulled the hood of
his capote farther around his face.

Their course at first lay to the north of the Pembina River, over flat
prairie without an elevation high enough to be called a hill. On that
January morning, the whole plain was a stretch of dazzling white. In the
distance it appeared level, but it was actually made up of rolling snow
waves. It was, Walter thought, like a great lake or sea, the waves of
which had suddenly frozen while in motion and turned to snow instead of
ice.



                                  XIX
                                BLIZZARD


As the sun rose higher the wind began to blow. The loose surface snow was
set in motion, crawling and creeping up the frozen waves. The wind gained
in strength, and everywhere the plain seemed to be moving. The glitter
was less trying to the eyes now, for the sun had grown hazy. Louis
glanced up at the sky, shouted to his dogs, sent his long whip flying
through the air and flicked the leader with the lash.

“A storm comes,” he called to his companions. “We must make haste and
reach the river where it bends to the north.”

With the increase of speed, Walter, less experienced in this sort of
travel than his comrades, found keeping up difficult. Neither with nor
without snowshoes was he the equal of the swift, tireless Louis. Neil too
was his superior on snowshoes, though on bare ground Walter could outrun
the Scotch boy. In spite of all his efforts he fell behind. Seeing his
difficulty, Louis suggested that he ride for a while, standing on the
rear of the sled. Glad though he was of a few minutes’ rest, Walter did
not ride long. The northwest wind soon chilled him through, and he was
forced to run to warm himself.

The dogs’ pace was slackening. The course was due west, and the wind,
striking them at an angle, slowed their progress. The surface snow,
caught up by the gale, drove against and swirled about beasts and boys.

Walter plodded after the others, head lowered, capote hood pulled down
over his cap to his eyes. Suddenly he realized that the fine, driving,
blinding stuff that struck against him with such force and stung wherever
it touched his bare skin, was not merely the fallen snow whipped forward
by the wind. Snow was falling,—or being lashed down upon him,—from above.
The sunshine was gone. The distance, the sky were wholly blotted out. He
and his comrades were in the grip of a hard northwest storm, a genuine
prairie blizzard.

Louis was having his hands full trying to keep a straight course. All
landmarks blotted out, the wind was the only guide, and the dogs were
continually edging away from the bitter blast. The French boy, of a
naturally kind disposition and brought up by a good mother and a father
who had no Indian blood, was far more humane than most dog drivers. He
never abused his beasts, and he punished them only when discipline was
necessary. Now, however, he was compelled to use the whip vigorously to
keep them from swinging far to the south. Shouts and commands, drowned
out by the roaring of the wind, were of little avail.

Dogs and boys struggled on in the driving wind, the bitter cold, and the
blinding snow; and the struggle saved them from freezing. The snow was
coming so thick and fast they could see only a few feet in any direction.
Following behind the toboggan, Walter could not make out Askimé or the
second dog. The third beast, next to the sled, was but a dim shape. Louis
and Neil took turns going ahead of Askimé. While one was breaking trail,
the other wielded the whip and tried to keep the dogs in the track.

Plodding on through a white, swirling world, fighting against wind and
snow, his whole mind intent on keeping the shadowy, moving forms in
sight, his feet feeling like clogs of wood, his ankles and calves aching
with the unaccustomed exercise of snowshoeing, Walter lost all count of
time. When the sled stopped, he kept on blindly and nearly fell over it.

Louis seized him by the arm and shouted, “We can go no farther. We can’t
keep a straight course. We must camp here.”

Walter tried to look about him. He could see nothing but wind-driven
snow, not a tree or hill or other sign of shelter. “We’ll freeze to
death,” he protested huskily.

“No, no, we will be safe and warm. Kick off your snowshoes and help Neil
dig.”

Walter obeyed, slipping his feet from the thongs. Following the Scotch
lad’s example, he seized one of the shoes and, using it as a shovel,
began to scoop up snow. Louis unharnessed the dogs and unlaced the hide
cover, almost freezing his fingers in the process. Hastily dumping the
supplies in a heap, he turned the sled on its side, and joined the
diggers. In the lee of the toboggan, which kept the drifting snow from
filling the hole as fast as they dug it out, the three boys worked for
their lives. Down through the dry, loose surface, through the firm packed
layer below, to the hard frozen ground, they dug. Scooping out the snow,
they tried to make a wall, though the wind swept it away almost as
rapidly as they piled it up.

Working steadily at their best speed, they succeeded at last in
excavating a hole large enough to hold all three. The heap of supplies
had been converted into a mound, the toboggan into a drift. Burrowing
into the mound, the boys pulled out robes and blankets, hastily spread
them at the bottom of the hole, and threw in their supplies. A long pole,
that Louis had added to the load just before starting, was laid across
the hole, one end resting on the toboggan. Clinging to the hide cover to
keep it from blowing away, they drew it over the pole and weighted down
the corners with a keg of powder, a sack of bullets, and the steel traps.
After the edges of this tent roof had been banked with snow to hold it
more securely, the three lads crawled under it.

When he had recovered his breath, Walter asked, “What has become of the
dogs?” He had not noticed them since Louis took off their harness.

“Do you think they are lost then?” said their master with a grin. “No,
they have buried themselves in the snow to keep warm. They have earned a
meal though, and they shall have it.” Seizing three of the frozen fish he
had brought for the dogs, Louis crawled out into the storm to find and
feed them.

He was back in a few minutes, huddling among the robes and blankets. The
hole was none too large. When they sat up straight, their heads nearly
touched the hide cover, and all three could not lie down at one time. But
in the snug burrow, with the snow-banked sled to windward, they did not
feel the wind at all.

Knowing that they might have to camp where there was no fuel to be found,
Louis had included a few small sticks among their supplies. Shaving one
of the sticks into splinters, he struck his flint and steel and kindled a
tiny fire on the bare ground in the center of the shelter. In the cover
above he cut a little hole for the smoke to escape. Small though the
blaze was, it sent out heat enough to thaw the boys’ stiff fingers and
feet, and its light was cheering in the dark burrow. Louis melted snow,
made tea, and thawed out a chunk of frozen pemmican.

By the time the meal was over, Walter found himself surprisingly warm and
comfortable. He had not supposed he could be so comfortable in such a
crude shelter. He was drowsy and wanted to take a nap, but one fear
troubled him and made him reluctant to yield to his sleepiness.

“If the snow covers us over, won’t we smother in this hole?” he asked.

Louis shook his head. “There is no danger, I think. Often men overtaken
by storm camp in the snow like this, and I never heard of anyone being
smothered. There is not much snow on our tent now. It banks up against
the toboggan and blows off our roof. But even if we are buried in a
drift, we can still breathe I think, and we won’t freeze while we have
food and a little wood to make hot tea.”

“And the dogs?”

“They will sleep warm, covered by the snow.”

Reassured, Walter settled himself as comfortably as he could manage in
the cramped quarters, and went to sleep. When he woke, he found the
others both sleeping, Neil curled up in his thick plaid, and Louis in a
sitting position with his head down on his knees. The fire had gone out,
and in spite of the blanket in which he was wrapped and the buffalo robe
spread over Neil and himself, Walter felt chilled through. It was too
dark in the hole for him to see the figures on his watch. Trying to rub
some warmth into his cramped legs, he roused Louis.

“How long have I been asleep? Is it night?”

“I think not yet,” replied Louis, answering the second question. “It
grows colder. I will make a fire and we will have some hot tea.”

To clear a space for the fire, Louis unceremoniously rolled Neil over and
woke him. The Scotch lad growled and grumbled at being disturbed, but the
prospect of hot tea restored his good humor. Looking at his watch in the
light of the tiny blaze, Walter discovered that it was not yet five
o’clock. The storm still raged over them.

“Do we get something to eat with this?” Neil asked, as Louis poured the
steaming tea into his tin cup.

“Not now. We have only a little wood. We must not keep the fire burning.
Warm your fingers and your feet well before it burns out.”

Louis was the leader of the expedition, and Neil did not question his
decree. The three drew their blankets and robes closer about them, and
made the most of the hot drink and the tiny fire. They were not sleepy
now, so they talked, huddled together for warmth.

After a time conversation lagged. They grew silent, then drowsy. Walter
dropped off, and woke to find Louis kindling another little blaze. It was
after nine, and the three made a scanty meal of thawed pemmican before
going to sleep again.

During the night Walter woke several times to rub his chilly body and
limbs and snuggle closer to his companions. A buffalo robe and a blanket
lay between him and the ground, his capote hood was drawn over his fur
cap, he was wrapped in a blanket, and with his companions, covered with
another robe, yet in his dreams he was conscious of the cold. He did not
think of complaining. He had slept cold many a night since leaving Fort
York. In the midst of this howling blizzard, he was thankful to be as
comfortable as he was and in no immediate danger of freezing.



                                   XX
                             A NIGHT ATTACK


It must have been instinct that roused Louis and set him to shaving
kindlings from the last stick of wood, for there was no change in the
darkness of the hole to indicate that morning had come. The smoke no
longer found a way out through the hide cover. Though the wood was dry
and the blaze small, Walter was half choked and his eyes were smarting by
the time the tea and pemmican were ready.

“We are covered with snow,” said Louis as, in changing his position, he
struck his head against the sagging roof. “But I think the storm is
over.”

He was right. When the three crawled out from under the hide and burrowed
their way through the drift that covered all but the wind-swept peak of
their shelter, they found that the flakes had ceased to fall. The wind
still blew, though not so hard, and swept the dry, fallen snow up the
wave-like drifts, but the sky was clear and flushed with the red of
sunrise. It was a world of sky and snow, for the swirling clouds of fine,
icy particles blotted out the distance.

The boys did not stand gazing about them for long. The morning was too
bitterly cold for inaction, and they wanted to be on their way.
Floundering through the drifts, they found the dogs buried in the snow,
and pulled them, whining piteously, out of their warm nests. Each animal
bolted his frozen fish, then burrowed for another nap.

Dismantling the almost buried shelter, digging out the toboggan and
loading it took some time. To fasten the cover over the load, Neil had to
take off his fur mittens to handle the stiffened lacings, and frosted
four fingers. He was, as he said, “ready to howl” with the pain when the
blood began to circulate in them. In the meantime Louis and Walter had
dug out the whining dogs. Once in the harness, they ceased their
protests. At the crack of the whip and their master’s shout of “_Marche,
marche_,” they were off willingly enough.

“I hope you know where we are and where we’re going, Louis,” said Neil as
he fell into line. “I don’t.”

“I think that must be the river over there where those trees are,” Louis
replied. “We cross it and go on to the west and cross it again. It makes
a great bend to the north.”

The dogs were headed for the line of woods, dimly visible through the
blowing snow. The trees proved to be on the bank of the Pembina, which
was crossed without difficulty. The ice was thick and solid beneath its
snow blanket. Beyond the river was open prairie again, a succession of
snow waves, up and down, across and through which, boys and dogs made
their way westward. Both Louis and Neil went ahead to break the track.
Askimé, the intelligent leader of the team, seemed to sense his
responsibility and kept close behind the snowshoes.

Walter brought up the rear. His ankles were lame, the muscles of his
calves strained and sore from the snowshoeing of yesterday. He found the
going quite hard enough, even in the trail made by two pairs of rackets,
three dogs, and a loaded sled. The sky was clear blue overhead, the
blowing snow particles glittered in the sunlight, but the sun seemed to
give out no warmth. The north wind was piercingly cold. The strenuous
exercise kept body and limbs warm, but in spite of his capote hood Walter
had to rub and slap his face frequently. His hands grew numb in his fur
mittens.

Only one stop was made, about mid afternoon, when they reached an _île
des bois_, or wood island. The thick clump of leafless small trees and
bushes, though broken and trampled by buffalo, furnished plenty of fuel
and some protection from the wind. The boys kindled a fire, not a tiny
flame but a big blaze that threw out real heat. Close around it they
crouched to drink hot tea and eat a little pemmican.

Heartened by food and drink, they smothered their fire with snow that
there might be no danger of its destroying the little grove, and resumed
their march. Higher land came into view through the blowing drift, and
Louis scanned it eagerly. He admitted that he did not know just where he
was.

“We should have crossed the river again before this,” he said. “Without
knowing it we have edged away from the cold wind and gone too far south.
I fear we cannot find the old cabin to-night.”

“We must find fuel and shelter,” was Neil’s emphatic reply.

It was after sunset when the cold and tired travelers reached an abrupt
rise of wooded ground. Skirting the base of this tree-clad cliff, they
came to a steep-sided gully, where a small stream, now frozen over and
snow covered, broke through. The narrow cut was lined with boulders, but
trees and bushes bordered the stream and grew wherever they could find
foothold on the abrupt sides among the stones. The gully was drifted with
snow, but it would provide protection from the bitter wind.

Leaving his comrades with the sled, Louis explored until he found a
suitable spot, where the almost perpendicular north slope cut off the
wind. A huge boulder, partly embedded in the bank, would serve as the
east wall of the shelter. He shouted to his companions, who joined him
with sled and dogs.

“We will dig out the snow behind this big stone,” he explained, “and pile
it up to make a wall on the other two sides. When we have put the
toboggan and the hide cover over the top, we shall have a good warm
lodge.”

The three set to work at once, Walter almost forgetting his lameness and
weariness in his eagerness to complete the queer hut. When it was all
done but the roof, Neil left the others to unload the sled, while he took
the ax and climbed the bank to cut firewood.

Before the shelter was finished, darkness had come, and the howling of
wolves echoed from the hills above. On the narrow strip of frozen, sandy
ground that had been uncovered, a robe was spread. The fire was kindled
against the big boulder, which reflected the heat. To the cold and tired
boys, the hut seemed very snug. Wrapped in blankets, they huddled before
the blaze, warm and comfortable, even though the heat did not carry far
enough to make much impression on the two snow walls.

By the time Walter had eaten his portion of melted pemmican and drunk two
cups of hot tea, he was so sleepy he could not keep his eyes open. Neil
too was nodding, and Louis was not much wider awake. They replenished the
fire, and stretched out side by side, feet to the blaze, and heads
wrapped in their capote hoods.

An excited barking and howling waked Walter suddenly. How could three
dogs make such an unearthly racket? With a sharp exclamation, Louis freed
himself from his blanket. In a flash Walter realized that the dogs were
not guilty of all that noise.

Louis was gone, Neil was following. Walter sprang up, felt for his gun,
and could not find it. The fire was still smouldering. Remembering that
wild animals were supposed to be afraid of fire, he seized a stick that
was alight at one end. As he crawled from the shelter, he knew from the
sounds that the wolves were attacking the dogs.

The loud report of a gun drowned out for an instant the snarls and
growls. The dark forms of the beasts could be seen against the white
snow, but the light was too dim down in the gully to show friends from
foes. Louis had fired into the air.

Before the echoes of the shot had died away, Walter flung his blazing
firebrand, with sure aim. It landed among the dark shapes. There was a
sharp snarl, a quick backward leap of a long, thin body. Neil risked a
shot. The snarling creature made a convulsive plunge forward, and fell in
a heap. Black figures, three or four of them, were moving swiftly up the
gully.

Louis fired again, then called commandingly, “Askimé, back!”

The brave husky had started in pursuit of the wolves. At his master’s
command, he paused, hesitated, turned. Louis ran forward to seize the
dog.

Askimé had been hurt, but not seriously. One of the wolves had got him by
the throat, but the Eskimo’s heavy hair had protected him and the skin
was only slightly torn. The other dogs were uninjured. The actual attack
had but just begun, when Walter flung his firebrand. The blazing stick
had struck Askimé’s attacker on the head, and had made him loose his
hold. It had frightened the rest of the beasts. Then Neil’s quick and
lucky shot had killed the one wolf almost instantly. The dead animal
proved,—as the voices of the pack had already betrayed,—that the
attackers were not the small, cowardly prairie beasts, but big, gray
timber wolves.

“It was you, Walter, who saved Askimé’s life,” Louis exclaimed
gratefully. “I didn’t dare take aim. I couldn’t tell which was wolf and
which dog. I fired over their heads, hoping to frighten the wicked
brutes. But you saved Askimé. Come, brave fellow,” he said to the dog.
“You shall sleep in the lodge with me the rest of the night.”

“Will the wolves come back, do you think?” asked Walter.

“If they do, the dogs will warn us. But I think they will not trouble us
again. They have lost their leader, and they are well frightened.”

The boys were so thoroughly aroused that it was some time before they
could go to sleep again. But they heard no more of the wolves, and
finally dropped off, first Neil, then Louis, and finally Walter. Between
his two companions, Walter slept more warmly than on the night before,
though he woke several times when the fire had to be replenished.



                                  XXI
                            THE BURNED CABIN


Before sunrise Louis was stirring and woke the others. When Walter tried
to move, he found his ankles and calves so stiff and sore that he
wondered if he could possibly go on with the march. Of course he must go
on. Louis and Neil seemed as spry as ever. He would not hold them back.
Pride helped him to set his teeth and bear the pain of getting to his
feet and moving about. His first few minutes of snowshoeing were agony.
As he went on, some of the stiffness wore off, but sharp darts of pain
stabbed foot, ankle, or leg at every step. Doggedly he trudged behind the
toboggan, thankful that trail breaking through the deep snow prevented
speed.

Keeping to open, level ground at the foot of the hills, Louis watched for
familiar landmarks. The day was clear and cold. Going north and
northwest, the party traveled against the piercing wind. The boys walked
with heads lowered. The dogs, every now and then, veered to one side or
stopped and turned about in their traces. Most drivers would have beaten
and abused the poor beasts for such behavior, but Louis was not without
sympathy for them. He himself had to turn his back to the wind
occasionally. With a fellow feeling for the dogs, he encouraged rather
than drove them. Askimé did his best, and the others were usually ready
to follow him.

What he had seen so far of the Pembina Mountains was a disappointment to
Walter. He could not understand why anyone should dignify mere low ridges
and irregular, rolling hills with the name of mountains. Nevertheless,
after weeks of open prairie, the rolling, partly wooded land looked good
to him. He felt more at home in broken country.

The wind-driven surface snow obscured the distance, so that landmarks
were difficult to recognize. In a momentary lull, a line of woods,
winding out across the plain, was revealed. Louis paused in his trail
breaking, and turned to call to his comrades.

“There is the river again,” he cried. “We came too far to the south, as I
thought.”

“Is the cabin on the river bank?” asked Walter, hoping that the long
tramp was almost over.

“No, it is in the hills about a mile beyond,” was the rather discouraging
reply.

Walter’s heart sank. He had been wondering at every step how long he
could go on. Could he keep going to that line of trees and then on for
another mile or more? He must of course, no matter how much it hurt.

Louis, sure of the way now, led to and across the river, then turned to
the northwest into the broken, hilly country. There they were less
exposed to the sweep of the wind, but in other ways the going was harder.
It seemed to Walter that they must have gone at least three miles beyond
the river, when he heard Louis, who had rounded a clump of leafless
trees, give a cry of dismay. Following their leader, Walter and Neil
entered a snug, tree-protected hollow, backed by a steep, sandy slope.
And all three stood staring at a roofless, blackened ruin.

Louis was the first to recover himself. “This is bad, yes, but the walls
still stand, and the chimney has not fallen.”

“We can rig up some sort of a roof,” Neil responded. “It will be better
than camping in the open.”

Walter said nothing. He had expected to find a cabin all ready for
occupancy, where they could make themselves comfortable at once. Cold and
suffering sharply with the pain in his feet and legs, his bitter
disappointment quite overwhelmed his courage.

“Someone has camped here since the blizzard. There are raquette and sled
and dog tracks, but it is strange,”—Louis, turning towards Walter, forgot
what he intended to say, seized a handful of snow, made a lunge at his
friend, and clapped the snow on his face. “Your cheek is frozen. It is
all white. Rub it,—not so hard, you will take the skin off. Let me do it.
Neil, cut some wood, dry branches. We will make a fire the first thing we
do, even if we have no roof over our heads.”

Neil took the ax from the sled, and started to obey Louis’ order, while
the latter skilfully rubbed and slapped Walter’s stiff, white cheek,
until it began to tingle.

The log walls of the old cabin were intact. The door, of heavy, ax-hewn
planks, was only charred. It stood ajar, and Louis pulled it wide open
and went in, Walter following. There was no snow within, but the hard
earth floor was strewn with the fallen remains of the roof. Had there
been a plank floor to catch fire, the inside of the house would certainly
have been burned out, and the walls would probably have gone too. As it
was, the logs were merely blackened, the top ones charred a little. Two
bed frames, a stool made of unbarked sticks, and the stone and clay
fireplace and chimney were unharmed.

“We will make a fire, warm ourselves and unload the _tabagane_. Then we
must build a new roof.”

Louis was not satisfied with the appearance of Walter’s frozen cheek. As
soon as the fire was kindled, he melted some snow, removed the warm water
from the blaze and added more snow until it was like ice water. He bade
Walter bathe his cheek with the cold water and keep on bathing it until
the frost was drawn out. Noticing the stiffness of his friend’s movements
and the signs of suffering in his face, Louis guessed his other trouble.

“You have a pain in the legs?” he inquired. “It is the _mal de raquette_.
Everyone not used to snowshoeing has it if he travels long. It is very
painful. Take off your moccasins. Warm your feet and legs and rub them.
That will help.”

Walter was glad to obey. He expected to do his share in unloading the
sled and roofing the cabin, but when Louis saw how inflamed and swollen
the Swiss boy’s ankles and insteps were, he refused to let him help.
Walter must remain quiet. His work would be to sit on a buffalo robe
before the fire and keep the blaze going.

The roof the others constructed was only a temporary affair. It was
almost flat, slanting a little towards the rear, as the back wall was
slightly lower than the front. Poles and bark were the materials,
weighted with stones to keep them from blowing away. Such a covering
would not stand a strong wind, but the cabin was well sheltered. In a
hard rain the roof would probably leak, and heavy snow might sag it or
break it. But it would serve for a while at least, and it was the best
the boys could do in haste and with the materials at hand. By nightfall
they had a cover over their heads, flimsy though it was.

As they were eating their evening meal before a warm blaze, Neil said
thoughtfully, “I wonder how this cabin caught fire. The fellows who
camped here can’t have been gone long, yet when we came the fire was out
and everything cold.”

“Yes,” agreed Louis. “Even the ashes on the hearth were cold.”

“Probably it broke out in the night,” Neil suggested. “Sparks from the
chimney started it. But how _could_ they, with the roof covered with
snow?”

“If there had been snow on it, it would not have burned so easily,” Louis
returned.

“This place is too sheltered for the wind to blow the snow off the roof.
Someone must have cleaned it off. Perhaps the weight was breaking it
down.”

“Well, it burned anyway,” Walter put in. “All we know is that there was a
fire, and that some other party was here before we came. Do you remember
those men we saw in the mirage, Louis?”

“Yes, we thought they were coming to the mountain. Whoever it was who
camped here, we owe him a grudge. He burned our roof and stole our beds.
Antoine and I made those beds last winter.” One of the first things Louis
had noticed on entering the house was that the stretched hides, which had
taken the place of springs and mattress, were gone from the rustic cots.
The hides had been cut off with a knife.

The bed frames being of no use, the boys lay down on the buffalo robe
before the fire. Louis and Neil slept soundly, but the pain in Walter’s
feet and legs and frosted cheek made him wakeful and restless.

His lameness and his sore face kept him at home the next day when the
others went out to seek for game and signs of fur animals. That was a
long day for Walter. Enough wood had been cut to last until evening, and
he kept the fire going. He cleaned out the remains of the burned roof
which cluttered the floor, arranged the scanty supplies and equipment
more neatly, drove some wooden pegs between the logs to hang clothes and
snowshoes on, mended a break in the dog harness, and did everything he
could find to do. The cabin had one window covered with oiled deerskin
that let in a little light, and the open fire helped to illuminate the
dim interior.

Dusk had come when the hunters returned, bringing two big white hares.
Rabbit stew would be a welcome change from pemmican. They had set traps
and snares, had seen elk tracks, and had found, among rocks at the base
of a tree, a partly snow-blocked hole Louis thought might be a bear’s
winter den.



                                  XXII
                       THE PAINTED BUFFALO SKULL


The life of the three boys in their lonely cabin in the hills settled
down to a regular routine. Louis and Neil were out every day hunting and
visiting their traps, but it was nearly a week before Walter’s lameness
wore off so that he could tramp and climb with his comrades. The skin
peeled from his frosted cheek, leaving it so tender that he had to keep
it covered with his capote hood when out in the cold.

The cabin was in need of furniture. Besides the bed frames, Louis and his
companion of the winter before had made two rough stools, but one had
been burned. Before he was able to hunt, the Swiss boy, who was handy at
wood working, fashioned two more stools. His only tools were an ax, a
small saw, and a knife, but the stools were strong and solid, if not
ornamental. A table the lads did not miss. At meal times they sat before
the fire, their plates on their knees, their cups on the earth floor
beside them, the cooking utensils on the hearth.

The first day that Walter went any distance from camp, he and Louis,
entering a partly wooded hollow among the hills, came suddenly upon a
herd of six or eight large, handsome deer. It was the first time Walter
had ever seen wapiti or elk. He was surprised and excited, the trigger of
his flintlock trade gun pulled hard, and his shot went wide. Louis,
cooler and more experienced, fired just as the herd took fright at the
report of Walter’s gun. A yearling buck fell, and he was jubilant at his
happy shot. The pemmican was almost gone, and the boys had been living on
hares and squirrels. Frozen and hung in a tree out of reach of the dogs,
the elk meat would keep until every eatable scrap had been consumed.

It proved lucky for the lads that they had such a good supply of fresh
meat. That night a storm commenced that lasted more than three days. It
was worse than the blizzard they had encountered on their way to the
hills. Even in the sheltered spot where the cabin stood the wind howled
and shrieked through the trees, bending them low and beating and crashing
the leafless limbs against one another. It threatened to blow the roof
off, and whirled the snow in among the trees, to drift it high against
the windward side of the house.

