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Title: Kasba (White Partridge) - A Story of Hudson Bay
Author: Ray, George R.
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.

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KASBA

(White Partridge)

A Story of Hudson Bay

by

GEORGE R. RAY, M.P.P.



Author’s Edition

Printed by
William Briggs
Toronto, 1915

Copyright, Canada, 1915
By George R. Ray.



                             AUTHOR’S NOTE


I have always regarded the writing of prefaces to be, for the most part,
work thrown away; nevertheless, I am tempted to prefix a few words to
this novel, in the form of a note, in order to defend myself against
charges which may possibly be made against me by the critics, and to
which I may be unable to revert after they shall have been preferred. It
may be said, in the first place, that all the characters in this story
speak ordinary English, which I admit. The natural language of the
natives is, of course, the tongue of their race, Chipewyan or Eskimo, as
the case may be, but in order that the reader might understand it, a
translation was necessary. Since this was the case, why not have the
translation in good English, instead of in pigeon-English, which no one
properly understands and which is misleading and equally untrue to life?
Then, again, my description of Chesterfield Inlet may be found fault
with, and with good reason, for I have written of trees where no trees
exist. Chesterfield Inlet is in the barren lands, as most people know.
But a wooded district was necessary to my plot, and in describing the
country I have changed the topography to suit the requirements of my
story. And now, as a last word, I would assure my readers that the
incidents in this novel, though they may appear untrue to life and
far-fetched, are nevertheless mostly made up of my own personal
experiences and properly authenticated stories of curious happenings to
other people in these northern regions.

                                                             —G. R. R.



             “Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
              The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
              And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
              Which, when it bites and blows upon my body
              Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
              This is no flattery: these are counsellors
              That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
                       —“_As You Like It,” Act II., Sc. I._



                                CONTENTS


                  CHAPTER.                              PAGE.

             I.   AN UNPLEASANT INCIDENT                   11

            II.   FORT FUTURE                              25

           III.   KASBA FIGHTS A BITTER FIGHT              46

            IV.   THE MAN OF THE SHADOWS                   57

             V.   AN ESKIMO CONJURER AND A PUGILISTIC      77
                    ENCOUNTER

            VI.   LOST IN THE DRIFTING SNOW                92

           VII.   “THE PACKET” AT LAST                    101

          VIII.   DELGEZIE’S DESPAIR                      113

            IX.   ENTERTAINING THE “PACKET” MEN           127

             X.   A TRIP TO AN ESKIMO ENCAMPMENT          134

            XI.   BROOM HAS CONSCIENTIOUS SCRUPLES        142
                    AND A SORE TEMPTATION

           XII.   AN ESKIMO ENCAMPMENT                    157

          XIII.   A DASTARDLY DEED                        168

           XIV.   GRUESOME DISCOVERIES                    184

            XV.   A BITTER SORROW                         195

           XVI.   RETRIBUTION                             205

          XVII.   A NARROW ESCAPE                         223

         XVIII.   AN INGENIOUS EXPEDIENT                  238

           XIX.   KASBA’S SACRIFICE                       251



                                 KASBA



                               CHAPTER I.
                        _AN UNPLEASANT INCIDENT._


It was a bright, bitter-cold day in the short days of winter. The sun
shone forlornly upon the bleak, ice-bound shores of Hudson Bay, as if in
despair at its utter inability to warm the intensely cold atmosphere, or
change in the slightest degree the frozen face of nature. Limitless
fields of dazzling Whiteness stretched to the horizon on either hand; a
tremendous expanse of turbulent ice-fields, of hills and ridges, of
plains and dells; a great white world, apparently empty.

Over all was the silence of death; a silence of awful profundity, yet at
the same time an indescribably beautiful revelation.

Near at hand a trapped Arctic fox lay dishevelled and bleeding, its
little green eyes glittering evilly and watching with some apprehension
the movements of an object which had sprung up, apparently from nowhere,
to advance upon it with startling directness.

The object was Roy Thursby, an intrepid young officer of the Hudson’s
Bay Company, visiting his “line” of traps; a big fellow of
five-and-twenty, with muscles of iron; a clean-shaven face—a noble face
that betrayed a high-minded nature; eyes that as a rule were hard, but
could soften; and a heart that never quailed. He was dressed in moleskin
trousers, a pair of long blue stroud leggings, a coat made of
hairy-deerskin (that is to say, deerskin dressed on the one side only),
with a hood edged with fur, a l’Assumption belt that encircled his
waist, and large deerskin moccasins, under which he undoubtedly wore at
least two pairs of hairy-deerskin socks. Mittens of dressed deerskin
were suspended from his shoulders by a worsted cord, and a fur cap with
earpieces completed his costume. He wore snowshoes and carried a
hunting-bag across his back and a rifle over his shoulder.

Over the undulating plain he came, pausing occasionally, diverging
rarely, and ever nearer.

At length there was the sound of crunching snow, the swish of snowshoes;
a short, stifled bark, and a white, furry, inanimate thing lay on the
snow.

Without doffing his mitts Roy reset the trap. It was a steel trap,
destitute of teeth, with two springs. The jaws when spread out flat were
exactly on a level with the snow. He hid the chain and brushed a thin
layer of snow on top of the trap. A few scraps of fish were scattered
about for bait and the whole carefully smoothed over, so that it was
almost impossible to tell that anything was there.

Then he straightened himself. The air had needles in it, and he
readjusted the hood of his hairy coat and tightened the wide ribbed belt
around his waist.

Slipping the fox into his bag, he reached for his axe and gun, and with
the long, even strides of one who could never tire, continued his
“rounds,” pausing now and then to “trim” a trap when nothing was in it,
or killing an animal when caught and dropping it into his trapping-bag.

As he pressed on, his keen eyes, ever alert, caught a glimpse of a small
dark blot moving along the face of a ridge of rocks in the foreground.
He paused in his stride to scrutinize the moving object; then,
apparently satisfied, he resumed his tramp.

Yowl, yowl; kum-pack, kum-pack—ptarmigan ran uneasily together in an
adjacent clump of willows. Whir-r-r, and a flock flew up at his very
feet. Other flocks followed on the right and left of him, but he heeded
them not, for his thoughts were on the “packet.” Somewhere in the
wilderness of snow and ice to the south, two men and a train of dogs
were laboring and straining every nerve to reach Fort Future. Of this
the Company’s hard and fast regulations made him cognizant: but where
were they? Already they were several days overdue. What could have
happened to detain them? Would they reach the Fort that day? These and
like questions occupied his mind.

Soon he was winding his way up a gully in the ridge of rocks, and right
before him was the object he had previously descried. As he drew near,
it took on the form of an Indian girl, a young and beautiful Chipewyan
of about eighteen summers. She wore a blanket-skirt, very short as to
length; a pair of red stroud leggings, beadwork moccasins and a thick
woollen shawl, which ordinarily muffled the head and face but had now
slipped back, leaving them exposed to view. She was a Chipewyan, but had
scarcely a feature like them.

Her face was exquisitely moulded, and of a rich golden brown; her cheeks
of coral red; her eyes large, dark and liquid, very strongly marked
brows and long, thick lashes; her mouth was small and expressive, with
very beautiful teeth. Her hair was neatly braided, crossed at the back
of the head and tied on either side with a piece of narrow ribbon. She
turned as he approached, and, dropping a bundle of short sticks and an
axe, stood with heightened color and a pretty, embarrassed look on her
finely cut features, waiting for him to come up.

With eyes intent upon the trader, the girl was quite oblivious of the
presence of the middle-aged man of unprepossessing appearance, who had
been skulking behind her for some time. Perceiving her preoccupation, he
now approached her with a stealthy tread. In a flash he leaped from the
background and caught her in his arms, drew her to him with a force she
could not resist, and kissed her.

He was about to repeat this, when she gaspingly cried out.

There was an answering shout, the sound of someone running, a voice that
imparted courage, crying, “I am here, Kasba!” and suddenly she was
wrested from the man’s clutches and he was sent violently to the snow.

Palpitating with fear, the girl crouched down, hiding her face in her
hands.

Roy stood breathing sharply, waiting for the man to rise. “By heaven,
Broom,” he thundered, in a wrath that was terrible, “this is too much! I
will not stand this!”

Broom picked himself up. Instinctively his hand felt for his revolver;
he evidently had no scruples against attacking an unarmed man (when Roy
rushed to Kasba’s assistance he had dropped his gun and it lay some few
yards away), and inwardly he cursed himself for not having the weapon
upon his person. “Curse you,” he cried hoarsely, a paroxysm of rage
almost preventing the utterance. “I’ll kill you for that!” and, roaring
like a wild beast, he hurled himself upon his opponent.

The other’s blazing eyes narrowed ominously. He met Broom’s mad rush
with a swing of his heavy arm. The impact resounded sharply, and there
was considerable force behind the blow, for the brute staggered and
again fell.

Recovering himself, he stood sucking his bleeding lips, and glaring
venomously at his antagonist. “_You_ won’t stand this!” he shouted with
a blast of profanity; “and who are _you_?” Then with an insolent laugh:
“Oh, I see now how ’tis, I was poaching on your preserves.”

The trader made a quick step toward him.

But defiantly the fellow went on: “Of course if I’d known how matters
stood between you and this little——”

“Silence!” roared Roy, rushing upon him. “Silence! Speak another word
and I will kill you! By heaven, I will! I will kill you where you
stand!” His eyes fixed upon the other’s blazing orbs and held them.

Broom was no coward, but there was such fierce wrath in the trader’s
look that it caused him to hesitate, and in that moment of hesitation he
remembered what he had lost all thought of in his baffled
fury—remembered that Roy was all-powerful in those parts, where he held
the food supply and controlled the natives; that the trader could turn
him adrift in the trackless wilderness to meet a certain death. And in
another moment he had recovered himself.

He laughed awkwardly. “I beg pardon,” he said with a sneer; “I will
leave you with the—lady.” Then, bowing mockingly to Kasba, who was now
on her feet, he left them.

When the fellow had gone, Roy went up to the girl, and taking one of her
hands softly in both his, began to comfort her. She was breathing
heavily and her face was pale. “Oh, I am so terrified!” she said; “I
know he will do you harm. He will kill you! Heaven! It would be
terrible!”

“It wouldn’t be the first time it was tried,” Roy answered with an easy
laugh. “Don’t worry, little friend,” he added, patting her hand
tenderly.

A wave of color flooded the girl’s face. “Oh, you are so strong, and so
brave,” she cried, then stopped, lost in admiration. She stood looking
at him now out of half-closed eyes. Her lashes were long, and shadowed
the orbs so that he could not see the expression in them. Then she
smiled dazzlingly and turned her face aside, but one full blushing cheek
was kept towards him and one shell-like little ear—I am afraid this
heroine of ours was a natural little coquette.

Roy started a little and tried to scrutinize the girl’s face more
closely.

Kasba’s breath came quickly, her heart palpitated wildly, the crimson
deepened in her cheeks and brow. Her secret was there—plain for him to
read, and he would have been blind, indeed, had he not read it.

Surprised, and somewhat startled, he dropped her hand and stepped back,
looking at her uncertainly for a moment. Then Kasba laughed, a nervous
little laugh, and tossing her head back, and opening her eyes wide,
looked at him roguishly,—brown as a berry but a veritable little
beauty.

For a few moments there was silence, then Roy turned and walked away. A
profound pity was in his eyes.

But the girl’s flashed and she stamped her little foot furiously. Her
teeth set tightly, her breath coming and going swiftly. Then tears
trembled in her eyes, and in an irresistible impulse of yearning she
threw out her arms and softly called his name. But he did not pause or
look back, and she dropped her arms and bent her head with a sigh of
pain. She was a little bundle of opposites, this dusky maiden.

Hitherto she had roamed the country unattended and unmolested, pure,
happy, serene. Now at one blow all this was changed. Broom’s assault on
her had opened her eyes to the danger of wandering alone. Her violent
struggles to free herself from his tight embrace had bruised her arms
and bosom, and she ached in every limb. But her agony of body was as
nothing compared with her agony of mind. Ignorant of the world, she knew
nothing of the prejudices of rank or race, but Roy’s walking away had
somehow revealed their relative positions; and Kasba considered it folly
to think anything good could possibly come from her unwise affection.

After a time she stooped down, and, lifting up the bundle of sticks,
threw it across her back, then moved away. Erect and supple, gently
swaying under her burden, she glided along.

Crossing a small pond in a deep hollow in the summit of the rocks, she
came in sight of her father’s hut, which stood quite alone, at some
little distance from the Fort, in the sheltering angle of a ridge of
rocks.

Delgezie, her father, was a widower, and as Kasba was his only child he
showered all the love of his poor old heart upon her. Nothing was too
good for her, no sacrifice too great. She had been brought up at
Churchill, and though he still clung to many of the superstitions of his
race, he had allowed her to attend the day school conducted by the
missionary, and in the end to spend most of her childhood at the
Mission, for the missionary’s wife had soon become fond of the bright
little motherless girl, and had easily persuaded the doting old man that
it was to the girl’s advantage. So it had come about that it was to this
good lady Kasba owed her superior manners and refinement.

Kasba had been exceedingly happy in those days. But since she had come
with her father to Fort Future a deep shadow had come into her young
life. She had offered Roy Thursby all the love of her warm little heart
and he had turned from it. She was intensely miserable. In her present
misery she thought of those cloudless days, and a sigh escaped her.

“You are sad, Kasba,” said a voice in Chipewyan at her side.

The girl stopped and looked up. It was Sahanderry, a tall,
active-looking native.

Kasba turned to him with a wan smile. She was fond of Sahanderry, for
she had known him all her life; besides, he wished to marry her.
Remembering how quickly Roy had turned away on discovering her secret
love for him, a feeling of tenderness came over her for this Indian.
“Should she spoil his life?” she asked herself. “What had she to do with
love? The girls of her race,” she argued, “had no voice in the choosing
of their husbands.” For the first time in her life she felt discontented
with her lot.

“Leave it, Sahanderry,” she said, a trifle bitterly, as he reached up to
take the bundle from her back. “It’s contrary to the customs of our race
for men to carry wood; that’s woman’s work.”

Sahanderry looked at her a moment in surprise.

“But you are not like the other women of our race,” he urged, quietly.

“Still I am a Chipewyan,” she burst forth. Then seeing the pained,
puzzled expression on his face, she put out her hand tenderly and
touched him on the arm. “Forgive me,” she said, “I am sorry. I did not
mean to be unkind. What I meant to say was that I’m a Chipewyan and must
follow the customs of my people.” With this she walked on.

The man stood bewildered. He could not understand Kasba in her present
mood. He had often met her in this way and she had never before objected
to his taking her burden. He felt she was behaving unfairly. He watched
her for a moment, then, like a faithful dog, slowly followed after. He
had not gone far, however, before he saw her stop and look round. At
this, he quickened his footsteps, caught up with her and walked close
behind her, for the rest of the way in silence.

Arriving at the hut, the girl dropped her load and entered, and
instantly attended to the fire.

The hut was built of logs, caulked with moss, and had a flat roof. It
comprised only one room. In the centre of this was a large Carron stove,
the pipes from which completely encircled the room before bolting out of
a hole in the roof to carry off the smoke. The walls were bare of paint
and ornamented with snowshoes, dog-whips, shotbags and such other
paraphernalia of the chase. A few rude shelves held such articles as a
clock and a lamp, while the table was of rough plank, and a few empty
cases did duty for chairs. Pushed against the rear wall and opposite the
door were two narrow beds, neatly covered with deerskin robes. High
overhead several long sticks or poles had been suspended horizontally to
form a rack or shelf, on the theory that heat rises, and half-a-dozen
fish lay there slowly thawing out, while several pairs of moccasins, in
various stages of dryness, dangled from it by their strings. The place,
though primitive, was clean and tidy, and bore unmistakable signs of a
woman’s careful attention.

Sahanderry brought in an armful of wood, which he dropped beside the
stove. Kasba reached out her hand blindly, placed a few of the pieces
gingerly upon the embers and blew the whole into a blaze; then,
satisfied that the fire was well under way, she rose from her knees, and
putting off her outdoor clothing, selected half-a-dozen ptarmigan from a
number on the table, and, seating herself on an empty sugar-case,
commenced to pluck the birds into a large tin bowl at her feet. She
worked the faster because a dull pain was making itself felt in her
heart.

There was silence. Presently the man fumbled in his pocket and brought
forth a knife and a plug of nigger-head, which he proceeded to cut up on
a corner of the table. He glanced at the girl slyly.

The noise of the tobacco-cutting and the crackling of the fire were the
only sounds to break the stillness.

Having duly and solemnly finished the operation, Sahanderry took out his
pipe, which he leisurely filled. Presently there was a grunt of
satisfaction, and a cloud of smoke issued from his mouth.

The girl threw him a furtive glance. He happened to be looking at her at
that instant and caught her in the act. Kasba dropped her head. A
wistful expression came into the man’s face, and laying aside his pipe,
he leaned forward, as if to get a closer look at her countenance, but
she dropped her head still lower.

“Kasba,” he said earnestly, then stooped over her, gently tilting her
chin upwards so that he could see her face more closely, “why won’t you
promise to marry me when we get back to Churchill?”

“Because I am a bad, wicked Indian,” she said presently with a show of
impulse, and tearing herself free.

The man stood staring at her, thunderstruck. “_You_ bad! _You_ wicked!”
he ejaculated, greatly amazed. Then, suddenly his look of amazement
changed to one of outrage. His brow darkened and his eyes struck fire.
“If _Bekothrie_ (master) has——” he began, shaking his fist in the air.

But the girl sprang to her feet and stopped him with some little
excitement. The bird she was plucking fell from her lap to the feathers
in the bowl and sank out of sight. “Hush, Sahanderry!” she cried,
severely. “Remember, it is of the master you are speaking.”

The man fairly hung his head.

Now Kasba with all her impetuosity possessed considerable sense of
justice and grasping his arm tightly, she went on resolutely. “You must
not speak against Mr. Thursby. This trouble is all of my own making. I
alone am to blame. I have been very silly, and—if you will forgive me
and be patient with me, I—I—” she dropped her head.

“You will love me?” he suggested, eagerly, his face betraying the
liveliest emotions.

She was silent several moments, then raised her face, a little paler
than it had been, but with a passionless resolve set on it. “If I can,”
she responded bravely, giving him her hands. “I will _try_ to love you,
I—” she stopped and his arms went about her.

“You make me very happy!” he said. Then he kissed her.

She closed her eyes to shut out the look on his face, and pushed him
gently from her. “No, no; not now!” she said, all in a tremble. “Give me
time. Give this evil spell time to pass away, and be good and patient
with me.”

“I will be patient, Kasba,” he said, pressing her hand.

The man’s actions reminded her sharply of how soothingly another had
patted her hand shortly before, how the other’s touch had caused the
blood to dance in her veins and to rush to her face and her heart to
beat so wildly with joy that it had shown itself in her eyes; and she
withdrew her hand quickly.

“What is the matter?” enquired Sahanderry, feeling the rebuke.

“Nothing,” replied the girl a trifle coldly and drawing back a little.
“You had better go now, the master will be wanting you.”

The man bowed his head mutely, and turned slowly on his heel. At the
door he looked back. She smiled at him, but there was a great deal of
sadness in the look. He returned the smile and went out.

The girl stood still and watched him go. Then with her handkerchief she
rubbed vigorously at her cheek—the place where Sahanderry had kissed
her.



                              CHAPTER II.
                             _FORT FUTURE._


Fort Future consisted of a solitary group of small buildings situated
near the mouth of Chesterfield Inlet, which is in the Barren Lands. It
seemed as if the buildings must have sprung up there of themselves, like
so many mushrooms; or must have been dropped from the heavens, or else
carried there by one of those raging, tearing windstorms that sweep over
that part of the country, so incongruous did they appear in that vast
northern wilderness.

Nevertheless, Fort Future was a comfortable place in its way—at least
so said Roy Thursby; for he, like most of the Company’s officers, was
acquainted with starvation, solitude and desolation, and knew there were
posts compared with which Fort Future, with its unfailing supply of
country provisions, was a veritable paradise. Broom called it “a rotten
hole,” “the last place that God Almighty made,” and by much worse names;
all of which Roy would laughingly refute by telling him that he was a
sailor, and therefore never satisfied; that for himself he had no
objections to banishment; and Broom would retaliate by asserting that
Roy was a Hudson’s Bay man, that the Company owned him body and soul,
and that he was there because he had been sent—which was true as to the
last part. The Hudson’s Bay Company had required a fearless and staunch
man to establish a post at Chesterfield Inlet, and after some
correspondence with his chief—Roy was then second in charge at York
Factory—Thursby had been chosen. His willingness to go, if ever thought
of at all, had been looked upon as a mere matter of course. The
Company’s interests had to be attended to, therefore go he must, willing
or unwilling. Luckily for him, and perhaps for the Company too, the
enterprise had appealed to the strong spirit of adventure in the young
officer, and he had entered into the scheme with eagerness and made his
arrangements with all enthusiasm, treating the prospective dangers with
total indifference. The wonderful Far North breeds men of this stamp:
men of courage, resourcefulness and self-reliance; men who fear nothing
and live hard.

That was more than a year ago, and in the interval he had established
the post and enthroned himself, so to speak, monarch of all he surveyed.
He held his kingdom and ruled his subjects—wandering bands of Eskimo,
who displayed a curious mixture of simplicity and fear and a disposition
to high-handed robbery with an indomitable will and daring courage. The
works of some Arctic voyagers describe the Eskimos as inveterate thieves
and of murderous dispositions, while others speak of them as honest,
good-natured fellows, which is perplexing. But the fact is, both
descriptions are true, even of people of the same tribe, which proves
the Eskimo character is a difficult problem to solve. At one time he may
be good and amiable, and at another all that is bad and treacherous.
Much depends upon conditions.

Besides himself, the resident population of Fort Future consisted of
five other human beings, to wit: the man Broom, Kasba, Delgezie,
Sahanderry, and a boy named David. The last four were Chipewyan Indians
from Churchill. In fact, save these and a few wandering bands of Eskimo,
there was not another human being to be found within a hundred miles of
this desolate spot in any direction, and then only a few transient
visitors such as came with American and other whalers.

Roy Thursby was a bachelor, though not indisposed to change his estate
under favorable conditions, as we shall see; Sahanderry cooked for him
and did the general housework, while Kasba washed and mended his
clothes.

The Fort stood on an old gravel beach about five miles from the coast.
The inlet or river widened immediately before it, and miles of ice
hummocks extended where once the restless wave had raised its angry
crest; countless masses thrown up into weird, fantastic shapes by the
peculiar workings of some mysterious submarine power, their formation
was constantly changing in these strange upheavals. The establishment
consisted of a few one-storey log buildings. The trading-store,
warehouse, and one or two minor stores were grouped together, while the
“master’s” house stood apart in the background. A small coast-boat,
hauled well above high-water mark, lay propped up in its winter
quarters; a flagstaff reared its head skywards; and a number of Eskimo
dogs ran about among the buildings or lay curled up in the snow, their
long hairy coats covered with rime.

Roy Thursby was worried. Broom’s assault on Kasba foreshadowed trouble,
and much of it, in the future. Also, Roy was greatly annoyed. At first
he was determined to make Broom “hit the track.” His presence at the
Fort would now be a constant menace to his peace of mind. Therefore the
fellow must go.

But as he became calmer, Roy’s better nature asserted itself. He
remembered that terms of familiarity prevailed among Broom’s late
associates, and he decided, after severely cautioning him, to let the
unpleasant incident drop.

Broom had lived two years among the Eskimos. A man of a different nature
and a higher moral tone might have improved the natives during this two
years. But the fellow had drifted with the current of popular custom and
had adopted tribal manners and usages. I do not think he would have
ill-treated a woman; but he looked upon them as being created solely for
the use and pleasure of man.

Then, too, Roy was distressed at discovering Kasba’s secret. The
knowledge that Kasba loved him surprised and pained him beyond measure.
For he was not a vain man. He had always admired the girl, she was so
quiet, and had such pretty, shy little ways and gestures; but beyond
thinking of her as a pleasant little thing to have about him, he had
never given her a thought. Under the new conditions he hardly knew what
to do. There was a deep tinge of pity for her in his thoughts. The
matter was still puzzling him when he arrived at the door of his
dwelling.

The dogs greeted him with suppressed growls of welcome. Jumping up, they
sniffed enquiringly at the bag on his back. With a “Down, Flyer, Mush,
Klondike!” he slipped his feet out of his snowshoe lines and crossed the
threshold.

The two-roomed house contained a kitchen and what served as a bed-room
and living-room; had only one door, and very few windows. There was
little of luxury. In the kitchen a large cookstove, on which several
kettles stood simmering and emitting little clouds of steam, was the
chief ornament. A very serviceable water-barrel stood in one corner,
while a large wood-box occupied another. Pots and pans hung from nails
in the walls and a heavy table of rough plank occupied a position near
the stove. The floor was of plank and well swept, for Roy was
fastidious. The walls of the other room were white-washed, the chairs
and table all country-made and unpainted. A large wooden clock ticked
solemnly on the wall, and there were pictures and photographs tacked up
or standing on shelves, with a conglomeration of other small articles
more or less useful.

Roy dropped the bag from his shoulders and emptied its contents on the
kitchen floor. There were three white foxes and a blue one. These he
hung up to thaw. Then he stepped into the inner room and there pulled
off his outdoor clothing.

Seated in a chair, with his feet resting on the lower of two bunks which
were fitted on one side of the room, was Broom. He was reading a book
with a paper cover brilliantly illuminated—one of those “Three-Fingered
Jack” series of stories so eagerly devoured by uncultured minds.

Broom shut the book as Roy entered the room. He nodded familiarly,
distorted his swollen lips into a smile and dropped his feet to the
floor. “Well, what luck?” he inquired with feigned interest.

“Three whites and a blue,” replied the trader. He tried to put some
heartiness into his words, but the irritation he still felt at the man
held him back. He went back to the kitchen to wash his hands, and Broom
returned to his book.

Pausing in his ablutions, Roy threw the man a searching glance. He now
had a great mistrust of him. And here I may perhaps best explain who
Broom was, as he is a gentleman with whom we shall have much concern in
these pages.

Broom was a runaway sailor. Deserting his ship at Cape Fullerton, he had
one day turned up at Fort Future. He might be one of those worthless
characters found in all occupations, but he was a white man, and that
had been enough for Roy Thursby. Besides he had shown considerable
courage in attempting a solitary journey down the coast to the Fort.
This appealed to Roy and he had allowed him to stay on, intending to
give him a passage in the coast-boat that went south in the spring. At
first the runaway had been very energetic. He had made himself useful
about the place and regularly attended the few traps he had put down, as
he laughingly remarked, to keep himself in tobacco, but latterly he had
slackened off and appeared discontented. He displayed fits of
irritability and moodiness. Roy had noticed this, and after Broom’s late
outbreak he seriously doubted his wisdom in having harbored him.
Debating the question, he went back to the inner room and sat down; then
in very plain language told the sailor what he thought of his conduct.
Broom looked at him through half-closed lids; his lips were still
parted, but the smile was gone. Then he exploded. “Hang it all!” he said
sulkily; “you needn’t be hard on a fellow.”

“Well, behave yourself, then,” said Roy, firmly, and having spoken his
mind he would have dropped the subject.

But the other did not seem disposed to allow him. “She’s a pretty little
baggage for an Indian,” he asserted, “and what’s more, she knows it.”

Roy directed a searching glance at the sneering face of the speaker, but
paid no attention to the remark except, perhaps, that he raised his
eyebrows a little. He naturally possessed more self-control than most
young men of five and twenty. He was high-spirited, and could not brook
an insult; but he was inclined to consider the source of a remark before
he retaliated. Besides, he wished to avoid another quarrel, for he knew
it would serve to widen the breach already broad enough between them.

“Wonder some Indian brave hasn’t snapped her up and carried her off to
his happy wigwam,” Broom went on. “But there!” he added, “I suppose
she’d turn up her pretty little nose at a native. She wants a white
man.” Then, with emphasis there was no misunderstanding, “and no
understrapper at that.”

Jumping to his feet, Roy stood before the fellow. A flush of manifest
vexation burned upon his cheek. His hands clenched involuntarily. His
eyes flashed, but restraining himself, he said: “Look here, Broom,
that’s enough! I’ll have no more of your veiled insinuations, or hear
any more disrespectful remarks about that girl.”

The sailor laughed quietly for a moment as if he had some mighty good
joke in his mind, then with a half-deprecative, half-protesting movement
of the hand, “All right,” he said, “don’t get on your ear. There’s no
need for us to quarrel over a native.”

“But I strongly object to the tone you adopt when speaking of the girl,”
persisted Roy, indignantly, “and while we are on the subject I may as
well tell you that I will not tolerate any more of it. You are my guest,
so to speak, but my patience has an end, and my hospitality its limits.”

Broom’s jaw dropped; he was evidently nonplussed.

There was a silence. Broom’s eyes were fixed upon the floor. He seemed
to be considering. Roy turned away to walk up and down.

“Oh, stow it!” exclaimed Broom at last, without raising his eyes. “You
Hudson’s Bay men are not so dashed good yourselves that you can afford
to lecture others.”

“That is as may be,” returned the trader sharply, “but you see, I’m
master here and——”

“The king can do no wrong,” finished the other sententiously. Then he
laughed and suddenly extended his hand. “Come, shake hands,” he cried.
“You’re not a bad chap in spite of your sanctimonious airs.”

This remark was evidently intended as an overture of reconciliation. Roy
stared hard at him for a moment, then glanced at the outstretched hand.
He hated quarrelling, but he was feeling too angry at the man to forgive
him thus easily. The other noticed Roy’s hesitation and look, and
quickly dropped his hand. Somewhat staggered, the fellow sat twisting
his moustache, pulling at his shaggy beard and scowling at the trader,
who had resumed his pacing. After spending a portion of his discomfiture
in this manner, Broom again essayed a remark.

“Guess I was in the wrong,” he said, as if by way of general retraction.
“You’ve been a good friend to me, in fact you saved my life. For when I
drifted in here, after deserting that blighted whaler, I was all in; the
winter was upon me, and, why! I hadn’t enough clothes to flag a train.”
At this he laughed heartily. “You took me in, clothed me, and killed the
fatted caribou. Hang it, shake!” and he thrust forth his hand again.

Roy stopped perambulating. “Perhaps I’ve been a little hasty,” he said,
and took the man’s hand, though he was still only half mollified, for
this sudden warmth of gratitude struck him as feigned. “She is a demure,
soft-hearted little thing, and I do not like to hear her spoken of in
that way,” he explained, dropping into a chair.

“Oh, of course not!” observed Broom with a suggestion of sarcasm in his
tone.

“Her father, Delgezie, works for me; he has worked for the Company all
his life,” continued Roy severely, his eyes beginning to flash again.
“He is a pure-blooded Indian, a faithful servant, a gentle, God-fearing
old man, and his daughter, who was orphaned at a very early age, is a
very remarkable girl. She was practically brought up by the missionary’s
wife at Churchill, you know, and her polite, civilized manner and
extraordinary intelligence have attracted great attention and remark
from people travelling through the country; and I now warn you: The man
who fools with that girl will have _me_ to reckon with.”

The sailor started and glanced at him for an instant under his brows;
the veins swelled at his temples, and a dull, angry light came into his
eyes. “Oh, he will, will he?” he sneered.

Almost as these words were uttered a dark face was thrust into the room
and a voice cried out in Chipewyan. Roy answered in the same language
and the face disappeared.

Broom looked enquiringly at the trader, who was pulling on a coat. The
angry light was still in Broom’s eyes, but his tone changed very much
when he spoke again. “What’s that he says?” he asked, suavely. “I don’t
understand that lingo.”

“He says there are Eskimo arriving,” replied Roy shortly; and he went
out to watch the approach of the natives.

Then Broom half closed his eyes and an expression of malignant and
devilish hatred came over his face. “So you threaten me, my Hudson’s Bay
rooster,” he murmured. “Well, you may crow in your own yard, curse you,
but don’t crow too loudly, for you don’t own the earth.” Then, gently
rubbing his wounded lips, he added, almost in a whisper, and there was a
low hiss in the words: “And you shall pay dearly for that blow.”

The wind was fair and the Eskimos came racing before it at a great
speed. Relieved of any effort by the wind and sails, the dogs ran beside
the flying _com-it-uks_ (Eskimo sleds) in apparent jubilation, while the
natives—with the exception of the two required to steer each of these
unwieldy, improvised ice-boats—were sitting on the loads with smiles of
satisfaction, feeling that all was as it should be. As they neared the
Fort the big parchment sails were dropped and the dogs brought into
action. The number of dogs attached to each _com-it-uk_ varied, not
according to the weight of the load, as one would imagine, but according
to the total number possessed by the Eskimos travelling with it. Where
dogs were lacking natives dropped into the vacant places and hauled on
the “bridles” (traces) as substitutes. The heavily-laden sleds[1] were
with difficulty dragged to the warehouse where Roy stood, with door wide
open, ready to receive them.

The odd commingling of tongues was confusing. Roy was giving occasional
sharp orders in Eskimo, and holding scraps of conversation in his own
tongue with Broom, whom he had suddenly found standing beside him, while
the voluble Sahanderry ran about loudly vociferating in Chipewyan. Added
to this was the hum occasioned by the Eskimos speaking among themselves
and the chorus of a few dozen dogs.

The new arrivals were all dressed alike in hairy deerskin clothing, and
scarcely anyone but a native could have distinguished male from female,
except for a band of brass which some of the women wore around their
foreheads. Yet the trader was able to greet each of the natives by name
without making a mistake, even when two brothers appeared.

“Well, Oulybuck,” he cried, shaking hands with a young Eskimo. “Where’s
Piglinick? Isn’t he here?”

“No. He’s dead,” returned the native.

“Dead!” echoed Roy, with a look of profound astonishment.

“Yes,” continued the native, dryly, “we hung him last moon.”

“Hung him last moon!” repeated the horrified trader, staring blankly at
the broad-smiling Eskimo for a few seconds, then bursting into a roar of
laughter.

“Beats cock-fighting,” observed Broom, sententiously.

“Yes,” said Roy, recovering himself somewhat. Then turning to Oulybuck,
“Why did you hang him?” he asked.

But Oulybuck ignored the question. “Hung Kinnicky, too,” he said,
smiling as if proud of this double achievement.

“Goodness me; why, he’s hung his father also!” cried the astonished Roy.
His face now changed its expression to one of consternation.

“A regular Jack Ketch,” asserted Broom.

“Tell us about it, Oulybuck. Why did you do it?” asked Roy, who had
become grave. He scarcely knew what to make of such summary proceedings.

The native, nothing loth, told his story in a few words, interspersed
with long pauses.

It appeared that his father, Kinnicky, and his brother, Piglinick, who
had accompanied him the last time he had come to the Fort, had been
taken ill shortly after starting on their return journey. As days passed
by and he got no better, Kinnicky decided to end his sufferings. He bade
Oulybuck build him an _iglo_ without the complete dome. This Oulybuck
dutifully did, and with the aid of a sled runner, which was placed
across the top of the structure reaching from wall to wall, and a piece
of clapmatch line, which hung from the runner and terminated in a noose,
Kinnicky was left dancing in the air. This somewhat unique cure seems to
have recommended itself to Piglinick also, for soon he was hanging
beside his father.

Oulybuck finished his story with a look of conscious pride at the part
he had played in the matter.

“I wonder where they got the idea of hanging,” said Broom, breaking the
silence that followed.

Roy shook his head. He was puzzled by the strange yarn of the Eskimo;
such proceedings appeared so very barbarous, even in that remote
country, far from all law and order. Yet he thoroughly understood, from
his knowledge of the Eskimo character, that the whole astounding
performance had been carried out by Oulybuck in perfect good faith. The
Eskimo had merely obeyed his father and elder brother’s commands in
assisting them to commit suicide, the same as he would have implicitly
obeyed any other order they might have given him.

While Oulybuck was engaged with his story the other Eskimos had chosen a
suitable spot on which to erect their _iglos_ (snow-houses) and had
started to make them. Working in three gangs, they labored on as many
_iglos_. Cutting large blocks of snow from an adjacent drift they
carried them to other Eskimos, who built them into walls around
themselves. Dexterously they trimmed the blocks with the _pin-uks_
(snow-knives), fitting them into place with great exactness. Speedily
the walls went up, and as they grew in height so they decreased in
circumference, till at last only the heads of the builders could be
seen. Snow blocks were then neatly fitted to the remaining spaces, and
the men were immured in prisons of their own construction; but they were
quickly released by their friends on the outside, who cut holes through
the walls near the base of the _iglos_ to serve as entrances. In front
of these holes blocks of snow were placed to act as doors; and the
cracks in the walls were sealed with loose snow. This completed these
primitive but serviceable snow houses and they were quickly tenanted. In
fact the whole performance was marked by the expeditious way in which it
was accomplished.

Meanwhile the trader and his companion had returned to the house and
were now blowing clouds of blue smoke. Broom sat in his favorite
position with feet resting on the bottom bunk, while Roy lounged
comfortably back with one leg dangling over the arm of his chair.

Jumping up suddenly, Roy put a box of cigars and two enamelled mugs upon
the table, then produced a bottle of whiskey from a locked box. He had
resolved to spend the evening as pleasantly as possible. Pushing the
cigars toward the sailor, he said, “Have a cigar? Help yourself.”

Broom grinned appreciatively and complied with ready acquiescence.

“Don’t care if I do,” he answered, taking one and brightening.

The trader drew the cork and passed the bottle to his companion, who
took it with sundry little chuckles of satisfaction, and after several
long approving sniffs, poured out a goodly potation, which he tossed off
with a whimsical wink and a curt nod. Then his hand went quickly to his
mouth, and for a fleeting second his face assumed a most unpleasant
expression, for the raw spirits stung his lips, which were cut and
bruised by contact with the trader’s fist.

The look, however, passed unobserved by Roy, who had taken the bottle
and was helping himself moderately.

“Good stuff,” sighed Broom, presently, gazing affectionately into his
empty mug.

“Yes, and very precious in these parts,” said Roy. “I got only one case
last fall; but I’ve managed to make it hold out pretty well.”

“You certainly have,” returned Broom, putting up his mug with apparent
reluctance.

Then the two men settled themselves in their chairs and blew more clouds
of smoke. Broom made free with the box of cigars and sprawled himself
out comfortably, his face wearing an expression which indicated that he
was highly satisfied with himself.

Suddenly he started chuckling to himself.

“What’s the joke,” inquired Roy.

“Oh, I was thinking of a fellow on the whaler,” replied Broom, removing
the cigar from his mouth and gazing meditatively at the burning tip. “He
was hammering a dog one day when the skipper interposed. ‘You seem to
have a spite against that dog,’ said the skipper. ‘No, I ain’t got no
grudge against the dog,’ said the fellow, ‘I’m just showing my
author-_i_-ity.’”

After this the sailor fairly surpassed himself in wit and good humor,
and Roy was in constant bursts of laughter at his stories and metaphors.
Curious to know the cause of this unusual mirth, Sahanderry hastily
finished his work in the kitchen, and stood in the doorway listening to
the conversation. The Indian’s presence seemed to irritate Broom, who
frequently threw him a contemptuous glance and seemed impatient to order
him away.

“Come, Sahanderry,” said the trader, at length; “you’re a hunter; give
us a yarn.”

The moment the Indian’s name was mentioned Broom’s face assumed a sneer
and his eyes flashed spitefully, for even in the short time he had been
at the Fort he and the Indian had for some reason become bitter enemies.
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and appeared about to make some
scornful remark, but changed his mind and sat twisting his moustache
instead. Sahanderry’s face was immediately suffused with smiles. He
wiped his mouth and cleared his throat. Then the smiles vanished and his
countenance took a solemn, mournful expression.

“I’ll tell you about a _na-ra-yah_ (wolverine),” he said, moistening his
lips with a thick tongue.

“Fire away, then!” cried Roy.

The Indian stood and preened himself a moment, then started off in a
stentorian voice, moving his arms in unison. He told how a wolverine had
been caught in a trap that he had set for a fox, and how in its
struggles to get free it had broken the chain and gone off with the trap
attached to its foot. Gesticulating wildly, the man got more and more
excited as he progressed with his story. A graphic description of a
_na-ra-yah_ in _rigor mortis_ was given. The Indian’s uncouth antics and
profound gravity in the portrayal created great amusement.

“Upon my word, Sahanderry,” said Broom, when the Indian had finished,
“you are a most delightful liar.”

Sahanderry’s eyes flashed at this doubtful comment. He appeared about to
spring at his tormentor, who was still twisting the ends of his
moustache. There was a moment of silence. The sailor sat looking at the
Indian with exasperating calmness. The Indian breathed heavily, glaring
at the sailor.

“What right has Broom to call me a liar?” he demanded, turning to Roy.

“Broom! you black scoundrel, Broom!” cried the man of the sea, “I’ll
have you remember that I’ve a handle to my name.”

“Well, Broom-handle, then,” retorted Sahanderry sharply.

The sailor half rose from his chair in a gust of passion as if he would
make for Sahanderry, but evidently changed his mind, for he dropped
slowly back to his seat. At a wave of the hand from the trader,
Sahanderry retired in a sulky mood to the kitchen.

After a time Broom forced a smile to his face.

“Not bad for an Indian!” he admitted with dubious praise, and with an
attempt at a laugh.

“No,” returned Roy shortly. Then he spoke of the destructive habits of
the wolverine.

At this juncture there was a slight shuffling noise in the kitchen,
accompanied by a sound of heavy breathing. The noise drew nearer, and
presently with a long “Phew!” an Eskimo ushered himself into the room.
He paused for a moment as if to make sure of his welcome, then at a nod
from the _A-hoo-mit-uk_ (master) he squatted down where he stood. It was
Ocpic the Murderer, a sobriquet he had earned, it was said by killing
seven other Eskimos.

Seating himself on his haunches in the doorway, he divested himself of
his _tko-ti-tok_ (coat) by pulling it over his head, and sat in his
_at-ti-yi_ (shirt), smiling blandly, his little black, oblique eyes
alertly watching.

While the two white men were engaged in conversation, the Eskimo’s eyes
wandered about the room and eventually fixed themselves on a large key
which hung on a nail at the head of one of the bunks.

The little black eyes flashed and twinkled, for their owner was aware
that this key opened the trading store—that little paradise which
contained everything dear to the Eskimo heart. Ocpic knew where a new
net hung, a fine new salmon net, made and just ready to drop in the
water; and he would be badly in need of a net in the spring. There was
nothing to prevent his obtaining the net, nothing but that key. He gave
it a long earnest look, then suddenly dropped his gaze and a crafty
expression came on his face.

Neither Roy nor Broom noticed Ocpic’s prolonged gaze at the key, nor
observed the stealthy gleam which came to Ocpic’s eye. They were
speaking of the manners and mode of life of these strange, littoral
people, who inhabit nearly five thousand miles of seaboard from East
Greenland to the Peninsula of Alaska, and who throughout all that vast
range speak essentially the same language.

“They certainly are a peculiar race,” remarked Roy in conclusion. “I
have read somewhere that they are an intermediate species between man
and the sea-cow.”

Both men looked across at the Eskimo. He was sitting in the same
position and smiled it them as they looked his way.

Then there was a voice at the door crying, “_Delgezie yu-cuzz-ie,
Bekothrie_” (Delgezie is coming, master).

Roy jumped excitedly to his feet. He had heard the voice, but had not
distinguished the words, and thought for a moment that the anxiously
awaited “packet” had been sighted.

“Delgezie,” said Sahanderry, shortly, putting his head into the room.

“Oh,” and the trader’s face lengthened visibly. He paused irresolutely,
then reached down his “hairy-coat” and fur cap and strode out of the
house.

Yawning prodigiously, Broom slowly rose to his feet. Then he
deliberately filled and lit his pipe, pulled on a coat and stuck a cap
on his head and leisurely followed Roy, leaving Ocpic alone with the
key.

-----

[1] These sleds, generally known as Eskimo sleds, are made of two
runners some thirty feet long, four inches deep and two inches thick,
and are mostly shod with whalebone, but in its absence mud is used. This
latter is put on hot and allowed to freeze, then planed smooth and
“iced” by quickly drawing a streaming-wet piece of white bearskin or
blanket over it. This process of icing takes place every night.
Whalebone does not require icing, so has this advantage over mud and is
used altogether by the most Northern Eskimo. Wooden bars are fastened
across these long runners at intervals of six inches, and a
ground-lashing of clapmatch line, or rope, run fore and aft on either
side. The load is lashed down to this. Very heavy loads can be hauled on
this kind of sled; in fact, ten hundred pounds’ weight on an Eskimo sled
is merely equivalent to four hundred on a flat sled (toboggan). The
serious disadvantage of mud is felt in the spring, when the mud thaws
out and drops off in chunks.



                              CHAPTER III.
                     _KASBA FIGHTS A BITTER FIGHT._


Kasba sat on her narrow bed in a thoughtful and melancholy posture. Her
pretty oval chin rested in the palm of her hand, and she leaned forward
so that her elbow rested on her knee and upheld the forearm. She was
gazing at her reflection in a small hand-mirror, but without interest.
In fact her gaze was one of disparagement rather than of admiration, and
with a heavy sigh she let the glass fall into her lap and sat lost in
thought. The master was not in love with her and she knew, as if by
direct intuition, that he had no intention of becoming so. There was not
the least chance for her any longer, and she threw the glass behind her,
somewhat petulantly it must be admitted, and dropped her face into her
hands; for of what use was beauty if it did not win her the man she
loved? She had known him a long time, many years it seemed to her, and
had grown to love him. Love him! oh, how she loved him! Yet in all that
time he had not spoken one word of love to her. And now that she had
showed him her heart perhaps he despised her, or pitied her, which was
worse. At that she sprang to her feet. She was no longer the calm,
gentle-natured Kasba, but Kasba the Indian in whose veins ran the blood
of a great race. She was a strange mixture of humility and pride, this
Indian maid. As she stood there, her head raised proudly, her nostrils
quivering, her eyes flashing, her form rounded yet slight, her varying
color, her tender youth and singular grace of attitude would have
inspired an artist with the ideal of Indian beauty. Then her eyes filled
and she gulped down a sob. She was feeling very bitter and rebellious.
She felt that she had a grudge against Fate.

To every pure and innocent young girl, we are told, love is a condition
of mind, not a strain on the senses. But Kasba knew nothing of this. She
had not the conventional and sensitive delicacy of white girls. She was
well aware of life’s evil truths, and knew that Broom would have gone to
any lengths to have possessed her. Roy was not that kind of a man;
though in her secret heart she wished that he had been. Poor Kasba! She
was such a child. Physically she was quite grown up, but her mind was a
child’s mind. So confiding, so unprotected even by her own sense of
right, she would have gone to him and not been aware of the fall. Was he
not the _Master_? And was she not his, body and soul? Which goes to
prove that Kasba’s notions of love were very simple, rudimentary, and,
certes, in no way coy. How should they be?

If the good lady at Churchill could have known the girl’s state of mind
at that moment she would have been greatly startled and appalled and had
serious doubts as to whether her instruction, instead of the service she
had intended, had not unsettled the girl and done her a deadly injury.
It cannot be denied that it was shocking, but all that the girl felt was
very natural. How should it be otherwise? Her people had never been
married, that is to say in the white man’s way, until after the
missionary had come amongst them; still they had been happy, while she
had seen properly married white people who had not lived happily
together. She, who had seen but few white people, had seen that, so what
did it matter, married or unmarried, as long as they were together? So
argued the girl, but deep down in her heart there was the Churchill
lady’s teaching, which was confused, dim, uncertain, but clamoring to be
heard, and a guilty blush rushed to her cheek as she sat and covered her
eyes with her hands in very shame; for she was conscious of the
wickedness of what she felt and longed for, though she could not
understand it.

Suddenly she dropped her hands from her eyes and sat bolt upright,
staring at the wall opposite, and gave a little shuddering sigh. For all
at once she understood that Roy had turned away because he was
honorable, because he wished to be true to another, a girl of his own
race, whom he loved. The girl’s name was Lena. She knew that, for she
had once heard someone chaffing him about a girl of that name and he had
grown very red and confused. That was very long ago, but it all came
back to her now, and she hated the girl Lena with her whole heart and
soul. Why did he love that other girl? In striving to solve this riddle
she was struck by a new idea. “He cannot care for me,” she thought,
“because my skin is not white and I do not dress like the women of his
people,”—like the women did in the drawings she had seen in some papers
Roy had given her some time or other. Doubtless this other girl’s—this
Lena’s—dresses covered her whole body, as the women’s did in the
pictures. She looked down at her own scanty garment, which was
nevertheless very serviceable and becoming, though in sooth it might
have displayed the curves of her form to better perfection, which left a
considerable expanse of blue stroud legging exposed; the blood mounted
in a wave to her face and throat and she kicked out her legs
vexatiously, viewing them with offence; then drew them up beneath her as
if to hide them forever from sight. You could not see the women’s legs
in the drawings because their dresses covered them to the ankles. Also
they wore pretty hats instead of shawls, and boots instead of ugly
moccasins. Still they looked very uncomfortable. Then she remembered how
heartily she and the boy David had laughed over the pictures and
wondered how white women could run before dogs, or paddle a canoe, or
even make bannocks in such tight-fitting garments. As for herself, she
would be suffocated, she was sure she would. And David had declared that
he wouldn’t have one of them for his partner on a trip for anything, not
even if she promised him a new gun, which was saying much, and together
they had poked fun and laughed uproariously at the idea.

Poor Kasba! Had she known how little Roy really troubled his head about
her dress she might have saved herself all this vexation of spirit. In
saying this I do not for one moment wish to make our hero appear
superior to other men. He was a man, with all a man’s appreciation of
what was beautiful in women; but if truth forbids me to depict Roy
Thursby as a highly virtuous young man, justice forces me to declare
that the sight of this young girl’s legs had never caused him an
untoward thought, though they were certainly not objects of offence.

But Kasba did not know what was in Roy’s mind, and just then she would
have risked suffocation or any such horrible calamity to be able to
display herself before Roy for a few moments clothed after the fashion
of the women of his race. She snapped her pretty white teeth like a
little savage animal at the thought of the white girl, whom she envied
the possession of civilized garments. She sat for a long time cogitating
over the shocking immodesty of her costume. She could not have explained
her thoughts in these words, it is true; but this is really what vexed
her mind. Then her mood changed. A creature of many moods was this
Indian girl. Why should she be ashamed of wearing her clothing according
to the custom of her tribe? Then she was ashamed for ever having felt
ashamed. Suddenly she stopped this train of thought, also, and her face
clouded. Broom’s name had crossed her mind. Then she remembered
Sahanderry and her promise to him, and thoughts crowded in upon her till
her brain reeled. She was a wicked girl, a very wicked girl. How shocked
her dear father would be if he knew. And the man she loved who had
turned away that she might be an honest girl, what would he think? Yes,
she was very, very wicked. Filled with disgust and loathing of herself
she turned on her face and lay violently sobbing.

Presently she got up and lit a lamp. The fight was over; she had
conquered the evil thoughts that had so cruelly beset her, which was due
to her own nature, in which there was much good and hardly any evil. She
had determined to face the situation bravely, and do what was right,
according to her ideas of right, without any regard for her own feelings
and inclination.

Probably Kasba had never heard of Satan’s proclivity to provide
employment for idle hands, but she was seldom found idle, and chiding
herself now for the time she had wasted, in what she somewhat vaguely
called “her folly,” she began to make “cakes” (bannocks) against her
father’s return, for she was expecting him home hourly.

So engrossed was she in her work that she did not hear the door open,
nor was she aware that David, an orphan Indian boy whom Delgezie had
adopted, was in the house till a pair of cold arms caught her round the
neck, and a still colder face was pressed against her own. Kasba drew
the boy towards her and stroked his cold face with her warm hands.

“Well, dear,” she said with a welcoming smile, “you gave me quite a
start!”

“What were you thinking about, Kasba?” he asked. Then, “Oh, I’ve shot
three deer!” he cried with boyish enthusiasm, without waiting for a
reply. Kasba was glad of the boy’s abstraction and bent a tell-tale face
over the half-cooked cakes.

“But you must be hungry,” she said, handing the boy one newly-baked
which he took and began to devour ravenously. He threw himself on the
empty sugar case and the cake disappeared in big mouthfuls, while his
large dark eyes flashed about the room.

He was a healthy-looking boy, with a bright, happy face. The blood in
his cheeks shone through the dark skin, giving him a ruddy color
pleasant to look upon.

In a remarkably short space of time David finished his meal and his
wandering eyes came back to the girl by the stove. She was brewing a
kettle of tea.

“We will go for the deer to-morrow,” she said. “Why, you are getting
quite a hunter! Is it far?”

“Just this side of the ‘big hill.’” Then he paused and his brow grew
suddenly dark. “You’ve been crying!” he exclaimed, fiercely, springing
to his feet. Then catching Kasba by the arm, he gazed searchingly into
her face. “What is it?” he cried sharply. Dropping the girl’s arm he
stood with angry eyes and clenched fists. “Was it Ball-eye?” (white-man,
in this case meaning Broom) he asked.

The girl hesitated and dropped her eyes.

“It was Ball-eye,” he cried with conviction. “I can see by your face it
was.” Then waving his clenched hands in the air he danced about the room
in fiery anger. “Curse him!” he shouted. “If ever I catch him sneaking
round after you, I’ll—I’ll put a bullet in him, that’s what I’ll do.”

“David! David! Please don’t!” cried Kasba in great dismay, seizing him
round the neck. “You must not talk like that. You will get into
trouble.” With this she sank on the seat he had vacated and drew him
down beside her.

David’s anger died suddenly. He was now struggling manfully to keep back
the big tears which threatened to overwhelm him.

“Three deer! Why, David, you are getting quite a man!” said Kasba, with
a proud smile, changing the subject.

“Yes, and I have something very funny to tell you,” he said quickly,
forgetting his previous agitation in his excitement.

Kasba gave him a smile of encouragement, while he curled himself up
comfortably at her feet, gazing up into her face with bright, eager
eyes.

“And what is this very funny thing you have to tell me?” she asked, with
lively interest, playfully pinching his ear.

“Well,” he began seriously, “I was near the ‘big lake,’ you know.”

The girl nodded.

“I was watching a large buck deer. He was windward of me and came right
up close, quite unconscious of my presence.” He paused and the girl
nodded again comprehendingly. “Go on,” she said.

“Well,” continued the boy, “I raised my rifle and was about to fire when
I heard a slight noise at my back. I looked, and there on the edge of
the lake I saw three large wolves.”

The girl started and drew in her breath sharply. “Three?” she asked,
bending over and placing her hand on his.

“Yes, three,” repeated the boy. “They were watching the deer, too, and
acting so strangely that I lowered my rifle and waited to see what they
would do. Presently two of them crouched down while the other made off.
Keeping out of sight it slunk along till it got behind the deer, then
the buck ‘winded’ it and sprang away straight to where the two other
wolves were crouching.” The boy paused for breath.

“Yes, yes,” cried the girl, “go on, go on!” In her heated imagination
she saw it all: the majestic buck deer, the three fierce, gaunt wolves,
and the fearless boy.

David smiled again, pleased at the girl’s excitement. “Just as the buck
came up with the wolf at his heels they sprang from their ambush and
pulled him down.”

“And then—” prompted the girl, looking at him with her big, dark eyes.

“Well, then I fired two bullets at them. I think I wounded one. They
stood and snarled.”

The girl shuddered and pressed his hand tighter.

“Then I fired again. This time I killed a big grey fellow, the one which
had run after the deer, and the others made off.”

The girl drew a long, sharp breath, then, hugging him tightly around the
neck, kissed him.

David laughed and fought for breath. “Don’t you think the wolves were
very cunning?” he asked. “Have you ever heard anything like that
before?”

“They were very, very cunning,” declared the girl. “It was wonderful, I
have never heard the like.” Then, stroking his hair caressingly, she
added very seriously: “It was very brave of you to tackle three large
wolves, David, but it was dangerous, and I wish you would not go so far
from the Fort alone.”

The boy smiled derisively at these girlish fears.

“But I have my rifle!” he said bravely. Then with a swagger he added:
“But I must ‘ice’ my sled ready for the morning,” and filling a tin mug
with lukewarm water, and taking a piece of bearskin from off a shelf, he
went out.

With a sigh Kasba took down a pair of birchwood snowshoe frames from the
rack overhead and sat down to net them. The frames were her own
handiwork and well made; the wood had been cleverly pared down, the
cross-pieces and toes and heels beautifully fitted and turned—all done,
too, with only a small knife, called a “crooked knife,” and an awl.

But lest any of my readers should fall into the error committed by the
person who asked “whether snowshoes were warmer than shoes of ordinary
wear,” I will here more fully describe how these indispensable aids to
winter perambulations are made.

First four pieces of birch or juniper, as the case may be, are carefully
selected and cut into lengths varying from three to five feet or longer,
according to the size of the snowshoes desired. These pieces are then
whittled down to an inch in thickness, and each two fastened together at
either end, bent to the shape of an oblong oval, some ten inches across
its widest part, and turned up at the toe. Then the slender frames thus
made are strengthened at the forepart by two crossbars, and at the heel
by one bar. This completes them and they are hung up to dry. Later on
they are netted in criss-cross fashion, somewhat after the manner of a
tennis racket, with _babiche_, that is to say, narrow strips of
undressed deerskin, which are well wetted before using. The foot
netting, or in other words the netting on which the foot rests, is much
coarser than that used for the heel and toe of the snowshoe. Of course I
am describing a Chipewyan snowshoe. Snowshoes differ a little in shape
among other tribes of Indians, but the principle is the same.



                              CHAPTER IV.
                        _THE MAN OF THE SHADOWS._


Roy Thursby stood watching a small black speck which was moving slowly
over the white surface of the river and coming in the direction of the
Fort. Overhead was a magnificent Aurora Borealis extending high in bands
of flickering color; a luminous phenomenon of all the colors of the
rainbow, oscillating in electric waves. The gentle sighing of the wind,
and an occasional dull, muffled sound from among the ice hummocks broke
the silence. Near the trader were the dark figures of Kasba and David,
in fact it was they who had given the alarm, and presently there was a
slight crunching sound and Broom came striding up.

Dogs appeared as if by magic, and stood erect with ears pricked up
expectantly, or darted forward with noses sniffing the air.

The black speck grew rapidly larger and larger, until presently it
suddenly resolved itself into two portions, one of which, the smaller of
the two, quickly mended its pace and was soon distinguishable as a man.
The other travelled much slower, in a serpentine movement, swaying from
side to side as it dodged the huge masses of shattered ice. This was a
dog-train and driver returning from a trip to an Eskimo encampment.

Before long the man in front was clambering over a prodigious snowdrift
which obstructed the approach to the trading-post. He was one Minnihak,
an Eskimo whom Thursby employed to run before the dogs when he sent out
a trading venture.

The native lumbered forward with a broad grin. He was a droll figure
from the hood of his _tko-li-tok_ (coat) down to his _ka-miks_ (shoes)
covered with hoar-frost, and his “hairy” clothing gave him a shaggy
appearance greatly resembling a white bear walking on its hind legs.

Thursby went forward to meet him.

“_Timo_,” grunted the Eskimo; breathless from his late exertions.

“_Timo_,” responded the other. He was too interested in the dog-train to
take further notice of the native just then.

Minnihak took his welcome for granted. He turned to look for his
partner, who was now close at hand.

The advancing train of dogs barked with sheer delight at being so near
home. Nothing could stop them now; even the biggest laggard of a dog was
in a perfect frenzy to proceed. The dogs at hand heard the song of those
approaching and joined in the melody.

Ignoring the track left by the guide and despising every obstacle the
arriving train came helter-skelter over the bristling hummocks. The
heavily laden _com-it-uk_ (sled), swaying dangerously, crashed through
the ice at an alarming speed. Up one side of the snowdrift and down the
other it flew, threatening destruction to anything in its path, but a
pull here and a push there guided it safely past every obstruction.

Then the home dogs vied with the newcomers in making so great an uproar
that no human voice could possibly have made itself heard above the
pandemonium. A free fight ensued, but a few sharp, stinging cuts from
the well-directed lash of a whip drew the dogs’ attention to other
things. Then the pain of their wounds broke in upon them and they slunk
off with whines and yells.

By the aid of Minnihak and Sahanderry the dogs were unharnessed and the
heavily loaded sled taken away. Roy then turned to speak to Broom, but
that individual had suddenly disappeared; and Kasba, possessing herself
of her father’s bag containing a deerskin robe and a change of footwear,
also went silently away, while some distance ahead of her was David,
staggering under a load of venison that Delgezie had given him to carry
home.

As the girl moved away from the fort a dim figure appeared in the deep
shadow at a corner of one of the buildings and stood looking after her.
When she had disappeared among the rocks the watcher chuckled and
followed after.

The slight crunch, crunch, of some one walking stealthily over the crisp
snow soon attracted Kasba’s attention. Twice she stopped to listen,
throwing a scared glance behind. The third time a voice close at hand
startled her, and she stopped dead and turned right round. A dozen feet
away, in the shadow of a large boulder she discovered an indistinct
figure standing. The girl stood inert, staring as if fascinated.

“Kasba, wait a minute, I want you,” said the voice in carefully
modulated tones.

“What—do—you—want—with—me?” faltered the maiden, now thoroughly
frightened.

“I want to speak to you,” said the voice. Kasba shivered. She swayed and
almost fell, for it was the voice of the man she so greatly feared.

“What do you want—I don’t understand,” she faltered, trying to move
away, but now her legs refused her bidding.

“Oh, you needn’t be afraid,” said the man, stepping out of the shadow.

“You’re not so scared of Bekothrie, I notice,” he added with meaning.

“He is the master!” faltered the girl, her face flushing painfully,
wondering whether the fellow had guessed her secret.

“Oh, of course,” laughed Broom unpleasantly, and slyly edging nearer.
“The master, and therefore a little tin god. But say,” he added, taking
a step or two boldly, “does he not kiss those pretty lips occasionally,
and embrace that tight little waist, eh?”

“Why should he?” asked the girl stupidly, scarcely knowing what to say.

“Why should he?” repeated Broom, chuckling. “Why indeed! Why, because he
is human, my dear, and can no more resist the fascination of your pretty
face and figure than I can.” Kasba remembered how easily Roy had
resisted her that very day and, despite the terror she was feeling,
smiled bitterly. While the fellow had been speaking he had craftily
reduced the space between them, and now, encouraged by the girl’s
silence, he tried to clasp her about the waist. But the action worked
upon the girl like magic. There was too much of the fighting blood of
her warrior ancestors in her to allow her to be terrified for long, and
though her expression of strong aversion never changed, she stopped
trembling and with perfect calmness skilfully eluded his grasp. His arm
encircled the empty air and he swore under his breath. “Oh, you needn’t
try to be so confoundedly coy,” he cried, baffled for the moment. “Come,
sweetheart,” he added, waxing passionate and insinuating and again
edging toward her, “I’m in love with you and shall sleep all the better
for a kiss from those red lips.”

“Back, Ball-eye,” cried the girl, her eyes flashing and her lips curled
in scorn. “I do not like you. Why do you persist in troubling me when I
dislike you and try to keep aloof?”

Somewhat staggered, the fellow gnawed savagely at his moustache. “Bah!”
he exclaimed at last.

“I do not like you,” continued the girl staunchly. “There is something
here,” she added, touching her breast, “that tells me that you are a
very wicked man and will bring trouble upon us all.”

“And I, my pretty divinator, have something here,” retorted the man,
tapping his breast in imitation of her, “that tells me that you are a
canting little hypocrite, and, by God, I will have that kiss!” With that
he took a step toward her, then stopped and stared hard at the girl, who
stood silent and immobile as a statue, facing her tormentor with no
apparent fear. She did not even start on hearing the threat, but on the
contrary faced him boldly, her foot planted firmly, looking him steadily
in the eye. Then deliberately she drew a long knife from her bosom and,
grasping it tightly, held it ready for use. She eyed him grimly, and
softly chuckled. Her terror was gone.

The fellow fell back, sullen, foiled. Kasba’s fearless attitude utterly
disconcerted him, and he blasphemed till the girl shuddered and turned
her back and moved away. But her face was no sooner turned than a very
strange expression came on Broom’s, and rushing after her, he cried in a
loud, angry voice: “Not so fast, you little wildcat. You shall pay me
for those false smiles.”

Suddenly a boy’s clear voice rang out on the still night air.

“_Kas-ba-a, yu-cuz-zie, yu-cuz-zie Kas-ba-a!_”

With a smothered imprecation the man stopped dead in his tracks. Then at
the sound of someone approaching he dropped hurriedly back into the
shadow. Suddenly an idea crossed his mind. He stood a moment chewing his
moustache thoughtfully, and nodding his head once or twice. “I’ll do
it,” he muttered.

When Roy entered the house, after giving Delgezie a few supplies from
the store, he was astonished to find Broom had not come in; apparently
he must be outside talking to Sahanderry or Minnihak. Dismissing the
matter from his mind, he turned to Delgezie, who had followed to make
his report.

Throwing back his hood, Delgezie displayed a pleasant, wrinkled face.
But there was the sad, wistful expression in his eyes of one who has
experienced some overwhelming sorrow, and yet was conscientiously
striving to live out his life bravely despite it. He seated himself at a
nod from his master, who plied him with questions relative to the trip.
It had been a very successful one. They had brought back a good haul of
furs.

“And Acpa?” questioned Roy presently, referring to one of his Eskimo
traders.

“His boy’s sick,” said Delgezie.

“What’s the matter with him?”

“Oh, he met with an accident. His father shot him in the leg; the gun
went off accidentally.”

“Hurt him much?”

“Yes, completely shattered the bone below the knee.”

“What are they doing to it?”

“They’ve tied a piece of shaganappi tightly around the leg, above the
wound.”

“What in the world for?” asked Thursby, in blank surprise.

“Oh, the line will cut through the flesh,” said Delgezie, unmoved, “and
the lower part will rot off, clean off.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the other. “Is that possible?”

“Yes. The greater part of the flesh below the shaganappi is off
already.”

“How ghastly!” said the trader, with a slight shudder. “But the boy?”

“Oh, he’s lively enough.”

“Well, well! we live and learn,” said Thursby. “What would a doctor say
of such primitive surgery?” he wondered. “But there, I won’t keep you
any longer,” he added.

The old man got to his feet instantly. With a cheerful “Good-night,
sir,” he left the room. Outside he was joined by Minnihak, and the two
proceeded to Delgezie’s hut together. On the way they met an Eskimo
woman, whom they passed with a slight greeting.

With characteristic curiosity she turned and watched them. She was a
“runner.” A band of Eskimo had found it impossible to reach the post
that day and had sent her on in advance to get the usual gratuity of
_tee-pli-tow_ (tobacco) and carry it back to them.