Any attempt to reach the trap lines would have been the wildest folly.
Neil tried once to go to the near-by creek for water, but the storm drove
him back. He decided that snow water was quite good enough for him. When
the supply of fuel ran low, a tree close to the lee side of the house was
felled. Cutting it up was a troublesome and strenuous task even in the
shelter of the cabin.

While the wood pile was being replenished, the elk carcass was blown from
the tree where it hung. It was brought inside. The corner farthest from
the fire proved quite cold enough to keep the meat fresh. The dogs whined
and scratched at the door, but Louis let in Askimé only. He knew it would
be almost impossible to prevent the beasts from getting at the venison,
if all three were admitted. On the sheltered side of the house, buried
deep in the snow, the thick-haired dogs would not freeze.

Preparing the pelts occupied part of the boys’ time. At this task Louis
was expert and Neil not unskilled. The work did not appeal to Walter,
though he was ready to lend a hand when necessary. He had not been
brought up to the fur trade, and he had already concluded that he had no
wish to be a trapper. He was willing enough to hunt, especially when food
was needed, but traps seemed to him mere instruments of torture. He said
nothing to his comrades of this feeling. Their training and way of
looking at life were in many ways different from his. But he was resolved
to find some other way of making a living in this new land. He was
willing to do farming, tinkering, repair work, even to act as a voyageur
for the Company.

When time began to hang heavy on the boys’ hands, Walter suggested that
Neil give him some lessons in English. They had no paper, pens, or
pencils. With a charred stick Neil wrote on the flat hearth stone such
common English words as he knew, explaining the meaning. His father had
taught him to read and write a little English,—as much as he knew
himself,—but Neil’s education was very limited, his spelling erratic, and
his pronunciation that of the Highland Scot. Louis watched and listened
with keen interest. He had even less education than the Scotch boy. Louis
could read only enough to make out the markings on bales of goods and
pelts. His writing consisted in copying those marks and signing his name.

When Walter had written his letters to the Periers and had read theirs
aloud, Louis had admired and envied his knowledge. Noticing the Canadian
boy’s interest in the lessons, Walter offered to teach him to read his
native tongue, French. Among the Swiss lad’s few possessions was a small
Bible that had belonged to his mother, the only thing he owned that had
been hers. He had always carried it about with him, and now he used it as
a text-book. Louis entered into the new task with enthusiasm and
surprised Walter by learning rapidly. In fact Louis proved quicker than
Neil, whose restless nature disinclined him to study of any kind. In
physical activity the Highland boy delighted, but working his mind bored
and wearied him. Louis, however, grew so interested that even after the
storm was over, he spent a part of every evening in a reading lesson by
firelight.

A period of clear, cold weather followed the blizzard. There was little
wind, but more than once the stillness of the night was shattered by a
sharp crack, almost like the report of a musket, when, in the intense
cold, some near-by tree split from freezing. In hunting and visiting the
traps the boys felt the cold far less than at a higher temperature with
wind. Fingers and faces became frost-bitten quickly though, and Walter
had to be careful of his frosted cheek.

Following the trap lines necessitated long tramps, sometimes of twelve or
fifteen miles, through the hills. Accompanying his comrades, Walter
learned something of the lay of the land. He found that the cabin was
located on what Louis called “the first mountain,” a rough and partly
wooded plateau that rises rather abruptly from the prairie of the Red
River valley; which is really not a valley but a plain. This hilly
plateau is about eight miles across its widest part, and reaches its
greatest height a mile south of where the Pembina River cuts a deep
valley through it. On the west of the plateau is the “second mountain,”
an irregular ridge. Though the second mountain rises nowhere more than
five hundred feet above the first, it is wild and rugged. Walter was
forced to admit that in some places, especially where the streams that
crossed it had eroded steep-walled ravines, three or four hundred feet
deep, it was almost mountain-like on a small scale. To a mountain-bred
boy this was mere hill country, but he felt more at home in it than he
had felt anywhere since coming to the strange new world. Climbing was a
real joy to him, and he loved to choose the steepest rather than the
easiest routes.

As game grew scarce in the vicinity of the cabin, the boys pushed their
trap lines farther and farther into the hills, until whoever made the
rounds was forced to be away at least two, and sometimes three, nights.
They built two overnight shelters, one a lean-to against an abrupt cliff,
the other a roof of poles over a snug hollow in the rocks. In one of
these lodges Louis or Neil, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by
Walter, would spend the night; with a blazing fire at the entrance to
keep away wolves and wildcats.

For several weeks a thievish wolverine annoyed the trappers. The clever,
bloodthirsty beast followed the trails, broke into deadfalls, and
skilfully extracted the catch from traps and snares. What it could not
devour it carried away and hid, after mangling the creature until the
pelt was ruined. Louis swore vengeance on the thief, and tried in every
way to trap it. At last, by going out at night to follow the wolverine’s
fresh track against the wind, he came upon the greedy beast in the act of
breaking into a deadfall from the rear. A quick and lucky shot, and Louis
triumphantly carried home the robber. Walter had never seen a wolverine,
and Neil knew it from its tracks and skin only. With its long body,
short, strong legs, and big feet armed with sharp, curved claws, it
looked a most formidable creature for its size.

February was a stormy month, until near the close, when there came
another period of clear, calm cold. In this fine weather Louis laid a new
trap line extending seven miles or more north to _Tête de Boeuf_, Buffalo
Head, one of the highest points in the range. After accompanying his
friend over the new trail, Walter climbed Buffalo Head for the first time
one bright, windless noonday. He found the view from the top impressive,
but the name puzzled him.

“Why do you call this hill Tête de Boeuf?” he asked his companion. “I
can’t see that it is shaped like a bull’s head, looked at from below or
from up here.”

“No,” Louis replied. “I think the name does not come from the shape of
the hill, but from a curious custom of the Indians. Do you see those red
things over there?”

He pointed to an irregular line of objects in an exposed, wind-blown spot
at the very rim of an escarpment.

“Those queer looking stones? They look as if someone had laid them there
in a row, and then daubed them with red paint. Did the Indians put them
there? What for?”

“You think they are stones? Go and look at them,” returned Louis with a
smile.

Walter walked to the edge of the bluff, looked down at the objects, and
exclaimed in astonishment, “They’re skulls; skulls of some big animal.”

“Buffalo,” said Louis. “To the Assiniboins and the Sioux this mountain is
sacred. They bring buffalo skulls, daub them with red earth, and place
them as you see, noses pointing to the east. The skulls are offerings to
some heathen god. There is another spot up here where the Indians burn
tobacco as a sacrifice.” He stooped to examine one of the skulls. “This
one has not been here long. See how fresh the paint is. It is trader’s
vermilion mixed with grease.”

“That skull was put there since the last storm,” Walter agreed. “There
are little drifts of snow against the others, but hardly any around that
one.”

Louis had turned his attention to a shallow, snow-filled hollow in the
rock. “Here are tracks. Truly someone has been here since the last
snowfall.”

Although the weather had been unusually calm for several days, every
breath of breeze swept the exposed spot. The prints in the snow were
partly obliterated. If the boys had not found the freshly painted skull,
they would scarcely have guessed that the tracks were those of men. With
some difficulty they traced the footprints to the edge of a steep, bare,
rock slope. There they lost the trail. They were out after game and did
not care to waste time tracing a couple of wandering Indians, so they
gave up the search.

Nevertheless the recent offering of a buffalo skull on _Tête de Boeuf_
aroused the lads’ curiosity, and set them wondering if there might be
Indians camped somewhere in the neighborhood. In all their wanderings
heretofore the three had seen no recent sign of human beings.

“We must keep a better watch of our things,” Louis decided, as he sat by
the fire that evening preparing the pelt of a red fox. “The Assiniboins
are great thieves. Stealing horses is a feat they are proud of. We have
no horses, but we do not want to lose our dogs.”

“Or our sled and blankets and all our furs,” Neil added. “One of us must
stay home after this to look after things.”

“Yes.” Louis was silent for a moment considering. “I think,” he said at
last, “that you and I, Walter, will try to follow that trail to-morrow.
It may lead to some camp. Neil will stay here to guard the cabin.”

“Why not let Walter stay?” demanded the Scotch boy, who preferred a more
active part.

“Because he cannot talk to the savages or understand them, if any come
this way. He knows no Assiniboin.”

“I don’t know much myself,” Neil protested.

“But you know a little, and you have dealt with Indians. He has not. He
does not even understand their sign language.”

Neil could find no answer to that argument. He was forced to consent to
the arrangement, though he was far from pleased.



                                 XXIII
                           UNWELCOME VISITORS


The period of bright, calm weather seemed to be over. The next morning
was dark and cloudy, with a raw wind. In accordance with Louis’ plan, he
and Walter climbed Buffalo Head again. At the foot of the bare rock
slope, they succeeded in picking up the trail from the painted skull. Two
men, Louis concluded, had come and gone that way. He traced the trail
easily enough for a short distance, but in the woods it became confused
with that of several wolves. Probably the beasts had followed the men at
a safe distance. Where the snow lay deep the men had taken to snowshoes.

By the time the lads had reached a puzzling spot, where the tracks seemed
to branch into two trails, the threat of the morning had been fulfilled.
Snow was falling. Selecting the more distinct trail, Louis led on, but
the thick-falling flakes were rapidly obliterating the tracks. He grew
more and more doubtful of them, until at last he was sure that he had
lost the trail entirely. After circling about, attempting in vain to pick
it up, he gave up the chase.

“It is of no use to go on,” he said to his companion. “If this snow had
waited a few hours,—but no, it comes at just the wrong time.” With a
resigned shrug of his shoulders, he turned back.

For a time the snow came thick and fast, but before the boys were
half-way home, it had almost ceased. When they reached the cabin, the
wind had changed and the sun was shining. The storm had lasted just long
enough to defeat their purpose. Their hard tramp had been for nothing.
The stay-at-home, however, had news; news he was impatient to tell.

“I have had a visitor,” he burst out the moment Louis opened the door.

“A visitor!”

“A visitor?” echoed Walter, entering close behind his comrade.

“Yes, and I have found out about the new skull on Buffalo Head.”

“That is more than we have done,” Louis admitted, shaking the snow from
his capote. “There have been Indians here?”

“No, a white man.”

Louis and Walter were too amazed even to exclaim. They stared
unbelievingly at Neil.

“A white man,” the Scotch boy repeated. “He came a little while after you
left. I didn’t know he was anywhere around till he knocked on the door. I
_was_ surprised, I can tell you, when I heard that knock. An Indian would
have walked right in, so, even before I opened the door, I knew there
must be a white man there. And there was,—a broad-shouldered fellow with
a shaggy beard. He said ‘_Bo jou_’ and I said ‘_Bo jou_, come in.’ Then
we stood and looked at each other. Just as I opened my mouth to ask him
where he came from, he began asking me questions.”

“What kind of questions?” Louis interrupted.

“Who I was, and what I was doing here, if I was trapping or trading with
the Indians. He could see the pelts all around the room. He was so sharp
about it, I thought he might be a Hudson Bay man out on the track of free
traders. I told him we hadn’t seen an Indian since we came and didn’t
expect to see one. Then he wanted to know what we were going to do with
our furs. Of course I said we were going to take them to the Company at
Pembina.”

“Did that satisfy him?”

“It seemed to. He isn’t a Company man, it appears.”

“A free trader?” questioned Louis.

“He didn’t say. He is on his way from _Portage la Prairie_ to Pembina.”

“_Portage la Prairie_ is on the Assiniboine. Why did he come this way?”

“He said it was shorter and he wanted to make speed.”

Louis shook his head doubtfully. “Shorter? No, I think not. He must be
off his course. How many are in his party?”

“No one but himself. He didn’t even have a sled, only a pack and his
snowshoes.”

“But that is strange. You are sure he had no comrades?”

“I asked him if he had come all the way alone,” Neil explained, “and he
said that at first he had traveled with two others. Yesterday or last
night, he left them. He had quarreled with them I think. When he went
away, he warned me to look out for them and not to trust them. I asked if
they were coming this way. He didn’t know where they were going, he said,
but they were somewhere around here in the hills.”

“What about the painted skull?” inquired Walter.

“I told him about our finding it and the tracks. He said the other
fellows put the skull there. One of them is an Assiniboin.”

Walter was puzzled. “If that is true,—if those men really did that, they
must have reached the hills two or three days ago. We found the skull
yesterday.”

“That’s so.” Neil rubbed his red head thoughtfully. “That rather spoils
his story of making speed straight through from _Portage la Prairie_,
doesn’t it?”

“He lied,” concluded Louis emphatically. “Somewhere he lied, either about
himself or about the placing of the skull on the _Tête de Boeuf_. What
was he like, that fellow, and who is he? What is his name? Where does he
belong?”

“He didn’t tell me his name, but he is a DeMeuron from St. Boniface. He
asked so many questions that I didn’t think till afterwards that he
hadn’t mentioned his name. He asked mine and yours.”

“He knew you were not here alone then?”

“Oh yes, I told him I expected you two back any moment. He kept looking
at our furs, and I thought he had better know we were three to one.”

“Three to three perhaps,” said Louis thoughtfully, “if the others are
still near here. They may not have parted at all.”

“I’m sure they have quarreled. He was telling the truth about that. You
should have seen his face when he spoke of those other fellows, and he
warned me against them, you know.”

“That is true,” Louis conceded, “but his stories do not agree and we had
best not trust them too far.”

One of the trap lines had not been visited for two days, so Neil went out
to examine the nearer traps while daylight lasted. Doubt of the white
traveler’s story made Louis decide to remain at the cabin. The boys had a
fairly good catch of furs, and Louis knew that wandering trappers and
free traders were not always above robbing weaker parties. If the
stranger returned or his former companions happened along, Louis wanted
to be at home.

The sun was sinking behind the hills as Walter, accompanied by Askimé,
went down to the creek. He found the water hole frozen and was chopping
it out when the dog began to growl uneasily. The boy paid little
attention, thinking Askimé had scented some wild animal. Suddenly Askimé
threw back his head and howled. His fellows replied from near the cabin.
Then, as all three were silent for a moment, there came other answers
from farther away; up the creek somewhere. In doubt whether the answering
voices were those of dogs or wolves, Walter filled his kettle and
hastened back to the cabin.

Outside the house, Louis was trying to quiet his beasts. “We shall have
visitors soon,” he announced. “You heard?”

“Yes, but I wasn’t sure whether they were dogs or wolves.”

“Dogs,” Louis asserted confidently. “Those men have heard ours. They will
come this way.”

Louis and Walter tied their dogs at the rear of the cabin, and lingered
outside, watching for the strangers. It was not long before a howl from
the opposite direction, together with the voice of a man shouting, as he
belabored some unfortunate beast, announced the arrival of the visitors.

Through an opening in the woods, into the cleared space before the cabin,
came a tall fellow in buckskin leggings and blue capote, the hood pulled
low over his face. He was followed by two lean, shaggy dogs drawing a
toboggan. It flashed into Walter’s mind that these were the very men and
sled he had seen upside down against the sky during the mirage.

“_Bo jou_,” called Louis in a friendly tone, as a second man appeared and
the sled came to a halt.

“_Bo jou_,” returned the tall fellow in a deep voice.

At the sound of that voice Walter started with surprise. The newcomer
pushed back his hood, and the boy found himself gazing into the face of
the half-breed voyageur Murray. The sun was down behind the mountain, but
even in the waning light, there was no mistaking that face; that dark,
aquiline, beardless, hard, cruel face, that he had seen day after day
during the long journey from Fort York to Fort Douglas.

If Murray recognized the two lads, and he must recognize them Walter
knew, he made no sign. He merely stood impassive, looking at them, until
Louis recovered his wits sufficiently to act the host. Under the
circumstances he could do no less, even though the guest was an unwelcome
one. After all there had been no open breach between Murray and the boys,
and what had happened at Pembina was not their business. It would be
better to show no knowledge of that affair.

At Louis’ invitation, the newcomers entered the cabin and were given the
stools by the fire. They had unhitched their dogs from the sled and tied
them to a tree to keep them from Louis’ beasts, but Murray was hardly
seated when the noise of battle sounded from without. Louis ran out and
Murray followed to find that one of his dogs had broken or gnawed off his
rawhide rope and was engaged in a fight with Askimé who had broken his
rope also. The beasts were separated, Murray’s dog, after being well
beaten by his far from merciful master, was tied more securely, and
Askimé was taken into the cabin.

Walter was already getting the evening meal, which, as a matter of
course, the visitors would share. The second man, it was evident, was not
the one who had been with Murray at Pembina. This fellow was an Indian, a
young man, slender, well built, but insignificant beside the Black
Murray. He understood scarcely a word of French or English, and spoke
only when addressed in his native Assiniboin. It seemed to Walter, as he
covertly watched the two, that the young Indian was completely under
Murray’s domination, and stood in fear or awe of him.

Before the meal was ready, Neil returned. He had heard unfamiliar dog
voices, as he approached the cabin, and had seen the loaded sled before
the door, so he was not surprised to find strangers sitting by the fire.
He it was who first mentioned the visitor that had come earlier in the
day.

“I suppose,” he said, “you two are the ones that fellow was traveling
with.”

Murray grunted an assent. After a moment he asked, “How long ago he
here?” He grunted again at Neil’s reply.

The warm meal, eaten for the most part in silence, seemed to thaw
Murray’s sullenness somewhat. Suddenly he began to talk; his usual
mixture of bad English, worse French, Cree, and Dakota. Like the
DeMeuron, he asked questions about the boys’ trapping, and inquired if
they had seen any Indians and had done any trading. Questioned in return,
his replies were brief and evasive. He and Kolbach had been to the west.
They had come back to the hills expecting to meet a band of Assiniboins.
“We waited,” he said, “but the Assiniboins not come.”

Walter and Louis were not surprised to learn that Murray’s former
companion was Fritz Kolbach. They had guessed that already.

“It was here at the mountain you expected to meet the Assiniboins?” Louis
inquired.

Murray shot a keen glance at him, and nodded.

“Then you camped near here for several days?” persisted Louis.

“To the north, other side _Tête de Boeuf_.”

“You left the fresh buffalo skull on the mountain?” put in Neil.

Murray silently pointed to his Assiniboin companion, who apparently
understood nothing of the conversation. Then the half-breed asked
abruptly, “Who told you that? Kolbach?”

“We found the newly painted skull and your tracks,” said Neil. “I spoke
to him this morning about them and he said you put the skull there.”

_Le Murrai Noir’s_ face had darkened at every mention of the DeMeuron. He
demanded savagely, “What else he tell you?” And, before Neil could
answer, added a string of violent abuse of his former companion.

“Kolbach told me nothing,” the boy hastened to reply, “nothing except
that he had been traveling with you, but had left you and was going on
alone. He seemed to be in a hurry.”

Murray’s eyes were fastened on Neil’s honest, freckled face. His only
reply was an abrupt grunt, he turned to Louis. “You stay here long? I
sell you bag pemmican, good pemmican, for furs.”

Louis ignored the question. “We thank you for your offer,” he said, “but
we have no need of pemmican. We have plenty of food.” This was not
strictly true, but he wanted no dealings with Murray.

Murray cast a look about the cabin, dimly lighted by the fire on the
hearth. “We go now,” he said abruptly.

“You’re not going on to-night?” Neil asked in surprise.

“You are welcome to spread your blankets here by the fire,” Louis added,
he would not break the rules of hospitality even though he felt the guest
to be an enemy.

Murray did not even thank him. “The moon is bright. We go on.”

The Indian had risen and moved towards the door. Murray pulled on his
capote and looked up at the bark and pole roof. An evil smile showed his
strong, yellow-white teeth. “It burn?” he inquired.

“You set it on fire,” accused Louis.

Murray grinned mockingly. “Not me,—Kolbach.”

“But why did he want to burn the roof off?” cried Walter.

“Why leave a cabin for other traders?” Murray spoke contemptuously.
Undoubtedly he felt contempt for Walter’s innocence. “Only the roof burn
well,” he added. His left hand on the door latch, he turned and held out
the right to Walter.

The Swiss boy, surprised at this courtesy from the man he had believed an
enemy, could not refuse his own hand. Murray’s sinewy fingers clasped it
firmly for an instant. A scratch in the palm,—a deep scratch made by a
rough splinter of wood when Walter was renewing the fire before
supper,—tingled sharply with the pressure.

“_Bo jou!_” said Murray, and opened the door and went out.

The Assiniboin repeated the words and followed. In a moment both were
arousing and harnessing their dogs. The men’s shouts, the whines and
howls of the tired beasts, lashed and beaten to force them to speed,
could be heard long after men and sled had disappeared into the woods and
the night.



                                  XXIV
                              A SORE HAND


“Now we know it was Murray and Kolbach who camped here the night before
we came,” said Louis, after the guests were gone. “Then they tried to
burn this old cabin so no one else could use it. That is a trick of rival
traders to make each other as much trouble as they can.”

“The Northwest Company used to destroy Hudson Bay houses whenever they
got a chance,” put in Neil.

“Yes, and the Hudson Bay men did the same to the Northwesters.”

“That was a queer way to try to burn a house though,” Neil remarked, “to
begin at the top. Kolbach must have had to clean off the snow before he
could set the fire.”

“Perhaps it was Kolbach who cleaned away the snow, but I think the plan
to burn the cabin was as much _le Murrai’s_ as Kolbach’s,” Louis
asserted. “I believe they tried to start fire in other places as well as
the roof. At the back there is a place where a fire has burned close to
the wall. The logs are charred and black. They started several fires, I
think, but they did not stay to watch them. As _le Murrai_ said, only the
roof burned well. What do you think, Walter?”

Walter had scarcely been listening. He was examining his right hand,
which still smarted. Raising his head at the question, he replied
carelessly, “About the fire? They set it, of course. Lucky for us it
didn’t burn better.” He looked again at his stinging palm. “I wonder if
Murray ever washes his hands. The dirt came off on mine. It makes this
scratch sting.”

“Let me see.” Louis seized his friend’s hand, turned the palm to the
firelight and bent over it. “That is no dirt,” he exclaimed. “It is
sticky, a gum of some sort. You say it was not there before Murray shook
hands with you? And now it hurts?”

“My hands were clean. I washed them before we began to get supper. That
scratch certainly does hurt; much more than it did at first.”

“Put some water on the fire, Neil, just a little, to heat quickly. We
must do something for this hand.” Louis spoke anxiously. “_Le Murrai_ has
tried to poison you, Walter. Perhaps I can suck it out like snake venom.”

Without hesitation he put his lips to the scratch and sucked. He spat in
the fire, and wiped his mouth with the end of his neck handkerchief. “The
gum is too sticky, and we have nothing to draw the poison out, no salt
pork for a poultice.”

“Make the scratch bleed,” suggested Neil. “Open it with your knife.”

“This black stuff must be cleaned off first,” objected Walter.

Cold water made no impression on the sticky substance that smeared
Walter’s palm. Louis tried to scrape away the gum, then he sucked the
scratch again. But he had to wait for hot water to really dissolve the
gummy stuff and cleanse the hand. When every trace of black had been
washed off, Louis drew the sharp point of his knife along the scratch,
making a clean cut, deep enough to bleed freely.

In those days little was known about antiseptics. All three boys,
however, were familiar enough with the treatment of snake bites to
understand that poison must be drawn out as speedily as possible, either
by sucking the wound or letting it bleed freely. They knew also that a
clean wound was apt to heal more readily than a dirty one. Even the
Indians recognized that fact, though their ideas of cleanliness were not
much like ours. Louis would have torn a strip from his handkerchief to
bandage the injury, but Walter felt that a colored and not too clean
cloth was not the best dressing. He decided to leave his hand unbandaged,
letting it bleed as much as it would and the blood clot naturally.

At first Walter could scarcely believe that Murray had deliberately tried
to poison his hand, but Louis had no doubts. “I have heard of such things
among the Indians,” he said, “and _le Murrai Noir_ is more Indian than
white. He would not be above revenging himself that way or any other. If
he is really friendly to us, why did he act as if he had never seen us
before? He knew us certainly, though our names were not spoken. As he
went towards the door, he put his fingers in his fire bag. I saw him do
it, but thought nothing of it. He had seen you get that scratch. You know
it is not like Murray to shake anyone by the hand.”

“That surprised me, I admit,” conceded Walter.

“Truly he had a reason. He hated you always after that affair of poor
M’sieu Matthieu.”

“Do you suppose he has learned that we reported the loss of the pemmican
and told about his bundle of trade goods?” Walter asked thoughtfully.

“That may be. He did not go up the Assiniboin, he was at Pembina too
soon. At Fort Douglas or at the Forks they may have asked him about that
pemmican. Even if they did not say we told them, he might lay it to us.
He never was fond of either of us. The Black Murray is an evil man. He
likes to do evil I think. He takes pleasure in it.”

In spite of the prompt treatment, Walter’s hand pained him all night and
kept him restless. He was not the only one of the three that was wakeful.
Louis and Neil, too, were uneasy. They were uncertain of Murray’s
intentions. He and his companion had gone away, with sled and dogs, but
how far had they gone? Had they really set out for Pembina, or had they
made camp as soon as they were out of sight and hearing? The Black
Murray’s keen eyes had not failed to take note of every pelt in the
cabin. He had even offered to trade pemmican for the furs. Louis had
declined, but did that settle the matter? Would Murray try in some other
way to get possession of the catch? That he was not scrupulous in his
methods was proved by his assault and robbery of the Ojibwa at the Red
River.