The old Chipewyan’s face brightened when he approached his humble home,
where a pale light welcomed him from the window. He lifted the catch
softly, while a look of pleased anticipation stole over his face, for
was he not to see his only child whom he loved better than anything on
all God’s earth? He had been away from her many days—long, weary days,
haunted by the fearful dread that he might return to find her gone, as
her mother had gone years before. For there was a tragedy in the old
man’s life. Leaving his wife in the best of health, he had gone on a
trip to an Indian encampment, and had returned to find her dead and
buried. She had died of some contagious disease. This was a terrible
blow to him, for he loved her fondly. He had shortly before embraced the
Christian faith, and this great affliction—this taking away of all he
loved best on earth—tried the simple-hearted man sorely. It seemed
monstrously unjust. He probably could not have put his feelings into
words, but that was what he felt. It was hard for him to believe in a
God who could do this thing—a God whom the missionary invariably
presented as a “God of love.” What had he done to deserve such misery?
All that was just and righteous in the gentle-minded man rose up in
revolt. And was this to be wondered at? How many of us so-called
highly-civilized people have not at some time or other questioned the
wisdom of God with infinitely less cause? Well, then, may we sympathize
with this poor, uneducated, half-pagan Indian. The bereaved man’s grief
was terrible to witness. For days he sat disconsolate and desolate,
moaning to himself, and neither eating nor sleeping. When the missionary
called to comfort him, he rose slowly to his feet and in a voice that
cut the preacher to the heart cried: “My wife, where is she?” Then with
a sweep of the arm to take in the whole of his tribe, he asked: “Was
there no other woman your God could take?” The missionary, greatly
distressed, felt that the kindest thing he could do was to go away. Time
passed on and the poor fellow again took up his accustomed duties. But
he was never afterwards the same man. He never forgot his dead wife and
secretly and sincerely mourned her all the rest of his days. He never
took another, but showered all the love of his bruised heart upon his
orphaned child, and never left the Fort without an overwhelming fear
that something might happen to his treasure while he was away. But he
was home again now and all was well. The _com-it-uk_ had claimed most of
his attention when he had driven up to the Fort, but his eyes
nevertheless sought eagerly for Kasba, whom he discovered standing
meekly in the background after her wont, ready to carry his “bag” to the
house. They had not yet spoken, for Kasba never intruded herself when
Bekothrie was nigh. She knew her father’s work came first. But she was
inside the house, he well knew, to welcome him; and never did a lover’s
heart flutter and throb as did the heart of this poor old home-coming
Indian father.

True to his expectations, his daughter was waiting for him within. She
was standing by the stove. Instantly the girl’s face glowed with
pleasure, and with a little cry of delight she flew to him and,
encircling his neck with her arms, drew his face down on a level with
her own, and gazed searchingly into it for a moment, as if to see
whether he had taken any harm during his long absence. The old man gave
a short, contented laugh, then his feelings welled up within him and
tears of joy gleamed in his eyes. Reluctantly putting her from him, he
took off his out-door garments while Kasba greeted the Eskimo and flew
back to the stove, on which a pot was boiling merrily. A savory smell
filled the room but the old man remarked it not. His eyes were following
his daughter’s movements with the wistful gaze of loving solicitude. He
paused in the act of drying his hands on a coarse towel to smile
whenever his eyes caught hers in her flittings. His ablutions completed,
Kasba helped him into his jacket. Then, taking him by the shoulder she
playfully forced him to a seat. The Eskimo seated himself at the table
at a gesture from Kasba, and soon food was set before the men. Hardly a
word was exchanged between them, and in a marvellously short space of
time they had finished supper and were feeling for their pipes. Fumbling
in one pocket after another, Delgezie pulled out pipe, knife and a plug
of nigger-head from profound depths. Then he proceeded to cut up enough
of the tobacco to fill his pipe. Minnihak produced his _pu-lu-yet-ti_
(pipe) from his fire-bag and with scrupulous carefulness filled its
little black bowl with a mixture of tobacco and a particular kind of
weed which grows among the rocks in the vicinity.

This _pu-lu-yet-ti_ had been fashioned from soft stone and ornamented
with little brass bands in a manner and after a pattern peculiar to the
Eskimo. The stem was of wood and frequently renewed. But the old stems
were never thrown away; they were hoarded up against a tobacco famine
when they would be cut up very fine and smoked.

The two men smoked in silence. Minnihak drew lovingly at his pipe long
after the little bowl was empty. Then with a deep sigh of regret he
reluctantly put it away, and drawing his _kaip-puk_ (deerskin robe) over
him, he stretched himself on the floor to sleep.

Her duties completed, Kasba sat down beside her father.

“The boy’s asleep,” said Delgezie, with an indicative thrust of the chin
in the direction of a recumbent figure in a corner of the room.

“Yes,” laughed the girl, with a glance in the same direction. “Poor
David, he tried to keep awake, but he was so very tired. He was away on
the ‘big hill’ hunting, all day. He shot three deer.”

“Oh!” ejaculated the old man with a nod and smile of approbation.

“We’re going for them to-morrow,” she explained, taking her father’s
hand and smoothing it fondly.

Just then the door opened and Broom appeared. He hesitated on the
threshold, glancing from one to the other as if asking permission to
enter. Kasba half started up from her seat at sight of him. She
experienced a feeling of resentful surprise, wondering what his visit
might portend.

The old man bade him enter, though he seemed rather taken aback at the
fellow’s presence. The welcome obviously lacked fervor.

Nothing daunted, Broom came forward with a peculiar smile on his lips.

Kasba rose hastily and placed a seat for him, then turned deliberately
away, withdrawing to another part of the room, and for the time being
appeared totally absorbed in some kind of needlework.

“Well, old man,” said Broom, breaking the strained silence, “what sort
of a trip did you have?”

“Pretty fair, sir,” Delgezie made brief reply. Then he nervously moved
his hands and his eyes went to the girl. Delgezie certainly looked upon
Broom with much disfavor. Suddenly he straightened up a little and
looked the sailor full in the face. “What do you want?” he demanded
bluntly.

Broom appeared a trifle confused by this direct question. He glanced at
the girl before answering, then: “Oh, nothing much?” he said.

Delgezie nodded doubtfully, his eyes fastened on the fellow’s face.
Something in his manner had startled and displeased him.

Conversation lagged.

The intruder fidgeted uneasily under the old man’s solemn scrutiny. He
changed his position several times. Then he suddenly produced a cigar
and offered it to the old man, who refused it point blank.

“No thank you,” said the old fellow, with grim brevity, “I’m used to the
pipe.”

Broom bit off the end of the rejected cigar savagely, and sticking it
into his mouth applied a match. Again he glanced at the girl.

This time Delgezie caught the direction of his glance and instinctively
his attention was alert. A shade of uneasiness came into his eyes; his
mind was filled with vague alarms. With puckered brows he sat silently
watchful and suspicious.

To Kasba the constraint became unbearable. She softly opened the door
and went out. The closing of the door was the first warning Broom
received of it.

He turned half round and sat for a few moments in a listening attitude.
Then he turned back, and leaning forward toward Delgezie, “Look here,
old man,” he said, laughing oddly, “what I’ve come to see you about is
this: I want your girl—” He left the sentence unfinished; there was
that in the old man’s face that caused him to stop.

For Delgezie had turned white, his lower jaw dropped, his eyes set in a
fixed, horrified stare; he breathed heavily. So paralyzed was he at the
news that he lost his faculties. Something like a groan escaped his
lips.

“You—want—my—daughter!” he gasped, at length.

“Yes, I do,” replied Broom, mercilessly, with another odd laugh. “I’m in
love with her. Course I can’t marry her properly here, we haven’t a
parson; but I’m going south first open water and will take her along. We
can get hitched up then, at Churchill. In the meantime an Indian
marriage will have to do.”

The look in the old man’s honest eyes caused Broom’s to wander.

“Well,” said the old fellow shakily, “I can’t give you my girl. She’s
all I’ve got.” His voice broke and a tear showed on his cheek.
“Besides,” he added, pulling himself together, “you don’t love her; you
say you do, but by and by—”

“I know what you mean. You mean I would grow tired of her and throw her
off.”

“Yes,” said the brave old Indian, slowly, “that’s what I mean.”

Broom laughed harshly. “You’re candid, at any rate, old man; but you’re
wrong. Besides, how do you know that the girl don’t want me?”

“You can ask her yourself, in front of me,” replied Delgezie with honest
indignation. And rising slowly, he crossed the room and went out. Broom
heard the old man’s voice in conversation outside for a few moments,
then he returned, leaving the door ajar behind him.

Soon after, the girl came in. “Well!” she said quietly, yet with a touch
of defiance in her voice, and facing Broom boldly. Her eyes were wide
and flashing, her lips compressed. She looked at him in a manner which
despite himself caused him to feel somewhat abashed and his face to
crimson.

The fellow seemed too confused to speak for a moment. Then: “I’ve been
asking your father for you, Kasba,” he said, somewhat brusquely, as if
intending to carry off the matter with a high hand.

The girl displayed no surprise. She looked him squarely in the face for
a moment, then: “Do you mean that you wish to _marry_ me?” she asked
with rather marked emphasis.

“Well, I would; but I can’t, very well,” he explained. “I’d do it fast
enough, but there ain’t any parson here. I reckon you’d think a
sky-pilot necessary—” He paused and looked at her searchingly.

But she would not help him. She stood grimly silent, gazing at him with
an inscrutable face.

He shifted uneasily under the intensity of her gaze. Her attitude
stirred his wrath. Who in the world was she that she should put on airs?
She had been spoilt. Just because she was pretty she had been petted and
made much of! But—just wait! D—— her!

“Still we could get married—” he continued, as she did not speak.

The girl’s lip curled, and he left the sentence unfinished.

“According to _native_ custom,” she finished scornfully. “Oh!” There was
great significance in the exclamation. She threw back her head proudly,
and her nostrils widened. She surveyed him from head to foot in one
sweeping glance of contempt.

Broom smiled. It was a disagreeable smile and his brows lowered. There
came an unpleasant glint in his eye.

Going to her father, who had resumed his seat, she knelt down beside
him. The old man took her hand and held it tightly. “Father,” she said
firmly, “I shall never marry in that fashion. You would not wish me to
do so?”

The staunch old fellow shook his head decidedly. “No, my child,” said
the downright old fellow. “We are Indians, it’s true; but we are also
Christians. No, I do not wish it, nor would I allow it.” There was much
righteous indignation in his voice.

“Christians!” sneered Broom, in a manner so diabolical that it is quite
beyond power of description. “_Fine_ Christians, I’m sure. But I’m up to
your little game. You think to make a fine lady of the girl, eh? She’s
throwing herself at Thursby’s head, and if—”

“Stop!” commanded Delgezie, sternly. Gently disengaging himself from the
girl, he got to his feet. Raised to his full height, he looked upon the
slanderer with a face which, in truth, was fearful. His eyes brightened
into clear and perfect fire. He stood, a concentration of scorn,
contempt, hatred the most intense; pouring upon the dastardly villain an
unbroken stream of withering fury that was dreadful to look upon. His
daughter, in fact, was obliged to speak twice before she could arrest
his attention.

“Father! father!” she pleaded. She was greatly frightened. She had never
seen this kind-hearted old man in such a fierce passion before.

At the sound of the girl’s voice, Delgezie partly recovered himself. The
anger went slowly out of his face, leaving it grim and stern. “You have
received your answer,” he said with dignity. “You have no right to
insult us. Please go.” With that he resumed his seat.

But Broom was angry, too. For an instant he had a wicked desire to seize
the girl and carry her off, but he could not do this without being
followed and brought back, and his punishment would be severe. Roy had
already declared himself on that score. Besides there would be this
fiery old father to deal with.

“I’ll have her yet,” said Broom, starting to take his leave, “I swear
it!”

At the door he turned and glanced maliciously back at the girl, then
laughing discordantly he strode out, banging the door behind him.

Then a great, horrible fear seizing Delgezie seemed to still the beating
of his heart. For Broom had sworn that he would possess Kasba. Broom was
a white man, and white men always got what they set their hearts upon;
that is, when dealing with Indians. At least, such was Delgezie’s
experience. He must consult Bekothrie. Yet it seemed a silly thing to
make a fuss about. It was no insult to offer a girl marriage, and, if
pressed by Bekothrie, Broom would undoubtedly construe his offer as
such. Besides the fellow had been refused, and that should end the
matter, and probably would, when he had had time to recover from his
ruffled feelings. If he then refused to take the rejection in good part
and continued to annoy the girl with his attentions, it would then be
time to complain to Bekothrie. So argued the old fellow, who was not a
little shrewd in his way.

“Do you like that man, my girl?” he asked with exceeding tenderness.

“I don’t, and never shall,” Kasba replied firmly. “And oh, father, I
never want to leave you. You are the best father any girl ever had.”
Then with a laugh she kissed him.

He put his hand up and stroked her cheek.

“When the time comes, little girl, and the right man asks, your father
won’t refuse him,” Delgezie assured her in his slow, thoughtful way.
“But in God’s name let it be a man of your own kind, an Indian. You were
trained in the white man’s ways, and taught to read and write English,
but you are still an Indian, my dear; nothing could alter that. You are
what the good God intended you should be—a Chipewyan Indian girl; and
to be ashamed of it would be to doubt His wisdom. But there,” he added
hastily, trying to hide his emotion, “you are going to the ‘big hill’
to-morrow, so must be off to bed. Give me the books.” He drew the lamp
toward him as if to obtain more light to read by, but in reality his
poor old eyes were dim with tears.

Kasba sprang to her feet and brought two Chipewyan books, a hymn and a
prayer book. These she handed to her father, who fumbled at the leaves
of the hymn-book for some moments with a thoughtful frown. Then
suddenly, “_A Neolt ye sesal naothat da_” (Abide with me), he sang in a
thin, tremulous voice. Kasba joined in the hymn, but in subdued tones,
fearing to wake David, who moved uneasily.

The pair then fell on their knees and Delgezie read the “general
confession,” concluding with “_Neta Yaka thenda nese_” (Our Father, who
art).

Long after her father’s deep breathing told her that he was asleep,
Kasba lay gazing at a shaft of moonlight that pierced the small window.
Her mind dwelt with bitterness on the harshness of her situation:
Broom’s persistent attentions; Roy’s indifference to her love; and her
promise to Sahanderry necessitated important changes in her life. In
future she must no longer roam the Fort unattended; no longer spend the
quiet hours thinking of Bekothrie. Instead, she must always be
accompanied in her ramblings, must think of Bekothrie no more, and
accept Sahanderry as her lover.



                               CHAPTER V.
            _AN ESKIMO CONJURER AND A PUGILISTIC ENCOUNTER._


Early next morning Roy was in the inner room making a protracted search
for the store key, which had mysteriously disappeared from the nail on
which it had hung the night before. Suddenly discontinuing his efforts,
he strode into the kitchen.

Sahanderry was standing near the door in earnest conversation with
Kasba, who had apparently just arrived with a message from her father.
Squatted beside the stove was the Eskimo, Ocpic.

Roy nodded to the girl, who discreetly drew aside, then questioned
Sahanderry, who instantly assured him of his total ignorance of the
matter.

Still pondering over the disappearance of the key, Roy suddenly raised
his eyes and encountered those of Ocpic, who was watching him keenly. In
a flash Roy perceived the culprit.

He glanced searchingly at the Eskimo, who returned the look with an
inscrutable face.

Roy smiled and flashed a glance at Sahanderry, who was standing with a
puzzled expression, gazing from one to the other of them. The
Chipewyan’s brain worked slowly, ponderously. It was some little time
before a suspicion of what was in the other’s mind dawned upon him.

Roy beckoned him with a slight movement of the head and then went
outside. The Indian lingered for a few moments before following with an
awkward attempt at careless ease.

“It was Ocpic,” declared Roy, vehemently, without preamble, as
Sahanderry joined him. “Of course it was he! I left him in the room with
the sailor when I went out to Delgezie, and the sailor followed. But
you,” he demanded quickly with a wrathful look, “what were you thinking
of that you allowed the Eskimo to stay alone in the room?”

The delinquent dropped his head guiltily, expecting a storm.

“Now go in,” continued the speaker peremptorily. “Try to keep Ocpic in
the kitchen while I fix up a plan to get the key away from him.”

The servant acquiesced gladly, and quickly disappeared into the house.
Roy followed more leisurely. He spoke jocosely to Kasba as he passed
through the kitchen.

On reaching the inner room he threw himself into a chair to form his
plans to outwit the Eskimo. In the dilemma his knowledge of the native
character stood him in good stead.

A feasible way presenting itself, he called the Eskimo forward.

Ocpic entered with a solemn face. There was a menacing gleam in his eye.
Roy knew at a glance that the native’s suspicions were aroused; that he
was prepared to deny any knowledge of the key with mule-like obstinacy.
It had been mislaid by himself, Roy explained, or it had dropped from
his pocket, as the case might be. Ocpic had often boasted of his feats
as a conjurer. Let him find the key and the trader would consider him as
clever as he made himself out to be.

The Eskimo hesitated. The trader twitted him with his incapability as a
conjurer, laughing at his hesitation to comply with such a simple
request. However, if Ocpic refused to find the key, he had only to
change the lock on the store door and the key would be of no use to
anyone.

Ocpic glanced searchingly at Roy, but his face had assumed such a bland,
innocent expression that any suspicion Ocpic might have had was
instantly allayed.

The Eskimo was now on his mettle. He felt his reputation as a conjurer
at stake. He hesitated a moment longer while the thought of the change
of locks sank into his brain. He had instantly perceived that the stolen
key would then be of no use to him, and so, his face assuming his old
simple, ingratiating smile, he gave a ready assent.

He would bring his conjuring belt, he said, and left the room.

The trader laughed inwardly.

After a short absence Ocpic again presented himself. He held a large
_kaip-puk_ (deerskin robe) in his hand and wore around his waist a belt
of string, to which rags of different material and color and sundry tiny
parchment ornaments had been attached. This belt was the insignia of his
office.[2]

Entering the room, Ocpic made arrangements for the coming performance
with the profoundest gravity, while the trader watched him with a
twinkle of amusement in his eye.

The native seemed to have some difficulty in finding a suitable spot on
the floor, but at length chose a place near the door, where he squatted
down, drawing the _kaip-puk_ over his head and completely enveloping
himself therewith. When this was accomplished to his own satisfaction,
he began a mumbled incantation, interspersed with much scratching on the
floor.

The conjurer’s voice swelled into a loud song as the ceremony
progressed. The _kaip-puk_ heaved, while the figure beneath seemed to be
engaged in a violent struggle, presumably with some turbulent spirit.

Meanwhile the noise made by Ocpic had gradually stirred Broom’s senses.
He slowly awoke, raised himself on one elbow, and gazed at the heaving
_kaip-puk_ as if fascinated. He brushed his hand across his eyes sharply
as if to make sure he was thoroughly awake, then threw another hasty,
startled glance in the same direction. Presently he smiled grimly as the
import of the scene grew clear to him. After watching the Eskimo’s
struggles for some moments longer, Broom dropped his legs over the side
of the bunk and sat in a stooping position. He was occupying the lower
bunk and the limited space above would not allow him to sit upright. He
then noticed Roy’s presence for the first time.

“What’s the bally performance?” he inquired, catching a glance from the
trader.

“Oh, I’ve lost the key of the trading store, and Ocpic’s finding it for
me,” responded Roy. The conjurer was still enveloped in the _kaip-puk_,
and, taking advantage of this, the speaker closed an eye.

Broom’s eye twinkled. “Ah,” he said significantly with a smile and a
meaning glance at the struggling bulk, which was now undergoing
astounding evolutions.

A moment later a tremendous upheaval occurred and the Eskimo’s head
appeared. He sat blinking at Roy, his overheated countenance perspiring
profusely.

“The spirit wants to know what kind of key it is,” he said breathlessly.

“A big key,” returned the trader, illustrating its length with his two
index fingers.

Ocpic nodded comprehendingly, gazed seriously around the room for a
moment, then, taking a long breath, again disappeared.

The two white men glanced at each other and smiled.

“That fellow’s _some_ conjurer,” asserted Broom, whose voice seemed to
betray a considerable appreciation of the ludicrous element in the
incident.

“He sure is,” said Roy, with a broad grin; “the best in the land.”

Broom started to laugh, but a sharp look from Roy turned it to a
prolonged yawn.

The conjurer’s previous herculean efforts were mere child’s play
compared to the superhuman display that followed. The intervals of
scratching became continuous, the incantations swelled into a roar and
the twisting figure beneath the _kaip-puk_ worked itself into a frenzy.
Then suddenly all was still and a closed hand pushed itself out through
the covering. The grimy fingers and the thumb slowly opened, disclosing
the wards of a large key.

“Is that the key?” asked a muffled voice from beneath the _kaip-puk_.

“Yes,” replied Roy without moving from his seat to examine the thing in
the extended hand.

The fingers and thumb closed back on the object and the hand again
disappeared. Ocpic’s voice was then heard in conversation. After a time
the attendant spirits were, apparently, dismissed, for the figure arose.
The _kaip-puk_ fell to the floor in a heap and the Eskimo stood
revealed, smiling and perspiring. With a proud look he held a large key
extended on his open palm. The trader slowly took it, then, like a
flash, his expression of careless indifference disappeared and his face
took on a look of implacable wrath. Reaching for the fallen _kaip-puk_
he hurled it into the kitchen as far as he could throw it; then turning
to the Eskimo, he grasped him firmly by the shoulder.

“You’re a thief,” he cried. “You stole the key.” With this he gave the
astonished Ocpic a shake which nearly sent him off his feet. “If ever I
find you in this room again I will shoot you,” he added sternly. “Now
go.” Ocpic breathed heavily, his face worked passionately, then suddenly
he gave a loud shout. Hatred, the implacable hatred of a coward, flashed
from his eyes as he did so.

As if by magic the doorway was filled with angry faces. A number of
Eskimos shuffled in and made an effort to draw near to Ocpic.

Quietly Broom dropped from the bunk to the floor. Deliberately he
reached for a chair. Then he took his place beside Roy, balancing the
chair in his hand.

Then a slight figure pressed itself through the group at the door. It
was Kasba. Roy looked at her surprised, and smiled. Straightening
herself, she faced Ocpic’s allies with outstretched hand and eyes aflame
and stood as if warning them back, a veritable little fury. For a moment
the Eskimos wavered, then they murmured together and moved as if to push
past the girl.

Roy smiled grimly. He was conscious of feeling a slight exultation at
the prospect of a conflict with the natives, for the old race antagonism
was strong in him. He knew the moment of his life had come, that to show
the least fear now was to lose command over these people forever. All
depended upon a bold front.

Abruptly he motioned Broom back. Then he gently brushed Kasba aside.
Stern and fearless he strode up to Ocpic, who never moved a muscle. With
blazing eyes Roy pointed to the door. He looked particularly big in his
wrath.

“_Hilimee!_” (Go!), he barked. The command was not one to be ignored. He
seemed with his stern visage and flashing eyes to be very earnest
indeed.

There was a tense silence. The two men gazed fixedly into each other’s
eyes; then, as invariably happens, the native quailed before an
unflinching outward manifestation of the stronger will. Ocpic’s eyes
dropped sullenly. He turned and shuffled out. The group at the door had
already melted away, as silently as it had appeared.

Roy turned to speak to Kasba, but found her gone. The danger past, she
had vanished. The two white men silently gripped hands.

A few minutes later Sahanderry appeared with a trembling, scared face;
so terrified was he at what had just transpired that he quaked with
terror. He kept muttering to himself while he laid the table for
breakfast. Evidently he expected Ocpic to take summary vengeance by a
murderous act similar to one of which he was already declared guilty.

Having recovered the key, Roy decided to go alone to the trading-store
to ascertain the extent of Ocpic’s peculations, and with this intention
struggled into his hairy-coat and was about to leave the room when an
enamelled plate fell with a loud clatter from Sahanderry’s trembling
fingers to the floor. This drew Roy’s attention to the Indian’s state of
extreme nervousness. He looked fixedly at him for a moment and then
spoke.

“Sahanderry,” he said in a voice that made the man addressed spin round
as if shot.

“Bekothrie!” gasped the Indian.

The trader quietly held his gaze until the other had somewhat mastered
his agitation, then:

“Don’t be a fool,” he added sharply.

These peremptory words, coupled with the speaker’s perfect coolness, had
the desired effect. Assuming courage borrowed from Roy’s composure,
Sahanderry continued his labors with less nervousness, but heavily and
with scant interest.

Broom, who was feeling “as fresh as a daisy,” returned to his seat on
the edge of the bunk, where he sat warbling scraps of songs of
questionable morality in a harsh, grating voice, like the rasping of
dull metal, beating a tattoo meanwhile with the heels of his naked feet
and throwing Sahanderry an occasional glance to see how he was
appreciating these efforts.

Strange to say, Sahanderry was far from being offended at the levity of
the singer, and hovered about the table with an approving smile on his
dark face long after he had completed his duties. Perceiving his
apparent interest, Broom threw himself into the attitude of a preacher
and with inscrutable face severely lectured the Indian on his
indiscretion in listening.

“You are a hardened sinner, my man,” he declared sharply. “Mind what you
are about, or you will come to a bad end.”

This admonition discomfited Sahanderry for the moment, then he threw the
incorrigible Broom a look of infinite scorn and abruptly walked out with
his head in the air.

Left alone, the other delivered himself of a rattling chorus as a grand
finale, then, dropping on his feet, he pulled on his clothes with a
dexterity almost incredible. In a few moments Mr. Broom was dressed and
out of doors.

After breakfast the trader rose from the table and paced the room
restlessly. “That packet!” he murmured, sighing a little. “How I wish it
would turn up. For some unaccountable reason my fiancée’s letters missed
connection last mail; I haven’t heard from her for a year.”

“What, a whole twelve months!” cried his companion with a theatrical
start of horror. “A year without a ‘billy-doo.’ What a calamity!”

Roy made a playful lunge, which the other skilfully avoided, then,
laughing good-naturedly at Broom’s banter, he attired himself and went
out, but he did not remain out of doors long, quickly returning and
wandering listlessly about the place during the rest of the morning. He
was too anxious about the “packet” to attend his traps or settle himself
to anything about the Fort.

Broom made himself comfortable and began to read the book he had laid
aside on the previous day. But as time went on he put it down and
endeavored to attract the trader’s attention by making significant signs
and gestures, such as filling an invisible vessel from an imaginary
bottle, lifting his hand to his mouth and going through the motions of
drinking with evident gusto, and swallowing an indefinite quantity of
something with an appreciative smack of the lips. These pantomimic
efforts failing, he coughed spasmodically, then uttered sundry vague
half sentences, among which “An eye-opener,” “Throat as dry as a
lime-kiln,” “A hair of the dog that bites you,” could be plainly
distinguished, and all these attempts at effecting a “liquor up” being
abortive, he came abruptly to the point with a hint there was no
mistaking.

“What about a drink?” he asked with an ingratiating smile.

But the trader was gazing out through the window, his thoughts far away,
and Broom was obliged to repeat his words with emphasis before Thursby
became aware that he was speaking.

Then, “Eh!” he ejaculated, turning sharply and collecting his errant
thoughts with an effort. “I beg pardon, Broom. I was thinking, and your
words passed over me.”

“Oh, I was merely inquiring whether there was a ‘shot left in the
locker,’” grumbled Broom.

The other laughed, paused irresolutely, then set a bottle and enamelled
mug on the table. Broom eyed these proceedings with manifest
satisfaction. But perceiving there was but one mug he raised his
eyebrows and glanced significantly from the mug to Roy and back to the
mug again.

Roy shook his head and smiled. “No,” he said, “it’s too early.” He
waited until Broom had helped himself, then again placed the bottle
under lock and key.

Broom shrugged his shoulders at this caution. He screwed his face into
an extravagant expression of dismay, then, changing his expression
suddenly, he emptied the mug at a gulp.

Buttoning his coat and drawing his cap well down, Roy went out to take
another look for the packet. Broom followed Roy to the door with his
eyes, then took up the mug and looked into it as if to see whether by
any possible chance a drop had been left in the bottom. Raising it to
his lips, he drained the few remaining drops, then finding he could
squeeze no more out of it, replaced the mug and settled himself to read.

Meanwhile, Sahanderry, trying to appear at ease, was in the kitchen
preparing dinner. He broke off short in a song to glance at Ocpic who
was squatting in a corner, watching him from beneath lowered brows.
Mustering courage, Sahanderry again burst forth, but only managed two
lines before his courage again failed him. His song stopped abruptly; he
wiped the perspiration from his forehead with a hand that trembled; his
eyes rolled in their sockets, and his hair stood on end more than usual.
Then he laughed the short mirthless laugh of a man who was afraid.

At this juncture the door opened and Delgezie appeared, accompanied by
Minnihak, and Sahanderry’s face brightened instantly. He greeted the
newcomers with effusion. Feeling that he had a sympathetic confidant in
Delgezie, he related the story of the stolen key. But the old man
evidently was made of “sterner stuff.” He listened to the tale with the
keenest attention and at first looked puzzled, then astonished, then
fierce and wrathful.

The story was no sooner finished than Delgezie called Minnihak to him
and, despite Sahanderry’s protests, and his own limited knowledge of the
Eskimo language, he acquainted him with what had occurred.

Minnihak nodded twice after the old man had finished speaking, as if to
let him know that he perfectly understood, then, walking across the
kitchen, he squatted down a few feet in front of Ocpic and sat gazing
fixedly at him.

Ocpic, no whit abashed, returned the look.

After some moments of silence, “You’re a thief!” said Minnihak sharply,
and there was a prolonged wait. The two Eskimo glared fiercely at each
other, Ocpic’s breath came quickly, and his eyes glittered evilly. At
length he got slowly to his feet.

The other did likewise and, standing silently, the two men continued
their fixed stare.

Presently Ocpic deliberately threw off his coat and shirt and again
Minnihak leisurely followed suit. Then, still in perfect silence, they
straightened themselves, and, standing naked to the waist, prepared for
a pugilistic encounter.

Stationing themselves at arm’s length the belligerents stood firm, and
Ocpic, considering himself the better man, allowed his opponent the
first blow and placed himself in the required position to receive it.
With left arm drawn tight against his side and the shoulder pushed well
forward, he stood offering the other a fair opportunity to strike his
exposed biceps.

Minnihak paused a moment, as if mustering his strength, then, with a
swinging blow, he struck. The blow was received with a grim smile, and
the arm fell into its natural position, proclaiming the recipient ready
to take his revenge.

Drawing himself up, Minnihak then offered the muscles of his arm for
sacrifice. Ocpic brought his fist round with a wicked swing and struck a
mighty blow. Minnihak winced visibly. Ocpic smiled grimly and drew back
into position again.

There was now a few minutes interval of quiet, during which Broom
entered the kitchen.

“Hullo! You giddy gamecocks,” he cried, “What’s the row?”

Delgezie hastened to explain and the sailor seated himself to enjoy the
fight.

It was a novel scene. The daylight straggled through the frosted windows
and lit the room dimly. The combatants breathed heavily. Delgezie leaned
against the table with an anxious look on his bronzed face. He was
feeling a little apprehensive for Minnihak’s safety. Sahanderry clung to
the old man in abject terror. He was viewing an Eskimo fight for the
first time and the heavy, resounding blows appeared fearfully
blood-thirsty compared to the milder hair-pulling battles of his own
race. Broom sat smiling and contemptuous.

The pugilists again took positions and more hard blows were given and
received. These proceedings were repeated several times. Ocpic accepted
his punishment carelessly, but Minnihak was showing signs of fatigue. He
was clearly getting the worst of it. After a few more exchanges upon the
arms, Ocpic threw his head to one side, offering his cheek for a mark,
and the other drew himself together and made laudable efforts to gain
the victory, but his blow lacked force, and all felt that the fight was
over when it became Ocpic’s turn to strike. Their fears were well
grounded. Ocpic struck his opponent low down upon the jaw. The blow had
a touch of the uppercut, and Minnihak staggered and fell to the floor,
where he lay for a few moments blinking confusedly. Then he slowly got
to his feet. Ocpic stood watching him closely, but Minnihak had
evidently had enough. He crossed over to where his clothes were lying
and started to pull on his shirt. This was the act of a vanquished man.
Ocpic smiled exultantly at each of the spectators in turn, then followed
the example of his opponent. Their toilets completed, the two Eskimos
squatted on the floor close together and filled their pipes from the
victor’s fire-bag as if nothing unusual had happened.

-----

[2] In order to become a conjurer an Eskimo isolates himself in a tent
and neither eats nor drinks for fifteen days, when a spirit comes and
shakes him by the hand. This handshaking once performed he is a
conjurer. Henceforth he is supposed to hold an army of attendant spirits
at his beck and call: he can cause a lost article to be found; a person
to recover from an illness or the reverse; and a hundred and one things
equally astounding to happen.



                              CHAPTER VI.
                      _LOST IN THE DRIFTING SNOW._


While the incorrigible Mr. Broom was sitting on his bunk making
prodigious efforts at harmony, David and Kasba were preparing to fetch
the deer that had fallen to the boy’s gun on the previous day. The sled
was brought to the door and packed with sundry cooking utensils, and,
this completed, David drew the wrapper together and lashed it with a
clapmatch line, tucking his rifle and axe under the lashing at the top
of the load to be handy in case of need.

Meanwhile Kasba caught and harnessed the dogs, and everything being
ready, she started off at a quick walk. Barking joyfully, the dogs
bounded after, while David sat astride the loaded sled, laughing and
jubilant.

Mile after mile was accomplished in this manner till the sun peeped over
the horizon, and Kasba, bethinking herself of breakfast, slackened her
pace, keeping a wary eye for a suitable place for a halt. After
journeying a short distance she came to a place where there were
sufficient spruce trees and enough dry wood for their purpose.

Stepping suddenly, she turned and called to the dogs, who required no
encouragement to increase their efforts. The girl’s act was significant:
they knew exactly what was about to happen. With lolling tongues and
panting breath they reached the girl and threw themselves down to snatch
the few minutes’ rest which they knew would be allowed them.

David dropped from the sled to his feet, took his axe and attacked a few
dead spruce trees while Kasba, obedient to Indian custom, made a fire
and put a kettle on the burning embers. Contrary to the old proverb that
“a watched pot never boils,” the water in this kettle was soon bubbling,
and the two young people sank upon the brush which David had strewn
beside the fire, eating their scanty breakfast with eager relish. The
meal did not occupy many minutes, however, and they were soon on their
way again.

The morning was bright, and the cold acted as a stimulant on the two.
Kasba walked quickly over the snow with easy, buoyant steps, gazing on
the monotonous scene with eager eyes. The branches of the spruce had
taken unto themselves a covering of white, sparkling crystals which
easily outvied in beauty the trees’ natural verdure. Large flocks of
willow partridges ran about on the smooth white crust or delved into the
snow, occasionally disappearing into the thickest part of the scrub for
safety when a partridge-hawk hovered ominously over them. The sky was
blue and cloudless save for a few white fleeces floating low down upon
the horizon. The air was clear and still. A cut track led through the
thicker part of the scrub to a lake two or three miles in width. Half
way across this icebound lake the dogs espied a number of deer grouped
together, not far to the right, watching their progress; with a
lightning-like movement the leader diverged from the straight course and
made toward the deer, which, perceiving no danger, were now calmly
approaching the objects of their curiosity. But after drawing quite
close they made a sudden retrograde movement, then ran around in
circles. At intervals they stopped in their course to scrutinize the
dogs anew.

As the dogs started on their wild rush after the deer, Kasba joined
David in dragging on the head-line, but even the combined efforts of the
two had no effect in staying them.

Scenting danger, the deer soon made off at a long, easy trot with the
dogs in wild pursuit, until the sled’s coming in contact with a large
block of ice threw Kasba forward, and she was dragged rapidly onward
until, her arms growing tired, the line slipped from her grasp and the
dogtrain quickly shot ahead.

Gathering herself up the girl stood looking after the disappearing sled
with a rueful countenance and combined feelings of mortification and
disgust at her ignominious position.

Meanwhile David was speeding over the ice in a manner calculated to
break his neck, but a momentary delay occasioned by the sled colliding
with the stump of a tree on the farther side of the lake gave him an
opportunity to regain control of the dogs, which he halted, and then
waited for Kasba to come up.

When the discomfited girl at length reached them David gazed at her
mutely for a moment, then the woeful expression on her face somehow
tickled the boy’s sense of humor and he burst into a fit of loud
laughter.

This sudden change from extreme gravity to boisterous gaiety startled
Kasba, who stood for a moment irresolute, then threw herself beside him
on the sled, laughing hysterically.

Presently, as David’s wandering gaze became fixed upon the sky, his
gaiety ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and he sat staring at the
threatening storm-clouds which were silently creeping upward. Then,
jumping hastily off the sled, he “drove up” his dogs with all vigor.

Kasba, shivering, drew the hood of her coat, which had slipped back
during her frantic slide on the lake, upon her head with a quick pull,
for a keen and cutting wind was rising, and started off at a quick trot
in the direction pointed out by her companion.

Soon a large, dark heap, marked by a fluttering handkerchief tied to a
stick, came into view. The girl divined that it was the object of their
journey and ran straight toward it. As she approached a number of small
white animals stood about it barking shrilly. They were the white foxes
of the North, and appeared about to defend their position, but a nearer
approach disconcerted them and they scuttled off to a safe distance,
where they sat watching events. Not all, however, for David had set
steel traps around the deer the day before, and a few foxes were caught.

The weather now looked ominous, and no time was lost in loading the sled
with meat. The train was then turned toward home, and Kasba started back
against the wind with a resolute look on her small brown face. David
urged the dogs along with loud cracks of the whip, for the wind had
risen and was now rushing across the plain in a biting blast, while
large dark clouds, which had suddenly appeared upon the horizon, spread
rapidly over the sky like huge phantoms, extinguishing the sun in a veil
of vapor. David adjured Kasba to make all speed and “drove up” his dogs
with renewed energy. Hurrying on, they stopped for nothing, till
presently the “little hill,” which meant home, could be dimly seen in
the distance.

The girl breathed a sigh of relief, for she realized that the Fort was
only a few miles beyond the hill. But her comfort was short-lived. The
wind, as if regretting its previous leniency toward them, now burst into
a hurricane, and all sounds were drowned by its howlings, while the
whirlwinds of snow which it raised filled the air and completely
obscured objects a few yards distant.

As the storm cast its cutting ice-dust against David’s face, he could
not even see the dogs. He halted them and shouted loudly for Kasba to
come back, then fired his rifle several times. He waited five minutes,
ten minutes, but the moments passed and the girl did not appear. He
walked forward as far as he dared, but returned immediately, for he
could not see two paces from him and the drifting snow obliterated every
footmark.

David paused irresolutely. He hated to proceed without Kasba, yet he
felt that to remain would be a useless sacrifice, for he was utterly
helpless in such a blizzard. Besides, Kasba was walking in the right
direction when last he saw her, and she might possibly stumble upon the
Fort. It would be a miracle, he knew, but miracles did sometimes happen.
Thus buoying up his hopes for Kasba’s safety, he determined to trust to
the sagacity of the dogs to take him home.

But the dogs were now lying down and showed a decided objection to the
biting wind and drifting snow. Finding his efforts to make them draw the
loaded sled of no avail, he hastily threw off the meat, and again
endeavored to start them. Presently an idea of what their driver
required seemed to dawn upon the dogs, and, their speed accelerated by a
few sharp cuts of the whip, they started off so suddenly that they left
David standing where he was; and it was only with the utmost difficulty
that he caught them up and threw himself on the empty sled, where he lay
prone upon his face, burying his head in the heavy sled wrapper.

If David’s condition was precarious, Kasba’s at the same time was even
more perilous. Had she remained where she was when the hurricane burst
upon them the dogs would have overtaken her, for they soon passed the
spot on their way to the Fort. But, in her trepidation, she had
endeavored to return to David, and this proved her undoing. The clouds
of whirling snow thickened as she scudded along, a mere play-thing for
the wind. Then suddenly there was a muffled shout and the girl turned
quickly in the direction of the sound, and endeavored to reach the spot
from whence it came. But the wind caught her again, driving her before
it until she had totally lost any vague idea she had previously
entertained concerning her position.

Notwithstanding this, she persevered. She walked till she was well
assured that she had lost David in the drifting snow, then she turned,
and made prodigious efforts to reach a place of shelter. By keeping the
wind in her face, she felt that she was going in the right direction,
but thick clouds of snow struck her at close intervals and prevented her
from seeing a yard before her, while the force of the wind was such that
it was almost impossible at times for her to stand upright against it.

To dream of reaching the Fort in such weather was simply madness, and
the poor girl had no choice but to proceed at random with the slender
hope of finding some shelter from the strength of the blizzard, and soon
she felt that nothing short of a miracle could save her, and staggered
forward with a prayer on her lips. But the thought of her poor old
father’s terrible grief should she perish in the cold, forced her onward
and kept her weary legs from sinking beneath her. With the heroism of a
martyr the girl endeavored to do for his sake what, as she felt, she had
neither the will nor the strength to accomplish for her own, and she
stood for a moment in dull despair, worn out by cold, fatigue and
hunger, for she had eaten nothing since their hasty breakfast early that
morning. Nature called to her loudly to discontinue her arduous efforts
and sink down upon the snow, but distracted though the girl was, she
fully understood that should she succumb to the languor she was feeling,
a little white mound would soon mark her last resting-place. Filial
affection was strong within her, and with superhuman efforts she
staggered forward. After half-an-hour’s desperate struggle with the
hurricane—half an hour which to her appeared like a century—the girl
stumbled and fell. She quickly recovered herself but had not proceeded
many steps before she fell again. This time the fall well-nigh deprived
her of the little energy now left her, and it was with great difficulty
that she regained her feet.

As she endeavored to shake off the numbing effects of the intense cold,
she looked around her, gradually, carefully, and then for the first time
she perceived that she was getting among rocks, and that it was the
outlying boulders of these that had caused her to fall. Presently a
ridge of rocks loomed through the drifting snow, seen during a lull in
the gusts. This presented a welcome protection from the wind’s icy
blast, and uttering the glad cry of one suddenly rescued from what had
appeared almost certain death, the girl staggered forward.

But the hurricane, as if angered at losing its lawful prey, seemed to
rush upon her with greater force than ever. It almost dragged her away
in its powerful grasp. Aroused by the imminence of the danger, Kasba
made strenuous efforts to reach a projecting rock, which stood up
heroically to the furious tempest, offering its protection to the
distressed girl. With a cry of relief she sank under its shelter. She
was still in a most unenviable position, however, and was not slow to
realize it.

After resting some moments, Kasba applied herself to prayer. In a few
broken sentences she conveyed her thanks to God for His infinite mercy
in rescuing her from the drifting snow. Then feeling assured that she
had not been saved from the hurricane to perish miserably from cold and
hunger, she turned her thoughts to the means of effecting her further
escape.

Gazing around she tried to discover her whereabouts. A close scrutiny of
the rock that sheltered her proved it to be a well-known landmark, and
this sufficed to tell her that she was in a gully not far from the Fort.
With this comforting assurance she proceeded to keep herself as warm as
she might. Breaking some branches with much difficulty from a spruce
tree that grew near-by, she laid them at the bottom of a hole in the
rock. Then going out upon the plain she stood her snowshoes upright as a
sign of her close proximity in case the worst befel and search was made
for her body.

Returning to her haven of safety, Kasba drew off her hairy-coat, and,
tying a handkerchief over her head, crouched in the hollow, drawing the
coat over her in the manner of a blanket. Then she waited with a
fortitude worthy of the sterner sex for the end of the hurricane; for
she knew relief from the Fort was hardly possible till then.



                              CHAPTER VII.
                         _“THE PACKET” AT LAST._


On the morning of the day on which Kasba and David were lost in the
blizzard, Roy Thursby stood on a high ridge of rocks at the back of the
Fort, gazing through a telescope at a minute speck in the distance. Was
it his imagination, or did the object move? He gazed eagerly at it until
his sight became blurred, and he was forced to drop the glass and give
his eyes a rest. However, after a few minutes spent in excitedly wiping
the lens of the telescope, he again applied it to his eye. Yes, the
object did move, but—was he sure? Again he gazed long and earnestly,
his feelings undergoing curious changes as they wavered between
certainty and doubt. Then the object of his attention suddenly made a
slight detour which was unmistakable. Roy uttered a wild whoop, shut the
telescope with a snap and went scrambling down the rocks with the
enthusiasm of a delighted school-boy.

Long before he reached the Fort he fell to shouting, joyfully:

“Sahanderry! Sahanderry! Up with the flag!”

The kitchen door opened and Broom’s face appeared.

“Where’s the fire?” he enquired with a well-feigned look of terror.

“Fire be hanged! It’s the ‘packet,’” cried Roy exultantly, and in a
lumbering fashion he cut a boyish caper on the loose snow.

Not to be outdone, Broom stepped from the doorway and began a grotesque
performance which he called the Highland fling.

“Get out of it,” cried Roy, giving him a push.

Broom paused with a leg poised gracefully in the air. “You’re an
unappreciative, cold-blooded Englishman,” he exclaimed in an injured
tone. “Why, I’m thinking of you, not of myself. I’m dancing with
delight, my boy, sheer delight. You’ll now be satiated with ‘billy
doos,’” and he performed a few more intricate steps.

“Stop your nonsense, man!” commanded Roy, while he laughed heartily at
the man’s antics. “But put on your coat and come out on the rocks.”

Broom instantly stopped his piroueting, to disappear into the house and
return shortly, struggling into his coat as he came.

“Now, my bold Sir Launcelot, my lovesick swain, we will proceed to watch
the approach of Cupid’s errant messenger.”

With this he attempted to link his arm in Roy’s, who promptly gave him a
push which wellnigh precipitated him into an adjacent snowdrift.

Chatting merrily, the two men climbed the rocks till they arrived at the
summit, where they stood gazing over the dazzling whiteness at the blot,
which could easily be distinguished with the naked eye.

A number of dogs, scenting excitement, scampered about on top of the
ridge of rocks, startling the _kas-i-ba_ (rock partridges), which flew
up in flocks of great size. Near at hand Delgezie and Sahanderry
scrambled up the eminence, while below Ocpic and Minnihak, accompanied
by more dogs, were making prodigious efforts to join them. The flagstaff
cut the sky-line sharply, and the flag, which had now been run up,
fluttered merrily as if it, too, desired to welcome the weary
“packet-men.”

Within half-an-hour of their undignified scramble up the rocks they were
precipitating themselves down again to welcome the arrivals, who were
now close at hand.

It was only by the persistent efforts of the dog-driver and his
companion that the “packet” sled was drawn to the summit of the
snowdrift in front of the Fort, for the dogs were completely worn out.
They staggered along, making heroic attempts to appear to the best
advantage before strangers, but appearances were against them.

“Well, George Hopkins,” said Roy, extending his hand, “I’m glad to see
you.”

“And we’re right glad to get here, sir,” answered Hopkins, drily. “The
trip’s been a hard one.”

“Yes, I suppose it has,” returned the trader with an approving glance at
the plucky little half-breed who had accomplished the long, arduous
journey. But Hopkins appeared to look on the trip as nothing
exceptionally hazardous; it was just a part of the work that his
contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company called for.

Hopkins’ Eskimo companion, Poo-koo, next received Roy’s attention, and
just then Broom, who had been standing idly by, uttered a terrific yell
as the dog-driver lifted the packet-box from under the sled wrapper. The
package was a small and unimposing spectacle, covered with canvas; an
insignificant object, indeed, to be carried such a number of miles at so
great an expenditure of money and labor; but the importance of its
contents and mission made up for its otherwise commonplace appearance,
and such evidently was Hopkins’ opinion, for he handled the box
carefully and with great respect for its “honorable enclosures.”

Roy turned sharply on his heel at the sailor’s shout, and, perceiving
what Hopkins had in his hand, he walked forward to take charge of it
with as much unconcern as his excited state permitted him to assume. He
was feeling a little piqued at the noise Broom was making. It was, he
felt, a continuance of the ridicule he had provoked that morning, and he
resented Broom’s pertinacious buffoonery.

Broom was watching Roy with considerable curiosity, for the occasion
suggested to him the possibility of a celebration. But the Englishman’s
manner was disappointing. In common with most of his countrymen, he
thought it a weakness to give unlimited sway to his finer emotions, and
generally covered them with an appearance of coldness and reserve. He
did so in this instance, and Broom’s hopes fell to zero. But the
expected happened, for when Roy and Hopkins started for the house, the
former suggested that George should “take a drink.”

The suggestion was received by George with unconcealed satisfaction, and
Broom, who was following them closely, smiled in silent approbation of a
proposal which was so entirely in accord with his own mind.

“It’s going to be a dirty day,” remarked Roy, glancing at the
threatening clouds which hovered on the horizon.

“Yes, it’s going to blow from the north-west,” prophesied the
dog-driver. “We’ve just got here in time.”

“Yes, you’re lucky. It will drift like the very dickens with all this
loose snow about,” supplemented the trader, who now paused to look
around; then, “But come,” he added, “let’s get indoors.”

With steps few and rapid the men soon reached the house. As they entered
the door Sahanderry was observed standing with a steaming kettle in his
hand. He spoke hurriedly to Hopkins, who hesitated a moment, then
detained the trader with a respectful touch on the arm, and requested
permission to postpone the whiskey-drinking till he had partaken of a
few cups of tea.

“Tea!” ejaculated the surprised trader.

Broom was vastly amazed; that any man in the possession of his senses
should prefer this homely beverage to the more exhilarating spirit was
entirely beyond his comprehension.

“Yes,” observed George in respectful tones of apology, “I haven’t drunk
tea for eight days.”

Roy’s face cleared. “Of course,” he said, “you’ve been without wood to
boil the kettle. Where did you get the last cup of tea?”

“At Cape Eskimo,” replied the other, mentioning a point some two hundred
miles south of Fort Future.

“And you haven’t tasted tea since; poor devil!” Roy now exhorted
Sahanderry to at once supply the packet man with what he desired.

But the Indian had a comprehensive knowledge of “tripping,” and had
already brewed a kettle of tea. He now offered Hopkins a large mugful.

“Why, that’s capital, Sahanderry,” cried Roy, and he bade George seat
himself and eat and drink to his heart’s content. “You’ve earned it,” he
declared. “You can come to me later for the whiskey.”

With the “packet” under his arm Roy entered his _sanctum sanctorum_,
closely followed by Broom, whose face displayed the resentment he was
feeling at what he considered Hopkins’ idiosyncrasy in preferring tea to
whiskey. He considered Hopkins had thrown away a glorious opportunity,
and expressed his irritation in sullen looks and dissatisfied demeanor.
“Of all the lunatics,” he murmured to himself, glaring back at the
unconscious cause of his anger.

The trader opened the “packet” without any unseemly haste, for he felt
the other’s eyes upon him. There were a goodly number of letters and
newspapers. These he commenced to sort, but, feeling that Broom was
watching his every movement, he suddenly stopped, caught up a handful of
newspapers at random and handed them to his too watchful companion.

Broom took the newspapers awkwardly and murmured something, presumably
his thanks.

Again Roy turned to his correspondence. He hummed an Eskimo Crane song
as he separated the letters from the papers.

        “_Oo-ee-yah, Oo-ee-yah-ah; Moo-nick-koo-li, Shah-pa-ah;_
         _Moo-nick-loon-ee, Nip-yaik-tal-ee,_
                 _Cle-uk! Cle-uk! Cle-uk!_”

        (“Oh husband, oh husband, come dance with me;
          Dance fast, and sing aloud,
                 Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!”)

which song, the natives solemnly aver, is sung by those birds on all
occasions of festivity, the birds sitting round in a ring with one bird,
presumably the leader, standing in the centre.

Roy hummed it over several times before completing his task. A small,
square package of cardboard containing a photograph seemed to cause him
much hesitation, and he paused to lay it beside the letters, then again
to take it up and lay it on the newspapers, but eventually he gave it a
place of honor by itself, apart from the rest of the mail.

By the time the last letter was sorted the heap had grown to a
respectable size. This fact Roy comprehended with manifest satisfaction.

The letters were addressed to him in several different hands, but the
greater number were in the hand-writing of one person—evidently that of
a lady. After these letters had been separated from the others he
arranged them according to a mystic sign, or number, which was visible
in the left hand corner of each envelope, then suddenly, without any
apparent cause, he dropped them on the table to snatch up the cardboard
package. Cutting the string that bound it together, he discovered a
photograph of a young girl, or rather, young woman, for it was the
picture of a person about twenty years of age.

The photograph was of the size known as a “cabinet.” The lady’s costume,
what could be perceived of it, was shadowy and indistinct. The features
were those of a young, healthy-looking maiden neither beautiful nor even
pretty, but the expression of the girl’s face was pleasant, and the eyes
which looked fearlessly out from it were large and good. The figure as
far as could be judged from the photograph was short, and, to use a
vulgar expression which aptly describes it, stocky.

Roy held the photo tenderly, gazing rapturously at the face pictured
there. Presently he withdrew his eyes and glanced cautiously across at
his companion.

Broom’s face was hidden by the newspaper, in the reading of which he was
apparently absorbed. Taking advantage of the other’s abstraction, Roy
hastily pressed the photograph to his lips.

A crisp, crackling sound peculiar to paper brought a blush to Roy’s
cheek, and with guilty haste he laid the cardboard on the table, then he
looked up with what nonchalance he could muster. His companion’s
attention was still absorbed in his reading, and Roy concluded with a
feeling of relief that his late proceedings had passed unobserved. For
although the act of kissing a photograph was in no way a grave offence,
yet it was not an act he cared to commit before witnesses.

But Roy was wrong in his conjectures. By a skilful manipulation of the
newspaper, Broom had seen Roy’s every act, and now sat behind the paper
with a supercilious smile upon his face.

Opening the first letter, Roy scanned it eagerly. “Well, my dear boy,”
it ran, “you will be pleased to hear that Papa has at last received his
commission as Inspecting Chief Factor. The letter that he received from
the directors in London acquainting him with the appointment was
eulogistic in the extreme. The following extracts will give you some
idea of the nice things they said:

    “It is a satisfaction to know that you are still in the sphere
    of activity. . . . We all feel that in you we shall have an
    Inspecting Chief Factor who will exercise his influence to
    instil new life into the Company which needs just now a master
    mind to resuscitate—to some extent, at least—its ancient
    prestige . . . That you will set yourself to work to inaugurate
    changes which are much needed . . .”

    “There, now, what do you think of that? And dare you aspire to
    the daughter of such a man? But I have kept my greatest bit of
    news until the last. Papa is so elated with his new commission,
    and determined to inaugurate the changes spoken of in the
    letter, that he has decided to make a long trip of inspection
    during the coming summer, and, prepare to be astonished, ‘Fort
    Future’ is to be visited. Think of that, my boy, and tremble.”

Roy read this letter through twice before laying it down to take up
another, which was written in a different key.

“A terrible calamity has happened here. Young Mr. College got into a
quarrel with a native and shot him dead. Papa declares that he was quite
justified, as it was in self-defence, but I think it was horrible. I
shall never look on the young fellow without a shudder. It would be
impossible for me to take his hand; in my imagination it is covered with
blood. _For in my opinion it is murder for a man to take another man’s
life, no matter what the circumstances that seem to extenuate it._”

For perhaps five minutes Roy pondered over this letter and when he laid
it down it was with a very solemn face. The words stirred him strangely,
and he sat absent-mindedly fingering the next letter for some moments
before cutting the envelope, but when he did so and his eye caught the
opening lines, he started erect in his seat and a slight exclamation of
surprise escaped him. Broom glanced at him inquiringly, but Roy was
absorbed in his occupation and quite oblivious of Broom’s presence.

“My dear boy,” the letter ran, “you must not be frightened when I tell
you that I have been ill. Not seriously ill, dear, but what we Canadians
call ‘under the weather,’ and papa, after eager solicitations from
myself, has promised to allow me to accompany him on his visit to Fort
Future. Is not that most beautiful? I am sure I shall never get another
good night’s sleep till the time comes for us to start. It is three
years since we saw each other. I wonder if I shall find you changed in
appearance? If you will think that I have grown old-looking or ugly?
. . . You may rest assured that, if I am alive and well, at the earliest
possible chance after open navigation you will have the life plagued out
of you by

                                                   Your ever loving

                                                             LENA.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

This being the last letter necessary to the construction of our romance,
we will leave Roy Thursby to his letters while I digress in my story to
say something about the writer of the billet doux.

The first few years of Roy Thursby’s employment in the Hudson’s Bay
Company’s service were spent in the Mackenzie River District. The
officer in charge of the Fort at which Roy was stationed was Factor
James McLeod, a widower with one child, Lena—Roy’s fair correspondent.
After a short time spent in the constant society of the Factor’s
daughter the young clerk became enamored of her and she in return
favored his aspirations. Perceiving the upright character of the young
fellow and the zeal he displayed in the Company’s service—which augured
well for his future success—Mr. McLeod consented to their being
engaged, but stipulated that Roy should be in the possession of his
Chief Trader’s commission before they entertained any thoughts of
marriage. Then Roy had been transferred to York Factory, and from there
to Fort Future, as we have seen.



                             CHAPTER VIII.
                          _DELGEZIE’S DESPAIR._


Roy Thursby laid down the last of his correspondence with mixed feelings
of pleasure and strange forebodings. The delight he was feeling, since
learning that Lena McLeod was to accompany her father on his trip of
inspection, was tempered in a large measure by the words contained in
the letter announcing young College’s fatal encounter with the
Indian—“For in my opinion it is murder for a man to take another man’s
life no matter what the circumstances that seem to extenuate it.” This
was a strange decree from one so young, and the words rang in Roy’s
brain, try how he might to forget them. Yet why they should so disturb
and influence him he could not for the life of him imagine.

Mechanically he caught up a newspaper and ran his eye over its pages
till dinner was pronounced ready.

During the meal Broom’s manner appeared sullen and taciturn, and after a
few minutes of desultory talk Roy lapsed into silence. But when they
rose from the table the trader appeared to suddenly guess the cause of
the other’s moodiness, for after gaily exhorting Hopkins to come
forward, he brought forth the “comfort,” and at this Broom’s face
immediately cleared, while Hopkins entered the room blithely and took
the stiff dram offered him.

The arrival of the “packet” was now celebrated by Broom with more
fervor, and entirely unsolicited he refilled his glass and drank success
to “George Hopkins.”

Roy noted the circumstance with displeasure, but suppressed his
inclination to draw Broom’s attention to it, and drank the toast with as
much grace as he could assume. Then, unceremoniously, he whipped the
bottle off the table.

No whit abashed, the loquacious Broom told a number of pithy stories,
which he related in his inimitable manner. These and other merry quips
kept Hopkins in a constant fit of laughter, in which Roy, despite his
annoyance, was at length forced to join.

Suddenly a gust of wind struck the house, shaking it to its foundations.
The trader and the dog-driver glanced simultaneously at the window, then
at each other with an accompanying nod, as if to say that their
prognostications of a blow were proving correct.

At once Roy thought of Kasba, for he had been told that she had gone for
meat. Had she returned? Had anyone seen her pass the house? Where was
her father, Delgezie?

Receiving no answer to his questions from Broom or Hopkins, neither of
whom knew the whereabouts of the girl or her father, Roy called in
Sahanderry and again put the questions. The Indian entered with a face
that clearly betrayed the anxiety he was feeling, but he could give no
satisfactory information. He was almost certain Kasba had not returned,
but as it was possible that she might have passed while they were at
dinner he was unable to speak positively. He then spoke of his own
doubts and fears regarding the girl’s safety.

But the trader checked these voluble premonitions by commanding
Sahanderry to go to Delgezie’s hut and find out the truth of the matter,
while he struggled into his “hairy coat.”

Without waiting for further directions the Indian rushed from the room.
Fears for Kasba’s safety animated his movements. But he was stopped
short in his impetuous haste before he had crossed the kitchen, the door
being suddenly thrown open by Delgezie himself, who hastily entered,
pulling the door to after him.

Delgezie’s entrance was the signal for the greatly perturbed Sahanderry
to begin a string of confusing questions interlarded with much advice
and dire prophecies of evil, but Roy came to the rescue of the
distracted old man by peremptorily ordering the young Indian to hold his
tongue, and then by a few direct questions the trader elicited the fact
that the girl and boy left the Fort at seven o’clock that morning and
had not yet returned.

“Seven o’clock! They had left at seven o’clock! Then they should have
been back long ago! It is now two! What can have happened to them?” The
trader spoke sharply and with evident anxiety.

In a bewildered fashion the old Indian stood gazing at the speaker,
leaning a little forward as if to better read the expression on Roy’s
face. He had the most implicit faith in the trader’s superior judgment,
and with the simplicity of a child waited to be told what he was to do.
His features worked in a nervous, agitated manner and a pipe that he had
been unconsciously holding fell from his hand to the floor. Suddenly he
seemed to be aware of Roy’s perturbed manner, and made for the door, but
at once Roy called after him, demanding what he was about to do.

But the old man made no answer. He was fumbling at the door, which he
presently opened and went hastily out.

Those left in the room looked askance at one another.

“Follow him, Sahanderry,” cried Roy; “bring him back; he cannot go like
that. Be quick, man.”

Sahanderry hastened to the door, but a sharp cry without caused him to
pause with his hand on the latch. The cry was followed by the howling of
dogs; a peculiar long-drawn howl which the listener instantly recognized
as proceeding from dogs that had become entangled or whose progress was
in some measure impeded. The trio in the inner room again looked at one
another, but this time it was with a smile of relief.

“That’s them,” asserted Sahanderry from the kitchen, “the dogs have
found their way home and the sled has got stuck against something.” With
this information he hurried outside.

But when he opened the door and stepped out, Sahanderry could see
nothing; everything was obscured by the drifting snow. The wind rushed
round the buildings from all points at once and seemed to gather
additional impetus at every corner. The Indian paused, half blinded by
the cutting wind and nipped by the intense cold. But the dogs, as if to
baffle discovery and thereby prolong his apprehensions, became suddenly
quiet. Taking a step forward he called to them in a loud voice. Just
then a bulky object loomed suddenly out of the gloom and he came in
violent contact with something which, although sufficiently substantial
to cause him a shock and nearly send him off his feet, was at the same
time curiously soft. Sahanderry recoiled from it with a thrill of
apprehension and the thing, whatever it was, instantly passed into the
house.

The dazed and vastly astonished Indian remained for a moment staring
after the object. Then an idea of what it was struck him and he swiftly
followed it. When he entered the house he found Roy Thursby bending over
something which lay stretched upon a table, over which a blanket had
been thrown. Delgezie was standing apart, nervous yet confident in his
master’s power to restore animation to the apparently lifeless body he
had just given into his charge.

After bending over the object for a moment longer, Roy looked up with a
slight exclamation and a quick glance at Delgezie.

The old man’s quiet demeanor led Roy to suppose that he was laboring
under the delusion that the body was that of Kasba. The mistake was very
possible, for the object was enveloped in a “hairy coat,” and was
covered with snow when Delgezie discovered it. He had evidently caught
it from the sled without closely inspecting it and rushed into the house
with the senseless David in the belief that it was Kasba he was
carrying. Roy was debating how best to acquaint Delgezie with the error
when the matter was taken entirely out of his hands by Sahanderry, who
had drawn nigh and was now hurling a volley of questions at the
unconscious boy.

Delgezie started as if electrified when the import of Sahanderry’s
importunate questions dawned upon him. He glanced suspiciously around as
if to perceive whether by any possibility the body could have been
changed, then rushed to the table, where he gazed long and searchingly
at David, whose existence he had evidently forgotten in his great
despair for Kasba. Then wildly he turned, and, holding up his hands,
cried in accents of direst agony: “She is my all, O God! Take not the
tender branch and leave the old trunk standing!” Then, dropping his
hands, he added as if to himself, “But I will find her or never return
alive!”

Uttering these words, he was again about to rush from the room when Roy
caught his arm and so prevented him. With the fury of a wild animal the
old man turned on his captor; then, perceiving whom he was struggling
with, he instantly desisted. The trader, however, held him for a moment
longer in order to allow time for his habit of discipline to assert
itself, then commanded him, with a harshness he was far from feeling, to
seat himself and so remain until he was told to move. The poor old man
seated himself mechanically with bowed head and dazed, resigned manner
pitiful to witness. The sight of the Indian’s profound despair went to
the heart of the trader, who had a singular affection for the aged; but
the moment was too pregnant of danger both to the boy on the table and
the girl out in the drifting snow to allow him to engage in sentiment.

Meanwhile Broom with commendable dexterity had removed all of David’s
clothing.

“Snow! Bring snow!” he cried.

Sahanderry and the little dog-driver, who had been present during these
proceedings, quickly fetched the required snow.

The unfortunate boy’s hands and face were literally frozen. His eyes
were closed, and his lips pressed tightly together.

Broom and Hopkins now gave the boy a vigorous rubbing with snow to
restore the circulation, which had been arrested by the intense cold.
This was no soft, agreeable massage, but a lustily performed rubbing
that almost took the skin off.

After a time these exhausting efforts had the desired effect. David
sighed and opened his eyes.

Whereupon the garrulous Sahanderry again bombarded him with questions,
but a peremptory: “Be quiet and fetch me some hot water,” from the
trader, sent him post-haste to the kitchen.

Hastily diluting some brandy, Roy, after a little difficulty, got it
down the boy’s throat and almost immediately he seemed much revived. The
light expression returned to his eyes, and he tried to articulate, and
the trader began to hope that he might have an explanation before he
left on his search for the missing girl; and while the boy had been
undergoing his severe course of friction Roy had been by no means idle,
as two neatly rolled bundles enveloped in blankets testified. He had
tied up what necessaries he judged likely to prove useful to the
distressed Kasba, making them into two bundles, each ready to sling
across a man’s shoulder. He intended to carry one himself and give the
other to Delgezie to carry; thereby guarding against any possibility of
either of them coming upon the girl without the recuperating
necessaries; for in their hazardous hunt for the missing girl the two
men might become separated. Then, bending over the prostrate boy, Roy
earnestly adjured him to tell where he had last seen Kasba.

David’s attempts to articulate were pitiful to behold; the name of the
girl he loved as a sister stimulated him to heroic efforts to speak, but
he could only moan in reply, while large tears ran down his burning
cheeks.

Roy soon perceived that he would be unable to get an explanation from
the boy in the usual way, and resolved to acquire the desired
information by the intricate means of signs.

Again he bent over David and this time he spoke in Chipewyan.

“Now, David,” he said, speaking slowly, “I see that you are unable to
talk, but you can hear me speak and by doing what I desire, you will
make yourself understood just as well. If you wish to answer ‘yes’ close
both your eyes, if ‘no’ keep them open. You understand me, don’t you?”

The boy’s bright eyes shut instantly.

“That’s right!” said Roy. “Now, was Kasba walking ‘before’ the dogs when
you last saw her?” Those bright eyes shut again.

“Good! You were coming to the Fort and were somewhere near the ‘little
hill’?”

The boy’s eyes closed quickly.

“You were on this side of the ‘hill’?”

David stared at him.

“You were on the other side?”

David shut his eyes in the affirmative.

For a moment Roy hesitated, then, as if deciding he could not get any
further information, he turned to go. But as he did so he saw such a
look of profound despair pass over David’s face that he turned to him
again. The mute appeal in the boy’s eyes gripped at his heart.

“You want me to search in some particular place for Kasba?” he said.

The eyes shut instantly.

“At the ‘saw pit’?” David stared at him.

“Sandy Ridge?” There was no response.

Roy mentioned all the likely localities by name, but those haunting eyes
only watched him feverishly.

Tenderly he patted the boy’s head. “You have done your best, David,” Roy
said, “but it is impossible for me to understand where you mean and I
must go and look for the girl without further delay.” With this he
turned away. But David, after lying perfectly still as if to collect all
his failing energies for one mighty effort, partly raised himself and
called out something in a hoarse shriek, but with such vehemence as to
cause the first part to be quite unintelligible.

The sound of David’s voice brought Roy round on his heel with a swing.
His quick ear had caught the word “gully.” The boy was lying on the
table breathing fast and hard, his keen black eyes watching the trader
with an eagerness that told that he was anxiously waiting to be further
questioned.