The boys were sure that Murray would not have hesitated to take
everything, if they had been away from the cabin when he arrived. They
did not doubt that he would have been ready to use violence against any
one of them. But he had found Louis and Walter quite prepared for him.
Numbers had been equal and the boys’ guns within reach. Before Murray
could discover an opening for strategy, Neil had arrived. With three
alert lads watching him, the free trader had no chance. They were not at
all sure, however, that he might not return and attempt a surprise. So
Neil and Walter slept little, and Louis scarcely at all. Many times
during the night, the Canadian boy slipped out to look and listen. Though
he had turned the dogs loose, he did not dare to trust entirely to them.

The night passed without an alarm, but the boys were far from sure that
they had seen the last of the Black Murray. Before they dared go about
their ordinary work, they had to be certain that he was not anywhere in
the vicinity. Louis decided to follow his trail, while the others
remained at the cabin, alert and prepared for a second visit.

Walter’s hand worried both himself and his comrades. It was inflamed,
swollen, and very sore. No one knew what to do for it, except to open up
the cut and make it bleed again, a painful operation which Walter bore
without flinching.

Louis was away early. He returned late in the day with the encouraging
news that Murray had left the hills. His track, distinct and easy to
follow, ran straight across the prairie in the direction of the Red
River. “I followed several miles over the plain,” said Louis, “and could
see the trail going on in the distance. Yet I feared he might have turned
farther on somewhere, so I went north a long way, looking for a return
trail. Then I came back, crossed his track, and went on to the south. I
found nothing. Certainly _le Murrai_ has gone, unless he made a very wide
circle to return. I think he would not give himself the trouble to do
that. He had no reason to think we would doubt his story. Yes, I am as
sure he is gone as I can be without following him clear to the Red
River.”

Reassured, the boys took up their daily tasks of visiting the traps and
deadfalls, fishing through the ice, and hunting. One of them, however,
always remained at home, his gun loaded and within reach.

For several days Walter’s hand was very sore and painful. He was more
than a little anxious about it. He feared serious blood poisoning that
might mean the loss of hand, arm, and even life. But the inflammation did
not spread. The prompt sucking of the scratch, the cleansing and free
bleeding, and the healthy condition of Walter’s blood saved him. Within a
week the soreness was almost gone and the cut healing properly.

In the meantime another misfortune had befallen the boys. The dogs were
taken sick. Askimé was the first one to show the disease. One morning
Louis found the husky with a badly swollen neck. He took the dog into the
cabin and tended him anxiously, but the swelling increased until Askimé
could no longer eat. He was scarcely able to swallow a little water.
Walter proposed piercing the lumps, and performed the operation with an
awl used in sewing skins. The swellings discharged freely, and Askimé,
able to swallow, began to improve.

The other dogs had already shown signs of the same trouble. Gray Wolf had
only a slight attack, but the brown animal was very sick. Lancing the
lumps on his neck did no lasting good, and in spite of the boys’ efforts
to save him, the poor beast died. Luckily Askimé and Gray Wolf recovered
completely. How the dogs got the disease was a mystery. Murray had had no
opportunity to poison them. Possibly the wolf-like animal that had broken
loose and attacked Askimé had given the infection to him, or the husky
and his fellows might have caught it from some wild beast they had killed
and eaten.



                                  XXV
                    THE TRAVELERS WITHOUT SNOWSHOES


After the wolverine was killed trapping had improved for a time. Then the
catches began to dwindle, growing smaller and smaller. Louis and Neil
agreed that they must either change their hunting grounds or go back to
Pembina. They had promised to return early in March. Now March had come,
with a thaw that suggested an early spring. The ducks and geese would
soon be flying north, spring fishing would begin, and food be plentiful
again in the settlement. And perhaps both boys were a bit homesick.

“We go back with less food than we came away with,” said Louis, “but we
have not been forced to eat wolf yet. Not once have we been near
starving, and we have a good catch of pelts. We will make the rounds of
our traps once more, spend the night in the hut near _Tête de Boeuf_, and
start from there.”

The morning was fine and the sun already high, when the boys left the
overnight shelter in the rolling hills below Buffalo Head. Neil went
ahead to break trail. The two dogs, fresh and eager, pulled willingly.
The sled was well loaded with a good store of skins: rabbit, squirrel,
raccoon, red fox, and mink, a few otter and beaver, two wildcats, three
wolves, a couple of marten, the elk hide, and a fine and valuable silver
fox pelt.

The weather was springlike, too springlike for good traveling. The soft,
sticky snow clung in sodden masses to the snowshoes, making them heavy
and unwieldy. It formed wet balls on the dogs’ feet. Moccasins, warm and
comfortable in colder weather, became soaked. The sun glare, reflected
from the white expanse, was almost unbearable. Before noon, Walter’s
eyes, squinted and screwed nearly shut to keep out the excess of light,
were smarting painfully. Neil’s were even worse. He was so snow blind
that he dropped behind, following his comrades by hearing instead of by
sight. Louis, less troubled by the glare, had to do all the trail
breaking.

They had hoped to reach the Red River by night, but the usual four miles
an hour were impossible in the sodden, soft snow. Having made a later
start than they intended, they permitted themselves no stop at noon. At
sundown they made a perilous crossing of a prairie stream on
water-covered, spongy ice, that threatened at every step to go down under
them, and reached a clump of willows.

“We stop here and have a cup of tea and dry our moccasins,” Louis
announced.

The others, tired, hungry, with chilled feet, aching legs, and smarting,
swollen eyes, were only too glad of a halt. A fire was soon burning and
the kettle steaming over it. The boys, seated on bales of furs, took off
their moccasins and held their feet to the blaze. The tired dogs lay in
the snow near by, tongues hanging out and eager eyes watching the supper
preparations.

The meal was a scanty one. For the boys there was tea and a very small
chunk of pemmican, saved for the return trip. One little fish each
remained for the dogs. Yet everyone felt better for the food, so much
better that Louis proposed going on.

“It will be easier by night,” he asserted. “The snow will freeze over the
top.”

“I’m for keeping on,” Neil agreed, “if I can see to find the way.” His
reddened eyelids were swollen almost shut. “How about you, Walter?”

When Walter had sunk down on the furs before the fire, he had not dreamed
of traveling farther that day. If the question had been put to him then
he would have answered no. But now that his feet were warm and he was
fortified with food and hot tea, going on did not seem so impossible. He
felt strangely anxious to reach Pembina. His thoughts, ever since
morning, had been turning to the Periers. It was more than two months
since he had heard from them. How had things been going with them? Surely
there were letters awaiting him at the settlement. “Let’s go on by all
means,” he replied to Neil’s question, “as far as we can. It won’t be so
bad when the snow hardens and there isn’t any sun glare.”

Louis nodded. “We will rest till darkness comes. The wind has changed. It
will soon be much colder, I think.”

There was no doubt that the weather was turning colder. Thawing had
ceased with the setting of the sun, and the wind came from the northwest.
By the time the journey was resumed, a crust had formed on the snow. The
going was much easier, but the dogs were tired and footsore. Gray Wolf
showed strong disinclination to pull. Askimé, however, did his best, and
dragged his reluctant comrade along. The average half-breed driver would
have lashed and beaten the weary beasts, but Louis used the whip
sparingly. He pulled with them or encouraged them by running ahead.

In spite of weariness the travelers made good progress. After midnight
they paused in a willow clump for another cup of hot tea, and then went
on again. The night had turned bitterly cold, and there was no sheltered
spot nearer than the banks of the Red River. The river was now only a few
miles away, so they forced themselves and the reluctant dogs forward.
There was no lack of light, for the moon was at the full in a clear sky.
The surface of the snow was frozen so hard that no obscuring drift was
carried before the wind. The waves of the prairie were motionless. The
three boys and two dogs might have been at the north pole so alone were
they. Except for their own voices and the slight noises of sled and
snowshoes, as they sped forward over the crust, there was not a sound of
living creature in a world of star-strewn sky and endless snow.

A brisk pace was necessary for warmth, and, in spite of their weariness,
they kept it up. Reaching the woods bordering the river, they made their
way among scattering, bare-limbed trees, creaking and clashing in the
wind. In search of a sheltered camping ground, they descended a stretch
of open slope to an almost level terrace about a third of the way down to
the stream. And there they came upon the trail of human beings.

Stooping to examine the tracks, Louis gave a low whistle of amazement.
“_Ma foi_, but this is strange! Those men had no snowshoes. Why should
anyone travel without them at this time of year?”

“Do you see any sled marks?” queried Neil. His own eyes were hardly in
condition to distinguish faint traces by moonlight.

“I find none. Even on the crust a _tabagane_ would leave some marks.
Those men without snowshoes broke through the crust.”

“Perhaps it is nothing but an animal trail,” Walter suggested.

“No, no. Men without snowshoes came this way.” Louis followed the tracks
a little distance, then returned to his companions and the dogs, who had
stopped for a rest. “There were three people,” he said positively, “two
men; or a man and a boy,—and a woman.”

“How can you tell it was a woman?” demanded Neil sceptically.

“Where she broke through into soft snow there are the marks of her
skirt.”

“Maybe it was a man wrapped in a blanket. They were probably Indians,”
the Scotch boy suggested.

Louis shook his head. “Why should Indians travel without snowshoes?”

“Well, it’s no affair of ours how they traveled or why. What we want is a
camping place. The wind strikes us here.”

“Yes,” Louis agreed, “we will go on and look for a better place.”

Along the terrace the dogs needed no guidance. Nose lowered, Askimé
followed the human tracks. Where the terrace dipped down a little, the
husky paused, raised his head, and howled. Louis ran forward and almost
stumbled over something lying in the snow in the shadow of the slope. He
uttered a sharp exclamation.

“What’s the matter?” called Neil.

“Have you found a good place?” asked Walter.

“I have found a man,” came the surprising reply.

“A man? Frozen?”

Neil hurried to join Louis, who was on his knees trying to unroll the
blanket that wrapped the motionless form lying in the snow. Neil stooped
to help.

“His heart beats. He still breathes,” Louis exclaimed. “But he is cold,
cold as ice. Make a fire, you and Walter. I will rub him and try to keep
the life in.”

Neil snatched the ax from the sled. Walter kicked off his snowshoes and
set to work digging and scraping away the snow. As soon as he had kindled
some fine shavings and added larger wood to make a good blaze, he helped
Louis to carry the unconscious man nearer the fire. As they laid him down
where the firelight shone on his face, Walter gave a cry of surprise and
horror.

“Monsieur Perier! It is Monsieur Perier, Louis!”

He recalled Louis’ certainty that the tracks were those of a man, a boy,
and a woman. “Where are the others?” he cried. “Where are Elise and Max?”

Without waiting for an answer, he sprang up and began to search. In a
hollow in the snow in the lee of a leafless bush, completely hidden in
deep shadow, he found another huddled heap wrapped in blankets; Elise and
Max clasped in each other’s arms. Between them and the place where their
father had lain were the ashes of a dead fire.



                                  XXVI
                             ELISE’S STORY


Both children were alive. When Walter and Neil tried to separate them,
they aroused Max. The little fellow was stupid with cold and heavy sleep,
but seemed otherwise to be all right. Walter carried Elise nearer, but
not too near, to the fire. Kneeling beside her, he rubbed her ice-cold
feet, legs, and arms to restore circulation. The rubbing brought her back
to consciousness, dazed and wondering, to find her big brother—as she
called Walter—bending over her. As soon as the daze of her first
awakening passed, she asked for her father. Assuring her that Louis was
looking after him, Walter made her stay near the fire and drink some of
the strong, scalding tea.

Restoring Mr. Perier to consciousness was more difficult. Louis’
unceasing efforts aroused him at last, but his mind seemed confused and
bewildered. He struggled with Louis as if he thought the boy was trying
to do him some injury. He stared blankly at Walter and did not appear to
recognize him.

Throwing off the blanket Walter had wrapped around her, Elise went to her
father and put her arms about his neck. “Father, Father, it is all
right,” she cried. “Walter found us, and we are all safe.”

The wild look left Mr. Perier’s eyes and he ceased struggling. When
Walter brought him a cup of strong tea, he drank it obediently. The hot
drink seemed to clear his brain. After more rubbing, he was able to sit
up, nearer the fire. Elise and Max wrapped him in most of the blankets.
Attracted by the heat, the tired dogs snuggled close to the children and
added their animal warmth.

Louis was anxious to find a less exposed spot in which to spend the
night. “Stay here and keep the fire going,” he ordered his comrades. “I
will find a better camping place.”

In a few minutes he was back with word that he had found a much better
camping ground, a dry gully protected from the bitter wind. “You and I,
Neil,” he said, “will go over there and prepare a place, while Walter
keeps the fire burning here. Then we will come back and move our camp.”

Elise and Max were now wide awake and ready to talk, but Mr. Perier
seemed inert and drowsy. After Walter had cut more wood and fed the fire,
he crouched at Elise’s side and began to question her.

“How did you come to be here all alone?” he asked. “Why did you leave
Fort Douglas?”

“We were on the way to Pembina,” she replied. “A man with a sled was
taking us. It was warm when we started. Max and I rode on the sled, but
we didn’t like riding because the man abused the dogs and we were sorry
for them. Father tried to make him stop being so cruel, but he just
laughed. When Father tried to reason with him, the man grew so angry and
ugly that Father didn’t dare say anything more. We stopped once and had
pemmican and tea, then we came on again. It was hard for Father to keep
up, he had no snowshoes. He dropped behind. At sunset we stopped again,
and the man made a fire. Father caught up with us, and we had some more
tea.

“After that it turned cold. Max and I were very cold riding on the sled.
We wanted to walk a while to warm up, but the man wouldn’t let us. He
said we were too slow. We got so cold we were afraid we should freeze,
and Father told our guide we must stop and get warm. Father had promised
him his watch——”

“His watch?” interrupted Walter.

“Yes. We have very little money left, and the man didn’t want money
anyway. He said he would take us to Pembina for the watch.”

Walter grunted wrathfully, and Elise went on. “When Father said we must
stop and make a fire, we weren’t far from the woods. Our guide said we
could go down to the river bank and camp, but that would delay us. It
would take longer to reach Pembina, and he would have to have more pay.
He wanted the chain as well as the watch. Father agreed and we came into
the woods and stopped. Max and I ran around and tried to get warm. Our
eyes hurt and Father was almost blind. The man made Father give him the
watch and chain at once. He put them in the pouch where he carried his
tobacco and flint and steel. Then he whipped the dogs and jumped on the
sled, and they ran away and left us.”

“The miserable brute!” cried Walter.

“He ran away and left us,” Elise repeated, “without any food or
snowshoes. Everything we owned, except the blankets Max and I had been
wrapped in when we were riding, was on the sled. It was a cruel way to
treat us.”

“Cruel? Why even the meanest Indian——” Walter’s wrath choked him.

“He is an Indian. They call him a _bois brulé_, but he looks just like an
Indian. No one but a savage could be so cruel.”

“He’s worse than a savage. He must be a fiend. Why did Kolbach let you
come with such a fellow?”

“Monsieur Kolbach didn’t know we were coming,” Elise explained. “The
Indian said he was a friend of Monsieur Kolbach’s brother.”

“Fritz? That’s not much of a recommendation.”

“Do you know Monsieur Fritz? Has he been at Pembina? I have never seen
him.”

“I think I have seen him, and I have heard about him. He and his brother
aren’t very friendly, are they?” Walter questioned. “I have been told
that they weren’t.”

Elise shook her head. “I know nothing about that. Monsieur Kolbach has
never said. He is not a man who talks much anyway. Monsieur Fritz has
been away from Fort Douglas most of the winter. He has been trading with
the Indians.”

A sudden thought struck Walter, an unpleasant thought that made him
shudder. “What was that fellow’s name, the one who deserted you?” he
demanded.

“He has an English name,” Elise replied. “I’m not sure I understood it
right. Mauray or something like that.”

“Murray? Elise, he is the very man I wrote you about, the one who was
steersman of our boat when we came from Fort York. It was the Black
Murray himself, the fiend! If ever I——”

The voice of little Max interrupted. “I’m cold,” he complained.

Walter had forgotten the fire. He sprang up to replenish it. He found Mr.
Perier dozing, roused him, and warned him against dropping off to sleep.
Then he heaped on fuel until the blaze was so hot the others were forced
to move back from it. As for Walter himself, he was so boiling with anger
against the inhuman Murray that he gave no heed to cold. He wielded the
ax savagely, and sent the chips flying far and wide.

In a surprisingly short time Louis returned to guide the rest of the
party to the camping place. Mr. Perier was unable to walk, so he was
placed on the sled, warmly wrapped. The dogs protested piteously at being
aroused and harnessed. Even Askimé refused to pull until Louis took hold
also. Elise and Max bravely asserted that they were able to walk, and
Walter knew it would be better for them to do so if they could. He gave
his snowshoes to Elise,—she had learned during the winter to use
snowshoes,—and helped Max when the little fellow broke through the crust.

The gully was only a short distance away. They soon reached the camping
place, to find Neil tending a blazing fire. Between the fire and a steep,
bare, clay slope that reflected the heat, beds were made with bales of
pelts, blankets, and robes. The toboggan, turned on its side, furnished
additional shelter. There the Periers could sleep safely and comfortably.
The boys had no intention of sleeping at all. Their task was to keep the
fire going until daylight, which was not far away.

There was a little tea left, but no food. At dawn Neil went down to the
river, chopped a hole in the ice, and with a hook baited with a bit of
rawhide, caught two small fish. The little fish made a scanty breakfast
for Elise and Max. Mr. Perier and the boys refused to touch them. Their
meal consisted of tea alone, and they used the last of that.

Both of Mr. Perier’s feet had been badly frozen and were swollen and very
painful. He was placed on the sled again, and Elise and Max took turns
riding with him. To make room for the passengers, part of the furs were
taken off and made into packs, which the boys carried on their backs.
Even then, the load on the sled was a heavy one for two tired, hungry
dogs. One, and sometimes two, of the boys had to help pull.

By way of the gully they left the river bank and went up to the prairie.
There they found and followed a well defined trail, the usual route
between Pembina and Fort Douglas. More than one dog train had traveled
that way since the last fall of snow. The morning was cold and the crust
firm, but the party had to make the best possible speed before the sun
softened the surface. With one or the other of the children walking, it
was not possible to go very fast. Cold though the wind was, even the
beaten track grew soft under the direct rays of the sun, as the day
advanced.

With soaked moccasins, and red, swollen eyes, the tired, half-starved
travelers reached Pembina some time after noon. Mr. Perier was the only
one with dry feet. He was not suffering so much from snow blindness
either as the others, for he had been able to keep his eyes covered. But
his feet and right hand and arm were paining him severely.

The arrival caused much excitement in the little settlement, but the boys
did not linger to explain how it happened that they returned from their
hunting trip bringing three strangers. They went at once to Louis’ home.
His mother received the Periers with almost as warm a welcome as she gave
her own son. The little cabin would be crowded indeed, but that did not
disturb her in the least. There was always room for travelers in
distress, and Elise and Max, cold, weary, hungry, and motherless,
appealed to her motherly heart.

Mrs. Brabant and her younger children were thin, much thinner than when
Walter had seen them last. Food had been scarce in Pembina for weeks, but
they did not hesitate to share what little they had with the newcomers.
Kinder, more generous people never lived, thought the Swiss boy, as he
remembered all they had done for him and saw how eager they were to share
their last bite with his friends. He could never do enough to repay their
kindness. That they neither expected nor wanted repayment, he knew well.
Their hospitality was a matter of course with them.



                                 XXVII
                    WHY THE PERIERS CAME TO PEMBINA


Before starting for the hills, Walter had written Elise that he expected
to be back by the first of March. So when Mr. Perier decided to leave
Fort Douglas, he felt very sure that he would find his apprentice at
Pembina. “I was anxious to get away,” he said when he told his story.
“The weather was mild and favorable for the journey, and—well, I had
other reasons. At St. Boniface I learned of a man with a dog team who was
coming this way.”

Walter interrupted to ask if the man was really Murray.

“Yes, that is his name,” Mr. Perier replied. “He said he knew you and
your friend Louis Brabant. Murray had not intended to leave for another
day or two. He was waiting to see Sergeant Kolbach’s brother, who had
gone to Norway House.”

At first the half-breed had refused to take the Periers to Pembina. While
he was arguing his case, Mr. Perier had taken out his watch and glanced
at it; a nervous habit of his when worried or distressed. Murray pointed
to the watch. He would go for that he said. As nothing else would satisfy
him, Mr. Perier agreed. Murray furnished toboggan and dogs, and they
started early the next morning.

Before they had been out an hour, the Swiss began to regret his bargain.
Murray’s brutality and his insolent, overbearing manner filled the quiet,
gentle-natured apothecary with apprehension. The trip proved far from
pleasant, but, knowing that the wild _bois brulés_ were apt to appear
more savage than they really were, he did not think his children and
himself in any real danger. What really happened Elise had already told.
Before the journey was over, Murray demanded his pay. Mr. Perier had been
forced to hand over his watch and chain. As soon as the coveted articles
were in the half-breed’s possession, he had whipped up his dogs, jumped
on the sled, and left the Periers to freeze or starve.

Mr. Perier knew that if they followed the river it would lead them to
Pembina. They tried to keep going but they had no snowshoes and were
continually breaking through the crust. All three were very cold and
tired. When they came to a spot a little sheltered from the wind, they
camped, intending to go on in the morning. With his pocket knife, the
father hacked off a few dead branches. He kindled a fire, and Elise and
Max lay down beside it, wrapped in one of the blankets. They insisted
that their father should use the other.

“I didn’t intend to go to sleep,” he confessed. “I was utterly exhausted
and had to rest a little. I lay down, meaning to get up in a few minutes
and cut more wood. What happened was all my fault. I should have kept
awake and moving.

“Even now I am at a loss to understand,” he concluded, “how Murray dared
to desert us. To have taken us on, as he promised, would have delayed him
but little. He must have known that, whether we ever reached here alive
or not, he was responsible for us. He would be charged with the crime of
deserting us and stealing our belongings. Surely the Company cannot
overlook such a crime. He must suffer for it.”

Louis shrugged. “It is not at all certain that he will suffer for it,
though Walter and I will do our best to see that he does. This is not _le
Murrai Noir’s_ first crime, and always, so far, he seems to have escaped
punishment. He thinks he will always escape. He stole the Company’s
property, he and Fritz Kolbach attacked and robbed one of the Company’s
hunters, yet he has not been punished, it seems, for either of those
crimes. He was bold to go to St. Boniface and stay there, after that last
affair.”

“Perhaps he lay low and did not let the Company at Fort Douglas know he
was there,” suggested Walter.

“Or he lied himself free of the charge,” Louis added, “with witnesses
bribed to say he spoke the truth. But this last crime is more serious.”
The boy rose from the hearth, where he had been sitting cross legged.
There were not stools enough to go around. “I go now,” he announced, “to
learn whether _le Murrai_ really came to Pembina, and if he is still
here.”

“I’ll go with you,” cried Walter springing up, tired though he was. “The
sooner we lay charges against Murray the better. Already he has had time
to take warning from our coming, and be gone.”

A little questioning of the people of Pembina brought the information
that Murray had arrived at the settlement before daybreak, had rested a
few hours, and had gone on, with a fresh team for which he had exchanged
his exhausted dogs. His only answer to the question whither he was bound
had been “Up river.”

At Fort Daer and Pembina House the boys learned that Murray had avoided
the posts. The clerks in charge did not even know that the half-breed had
been in the neighborhood until the lads brought the news. The man at the
Company post listened gravely to the story, but was inclined to blame Mr.
Perier for leaving Fort Douglas.

“Why didn’t the Swiss stay where he was?” he asked impatiently. “He was
better off there than he will be here. What did he want to come to
Pembina now for? He will only have to go back again with the rest of the
colonists in a few weeks. It will soon be time to break ground and sow
crops.”

To this Walter had no good answer, for he himself did not understand just
why Mr. Perier had decided so suddenly to make the change. Not until
night, after Madame Brabant and the girls were in bed in the main room
and Walter lay beside his master on a skin cot in the lean-to, did the
boy learn the real reason for the journey to Pembina.

“Sergeant Kolbach turned us out,” said Mr. Perier.

“What?” exclaimed Walter. “I thought he had been so kind to you.”

“He was until recently, but he and I had a disagreement. He asked me for
Elise’s hand in marriage.”

“Why she is a mere child!” Walter was both surprised and distressed.

“So I told him. I said she was far too young to marry. He replied that
she was old enough to cook his meals and keep his house, and that was
what he wanted a wife for.”

Walter grunted angrily.

“It is true,” Mr. Perier went on, “that some of our girls not much older
have married since coming to the Colony. You know the Company encouraged
young women to come over because wives were needed in the settlement,
especially by the DeMeurons. But Elise came to be with me, and I have
other plans for her. She shall not marry Kolbach or any other, now or ten
years from now, unless he is the right kind of a man and she wants him.”

“I hope she’ll never want a DeMeuron.” The thought of his little sister
married to one of that wild crew horrified Walter.

“I hope not indeed,” agreed the father. “I would prefer one of our own
people for her; when she is several years older of course.” He paused a
moment then went on. “Elise never liked Kolbach. Even though he was kind
to us and she felt she ought to be grateful, she disliked him and was a
little afraid of him. I could see it. If I had dreamed that he had any
such idea in his head, I would not have stayed in his house a day.”

“Does she know he wants to marry her?” Walter inquired.

“I think not. I told him I would not consent to his speaking to her. He
declared he would do as he thought best about that, but he has had no
chance. We left his house that very day.”

“Did he really turn you out?”