“Gully! gully!” said Roy to himself; “What does he mean?” Then, in a
flash it came to him. About a mile from the “little hill” was a gully,
Peter’s gully.

Again he essayed an explanation from David.

There was now a glad, happy look on the boy’s face as if by some means
he had discovered that Roy was in possession of the name he had tried so
very hard to utter. Probably Roy’s look of relief, or, what is more
likely, the movement of his lips, as he repeated the words to himself,
had given the boy his cue.

The question was scarcely put before it was answered by those black
eyes, which closed several times in as many flashes. Then, as if the
excited boy’s unnaturally pent-up feelings had suddenly broken bonds he
gave a horrible, ghastly laugh that sent an unpleasant thrill through
all within hearing.

Delgezie, who had remained perfectly impassive while Roy was
interrogating David, jumped excitedly to his feet at the sound of this
unnatural laughter.

“What’s that?” he demanded, gazing around him in a scared, bewildered
fashion.

Roy touched the old man’s arm softly. “Come, Delgezie,” he said,
cheerfully. “We will now go and find Kasba; David thinks she might be
sheltering in Peter’s Gully. I think we can find that even in this
drift, eh, old man?”

The old Chipewyan started suddenly at hearing his daughter’s name. He
gazed at Roy for a moment in doubt, then, perceiving a smile on his
face, he smiled pathetically in return.

“I think so,” he replied, and at once started for the door.

“Wait! Catch hold of this,” cried Roy, pitching one of the bundles to
him, then slipping the other over his own shoulder. “We must go equipped
or we may as well stay at home.”

The distracted father was now all impatience to be off. But Roy paused
to give Broom a few instructions for the proper disposal of David. Then,
carrying a small compass in his hand, he walked outside, closely
followed by the old Indian.

Closing the door, Roy paused to take his bearings by the compass, then
started after Delgezie, who was already some yards in front. He did not
seek to overtake the old man, but followed close behind, keeping him in
sight except, occasionally, when a snow-cloud enveloped him for a few
moments. The force of the wind was terrific. It swept over the plain
howling like a pack of wolves, and drove the men before it at a great
pace.

After scudding along at this unusual speed for some time the air became
literally filled with snow-flakes and the darkness thickened. It was
with utmost difficulty that Roy was able to consult the compass. But
feeling assured that he was going in the right direction he allowed the
wind to blow him forward.

Suddenly the darkness lifted and Roy gazed about him in search of
Delgezie, but nowhere could he be seen. A ridge of rocks loomed out of
the gloom and caused Roy to consult the compass anew. “You’re a bit of a
liar, my friend,” he murmured, slipping the offending instrument into
his mitten in token of his disgust, for he knew by the character of the
rocks that he had come directly south and not south-west as he had
intended—the compass had proved incorrect, as compasses frequently do
in the Far North.

“Well,” thought Roy, “I may as well have a look now that I am here,” and
with this determination he steered his way to a small ravine which he
knew ran through the rocks before him.

And there he lustily shouted the girl’s name, but there was no response,
and after a time he turned and left the ravine in an attempt to reach
Peter’s Gully, his original destination. However, he had not walked far
into the open before he stumbled and fell, and picking himself up he
found that he had tripped over a pair of snowshoes. These he eagerly
scrutinized. From their size he perceived that they belonged to Kasba,
and with a terrific yell that fairly outrivalled the howling of the wind
he recommenced his search for their owner.

After searching for some time, Roy discovered an object huddled in a
hollow of the rocks and sprang forward with a low cry of eagerness, but
in his impetuosity he tripped and fell heavily. The noise and
ejaculation occasioned by the fall apparently awoke the object into
life. For a little cloud of snow arose as a covering was suddenly thrown
back and the girl’s face appeared. Roy struggled to his feet with a
laugh, but it was with a sobered air that he approached Kasba.

“Are you all right, Kasba?” he inquired, anxiously peering down at her.

The girl nodded; she was too cold to articulate, and unable to rise from
the same cause.

Perceiving this, Roy caught her up in his arms to transport her to
another part of the ravine where, as he knew, there was plenty of dry
wood for a fire.

Thus Kasba was brought into the closest possible contact with the man
she loved, and, despite her resolution to think of him no more, she
nestled in Roy’s strong embrace with a little sigh of complete
contentment; she felt that the severe hardships she had undergone in the
blizzard were proving blessings in disguise now that they had given her
these moments of rapturous happiness. Her little brown hand stole to his
shoulder caressingly and she pressed closer to him.

He could feel the beautiful form of the young girl pressing against his
breast. She was such a child, and was so little and dainty, that the
temptation to respond to her caress was not to be withstood, and
lowering his head a little he kissed her on the full lips.

The instant he did it he felt a pang of conscience for his act. It
seemed like a sacrilege after just receiving letters from Lena.

But he had done it more thoughtlessly than otherwise, besides he was
overjoyed at finding the girl safe and well. She had had a miraculous
escape. Still, he realized he had done wrong.

Kasba sighed rapturously. He could feel her heart throbbing, and for a
moment she clung to him passionately.

At this display of passion, he more than ever doubted the wisdom of his
act. He had not intended playing the lover to this half-savage child. He
felt he had played the villain. He knew she had more than ordinary
intelligence and that if he went on in that way he would break her
heart.

He disengaged himself kindly and stood her upon her feet, but she still
clung to his arm, hugging it to her bosom. Her face was flushed and
joyous: he had kissed her, and all eternity could not take from her the
memory of that moment.

As for Roy, in my opinion, he was certainly skating over very thin ice.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                    _ENTERTAINING THE “PACKET” MEN._


During the next few days the sufferers from exposure and travel quickly
recuperated, and in a week all were once again in their accustomed good
health. Kasba had luckily escaped Jack Frost’s most tenacious embrace,
and a few hours had been sufficient to enable her to throw off the
lethargy occasioned by her perilous adventure. David, on the other hand,
had suffered painfully. The parts of his body that had been frozen
became swollen and inflamed to an alarming degree, but as the blood
regained its accustomed circulation the swelling slowly subsided. After
two days of careful nursing the boy had been removed to Delgezie’s hut,
where he had quickly recovered the use of his limbs and elasticity of
spirits, while any fatigue the little dog-driver and his partner might
have felt by their long journey had been entirely shaken off after
several good nights’ rest.

Roy had traded with the few Eskimo encamped at the Fort and sent them
about their business. A large seamless sack, whose sides bulged
alarmingly, standing behind the counter in the trading store, had been
the cynosure of their oblique eyes. This was the damning evidence of
Ocpic’s cupidity, the sack he had filled with goods during the time he
was in possession of Roy’s store key, but had been prevented from
transporting from the premises for some unaccountable reason—probably
some sound had alarmed him and caused him to leave the store post-haste.

The Eskimo spoke among themselves respecting the incident, and from the
fragmentary conversation Roy overheard whilst engaging in trading with
them he gathered that they felt more regret at Ocpic’s failing to take
the goods away than at his behavior. And this was not to be wondered at,
for they were acquainted with Roy only as a man who gave “nothing for
nothing,” while Ocpic was of their own race, and truly blood is thicker
than water.

The trading-store was a small, unpretentious building of undressed
plank. It contained every imaginable commodity likely to be required for
the Eskimo trade: cloth of red and blue, white capotes, blankets, scalpy
knives, dags (snow-knives), pocket-knives, white seed beads, telescopes,
tin and copper kettles of various sizes and a large stock of firearms,
etc. First of all an Eskimo handed his bale of furs over the counter to
Roy, who counted and valued them. Having done this, the trader handed
the native a number of pins (pieces of wood), which the native with
great deliberation arranged upon the counter, first in tens, then into
little piles according to how much he wanted to buy of any one article.
Each of these pieces of wood represented a “skin,” or, as it is
sometimes called, a “made beaver,” the standard valuation by which trade
is carried on between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the natives in that
northern country. Having selected an article valued at, say, eight
skins, the native handed over eight of his pieces of wood in exchange,
and continued this method of doing business till all were gone.

As each native finished his bartering he fell out of the gang which
thronged before the counter, and retired to the particular _iglo_ he
inhabited to gloat over his purchases. After untying the bundle which he
had tied up in the store with such security as to lead one to imagine
that he never again intended to unloose it, he took each purchase in
hand separately, felt the edges of the knives, admired their workmanship
and shape, closely scrutinized the large tin kettles and went into
raptures over their shining brightness.

The trading done and the Eskimo away from the Fort, Roy gave his
attention to the accounts and letters he wished to send by the return
“packet.” The packet-train’s stay at Fort Future was limited to one week
by the hard-and-fast rules governing the Company’s “packets,” and Roy’s
search for Kasba and his trading with the natives had occupied several
days of this time, but at an isolated post like Fort Future the official
correspondence was not heavy and he was easily able to accomplish that
part of his duties in due season. The work of writing his private
letters, however, was more protracted. It was only in the evenings,
after the loquacious Broom had retired, that Roy could apply himself to
these. But by continuing his labors into the small hours of the morning
he arose from the table on the last day of the allotted time with his
work completed.

With the “packet” off his mind, Roy turned his thoughts to giving
Hopkins and his companion a good send-off, and accordingly he arranged
for a dance to take place that evening. Sahanderry was told to make a
large supply of raisin cakes and to coax his dilapidated fiddle into
tune. And the delighted Indian proceeded to carry out these orders with
much jubilation. Soon little squares of dough, spotted with raisins, lay
on top of the stove, and the pleasant smell of newly-cooked cakes filled
the house all morning. During the afternoon the Indian brought out his
fiddle and started to tune it. At this Broom uttered fearful
imprecations and threatened to throw various objects at the fiddler’s
head, but Roy, greatly amused, allowed Sahanderry to go on with his
tuning, and the Indian continued the nerve-racking process with
diabolical ingenuity.

As soon as supper was over, Sahanderry and Hopkins prepared the kitchen
for the coming ball, and when everything was in readiness and the guests
assembled Roy was apprised of the fact. There was a short delay
occasioned by Broom, who at the last moment decided to groom his hair
and unkempt whiskers, then the trader and his companion put in an
appearance.

Kasba’s face at once filled with delight. She had not forgotten the
caress she had received from Bekothrie; her lips where his had pressed
them tingled still. And when he stood up for the first dance with her,
thereby elating her into a seventh heaven of happiness, the crimson flew
to her cheeks and brow. She tossed her head and smiled very prettily,
her heart glowing in her eyes, and I must confess she clung to his hand,
as they went through the figure dances, a good deal longer than was
necessary; also, I may as well tell you at once, she put up her lips,
when she bade him good-night, standing on tip-toe that she might reach
his face. He received her salute with a little laugh of embarrassment,
and in truth was too much worried over what she had done to allow of his
sleeping after he turned in.

Kasba was the only woman present at this singular entertainment, but the
absence of lady partners seemed in no wise to detract from the jollity
of the evening. Hopkins, Poo-koo and David faced Broom, Delgezie and
Minnihak, while Roy had Kasba for partner, as we have just described,
and jigs, country dances, figures of eight, duck dances and rabbit
dances were one and all performed with commendable spirit. There was a
little confusion in the set dances caused by an occasional mix-up of
partners or a dancer jigging alone down the perspective, but these
mistakes only added to the fun of the evening.

At first solemnity and much perspiration marked these performances, but
as pint after pint of “sugar beer” was swallowed by the thirsty dancers,
their solemnity wore away, a gayer humor prevailed and some most
intricate steps were ventured upon and accomplished with more or less
success by the juvenile members of the party.

As the evening progressed, Broom suddenly burst into a song, much to
Roy’s astonishment, for the sailor had often declared himself incapable
of singing a note. The comic expression of Broom’s face created much
amusement, and when he ended his performance by shuffling a few steps
after the orthodox manner of the music-hall artists the delight of his
audience knew no bounds, and the fun waxed fast and furious till the
clock pointed to the hour of midnight. At the striking of the hour, Roy
shook hands with all present, and then, led by Broom, three cheers were
given for “the master,” and the party quickly dissolved.

Despite their terpsichorean efforts of the previous evening they were
all up betimes next morning. Even Broom arose much before his wonted
hour to see the packet men start on their return journey.

“Well, good luck, George!” cried Roy, grasping the little dog-driver by
the hand. “May you have a good trip!”

“Thank you, sir,” returned the little man, who hastily proceeded to
shake hands with all within sight, which act of courtesy was closely
imitated by Poo-koo. And while it was yet dark the packet-train started
on its hazardous journey south. The dogs, greatly refreshed by their
rest, bounded after the rapidly disappearing Eskimo in front, who,
unlike most of his race, was a good and fast walker, and the last link
to the outside world was quickly swallowed up in the gloom of the early
morning.

With an unconscious sigh of regret Roy turned to go indoors. To be sure
Churchill was as much out of the world as Fort Future, but there were
more people—possibly a dozen—and four mails a year there. Four mails a
year looked good to Roy. Truly all things are judged by comparison.

Roy’s naturally buoyant spirits seemed to have departed with the packet
and he appeared dull and listless, remaining preoccupied during the
whole of breakfast, and returning only monosyllabic answers to Broom’s
airy remarks. The interesting occupation of letter-writing gone, there
seemed nothing to occupy his mind, and it was with something of an
effort that he forced himself to take up the old monotonous life and to
revive the interest he had hitherto felt in his work. But these
feelings, this hankering after the unattainable, was soon dispersed by
his strong will, and he was again the zealous officer the Company had
ever found him. He was inwardly longing for the time when the ice would
be out of the river, and Chief Factor McCall would arrive on his trip of
inspection, and the knowledge that Lena was to accompany her father only
made the enforced wait the more exasperating. But Roy knew from bitter
experience that the only way to make time fly was to be fully occupied,
and he therefore decided to make a trip to the camp of his Eskimo trader
Acpa.



                               CHAPTER X.
                    _A TRIP TO AN ESKIMO ENCAMPMENT._


Roy and Broom spent the evening following in desultory conversation. The
latter was feeling in one of his best moods, but a strange presentiment
of coming evil beset the trader; that peculiar instinctive feeling of
some approaching calamity with which we are all more or less acquainted;
the shadowy, indistinct sensation that some catastrophe is nigh and
about to overwhelm us.

As Roy’s naturally buoyant spirits were not prone to fits of depression
he felt irritated with himself and attempted to throw it off, but the
feeling was so persistent, so singularly distinct, that it caused him to
hesitate about making the journey. It was only by a supreme effort that
he suppressed these premonitions of evil and bent his mind on the
business before him.

He had arranged for Minnihak to accompany him as guide, and Delgezie to
follow with a second train of dogs. Consequently the charge of the Fort
fell to Sahanderry, who was summoned to the inner room to receive his
orders. Roy made a point of giving these instructions in the presence of
Broom, so that he might perfectly understand his position and that he
remained at the Fort merely as a guest, and that except for the
preparing of his meals the Chipewyan was in no wise under his direction
or supervision. After establishing this fact beyond any possibility of
doubt, Roy dismissed Sahanderry.

“And now we’ll take a last horn together,” he said, little thinking how
prophetic his words would prove.

“Thanks, old man,” returned the sailor. Then, as if the thought had
suddenly flashed upon him, he added: “By the way, you might leave a drop
with me, old chap; the time will be deuced long while you’re away.”

Roy shot him a quick glance and remained silent for some moments as if
debating within himself. He turned and lingered over the spirit chest,
and then, alas, against his better judgment, he produced two bottles of
whiskey which he handed to the sailor. There was nothing in these
innocent black bottles to warn him that they would be chiefly
instrumental in bringing about the catastrophe his gloomy forebodings
had foreshadowed—_the imp of evil was there_.

“I shall be away only four days if the weather holds good,” said Roy.
Then looking the other straight in the eyes he added a little more
seriously, but with a smile: “Of course I depend upon you behaving
yourself, Broom. You’ve given your word that you will try no more
foolishness with Kasba, and I trust you. I have given you the liquor you
asked for, but I don’t expect you to make an ass of yourself.”

Broom smiled broadly while engaged in stowing the bottles under a pillow
of his bunk.

“Dear me, what a doubting Thomas you are!” he said. Then, with the
theatrical manner he was so fond of assuming, he added: “You may proceed
on your hazardous journey, my good Samaritan, with the greatest
confidence in your humble servant’s future exemplary behavior. He will
conduct himself in the most approved manner during your absence.”

After this virtuous assurance, Broom partly filled an enamelled mug with
whiskey from a bottle on the table, and, raising it in the air, drank to
“a successful trip.” “May you return with your sleds loaded down with
furs,” he cried, in a more friendly spirit than he had shown for some
time past.

Thanking him for his wishes, Roy drank the liquor he had mixed for
himself, and prepared for bed.

“You must excuse me,” he said, “for I am making an early start in the
morning. But don’t let my going to bed interfere with your enjoyment.
There is not much in the bottle, you might as well finish it.”

Broom muttered something about the other’s generosity and drew the
bottle toward him, while Roy made haste to bed.

The trading party left the Fort long before daylight next morning and
were many miles away when the “day-sky” crept over the horizon, for the
dogs were going well. Neither of the _com-it-uks_ was loaded very
heavily, although they appeared to be so from their bulk, but this was
caused by the amount of bedding, changes of clothing, and other useful
gear that trippers in the Far North are compelled to take with them when
making a trip, it does not matter how short, in winter; for a blizzard,
like that in which Kasba was lost, easily protracts a short trip into
one of several days’ duration.

The day passed all too quickly for the little party, who, keenly alive
to the changeableness of the weather at that time of the year,
endeavored to push on with the greatest speed possible. With this end in
view, only one short stop was made “to boil the kettle,” as the phrase
goes. Beyond this there was no stopping, and each of the men was aware
of sundry severe promptings from an empty stomach long before the
approaching dusk compelled them to camp for the night.

At a word from Roy the guide selected a suitable spot, and the dogs were
brought to a halt in a little bluff of trees. The place chosen was not
an ideal one, for the brush was poor and dry wood scarce, but, as the
men well knew, there was no better for some miles, and they lost no time
in idle speculation or useless regrets. Silently, and with the skilful
precision and dexterity of men well accustomed to the work, they went
about their several duties, each to his own task, knowing what was
expected of him. To Delgezie fell the task of “making camp.” Having
picked a spot free from underwood and where there were no holes, he
slipped off his snowshoes and using one as a spade proceeded to clear
the ground of snow, while Roy, acting as the old man’s assistant, cut
and brought suitable spruce trees which Delgezie “branched” as soon as
he had cleared a space some ten feet square, strewing the small branches
thickly over the uncovered ground, and at the same time making a
three-sided barricade some four feet high out of the robbed trunks. The
back of the camp was toward the wind, while the front, or open side of
the square, was reserved for the fire.

The camp built, Roy stopped cutting “brush” and joined Minnihak in
procuring “dry wood,” which Delgezie cut into lengths as soon as
brought.

Then the trader and the Chipewyan turned their attention to the dogs,
which were unharnessed, tied to adjacent trees and bedded down with
brush. A terrific clamoring ensued, for long experience told the dogs
that these acts betokened the feeding hour. Four pounds of venison were
now thrown to each of them, as a reward for the faithful efforts of the
day, and on a tree near by a bag containing a night’s feed for men and
dogs was cached for the return journey. Thus the _com-it-uks_ were
lightened by many pounds’ weight the first day out.

By this time Minnihak had a fire blazing fiercely and throwing its glare
all about them, making the camp appear a comfortable haven indeed, as
compared to the cold, bleak surroundings, and Roy and Delgezie stepped
into its warm radius and knocked the snow from their moccasins and
trousers with their thick deerskin mittens, smiling the pleased smile of
weary men satisfied.

The duties of cook fell upon the guide, Minnihak, according to the rules
of tripping. But although the Eskimo had acquired the elements of
civilization he was sadly remiss in the nicer details of cleanliness,
which made his services in that capacity quite undesirable. Therefore
Delgezie cooked the food, while Minnihak carried out the more menial
labors of cook’s mate, in pursuance of which he had already gone to a
near-by river and brought back several large blocks of ice for the
kettle, and these lay ready to the cook’s hand, glistening in the
firelight.

Supper over, the men gave themselves up to a few minutes’ smoke and
reverie—the most delightful time of the tripper’s day—and their
thoughts naturally turned to sleep. Delgezie, who always held prayer
before retiring, began a hymn, which he sang alone, for Roy was unable
to follow the old man’s peculiar intonation, and Minnihak was ignorant
of both language and tune.

In a reverie Roy’s gaze wandered from the bright glow of the fire,
through the few sparse spruce trees and out to the cold, desolate region
beyond. The moon was shining brightly, illuminating the surrounding
solitude which stretched into the far distance on either side like a
terrestrial eternity, having no visible beginning or end.

With a shudder of awe at the weird grandeur, profound silence, and
magnitude of the scene, Roy realized himself an insignificant atom in
God’s great plan of creation, and his eyes, following the bent of his
thoughts, instinctively sought the heavens, where they discovered a
magnificent lunar halo, a white corona with a pale-hued edge completely
encircling the moon.

Withdrawing his gaze from this beautiful phenomenon as Delgezie fell on
his knees to pray, Roy whipped off his cap and stood with head
reverently bowed while the old man stumbled through the General
Confession. At the words “_Nota Yaka Thenda Nese_” (Our Father, etc.),
Roy repeated the prayer with such fervor as to cause the Eskimo to look
up in astonishment.

None but those who have witnessed it can understand the singularly
striking effect of such a scene—the small, rudely constructed camp with
the fire throwing its glare afar; the profound silence; the vast
surrounding solitudes and the little group of devotees, apparently alone
in an immense wilderness, their faces lit by the lurid glow of the fire;
the gentle soughing of the wind; the celestial canopy bright with
myriads of twinkling stars—all this appeals to the imagination and,
despite an inclination to ridicule, a distinctly religious feeling
prevails, while thoughts prone to wander on excursions of levity are
brought sharply to order and turned inward.

Delgezie was the last to retire. Before lying down the old Indian made
all secure from fire by pushing the burning embers out in the snow.
Then, after making certain that the trader was well covered, he raised
himself to take a last look about him.

A light wind from the west seemed somewhat capricious and threatened to
change to another point of the compass. This caused Delgezie some
uneasiness; he feared it might change during the night, which meant a
change of camp. And changing camp in the dark, on a bitter-cold night,
is a most disagreeable experience.



                              CHAPTER XI.
        _BROOM HAS CONSCIENTIOUS SCRUPLES AND A SORE TEMPTATION._


            “_I see the right, and I approve it, too;_
             _Condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue._”
                                                    —_Tate._

Left to his own devices, Broom sat at his lonely breakfast on the
morning of Roy’s departure, racking his brains for a means of diverting
himself. The big loneliness of the place had been penetrating his soul
for some time, and now that he was deprived of Roy’s society there was
nothing to relieve the death-like monotony of the life. To find
something sufficiently interesting to make the time pass quickly seemed
to him a necessity, for the man’s mentality was as weak in this respect
as that of a boy or a frisky animal. But a new divertisement was
difficult to devise. Sleep? He was tired of sleeping. It seemed to him
that he did nothing else. Books? He was satiated with reading. The gun?
He was no shot, and the weather was intensely cold. Conversation?
Nothing would delight him more, but there was no one but Sahanderry and
Kasba to speak to. Sahanderry was unfriendly, and Kasba—the forbidden
fruit. The whiskey? Ha! This indeed offered great possibilities, it
tempted him almost beyond his powers of resistance, but his promise to
Roy, though given in a facetious manner, was as binding to him as
anything could well be, and drink, as an entertainment, was excluded
thereby. Traps? Should he attend his traps? It was a clear morning, with
no wind; cold? yes, but he could guard against that. Yes, he would visit
his traps. It would please Roy, he knew, therefore he would go.

It was with feelings of righteous self-abnegation—an odd sensation and
entirely new to this hardened sinner—that he proceeded to his traps.

In his magnanimity he went so far as to invite Sahanderry to take a
drink with him before starting, but the Indian, hugging his animosity
closely, refused. Broom’s unprecedented cordiality, however, was not
entirely wasted. It had a mollifying effect upon the Indian, for he
fixed the netting of the sailor’s snowshoes with greater care than he
would otherwise have done, and even departed from his customary morose
manner toward him to wish him “good luck” when he started on his quest.

Broom went on his way strangely thoughtful. There was a new-found joy in
the thought that he had denied himself the drink. He was even conscious
of feeling virtuous—a sensation quite foreign to him of late—and under
the influence of this new experience life seemed to take on a new
aspect. He was not given to conscientious scruples, and the sensation
was not altogether pleasant, for, stripped of his habitual indifference,
he stood revealed in a new guise, and found the picture not good to look
upon. Everything around him was of unsullied whiteness; the very
stillness and profound solitude cried loudly to him of the Creator. He
felt out of harmony with his surroundings, knew that he was the one
black spot in a region clothed with a mantle of purity, and, like the
progenitor of the human race, he was ashamed.

Rime fell lightly in prismatic crystals, scintillating and glistening in
the bright sunshine all about him, and in the heavens there was a
magnificent spectacle, a beautiful celestial phenomenon: the sun shining
through the falling rime took the shape of a fiery cross, and on each
side of this sublime luminary, at some little distance, shone a luminous
ball, and, attached to each of these, on the side farthest from the sun,
and rising perpendicularly, was a little rainbow which extended in
glowing bands of deep red, orange, and light blue.

Stretching out from these were bars of silver reaching across the
heavens on each side like gigantic arms and ending in indistinct
vaporous clouds like huge hands which appeared about to clutch the earth
in their embrace. Higher in the heavens, and exactly above the sun, a
crescent, its colors corresponding with the beautiful sections of the
rainbow, shone out brightly, and at different points around the horizon
indistinct rainbow hues were visible.

Broom was by now well accustomed to the many splendid phenomena of the
Far North, but the present magnificent spectacle—catching him at a time
when he stood disarmed, when for the moment his mantle of indifference
and cynicism had fallen from him—influenced him strangely. However, a
mind perturbed with religious feelings was unusual to Broom, and like
the now fast-disappearing phenomenon, this unusual experience was soon
gone. With the arrogance natural to mankind he stifled this slight
inclination, this prompting toward reform, and lapsed into the hardened,
cynical reprobate he naturally was, at least to outward seeming. Alas!
what a number of Mr. Brooms there are in the world!

Fate, luck, or Providence, call it which you will, reciprocated Broom’s
magnanimous feelings by smiling on him. His hunting-bag by the time he
had visited all his traps was swollen to undue proportions and bore
significant signs of good luck. He was greatly elated at this success.
Scorning his customary long, slouching stride as a mode of locomotion
too slow to keep pace with his excited feelings, he covered the ground
at a quick trot and arrived at the Fort in a thoroughly exhausted
condition.

“Phew! That’s warm work,” he cried as he entered the door and found
Sahanderry standing before him with the vestige of a smile on his dark
face.

“How many?” inquired Sahanderry shortly.

“Five, my boy!” Broom dropped the bag of foxes to the floor with a long
sigh of relief. His face was scarlet. He was “blowing like a grampus,”
and now that he was in the house he perspired freely. “Guess I’ve earned
a drink,” he said, and passing into the inner room, quickly produced the
bottle and mug.

After taking a goodly modicum of whiskey he eyed the bottle dubiously.
The liquor had shrunk in an incredible manner: a few more such potations
and he would arrive at the bottom of the bottle. To guard against the
calamity of running out of liquor altogether the tippler made a mental
reservation to drink only one-third of his stock of whiskey on each of
the following days, thereby securing an allowance for each day of Roy’s
absence.

In theory the scheme was undoubtedly good, and well worthy of the
versatile sailor, but in practice it did not turn out as well as he
expected. For when he tumbled out of bed on the third morning, with an
exceedingly hazy idea of how he ever got into it, he discovered to his
chagrin that the whiskey was almost all gone. Evidently nothing but an
overpowering fit of slumber had prevented him from drinking the whole.

Sitting on the edge of the bunk, feeling dull and miserable, he was
conscious of a raging, overpowering thirst, and it was with the greatest
difficulty that he laid restraining hands on himself and drank only
enough of the already greatly depleted liquor to discover, as he told
himself, if what remained was the real stuff. But this potation not only
proved its genuineness, but also greatly revived him, or, in his own
expressive language, “it made him feel a bit more perky.”

After putting the bottle aside with the scrupulous carefulness of a
miser secreting gold, he sank into a chair and sat in drowsy
contemplation for a few minutes. Then, casting a disconsolate eye around
him, his gaze encountered Roy’s liquor chest with its neat fastenings
and lock. Immediately a fancied procession of the black bottles danced
before his burning eyes. The thought that most likely a considerable
quantity of whiskey lay in the snug-looking box and within easy reach
brought him upright in his chair with a jerk and he sat gazing at it as
if fascinated. Then, withdrawing his eyes with an effort, he sprang
suddenly to his feet and, catching up his coat and hat, rushed from the
room, clutching his snowshoes as he ran.

Once outside and away from the dangerous fascinations of the locked
chest Broom paused and wiped the perspiration from his brow. He stood
irresolute for a moment, then, with an air of grim determination, turned
in the direction of his traps, plodding onwards with leaden footsteps,
weary and breakfastless.

Like one in a dream he stumbled on his way. A burning fire seemed to be
consuming his vitals; flashes of heat and cold passed over him; his
hands became moist, and he felt utterly fatigued. He was walking
mechanically now and his nether limbs seemed to move like pendulums,
forcing him to continue the function of walking, to drag his weary body
along without any effort of will or possibility of staying their
movements.

On his return he could discover no sign of Sahanderry’s presence and for
this he was devoutly thankful; for he felt too jaded, too dejected, to
encounter the gaze of his watchful enemy. On nearing the Fort, he had
endeavored to recover his old careless “bon-aire” expression, but he was
conscious that the effort had been a miserable failure, and, therefore,
the Indian’s absence proved both a relief and a boon.

Throwing aside his outdoor apparel he sank into a chair where he sat
profusely perspiring like a man prostrated by weakness. He braced
himself in his seat to resist the temptation that he knew would come.
Sinking back, he gripped the sides of his chair with the tenacity of one
in a delirium and forced his gaze into a far corner of the room.

Finding it impossible to keep his eyes fixed on any one spot, he cast
about him for something to occupy his mind. He could not go outside, for
the weather was too intensely cold to allow anyone to sit down, and he
felt too ill and weary to walk about any more. His breakfast stood upon
the table, where it had been placed by Sahanderry many hours before, but
it remained untasted, for he could not eat. He had no desire for food,
but the appetite for strong liquor was almost mastering him. He knew the
feeling and dreaded it. In his desperation he reached for a book that
protruded from under the pillow in his bunk, then again sinking back in
his chair, he endeavored to read. But the print danced before his eyes,
the large capital letters grouped themselves together and stood leering
at him. Suddenly in place of the dancing printed type he saw a smooth
wooden box, the lid fastened with a strong lock; for unconsciously the
book had dropped from his hands and he was again staring at Roy’s spirit
chest. After this he seemed to lose all consciousness of things around
him, his whole attention was riveted on the object of his gaze.
Presently he stiffened himself as to resist some powerful shock;
probably the last spark of manhood was making vigorous struggles to
extricate him from so pitiful a position. Beads of perspiration stood on
his brow, and he fell to trembling like a man with the palsy. To his
heated imagination the lid of the box slid slightly back and a long thin
hand protruded itself and was beckoning him on. Then, as the hand still
beckoned, several black bottles slipped out also and began a grotesque
dance upon the lid, while others thrust forth their heads to laugh,
grimly, and make horrible grimaces at him. Suddenly Broom started to his
feet. He passed a trembling hand across his eyes and then, with a sigh
of abject helplessness, staggered forward to fall on his knees before
the fascinating chest which he now eagerly scanned. With a cry more
animal than human, he began to take off its hinges with his pocket
knife, for apart from the strong lock, Roy had attempted no precautions
to make the box secure.

A slight snapping of the fire caused Broom to stop in his frenzied
labors and to glare around the room like a hunted animal. But,
apparently satisfied that no one was there, he returned to his task,
working at the hinges with the cunning of a man bordering on delirium
tremens. In a few moments the screws were out and the lid thrown back
from the rear, the hasp and staple acting as a hinge. Then with a snarl
of disappointment the wretched man sprang to his feet, for with the
exception of one bottle the box was empty. In his heated imagination he
had pictured it filled to the top with rows of shining bottles and now
he stood for a moment glaring around him like a wild beast defrauded of
its prey, and well was it for Sahanderry that he did not appear upon the
scene at that moment. Then uttering a little chuckle Broom dropped on
his knees and clutched ravenously at the one bottle, which he fondled
and caressed with a foolish cooing noise horrible to hear; while the
hands of the bewildered wretch were now shaking so as to threaten
destruction to the bottle’s contents. With the cunning of a madman Broom
perceived this, and rising to his feet, and mastering his agitation with
a strong effort, he began to draw the cork with the aid of two
pocket-knives. “Experience makes perfect,” and Broom had become
dexterous in the art of cork drawing. So this cork was soon extracted
and the neck of the bottle hastily glued to his trembling lips. He took
several long pulls before placing it upon the table, then, in a dazed
and mechanical way, he replaced the hinges upon the box by returning the
screws to their places. He now stood slowly swaying from side to side,
his face wearing a curious expression like one slowly returning to
consciousness. Grasping the bottle with both hands, he took another deep
draught, then fell upon his bed panting and exhausted, as if from some
supreme exertion. After a few minutes of restlessness he fell asleep.

When Sahanderry peeped into the room a little later, he found Broom
sleeping tranquilly. The Indian glanced from the sailor to the bottle on
the table, and believing it to be one of those given him by Roy, smiled
contemptuously, while his idea of the sailor’s drinking capabilities
underwent a quick change.

Next morning Sahanderry was vastly surprised to find the sailor in the
same position. He was sleeping heavily, as his deep breathing and nasal
accompaniment testified, and his prolonged slumber aroused the Indian’s
suspicion. Stepping lightly across to the chest he carefully scrutinized
the lock, but found no evidence of its having been tampered with. What
then had produced Broom’s long sleep? Sahanderry lifted the bottle from
the table and held it up to the light. It was still a quarter full. This
was astounding. Despite the Indian’s obtuseness he was sharp enough to
perceive that Broom must have procured other liquor. But from where? And
how? Sahanderry shrugged his shoulders, and spreading out his hands in a
deprecating gesture he washed them of the whole business.

It was late in the day when Broom awoke from his long season of
unconsciousness, for slumber it could hardly be called. Rising from his
elbow, he gazed about him. His head ached excruciatingly. His brain
seemed on fire. His tongue felt tough and dry so that he found it hard
to articulate. With a moan he fell back upon the pillow to collect his
scattered senses and as he slowly awoke to the full consciousness of
what he had done, a sentiment of bitterness rose in his mind against
himself.

Presently he dropped over the side of the bunk and reached for the
bottle with an unsteady hand. As he put it to his trembling lips a
little of the liquor trickled down his chin, and a sudden revulsion of
feeling came over him. Pushing the bottle away with a look of malignant
hate he paced the floor with short unsteady steps, and with his long
hair and whiskers matted and disheveled, his face swollen and flushed,
his eyes intensely blood-shot and whole frame trembling violently, he
was indeed a pitiable sight.

Presently the distracted man took his resolution. He caught up his coat
and struggled into it, but when it came to securing the buttons his
unsteady hands fumbled and refused their office. With an exclamation of
impatience he again reached for the bottle, and this time he drained it
to the dregs. Then, pulling on his cap savagely, he rushed from the
house.

But his perambulations were soon cut short and he discovered himself
stuck in the deep snow, for he had left his snow-shoes behind. However,
he did not return for them; instead he took a circuitous path made hard
by constant usage and leading toward the open, quite unaware that Kasba,
ardently persuaded by David, who wished to shoot some birds, had also
taken this easy route and was coming towards him.

The boy and girl had gone but a short distance when a flock of
partridges rose with a whir-r-r and flew to the rocks above them, and
David with boyish enthusiasm scrambled up the heights after the birds,
saying he would rejoin the girl farther down the track.

Walking slowly with drooping head, Kasba went thoughtfully along the
path before her. She knew every foot of the ground over which she went.
Suddenly she became aware of the close presence of another, and starting
she raised her frightened eyes. Before her, leaning against a boulder,
was Broom. He stood with his back toward her, and his face buried in his
hands. He was apparently feeling ill and dazed.

The girl shrank back as if she had been struck, then for some moments
she stood immovable, her startled gaze fixed upon the bowed figure.
Instinctively she felt her danger. A stifled gasp escaped her and
tremors shook her frame from head to foot. Yet she dare not turn back,
for David would be waiting. She must go on, or he would come to look for
her and discover Broom. She shuddered to think what might happen then,
for the impetuous boy violently disliked the fellow and would not miss
an opportunity of annoying him. Besides Broom had been drinking heavily.
Sahanderry had communicated his suspicions to her and from what she
could make out there seemed to be a great degree of truth in them.
Therefore she must not leave David. Broom would be in a black humor
after his drinking bout. She shuddered again. But this was no time for
weakness. She would go on, she _must_. Firmly bracing her nerves, Kasba
stepped lightly forward.

With bated breath she moved, step by step, toward the silent figure.
Very slowly and stealthily she approached him.

The man continued to stand perfectly still, but as she drew nearer his
motionless figure, she could scarcely restrain herself from crying
aloud, so acute was her terror.

With a last effort, a strong, determined effort, she was beside him. The
snow under her feet crunched to her imagination like the report of a
gun. Her heart stood still, she felt discovery inevitable. With a mighty
effort she strangled the cry in her throat.

The boulder against which Broom leaned was close beside the track, and
the attitude he had assumed caused him to occupy most of it. To pass him
so closely was to court certain discovery. Kasba resolved to make a
slight detour, but she had not brought her snowshoes. She had left the
house with the intention of taking only a short walk along the beaten
track and had thought them unnecessary. Off the track the snow was deep
and soft. What should she do?

On her left was a ridge of rocks presenting acclivities of every degree;
on her right was a strip of scrub almost covered by loose snow. The
track, beaten hard by Sahanderry on constant journeyings to his traps,
led straight before her, and, blocking this narrow path was the inert
figure of Broom. But between the track and the rocks was a narrow strip
that to all seeming was perfectly hard. This she carefully tried with
one foot. It bore her weight and with steady, cautious steps she passed
on for a short time in safety. Then, with a peculiar, dull report, the
crust gave way and the girl sank to her knees in soft snow.

Broom started nervously. Raising his head apprehensively he at once
discovered Kasba and her unfortunate position.

With Broom’s eye upon her the distracted girl ceased her ineffectual
struggles and stood staring at him wildly like one fascinated.

At first he believed her to be one of the multitudinous delusions of a
deranged mind. But presently he was convinced that it was no delirious
fantasy, but really Kasba’s self who was there, alone and in his power,
and he laughed the loud mirthless laugh of one gone mad.

The girl quailed before his gaze of malicious triumph, then turned and
made frantic efforts to release herself from the clogging snow and to
regain the hard track.

“Not so fast,” cried Broom, rushing in and grasping her by the waist.
“Not so fast, my little white partridge.”

In vain Kasba struggled while Broom rained hot kisses on her mouth. She
could not prevent him. She was in his power indeed.

But just when she had given up in despair Broom suddenly uttered a
terrific yell and loosened his grip. The girl stood bewildered. She was
dimly conscious that her captor had released her and was now scuffling
with something small and dark, and mechanically she drew herself out of
his reach. Then, floundering desperately out of the soft snow to the
beaten track, she fled along with a speed born of panic-stricken horror;
never pausing, never looking back, but rushing straight on and on—to
her father’s hut.

Broom, swearing like a madman, looked about him. A dark form had dropped
seemingly from the sky, to spring forward upon his right arm, where it
clung with the tenacious grip of a bulldog. He was taken completely by
surprise. In his nervously-excited condition the suddenness of the
attack had startled him. He imagined himself assailed by some uncanny
foe or some fierce wolf, and he had released the girl the better to
defend himself, and Kasba was beyond all possibility of recapture before
he discovered, to his chagrin, that his adversary was no ferocious
animal, but the boy David, who had discovered Kasba’s precarious
position and slid down the face of the almost perpendicular rocks to
launch himself upon her assailant. In an ungovernable paroxysm of
baffled fury he now rained blows upon the boy’s unprotected face. David
clung to his wrists for some moments longer, then sank on the snow with
a moan of pain, and lay there limp and lifeless.

Broom gazed stupidly at the still form for a moment, then with a cry
like that of a hunted animal he rushed from the scene.



                              CHAPTER XII.
                         _AN ESKIMO ENCAMPMENT._


Contrast to Delgezie’s fears the wind played no pranks with them that
night, but after coquetting around all points of the compass, suddenly
died out altogether.

Still it was with a grunt of disgust that he threw back his blankets
next morning, for a heavy rime was falling and everything appeared white
and cold to his gaze. Glancing up at that celestial clock—the North
Guards—and finding its tail pointing well toward the south, he arose
and set about building a fire. But the kindlings were coated with rime
and he experienced much difficulty in persuading them to ignite. However
after much patient coaxing the mass was at last got into a blaze, and,
unceremoniously awakening his assistant with a dexterous kick, he
proceeded to prepare breakfast. Thus rudely awakened Minnihak
reluctantly drew himself from his warm robes—he had no objection to the
intense cold, but a decided antipathy to early rising.

Hearing the men astir, Roy arose also and shook his bedding clear of the
cloying rime before packing it away in his bag. To take a hasty
breakfast, “ice” the _com-it-uks_, lash the loads, and harness the dogs
was the work of fully an hour, for the morning was intensely cold, and
everything unpleasantly chilly and icy to the touch; falling on exposed
parts of the warm person, the rime at once became damp, then froze,
clogging the eyebrows and eyelashes, and any hair on the face, with icy
particles. It was one of the coldest mornings of that winter, and the
tenacious clinging of the rime accentuated its chill.

Roy and Delgezie completed their disagreeable task of harnessing the
dogs as quickly as possible, then jumped into camp to warm their
benumbed fingers, while Minnihak followed more leisurely, smiling and
unperturbed.

“_Ik-ki-mai_” (It is very cold), he said laconically.

Roy in his haste to lash the sled had inadvertently touched the head of
an axe with his naked hand, thereby “burning” his fingers, and he now
stood nursing them with a rueful countenance, making, because of this, a
brief pause at the fire. But soon a start was made, and by the time the
sun had thrown its cheering rays over the desolate wilderness, the
trippers were well on their journey.

Their course for some distance followed the river, then branched off
sharply and ran along a little creek, at the mouth of which Minnihak was
seen to stop, turn aside, and walk across to a partly built _iglo_,
which, from its appearance, Roy judged to be the one in which Oulybuck
had hanged his father and brother, and when his dogs got abreast of it,
he stopped them and walked across to view this primitive gallows.

The walls of this _iglo_ apparently remained as they had been first
built, but the gruesome paraphernalia was missing, the crossbar and line
being probably buried with the defunct Eskimos, and the block of snow
from whence they had launched themselves into eternity thrown aside and
drifted over. Deep imprints on the snow walls told that death had come
only to the suicides after desperate struggles, and two distinct mounds
of snow a little to one side and close together clearly marked the
suicides’ graves. A fox had been digging at one of them, and the
excavations had left the handle of a saw exposed to view; for the
belongings of the deceased Eskimos had been buried with their bodies,
after the custom of their race.

Shortly after leaving the ill-omened spot the travellers came in sight
of Acpa’s encampment. This consisted of several _iglos_ grouped together
with an unusually large one in the centre. The smaller _iglos_ were of
the ordinary kind, but the big one bore unmistakable signs of its
owner’s quality and importance. Not only was it larger than the others,
but it had two protuberances instead of one: the one, as in the usual
case, being the kitchen, as a wreath of blue smoke ascending from it
testified; and as Acpa held the proud position of a trusted trader, the
other without doubt was used by him as a storehouse, a room where the
trader bartered with his brother Eskimos.

A number of dogs were running in and out of the _iglos_, and these at
once gave the alarm; promptly several rough, shaggy figures dragged
themselves through the tunnels leading to their various abodes and stood
watching the approaching dog trains. The moment the _com-it-uks_ arrived
at the encampment busy hands, with the characteristic readiness of the
Eskimo to assist, caught at the dogs while others carried the bundles of
merchandise away.

While the unharnessing and unloading were taking place still other
Eskimos were engaged erecting a snow-house for Roy and the old
Chipewyan, for the trader invariably despatched his Eskimo guide to
sleep with a friend on these occasions.

Eskimo etiquette compelled the guest of honor to wait in Acpa’s abode
till his own was pronounced ready for occupation, and in compliance with
this rule Roy dragged himself through the low entrance, followed by a
number of old men, women and children.

He got to his feet in the kitchen and went forward, picking his way
among the skulking dogs, which, like the Irishman’s pig, were on terms
of equality with their master, to the large room in the centre, and once
there he gave a sigh of relief, for the air was less stifling, albeit
the ventilation still left much to be desired.

_Kaip-puks_ were brought by members of the family and spread on one of
the elevated platforms or bed-steads for Roy to sit upon, and he seated
himself with an inward hope that his claim on their hospitality might be
of the shortest duration.

The bundles of merchandise he had brought for Acpa were now lying in the
small room adjoining, which, as he conjectured, was used specially for
such purposes. The one in which he sat was large and dome-shaped, while
several pieces of comparatively transparent ice had been let into the
walls to afford the necessary light. The storehouse and kitchen were lit
in like manner, but in the latter a few sticks of driftwood were
smouldering on some flat stones, the smoke from these travelling to the
roof in the most erratic manner, occasionally darkening the larger room
in its wanderings.

A number of men and women soon sauntered in, and, squatting down at a
little distance from Roy, sat silently watching him, while friendly
smiles suffused their greasy faces; infants clothed only in a hood, or
perchance a tobacco pipe, were produced with startling suddenness from
the capacious hoods of the women’s coats.

Grouped among the throng were old and feeble Eskimos with the wrinkled
faces, projecting cheekbones and lantern jaws peculiar to the very aged,
and young wives with yellow complexions and bright, intelligent faces,
their hair ornamented in a fashion peculiar to themselves, with a kind
of pigtail formed from the hair over each ear neatly braided, the ends
decorated with beads and deer-teeth, and bands of brass worn across the
forehead. Sprinkled among the group were children of various ages, and
probably of both sexes, though their costumes were so exactly alike that
it was impossible to distinguish to which sex each belonged. Altogether
this close scrutiny was oppressive, and when Acpa appeared some minutes
later, Roy’s face brightened perceptibly. “_Ay-hoo_-_ee-la?_”
(Finished?) he asked with the best attempt at indifference he could
muster.

“_Ay-hoo_” (short for It is finished), replied the old man.

Roy slowly arose, intending to make a dignified exit, but even a
fur-trader’s powers of endurance have their limits, and he stumbled
quickly across the kitchen and precipitated himself through the low exit
into the fresh air, and, with feelings of grateful relief, filled his
lungs with the crisp oxygen. His confinement in the smoky _iglo_ had
made him quite ill.

Entering the one erected for him by the hospitable Eskimos, Roy found
Delgezie awaiting his return and supper prepared.

The old Indian was smiling. “They’re giving a dance,” he observed,
glancing at the trader with eyes that twinkled.

“The deuce they are; and they’ll expect me to attend, I suppose,”
grumbled Roy.

“Expect so,” said Delgezie drily.

Further comment was stopped by the appearance of Acpa, who approached
with a face which radiated cheerfulness and goodwill. He squatted down
and partook of the food handed to him with apparent relish, for
intercourse with the white man had given him a taste for bread, tea and
sugar, and even coffee.

After finishing the meal he proffered his unwelcome invitation in this
wise: “The Innuit are happy,” pause. “They are glad to see you,” pause
and a smile. “Innuit will dance,” another pause and smile, then
ingratiatingly, “The ‘master’ will come?” Here an expansive smile spread
over his heavy features and broadened into a laugh.

Roy received the invitation with an assenting nod, and forced a smile to
his lips. He inwardly shrank at the thought of having again to enter
Acpa’s odorous and smoky abode, yet he dissembled, for he knew that his
presence at the dance was a thing of course.

Presently the soft tap-tap of a drum was heard, and Acpa got slowly to
his feet, while Roy arose with assumed alacrity and followed his host to
the scene of revelry.

Since the trader’s last visit a number of young men had returned from
the hunt, and these were now seated in a circle eating ravenously of
frozen meat, raw and unsightly.

For this occasion the _iglo_ was lit by candles of home manufacture,
these being tapering pieces of dry moss and balls of grease. The bands
of brass across the foreheads of the women shining brightly in the
subdued light; the circle of hungry Eskimos devouring their food like as
many ravenous animals; the shadowy, indistinct figures of the old folk
seated on the outskirts of the throng, and the bright faces of the
children watching the assembly with keen and earnest eyes, all combined
to make the scene grotesquely weird. And the tap-tapping of the drum
went steadily on.

When the circle of hunters had satisfied their rapacious appetites, it
slowly dissolved. Then, snickering and joking, the women formed
themselves into a circle and the ball was opened by Acpa, who stepped
into the centre of the ring, carrying a drum in his hand.

This peculiar instrument consisted of a piece of parchment stretched
tightly across a wooden hoop with a straight handle attached. The
parchment was dampened before each performance, a tuning process as
novel as simple. Acpa struck the rim of the drum, the top and bottom
alternately, against a stick, held in the left hand, while shuffling his
feet in a semblance of step dancing, then striking the drum in the
centre a few times, he threw back his grand old head and gazed up at the
top of the _iglo_—seemingly for inspiration—then fell to shouting, the
shouts diminishing in volume as they increased in rapidity. “_Oh-ee,
oh-ee, oh-ee, oh-ee-ee, oh-ee-ee, oh-ee-ee!_” This was the cue for the
women’s chorus, and they now rocked themselves backwards and forwards,
repeating in high-pitched voices: “_Ya-ya, ya-a-ya, ya-ya_,” while the
old man composed his song as he went along. The sentiments were at times
poetic. He first thanked the “master” for coming to see him and
expressed a wish that he would be satisfied with his trip. Then he spoke
of his work and the work of the other Eskimos of the encampment and many
other things in the daily lives of himself and companions. Occasionally
he lapsed into the monotonous _Ya-ya_ of the chorus, or fell to shouting
_Oh-ee, oh-ee_, but the drum beating was continuous.

Afterwards several other men followed in this unique individual dance
and then came the turn of the perspiring chorus to disport themselves.
But the women’s _rôle_ was the exact opposite of that of the men, for
they danced two at a time and at first were as silent as nuns, and they
used no drum. Staring each other straight in the eyes they shuffled
their feet, repeating queer words wheezily at the back of their throats,
all accompanied by a peculiar indrawing of the breath. Many gestures
accompanied this uncanny performance, such as pointing derisive fingers
at each other, this meaning “I think very little of you,” pointing
upwards and downwards (the significance of which seemed in doubt) and
lustily slapping their cheeks and patting their breasts. Evidently this
was a dance of endurance, but at last the final pair fell panting and
exhausted, and, taking advantage of this respite, Roy hastened to shake
hands with all present and to leave the _iglo_.

The gleam of dawn spread in one golden glow of morning, and the day rose
radiant over the world. The _com-it-uks_ were “light” and the dogs
travelled quickly, and the sun was still high when our little party got
back to the camp they had made on the previous day, and, the wind being
in the same direction as when the camp was constructed, it was ready for
their use and their labors were thus lightened.

Supper over, Minnihak went to inspect a trap he had set when they were
there before. Roy stretched himself on the outside of his bedding and
lay dozing, while Delgezie occupied himself making “cakes” for the
morrow. He had been employed in this manner for some time when he heard
a slight crunching sound as of something moving over the snow. He
thought it was the Eskimo returning from his quest and did not lift his
eyes. But as the moments went by and no Eskimo appeared, he raised
himself slowly and looked around. A large wolf stood before him on the
very edge of the camp.

It was watching Delgezie with a wicked snarl that left bare its ugly
fangs. The hair along its backbone stood up stiffly and its eyes gleamed
threateningly. It looked fiercely hungry and Delgezie expected it to
spring at him, but it stood motionless and the old man’s eyes searched
the camp for a gun, but he could see no weapon, and then he remembered
that the guns had been left outside. He uttered a grunt of
indignation—that a lone wolf should invade his camp, seemingly as the
aggressor, was, for the old Indian, a new experience. Keeping his eyes
fixed on the wolf, Delgezie stealthily reached for a billet of wood. The
animal watched him furtively; its long white fangs snapped and it
crouched as if about to spring, but something in the old man’s
unperturbed pose and steady eye seemed to awe the beast and hold it
aloof. Delgezie felt cautiously for the billet, a particular piece of
green wood which as he knew lay beside the fire. He dared not withdraw
his gaze, and could only grope blindly.

Suddenly he uttered a terrific yell and came upright with a bound.
Feeling for the billet, he had missed that which he sought and grasped
one that was burning. At the sudden and unexpected loud noise the wolf
wheeled quickly and fled away.

Delgezie’s yell brought Roy sharply to his feet.

“What in the world’s the matter, man?” he demanded.

“Wolf in camp,” replied Delgezie, nursing his injured fingers.

“Why didn’t you waken me? I could have shot it,” demanded Roy.

“Guns outside,” said the old man drily.

Whipping a revolver from his hip-pocket, Roy said: “I keep this little
thing for occasions like that.” Then observing that Delgezie was in
pain, he added, “But what have you done to your fingers?”

Delgezie explained, and his adventure caused much amusement during the
rest of the evening.

On the following morning, Delgezie, with Minnihak as guide, left the
track in order to get a load of meat from a cache some distance from the
camp and off the direct route to the Fort, and sitting on the sled
smoking idly while the dogs ran briskly to the sound of jingling bells,
Roy returned to the Fort alone.



                             CHAPTER XIII.
                           _A DASTARDLY DEED._


When Broom came to himself after rushing from the scene of his violence
he discovered that he had returned instinctively to the Fort.

Finding the house in darkness he groped his way across the kitchen to
the inner room, where, after a little, he succeeded in finding and
lighting a lamp. As its rays fell upon his features they clearly
disclosed the hateful effects of his debauch, the havoc his ungovernable
paroxysms of violence and passion had worked upon him. The veins of his
forehead were dark and swollen, his eyes inflamed and hollow, his look
that of a worn-out demon. He was still agitated, and his blood-shot eyes
swept the room fiercely like a wild beast still unsatisfied. His
breathing was labored and his mood still that of half-suppressed fear
and rage. Frowning and irresolute, he paused after lighting the lamp,
then began to pace the floor unsteadily, his pace increasing in fretful
rapidity as he continued his short, irregular perambulations. At last,
as if wearying of this, he stopped short and leaned his weight against
the pair of sleeping-bunks.

Just then the indistinct form of a man appeared noiselessly in the
doorway.

Broom eyed it fearfully, while his face grew pale and moist with
perspiration. He clutched at the sides of the bunks to support his
trembling limbs. Then commanding his courage he demanded somewhat
unsteadily:

“Who are you?—speak out—be you man or devil?”

The answer was a wordless mumble. The dim form slipped forward into the
light and the broad figure and grinning face of Ocpic stood revealed,
and Broom’s courage was greatly restored. He heaved a long sigh of
relief and made a ghastly attempt at jocularity.

“Well, you imp of Satan,” he cried, “what do you want here?”

“_Ik-ki mai_” (It is very cold), declared the Eskimo with an
accompanying expressive shiver. Then, entirely unsolicited, he lit the
fire, which had gone out during Broom’s absence.

Broom paid no further attention to the native. With short, jerky steps
he recommenced his restless walk, pausing now and again with a nervous
start as the wood in the stove cracked sharply, like so many reports of
a pistol. He was in an impatient fury. His deliberations were far from
pleasant, for he felt that however much Roy might be inclined to
overlook the offence of breaking into the liquor chest, he had, by his
unpardonable assault upon Kasba, followed by his brutal attack on David,
put himself outside the pale of forgiveness. He knew by experience that
the trader would show him no mercy for this second insult to the girl,
and he dreaded his return. Not that he was a coward—in the physical
sense of the word; if corporal punishment could have atoned for his
brutal conduct he would have taken his punishment—as he then felt—with
the utmost satisfaction. But he recognized that in bringing this trouble
upon himself he had betrayed the trader’s trust, and this, to his mind,
was a far greater offence than his more criminal actions—even as
cheating at cards or the like ungentlemanly action is popularly supposed
to touch a man’s honor more closely than the committal of any offence in
the criminal calendar. He paced the floor impatiently, out of humor with
himself and things else, and cursing with bitter oaths his folly and the
circumstances which led to it. Moreover, the craving for strong drink
was again upon him, lashing him into a fury.

He had just succeeded in working himself into an ungovernable passion
when the kitchen door was thrown violently open and Sahanderry burst
into the room. The Indian gibbered wildly and seemed about to
precipitate himself upon Broom.

“What for you do?” he cried excitedly, pausing in the doorway and
spreading out his hands with a gesture of interrogation.

Broom stopped short in his walk and stared at the speaker with eyes that
darted malignant hate. The appearance of Sahanderry was as a match to
tinder, and Broom’s look was so venomous that it disconcerted the Indian
and he halted irresolutely.

Sahanderry’s discomfiture tickled Broom. He laughed derisively, then
abruptly resumed his tramp, his manner signifying his utter contempt for
anything the enraged Indian might do.

Incensed by the man’s laughter, and drawing courage from his outraged
feelings, Sahanderry approached his adversary with menacing gestures.

Broom halted, turned, and awaited his attack with a provoking smile.

Suddenly springing forward, the Indian seized him by the hair of his
head with both hands, then paused to allow him to get a grip on his
locks in turn—this being the tribal idea of the proper opening of
affairs of honor, in which each man, having gotten a firm hold, tries to
twist the neck of his antagonist by screwing his head into a position
not in accordance with nature’s planning. But Broom, after permitting
his opponent to take up the proper attitude, suddenly discarded all
further recognized rules of Chipewyan combat and struck the vastly
astonished Sahanderry such a violent blow on the chest that had not the
Indian’s fingers been entangled in his adversary’s hair, it would have
felled him to the ground. As it was he was able to regain his
equilibrium in part before relaxing his hold, and staggering against the
table, he stood for a moment panting and muttering curses upon the head
of the sailor, then slowly, craftily, he shifted his position.

For, in coming in contact with the table, he had instinctively put out
his hands to break the force of the collision and had touched an object
that stood thereon, over which his fingers had instantly closed, and
without pausing to consider what the missile might be or do, he, in
great desperation and excitement, now hurled it with sudden strength,
bred of his vindictive mood, at the head of the offending Broom.

The missile was the bottle stolen from the chest, and, hurled with all
the force of Sahanderry’s arm, it struck Broom full on the cheek with a
cruel thud, then fell to the ground and broke.

This unexpected attack found Broom quite unprepared. He staggered from
the force of the blow, but suddenly straightening himself, laughed
discordantly and pulled a revolver, which he cocked and levelled at the
now shrinking Indian, who, at the sight of the weapon, dropped to the
ground and vanished under the table, where he lay trembling and
terror-stricken.

The Indian’s extreme fear filled Broom with fiendish glee. In sheer
devilment he fired several times—apparently at haphazard, but with
unerring aim, at various objects in the room. He was undoubtedly a dead
shot, and, taking advantage of his skill, he tortured the poor
distracted wretch until he moaned again. Fingering the revolver in an
apparently careless fashion, he touched the trigger and the bullet
passed in close proximity to Sahanderry’s body. Then throwing up the
weapon to feign sudden alarm it went off as if by accident, the bullet
grazing the Indian’s head. Then followed a display of fancy shooting,
till, suddenly tiring of his amusement, Broom’s mood changed. His face
became grim again and once more he levelled the revolver at the
shrinking figure under the table. The Indian fairly shook with terror,
and the sweat gathered upon his brow.

Sahanderry felt that his end had come. Broom’s ghastly face and
glistening eyes seemed proof that he was no longer accountable for his
reckless acts.

“You can say your prayers, you hypocritical imp of Satan, for I’m going
to kill you,” hissed the madman. “In five minutes more you’ll be a dead
man.”

And a dead man Sahanderry certainly would have been if Broom had been
less elaborate in his system of torture. But during his shooting display
Roy Thursby had arrived at the Fort, and hearing the report of the last
shot had cautiously opened the door, crept noiselessly across the dark
kitchen, and reached the room in time to hear Broom’s murderous threat.
As his eyes took in the scene presented he started and raised his
clenched hand.

“Now, you hell-hound,” continued Broom, “your time has come. I——” With
a deadly intent he was sighting the weapon.

“Stop! You cowardly bully,” cried Roy furiously from the doorway. “If
you wish to fight you can fight me, but leave that wretched, cowering
Indian alone.” He spoke rapidly but calmly, and his tone of command had
its effect upon Broom.

“What devil’s luck brought him here?” Broom muttered to himself as he
unconsciously lowered the revolver and stood looking at Roy with
darkened brows. But the next moment he laughed recklessly.

Roy started at the sound of this discordant laughter. He eyed Broom
questioningly, apprehensively for some moments. From his strange
agitated manner, the gray pallor of his countenance and the wild, shifty
look in his eyes, Roy knew that he had to deal with a man who, if not
actually insane, or acting a part, was on the verge of delirium, or
could it be delirium tremens? But whatever the condition or cause, the
man was in a state that might be dangerous to himself and to others,
especially while in the possession of firearms. Roy resolved to
propitiate him as far as was consistent with getting him under control.

“Fight you, my English bulldog; why, of course I’ll fight you,” cried
the frenzied man, handling his revolver in a reckless manner. “But not
in the low-bred manner of your countrymen, if you please. Hands are
weapons for women; we’ll fight like men.” Again he flourished the
dangerous weapon, then playfully presenting it at Roy, he shut an eye
and took long, deliberate aim.

The trader glanced unflinchingly at the extended revolver. He fully
realized that his life depended upon the whim of a lunatic, and God only
knew what strange fantasy would next flash through Broom’s crazed brain;
but he realized also it was only a bold presence that would save the
situation. He therefore desisted from drawing his own weapon, and
remained motionless, gazing unswervingly down the little blue muzzle
before him.

There was silence for some moments, then Broom laughed uncomfortably,
and, throwing up the revolver, he deliberately fired over Roy’s head.
The bullet whistled desperately near his skull, but he stood immovable.
This unperturbed demeanor appeared to have a quieting effect upon the
delirious Broom, for he presently lowered his weapon.

Meanwhile a plan had flashed through Roy’s brain. He would induce Broom
to discharge his revolver at some innocent object till he was assured
its chamber was exhausted; then, with the help of Sahanderry, he would
secure him.

But unfortunately for this plan Broom’s thoughts had returned to the
proposed fight. Flourishing his own weapon recklessly, he called on Roy
to “produce his gun!”

“Come on, my weak-blooded Englishman; surely you are not afraid,” he
jeered.

The offensive tone and leering face provoked Roy almost beyond
endurance. But believing the man to be for the moment little better than
a maniac, he controlled himself, and drawing a revolver, the one he had
displayed to Delgezie in the camp, he deliberately opened the breech,
ostensibly to discover whether it was in order, but really to gain time.

“Don’t you think—,” he was saying in conciliating tones, when the other
broke in with a shout of demoniacal laughter; then suddenly remembering
Sahanderry his brows clouded again and he muttered viciously, “but first
I’ll settle with this black trash,” and once more he covered the
cowering creature beneath the table, causing him to shrink still farther
under cover.

The white fury of Broom’s face and his deadly earnest manner startled
Roy anew. He perceived that he must instantly distract the man’s
attention if he wished to save the Indian’s life, and presenting his
revolver at Broom, he called, in a tone of stern command:

“Drop your hand or I’ll——.” He spoke no further. By some unaccountable
accident the weapon was discharged at the moment when Broom’s finger was
actually pressing the trigger of his revolver to shoot Sahanderry.
Hearing the bullet whiz past his ears and believing that Roy had
wilfully shot at him, he turned with lightning quickness, diverted his
aim and fired, as he thought, in self-defence.

Roy staggered, swayed and fell heavily.

Standing rigidly erect, Broom gazed stupidly at the still body. His face
was livid. His legs trembled under him. His arm dropped to his side, his
hand still clenching the murderous weapon.

Picking himself from the corner, where he had hidden when the trader
suddenly appeared, Ocpic now crept cautiously to the side of the
prostrate man. He dropped on one knee and closely scrutinized the
upturned face. Then laughing wildly, he got to his feet.

“_To-koo-kuni! To-koo-kuni!_” (He is dead, he is dead), he gleefully
cried.

The sound of the Eskimo’s voice brought Broom to himself. With a strong
effort he withdrew his eyes from the senseless figure and gazed about
the room like one suddenly awakened from an unpleasant dream, in doubt
whether the horrible event had really taken place, or he had been the
victim of some grotesque nightmare. But all doubt as to its reality
ceased when his wandering gaze returned to the outstretched body of his
victim. This ghastly proof was sufficient to convince him that the crime
was no fantasy of a delirious brain. He sighed heavily. A slight
convulsion passed over his features. Then, terror taking the form of
defiance, he sprang forward and stood gazing down at Roy’s still figure.

A nervous grip was laid upon his shoulder and he swung fiercely round,
his frightened gaze meeting the oblique eyes of the Eskimo, Ocpic, who
stood pointing with extended arm; as Broom’s eyes followed its direction
his attention was drawn once more to Sahanderry, who by this time was
almost dead of fright.

At the sight of the shrinking figure he started violently; the
catastrophe had happened so suddenly and had so confused and stupefied
him that all knowledge of Sahanderry’s presence had been crowded from
his mind. He now recalled it with fiendish satisfaction. Here was an
object on which to vent his vicious rage, one who—as he wildly
imagined—while under the secure protection of an all-powerful master
had lost no opportunity to insult him covertly. But things were now
changed; the exchange of shots had removed the protector, Sahanderry was
masterless, and Broom resolved to take speedy and adequate vengeance. In
his mood of ungovernable recklessness he hesitated no longer at the
thought of crime, but paused to form a plan of torture sufficiently
atrocious, and the vicious books that were his only reading supplied him
with plots innumerable.

Soon a plan suitable for his diabolical purpose occurred to him. Smiling
sardonically he advanced to the table, and, stooping, caught the half
dead Sahanderry by the heels, and drew him into the centre of the room,
then, snatching a piece of clapmatch line from Ocpic’s hand, he bound
the distressed Indian in a secure fashion, the Indian making not the
slightest struggle or even a murmur of dissent. The latter circumstance
greatly amused Broom—a silent Sahanderry was a new experience. But his
mood soon changed. He again eyed the poor, bound wretch with triumphant
malignance, and, seating himself upon the edge of a bunk, he began his
torture by elaborately unfolding his diabolical plot to the trembling
prisoner.

Chuckling with fiendish glee he said:

“Now, Sahanderry, my friend, I am about to send you to your father, the
devil, by means entirely original and devised by your humble servant. By
the means I have in contemplation you will imitate the great and
excellent prophet Elisha, insomuch as you will quit this world without
encumbering the earth with your carcass.”

Broom paused to enjoy the effect of his words. Sahanderry’s face was
livid. His eyes rolled in their sockets and threatened to start out of
his head. His lips moved convulsively as if he were attempting to speak,
but he was too panic-stricken to articulate.