“It amounted to that. He was angry at my refusal to consider his suit. He
said he was willing to wait a year, if, at Easter, Elise was formally
betrothed to him. When I would consent to no betrothal, he said that we
could not stay in his house longer unless she was promised to him. I have
been working at the buffalo cloth mill, and have been paying him what I
could for our lodging, and Elise has done all the housework. Yet he spoke
as if we were beggars. I answered that we had no wish to remain in his
house. We went to a neighbor,—Marianne Scheidecker she was before she
married. I told her, as I told Elise, that Kolbach and I had quarreled.
The next day I found Murray and hired him to bring us here.”

“Do you suppose Kolbach could have put him up to deserting you?” Walter
questioned suspiciously.

“Oh no. I doubt if Kolbach knew we were going. The Sergeant would not do
such a thing, however angry he might be. He is a rough, domineering man,
but not bad at heart. No, no, he wouldn’t be capable of anything like
that. In his way he is really fond of Elise. I think he would be as kind
to her as he knows how to be, but he is not good enough for her, and she
is far too young.”

“She certainly is,” Walter agreed emphatically.

It would be years yet before little Elise need think of such things, the
boy decided. Then perhaps he would have something to say about the
matter. The idea had never occurred to him before, but why should he not
marry Elise himself some day? What other girl was there in the new land
or the old to equal her? Of course it would be years from now, but in the
meantime he must keep guard over her and see that no DeMeuron, or
Scotchman, or French _bois brulé_ tried to take her away. None of them
should bother Elise if he could help it, and he thought he could. It was
with a new and not unpleasing sense of responsibility that, the boy fell
asleep that night.



                                 XXVIII
                         THE LAND TO THE SOUTH


Pembina seethed with indignation when the Periers’ story was told. The
Swiss, who were all undergoing their share of suffering, sympathized
warmly with their country folk. Though still prejudiced against the new
colonists, the Scotch and Irish settlers had nothing but condemnation for
the rascally half-breed Murray. Many of the _bois brulés_ of Pembina had
bitterly opposed the Selkirk settlement, and some had joined with the
Northwesters in driving out the colonists. Since the union of the two
companies, however, most of the enmity had evaporated. Walter had
received only the kindest treatment from the French mixed bloods. Now
there was not one to defend Murray in his heartless desertion of helpless
travelers. So strong was the feeling against the treacherous voyageur
that if he had been in Pembina when the Periers arrived, he would
scarcely have escaped with his life. Though he had been gone several
hours, a party of armed men went out to search for him. Uncertain whether
he had told the truth when he had said he was going up river, they
scoured the country for miles to the east and west as well as to the
south. They did not overtake him. He had too long a start.

Murray was not well known in Pembina. He had never lived there nor at St.
Boniface. No one in either settlement knew much about him. The spring
after the killing of Governor Semple, the tall voyageur had come down the
Assiniboine from the west with a brigade transporting furs to York
Factory, and had remained in Hudson Bay service. It was said at that time
that he was the son of a free trader of mixed Scotch and Cree blood. The
elder Murray had wandered far,—so it was said,—and had taken a wife from
among the western Sioux. If this story was true, Murray could not be more
than one quarter white and was at least half Sioux. The Indian blood in
the Pembina half-breeds was chiefly Ojibwa and Cree. The Sioux were the
traditional enemies of the Ojibwas and the Crees. To the people of
Pembina Murray’s Sioux blood did not endear him. There was not a man to
find excuse for behavior of which few full-blooded Sioux would have been
guilty.

It was some time before the Perier family recovered from their terrible
experience. The frost bites Elise and Max had suffered were so severe
that the outer skin of their cheeks, noses, hands, and feet peeled off in
patches, leaving sore, tender spots. Their father was in a far worse
condition. His feet and ankles, his right hand and arm, were badly
swollen and inflamed and very painful. It was weeks before he was able to
walk or to use his right hand. Had the boys failed to give him prompt
treatment when they first found him he would have frozen to death.
Realizing what might have happened if they had camped on the prairie that
night, instead of pushing on to the river, Walter felt that he and his
companions had indeed been guided to the rescue.

The little settlement had passed through hard days while the three boys
were in the hills. Food had been very scanty. The buffalo had been far
away, and following them in the deep snow next to impossible. Other game
had been exceedingly scarce. Even the nets set under the ice of the two
rivers had yielded little. The _bois brulés_ and the older settlers had
fared better than the Swiss. Though the rations had been slender, neither
the Brabants nor the MacKays had been entirely without food. The Swiss
had suffered severely. Johan Scheidecker told Walter that at one time his
family had not had a morsel to eat for three days. At Fort Douglas
conditions had been even worse than at Pembina. By February most of the
settlers were on an allowance of a pint of wheat or barley a day, which
they ground in hand mills or mortars. Soup made from the grain and an
occasional fish were all they had for weeks at a time. Though their fare
had been meager enough, the Periers, in Sergeant Kolbach’s care, had
fared better than many of their country folk. They had never been quite
without food.

With the coming of spring matters improved at Pembina. When the ice in
the rivers began to break up, wild fowl arrived in great flocks. Almost
every night they could be heard passing over. By day they alighted to
feed along the rivers and in the marshes. Every man able to walk, every
boy large enough to carry a gun, shoot an arrow, or set a snare, and many
of the women and girls, hunted from daylight till dark for ducks, geese,
swans, pelicans, cranes, pigeons, any and every bird, large or small,
that could be eaten. The buffalo also were drawing nearer the settlement.
Following the herds over the wet, sodden prairie was difficult, even on
horseback, but a skilful hunter brought down a cow or calf now and then.
The lucky men shared generously with their neighbors.

Louis and Walter had no time for long hunting trips. Both had obtained
temporary employment at the Company post. Indian and half-breed hunters
were bringing in the winter’s catch, and the two boys were engaged to
help with the cleaning, sorting, and packing of the pelts.

The post was a busy and a merry place those spring days. The men worked
rapidly and well, but found plenty of time for joking, laughing, singing,
and challenging one another to feats of strength and agility. After the
cold and hardships of the winter, the spring fur-packing was a season of
jollity for the voyageurs. Walter and Louis enjoyed the bustle and
merriment, while they worked with a will.

The skins were thoroughly shaken and beaten to free them from dust and
dried mud. Then they were sorted, folded to convenient size, and pressed
into packs by means of a wooden lever press that stood in the post
courtyard. Each bundle,—about ninety pounds weight,—of assorted furs was
wrapped in a strong hide. In every package was a slip of paper with a
list of the contents. To the outside was attached a wooden stave, with
the number and weight of the pack, and the name of the post. The numbers
and lettering were burned into the wood. Because he wrote a good hand,
Walter was able to help the overworked clerk with these invoices and
labels. He did a share of the harder physical work as well.

The Swiss boy was heartily glad of employment. His wages, in Hudson Bay
Company paper money, were exchanged for food and ammunition, and clothes
for Elise, Max and himself. The Periers needed his help sorely. They had
reached Pembina destitute. When they had left Switzerland, they had been
well supplied with clothing. They had also brought with them the
apothecary’s herbs and powders and such household goods as they were
permitted to take aboard ship. In the crowded open boat in which they had
come from Fort York, there had not been room for all their belongings, so
some had been left behind. Nearly everything else had been lost in the
wreck on Lake Winnipeg. The little that remained had been on the toboggan
that Murray had run away with. Every cent of Mr. Perier’s money, as well
as the Hudson Bay paper he had received for his work at the buffalo wool
factory, had gone for food and other expenses during the winter. Even his
silver watch and chain he had turned over to Murray. Father and children
had nothing left but the worn clothes they were wearing, two blankets,
and the few packets of medicinal plant seeds the apothecary carried in
his pockets. He must begin all over again, and on credit at that.

Mrs. Brabant’s sympathy for the unfortunate family was genuine and warm.
They crowded her house to overflowing, but she would not hear of their
going elsewhere. Indeed there was no other place for them to go but Fort
Daer, and the fort was too well filled for comfort. It was hardly worth
while to attempt building a new cabin, if they were to return to the
Selkirk settlement in a few weeks.

Were they going to return to the settlement? That was the question that
troubled Mr. Perier and Walter. It led to many debates, as the two
families sat around the fire after the evening meal. There was that
hundred acres of land to be considered. A vast estate it seemed to the
Swiss apothecary. The promise of that great tract of land had dazzled him
when he first talked with Captain Mai in Geneva. Since his coming to the
new country, however, the hundred acres of unbroken prairie had grown
less alluring. He had learned that not one of the older colonists had
been able to cultivate more than a few acres. He had no farming tools and
he could obtain nothing but hoe and spade at the Colony store. There was
not a plough to be bought for credit or cash. Breaking tough prairie sod
with hoe and spade would be slow and painful toil for Walter and himself.

Because of the depredations of the locusts, seed grain was very scarce.
The little Mr. Perier might buy would be high in price. From his first
crop he would have to pay for seed as well as rent for the land. If he
did not succeed in raising a crop, if the grasshoppers came again and
destroyed it, he would be far in debt to the Colony, with no immediate
hope of getting out. Already he had learned to his cost that prices were
high at the Colony store, and that bills were sometimes rendered for
things that had not been bought. In the end he might easily lose his land
and have nothing to show for his labor. The prospect was not bright.
Hopeful though he was by nature, he doubted his ability to make a success
of farming under such discouraging conditions.

Walter was strongly against returning to Fort Douglas. It would be better
to remain where they were, he argued, and trust to making a living, as
the _bois brulés_ did, by hunting, fishing, and planting a small garden.
Perhaps the Company would let Mr. Perier have his hundred acres in the
neighborhood of Pembina. Both Louis and Jean Lajimonière,—who was
consulted,—shook their heads at the latter suggestion. Pembina was
included in Lord Selkirk’s grant, but the real Colony was established at
and near Fort Douglas. It was there that the land was allotted. They
thought it unlikely that Mr. Perier could obtain his anywhere else. In
any case there would be the same difficulty about tools, seed, supplies,
and rent. And so the argument went on.

In the meantime spring had come in earnest. The ice was gone from the
rivers. Birds were nesting in the woods, in the marshes, and on the
prairie, according to their habit. As the rivers subsided from flood
stage, fishing was resumed and yielded good results. The snow had melted
from the prairie, though it still lingered in shaded places in the woods
and along the river banks. The burned stretches showed new green. The sun
was drying up the excess of moisture that had turned the prairie into
ponds and spongy expanses and had converted the rambling paths and cart
tracks of Pembina into sticky mud.

In May the old colonists and most of the new began to prepare for the
return to Fort Douglas. Still Mr. Perier and Walter were undecided. At
last they came to a decision suddenly and almost by accident. Through
Lajimonière, Mr. Perier met a man named St. Antoine who had traveled more
widely than most of the Pembina mixed bloods. Two years before, he had
been far to the south and east with Laidlaw, the Colony superintendent of
farming, when the latter had gone to Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi
River for seed grain. St. Antoine had many tales to tell of the country
along the Mississippi and the St. Peter rivers.

“That is a fine land,” he told Mr. Perier, “a land with hills and
forests,—not flat and bare like this, though there is open country there
too, good land for farming. At Prairie du Chien now, there the soil is
rich and the crops grow well and ripen. It is not so cold as here. The
spring comes earlier and the frost later.”

“Are there grasshoppers there?” Mr. Perier inquired.

“The kind that eat up everything? No, no. Those grasshoppers have never
been seen in that country, the people say. And where the two rivers come
together, where the Americans are building a fort, it is beautiful there,
with high hills and bluffs like mountains, and woods and waterfalls.”

Mr. Perier’s brown eyes were wistful. St. Antoine’s description sounded
good to a Swiss homesick for his mountains. “How does one go to that
country?” he asked. “Can land be bought or rented?”

“Oh,” replied St. Antoine confidently, “you do not have to buy or rent
it, that land. There is no Hudson Bay Company to say where you shall live
and where you shall not, and to charge you so many bushels of wheat a
year. You find a place that you like and you build a house and plant your
crops and it is yours. That is the way folk do on the east side of the
Rivière Mississippi. On the west side the American government does not
want people to settle. That is Indian country. You may live there if you
are a trader. But there is plenty of land on the east side, fine land
too. Some time I am going back there to stay,—when I get old and want to
settle down.”

St. Antoine’s tales took hold of Mr. Perier’s imagination. The more he
thought of that country to the south and east, the more he wanted to go
there, and the less he wanted to return to Fort Douglas. He told Walter
and Louis, and they too talked to St. Antoine, who fired their
imaginations as he had fired the older man’s. It did not take Walter long
to decide what he wanted to do. The question was how were they to get to
the Mississippi. It would be a long journey, hundreds of miles, by cart
and horseback through the country of the Sioux. But it could be done of
course. It had been done a number of times. The previous summer’s threats
of trouble with the Sioux had come to nothing. Yet the trip might be a
dangerous one for a small party. At this point Louis had a suggestion to
offer.

“The summer buffalo hunt will start in June,” he said. “It will go far to
the south, perhaps near to the Lake Traverse. We can travel with the
hunters at first. When we are near Lake Traverse,—or if the hunters go
too far to the west,—we can leave them and make haste to the lake. There
is a trading post there, so St. Antoine says, and another at the Lake Big
Stone. Traders go back and forth along the Rivière St. Pierre to the
Mississippi. There will surely be some party we can travel with.”

“You will go too, Louis?” Walter asked eagerly.

“But _certainment_. Do you think I would let you and M’sieu Perier and
Ma’amselle Elise and the little Max go alone? No, no, I want to see that
country too. And I think Neil MacKay will go also.”

“His people would never let him.”

“I am not so sure of that. M’sieu MacKay is not well pleased with the
Selkirk Colony. He says if the grasshoppers come again, he will go
somewhere else. I think he would not object to Neil’s going to see that
country to the south.”

So, gradually, the plan took shape. It was Mrs. Brabant who made the
strongest objections at first. But when Mr. Perier and Walter finally
decided to go, and Louis insisted on going with them, she suddenly made
up her mind, much to Raoul’s delight, that she and the children would go
along. “And if we like that country, Louis,” she said, “we will stay. It
may be there will be a better chance for you there. If we do not like it,
we can come back when some party comes this way.”

Neil proved eager to go. After some argument, he got his father’s
consent, with the provision that he was to return to the Red River colony
at the first opportunity, before winter if possible. He must learn all he
could about that Mississippi country, his father said. If the crops
should fail again, it might be that the MacKay family would have to leave
the Red River for good. The Northwesters could not drive the stubborn
Scot to give up his land, but against the locusts he could not contend
forever.



                                  XXIX
                        THE COMING OF THE SIOUX


Early in May the Perier family said good-bye to their countryfolk who
were returning to Fort Douglas. Some of the Swiss tried to dissuade Mr.
Perier from going farther into the interior. Others talked of following
later if things did not turn out well in the Colony.

A short time after the Swiss left, something happened that threatened to
upset all Mr. Perier’s plans. A party of men returning from a buffalo
hunt brought disquieting news. They had met an Ojibwa scout who had told
them that a large body of Sioux were on the march towards the settlement.
Remembering the unfortunate affair at Fort Douglas the summer before, the
people of Pembina feared the worst. Scouts were sent out to watch for the
Sioux, guns were overhauled, and bullets moulded.

In the midst of the preparations for defence, two boats arrived from down
river, bringing reenforcements. Rumors of the approach of the Sioux had
reached the Governor, and he had sent a detachment of DeMeurons and
voyageurs to meet the Indians and prevent them from going on to Fort
Douglas. The Sioux were to be stopped by diplomatic methods if possible.
Force was to be used only in case of necessity. With the party were
Sergeant Kolbach and the Rev. Mr. West, the man who had befriended the
Periers when their boat was wrecked on Lake Winnipeg. The clergyman
greeted Mr. Perier cordially, but Kolbach favored his former guest with
the stiffest and slightest of nods. Walter looked in vain for the
red-faced DeMeuron with the sandy beard. Inquiry brought the information
that Fritz Kolbach was not among the soldiers. Fritz was not in favor
with the Company just then, having been accused of free trading with the
Assiniboins, one DeMeuron told Walter.

The relief force arrived on Friday, and Saturday passed without alarm.
Sunday morning Mr. West held service at Fort Daer, and the Periers and
Walter attended. Just at the close of the service scouts came hurrying in
with word that the Sioux were approaching. Armed men began to gather at
the fort, the plan being to make so strong a showing that the Indians
would not dare attack. The women and children were to stay north of the
Pembina, where carts and boats were in readiness to carry them to Fort
Douglas if there should be trouble.

Walter took Elise and Max across the river to join Mrs. Brabant. Then he
returned to Fort Daer where he found Louis just arrived. The MacKays had
gone to Kildonan with other colonists who had wintered at Pembina. In
June Neil was to return to go south with his friends.

“They are in sight,” shouted a man who was watching from the roof of one
of the buildings.

The fort gates stood open, for the Company officers intended to maintain
a friendly attitude as long as possible. With others, Louis and Walter
ran out to watch the coming of the Indians. There they were, a band of
mounted men approaching across the prairie from the south. Walter’s heart
beat fast, but he was surprised to find that he was excited and eager
rather than frightened.

“There are no _travois_, only mounted men, no women,” St. Antoine
remarked. “That looks bad. Yet they come openly, in the daytime. They
raise no war cry. But we cannot tell. The Dakota are treacherous.” He
used the name by which the Indians of the prairies called
themselves—Dakota. It was their enemies, the Ojibwa, who named them
Sioux.

The Indians came on at an easy pace until they were a few hundred yards
from the fort. There they halted, as if waiting to see how they were to
be received. A small group of white men, among them Mr. West, went out on
foot to meet the strangers. Suddenly, out from the fort gate darted a
slender, bronze figure, a young Indian stripped naked and without
weapons. Straight towards the Sioux he ran full speed.

“He has gone crazy,” gasped Walter. “They will kill him.” He knew the
fellow, an Ojibwa hunter who had recently brought his furs to the post.

“He does it to prove his courage, to show that he is not afraid of the
Sioux,” explained Louis. “But what use is it to a man to be called brave,
after he is dead?”

As the young Indian drew near the enemies of his people, Walter held his
breath, expecting every moment that a shower of musket balls or a cloud
of arrows would put an end to the rash Ojibwa. But nothing happened.
Whether from admiration for his reckless bravery or because they scorned
to kill an enemy so easily, the Sioux let him come on uninjured. When he
was almost up to them he paused, stood still for a moment, then turned
and walked back towards the white men.

How would the party from Fort Daer be received? Was it to be peace or
war? In silence, every nerve tense, the watchers waited to learn. The
white men drew closer and closer, without pause or hesitation. The
Indians were dismounting. The two parties were mingling. They were coming
towards the fort, together. Only a few of the Sioux remained behind to
watch the horses. Walter drew a long breath.

The Sioux were conducted straight to the open gates. They were to be
treated as guests. This was Walter’s first glimpse of Sioux. He looked on
with keen interest as they were ushered into the fort. They were manly
looking fellows, these Dakotas. Most of them were rather tall, taller
than the majority of the _bois brulés_. They were straight and slender,
lithe and wiry rather than muscular in appearance. Their faces were
intelligent for the most part, strong featured, and with a look of pride
and fierceness very different from the stupid expression of the Crees he
had seen at Fort York. All wore fringed leggings and moccasins. The
bodies of some were bare to the waist, while others were clothed in
shirts of deerskin or calico, or wrapped in blankets or buffalo robes.
Their black hair, adorned with feathers, hung in braids over their
shoulders. Every face and bare body was hideous with paint, in streaks,
patches, spots, circles, and zigzags, the favorite colors being red,
yellow, and black. They were all tricked out in their best finery,
beadwork, quill embroidery, necklaces of animals’ teeth or birds’ claws,
and trinkets bought from the traders.

The Sioux proved restless and uncomfortable visitors. They pried into
every corner of the fort. They appeared to be suspicious and acted as if
they were looking for trouble. The Company officers fed them and treated
them to tea, tobacco, and some liquor. That was a dangerous thing to do,
Walter thought, to give them liquor, for all were armed with guns, bows,
knives, or tomahawks. But the refusal to give them drink might have been
taken as an insult. The Chief insisted on crossing the river to the
Company fort, and the trader in charge thought it best to let him go. But
he managed things so that only a few of Chief Waneta’s followers
accompanied him. As soon as possible they were conducted back to Fort
Daer.

All the rest of that day the Sioux lingered at Fort Daer. When night came
they showed no intention of leaving. They had brought nothing to trade,
but they expected all sorts of gifts. Most of the _bois brulés_ had gone
back to their families, but Mr. Perier and Walter were allowed to remain
at the fort with Mr. West. It was a night of anxiety and alarms. Drink
had made the savage guests touchy and quarrelsome. Several times shots
were fired in threat or sport, but luckily no one was hurt. The arrival
of three Assiniboins, who said they had come to smoke the peace pipe with
their ancient enemies, did not help matters any.

About eleven o’clock shouts and war whoops from outside the walls roused
everyone. Thinking that the attack had begun, Mr. Perier and Walter
rushed out of the house where they had withdrawn to keep out of the way
of quarrelsome Indians. They found that the Sioux, instead of attacking,
were leaving the fort in haste. There had been a fight between a Dakota
and an Assiniboin. The Dakota had shot the Assiniboin and scalped him,
the fallen man’s two companions had fled, and some of the Sioux had
started in pursuit.

Chief Waneta had been overbearing and truculent enough himself, but he
apparently did not want a general fight. Waneta was no fool. He probably
realized that the white men and _bois brulés_ of Pembina were too strong
for him in numbers and too well prepared for trouble. With unexpected
promptness he gathered his followers together, and started for home.
Before midnight the whole band had disappeared in the darkness, riding
south.



                                  XXX
                        WITH THE BUFFALO HUNTERS


If the visit of the Sioux had resulted in hostilities, Mr. Perier would
have been forced to give up the trip to the Mississippi. As it was, the
fact that the only hostile act committed had been against the
Assiniboins, and that Waneta and his braves had departed at peace with
the white men, went far to convince the Swiss that his little party would
have no trouble with the Indians unless they sought it. Louis did not
wholly agree with that idea, but he was young, eager for travel and
adventure, and willing to take what seemed a rather remote risk. His
mother was more doubtful, but if the others were going, she did not
intend to stay behind. At first Elise had dreaded a new journey into
strange country, but when Mrs. Brabant decided to go, she no longer felt
afraid. She did not want to return to Fort Douglas, and she had grown
very fond of Mrs. Brabant.

Already the _bois brulés_ of Pembina were growing restless. The coming of
spring had stirred the wild blood in them. They were eager to be up and
away. Those who had not taken service with the Company to go as voyageurs
to Fort York, neglected their primitive gardening to prepare for the
great buffalo hunt. They mended harness, repaired old carts by binding
the broken parts with rawhide, patched hide and canvas tents, cleaned
guns, moulded bullets, made stout new moccasins, packed their wooden
chests, and overhauled gear of all kinds. The ground around every cabin
was strewn with odds and ends.

On the first day of June Neil arrived full of enthusiasm, and the little
party was complete. A spot on the open prairie to the southwest of the
junction of the two rivers had been chosen as a gathering place for the
hunters. Early in the morning of the appointed day, the people began to
leave the settlement. Most of the hunters were taking their entire
families along. The clumsy, squeaking, two-wheeled carts, drawn by wiry
ponies, were crowded with black-haired, dark-skinned women and children
or piled high with household gear and equipment. Louis’ one horse and
cart were not enough for the Brabant-Perier party, so he and Walter had
built another vehicle. Neil furnished two ponies, and Louis had traded
his toboggan and Gray Wolf for a fourth. Askimé was to go with him. He
would not part with the husky dog.

At the women’s suggestion, the Brabant, Perier, and Lajimonière families
selected a spot a little distance from the main camp. There they
unhitched their ponies, and stretched their tent covers from cart to
cart.

“There will be much drinking in the camp to-night,” Louis explained to
Mr. Perier, “to celebrate the beginning of the hunt, and much noise and
gaming, and probably fighting. Since we do not wish to take part in all
that, we will camp by ourselves. This is a better place for the women and
children.”

The wisdom of this plan soon became evident. Long before midnight the big
camp had grown uproarious. When an unusually loud outburst of noise was
followed by the sound of shots and frantic yelling, Mr. Perier raised
himself on his elbow to listen. He was sleeping on the ground underneath
one of the carts.

“I’m afraid we have made a mistake,” he said anxiously to Walter lying
next him. “We cannot travel with that wild crew. It will not be safe for
the children.”

Louis, on the other side, overheard the words, and hastened to reassure
the Swiss. “You need not fear, M’sieu Perier. They will be all right
after the liquor is gone. I think they will finish it to-night. They
cannot get more till they return. Our people are seldom quarrelsome
except when they have liquor. Once the hunt makes a start, the leaders
will keep good order. The rules are very strict. They are rough and wild,
my people, but they are not unkind. Ma’amselle Elise and my little
sisters will be quite safe.”

The hilarity continued through most of the night, but before sunrise
quiet had descended on the circle of carts and tents. Flasks and kegs
were empty, and most of the roisterers were sleeping. They remained in
camp all that day. By the time the caravan was in motion the following
morning, all were sober and more than ordinarily quiet. Some had good
reason to be morose, having gambled away their guns, horses, and carts
while under the influence of liquor. Several had received knife or
gunshot wounds in the quarrels that resulted.

“It is always so that the hunt begins,” said the Canadian Lajimonière,
with a shake of his head. “Liquor and gambling, they are the twin curses
of the _bois brulé_. Those two things are the cause of most of his
troubles.”

It was surprising how quickly camp was broken and the long train got
under way at the cries of “_Marche donc!_” The guide rode ahead. His
household cart, following close behind, bore a flag made of a red
handkerchief attached to a pole. The lowering of that flag was the signal
to stop and make camp.