Well satisfied, Broom continued: “I shall proceed to the trading-store
and bring hither a keg of gunpowder. This explosive I shall place close
beside you, so that you may get the full benefit of it. After extracting
the little wooden stopper, or screw, which confines the dangerous powder
to the inside of the keg, I shall place the end of a lighted candle in
the hole, so that after burning a short time, in order to allow you to
say your prayers, and me an opportunity to escape, the flame will come
in contact with the powder, and—” Broom illustrated the probable result
with expressive gestures.

Sahanderry groaned, at which Broom burst into a great fit of laughter.
Then, finding the Indian was incapable of speech, Broom left the room.
He was closely followed by Ocpic, who, anticipating some developments of
a devilish nature, was singularly happy.

When Broom and his dusky coadjutor had gone, Sahanderry made superhuman
exertions to free himself. But he had been too well bound by the sailor
to escape, and by no possible effort could he loosen his bonds, though
the line cut deeply into his wrists in his violent struggles.

“_Bekothrie, Bekothrie_,” he called hoarsely, in vain hope that he who
had remained undaunted in so many encounters, who had survived so many
dangers, would now rise up to his assistance. It was inconceivably
strange to him that Roy should lie there so impassive, should have
allowed these things to happen without remonstrance, for Sahanderry was
wholly unable to comprehend that Roy could be as readily overcome as any
common mortal. But the lifeless form was still, and Sahanderry’s heart
sank within him and with apprehensions goaded to the utmost he waited
his enemy’s return.

Minutes of intense silence passed, then came the sound of deep
breathing, and Ocpic staggered into the room, carrying a heavy keg. He
was followed by Broom, whose white, set face and feverish eyes showed
him still implacable.

Sahanderry moaned in utter despair. There was a curious grey pallor
under his brickdust complexion. His heart was beating like a drum. He
tried to speak, but his voice failed him.

Broom worked with grim expedition and the preliminaries were soon over.

Ocpic stood calmly watching events. His eyes took on a look of puzzled
bewilderment as the work progressed, but when Broom struck a match to
light the candle, Ocpic divined the hellish secret of these singular
preparations. With a startled cry he made a bolt for the door.

But Broom caught him and unceremoniously threw him back. “_What-cha-o!_”
(Wait!), he said grimly.

With a wary eye on the Eskimo, Broom struck another match and coolly lit
the candle, but a draught caused the flame to burn unsteadily, and
perceiving this was likely to precipitate the explosion Broom carefully
snuffed out the flame with his finger and thumb.

“Won’t do! Guess we’ll have to shift it over there,” he said, pointing
to a corner of the room and glancing significantly at his companion; but
Ocpic hesitated.

“Shift it, I tell you!” roared Broom.

Though unacquainted with the English language, Ocpic understood from
Broom’s gestures that he was ordered to move the keg of gunpowder. He
tremblingly approached, and lifting it gingerly, placed it in the
required place, then glanced furtively around for a speedy chance of
escape. But Broom’s bulk blocked the way. Perceiving Ocpic’s lightning
glance and divining its import, Broom waved him back.

“Stand back!” he snapped fiercely.

But the native retained his position boldly and scowled threateningly.

Sahanderry lay with palpitating heart, watching the two men, in the
desperate hope that a conflict might ensue. Devotedly he prayed that
they might come to blows, but after moments of agonizing suspense
Ocpic’s eyes dropped before the grim ferocity of Broom’s look. He fell
back reluctantly, scowling with rage, and muttering darkly to himself.

The candle was again lit, and this time the flame burned steadily. Broom
was satisfied.

Standing aside, he allowed Ocpic to rush from the room, then quietly he
walked to the door. Pausing at the doorway he called jeeringly back:

“Good-bye, friend Sahanderry, a quick and pleasant journey!” Then with a
burst of sardonic laughter: “I shall now have the charming Kasba all to
myself.”

Left to himself Sahanderry lay still and lifeless, for the grim
situation had scared him into a condition near to death. But presently
the instinct of self-preservation awoke within him. Again he made
terrific struggles to loosen his bonds. With frantic yells he strove to
make himself heard, although he knew there was no likelihood of anyone
being nearer than Delgezie’s hut, and he realized that the sound of his
voice would hardly carry beyond the walls around him. Yet in his
extremity he found it impossible to keep silent. He persisted in his
exertions to free himself, for the issue at stake was his life. His
bonds cut deeply into his flesh at every movement and the pain was
frightful, but he struggled till he could struggle no more and fell back
exhausted, his head dropping to the floor with a dull thud.

As he lay there like a trussed fowl it seemed to him that never did
candle burn so quickly. It shortened as if by magic. Soon the flame was
flickering over the black powder. Suddenly Sahanderry lifted his head
and listened with all his might. There was a sound outside. He gave a
hoarse cry for help, then listened again, his heart thumping like a
steam-engine. The sound drew nearer. It was a terrible moment. He
glanced frantically at the fast expiring candle. Was there yet time?
Spending all his remaining strength in one long-drawn-out cry, he fell
back to listen. He heard footsteps. They came nearer, they paused, and
then slowly went away.

It was Delgezie, who had just arrived. He was alone, Minnihak having
left him to visit a trap. Finding no one on the look-out for him, Kasba
not at hand to take his bedding, the old man became uneasy; his heart
fluttered with vague forebodings. He took a few steps toward the house,
paused undecidedly, then suddenly changing his mind, returned to his
sled. Hauling off the dogs’ harness with the ease and dexterity which
come with custom, the old fellow tied it together mechanically. Then he
again approached the house, muttering to himself in his uneasiness.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash, a fearful report, then—darkness.



                              CHAPTER XIV.
                         _GRUESOME DISCOVERIES._


It will be remembered that Kasba was left fleeing in panic terror to her
father’s hut; while the boy David, who had been wholly instrumental in
effecting her escape, lay on the snow, beaten senseless by an infuriated
ruffian’s cowardly blows.

Now Kasba was not composed of the stuff that heroines are made of, and
when she found herself free, her natural impulse was to place as great a
distance between herself and the scene of danger as she conveniently
might. This she contrived to do with the best possible speed, but once
safe in her father’s hut and the door secured, her thoughts returned
with a shock to David.

Where was he? Like a flash the remembrance of the dark object she had
left battling with the enraged man occurred to her. It was, it must have
been, David. He had sacrificed himself to Broom’s fury that she might
escape. Once thoroughly convinced of this, all fears for herself
vanished, terror for the boy’s safety crowded everything else from her
mind. Emboldened by her love for him, she hastily unfastened the door
and, stepping fearlessly forth, flew back over the narrow track.
Realizing that every moment was precious, she returned with incredible
speed to the spot she had quitted in such haste. Heavens! What was that?
The man she loathed and dreaded was gone, but on the snow lay David.

Regardless that the brutal ruffian might still be lurking in the close
neighborhood, the girl, uttering a low cry, rushed to the senseless boy.

With tender solicitude she bent over him and raised his head upon her
arm. His face was swollen, bruised, and stained with blood. His eyes
were closed.

“Oh, David, David!” she sobbed piteously, “you have suffered for my
sake.”

But her first agony of feelings over, she was relieved to find that the
boy was breathing regularly. Still the knowledge that he had received
this cruel treatment in order to save her from insult brought a fresh
flood of tears to her eyes.

Tenderly she bent over him, while from her heart a low, piteous appeal
went up to heaven.

At length the boy’s eyes unclosed, he gazed around in a dazed,
bewildered fashion, then:

“What has happened? Where am I?” he asked wearily, and then: “Ah! I
remember, the Ball-eye (white man),” he added with a quick start of
apprehension.

“But he has gone now, dear,” said Kasba. “He is a bad, wicked man and
will be abundantly punished when Bekothrie returns. Come, dear, you must
not stay here any longer. You will freeze. Let me help you up.”

David staggered to his feet. Broom’s dastardly blows had been directed
at his upturned face, so although giddy and faint he was still able to
walk. The pair had not gone far before they heard a voice hailing them
from the rear. Turning, they discovered Sahanderry striding toward them
in vague alarm. When told of Broom’s offences he was impatient to find
and chastise him, but controlled his impetuosity till he had seen Kasba
and the boy in safety.

Walking slowly with the assistance of Sahanderry and Kasba, for he would
not hear of being carried, David was brought to the hut. Then, leaving
Kasba to attend to the wounded boy, Sahanderry rushed in blind,
impetuous haste to the Fort, his whole frame trembling with passion—and
with what result we already know.

With infinite tenderness the girl washed and dressed David’s bruised
face. Then she assisted the boy to her own bed. He at first strongly
objected to this, but Kasba was obdurate, and with a sigh of content he
at last laid his aching head on the pillow.

Leaving him to fall asleep, the girl sank upon a seat in utter
dejection. She remained seated a long time, fearing to move lest she
wake the boy, who had quickly fallen asleep; then an explosion shook the
little house to its foundations. Kasba started to her feet and stood
petrified with fear. With a heart beating rapidly she waited and
listened, but could detect no further sound.

A scared cry from the bed brought her to her senses. She flew to David,
whom the noise had rudely awakened, and throwing her arms protectingly
around him she turned her scared face to the door.

The situation was nerve-trying. Except for their own audible breathing
the darkness of the hut was as silent as the tomb. Clasped in each
other’s arms the two waited tremulously, expectantly, with fearful
apprehensions, but of what they could not know, for only silence
followed, silence becoming painful as it lengthened into minutes.

Choking down the hysterical sobs which threatened to overcome her, Kasba
gently released herself from the boy’s embrace. A pale gleam of light
relieved the gloom from pitchy blackness. Moving cautiously about, she
found the lamp and lit it. The light gave her additional courage. She
went to the window and looked out. All was quiet. The view was bleak and
cold, the dim light outside revealed the desolate waste but
indistinctly; objects took phantom forms, appearing weird and out of all
proportion. With a shudder of undefined dread, the girl turned away from
the casement and went back to the boy.

David received her with a keenly expectant look. Kasba shook her head
with a wan smile in answer to his mute inquiry.

“There’s nothing, that I can see, dear,” she declared with relief,
sinking on the bed beside him.

“Was it an earthquake or an explosion?” he asked, in an awed whisper.

“An explosion, dear, and at the Fort, I’m afraid.”

“More of that devil’s work, I suppose,” said the boy after some
considerable thought. Then quickly, “I wonder if Bekothrie was at home.”

The girl sprang to her feet. The knowledge that her father and Roy were
expected back that evening had entirely slipped from her mind. She stood
rigidly erect, thinking desperately. What should she do? Perhaps the
trader or her father had been injured by the explosion, perhaps both.
She must go to the Fort to discover by their living presence that they
were safe. Snatching her coat from where it hung, she drew it on without
further delay or thought.

The boy watched her breathlessly, wide-eyed.

“I’m going to the Fort, dear,” she said gently but firmly. “Like a good,
brave boy you will stay here. I shall not be long away.”

David caught his breath sharply, but smiled back manfully with a
palpable effort to hide his fears.

Without pausing for further speech the girl stepped into the night, into
the solitude and darkness, and with anxious heart passed swiftly along.
Suddenly there broke forth upon the intense silence a loud, long-drawn
howl. Kasba’s blood ran cold. Again that dismal howl. From its great
resemblance to a dog’s she knew it for the voice of a wolf, and one
suffering from hunger—its presence so near the Fort told her that—yet
no thought of turning back beset her.

Awed and breathless she paused on the overhanging rocks at the back of
the Fort, straining her eyes to distinguish between the conglomeration
of buildings beneath her, which loomed up indistinctly; but there was
just sufficient light from the stars to enable her to see that one of
them was missing, that Roy’s dwelling had tumbled down. The space it had
occupied was lumbered with a disorderly pile of logs. “Good heavens!”
came from the girl’s lips—she was speaking distractedly.

So intent was she on trying to divine what had really happened that she
shrieked aloud when something approached and touched her. It was
Minnihak, Roy’s Eskimo guide. Perceiving who it was, Kasba clutched him
excitedly by the arm and eagerly questioned him as to her father and
Roy’s whereabouts. Failing to make him understand in Chipewyan she
essayed in English, but only to meet with the like unsatisfactory
result; the bewildered native shook his head, for he was conversant with
neither language. The girl’s feelings on first perceiving the Eskimo
were of surprised relief, but her fears were instantly goaded to the
utmost the moment she found she was unable to make herself understood.
The suspense was appalling. Conjecturing evils of the very worst type,
the girl was moved by an irresistible impulse to approach and search the
ruins. Neglecting all precautions, regardless of all peril to herself,
she flew down the uneven track, with an instinct that was truly
marvellous avoiding the boulders and holes. A few moments and she was
beside the mass of logs.

An awful accident must have happened to bring about the ruinous
condition of the trader’s dwelling.

“What should she do?” she again asked herself. “What could she do? Where
was her father, where Roy?”

She waited and listened. All was still. The situation for a young, timid
girl was extremely nerve-trying. A short time previously Kasba’s natural
disinclination to scenes of violence would probably have caused her to
rush frantically away and precipitate herself in her father’s hut to
indulge in a fit of hysterical weeping, but now the uncertainty of her
father’s and Roy’s fate chained her to the spot.

“Where were they? Perhaps beneath those logs!” The thought was horrible.
When contemplating that huge pile all hope faded from her mind. The mere
possibility of their being in the house when the explosion took place
caused her heart to stand still, her blood to run cold. For it seemed an
impossibility that they could have escaped being crushed to death
beneath the falling logs, even if they had in some miraculous manner
escaped injury by the explosion. Perhaps they now lay pinned to the
earth, mangled and bleeding; and struggling with the convulsive sobs the
mere thought called forth, she bent over the débris. Frantically she
strove to push aside the heavy timbers that she might discover what lay
beneath them, fearing at any moment that her eyes would meet some
ghastly remains of one of the two men she loved. Yet with unflagging
energy she worked on. In her frantic haste she was dimly conscious that
the Eskimo had followed her, was lifting and throwing aside the
ponderous logs with surprising energy; evidently he had caught her idea.
But despite the native’s prodigious efforts and her own desperate
exertions the work proceeded at a snail’s pace. Kasba quickly realized
that her own puny strength availed her nothing, and a despairing moan at
her own impotency escaped her. Her head was whirling round and round and
she felt faint and giddy.

At that precise moment, as if heaven had pitied her helplessness and
answered her prayer, a slight, muffled groan smote her ears.

Kasba uttered a cry of joy, for she recognized it as the sound of a
human voice, knew that someone was alive beneath the ruins. Gathering
strength from hopes renewed, the girl tore more frantically at the logs,
straining every muscle to draw them aside.

Suddenly the voice was heard again. It was speaking.

Instantly Kasba paused in her panic haste to listen.

“_Kli-et-ee?_” (Who is there?), it said.

“It is I, Kasba!” cried the greatly excited girl. “Who speaks?”

“Sahanderry!” returned the voice.

With a cry of disappointment Kasba fell back. In her anxiety she had
quite forgotten Sahanderry. She had imagined it to be her father who
spoke, and her heart had leaped within her for joy. But now that she
discovered it was not her father but another, the revulsion of feeling
was too much for the already distracted girl. But the thought came to
her that a life was in deadly peril, that Sahanderry was entombed in
that rude black pile and that immediate aid was necessary. Chiding
herself for the delay and for her selfish regrets, she worked
desperately to accomplish a rescue. The painfully disappointing
incident, however, had sobered her. She now worked just as desperately,
but with more system than before. By the aid of the Eskimo she quickly
had a number of logs placed on one side. She then discovered that the
house had not fallen completely, as she had at first believed, but that
the walls farthest from the seat of the explosion, and a part of the
roof attached, had not come wholly to the ground but were propped up by
the other parts of the fallen building, forming a sheltering cavity,
though threatening to fall with a crash at any minute. Beneath this
dangerous but friendly shelter the groaning Sahanderry was discovered
lying prone upon the ground. A timber pressed him to the earth and kept
him from rising.

Groping in the dark, Kasba and Minnihak ultimately freed and carried
Sahanderry from the ruins, but with heroic self-denial the girl
refrained from questioning him till a large fire had been made by
setting a light to some of the wreckage. The night was intensely cold
and Sahanderry was chilled to the bone.

He crouched over the fire, his eyes wild and bewildered in expression,
for he was not yet fully convinced of his miraculous escape. His burnt
and torn clothing, his scorched hair and eyebrows, testified to how
narrow that escape really had been.

After waiting some minutes—interminable minutes they seemed to the
girl—she could restrain herself no longer, but with a voice which
quivered with suppressed but almost overpowering anxiety.

“_Se tah_ (my father), _Bekothrie_ (master)?” she queried desperately.

The injured man staggered to his feet with a hoarse cry of horrified
remembrance. All thought of Broom’s deadly shot and its consequences had
completely slipped from his confused brain. Released from a position of
extreme peril, saved from what he had considered an absolutely certain
death, his mind had become blank to all else but his own unaccountable
deliverance. The girl’s questions brought back all the terrors of those
horrible scenes. He wiped the sweat of remembrance from his brow with
trembling hands. He shook like a leaf in a storm. Completely overcome,
he lost all power of speech and stood rocking himself to and fro.

In the horror of conviction that either Roy or her father, perhaps both,
had perished miserably, had been blown to pieces or scorched out of all
semblance of a human creature, Kasba started impetuously forward.
Clutching the distraught Sahanderry’s hands she forcibly drew them from
his face. “Where are they?” she demanded sharply.

Pointing with a shaking hand at the ruins, “Bekothrie is there,” he
cried hoarsely, then fell upon his face writhing and groaning.

Ignoring Sahanderry’s emotion the girl rushed back to the ruins. Quick
and agile as a cat, she sprang from log to log, then suddenly
disappeared altogether. Minnihak, who had remained motionless beside the
fire, watching the foregoing proceedings with great bewilderment,
followed less hastily. Arriving at the spot where the girl had
disappeared he paused to look about him. A sharp cry, proceeding from
the same pile of logs that had protected Sahanderry, caught his ear.

Squeezing himself between huge beams which hung dangerously suspended in
his path, Minnihak dimly discerned Kasba bending over a dark figure.
Picking his way carefully, he approached her, and by the uncertain light
discovered her supporting the head and shoulders of a man upon her
knees. But there was nothing in dress or figure by which to identify
him. His clothes were burned to rags, his face was black, and all his
hair had been scorched away.

Yet though Minnihak failed to recognize him, Kasba had; and all in a
flutter of tenderness words of love poured forth thick and fast, but Roy
lay all unconscious, deaf to everything.



                              CHAPTER XV.
                           _A BITTER SORROW._


“_Nota Kaholthay, Jesus Christ, Notyanayne neoltze nogahneayta
Tattaahyenay naso noayl nahnathath doko eethlahse choo. Amen._ (The
grace of our Lord, etc.)” The words broke the solemn silence in the
distinct but tremulous voice of a young girl; a voice trembling with
earnestness as the benedictory blessing passed her lips, every tone
filled with suppressed anguish, revealing the agony of a broken heart.

The scene was as solemnly impressive as the words; two open graves
rudely hewn from the hard-frozen earth—accomplished by infinite labor
after burning fires over the spots for hours—one of them empty while
the other revealed a shapeless, undefinable bundle in its cold depths.
Beside this one stood three dark muffled figures, sharply outlined
against the perpendicular face of rocks. The central figure, the
speaker, one of the most touching sights on God’s fair earth—was a girl
bowed by a great, an overwhelming sorrow, a girl in whose eyes dwelt a
look of unutterable despair. This was Kasba; not the young,
lovingly-impulsive girl of yesterday, but a girl-woman, a woman of
steady and implacable purpose, with feelings so lacerated in the last
twenty-four hours that she had grown numb with pain. Horror upon horror
had fallen upon her until further grief could no longer be felt.

On her left was the unmistakable figure of Sahanderry. He stood rigidly
erect with eyes fixed sorrowfully on the shadowy object at the bottom of
the grave. Tears streamed unchecked down his cheeks and violent sobs
convulsed his frame. Venturing to raise his eyes at the girl’s
concluding words, he threw her a hasty glance; her unnatural composure
puzzled him. With a pathetically resigned air she closed the book from
which she had been reading, and slowly advancing to the edge of the
grave, stood silently gazing into it. The despairing agony in her face
was pitiable, for the grave held all that was mortal of her beloved
father.

Inconceivably strange it is that Delgezie, being on the outside of the
house, should have been killed, while Sahanderry, who lay close to the
seat of the explosion, had escaped with his life, in fact was almost
uninjured except for being badly scorched and thoroughly shaken. It
would be hard to explain this, or any part of the seemingly miraculous
events that followed this disaster. Even the sanest reasoning would fail
to convince. The natural inference was that the gunpowder-keg had not
sufficient resistance to cause the devastating combustion the incident
would lead one to expect and that Delgezie had been killed by some
flying object hurtled through the air by the force of the explosion—but
this was supposition.

Beside the girl, and completely overcome with grief, was the boy David.
He was sobbing audibly.

Stepping back from the grave, Kasba signed to her companions to fill it
in. This was the signal for Sahanderry to give full vent to his
lamentations while he dropped clods of frozen earth reverently into the
hole. These were instantly followed by the sound of dull thuds. Kasba
started at the gruesome noise, a startled cry escaped her, but she
displayed no further sign of emotion. Stunned and dazed, she stood
silently watching the work go on.

The task completed, Sahanderry and David, overcoming their more violent
grief, turned to the girl for orders, but remained discreetly silent.
Kasba was gazing fixedly at the grave as if her eyes could penetrate the
hard, flint-like earth to where the body of her father lay beneath.
Suddenly she tottered forward and, uttering a low, despairing cry, fell
on her knees.

“_Ay, setah! setah!_ (Oh, father, father!)” she moaned, with her face
pressed to the icy clods. She remained in this attitude for some time
wrestling with a feeling of unutterable loneliness.

Her companions scarcely breathed. Presently she kissed the hard sod,
rose quickly and turned slowly away.

Entering the lonely hut she dropped into a seat and remained in an
attitude of deep despondency with eyes fixed upon the floor. The
entrance of her sorrowing companions passed entirely unnoticed.

Taking pains to make no unnecessary noise, Sahanderry first attended to
the fire, then seated himself in a gloomy corner, and from this
vantage-ground watched the sorrow-stricken girl. David sank on the floor
at Kasba’s feet, crouching with his head pressed tightly against her
knee, and without raising her eyes the girl dropped her hand upon his
head and let it rest there in sympathy.

Time dragged on. Deepening shadows crept across the room, gradually
enveloping all objects in dismal gloom. The solemn ticking of the clock
sounded vastly disproportionate and seemed in the melancholy silence to
vibrate with the hum and noise of some mighty machine.

Throughout these dreary hours Kasba sat mute and desolate, taking no
heed of time, battling with a confused sense of irreparable loss.

Completely stunned by the succession of terrible shocks, she had been
too bewildered to fully understand the significance of the solemn
service she had read at the grave-side. The bitter fact that her father
was dead and that she had buried him that afternoon filled all her mind,
and for the first time in her life her never-failing consolation was
denied her. She could not pray, and she was disconsolate indeed, for
there was no other comfort in earth or heaven.

        “When some beloved voice that was to you
         Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly
         And silence, against which you dare not cry,
         Aches round you like a strong disease and new—
         What hope? what help? what music will undo
         That silence to your senses? Not friendship’s sign
         Not reason’s subtle count. Nay, none of these!
         Speak Thou, availing Christ! and fill this pause.”

But Kasba dare not look heavenward, for bitter, rebellious thoughts had
hardened her heart. What had she done that this great trouble should be
visited upon her? Delgezie had been both father and mother to her,
soothing and tending and caring for her in her infantile afflictions
with all the tenderness and affection of a loving mother. From the day
of her birth he had surrounded and guarded her young life with the
wealth and strength of a passionate love. The deep affection he had
borne his poor dead wife had been transferred to the child she had left
to his care. She became the joy of his life; his one thought was for her
happiness, his one aim her comfort. They had been all in all to each
other, and that God-fearing man had been cut down in an instant, without
even the mournful consolation of a parting word. As the knowledge of her
loss gained upon her the loneliness of her position grew correspondingly
distinct. Poor, weary, sorrow-stricken girl, tired and harassed by her
multitudinous duties, confused from want of rest and sleep, she sat
buried in the perplexities of a series of most singularly strange and
terrible happenings.

Yet she had still another duty to fulfil, another painful task to
perform—a task, if possible, more keenly agonizing than the burying of
her loved father. In a corner of the room lay the body of Roy Thursby,
the man she had loved with all the strength of her simple young heart.

Roy’s body had been carried to Delgezie’s hut, but all attempts at
resuscitation had proved futile, and it now lay on Kasba’s bed, covered
with a white sheet, awaiting burial. The body, however, had not yet been
sewn up in canvas, as was customary immediately after death. This still
remained to be done, although the empty grave beside Delgezie’s yawned
for it.

Silently in the gloomy darkness Kasba sat in a procrastinating mood. The
stern burial custom of her race and a solemn duty to the dead called
urgently to her to complete those last sad rites, but love with equal
persistence implored for longer respite. Tremulously she shrank from the
heart-rending ordeal of hiding forever the face she loved so ardently.
Yet she well knew the task to be unavoidable, she would allow no other
hand to touch that dear form, to cover his dear body with the garment of
the grave.

The darkness grew intense. The feeble gleam of twilight from the window
failed to pierce the room’s pitchy blackness any longer. The noisy clock
ticked on incessantly. Silent and motionless the three figures sat like
three grim statues, so inert were they.

At length a weird, ghostly sound broke the deathly stillness. With one
accord Kasba and Sahanderry started to their feet. They gazed toward
each other with horrified eyes, each striving to pierce the black pall
which hung between them, to discover if either was the author of the
strange sound. David cowered upon the floor.

The clock ticked ominously.

The two figures stood speechless.

Again that ghostly sound, and now it was like a deep, long-drawn sigh.

Simultaneously Kasba and Sahanderry darted forward—Kasba to the bed and
Sahanderry to the door, through which he vanished.

Kasba softly bent over the indistinct figure lying there. With senses
strained to the utmost she paused, breathlessly listening. Hours might
have passed, or only moments; she could not have told. Again that deep,
sighing sound. It came from beneath the white sheet upon the bed.

With a sharp cry Kasba fell upon her knees. With outstretched hands and
upturned eyes, “Almighty God,” she cried in accents of exceeding joy, “I
thank Thee for this miracle.” Then for the first time since her father’s
death she fell into a storm of weeping.

The figure sighed again and slightly stirred.

Springing to her feet Kasba softly uncovered Roy’s face and then quickly
lit the lamp and held it in her trembling hand. The light fell upon the
form of Roy Thursby. He lay calm and still, and Kasba waited with bated
breath in an agony of suspense, her heart beating tumultuously.
Presently there was another sigh and Roy’s eyes slowly opened. The girl
started and trembled as he turned his head toward her, but there was no
gleam of recognition in his eyes.

Kasba stirred uneasily. Her heart beat so for a moment that it well-nigh
choked her.

The slight sound caught his ears. His lips moved—“Who is there?” The
words came slowly; they were spoken only by great effort and scarcely
above his breath.

“It is Kasba,” said the girl when she could control her voice
sufficiently to speak. “There was an accident and you were hurt. I—they
brought you to my father’s hut.”

“Why—are—we—in—darkness?” asked Roy with infinite labor.

Kasba stared at him in horrified amazement, for the light she held fell
full upon his face.

At this moment an ejaculation from behind caused her to glance back. In
the doorway stood the boy David with an expression of terrified wonder
on his face, and towering over his shoulder, with his head pushed well
forward, was Sahanderry who stood awestruck. His mouth was wide open,
and his piercing black eyes, large and round, betrayed the amazement he
felt.

Kasba beckoned him to come forward, and putting the boy aside, he
cautiously entered. With eyes intent upon the countenance of his master,
Sahanderry drew near the bed. Then realizing that Roy was in truth
alive, that by some seeming miracle he had returned from the very brink
of the grave, he sprang impulsively forward, and clutching one of Roy’s
hands, burst into tears.

“Oh, Bekothrie! Bekothrie! I am glad—me!” he sobbed.

This miraculous escape from the dead was more in accord with his
wonderful faith than that Roy the all-powerful could be overcome, and
his jubilation knew no bounds.

“But, Sahanderry,” said Roy, still speaking in a low, weak voice, “tell
me, why are we in the dark?” There was a slight tone of apprehension in
his voice, as if he divined that some evil was being kept from him.

Sahanderry ceased his sobbing and gazed with perplexity at Kasba.

“Why—,” he began, but Kasba with a swift gesture clapped her hand over
his mouth.

Silent as the motion was, the slight, almost imperceptible sound made by
the girl in shifting her position caught Roy’s attention. He lay with a
painfully strained look upon his face, and in an attitude of intently
listening. No one spoke. The man and girl watched him with fast beating
hearts, a look of horror growing in their eyes, for a terrible suspicion
gradually took possession of them.

“Will—you—not—speak?” he said hoarsely. “Speak,
why—is—there—no—light?”

Sahanderry glanced in consternation at his companion. He moved uneasily.
His lips parted as if in speech, but he answered never a word.

Roy waited, breathing quickly. Presently a look of suspicion passed over
his face. “Speak, man, I command you!” he cried with greater force. “Is
there a light?”

Throwing a desperate, imploring glance at Kasba, Sahanderry wrung his
hands. “Yes,” he faltered, “but—,” he stopped suddenly, the unutterable
despair on his master’s face held him tongue-tied.

For a few moments Roy lay silent, completely overcome by the sudden,
appalling revelation; then, clutching convulsively at his eyes: “Oh, my
God! my God! I am blind!” he moaned.



                              CHAPTER XVI.
                             _RETRIBUTION._


The first grey streaks of a dawning day crept stealthily across the
horizon, and gaining strength in their silent progress finally revealed
a rough brushwood camp ensconsed in a good-sized bluff of trees.

The multitudinous tracks and well-trodden snow, the number of mutilated
tree-stumps standing white and ragged—evidence that a quantity of wood
had been cut quite lately—several large holes, blackened as by fires,
and the general untidy aspect of the whole, told that the camp had been
in use several days.

Early though the hour, the camp appeared deserted, but a closer
inspection discovered the shadowy figure of a man seated in a corner of
the barricade. He was muffled in a hairy-coat, with the hood drawn well
over his head, and he sat silent and motionless, in the position of one
wrapt in peaceful slumber, or absorbed in deep thought.

There were several peculiarities about this camp. Immediately behind the
quiet figure a number of green spruce trees had been arranged to form an
additional protection against the blast of a biting wind, while a pile
of wood lay inside and close to the man’s hand. These unusual features
spoke strongly of the presence of an invalid, or one incapacitated in
some manner from moving easily about. There was one other odd thing, a
revolver lay at the man’s right hand, fully charged and with its butt
toward him, as if for instant use.

Slowly the fire burned down, and with the curious, faltering gesture of
one feeling in the dark the man put out his hand and carefully
replenished it, then again subsided within himself. The new fuel burned
briskly; tiny flames started from the dying embers and caught
desperately at the fresh fuel, and gathering strength in the consumption
thereof they burst upward with fierce wild roars and lit the camp for
many yards around, revealing the figure and features of its lonely
occupant. It was Roy Thursby. Yet was it Roy Thursby? It was like him,
but with a look of great misery stamped upon him. His face was
ashy-grey. His eyes seemed fixed upon the leaping flames, but, alas! he
only knew of their close presence by his acute senses of hearing and
feeling, for he was totally blind. The longing, wistful expression—so
pathetic in the faces of the blind—was already showing upon his face.
He sat with bent head, leaning slightly forward, musing in mournful
retrospect upon the last few days. They had been to him nothing but
excitement and horror. Truly the shot that had left him lying senseless,
cutting a deep furrow across his skull and stunning him for many hours,
had saved him the harrowing, blood-curdling, diabolical details of
Broom’s subsequent deeds, but the fearful discovery his returning
consciousness had revealed was, perhaps, the most terrible a human being
could experience.

Blind! Oh, the misery in that one word! What desolate loneliness! What
unfathomable despair!

Roy’s passionate prayers to God to release him from a long, grim night
of unlifting darkness were painful beyond words to those who witnessed
them. It was with feelings of the greatest relief that his companions
finally saw him sink into a state of apathy. From that hour Roy was as
one who has some awful fear upon him; he started at the slightest sound.
None save himself knew how bitter were his feelings, how acute his
anguish. And always from his soul this cry went up: “What have I done to
deserve this terrible affliction?” His whole life was blasted. All his
bright dreams, all his ambitions, were roughly brought to an end, and
from a man, young, strong, resolute, he had become more pitiably
helpless than a little child—all by the evil-doing of a reckless,
useless man-animal to whom he had been rescuer and friend. Alone, and
solely by the strength of his personality, he had succeeded in a
difficult and dangerous enterprise, and with pardonable pride awaited
his reward and the approbation of a powerful and generous Company. But
now all enterprise, all ambition, lay dead, and he must spend the rest
of his days away from companionship of his kind. He had already fought
this out with himself. The battle had been fierce, but short and
decisive. His keen appreciation of what was due to others had won the
victory. Why should he go to the front, return to civilization, to Lena
whom he passionately loved—he, a useless incumbrance, compelled by the
very nature of his affliction to depend upon others for even the most
trifling offices? Better far that she should believe that he had met his
death in the explosion—Delgezie’s grave would lend color to that
belief—and when the first bitter sorrow of the blow had worn off she
might still be happy with another. Why then should he doom her to wear
out her life by the side of a hopeless, melancholy invalid? Besides, he
shrank from exposing his extreme helplessness to other eyes, even though
they were the eyes of a sympathizing friend. Yes! He would spend the
rest of his life in the company of the faithful Kasba and Sahanderry, at
some camp which they might make in the desolate solitude, far from all
possibility of encounter with any white man.

Discovering what she fully believed to be Roy’s dead body, Kasba had
despatched Minnihak with a message to Acpa, acquainting him with the
trader’s death and requesting him to come and take charge of Fort Future
_pro tem_. Therefore Roy had decided not to remain at the Fort any
longer than it would take to make adequate preparations for a long trip,
but to proceed by easy stages to a place known to Sahanderry, where a
stay might be protracted to any length.