In single file the long line of creaking, jouncing carts stretched far
across the prairie. Where a man had to drive two or more vehicles, he
tied one horse to the tail of the cart ahead. Loose ponies for buffalo
hunting or to replace those in the shafts, ran alongside. Most of the men
and some of the women rode horseback or went afoot, while the children
were now in, now out of the carts, according to their inclination. The
bright colors of the _bois brulés’_ dress, and the red and yellow ochre
with which many of the carts were painted, gave a gay appearance to the
cavalcade, but the screeching and groaning of the ungreased axles was
anything but a merry sound. The discordant rasping and squawking tortured
Elise’s ears and set her teeth on edge.

Because they had camped separately, the Brabant-Perier party was at the
very end of the train. Mr. Perier was mounted on one of the four horses,
while Walter, Neil, and the two Brabant boys took turns riding another.
Most of the time Louis walked beside the front cart or sat on the shafts,
one of the other boys accompanying the second. Mrs. Brabant, her two
daughters, Elise, and Max rode in the carts, getting down now and then to
walk for a while. The rate of travel was slow, less than twelve miles
being made the first day. Thereafter the day’s march averaged nearly
twenty.

It was with some apprehension that Mr. Perier watched Louis and Neil
wheel the two carts into the place assigned them in the circle that
night. Walter, who had lived longer among the _bois brulés_, was less
troubled. Louis had assured him that everything would be all right, and
Walter did not doubt his friend’s judgment. Everything, but the
mosquitoes, was all right, that night and every night that the Brabants
and Periers camped with the hunt. Rough and noisy the hunters and their
families were, but good natured and kindly enough. They shouted, laughed,
and sang, fiddled and danced, told stories, played cards and other games
by the light of their fires, but there was little quarreling and no
fighting. Within two hours after sunset, all had settled down for the
night, and the camp lay quiet and sleeping.

The sun rose early those June mornings, but before it appeared above the
horizon, the camp was astir. In an astonishingly short time the train was
in motion again. The route was to the west of the Red River in what is
now North Dakota. There were swampy stretches to cross, still wet enough
to make traveling difficult, then drier ground and better going. On every
side lay flat, open country, broken here and there by small groves or
thin lines of trees along the streams. The prairie was green with new
grass, and dotted everywhere with the pink and white and yellow and blue
of wild flowers growing singly or in masses. Elise and the Brabant and
Lajimonière girls delighted in picking the sweet, pale pink wild roses
and decorating themselves and the carts. Mrs. Brabant warned them to look
out for snakes and Louis armed each with a stout stick. At the warning
rattle, Marie Brabant and Reine Lajimonière would search for the snake
and kill it. But little Jeanne and Elise, who had not grown used to
prairie rattlesnakes, ran back to the carts in fright.

Snakes were not plentiful, however. Far more troublesome were the
mosquitoes that rose in clouds after the sun went down. On still nights
the buzzing, stinging insects were a continual torment. Smudges were
kindled everywhere within the circle of carts, but Elise and Max could
find little choice between the stinging pests and the choking smoke.

Mr. Perier and Walter marveled at the control the leaders of the hunt
exercised over the wild crew. The hunters had chosen a chief and several
captains, who formed a governing council, and each captain had a number
of men under him to act as guards and police. When the guide lowered his
flag, every cart took the place assigned it in the circle, shafts
outward. The captain and men on duty were responsible for the order and
good behavior, as well as the safety, of the camp.

The rules adopted by the council were much the same on all the hunts.
Scouts were sent out each day to look for buffalo, but must not frighten
them. No one was allowed to separate from, or lag behind the main party
without permission, or to hunt buffalo independently. The most serious
offences were thievery and fighting with guns or knives. Punishments
ranged from cutting up a man’s bridle or saddle, if he had one, to
driving the guilty person from camp. Knowing that the penalty would be
swift and severe, even the boldest seldom ventured to break the laws.

For several days no buffalo but a few scattered individuals were seen.
When the beasts caught scent or sound of the caravan, they were off at an
awkward gallop. They seemed to move slowly, but really made good speed.
It was Elise’s first sight of live buffalo, and she thought them very
ugly creatures, with their great shaggy heads and clumsy movements.

Late one afternoon the line of carts wound down the bank of the Turtle
River to a ford. Long before the rear of the caravan reached the stream,
exciting news had been carried back from mouth to mouth.

“There are buffalo ahead,” one of the Lajimonière boys called to Neil,
who was driving the first of the Brabant-Perier carts. “A great band has
been across the ford, and not long ago, they say.”

A great band it must have been. The hunting party had left a plain and
well-trodden trail down the bank, and roiled, muddy water at the
crossing. But no cart-train running wild could have so ravaged the
country. Far on either side of the ford, the willows and bushes were torn
and trampled. From many of the trees the bark was rubbed off or hanging
in shreds. The grass was worn away. The mud along the margin was trodden
hard by thousands of hoofs. The devastation was fresh.

Would the hunters chase the buffalo that night? Walter hoped so, though
the sun was setting when the last cart crossed the ford. The chief of the
hunt said no, however. Any attempt to pursue buffalo in the darkness
would probably result merely in frightening them away. Moreover the
horses, even those that had been running loose, were weary from a
twenty-mile march. Real buffalo country had been reached. If the hunters
missed this particular band, there would be others.

So camp was made as usual, but the horses were picketed within the
circle, instead of being hobbled and turned loose to feed. Time would be
saved by having the mounts handy in the morning. There was another reason
for keeping close watch of the ponies that night. Where there were
buffalo there were likely to be Indians. South of the Turtle River was
debatable ground between Sioux and Ojibwa, and the Sioux were notorious
horse thieves.

It was plain that the buffalo were not many miles away. All that night
their lowing and bellowing could be heard almost continuously.

“The country must be full of them,” Walter whispered to Neil, as they lay
side by side.

“Aye, it’s a big band. There’ll be grand sport in the morning,” was the
sleepy reply.



                                  XXXI
                          THE CHARGING BUFFALO


Scouts went out at dawn, and were back again before the camp had finished
breakfasting. Their report made the hunters hasten preparations. Already
the question as to which ones of the Brabant-Perier party should take
part in the hunt had been settled. Only two horses were available. Louis’
new one had gone lame, and one of Neil’s was not a good buffalo pony,
being gun shy and easily frightened. Neither Mr. Perier nor Walter had
ever hunted buffalo, while Louis and Neil were skilled in the sport. So
it was right that the latter two should go. Walter was disappointed of
course. He would have liked to take part in the hunt. But he comforted
himself with the thought that there would be other opportunities.

The caravan was just south of the Turtle River, a tributary of the Red,
and a number of miles west of the latter stream, in slightly rolling,
though open country. A low, irregular ridge shut off the view to the
south and hid the buffalo. After the hunters got away, the women,
children, and few men who had remained behind, started on, with the
carts. They wanted to be in readiness to collect the meat before the hot
sun spoiled it, and they were eager to watch the sport. This time the
carts did not move single file, but jounced over the prairie in any order
their drivers saw fit.

Walter and Raoul were as anxious as anyone for a view of the hunt. They
hitched up Neil’s pony and got away as quickly as possible, leaving Mr.
Perier and Mrs. Brabant to follow slowly with the other cart and lame
horse. Elise, Marie, and Max went with the two boys, while Jeanne
remained with her mother.

The boys’ cart was among the first to top the rise. The sight revealed
almost took Walter’s breath away. The prairie beyond the ridge was
covered with buffalo in a dense, dark mass. They were feeding peacefully,
moving slowly along towards the southeast.

“Where are the hunters?” asked Walter.

Raoul pointed to the southwest. “Behind those little hills,” he said
confidently. “The wind is east. They have gone around to approach from
that way, so the beasts will not get their scent. There they come!”

Figures of horsemen were appearing over the top of one of the low hills.
On they came, a long, irregular line, riding easily down hill at a lope.
As they reached level ground they broke into a gallop. The buffalo
nearest the hunters were taking alarm. They were crowding forward, the
bulls on the outskirts of the herd pawing the ground and tossing their
great heads. The horsemen broke into a run. They charged recklessly
across the prairie, regardless of gopher holes. Those _bois brulés_ could
certainly ride, thought Walter in admiration. He wondered whether Louis
and Neil were among the foremost. At that distance he could not tell.

Suddenly the buffalo everywhere took fright. At a clumsy, galloping gait
they were away. They crowded, wheeled, milled, stampeded, hoofs flying,
shaggy heads tossing. In a few moments the foremost of the hunters were
among them, shouting, yelling, firing, horses plunging and shying. The
whole mass was in wild commotion, sweeping on towards the low ridge where
the carts waited and the excited spectators looked on. With the
thundering of hoofs, the bellowing of the beasts, the shouts and yells of
the hunters, the continuous popping of guns, the clouds of smoke and dust
lit up by the flashes of firing, the prairie had become pandemonium.

Never had Walter dreamed of such a sight. His blood was tingling. He
breathed fast and excitedly. Elise stood beside him, her hands clasped
tightly together, frightened yet fascinated. Marie and Raoul danced up
and down, and little Max sat on the edge of the cart and shrieked at the
top of his voice in his excitement.

The great band was breaking up into smaller droves and groups. In every
direction they wheeled and fled. The hunters, riding recklessly, swaying
in their saddles, loading and firing at full speed, pursued them.

One group of six or eight frightened beasts was close by, just at the
foot of the low ridge. A horseman dashed towards them. Walter had just
time to recognize that blue-bonneted red head, and then, as Neil fired,
the little band broke and scattered. One big bull was pounding up the
slope, straight towards the cart.

Walter was standing on one side, Raoul on the other of the nervous,
excited pony, which was pawing, snorting, twisting about in the shafts,
alarmed and uneasy at the sight below. It had not occurred to either boy
that he would have a chance to do any shooting. Both of the guns were in
the cart.

When the buffalo charged up the slope, Walter sprang back. As he seized
his gun, the panic-stricken pony jumped to one side, sending Raoul
sprawling, wheeled, overturned the cart, and was off. Walter saw Max
hurtle through the air, and land right in the path of the oncoming
buffalo. As the child struck the ground, Elise darted towards him.

With shaking fingers Walter slipped a charge of powder and ball into the
muzzle of his gun and primed it. His whole body was trembling. He must
not miss. A story Lajimonière had told of a fight with an infuriated
buffalo flashed through his mind. “I aimed behind the ear,” the Canadian
had said. Where was the ear in that shaggy mass of hair?

The bull, at the crest of the ridge, paused for an instant to paw the
ground, shake its huge, ugly head, and bellow defiance at the little
group in its pathway. Forcing himself to be steady, deliberate, Walter
pulled the trigger. It pulled hard. The flint struck the steel. Sparks
flew in every direction. There was a flash, a roar, a bellow. The buffalo
plunged forward, and went down.

When Walter recovered from the shock of firing—his primitive, flintlock
musket kicked like a mule—the great, dark, hairy bulk lay almost at his
feet. Had he hit behind the ear? He would take no chances. The muscles of
the big body were twitching. Hurriedly reloading, he fired again, the gun
muzzle almost against the buffalo’s head. An instant later there came
another report. Raoul had picked himself up, seized his gun, that had
been thrown out of the cart, and fired at the fallen beast. He missed it
in his excitement, by a wider margin than he missed Walter.

Walter took no heed of the wild shot. His only thought was of Elise and
Max. He turned to find Elise stooped over her little brother, her arms
around him. When she realized that the danger was over, she sank down in
a heap in the grass. Max wriggled from her arms and sat up.

“Elise,” cried Walter, “what were you trying to do?”

“Drag Max out of the way,” she answered simply. “Didn’t you see? That
terrible beast was coming straight towards him!”

“And straight towards you, too. Didn’t you think of that?”

“She is the bravest girl I ever saw,” exclaimed Marie Brabant. Marie, who
had been on the other side of Raoul, had fled to safety, and had not
returned until the danger was over.

“No, no,” Elise protested. “I was terribly frightened when I saw that
huge, ugly beast coming up the hill. But when Max fell out of the cart, I
thought he was going to be killed. I have looked after him ever since
Mother died you know, Walter,” she added, as if in excuse for her own
bravery.

“You are the bravest girl I ever knew,” Marie repeated emphatically,
“even if you are afraid of snakes.”

But Elise had turned to her little brother. “You aren’t hurt, are you,
Max?” she asked anxiously.

“Just my shoulder where I fell on it,” the lad replied bravely. “I
think——”

He was interrupted by Neil’s shout. Unnoticed by the others, the Scotch
boy had ridden up the hill. He dismounted beside the dead buffalo.

“It was all my fault,” he said contritely. “I ought not to have driven
the beasts this way. I saw you, but I was after a cow and didn’t notice
that bull turning towards you. I never thought of his charging up hill. I
didn’t know you were in any danger, till I heard the shot and looked up
here. You’ve made a good kill, Walter. He’s a big fellow. And you
certainly kept your head. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have lost mine, if I
had been in your place.” This was a generous admission from anyone as
proud of his courage and prowess as Neil MacKay was. At that moment,
however, Neil was not in the least proud of himself. His carelessness had
brought peril to his friends.



                                 XXXII
                         TO THE SHEYENNE RIVER


When Neil went in pursuit of the frightened pony, he found it feeding on
the prairie grass on the other side of the ridge. Hindered by the cart,
it had not run far. He had righted the badly wrecked vehicle, and was
examining the breaks, when the rest of his party, with the other cart and
the lame pony, came up. Mr. Perier was appalled when he heard of his
children’s peril, and Mrs. Brabant was warm in her praise of the courage
and coolness of Elise and Walter.

The hunt had swept away towards the Red River, leaving the trampled
prairie dotted with the dark bodies of the fallen buffalo. Here and there
a wounded beast struggled to its feet and made off painfully. The sight
of the injured and slain was not a pleasant one for the tender-hearted
Elise, and she turned her back upon it.

“I wish,” she confided to Mrs. Brabant, “people didn’t have to kill
things for food. I hate buffalo. They are ugly beasts. But I don’t like
to see them killed, except the one that would have killed Max. Of course
Walter had to shoot that one.”

The Canadian woman put an arm around her and comforted her. “It is
necessary, my dear, for people to have meat to live, especially in this
wild country where we raise so little from the ground. I have always told
my boys not to be wasteful in their hunting, not to kill for the sake of
killing. If no one killed more than could be eaten or kept for food,
there would always be plenty of animals in the world.”

As the carts descended the slope to the hunting ground, the hunters began
to straggle back from the chase. By the place where the animal lay, the
spot where the bullet had entered, and sometimes by the bullet itself,
they identified the game they had slain. Many of the hunters had marked
their bullets so they would know them.

Neil had killed two buffalo and Louis four. Their party was well supplied
with meat. The bull Walter had shot was too old and tough for food. At
that season of the year the skin was not fit for a robe. The summer coat
of hair was short, and in many places ragged and rubbed off. But Louis
said that the tough hide was just the thing for new harness. With
Walter’s permission the Canadian boy set to work. With sure and skilful
strokes of his sharp knife, he marked out the harness on the body of the
buffalo, and stripped off the pieces. When dry,—with a thong or two in
place of buckles,—the harness would be ready for use.

One by one the carts returned to camp loaded with meat and hides. Though
of no use for robes, the short haired summer skins were in the very best
condition for tanning. Buffalo leather was used by the _bois brulés_ for
tents, cart covers, and other purposes.

The choicest cuts were soon broiling over the coals. At the same time the
rest of the meat was being prepared for pemmican making. It was cut into
large lumps, then into thin slices, which were hung on lines in the hot
sun or placed on scaffolds over slow fires. For the meat drying and
pemmican making, the hunters prepared to remain in camp three days. It
was a very busy time, yet a rest from traveling.

The Brabant family and Neil knew just how to go about the work, but the
Periers and Walter, though willing and ready to help, had to be taught.
After the buffalo strips were well dried, they were placed on hides and
pounded with wooden flails or stones until the meat was a thick, flaky
pulp. In the meantime the fat and suet were melting to liquid in huge
kettles. Hide bags were half filled with the flaked meat, the melted fat
poured in, the whole stirred with a long stick until thoroughly mixed,
and the bags sewed up tight while still hot. So prepared, the pemmican
would keep for months, even years, if not subjected to dampness or too
high a temperature.

The skins selected for tanning were stretched and staked down, and the
flesh scraped off with an iron scraper or a piece of sharp-edged bone.
When the hides had been well cleaned and partially cured by the sun, they
were folded and packed away in the carts to receive a final dressing
later.

On the second day in camp a small body of Indians passed about a mile
away in pursuit of a herd of buffalo. A half dozen of the hunters, who
were out scouting, encountered some of the band. They reported that the
Indians were Sioux, Yankton Dakota from farther west. They appeared
friendly enough. The hunting party felt no concern about them, except as
possible horse thieves. The men were especially careful that night to see
that every pony was safe within the circle of carts. The camp guards were
even more alert than usual.

There was feasting and jollity, as well as busy work, in the hunting
camp. The _bois brulés_ always had time to fiddle and dance, to play
games and race their ponies over the prairie. Their capacity for fresh
meat was enormous. Walter marveled at the quantity of buffalo tongues,
humps, and ribs consumed. From dawn to dark, it seemed to him, there was
never a moment when cooking and eating were not going on somewhere in the
camp. Even the lean dogs grew fat on what was thrown away and what they
managed to steal. The wild creatures profited, too. The scene of the hunt
beyond the low ridge was frequented, night and day, by birds of prey and
wolves.

With high expectations of further sport, the hunters resumed their march
to the south. They were not disappointed, for they were in true buffalo
country. The first time Walter joined in the chase, he was so excited and
confused by the wild ride across the prairie and the charge into the band
of stampeding beasts, that he could do nothing but cling to his horse and
try to avoid being thrown or trampled. It was not until the herd had
scattered and the worst of the wild confusion was over, that he managed
to get a shot at one of the animals, and missed it. Mortified by his
failure, he tried a different plan next time. He kept to the outskirts of
the herd, singled out a young bull, pursued it, and brought it down.

Though some of the hunters, like Louis, killed only what they could use
and saved as much of the meat as possible, the majority of the _bois
brulés_ were wasteful and improvident. They ran buffalo for the mere
excitement of the chase, killed for sport, and frequently took nothing
but the tongue, leaving the rest for the wolves and crows. Like white
hunters of a later period, they believed the herds of buffalo
inexhaustible. Yet it did not take many years of unwise slaughter almost
to exterminate the animals that, during the first half of the nineteenth
century, roamed the prairies in hundreds of thousands.

Sometimes the hunters had accidents. Men thrown from their horses
suffered severe sprains and broken bones. Occasionally too heavy a charge
of powder burst a gun. Raoul’s old musket was ruined in this manner. He
carried his left hand bandaged for weeks, and was lucky to lose no more
than the tip of his forefinger. There were many maimed hands among the
hunters. Fortunately none of the injuries was fatal, though one man was
so badly hurt when he was thrown and trampled that he would never hunt
again. The _bois brulés_ were skilled in the rough and ready treatment of
wounds, sprains, and broken bones, but not over particular about
cleanliness. Their open air life, however, helped most of the hurts to
heal rapidly.

Day after day the caravan made its slow and creaking way to the south.
Now and then bands of Sioux, out on the summer hunt, were seen. Sometimes
Indians visited the camp, with no apparent unfriendly intentions. The
savage blood in the Pembina half-breeds was mostly Cree and Ojibwa. But
the hunting party was too large and well armed to fear hostility from
small, wandering bands of Sioux.

Nevertheless the Pembina men had no intention of penetrating too far into
Sioux country. They did not wish to provoke the tribes to unite against
them. When camp was made one night on the bank of the Sheyenne River, the
chief of the hunt announced that they would go south no farther. July had
come. They had been out nearly four weeks. The carts were well loaded
with fresh and dried meat, fat, pemmican, and hides. On the morrow they
would turn, circling to the west a little, and, hunting as they went,
make their way back to Pembina. They should reach the settlement early in
August.

This decision meant that if the Brabants and Periers were to go on to the
St. Peter and Mississippi rivers, they must part company with the
hunters. That night Mr. Perier and the boys consulted with Lajimonière,
St. Antoine, and others who knew something of the country to the south
and east. Lake Traverse, they were told, was only three or four days’
march away. At the lake were traders who would doubtless help them on
their journey.

Some of the hunters shook their heads at the idea of such a small party
traveling alone sixty or seventy miles across Dakota country. There would
be grave danger in the attempt, they said, and advised against it. But
Mr. Perier, Walter, and Louis had not come so far merely to turn back to
Pembina. They were bound for the Mississippi and intended to reach it
somehow. They might have hesitated to travel alone farther to the
southwest, but everyone said that the route to the southeast was less
dangerous. The Indians who visited Lake Traverse were in the habit of
dealing with traders.

In truth the hunters had neither seen nor heard sign of trouble anywhere.
The Indians they had encountered had seemed inoffensive enough. The boys
had rather lost their awe of the dread Sioux. They were beginning to
believe that the tales of the fierceness and cruelty of those savages
were greatly exaggerated. As Neil expressed it, “Most of that sort of
talk is just an excuse for Saulteur and half-breed cowardice. They have
made bogies of the Sioux. I can’t see that they are different from any
other Indians. I don’t believe they dare molest white men.”

The always hopeful Mr. Perier was quite sure there would be no difficulty
in reaching Traverse. “We are not enemy Indians raiding the Sioux
country,” he argued. “We are peaceable white settlers going about our own
affairs. Probably we shall meet no Indians at all. If we do, we will
treat them in a polite and friendly manner. They are reasonable human
beings just like ourselves. They have no reason to harm us and I don’t
believe they will try to.”

“We will take care to avoid them anyway,” added Louis, not quite so sure
of Sioux reasonableness, but eager to go on.

Louis had hoped to persuade some of the hunters to go to Lake Traverse
with the little party. In fact St. Antoine and another man had half
promised. But both suddenly changed their minds. The boys could find no
one else willing to leave the hunt for the trip to the trading post.
There was nothing to do but go on alone. Before they rolled themselves in
their blankets, they had decided to part with the hunters on the
following day.



                                 XXXIII
                             A LONELY CAMP


The Sheyenne River, where the night’s camp was pitched, should not be
confused with the Cheyenne, which is a tributary of the Missouri. Both
were named after the same tribe of Indians, who once lived along their
banks. To distinguish the two, different spellings of the name have been
adopted. The Sheyenne is a much smaller stream than the Cheyenne, and one
of the principal rivers that go to form the Red. After a general course
to the east, the Sheyenne turns north, and runs almost parallel with the
Red, to fall into it at last. The spot where the hunters were camped was
only about ten miles from the Red, but another stream, the Wild Rice, lay
between.

St. Antoine advised against going directly east. “If you go east,” he
said, “you will reach the Rivière Rouge many miles below the Lac
Traverse. It is more difficult to cross there. I cannot tell you whether
there is a ford or not. But if you keep to the southeast, reaching the
river where it is narrow and shallow, you can cross easily. There it is
not called Rivière Rouge, but Bois des Sioux. A few miles above where the
Bois des Sioux joins the Ottertail, which comes from the east to form the
real Rivière Rouge, there is a good crossing place. When you are across,
turn south and follow the river to the Lac Traverse.”

The caravan was slow in getting away that morning. The good-natured _bois
brulés_ lingered to help the Brabant-Perier party across the Sheyenne. At
some time hunters or traders had built a rude log bridge over the deep,
muddy stream. Part of the old bridge had been carried away by flood
waters, but skilled axmen soon repaired it, so that the two carts could
be taken across.

By the time good-byes were said, last words of advice and warning spoken,
the river crossed, and the steep bank climbed, the sun had passed its
highest point. St. Antoine, Lajimonière, and several others rode with the
little party through the thick woods that fringed the stream bank. The
woods passed, St. Antoine carefully pointed out the route. The day was
clear, and the travelers could see far across the flat, open country.

“You see that _île des bois_?” questioned St. Antoine, pointing to a tiny
dark dot far away on the prairie. “That is the only _île des bois_ for
many miles around. Make straight for it. You can camp there to-night.
There is a spring, and wood to boil your kettle. To-morrow go on in the
same direction, and you will come to the river the Sioux call _Pse_, the
white men _Folle Avoine_, from the wild rice that grows in its marshes.
If you keep a straight course you will reach that river near a fording
place. From there the Bois des Sioux is less than a day’s journey. But do
not try to take your carts across either river until you are sure that
the water is not too deep or the current too strong. The Bois des Sioux
is a small stream and has many shallow places. Go then, and the good God
go with you.”

The hunters turned back, waved a last farewell, and disappeared among the
trees. Louis set his face towards the dark dot far across the prairie.
“_Marche donc!_” he cried, and slapped his pony’s flank, he was riding
ahead as guide, while Neil and Walter walked beside the carts.

The stretch of flat prairie between the Sheyenne and the Wild Rice looked
easy to cross. The party expected to make good time, but the very
flatness of the land proved a hindrance. The poorly drained plain was
marshy. The grass grew tall and coarse, the soil it sprang from was
spongy and frequently soft and wet. Stretches of standing water or very
soft ground, grown thick with marsh grass and cattails, had to be
skirted. In spite of the travelers’ care in picking their way, the cart
wheels often sank far into the mud and water, and the faithful ponies had
to pull hard to haul them through. In such places Mrs. Brabant and the
children got out and walked or rode the two saddle ponies. Most of the
time Louis or Neil rode ahead to select the route.

The difficult going lengthened the ten or twelve miles to that dark spot
of woods. Sunset found the party still a mile or more from the _île des
bois_. It would be better to go on, they decided, than to camp on the
wet, open ground, with no wood for a fire, and only stagnant marsh water
to drink.

Louis and Mr. Perier, with Max in front of him on the saddle, were riding
in advance. Then came the carts with Mrs. Brabant and the girls, Neil
beside the first cart, Raoul accompanying the second. Walter plodded
along in the rear. Turning to look back at the sunset sky, where the reds
and golds were already fading away, he noticed several dark forms loping
along the trail through the tall grass. They were prairie wolves.

Walter had often seen wolves following the cart train, cleverly keeping
just out of musket range, but ready to close in on the remains of any
game that might be killed. He did not fear the cowardly scavengers. Yet
now they gave him a strange feeling he had never had when with the long
caravan. The sight of those wild creatures, shadowy in the twilight,
following so boldly in the wake of the tiny party, brought to him a
sudden sense of loneliness and peril such as he had not known before. He
shivered, though the evening was warm. Then he raised his gun, intending
to frighten the beasts, even if he could not hit them.

Before he had time to fire, an exclamation from Mrs. Brabant caused him
to lower his gun and turn towards the cart. Both carts had stopped. A
hundred feet ahead Louis and Mr. Perier had reined in. Louis jumped from
his horse and stooped to examine the ground.

“What is it? Why are we stopping?” Walter asked Raoul.

“Louis signaled for a halt. I don’t know why.”

Moved by curiosity, Walter followed Neil and Raoul to the spot where the
horsemen had reined in. It did not need the Scotch boy’s exclamation or
Louis’ sober face to make Walter understand the seriousness of what they
had found. They had come upon a trail, a clear, distinct trail. It was
not the wide, trampled track of a buffalo herd, but the clearly defined,
narrow trail of horses single file.

“Indians?” asked Walter, though he knew well enough that the question was
unnecessary.

Neil answered with a grunt of assent. Louis, leading his horse, had gone
on a little farther. In a moment he turned and summoned the others. He
had come upon a parallel trail, somewhat wider and more irregular than
the first and marked with lines resembling wheel tracks, but not so wide
as those made by the broad-rimmed cart wheels.

“_Travois_,” he said briefly. “Heavily loaded.”

Walter had heard the word _travois_ before in the sense in which Louis
used it. It was the name the French Canadians had given to a primitive
Indian conveyance, two poles lashed to the sides of a horse or dog, the
front ends resting on the animal’s shoulders, the rear ends trailing on
the ground. Cross pieces were tied on, and a hide or blanket stretched
between the poles. Travois were loaded with household goods, or carried
women too old and children too young to walk or ride horseback. The crude
vehicles were used everywhere by the prairie Indians.

A little farther on was another similar trail, and beyond it a fourth, a
narrow horse track like the first.

“A whole band,” Louis concluded, “women and children and all. When I saw
that first trail I feared it was a war party of mounted men only.”

“They are traveling as if in enemy country,” Neil commented, “in four
lines, instead of single file.”

“With the travois and women in the middle, and the braves on the
outside,” added Louis. “Yes, they must be uneasy about something.”

“How long ago do you think they passed?” asked Mr. Perier.

“Not many hours. Since last night. It must have been before noon though.
We could have seen them a long way across the prairie.”

“They are far away by now.”

“Yes. It is good that we did not make an earlier start.”

“And that our trail crosses theirs instead of going the same way,” said
Neil. “We’d better go on as fast as we can to that clump of trees. Our
camp will be hidden there.” Somehow he did not feel quite so sure now
that Dakotas would not dare to attack white men, especially when the
white men had horses to be stolen.

Louis climbed on his pony again, and the other boys turned back to bring
up the carts. They made the best speed they could through the tall grass
and over the marshy ground, but darkness had settled down before they
reached the _île des bois_.

Finding a camping place among the trees, Louis and Walter unhitched and
unsaddled the horses. Instead of hobbling them and turning them loose to
feed, they tied the four ponies to trees close to the camp fire, where
they could browse on tufts of grass, leaves, and twigs. Louis was taking
no risk of losing them. In the meantime Neil was cutting wood, Raoul had
kindled a fire, Mr. Perier had brought water from a rather brackish pool,
and Mrs. Brabant and the girls were preparing supper.

To Walter the seclusion and shelter of the grove came as a relief from
the open prairie. The cheerful flames of the camp fire lighting up the
surrounding tree trunks and the cottonwood leaves overhead, the
appetizing smell of pemmican heating in an iron pan, raised his spirits.
He forgot the following wolves and the Indian trail. The rest of the
party also seemed to have forgotten the unpleasant things of the day’s
journey. Elise hummed to herself as she helped Mrs. Brabant with the
simple meal. Max ran about to find sticks for the fire. Raoul teased
Marie, as he often did, and she retorted in her usual lively manner.
Little Jeanne, with the dog Askimé beside her, had fallen sound asleep on
a blanket bed between the carts. She had to be waked when supper was
ready.

The meal was as cheerful as if the little group had still been part of
the big hunting party. Yet the loneliness of their situation had its
effect upon them. Unconsciously they lowered their voices. At the
slightest sound from beyond the circle of firelight, the stirring of a
horse, the breaking of a twig, the rustling of a bush, the cry of a night
bird, everyone glanced quickly around. When a screech owl in a near-by
tree wailed, they were all startled, then, shamefaced, laughed at
themselves.

After supper Mr. Perier drew Louis aside. “Do you think we ought to stand
guard to-night?” he asked in a low voice.

“I think it most wise,” Louis replied promptly. “We do not wish our
horses stolen, if any Indians have seen the smoke of our fire.”

Including Raoul, who was quite old enough to do guard duty and would have
been insulted if anyone had suggested that he was not, there were five
men in the party. To make up an even number, Mrs. Brabant insisted on
taking her turn. It was arranged that Walter and Raoul should keep first
watch, Mr. Perier and Neil second, and Louis and his mother the hours
just before dawn. Both the latter knew, though they said nothing about
it, that before dawn was the time danger was most likely to come, if it
came at all. Mrs. Brabant confessed to Louis that she would not be
sleeping then anyway, and might just as well be standing guard.

Though they had seen no sign of Indians except the track across the
prairie, and seemed to be in no real danger, everyone but the two younger
children slept lightly and uneasily. The beasts seemed to catch their
masters’ uneasiness. Askimé, as if personally responsible for the safety
of the camp, padded back and forth and round about through the grove,
growling low in his throat sometimes, but never making a loud sound. The
night was windy, and the mosquitoes were not troublesome, but the ponies
were restless. They crowded as close to the carts as their lariats would
permit. Now and then one or another would jump and snort as if in terror.
Yet the guards could find nothing wrong, no cause of disturbance except
the howling of a wolf on the prairie or the hooting of a hunting owl.



                                  XXIV
                                 DANGER


The camp was stirring early, and the sheltering grove was soon left
behind. On every side the prairie, empty and peaceful, stretched away
into misty distance. The fears and alarms of the night had been
imaginary.

As on the day before, the route lay over flat, poorly drained, often
marshy country, where the grass grew tall and rank. By going directly
east, the travelers might have reached the Wild Rice River in a few
hours, but far from the place where St. Antoine had advised them to
cross. Even if they succeeded in crossing, they knew they would lose
rather than gain time by going that way. If they went straight east they
would come to the Red River a number of miles below the Ottertail, where
the Red was much larger and more difficult to ford. St. Antoine had
explained all that, showing them how, by going southeast, instead of east
and then south, they would find better fording places as well as save
actual distance. So they continued to the southeast.

By the position of the sun and the little grove behind him, Louis strove
to keep a straight course, a difficult feat for anyone less experienced
in prairie travel. Louis himself found it far from easy, especially when
he had to make detours around impassable ground. Many times that day he
wished for St. Antoine or some other older and more prairie-wise man.

As the sun rose higher, the day grew very hot. Even the ponies felt the
effect of the heat, as they plodded steadily on. At noon the party halted
for an hour on the open prairie, to let the horses rest and feed. There
was not a stick of fuel anywhere, so the pemmican was eaten cold, and
washed down with a sip of the warm, brackish water they had brought from
the _île des bois_.

In mid afternoon, hot and tired, the little caravan reached the bank of a
stream Louis knew must be the Wild Rice. A narrow, crooked, muddy stream
it proved to be, like a deep ditch between high and scantily wooded
banks. At the top of the bank the carts halted, while Louis and Neil
scrambled down, leading their horses, to look for a ford. After a half
hour’s search for a place that appeared safe, the two boys came upon a
trail. The slope was a little less steep in this spot, and, winding down
to the water’s edge, was the well-worn track of men and animals. There
was no mistaking it.

“Here is a ford,” Louis announced confidently. “It is here that the
Indians cross.”

“It looks like it,” Neil agreed. “We might as well go back for the carts.
This is the easiest place we’ve seen to bring them down.”

Louis shook his head. “Wait a bit,” he commanded. “I must see if the
crossing is safe. The trail is old. There are no signs that anyone has
crossed recently, and the river is yet far from its lowest point. You
stay here, and I will try to trace the ford and make sure it is not too
deep.”

“All right,” consented Neil. “I’ll keep an eye on you. If you get into
trouble, I’ll go to your help.”

The water was so thick and muddy, Louis could scarcely see whether it was
deep or shallow. His pony was sure footed, and picked its way carefully.
So he left the finding of the ford to the animal’s instinct and
intelligence. Slowly they made their way across. The water rose to the
horse’s sides, but did not carry it off its feet, as the current was
sluggish. There was one deep place, however, where the pony was forced to
swim a few yards.

Neil, mounted and ready to go to the rescue, watched anxiously. His help
was not needed. The pony found foothold, and was soon scrambling up the
farther bank to dry land. Dismounting, Louis patted the animal and rubbed
its nose. Unlike the _bois brulés_, he treated his beasts kindly. He had
brought this horse up from colthood, and it had no fear of him. After
resting a few minutes, boy and pony made their way back again.

“Can we get the carts across?” asked Neil, as Louis, wet to the waist,
reached shore.

“Yes, if we pull them over with ropes. We can take my mother and the
children on the horses. There is only the one deep place, and the current
is not strong. César knew the way. He took me out where the trail goes up
from the water. This is an old fording place.”

“St. Antoine said nothing about a trail.”

“No, I think this is not the place where he crossed. We may be miles from
that spot.”

“If we can get across here, that is all we care about,” returned Neil.

The old trail was steep but not impossible for vehicles. With the boys
acting as brakes by hanging on to the rear, the carts made their
screeching, groaning way down. The horses were unhitched, and rawhide
ropes attached to one of the carts. Then Louis and Walter rode over the
ford, wound the ropes around a willow tree for greater security, and
began to pull. The others steadied the cart into the water. Neil,
mounting hastily, rode behind it to prevent disaster.

Part way across, the wheels stuck in the muddy bottom and would not turn.
Neil jumped off his horse, and Raoul waded out to help him. They pushed
and heaved vigorously, while Louis and Walter pulled, and got the cart
moving again. In the deep place the box body floated, and the boys
succeeded in pulling it to shore before it took in much water. Knowing
that the dry box would leak more or less, they had lined it with hides.
The load came through uninjured.

The same process was repeated with the second cart, which was not so
lucky and took in more water. Then Mrs. Brabant and the girls, their
skirts gathered up under them on the horses’ backs, were brought across,
wetting no more than their feet and ankles. Max, sitting cross legged in
front of his father, did not even get his feet wet. The older boys and
Mr. Perier were well soaked. The day was so warm they did not mind a
wetting.

The search for the ford and the crossing had taken a long time. The sun
was low when the weary little party started up the old trail to seek a
camping place. It happened that Walter, leading one of the horses along
the steep track, was ahead. As he reached the top, picking his way, he
turned to look back at the pony. After the horse was up, he continued to
stand looking down, watching the carts making their slow way up, the
ponies pulling steadily, the boys pushing. He ought to be down there
helping, he thought.

The neighing of a horse startled him. He swung around, gave one gasp, and
fairly tumbled down the bank, dragging the surprised pony after him.

“Indians!” he gasped.

“Where?” Louis let go his hold on the first cart, and scrambled up to
join Walter.

“Coming across the prairie. A whole band of them.”

“How far away? Did they see you?”

“They must have seen me. There are no trees. I stood right in the open.”

Louis dropped flat and wormed his way up the slope. He raised his head
cautiously, lowered it quickly, and slid back.

“They certainly saw you. They are too close to have missed you. We can’t
avoid them. They come straight to the ford. We have no time to get out of
the way. There is not enough cover to hide in. And they must have seen
you and the horse. We must put on a bold front and not act afraid. That
is the only thing we can do.”

The rest of the party, alarmed by the two boys’ actions, had stopped in
their tracks. Not many seconds were spent in telling them what was
happening. All realized that Louis was right when he said there was
nothing to do but put on a bold front. In a few moments the tiny caravan
was moving again. Raoul held Askimé by the collar to keep him from
running ahead.

Louis and Walter went first, side by side, leading their horses. When he
came in view of the prairie, Walter’s heart beat fast. He struggled to
control his trembling knees, and to appear cool and unconcerned.

A very short distance away, coming straight towards the two lads, was a
little group of mounted men, with bare, black heads and feathers in their
hair. Some wore loose buckskin shirts. The bronze bodies of others were
bare. Beyond them more mounted men, men, women, and children on foot,
pack animals, and travois covered the prairie in a wide, irregular,
disorderly procession.

“A whole band out on the hunt,” said Louis. “Well, that is less to be
feared than a war party of braves only.”

The advance group let out a yell, a wild, menacing sound it seemed to the
Swiss boy, hammered their horses’ sides with their heels, and came on at
a gallop. Louis swung himself into the saddle, and advanced to meet them,
one arm raised in the friendship sign. Walter mounted and followed,
imitating the gesture.

The leading Indian responded with upraised arm, and the group came on.
Surrounding the lads, they reined in their ponies. Walter’s heart was
thumping against his ribs, but the trembling had passed. He sat straight
and steady in the saddle, and kept a calm exterior.

“_Bo jou_,” said Louis pleasantly.

“How,” stolidly returned the leader of the advance party. He was a
well-built, broad-shouldered fellow in the prime of life. A piece of
buffalo robe was his only saddle. He guided his horse with a cord of
twisted hair around the jaw, and rode with free and easy grace.

As Louis knew only four or five words of Dakota, communication had to be
carried on principally in sign language. Recognizing the word for trader
when the Indian spoke again, Louis replied with a shake of his head, then
pointed to the carts just appearing over the top of the bank. He
interpreted the Indian’s next gesture as a question about the size of the
party, and held up ten fingers in answer. Wishing to convey the idea that
the ten were only part of a much larger party, he pointed across the
river, and spread out his fingers, closing and opening them several
times.

The Indian nodded, stared fixedly at the carts, and inquired,
“_Minnewakan?_”

That was one of the few words Louis knew. “No _minnewakan_, no liquor,”
he replied. His questioner looked disappointed, so Louis hastened to add,
“We can give you a little tobacco. _Tabac_,” he repeated with emphasis.

Evidently the Indian had heard the word _tabac_ in intercourse with the
traders. He repeated it with a nod and held out his hand.

Louis pointed towards the carts, and said quickly to Walter, “Go get some
tobacco. It will be all right. We’re safe enough for the present.”

The Indians made no move to hinder Walter’s return to the carts. He was
back in a few moments with the tobacco, which Louis divided among the
group of braves, taking care to give the largest portion to the leader.

The first of the main body of Indians had come on almost to the river
bank, a little way beyond where the carts were standing, and had halted
there. The boys’ new acquaintance pointed to the spot, then brought the
tips of his forefingers together to indicate the pointed shape of a tipi.
Walter guessed the man’s meaning to be that the band would camp there for
the night. His heart sank. He had been hoping that the Indians would go
on across the river.

If Louis was troubled, he did not show it. He pointed the other way,—up
river,—and made the same sign. Then he said “_Bo jou_” again and turned
his horse in that direction.

The Indian gave a little grunt which might have meant either assent or
protest. Neither he nor his companions showed any wish to hinder the
boys’ freedom of movement. They remained motionless for a few moments,
then turned towards the camping place of their own band.

“What are we going to do?” asked Walter, when he and Louis had put a few
yards between themselves and the Indians.

“We will have to make camp,” Louis replied slowly. “We will not be any
safer if we go on. If they wish to steal our horses or interfere with us
in any way, they will only follow. They can overtake us easily. Those
fellows’ horses are fresher than ours. I saw that at once. We will camp
farther up the river, as far as we can without seeming to run away. I
tried to make them believe that we are an advance party. If we camp here
it will look as if we waited for the others to join us. It is a bad
situation, but I do not see what else we can do.”

“If they want to take our horses, though, and everything else we have, we
are helpless. We are too few to fight a whole band. I suppose you are
right about going on now. If they wished to harm us, some of them would
follow. But when they think we are all settled for the night, can’t we
steal away in the darkness?”

“I have thought of that,” Louis returned quietly. “That is one reason I
want to camp as far away as we can, without making them suspicious. If
they seem perfectly friendly, it may be best to remain in camp till
morning. We can decide that later. The important thing now is to keep our
heads and act as if we had no fear.”



                                  XXXV
                          IN THE CHIEF’S TIPI


The others of the party realized that Louis knew more than they about
Indians, so his view of what was best to do prevailed. He chose a spot
back from the river bank on the brink of a narrow, steep sided ravine. A
_coulee_ such a rift in the prairie was commonly called. There, in the
open, nearly a half mile up river from the Indian encampment, camp was
pitched.

The dangers of the situation were carefully concealed from the younger
children. Elise and Marie were old enough to realize the peril, but they
understood as well as their elders that they must not appear afraid. Both
girls were frightened, but they tried pluckily not to give way to their
fears. Mrs. Brabant set them a good example, going about the camp work in
a cheerful, matter-of-fact way. Not even Louis guessed how she was
suffering with anxiety and dread. While her lips smiled bravely, she was
repeating over and over in her mind passionate prayers for her children’s
safety. Though he understood less of the danger, and was by nature always
hopeful that things would turn out all right, Mr. Perier too was far from
easy in his mind. He regretted sincerely that he had brought Elise and
Max on this dangerous journey. Still, as always, he hoped for the best.
Of the four older boys, Raoul, the youngest and most reckless, was the
least frightened and the most thrilled by the adventure. The feelings of
the others were of mingled fear, excitement, and manly pride in the
responsibility laid upon them. The red-headed Highland lad, cleaning his
gun carefully, was almost hoping for a fight. Louis and Walter, though
determined to protect their camp at any cost to themselves if that should
be necessary, were racking their brains for ways to avoid conflict of any
kind. They must avoid it or their little party would be wiped out.

At first the Indians left the white men to themselves. Before the evening
meal was over, however, visitors arrived, announced by a warning growl
from Askimé. Into the firelight stalked the sturdy, strong-faced brave
who had led the advance party. He was followed by two younger men. Both
were slender, wiry fellows, and one was distinctly handsome in a
Roman-nosed, high-cheeked, hawk-eyed style. The other was disfigured by a
broken and crooked nose.

The young men stood impassive, while the elder made a sign of greeting
and said “How” in his deep voice.

Louis, who had risen, returned the “How” and motioned the visitors to
seats by the fire, the others moving closer together to make room.
Foreseeing that there might be guests, Mrs. Brabant had made more tea and
heated more pemmican than usual. She helped the guests liberally, and
they ate in silence. When each was satisfied, he carefully placed his cup
and plate upside down on the ground.

“_Minnewakan?_” the elder warrior inquired, as if he had not asked the
question before.

Louis shook his head and passed out some tobacco. There was silence,
while each Indian gravely smelled of his portion, and stowed it away in
his beaded buckskin fire bag.

Then the man with the crooked nose pointed to Askimé, who lay at Louis’
feet, keeping a watchful eye on the strangers. “_Nitshunka?_” he asked,
looking at Louis.

The boy had never heard the word before. He did not know whether the
fellow was inquiring if the dog was his, or offering to buy it. In answer
he laid one hand on Askimé’s head, and touched his own breast with the
other. The young Indian promptly took off the necklace of beasts’ and
birds’ claws he wore, and held it out. But Louis shook his head
emphatically, saying “_Non, non_.”

The broken-nosed man nodded gravely, and replaced the necklace, but he
continued to gaze at the dog. It was plain that he was anxious to get
Askimé by some means or other.

The elder brave soon brought the call to a close. Rising to his feet, he
pointed first in the direction of the Indian camp, and then to Louis and
Walter in turn. He said something in his own language, drew his
forefinger across his forehead, and pointed again towards the camp. The
drawing of the forefinger across the forehead was the common sign for a
hat-wearer or white man.

Louis’ curiosity was aroused. He drew his finger across his own head,
then pointed to his breast.

The Indian shook his head. It was some other white man he meant. Again he
made the sign, with his left hand, while he pointed towards the camp with
his right. At the same time he spoke the word for trader.

Louis nodded to show that he understood.

The Indian gave a little grunt, and once more pointed to the boys in
turn, then to the camp. He repeated the hat-wearer sign and the word
trader.

Louis turned to Walter. “There is a white man with that band, a trader. I
am sure that is what this fellow means. And he wishes us to go to the
camp and see the man. Perhaps the white man has sent for us.”

“Shall we go?” asked Walter. “Do you think it is safe?”

“I do not know if it is safe,” was the thoughtful reply, “but _I_ must go
I think. If I do not he will think I am afraid. And I want to discover if
there really is a white trader there, and talk with him. He may be our
one chance of safety. Sometimes the traders have great influence. Yes, I
must go.”

Louis indicated his willingness to accompany the Indians, but the elder
man was still unsatisfied. He kept pointing at Walter.

“I am going too, Louis,” the latter decided. He glanced around the little
circle. “Do you suppose the others will be all right while we are away?”

“There is risk to all of us, all the time, whatever we do,” Louis
returned gravely. “It is not good for our party to be separated. Yet I do
not think they try to separate us. Why should they, when we are so few,
and they are so many? No, I think that white trader has sent for us, and
we had best go.” He turned to Neil and Raoul. “Keep close watch,” he
warned, “and you, Raoul, make a big pile of dry grass and wood. If
anything happens to alarm you, light it, and we shall see the flames, and
come at once.”

“If we can,” Walter added to himself. He did not voice his doubt. He knew
they must take the risk; he saw that quite clearly.

There was a frightened look in Elise’s eyes. She laid her hand on
Walter’s arm. “Don’t go,” she whispered.

“I must, little sister. I can’t let Louis go alone. We will be back
soon.”

Mrs. Brabant’s face had turned pale, but she made no protest. As for Mr.
Perier, the news that there was a white man with the Indians had gone far
to reassure him of their friendliness and good intentions.

The three braves had come unarmed, so courtesy required that Louis and
Walter should not take their guns, reluctant though they were to leave
them behind. The Indians were on foot, and all went back in the same
manner. The long twilight was deepening, as the five took their silent
way towards the firelit group of tipis that had sprung up from the
prairie like some strange mushroom growth. The air was hot, still, and
oppressive. Dark clouds lay low on the western and southern horizon.

The Indian camp was a noisy place. As the party approached, their ears
were assailed by a variety of sounds; the neighing and squealing of
ponies, the howling and yelping of dogs, the shouting of children, the
voices of the women, the tones of the old squaws cracked and shrill,
calling, laughing, and scolding, the toneless thumping of a drum and the
clacking of rattles accompanying the harsh monotone of some medicine
man’s chant, and a hundred other noises. Hobbled horses fed on the
prairie grass around the circle of lodges. A whole pack of snarling,
wolfish dogs rushed out as if to devour the newcomers, but did not dare
to approach very close for fear of a beating. The buffalo skin tipis were
lit up with cooking fires without and within. The mingled odors of wood
smoke, boiling and roasting meat, tobacco and _kinnikinnick_,—osier
dogwood or red willow bark shredded and added to tobacco to form the
Indian smoking mixture,—filled the air.

The little party were close to the tipis, when a man came out to meet
them. He spoke to the older brave, and an argument followed. Unable to
understand the conversation, the boys stood waiting, and wondering what
was going on. Evidently the two Indians were disagreeing, but the only
words Louis recognized were _minnewakan_ and the term for trader.

It was the lads’ conductor who yielded at last. He gave a grunt of sullen
assent, gestured to the boys to follow the other, turned on his heel, and
stalked off. The stranger led the way among the lodges.

Walter had never visited an Indian camp, and curiosity was getting the
better of his fears. The squaws and children were quite as curious about
the white men. The women left their various occupations, and ceased their
gossiping and scolding, the children stopped their play and quarreling,
to stare at the strangers. Their inquisitiveness was open and frank, but
did not seem unfriendly. The men, lounging about at their ease, eating,
smoking, polishing their weapons, or doing nothing whatever, disdained to
show interest in the newcomers. Their casual glances were indifferent
rather than hostile. Walter noted that these people were in the habit of
dealing with traders. Many of the loose, shapeless garments the women
wore were of bright colored cotton, instead of deerskin. Some of the men
had shirts or leggings of scarlet cloth. The boy’s courage rose. So far
there was nothing to fear.

The lodges were arranged in two irregular circles, one within the other.
In the center of the inner open space, stood a solitary tipi of unusual
size. From it, apparently, came the sounds of drum, rattles, and chant.
Walter wondered if it was there that he and Louis were being led. Surely
a white man would not—— But the guide had turned to the right, and was
pulling aside the skin curtain that covered the entrance to one of the
lodges in the circle. He motioned to the boys to enter.

Walter followed Louis in, and looked about him. The fire on the ground in
the center of the tipi was smouldering smokily, and the forms of the men
beyond were but dimly visible. Louis went forward unhesitatingly. At the
right of the fire, he paused, and Walter stepped to his side.

Someone threw a piece of buffalo fat on the fire. The flames leaped up,
casting a strong light on the bronze bodies of six or seven seated men.
All were nearly naked, except the slender young man in the center. He
wore scarlet leggings and a blue coat with scarlet facings; an old
uniform coat that must once have belonged to some white officer. The
young Indian’s chest was bare and adorned with paint. A necklace of elk
teeth, with a silver coin as a pendant, was his principal ornament. There
were eagle feathers in his scarlet head band, and his coarse, black hair,
which hung in two braids over his shoulders, glistened with grease. The
swarthy face of the young chief, as the firelight revealed it, struck
Walter with instant distrust and dislike. The wide mouth was loose
lipped. The dark eyes—large for an Indian—that he fastened on the boys
were bloodshot and fierce.

Louis stood straight and motionless, steadily returning the young chief’s
gaze. Drawing himself up to his full height, Walter tried to imitate his
comrade’s bold bearing. After a few minutes of this silent duel of
glances, during which the fire died down again, the chief deigned to
speak.

His first words were apparently an inquiry as to whether the white men
were traders. Louis shook his head. Then came a request,—it sounded more
like a demand,—for _minnewakan_.

Again Louis shook his head. Stepping forward, he offered the chief the
gifts he had brought him, a twist of tobacco, a paper of coarse pins, and
a piece of scarlet cloth. Though the boys had expected to be led directly
to the white trader, Louis had thought it best to go provided with a few
courtesy presents for the head man of the band. The chief accepted the
things in silence.

On the chance that the fellow or someone of his companions might know a
little French, Louis proceeded to explain that he and his party were
peaceful travelers from the Selkirk Colony on their way to the trading
post at Lake Traverse. Whether anyone understood what he said the boy
could not tell.

When Louis had finished, the chief made a speech, a long speech,
delivered in an impressive, even pompous manner, with frequent pauses for
effect. At each pause, his companions in chorus uttered an approving
“Uho, uho!” That was the way the exclamation sounded to Walter. He could
understand nothing of the chief’s oration, of course, but he got the idea
that the young man liked to listen to his own voice.

Among the voices that cried out “Uho,” there was one deep pitched one
that affected the Swiss boy in a peculiar manner. It sent a sudden chill
of fear over him. And there was something familiar about it. He glanced
around the group to see to which man that voice belonged. The fire had
nearly burned out, and the lodge was so dark he could distinguish the
figures but dimly. At the third exclamation of approval, he made up his
mind that the voice that affected him so strangely came from the man on
the chief’s right. During the few moments when the firelight had been
bright enough to reveal the Indians, Walter had noticed nothing about
that man except his size. He was a big fellow, broad shouldered and tall,
overtopping the chief by several inches, though the latter was not short.
The big man’s features the boy had not seen, for they were in the shadow
of the scarlet blanket the fellow held up, apparently to shield his face
from the heat.

The speaker brought his oration to a sonorous close. There was a chorus
of loud “uhos.” As if for dramatic effect, another chunk of fat was
thrown upon the fire. The flames shot up again, and cast their light upon
the chief and his courtiers.

Walter gasped. He felt Louis’ fingers close upon his arm and grip it
tight in warning. The blanket no longer concealed the face of the big
brave on the chief’s right. The amazed boys were staring straight at the
glittering, bright eyes and thin-lipped, cruel mouth of the Black Murray.
It seemed incredible, impossible, but it was so.

The big warrior, a Sioux Indian in every detail; braided hair and
feathers, big-muscled, bronze body naked except for the breech cloth and
the handsome scarlet blanket about his shoulders, chest and arms adorned
with streaks and circles of red and black paint, was the former Hudson
Bay voyageur, Murray. If it had been possible to mistake that regular
featured, sinister face, with its glittering eyes and scornful smile, the
silver chain around his neck, with Mr. Perier’s watch hanging upon his
chest, must have removed all doubts. He was the Black Murray beyond
question.



                                 XXXVI
                            THE WHITE TRADER


While Louis and Walter stared, amazed and apprehensive, the Black Murray
rose to his feet and turned to the chief. He said a few words in Dakota;
his all too familiar voice sending another chill up Walter’s spine,
gathered his blanket about him, gave the boys one scornful glance, and
strode around the fire and out of the tipi.

Louis drew a long breath to steady himself, and spoke to the chief again.
Still uncertain whether the Indians understood any French, the boy
thanked the young chief for receiving his comrade and himself. They had
enjoyed the visit to the village, he said, but must return to their own
camp now, as the hour was growing late. They hoped to see more of the
chief and his people in the morning. At the close of this speech, Louis
bowed slightly, and began to step backward around the fire.

Walter imitated his friend, carefully keeping his face turned towards the
chief. That young man waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. Not one
of the Indians made a move to hinder the two from leaving.

It was an enormous relief to be out of that tipi, yet both boys knew they
were far from being out of danger. From the illuminated lodge in the
center of the camp, the thumping of the drum and the clacking of rattles
went on tirelessly. Fires had been kindled in a circle around the big
tipi, and about them men and women were gathering.

“There is to be some kind of a dance,” Louis whispered. “Look!” he
exclaimed suddenly. He gripped Walter’s arm and drew him back into the
shadow of an unlighted lodge.

Crossing the open space, in the full light of the blazing fires, was the
tall, stately form of Murray. A great, hairy buffalo robe fell loosely
from his broad shoulders. His head was adorned with the strangest of
headdresses, the shaggy head of a buffalo bull, horns and nose painted
red. That stuffed buffalo head must have been exceedingly heavy, but
under its weight Murray held his own head and neck proudly erect. Looking
neither to right nor left, he strode between the fires, men and women
making way for him. He stooped only to enter the big tipi.

The two boys, in the protecting shadow of the dark lodge, had stood
apparently unnoticed through this show. After Murray disappeared Louis
led Walter around to the side of the unlighted dwelling farthest from the
fire.

“We must be away,” he whispered. “This is no place for us.”

Silently, cautiously, they made their way among the tipis. The whole band
seemed to have gathered in the central space, yet the boys were not to
escape notice. They were passing through the outer circle of dwellings,
when a man suddenly appeared in front of them. It was the
broad-shouldered warrior who had brought them to the camp. He spoke
urgently, pointing again and again towards the inner circle of lodges,
and making the hat-wearer sign.

Louis shook his head. “_Non, non_,” he replied emphatically. “We have
seen enough of your white trader. A fine white man he is. Go on, Walter,”
he ordered, and Walter obeyed.

If the Dakota did not understand the words, he could not mistake the
boys’ actions. He tried to seize Louis by the arm. Louis dodged, jumping
to one side nimbly, eluded the Indian, and ran after Walter, who also
broke into a run. To their surprise, the man did not attempt to follow
them. Perhaps the middle-aged, rather heavily built brave despaired of
catching the light-footed lads. At any rate he let them go. There was no
one else near by to stop them.

As soon as the boys were sure they were not being followed, they slowed
to a walk.

“We are well out of that,” said Louis, drawing a long breath of relief.

“Yes. I can’t understand why Murray let us go so easily.”

“I fear we have not seen the last of _le Murrai Noir_ yet,” was the sober
reply. “If he had abused us, cursed us, threatened us, I should have less
fear. I do not like his silence, the way he allowed us to go without
raising a hand against us.”

“The Indians seem friendly. Perhaps they won’t let him touch us.”

“That may be. They may be afraid that any trouble with white men will
bring vengeance upon them. Yet I do not like the looks of that young
chief. And he did not offer us food. That is a bad sign, Walter. If he
had invited us to eat, to smoke the calumet, but he did not.” Louis shook
his head doubtfully.

“I can’t imagine,” Walter pondered, “why Murray went out and left us, and
then sent that man after us again.”

Louis was equally puzzled. “It is all very strange. _Le Murrai_ sent him
for us. Surely that was what he meant. Then, when we reached the camp,
another man came and took us away from him. And when we were leaving, the
first fellow came again and wished us to go back.”

“Perhaps Murray wanted to see us alone, and the chief interfered,” Walter
suggested.

“So he sent for us again? But we saw _le Murrai_ going to join in the
dance. The dance will take a long time, all night perhaps, and he is the
chief figure in it I think.”

“He certainly looked as if he was. Louis, is there really any white blood
in Murray at all?”

“That is another strange thing,” returned the troubled Louis. “It is
strange that those Indians should speak of him as a hat-wearer, a white
man. Rather he seems one of themselves.”

Discussing and pondering the bewildering events of the past few hours,
the boys made their way across the prairie towards their own camp. The
moon had risen and lighted their way. The camp fire, a flickering point
of light, guided them and assured them that all was well with their
companions. Had there been no spark of fire at all, or had a great column
of flame sprung up, the two would have been running at full speed. Their
puzzlings led to no solution of their strange treatment at the hands of
Murray and the chief.

“I am certain of but one thing,” Louis asserted finally. He spoke
emphatically and in a louder tone than he had been using. “There is
mischief brewing in that camp to-night, and _le Murrai Noir_ is the
center of it.”

“Aye, you are right there.”

The words, in a strange voice, came from behind them. With one impulse
the boys sprang apart, and turned. Louis’ hand was on the hilt of his
hunting knife.

Close to them, leading a horse, was a tall form, a very tall form. Taller
he seemed than Murray himself, though perhaps that was because he was so
gaunt and thin. In the moonlight the boys could see that his buckskin
clothes hung loosely upon his long frame. He wore a cap, and had a bushy
beard.

“You were too busy with your talk,” the strange man went on rebukingly.
“The whole band might have stolen up on you.” He spoke easy, fluent
Canadian French, but with a peculiar accent that reminded Walter of
Neil’s manner of speech.

“Who are you?” demanded Louis, his hand still on his knife.

“I’m the hat-wearer that sent for you.”

“You are the white trader? Then it wasn’t _le Murrai_?”

“It was not. But you’re right in thinking he’s the center of the mischief
over there. I sent Shahaka to your camp. He was to bring you straight to
my lodge, but someone, Murray or Tatanka Wechacheta, interfered. Then I
told Shahaka to wait for you at the edge of the village, but you wouldn’t
go back with him. I wanted to warn you of what was going on. I thought it
wiser not to go to your camp myself. My influence with that young fool of
a chief is not so strong as it was before the big medicine man Murray
came along.”

“He claims to be a medicine man?” asked Louis.

“Aye, a mighty one, with all sorts of _wakan_. He is teaching a picked
few rascals of them a new medicine dance. They will dance and powwow till
near the dawn, then Murray will feast them and fill them full of rum.”

“But why?”

“Why? He’s a free trader, that Murray, a clever one and not particular
about his methods, his boasts that he got his start by stealing pemmican
from the Hudson Bay Company and then selling it back to them, through a
friend, for trade goods. If he can make those foolish savages look up to
him and fear him as a great _witan wishasha_, he can do anything he likes
with them in the way of trade. He has sold them a lot of medicines
already, charms against evil spirits and injury in battle, charms to give
them power over their enemies and the beasts they hunt.” The tall man
changed the subject abruptly. “You have horses and carts and goods with
you?” he demanded.

“No trade goods, except a few little things for presents. But we have two
carts loaded with our personal things, and four good horses, and an
Eskimo dog.”

“You will have none of them by sunrise,” was the grim response, “if you
stay here. Murray is not the man to let all that slip through his
fingers.”

“Then why did he let us leave the camp?”

“And why not? He can put his hand on you whenever he likes. In a few
hours he will have plenty of drunken savages to do his will.”

Walter shivered. He was thinking, not of himself, but of Elise and Mrs.
Brabant and the children.

As they drew near the camp, Neil, gun in hand, sprang up from the ground,
where he had been lying, watching their approach. He had been worried
because, instead of two only, he could make out three men and a horse.

Entering the circle around the fire, Louis introduced the stranger. “This
is the man who sent for us, the trader.”

The tall man pulled off his fur cap and ducked his head to Mrs. Brabant.
“I’m Duncan McNab, at your service, Madame,” he said. He caught sight of
Neil’s freckled face and blue bonnet. “Ye’re a Scot,” he said accusingly
in English.

“I am that, and sa are you,” Neil retorted promptly.

“Aye. Ye’ll be fra Kildonan na doot, but there’s na time ta be talkin’
aboot that.” He turned to Louis and spoke in French again. “You are
camped on the edge of a coulee. Did you pick this spot on purpose?”

The boy nodded.

“Then you know what to do. The coulee leads towards the Bois des Sioux.
Leave your fire burning. The savages will think you’re still here.”

“Our carts make so much noise,” interposed Walter. “If any of their
scouts or camp guards should hear that squeaking——”

“Leave the carts behind,” McNab interrupted. “I doubt if you could take
them up the coulee.”

“We can go faster without them anyway,” Louis agreed, “and get more out
of our horses.”

“Travel light, a little pemmican, your weapons and ammunition, nothing
else. It is hard to lose all your things, Madame,” the trader said
bluntly to Mrs. Brabant, “but better than to run the risk of your
children falling into the hands of Tatanka Wechacheta and the Black
Murray.”

“Murray?” cried Mr. Perier.

“You know him?”

“We all know him. We have good cause to,” said Walter.

“That makes it all the worse, if he has anything against you. No, don’t
tell me the story now. We have no time to exchange tales.”

“If we must leave the carts behind,” Neil suggested, “why not hide them
in the coulee? Then the Indians may think we have taken them along. Later
we can come back from Lake Traverse and get them.”

“It micht work oot that wa’,” returned McNab, falling into Scots’ English
again, “but I’m thinkin’ they’ll find the cairts easy eneuch.”

“We’ll tak them _doon_ the coulee a bit,” Neil insisted, in the same
tongue. “If Murray finds the tracks he’ll maybe think we’ve gane doon ta
the Wild Rice and back across.”

The trader shook his head. “He’ll be findin’ your trail all richt, but ye
can maybe delay him for a bit. Weel, do what you’re goin’ ta do quick,
an’ be awa’ wi’ ye. I maun be gettin’ back or they’ll miss me.”

“You’re na comin’ wi’ us?” cried Neil.

“Na, na, I’m not rinnin’ awa’ yet.” He switched to French and took his
leave of the others. “Cross the Bois des Sioux and make speed for Lake
Traverse,” he advised. “Tell Renville I’ll be back there in a few days.
It was Renville sent me to find out what that rascal Murray was up to.
Good speed and God go with you.”



                                 XXXVII
                                 FLIGHT


Louis and Walter decided that Neil’s plan was worth trying. They muffled
the axles of the two carts with strips torn from a ragged blanket, and
carefully cased the vehicles over the edge of the coulee. The moon,
shining into the rift, lighted them down the steep slope. Along the bed
of the shallow brook that ran through the coulee to join the Wild Rice
River, they pushed and pulled the carts, and left them well hidden among
willows and cottonwoods where the ravine widened.

“There,” said Neil when the job was done, “if those Indians follow
straight up the coulee after us, they won’t find the carts at all. If
they come down here and find them, they may think we have gone back
across the river.”

“Probably,” Louis returned, “they will divide into two parties, one to go
up, the other down the coulee. But if they get all our things they may be
content to let us go.”

Hiding the carts had taken less than a half hour. In the meantime Mrs.
Brabant and the children had gone down into the coulee, Jeanne and Max
stumbling along, scarcely awake enough to realize what was happening.
While the horses were being led down, Walter remained behind as rear
guard. As he threw a last armful of fuel on the fire, a burst of hideous
noise came across the prairie from the Indian camp. Howls and yells, to
the thumping of many drums, proved that Murray’s medicine dance was in
full swing. A picture flashed through the boy’s mind; a picture of that
central space within the circle of tipis as it must look now, with scores
of naked, painted, befeathered savages, stamping, leaping, yelling around
the blazing fires. There was no time to lose.

Mrs. Brabant was impatient and anxious to be away. She had made no
protest at leaving the carts behind. All her household belongings were in
them, but what were blankets and copper kettles, and the precious wooden
chest of clothing and little things, compared with the safety of her
children? She and little Jeanne had been placed on one of the ponies.
There were only four horses for ten people. Mr. Perier took Max with him
on another, and the remaining two were given to Elise and Marie. Marie
could ride almost as well as her brothers, and Elise had learned since
leaving Pembina.

It was very dark at the bottom of the coulee among the willows that
fringed the stream. Speed was not possible, and the foot travelers could
easily keep up with the ponies. Yet there was no doubt in anyone’s mind
that this was the only route to take. On the open prairie, in the
moonlight, they would be plainly visible from every direction. Here they
were completely hidden. They hoped to be miles away before the Indians
discovered that they had gone.

Progress seemed heart-breakingly slow, however, as the little party
picked their way up the bed of the brook in the darkness. Louis, on foot,
went ahead as guide. Walter, Neil and Raoul brought up the rear. The
stream was not much over a foot deep at its deepest, with a sticky mud
bottom. Luckily the ponies were sure-footed and almost cat-eyed. One or
another slipped or stumbled now and then, but recovered quickly without
unseating the rider. The night remained oppressively warm. Not a breath
of breeze stirred the willows down below the level of the prairie. Pale
flashes lit up the narrow strip of sky overhead, and distant thunder
rumbled.

The coulee grew narrower and shallower. The brook dwindled to a rivulet,
the fringing willows were smaller and met above the stream. It was
difficult to push a way through. At last Louis called a halt.

“Wait a little,” he said. “I will go on and find a way.”

Strung out along the narrow streamlet, which scarcely covered the hoofs
of the horses, the rest waited for his return. The mosquitoes were bad,
and the tormented horses twisted, turned, pawed the mud, and slapped
their tails about. Walter made his way among the willows to Elise’s side
to be at hand if her mount should become unmanageable. But they exchanged
only a word or two. The oppression of the night and the danger lay too
heavy upon them both.

After what seemed a long time, Louis returned. “The coulee ends a little
way ahead,” he reported. “The stream comes from a wet marsh that we must
go around. I have found a place where we can climb the right bank.”

Without further words, he took hold of the bridle of his mother’s horse
and led it through the willows and up a dry gully. The gully was one of
the channels by which the marsh waters, during spring floods and rainy
periods, found their way into the coulee. The prairie at the head of the
gully was dry in July, the marsh being shrunken to dry weather
proportions.

There was a certain relief in being up on the open plain again. For one
thing there was more light. The western sky was banked with clouds. Over
there lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, but the moon remained
uncovered. Looking back to the northwest across the flat prairie, Walter
could see, against the dark clouds, the glow of the fires in the Indian
camp. A flash of lightning showed the pointed tips of the tipis black
against the white light.

It seemed a long time since the fugitives had gone down into the coulee.
The boy was disappointed and alarmed to find that they had not come
farther. Had the Indians discovered their absence yet? He scanned the
prairie for moving figures. To his great relief he could see not one. Not
even a buffalo or a wolf appeared to be abroad on that wide, moonlit
expanse. Only an occasional puff of breeze stirred the tall grass.

The party were gathered together at the head of the gully. Louis was
speaking, and Walter turned to listen.

“We can go faster now, but one must go ahead to keep the course and——”

“You must do that, Louis,” Neil interrupted. “You are guide. It is your
place. The two girls will have to ride one horse.”

Louis hesitated. “It is not right for me to ride away and leave you three
to follow on foot.”

“It is the only way,” put in Walter. “The ponies can’t carry us all. The
others can’t go on without a guide. You will have to do it, Louis. We
won’t be far behind.”

“Neil can guide as well as I can,” Louis began.

“I can’t and I won’t,” retorted the Scotch boy stubbornly. “You have your
mother and sisters to take care of, and you are going on ahead.”

“One of you boys can take my horse,” Mr. Perier proposed. “I am the least
experienced and the least useful of all.” He started to dismount.

“No, no,” cried Louis. “You will be too slow with your crippled foot. You
will hold the others back. You must ride.”

“There are the children to think of,” Walter added earnestly. “You must
go with them. Neil and Raoul and I can go much faster on foot than you
could.”

“Stop talking and get away,” exclaimed Raoul impatiently. “Marie, come
off that horse.”

For once in her life Marie obeyed her next older brother. She took his
hand and slipped quickly to the ground. Raoul helped her up in front of
Elise. Louis, without further argument, mounted and took the lead. He
knew as well as anyone that they had already wasted too much time in
argument.

As Raoul drew back from helping Marie up, his mother bent down from her
horse to throw her left arm about his neck. “God guard you, my son,” she
said softly.

“And you,” muttered Raoul huskily.

At first the lads on foot kept almost at the heels of the ponies. The
prairie grass grew high and rank, and there was no beaten path. The
animals could not go fast, and all three boys were good runners. But
running through tall grass is not like running on an open road or even on
a well-trodden cart track. They soon tired, and had to slow their pace
and fall behind. The ponies were double burdened and far from fresh, but
they were tough, wiry beasts, capable of extraordinary endurance. When
they struck firmer ground beyond the marsh, they made better speed. The
rear guard fell still farther behind. They tried to keep in the track
made by the horses, but it was not always easy to do so, especially when
flying clouds covered the moon and left them in darkness.

No rain fell, however. The storm that had been threatening for so long
was working around to the north. The rumblings of thunder grew fainter,
the lightning flashes less bright. Before dawn they had ceased
altogether. A fresh, cool breeze sprang up, billowing the grass and
putting new life into the tired boys, as they plodded on, carrying their
heavy muskets. They no longer tried to run, but they kept up a steady
walking pace.

Dawn showed a line of trees ahead that did not appear to be much over a
half mile away. Those trees, the boys felt sure, must mark the course of
the Bois des Sioux. It was from one of the groves on its bank that the
stream took its name. The foot travelers had lost the horse track some
time before, but Neil and Raoul had managed, with the aid of the stars,
to keep a general course towards the east. The rest of the party were
nowhere in sight. Probably they had crossed the river long ago.

Though the trees seemed such a short distance away, the sun was rising
above them before the lads reached the river. Wet, marshy ground had
forced a detour. The stream, where they came out upon it, proved larger
and wider than they had expected.

“If we cross here we will have to swim,” said Neil, as he looked down at
the muddy water. “I think we are too far down. See there.” He pointed to
the opposite shore up stream. “Either the river makes a sharp bend there,
or another one comes in.”

“It is the Ottertail,” suggested Raoul. “That must be where the two come
together to make the Red.”

“It looks like it,” Walter agreed. “Anyway this doesn’t seem to be a good
place to cross. We know nothing about the current. We had better go on up
and look for a ford.”

The boys did not have to go far along the west bank of the united rivers
to convince themselves that the stream coming in from the east was indeed
the Ottertail. They could see plainly enough that it was larger than the
branch from the south. Single file, with Walter in the lead, they were
making their way along the bank opposite the mouth of the Ottertail, when
from the willows directly in front of them an Indian appeared.

“_Bo jou_,” he said, and added a few words in his own language.

Walter, startled, had half raised his musket, but Raoul, who was close
behind him, seized his arm.

“That’s a Saulteur, not a Sioux,” the younger boy whispered, then
answered the man in his own tongue.

Neil pushed forward to join in the conversation. He also knew a little of
the Saulteur or Ojibwa language, though he did not speak it so readily as
Raoul, who had played with Indian and half-breed lads since babyhood.
Walter, unable to understand more than an occasional word or two—picked
up at Pembina and among the hunters—stood back and looked on.

The sudden appearance of this lone Saulteur near the southern limits of
the debatable ground surprised him greatly. What puzzled him most,
however, was the man’s familiar face. Surely he had seen that scarred
cheek, where the skin drew tight over the bone, before, but where? On the
way from York Factory, at Fort Douglas, at Pembina, at the Company post
when the hunters were bringing in their winter’s catch? Then he
remembered. It was at the post he had seen the Ojibwa; not in the spring,
but in the autumn. This was the hunter who had been beaten and robbed, as
he was loading his canoe to return to his hunting grounds at Red Lake.
What was he doing here?

The Indian was speaking rapidly, in a low voice. Walter caught two words
he knew, “_Murrai Noir_.” Neil swung around, excitement in his eyes.

“Walter,” he exclaimed, “this fellow says Murray is his enemy. He is
after Murray to get revenge. Is he——”

“Yes.” Walter did not wait for Neil to finish the question. “He is the
man Murray and Fritz Kolbach attacked. I know that scar on his cheek. At
the post they said a grizzly bear once clawed him in the face. How did he
learn that Murray was in this part of the country? Ask him.”

Raoul put the question and translated the answer. “He was at Pembina just
after the hunt left. Fritz Kolbach and two other DeMeurons were there at
the same time. Scar Face attacked Kolbach, but the other fellows
separated them. Then Kolbach declared it was Murray who hit Scar Face
over the head, and offered to put him on Murray’s trail. He told Scar
Face that Murray was near Lake Traverse trading with the Dakotas and
pretending to be a medicine man. Some men going from Traverse to Pembina
with carts had seen him. So Scar Face is trailing him.”

“Alone?” queried Walter.

“No, he has some young braves with him who want to get a reputation by
raiding enemy country. They came down the Ottertail River.”

“Where are they?”

“Near here somewhere. I don’t know how he learned that Murray was with
Tatanka Wechacheta’s band, but he knew it before I told him.”

“Did you tell him that we are running away from them?”

“Yes. Wait a minute.”

The Indian was speaking. He pointed up the river and his manner was
earnest and emphatic. When Scar Face paused, Raoul turned to the others
again.

“He says he has heard that there is a good ford a little way up the
river. That is probably where our people crossed. He thinks that Murray
and the Sioux will follow the horse tracks to the ford. If Scar Face and
his braves lie in wait there, they can get a shot at Murray when he tries
to cross. They will take us to the ford in their canoes.”

Before Raoul had finished this explanation, the Indian was showing signs
of impatience. He turned now and led the way in among the willows. There,
where the river current had taken a crescent-shaped bite out of the mud
bank, two birch canoes were pulled up. Five young braves, arrayed in
feathers and war paint, came out from hiding places among the bushes,
where they had been waiting for their leader, who had been for a look
across the prairie west of the river.

They were a wild and fearsome looking little band. Had the boys not known
that they were, for the time being at least, on the Saulteur side of the
quarrel, they might have hesitated to trust themselves with the war
party. But they had given Scar Face and his comrades information of
value, and had nothing to fear from them.



                                XXXVIII
                    THE FIGHT AT THE BOIS DES SIOUX


The Indians wasted few words and little time. Walter and Raoul were
assigned to one canoe, Neil to the other. Riding as passengers, they took
the opportunity to munch the chunks of pemmican they had brought with
them, but had not paused to eat.

The Bois des Sioux, above the Ottertail, proved to be an insignificant
stream. It had no valley, but meandered crookedly through a mere trench
in the flat prairie. Willows and other bushes fringed its muddy waters.
Its banks were sometimes open, sometimes wooded with groves or thin lines
of cottonwood, poplar, wild cherry, and other trees. It would be possible
to ford the stream almost anywhere, Walter thought, if one did not stick
fast in the mud. He watched the shores anxiously for signs that horses
had recently been across.

The Indians had been paddling for not more than a half hour, when Scar
Face, who was in the bow of the canoe that carried Walter and Raoul, gave
a little grunt, and pointed with his paddle blade to the low west bank.
Undoubtedly animals had gone up or down there. The willows were broken,
the mud trampled. The Indians swerved the canoe close in. The broken
bushes were still fresh.

“_Mistatim_,” said Scar Face, his keen eyes on the tracks.

“That’s the Cree word for horse,” Raoul explained to Walter, “but we
can’t be sure. They may have been buffalo.”

“If they were, there were only a few of them,” Walter returned. “A big
band would have done more damage.”

“Yes. I believe myself our own people crossed here.”

The canoe was brought to the bank, and Scar Face stepped lightly out.
Walter and Raoul followed. The Saulteur examined the trampled ground
carefully. He gave a low grunt of satisfaction. He had found the print of
a moccasined foot, where a rider had dismounted. But he was not satisfied
yet. He followed the trail through the willows, examining it intently.
Presently he straightened up and spoke to Raoul who was close behind.

“They came to the river,” he said.

“You mean,” the boy questioned, “that they came from there,”—he nodded
towards the west,—“and went”—he pointed east across the stream.

Scar Face grunted assent.

“It must have been our people,” Raoul said to Walter. “They are safe
across the river.”

“That is where we had better be, as soon as we can get there,” was
Walter’s reply.

But the Saulteur was not quite ready to cross. He went on through the
belt of small trees beyond the willows. Walter and Raoul hesitated an
instant, then followed. They too wanted a view of the open ground.

Their first glance across the prairie was reassuring. Except for a few
birds on the wing, the only living creature in sight was one lone animal;
a buffalo from its size and humped shape.

“No Sioux yet,” exclaimed Raoul. “I don’t believe they are coming after
us at all. Nothing to be seen, except that one old buffalo.”

Scar Face knew the French word _boeuf_, commonly used by the Canadians
for buffalo. “Not buffalo,” he said, pointing to the creature moving
through the tall grass. “Man on horse.”

“What?” cried Raoul.

“Man on horse, buffalo skin over him,” the Indian insisted. “See,” he
added, pointing to the northwest. “More come.”

Walter had understood the dialogue and gestures well enough to guess that
Scar Face found something wrong with the distant buffalo and that he saw
or thought he saw something else beyond. Following the Indian’s pointing
finger, the boy strained his eyes. He believed he could make out
something,—moving objects.

“More buffalo,” said Raoul.

Scar Face shook his head doubtfully. The three stood gazing across the
prairie. The lone buffalo was drawing nearer. There was something queer
about it, Walter concluded. Its head was too small. Its shape was wrong.

“He is right,” exclaimed Raoul. “That is a man on horseback, stooped
over, a buffalo hide thrown over him.”

Walter recalled Murray’s queer costume of the night before. What about
those far-away figures? Were _they_ buffalo?

The day was bright and clear. There was not a trace of haze in the air,
now that the sun was climbing higher. And the land was so flat one could
see for miles. There was no longer any doubt in Walter’s mind that there
was something else coming from the northwest, far away still, far beyond
the lone buffalo or horseman, but drawing nearer. Whether that something
was a band of buffalo or of mounted men he could not tell, though he
strained his eyes to make out.

Scar Face had made up his mind that this was no place for him to stay
longer. Abruptly he turned back among the trees. Neil and Raoul asked no
questions. With Walter they heeded the silent warning and followed the
Indian back to the river.

With scarcely a word spoken, the Ojibwas paddled across the stream to the
spot where the party that had taken the ford had left the water. Scar
Face motioned to the boys to get out. He spoke earnestly to Raoul and
Neil, and the latter translated to Walter.

“He wants us to go on, out of the way. He and his braves are going back
to that little island.” Neil pointed to a low, willow-covered islet that
parted the current just above where they had crossed and nearer to the
west bank. “If it is Murray coming they will have a good chance at him
from there.”

Taking for granted that there could be no objection to this manœuvre,
Neil started along the trail, his comrades after him. The Indians stepped
back into their canoes. Walter felt surprised that the hot-headed Neil
should be so willing to run away from a fight. In a moment, however, he
found that Neil had no intention of running away. Instead of seeking the
open, the Scotch boy turned aside among the bushes. After searching a
little, he found a spot that suited him.

“This will do,” he said, crouching down behind a spreading osier dogwood.

Joining Neil and looking between the red stems of the bush, Walter had an
almost clear view of the river. He could see the lower end of the tiny
islet and the spot on the opposite shore where the trail came to the
water.

“You’re going to stay and see what happens?” he asked.

“Of course. We may have to take a hand in the fight. Murray and his
Dakotas must not cross the river, Walter. We must see to that.”

Walter nodded. Even if the Periers and Brabants had passed the Bois des
Sioux before daybreak, they could not have reached Lake Traverse yet.
They had a long way to go with tired horses. It was not impossible for
the Indians, riding hard on fresh ponies, to overtake them. Murray and
his savages must not cross.

The Ojibwas were concealed among the willows of the low island. The lads
could get no glimpse of them. The canoes were visible in part from where
the boys were, but must be completely hidden from the opposite shore.
Crouched among the bushes, the three waited, silent and almost
motionless. Walter had about made up his mind that the horseman with the
buffalo robe,—if it actually was a horseman,—was not coming to the ford,
when Neil laid a hand on his arm and pointed across the river.

The willows were stirring,—not with wind. An animal of some kind was
coming through. It was a horse. Walter could see its head, as it pushed
through the growth. Then the rider came into view; a tall man with a
buffalo hide wrapped about him. He was no longer trying to conceal
himself under the robe. He had let it slip down as he straightened up in
the saddle.

Neil uttered a low exclamation, and Walter started up from his hiding
place. The whole width of the Bois des Sioux at this place was not fifty
yards. The man on the opposite shore was in full sunlight at the edge of
the water. He was tall, like Murray, but he was fully clothed and he wore
a beard.

Raoul pulled Walter down again. “Don’t yell,” he warned in a whisper.
“There may be others behind him. Scar Face can see it is not Murray. I
told him how a white man warned us. He’ll let him cross. He knows he will
lose his chance if he fires before he sees Murray himself.”

There was reason in what the younger boy said. Walter and Neil kept
silence, but they held their breaths for fear the Ojibwas might make a
mistake.

McNab’s horse took to the stream, picking its way carefully. The water
was shallow, the current sluggish, and the rider was not obliged to
dismount or the horse to swim. Not a leaf moved on the willow-covered
islet. Not a sound, except the peaceful twittering of a bird, came from
it, as Duncan McNab, unconscious of any peril from that direction, rode
past the tip, and on across the stream. Intent upon finding the ford, he
did not even glance back, so caught no glimpse of the birch canoes.

Before McNab reached shore, Neil had left his post and slipped through
the bushes to meet him. In a few moments he was back again, the trader,
without his buffalo robe and horse, following. He squatted down beside
Walter and looked at the island and the bark canoes. Neil had told him of
Scar Face and his companions.

“Are the Sioux after _you_?” Walter whispered.

“That I don’t know,” was the response in French. “I suspect Murray would
set them on me if he could. When he and some of the young fools started
for your camp this morning, I thought it was time for me to be away. So I
took short leave of Chief Tatanka Wechacheta. I struck your trail at the
head of the coulee.”

“But they are coming, aren’t they? We thought that——”

“Aye, they’re coming, on your trail. It was no band of buffalo you saw. I
had a buffalo hide over me and the hind quarters of my horse, but I don’t
know whether I fooled them or no.” His keen eyes were fastened on the
break in the bushes, watching.

Walter asked no more questions. Silence was best. But while he waited he
stole more than one glance at the trader, whose strange appearance had
aroused his curiosity the night before. A queer figure indeed was this
tall, lank, big-boned man of almost skeleton thinness; seeming to consist
entirely of bone and gristle. His name was Scotch and so was his tongue,
but Walter suspected that he was far from being wholly white. The coarse,
straight black hair that hung below his fur cap, the dark bronze of his
long face, the high-bridged nose, and prominent cheek bones, betrayed the
Indian. Yet his beard was uneven in color, rusty in places, and the eyes
he turned on the Swiss boy were steel gray, startlingly light in his dark
face. A singular man surely, with a grim, shrewd face, no longer young,
as its many lines and wrinkles betrayed. In spite of the suspense of
waiting, Walter found himself wondering about Duncan McNab and his
history.

The wait was not a long one. McNab suddenly raised his head, like a hound
listening. Then the ears of the others caught the sounds too,—the
crackling of twigs, the clatter of accouterments, as mounted men came
through the strip of poplars and willows on the low opposite bank of the
stream. Duncan looked to the priming of his musket and dropped a ball
into the muzzle. Walter felt for his own weapon. Even in the midst of his
excitement, the thought of shooting unwarned men from ambush sickened
him. But if Murray and his Sioux were really on the trail, they must not
cross. Fear for Elise and for Louis’ mother and sisters steeled the boy’s
nerves.

The willows were moving. A horse’s head appeared, then the rider, a
slender, bronze figure, brave in red paint and feathered head-dress. It
was not Murray. He halted at the edge of the water and turned his head to
look back. Another horse was coming, a white one.

“Himsel,” muttered McNab under his breath.

The rider came in view, tall, stately, his painted body naked to the
waist, his black head bare. There was nothing about him except his size
to distinguish him from any other Indian. The two talked together for a
moment. The slender warrior seemed, from his gestures, to object or
protest.

The waving and rustling of the willows, the sounds that came across the
water, proved that other men were following. But the track was narrow,
and they were obliged to check their horses until the leaders should take
to the water.

“How many?” Neil whispered to McNab.

“Eight or ten,” was the equally low reply.

The discussion ended in Murray’s going first. When the white horse
stepped into the water, a cold shudder passed over Walter. He had every
cause to hate and fear the Black Murray. He hoped Scar Face would not
miss. Yet, quite unreasonably, he wished the rascally mixed blood might
have a chance to fight for his life. He looked a fine figure of a man on
his big, white horse.

He came deliberately enough, letting his horse pick its way, as McNab had
done. From the willows on the islet there was no move, no sound. He was
opposite the tip now. He was past it. He was coming on. Had Scar Face
weakened? Had he lost his courage?

The silence was broken by a sudden menacing sound, not loud but strangely
blood-chilling; the Ojibwa war whoop. On the near side of the islet a
figure leaped into view. At the same instant, it seemed, Murray swung
about on his horse’s back, musket raised. He was a breath too late. Scar
Face had fired.

The distance was too short, the target too good for the Ojibwa hunter to
miss. Even as his own gun went off, Murray swayed forward. The white
horse leaped and plunged. More shots came from the island. Horse and
rider went down, and the muddy water flowed over them.

On the farther bank, the slender Dakota’s horse was hit. As it fell, the
man leaped clear, and darted back among the willows. There followed an
exchange of shots between shore and islet, without a man visible in
either place. Only the puffs of smoke betrayed the hiding places.

Gray eyes gleaming, Duncan McNab turned to Neil. “Get you awa’,” he
ordered. “Ta Traverse as fast as your legs can carry ye.”

“And you?” the boy asked.

“I’ll o’ertak ye. I’ll be seein’ the end o’ this, ta mak sure there’s na
followin’. On your wa’, all o’ ye.”



                                 XXXIX
                                  SAFE


Not one of the three boys thought of disobeying Duncan McNab’s stern
command. On hands and knees, for fear some Indian might catch a glimpse
of them and send a shot in their direction, they crawled through the
bushes. Not until they were out of sight as well as out of range, did
they stand upright.

They tried to follow McNab’s instructions and make good speed towards
Lake Traverse, but all three suddenly found themselves very tired. The
night before, after a hard day’s journey, they had had not a wink of
sleep. It had been a night of continuous physical exertion and intense
strain. Then came the meeting with Scar Face, and the anxious waiting for
Murray and the Dakotas, capped by the excitement of the brief fight. The
time had seemed long, yet in reality events had followed one another so
swiftly that the sun even now was scarcely more than half-way up the sky.

“If I didn’t know we were going in the right direction, I should think we
were headed north, not south,” said Walter, as he plodded wearily along.
“It seems as if the sun must be on the way down, instead of up.”

Neil nodded. “I’m dead sleepy,” he admitted, “but we must try to keep on
going till McNab overtakes us.”

“The firing has stopped,” put in Raoul. “The fight must be over.”

“Or else the noise doesn’t reach us here.”

If the fight was over, who had won? The answer to that question might
mean life or death to the fugitives. Murray had fallen, but if the
Dakotas had destroyed the Ojibwas, they might, even without his
leadership, cross the river and continue the pursuit. The boys felt they
must go on as long as they possibly could. They trudged doggedly on,
casting many a glance behind them.

At last Neil, turning to look back, gave a cry of joy. A single horseman
was on their trail, coming at good speed. He raised one long arm in the
friendship sign. The three stopped short and dropped down to rest and let
him overtake them. They were almost asleep when he reached them.

McNab reined in his horse and looked down at the weary figures with a
grim smile. “Weel,” he said slowly, in his peculiar Scots’ English with
its guttural suggestion of Dakota, “ye disappeart sa quick I thocht the
prairie had swallowed ye.”

“Did the Saulteux win?” Neil roused himself to ask.

“Aye, an’ withoot losin’ a man. Scar Face himsel got a shot in the thigh,
but it’s only a flesh wound. The ither side didna ken the number o’ the
enemy, an’ they were mair nor a little upset by Murray’s fa’. When they
found they coudna drive the Ojubwas fra the wee isle, they turnt tail
theirsel an’ were awa’. If ye can mak it, we’d best be gettin’ ta that
bit _île des bois_ ower yon, where ye can be sleepin’ in the shade.”

The clump of small trees was only a short distance away. There, shaded
from the heat of midday, the boys slept, utterly relaxed, until the sun
was far on its downward course. Duncan McNab kept watch. He had had no
more sleep than they the night before, but he was more used to going
without and needed less than growing boys required.

Neil’s first words, when he woke to find the sun low in the west, were,
“How far have we got to go to Lake Traverse?”

“Ta the post thirty mile or mair,” was the reply.

Neil groaned and stretched. “And we’ve got to walk it,” he muttered.

“Weel, ye may be glad ye’ve got twa soond legs left ta walk it wi’,”
McNab returned with his grim smile. There were no more complaints.

McNab, old campaigner that he was, carried cooking utensils, pemmican,
and a packet of tea in his saddle bags. A hot meal put new courage into
the lads. Before the sun was down they were on their way again. The night
was clear and light, and they kept up a steady pace till midnight. Then
they stopped for a brief rest and more tea.

Luckily for the boys they did not have to walk the whole distance to the
trading post. Dawn had not yet come, when McNab made out a party of
horsemen coming towards them. The foremost rider waved his arms and
shouted. The boys knew that voice. Louis had come back to seek them.

Unashamed to display his feelings, Louis sprang from his pony to hug his
brother and his friends. “Thank the good God,” he cried. “I felt like a
coward and a traitor to leave you behind.”

“It was the only thing to do,” Walter and Neil exclaimed together. “Are
the others safe?”

“All safe, but we did not reach the fort till after sunset. After we
crossed the Bois des Sioux we had to rest our horses a little, and the
children slept. We dared not stop long. The ponies did their best, but
they could not carry double all the time. My mother and M’sieu Perier and
I walked much of the way, and sometimes Marie and Elise walked also.”

“And you started right back to find us?” cried Walter.

“I rested a while first, but I could not sleep. M’sieu Renville gave me a
fresh horse, and these men offered to come with me. I thought you would
follow our trail. If I kept to it, I would find you; if _le Murrai_ had
not overtaken you.”

The _bois brulés_ from the trading post gladly gave up their horses to
the weary boys, and went afoot. So Lake Traverse and the shelter of the
Columbia Fur Company’s fort was reached at last. There, in one of the log
buildings within the stockade on the shore of the lake, the rest of the
little party were waiting anxiously. The boys, almost dropping from their
saddles with sleep and weariness, were embraced and shaken by the hand,
and cried over, and questioned, until the trader, Joseph Renville,
intervened. He led them away to bunks where they could sleep undisturbed
for as many hours as they cared to.

When the boys had had their sleep out, the two sections of the party
exchanged stories. Afterwards Duncan McNab had something to add. He had
returned to the Indian camp two nights before to find the dance in full
swing. Within the medicine lodge, Murray was instructing the chosen
initiates in some sort of mystic rites. From time to time one of them
would come out to chant or howl a few words or syllables and to go
through the steps and posturings of the new dance. The men around the
fires would repeat the lesson over and over, until another of the chosen
ones appeared to teach them something new.

“As near as I could mak oot,” said Duncan, “it was something like the
medicine dance the Mdewakanton Dakota on the Mississippi mak ta their god
Unktahi, that Murray was teachin’ yon Wahpetons, but he was puttin’ in
some stuff of his ain. Some o’ the words o’ the sangs soundit like
Gaelic, but made na sense as far as I could ken, an’ I hae a bit o’ the
Gaelic mysel. I’m thinkin’ he picked the words for their mysterious sound
like.”

When the excitement had reached the right pitch, Murray began to serve
out liquor. “I dinna ken where he got sa mickle,”—McNab shook his head.
“He had a cairt loadit wi’ goods an’ kegs an’ what a’. He must be in wi’
ither free traders, some o’ the men on the Missouri most like, or mayhap
he stole the stuff fra them. It’s the wrang time o’ year ta be buyin’
furs. It was the good will o’ the sauvages an’ power ower ’em he was
after, sa they’d be sure an’ bring him their next winter’s catch.”

As the liquor flowed more freely, the performance grew frenzied. It was a
wild night in Tatanka Wechacheta’s village, and McNab spared his
listeners the details. He feared every moment that the Indians would raid
the neighboring camp, and discover too soon that the white men had gone.
But the Black Murray overdid the celebration. He supplied liquor so
lavishly that his followers were soon entirely overcome by it. Perhaps he
dared not try to withhold what they knew he had. And he failed to curb
his own immoderate thirst, but overindulged until, inert in the medicine
lodge, he slept as heavily as they. “I’m thinkin’ it was the rascal’s
owerfondness for _minnewakan_ that saved a’ your lives,” said McNab. “If
he hadna slept sa late, he wad sure hae owertaken the lads on foot an’
maybe the rest o’ ye.”

When Murray finally roused himself, in ugly mood, he gathered together
eight or ten reckless young braves who could still sit their horses, and
started for the white men’s camp. Up to that time McNab had not felt
himself in any great danger, as long as he kept to his own lodge. He was
a man of influence among the Dakotas, and back of him was the authority
of the Columbia Fur Company and of Joseph Renville. Renville himself was
half Dakota and powerful and respected among his mother’s people. But the
young chief, still partially drunk, was in almost as savage a mood as
Murray that morning, and McNab did not know what might happen.

As soon as Murray had gone, McNab took his leave. On the other side of a
tiny clump of trees, he threw his buffalo robe over his horse and
himself, hoping that, seen from behind, horse and rider might be taken
for a lone bull. He made for the head of the coulee, intending to follow
the fugitives and lend his aid if they were attacked. Finding that Murray
and his men were coming, he urged his horse to its best speed, to get
across the Bois des Sioux before them.

After he had sent the boys on their way, McNab remained to watch the
outcome of the fight. It was soon over. The fall of Murray had struck
panic into the hearts of his followers. “There was reason for that,”
Duncan explained. “Yon Wahpetons are na cowards, but Wechacheta’s chief
medicine man was against Murray. The auld fellow claimed Murray was na
medicine man at a’ an’ had na _wakan_ or _tonwan_, na magic powers. When
Murray was gatherin’ men ta plunder the white men, the auld man tauld ’em
they’d gang ta destruction sure. Murray’s time was come, he said. Afore
the sun gaed doon, he wad be deed, an’ likewise a’ that followt him. Sa
it was na wonder the young braves was scairt when Murray was shot doon at
the ford.”

“You’re sure he was killed?” questioned Renville. “From what I have heard
of the fellow, he seems to have as many lives as a cat.”

“I made sure afore ever I left the Bois des Sioux,” McNab replied
quietly. “An’ there’s his medicine bag ta prove it.” He handed Renville a
curious looking pouch made of rattlesnake skin. “An’ a fine lot o’ trash
there is in it,—birds’ claws, an’ dried roots, a copper nugget, a snake’s
fang, a man’s finger bone, an’ a wee packet o’ black, sticky stuff. Do na
handle that, it micht be poison.”

“It is poison,” asserted Walter, and told the story of his infected hand.



                                   XL
                               CONCLUSION


As guests of Joseph Renville, French _bois brulé_, and Colonel Jeffries,
Scotchman, partners of the Columbia Fur Company, the Brabant-Perier party
remained at Lake Traverse for more than a week. Guided to the spot by
Louis, Renville himself went to find the abandoned carts. The vehicles
were where the boys had left them, but empty and so badly wrecked that
the remains were good for nothing but firewood. Tatanka Wechacheta’s band
was gone. From the appearance of the camp ground, the Wahpetons’
departure had been a hurried one. Scar Face and his Ojibwas had vanished
also. No doubt they had returned full speed to their own country,
satisfied with their revenge and a scalp or two.

Stripped of practically all of their belongings, the Brabants and Periers
were obliged to run in debt to the traders for supplies and equipment for
the rest of the journey. The boys agreed,—if they could pay the debt no
other way,—to work it out the next winter. With that arrangement the
partners seemed satisfied.

Of the remainder of the long journey overland and down the St. Peter,—as
the Minnesota River was called in those days,—to the Mississippi, there
is no room here to tell. The trip was not without hardship and adventure.
Fort St. Anthony,—later to be renamed Fort Snelling,—at the junction of
the St. Peter with the Mississippi, was reached at last. There a
disappointment awaited the immigrants. St. Antoine, in his talks with
them, had not overstated the beauty and attractiveness of the country,
but his assurance that they might take possession of whatever land they
chose was an error. The country was not yet open to settlement. They
might squat on or near the military reservation, they found, but could
not obtain title to the land or be sure of undisturbed possession. They
were treated with kindness at the fort, but were not encouraged to settle
near by. Instead, they were advised to go on down the Mississippi.

Neil had a chance to join a party just setting out for the Red River.
After parting with him, the others went on again, traveling by river in
an open boat not unlike the York boats that had taken them from Fort York
to Fort Douglas. At Prairie du Chien, on the east side of the river, they
disembarked. Prairie du Chien was in what was then Michigan Territory,
but later became Wisconsin. The little settlement resembled Pembina in
that many of its people were French Canadians and _bois brulés_. There
were, however, some Americans who had come from farther east. There were
good farms and a military post. It was not necessary at Prairie du Chien
to depend entirely on hunting for a living.

There the weary immigrants decided to try to make homes for themselves.
They made friends at once, who helped them to get a start, and prospects
seemed more encouraging than in the Red River Colony. The Brabants showed
no desire to return, and certainly the Periers and Walter did not want
to. When, late in the autumn, Louis and Walter left the settlement to
work out the family debts to the Columbia Fur Company, they went well
assured that those left behind would be comfortable and well cared for.
Other families of the Swiss had already left the Red River and more
followed, including the Scheideckers, in the next and succeeding years.
Like the Periers, they took the long journey to the Mississippi, and
settled at the junction of that river with the St. Peter or lower down
its course in what was to become Wisconsin and Illinois.

The Brabants and the Periers had their ups and downs, but on the whole
they prospered. In time Mr. Perier’s dream of an apothecary shop in the
new land came true. He even had his herb garden, started from the few
packets of seeds he had carried in his pockets during all his wanderings.
Walter became a successful farmer on his own land and married Elise, as
he had dreamed of doing. Little Max was ambitious to be a physician. He
helped in his father’s shop and went to school, until he was old enough
to go east to study medicine.

Louis and his mother were land owners also, but farming was less to
Louis’ taste than following the river. He found employment on a
Mississippi steamboat, became a skilled pilot, and in time owned the boat
he captained. Of all the boys Raoul was the only one to follow the fur
trade. As a clerk and trader with the American Fur Company, he traveled
and traded over much of the northwest. The Brabant girls grew into
bright, attractive women. Marie married a Canadian settler, Jeanne, a
merchant and trader.

Of Neil the others heard nothing for several years. Then, after the
disastrous Red River flood of 1826 that almost destroyed the Selkirk
Colony, he appeared at Prairie du Chien. His father still refused to
leave Kildonan, but Neil had decided to emigrate to the United States. He
took up land in Wisconsin, and afterwards, when the Indian lands of
Minnesota were opened to settlement, moved to the Minnesota valley.

The bonds of friendship and understanding which had been knit by the long
journey together and the perils and hardships undergone, remained firm
and strong between the Periers, and Rossels, and Brabants, and MacKays.
Even after all had their separate homes and families, they enjoyed many a
reunion when they recalled the old days and told children and
grandchildren of the long and perilous journey from the Red River to the
Mississippi.


                                THE END


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          These books may be purchased wherever books are sold
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             CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Research suggests that the copyright date in the printed text is not
  accurate.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.





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allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
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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