But a startling incident had compelled them to fly Fort Future with
scarcely any preparation—Broom had appeared upon the scene.

Sahanderry and David were away from home and Kasba was outside gathering
an armful of kindling. Her first intimation of the ruffian’s presence
was a rude arm around her waist, and a voice in her ear, which said:

“Now, my bonny Kasba! I’ve come back for you!”

In utter surprise and consternation the girl gave a startled cry which
rang out sharply, and, caught up by the echoes, it was thrown on and on
till it died away in the distance.

Hearing the cry Roy sprang to his feet within the house. In the
excitement of the moment he forgot strength and courage could avail him
nothing. He stumbled across the room but could not find the door. It was
in this awful moment that he realized how utterly helpless he was, how
miserably incapable to protect those in his care—those who, accustomed
to a lifelong protection, were totally unable to think for themselves in
moments of great crisis. Listening intently he could distinguish a noise
made by scuffling on crisp snow. He knew it was Kasba who cried, that
she was being molested. Oh, for the gift of sight for one moment! His
agony at being unable to render the girl assistance was so intense that
he sobbed like a child.

Suddenly the scuffling ceased. Then there was another cry and the sound
of departing footsteps.

Stumbling about the room, Roy again made frenzied efforts to find the
door, but struck against something and fell to the ground. He tore at
his eyes, then, calling loudly upon his Creator, and in sheer
desperation, shouted with the full force of his lungs. Hearing the voice
of a man he verily believed dead, Broom dropped the girl and staggered
back as if shot. Then with a white, scared face, he dashed away, as if
pursued by some ghostly visitant.

He had scarcely disappeared before Sahanderry and David returned.
Sahanderry’s great trepidation at hearing of the adventure plainly told
Roy that he could not be depended upon to protect Kasba, for, although
he was unable to see Sahanderry’s terror, the Indian’s tremulous voice
betrayed him.

With the quick decision of an ever-resourceful mind, Roy ordered his
companions to prepare for a hasty flight, so that when Broom
returned—for Roy felt that he would return—he might find the girl far
beyond his reach.

So a few things were gathered quickly together and packed upon a
dog-sled and soon Fort Future was deserted.

For the first few days the party travelled incessantly, only pausing for
the scantiest of meals and an occasional short sleep; but when they
arrived at the spot described at the beginning of this chapter, Roy, who
rode on the sled, discovered that Kasba was suffering greatly from the
hardships of the long and severe trip; despite her heroic efforts to
appear thoroughly alert and quite rested after each short nap, she was
unable to hide her weariness of voice and movement from his quick ear,
and at the risk of being overtaken he had ordered a few days’ halt.

On the morning of which we write, Sahanderry and David had left the camp
early to go some distance on a hunting expedition, for the food supply
was getting low. Kasba had wandered into the bush and Roy was left alone
with his bitterness of spirit. To have run away from Broom, to have
deserted his post, was gall to his soul. With an ejaculation he flung
more wood on the fire.

Just then a slight girlish figure crept cautiously to where he sat and
stealthily reached for the revolver. Grasping the barrel, she was
drawing it gently toward her when a hand descended heavily upon hers and
held it in a vice-like grip.

“Who is that?” demanded Roy, turning his sightless eyes upon her.

The girl stifled a scream. Roy’s sudden action had surprised and greatly
startled her. “It is Kasba,” she said, almost crying with vexation.

“And why do you steal into camp in this manner?” asked Roy sternly. The
girl’s peculiar behavior had made him apprehensive of danger.

After hesitating a moment Kasba uttered the one word—“Broom!”

Roy’s face hardened, his whole body stiffened ominously, for he
conjectured that his enemy was in close proximity. “The villain!” he
muttered. Then, releasing the girl’s hand, he held out his own and
demanded that the revolver be put in it.

Reluctantly Kasba complied with his demand.

Then, “Where is he?” enquired Roy in a low, tense voice.

“At some distance. He is with the Eskimo Ocpic, in camp and asleep. I
discovered them and came back for the revolver.”

“And why?”

“That I might kill him,” hissed the girl, with flashing eyes and her
bosom heaving with uncontrollable excitement. Then, “Oh, give me the
revolver, Bekothrie, and let me go,” she pleaded; for her bitter hatred
toward her persecutor had completely overcome the terror she had always
felt for him.

“No! That is my work,” said Roy sternly. “Lead me to him.”

The girl had been taught strict obedience, and did not pause to argue
with Roy as to the improbability of his being able while laboring under
his terrible affliction to accomplish his revenge by shooting Broom.
Besides she, like Sahanderry, had a deep-set belief in Roy’s
infallibility. With hasty fingers she fastened on his snowshoes. Then,
taking his hand, she gently led him forth.

The way was rough and tortuous. With her disengaged hand and her strong
body the girl forced a path through the bushes so that none might touch
him in passing. Their progress was necessarily slow and laborious, their
footsteps uncertain.

After a time, which seemed interminable to Roy, Kasba halted. They had
arrived at a poorly constructed camp. Two figures muffled in _kaip-puks_
lay side by side within it. Over the feet of one a rough pilot-coat had
been thrown. Kasba had come across the camp, and recognizing the coat as
belonging to Broom, divined that he lay beneath it.

“We are there, Bekothrie,” said Kasba softly. Despite her efforts to
control it, excitement had unstrung her nerves and thrown a quiver into
her voice.

“Point the revolver,” commanded Roy, fiercely.

Kasba hesitated. What if it was not Broom after all, but some innocent
person? But only a second did she falter, for the remembrance of Broom’s
diabolical doings caused implacable wrath to surge within her.
Cautiously she led Roy forward a few more steps, then halted and with a
steady hand pointed the extended revolver at the sleeper’s head.

“Now!” she whispered.

Roy stiffened his arm and slipped a finger on the trigger. He did not
hesitate to kill Broom while he slept. Broom’s crimes had been too
heinous to permit of mercy. A grim look came into Roy’s face; his finger
was pressing the trigger with fearful intent, when the bright face of a
young girl flashed before his mind’s eye and in his imagination a clear
voice repeated the word’s of Lena’s letter in his ear: “_For in my
opinion it is murder for a man to take another’s life, no matter what
the circumstances that seem to extenuate it._”

Then, to Kasba’s surprise, instead of firing, he dropped his hand to his
side, letting the weapon fall to the ground. “I cannot do it!” he cried
hoarsely. “Take me away.”

The girl stared at him, vastly amazed at this sudden, inexplicable
change from grim determination to profound helplessness. Then obediently
she caught his hand and led him away.

They had scarcely turned before the figure sprang to its feet. It was
Broom! His eyes rolled in his head and he trembled like an aspen leaf.
With a ghastly white face he stood staring after them as they slowly
retraced their steps.

He stared, motionless in his astonishment, for he had awakened just in
time to hear Roy’s words, and the revolver lying half buried in the snow
was all that was necessary to explain that his life had been spared.
Then, too, he was overpowered at the sight of Roy’s affliction. Just how
he became aware of this it is hard to determine—perhaps from Roy’s
words, “Take me away,” or his faltering footsteps, or the sight of the
girl leading him by the hand; perhaps the three combined. However, the
sight of the once active Roy moving slowly, laboriously away overwhelmed
him with remorse. In a flash the heinousness of his acts came home to
him. Sinking upon his knees in the snow he hid his face in his hands,
rocking himself and groaning like one demented, taking no heed of time,
nor that his hands were exposed to the bitter cold wind. When at last he
rose to his feet he staggered like a drunken man; the strength dependent
upon his feverish excitement of the last few days had suddenly left him,
leaving him as weak as one just recovered from a long and severe
illness. He had paid a terrible toll for his mad fits of passion; his
eyes were sunken, his cheekbones protruded. Scarcely ever sleeping or
eating, his thoughts had been concentrated on possessing the girl.
Overcome with baffled fury at discovering her gone from the Fort, he had
travelled hot-foot in pursuit, but now that she was within his reach,
now that he had discovered Roy powerless to protect her, his feelings
underwent a sudden revulsion. The spark of humanity that had long lain
dormant under all his recklessness burned bright at the sight of Roy’s
pathetic figure, and all idea of further pursuit faded from his mind as
completely as if it had never filled it. In its stead a raging desire to
go far away from the man he had injured possessed him. His mad desire to
possess Kasba, to secure the witnesses of his diabolical acts, and by
some measures not quite plain to him to prevent them from bringing him
to account, were forgotten in his anxiety, which in the weak state of
mind rapidly developed into monomania—to place a great distance between
himself and them. And the dogged, mad glare of a set purpose was in his
eyes as with a savage kick he awoke his companion, crying: “Get up, you
black devil, we are going back.”

Ocpic grumblingly crawled from beneath his blankets, rose sullenly to
his feet, and stood staring inquiringly at his companion. Shifting his
gaze, he caught sight of the fresh tracks in the snow, noted that they
led to and from their camp, and discovered the revolver. For a moment he
stood stupidly looking, his eyes protruding as if he could scarcely
believe his senses, then slowly he went and picked it up.

With a yell and a spring Broom was upon him, wresting the weapon away.
Ocpic scowled, but retired before Broom’s look of fury.

“Get to —— out of this!” cried Broom, with a flourish of the revolver.

A slight smattering of English and Broom’s gestures sufficiently
enlightened Ocpic. They were to turn back. He stood thunderstruck. To
stop the pursuit meant starvation, for they had no food nor any
ammunition with which to provide food. In their impetuous pursuit they
had travelled night and day, throwing themselves down to snatch a few
hours’ sleep only when they could go no farther. Once they had been
awakened by an explosion. They had neglected to push the burning embers
back from the camp before retiring and the fire had caught the brush;
spreading to the place where their food and ammunition had been
carelessly thrown, it had burned up the food and set off the gunpowder.
From that time they had lived on a few handfuls of pemmican which had
been accidentally left in a bag outside, and thus escaped the fire. But
the last of this had been consumed for their scanty supper and they were
now without a crumb to make breakfast.

With pantomimic gestures and broken English Ocpic tried to make his
companion understand that to turn back would be madness, that only their
catching up to Roy’s party would save them. They had food, perhaps more
than they needed; at any rate he and Broom could take what they had, and
he glanced significantly at the revolver.

But Broom would have none of it. In his changed mood he would protect
Roy, and with his life if need be. He stood, for the moment, a man
transformed.

There was an uneasy pause, while Ocpic cudgeled his crafty brain: What
to do? To him Broom’s sudden reversion of tactics was a bewildering
puzzle. What had happened while he slept? Ocpic would have given worlds
to know. That someone had visited the camp the freshly made tracks and
the presence of the strange revolver gave convincing proof. But who? And
why had they gone away? There could be no one in those parts but the
trader and his party, or perhaps a wandering gang of Eskimos. But a man
of Ocpic’s malignant nature could not conceive of Roy as visiting the
camp and leaving it without so much as laying a disturbing finger upon
the men who had brought such disaster upon himself and his companions.
Yet it could not have been Eskimos, for they did not carry revolvers.

Ocpic’s cogitations were brought sharply to an end by Broom, who
presented the revolver at his head. “Get out of this, I tell you,” he
shouted. Surely he was going mad, for to turn back was an act of
madness.

Still there was the vague chance of meeting with wandering Eskimos who
would assist them with food, and small though the chance at that time of
the year, it was infinitely better to take it than refuse and meet
certain death. So argued Ocpic. He had once witnessed Broom’s exploits
with the revolver and had great respect for his markmanship. He
possessed a vivid remembrance of the incident which had caused Roy to
drop like a log.

Sullenly Ocpic faced about and with head down started to retrace his
steps of the day before. Broom followed closely, driving the Eskimo
before him.

Thus hours passed. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, the creak of their
snowshoes was as regular as the ticking of a clock, cutting off the
yards of endless track as a clock ticks off the moments of the hour.
Hunger gnawed at Ocpic’s vitals. He was ravenously hungry and fit to
drop with fatigue, but the stern, relentless hand clutching the revolver
waved him on, ever on.

About the noon-hour Broom called a halt and the Eskimo dropped in his
tracks and sat on his haunches, taking the greatest degree of rest out
of the short respite. Broom leaned against a fallen tree; he was
breathing hard and appeared much distressed. The Eskimo’s glittering
eyes took in the situation. The white man was tiring. Good!

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch—soon they were off again. Nothing but
dogged grit upheld Broom. Crunch, crunch, Ocpic trudged steadily on,
craftily saving himself against the time when his companion would become
spent.

So the day passed and the gloom of an approaching night gathered around
them. In a subconscious way Broom was aware that he was starving, that
he was suffering from extreme fatigue, but an indomitable will and a
mortal fear drove him on despite his physical sufferings. In his
frenzied brain there was but one idea. The Eskimo had evil designs on
Roy Thursby, therefore he must drive him away. His own vile part in what
had gone before was completely forgotten—all knowledge of the past was
swallowed up in the vital present. In his changed mood Roy was a hero, a
martyr, a man to be worshipped, protected, saved at all costs.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch; the night fell and the moon rose
gloriously, shedding a pale blue light over the silent white world in
which these two plodding figures seemed to be the only things possessed
of animation.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Perceptibly Broom’s strength was waning.
He began to stumble over nothing, to draw his breath in broken gasps.
The incessant crunch, crunch of his snowshoes beat on his brain like a
hammer. The earth heaved and rocked, his legs dragged heavily, he
staggered in his gait. At last he fell, but soon by sheer effort of will
struggled to his feet. Ocpic, plodding in front, noted the circumstance
with a triumphant smile. He did not turn his head, continuing his
mechanical walking as if nothing had happened. But imperceptibly he
quickened his stride. With ears strained to the utmost he took
cognizance of his companion’s rapidly failing strength, and slowly
widened the distance between them.

Crunch, crunch, Ocpic was rapidly drawing away. Confident in his ability
to escape, he chuckled silently. But he was not quite easy in his mind,
the revolver still causing him a little apprehension. However he was
almost out of range; a few more steps and, presuming on his companion’s
preoccupation, he lengthened the gap.

Slowly it dawned upon Broom that Ocpic was getting farther and farther
distant. Suddenly he divined the cause—Ocpic was running away.

With a cry of mad rage he started in pursuit, calling loudly to him to
stop. Ocpic stopped, hesitated, then started off again. Broom followed,
rocking from side to side as he ran. He fell—got up—ran a few yards,
then stumbled and fell again.

With a loud curse he struggled to his feet for the last time; he was
beaten in the race but not yet foiled in his purpose. Concentrating his
remaining strength he drew himself erect, took deliberate aim and fired.

Ocpic uttered a wild yell, staggered on for a few more steps, and then
pitched forward. Simultaneously with the pistol’s report Broom collapsed
and fell. The last spark of his vitality had flickered out. Two huddled
forms lay prone upon the snow, and for a little time all about was still
and silent.

At length Ocpic straightened himself out and tried to rise, but fell
back, groaning. Again and again he tried, and with each attempt a dark
blot widened upon the snow. Not to be outdone, he began to crawl toward
Broom. Slowly, painfully, a few feet at the time, he crept along, and a
thin dark line following in his wake discolored the snow.

Broom sighed and opened his eyes. The red glare was gone. He lay quite
still; the long trail was at an end and he needed rest and food—yes,
possibly food. But for the time being he was almost comfortable. He was
conscious of stabbing pains in his ears, and that his face and hands
were rapidly becoming stiff, but what was that? The time was past when
small things mattered. He was very comfortable—and—Ocpic was creeping
nearer.

Never in his life had Broom felt so happy. A heavy burden seemed to have
dropped from his shoulders. He felt as light as a feather. In sheer
ecstasy and with a long sigh of contentment he closed his eyes—Ocpic
was quite close!

Broom’s mind now began to wander. He murmured to himself, living over
again events in his chequered career. Then a restful look came on his
face and he babbled of boyhood days; of days—long, long ago—before he
had grown into a hardened reprobate.

And now Ocpic was at his side! And drawing a knife!

Broom! Broom! Awake! Open your eyes, for an assassin lurks near!

Broom smiled and spoke softly a woman’s name.

Raising himself on one elbow Ocpic bent over him! Something glittered in
his hand.

Opening his eyes, Broom smiled up into the little rat-like orbs above
him, which darted back malignant hate.

Suddenly, with a fleeting return of consciousness, he recognized Ocpic.
He gazed perplexedly into the malevolent face of the little Eskimo, and
then he remembered.

Ocpic upraised the knife.

Broom chuckled. “Well, you damned Husky!” he said, “So I did for you all
right, eh? Come now, give me my quietus and I’ll race you into hell!”

Then, as if Ocpic accepted the challenge, the knife descended.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The silence of the grave lay over the white world. There on the snow,
almost side by side, lay two lifeless figures with distorted faces and
eyes that stared at the stars. In the far distance was an indefinable
object moving. Slowly, stealthily it approached. It was an animal.
Pausing, the creature threw back its head and howled. Soon other dark
objects appeared. They were wolves assembling for the feast.



                             CHAPTER XVII.
                           _A NARROW ESCAPE._


If Roy had not been with them, the Indians would certainly never have
found themselves in such a desperate plight. They would never have
thought of attempting to cross the river, for they understood better
than anyone the portentous signs of a “break-up.” But Roy in a black
humor had decided to go on, and his word was law. Therefore, what else
could they do? What was left them to do? They would as soon have thought
of questioning the wisdom of the Creator as disputing Roy’s
judgment—probably sooner. For such was their habit of obedience, a
habit handed down by generations of men who had been Company’s servants.
In truth Sahanderry had turned positively grey with terror when Roy had
decided to cross. However, though he was not one of the bravest of men,
what he did was not easy. It required considerable self-control to lead
the way, as was his duty, for it was like walking to almost certain
death.

Since leaving the spot where they had as they thought left Broom asleep,
the difficulties of their journey had grown with every passing day;
indeed, the last few days’ travel, toiling ankle-deep in slush, had been
very hard work, for spring had come upon them and the snow was
disappearing as if by magic, and though they had not many miles to go,
the nearer they approached their destination the slower had been their
progress, and this had irritated Roy almost to a frenzy. Consequently
the signs that should have warned him to stay had been the very things
to urge him on. Clearly his usual good judgment had been at fault; and
his blindness could not have been wholly responsible for this, as his
hearing had been preternaturally sharpened thereby and there could have
been no possible doubt as to his having heard the frequent significant
explosions up the river, which had been loud enough to waken the dead,
so to speak. Moreover he had had a good idea of the character of the
river, therefore these recurring reports should have been sufficient to
warn him. But truth to tell his mood had become fierce and reckless, and
brooked no control.

Howbeit the little party found themselves on a surface of quaking,
rocking ice that threatened to “break up” and move out at any moment.
Just where they were the river was of considerable width and the ice was
very soft, and they were in a very bad way indeed.

Rain had fallen during the past week; floods of the creeks and larger
tributaries were pouring into the river, and the great volume of water
was lifting the ice, and, as it strained and labored from this great
pressure, the explosions grew louder, nearer and more frequent.
Presently, far up the stream, a huge billow of straining, tumbling
ice-cakes reared its head and came steadily toward them. Behind this
mighty billow was the spring freshet against which nothing could stand.
Meanwhile, his eyes wide with terror, Sahanderry slipped and stumbled
ahead of the poor miserable dogs, who strained and tore at their traces,
half running, half swimming in places, where the water was deep. The
sled and everything on it were streaming wet, for at times it was almost
entirely submerged in deep holes, filled with water. The dogs were urged
on by the boy David, who, though almost played out by dragging the sled,
still “drove them up” vigorously; turning ever and anon to look back at
Kasba, who was following slowly, painfully, behind, and leading Roy by
the hand.

By and by there was a ruder shock than any that had gone before and the
whole ice field became in motion. Startled at last out of his
indifference, Roy gave an exclamation of concern and stood still, but
his expression did not change; he was perfectly cool and self-possessed;
the sort of coolness that comes upon strong men in moments of danger.
The grinding of the ice was terrible to hear, and soon the whole ice
field was moving down stream. Roy, now thoroughly alive to their
situation, turned to Kasba: “The river is ‘going out’?” he said,
interrogatively.

The girl paused to control her voice before she answered.

“Yes, Bekothrie,” she said quite steadily. “It is on the move.” She
neither wept nor trembled, though she fully realized the danger they
were in.

“Can we return to the bank?” asked Roy quietly.

The girl looked back. The ice behind them was piling along the shore in
impassable confusion. “No, Bekothrie,” she said, “we cannot go back.”

“Where are the others?” he asked.

“Far in front,” answered the girl. “They are waiting for us.”

“Then send them on,” said Roy peremptorily. “Let them save themselves.”

Thereupon Kasba waved Sahanderry and David on. The man at once struck
off, but the boy paused as if loath to go. At that the girl frantically
repeated her gesticulations and the boy drove up his dogs again, but
with apparent reluctance. Soon man, boy and dogs were lost to sight in
the confusion of ice.

“They are gone, Bekothrie,” affirmed the girl.

“Very well,” said Roy, “let us go too.” The girl took his hand again,
and they went on their way. Their progress was necessarily slow. Their
path was strewn with pitfalls for Roy’s feet, and soon the girl was
panting from her exertions in keeping him upright, but within her
delicate body there dwelt an unconquerable spirit.

Reaching a comparatively smooth surface they skated along with increased
speed. There were puddles of water which they could not avoid. Cracks
more or less wide open barred their way, and guided by the girl Roy
crossed them, jumping easily or exerting himself to the utmost,
according to the emergency. But more than one opening was too wide to
allow of any assistance from Kasba’s helping hand, and he had to make
the attempt entirely by her direction. All this was very wearying, for
however careful he might be, he was bound to expend a great deal of
strength to no purpose. It is one thing to jump with eye and muscle
acting together, and another to do it blindly, as everybody knows. Poor
Roy!

At times there were gaps which neither could leap. They skirted these,
walking as fast as possible. Out of breath and entirely worn out with
fatigue, Roy would often fall in a heap upon the ice to rest. He was
cold and disheartened, and would have given up altogether if it had not
been for the girl’s presence, for he valued his life not a jot since his
terrible affliction. Therefore his own danger appealed less to him than
the girl’s situation. It seemed such a terrible thing that she should
lose her bright young life in trying to save his, which was worthless.
He well knew that by herself the girl could have crossed the river
safely, for she was fearless and as agile as a cat, springing and
climbing with the greatest ease.

Then the ice started to rock beneath their feet. “Hurry—hurry!” cried
Kasba, dragging him forward with the desperate energy of a man. “We have
not a moment to lose if we would save our lives.”

“Leave me,” said Roy withdrawing his hand, “and save yourself.”

For a moment the girl gazed at him in horrified surprise. “Leave you!”
she exclaimed in a tone that was unmistakable. “I will not leave you.”
There was a power in her tone that struck him with amazement.

“But I keep you back.”

“Nevertheless, I will not leave you,” repeated the girl firmly.

In spite of their desperate situation Roy could not help smiling. He
realized that their positions had suddenly changed; it was the girl’s
spirit which now predominated. “Very well, then,” he said, giving her
his hand again. “Go on.” The thundering of the broken ice floes, the
grinding of the smaller pieces against each other, made conversation
difficult. Here and there the force of the flood piled up mountains of
cakes which, after a moment, toppled over with a deafening crash.

Presently there was a shock which capped all others, and the ice field
stopped. They knew that somewhere below it had become jammed, and that
an added peril threatened them, for the river was rising each moment,
and if the ice did not overwhelm them it seemed that the flood must. The
cakes rocked threateningly, collided together, then stopped, but the jam
could not hold them back long.

Stumbling, struggling, striving, Kasba dragged Roy along. They were
pitiful sights, these two. Their hands and feet were bleeding, their
moccasins had long since worn out, as had the duffles and hose beneath
them, and their clothes were cut and torn. Kasba’s dress hung in ribbons
and was soaking wet, impeding her movements, while Roy’s knees showed
through great holes, the result of many tumbles. Every step he took was
an effort, a terrible effort, still he dare not give up and let the girl
die, for she would not leave him, he knew.

Slipping and sliding they struggled on.

Presently, to Kasba’s horror, they came to a strait of dark water at
least five feet across, while on either hand huge piles of ice cakes
blocked their way. The situation was desperate. The girl stopped dead,
holding Roy back. “We cannot go on,” she said. “We have come to a very
wide crack.” Then she laughed as lightly as if there were no such thing
as danger. Roy heard her and understood; she was pretending to be gay in
order to make it easier for him.

“How wide is it?” he demanded, steadying his voice with difficulty. The
situation was very nerve-racking.

“It is very wide,” returned the girl. “The widest yet. You must not
attempt it; you will fall in.”

“I’ll not,” replied Roy with emphasis. “Can you manage it?”

“Yes, Bekothrie,” declared the girl bravely, her voice quite unshaken.
Then she laughed again in the same way.

“Well, jump it, then,” said Roy, “and I will follow.”

The girl hesitated a second, then with a coolness that was wonderful she
sprang across, but it took all her agility to clear the gap. With a
white, set face she stood looking anxiously back at him, across the
deep, dark water. “Turn a little to the left, Bekothrie,” she directed.
“That will do. Now advance a few steps. Stop! You are now on the edge.
Spring straight forward and I will catch you.” The girl braced her feet
to receive the shock, while poor, blind Roy bunched his muscles for the
effort.

“Now!” shouted the girl and stood with hands extended ready to receive
him.

At the word Roy launched himself forward, but at the same instant the
ice rocked beneath his feet and almost threw him down; recovering
himself somewhat, he made his spring, but it fell short and he plunged
into the water. Kasba uttered a cry of horror and despair, but stooping
till she was herself in peril of falling she grabbed him by the collar
with both hands and held him up. It was a terrible moment. The girl
skilfully shifted her clutch to Roy’s wrists, first to one hand, then
the other, grasping them with a hold like steel; then, bracing her feet
with a strength inconceivable in so frail a body, a strength far beyond
her years and size, she lifted him so high that he could relieve her of
his weight by sprawling on his chest across the ice and by wriggling his
body assist her to haul him out.

Then Roy staggered to his feet with an unsteady laugh, but the girl, who
stood breathing hard from the efforts of her superhuman exertions,
looked anxiously into his face and saw that his teeth were chattering
and that his lips were blue. He was shivering from head to foot.

“You are cold,” she said, greatly alarmed.

“I’m not,” denied Roy shortly, but for the life of him he could not keep
his voice steady. “Come, let us get on,” and unaided he tottered forward
a few steps, then swayed and would have fallen had not the girl
supported him.

“You must rest,” she said decisively, studying his face closely. “Sit
down.” Taking his arm, she guided him to a nearby hummock. “Sit down,”
she repeated; “the ice is jammed and for the moment we are safe.” She
tried to speak cheerfully, but Roy’s desperate case made her sick at
heart.

For a wonder Roy obeyed, though to be strictly truthful he could not do
otherwise. His brain was beginning to reel from exhaustion, and he fell
rather than sat down. Every bone and muscle ached; his breath came in
gasps. The girl seated herself beside him, and quite unconsciously his
head dropped back and rested against her shoulder. She took one of his
hands softly in both hers while she gazed into his face. She loved him
more than her own life. Poor little thing, how her heart fluttered, how
the blood rushed to her face! She drew him closer and covered him as
much as she could with her arms, trying to put some warmth into his
icy-cold body. She was afraid that he would hear her heart, which was
beating like a hammer. She was for the moment indescribably happy.
Careless of any danger to herself, she looked up into his face as he
leaned against her and held him tighter. There was not a trace of fear
in her own face, nor indeed of any feeling but love and sympathy. If
they were to die, she would prefer to die like that. What did anything
matter since they were together?

Roy seemed to divine her thoughts. “What’s the use of your remaining?”
he asked. “You cannot save me by losing your life.” He spoke almost
roughly and the girl started as if struck a blow.

“I am not frightened,” she answered quietly. “It will not be hard to
die.”

Roy turned half round, as if to look into her face; in fact, his
sightless eyes seemed to be fixed upon hers. “You are a very brave girl,
Kasba,” he said tenderly; “the bravest I have ever known. Why are you so
good to me?” The words were scarcely spoken before he regretted them; a
distressed look came to his face instantly, for he remembered and was
deeply touched by the sincerity of her love for him.

The girl said nothing for a moment, but looked at him with a smile of
unutterable tenderness, which he could not see. “I love you!” she said
simply. “Now you really know, at last.”

“I knew already,” declared Roy. His voice rang painfully, for he
understood how she loved him as he had not understood before, and it
seemed as though it must have somehow been his fault. The full strength
and nobility and devotion of her passion for him rushed on him. For the
first time he saw the splendid heroism of which her untrained nature
would have been capable had she met with a different fate, and it filled
him with a passion of remorse. “Poor child! poor child! What have I done
to be worthy of such love?” he murmured, and feeling for her hand, he
found and pressed it, almost caressingly. Then, drawing her to him, he
felt for her face, and, taking it between his hands, he drew it closer
and kissed her smooth young forehead. “Poor child,” he repeated sadly.
There was a shadow of pain in the words.

The girl’s eyes filled and she uttered something that sounded like a
sob.

At that instant there was a tremendous explosion below, and soon the ice
field started to move again down the current.

The girl started up, and seizing Roy’s hand she pulled him to his feet.
“On! on!” she urged. “We must not stop here. The jam has burst and we
shall be carried out to sea.” As the field moved, mountains of ice which
had piled up because of the jam, toppled over with deafening noise, and
for a time no other sound could be heard. Guiding Roy, the girl moved
forward as swiftly as possible. The fates were good to them. Before
them, and reaching almost to the opposite shore, was one vast stretch of
smooth ice. Once upon that they made better progress and Kasba grew
hopeful. Moving their feet as if skating, they rapidly drew nearer to
the shore. Soon Kasba was able to make out the figures of Sahanderry and
the boy David, who stood in perilous positions on top of huge blocks of
ice, which the action of the flood had piled up on the shore during the
jam. They were waving frantically.

“We are almost there,” Kasba shouted encouragingly in Roy’s ear: “We
shall be saved yet.”

But Roy shook his head. He could not understand the words addressed him.
Nevertheless he did his best to keep up as the girl dragged him forward.

They were now close, but the ice they were on was fast going down
stream, and the two on the ice wall were compelled to scramble along in
order to keep abreast. Presently there was a lull in the noise caused by
the grinding, screaming ice and they could plainly hear Sahanderry’s
voice adjuring them to hasten. Roy raised his voice in a mighty shout in
reply, using his fists for a trumpet, and tried to increase his pace,
but stumbled at almost every step. However, the girl was possessed of
marvellous strength and dragged him by sheer force toward the shore.

And soon they were at the base of the ice wall, which they were passing
at a great rate. Sahanderry on the summit above them whirled a coil
about his head, then throwing it away from him, it straightened itself
out and an end fell at Kasba’s feet. It was the clapmatch line which
belonged to the sled. Quickly the girl caught up the end and tied it
round Roy’s waist. But, divining her intention, he caught hold of her
and despite her struggles would not let her go. The boy and man began to
pull upon the line.

The foundations of the ice wall were being undermined by the rushing
water and it swayed threateningly. Would it hold a little longer?

The man and boy strained on the line, and half-climbing,
half-scrambling, the two were dragged together to the top of first one
ice block, then another. They were now out of danger from the ice floes,
but the structure they were on was trembling and threatening to
collapse, and desperately they strove to gain the summit before it
should topple upon them.

Perceiving the danger, Sahanderry and the boy David tugged on the line
with every ounce of their strength, and Roy, who clung with a deadly
grasp to the girl, was pulled violently to the top, and as he came the
girl was dragged up with him. Once there the whole party lost no time in
precipitating themselves down on the other side, and before long were
safe ashore, nor were they a moment too soon; for they had scarcely left
the ice before the entire wall swayed slowly over and toppled into the
river with a thundering crash that sent a painful thrill through each
one of them.

“Thank God we are saved!” cried the girl breathlessly.

“Amen!” said Sahanderry solemnly, lifting his hat and reverently bowing
his head, an action which was closely imitated by David. Roy nodded, but
said nothing. He was too exhausted for words and was again shivering
violently. Kasba silently pointed this out to Sahanderry, who at once
turned his attention to building a shelter in the form of a brushwood
camp, while David made a huge fire, which was no sooner lighted than Roy
threw himself down beside it, and almost immediately clouds of steam
rose from his wet clothing.

Soon they were all enjoying the warmth of the blaze. They had not eaten
since early morning, but after such a day of fatigue and excitement they
all felt more inclined for rest than food. On comparing notes it was
found that, except for an overpowering fatigue, a severe wetting and
minor cuts and bruises, none of them were any the worse for their
nerve-racking adventure. But they would not go on farther that day—that
was of course out of the question. Later in the evening Roy decided to
spend a few days on the spot, and in the end determined on remaining
there altogether. For he thought the situation over carefully, and
decided that with the break-up of the river spring had come in earnest.
Nature was awaking once more from her heavy sleep in the long winter
night.

The renovation of creation in spring is, I think, more impressive in the
Far North than in any other part of the world, on account of the greater
contrast with what has gone before.

This river, Roy argued, would serve their purpose as well as the one
they had had in mind on leaving Fort Future. So Sahanderry was told to
make a house in the vicinity.

Despite their desperate situation Roy could not help smiling when he
gave the order, for there was practically no building material at hand.
Nevertheless Sahanderry soon accomplished his task. The walls were of
small logs, the roof of several layers of parchments (undressed
deerskins), which they had brought with them, stretched to the tightness
of a drumhead and overlaid with turf. A hole cut in one of the walls
was, in the absence of glass, covered with a piece of cotton and formed
a window. The door was made of boards which had been chopped with
infinite labor from logs. There was no chimney, nor was it required, as,
in the absence of a stove, the cooking would have to be done outside.

And in this primitive dwelling Roy Thursby decided to drag out his
monotonous existence.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.
                        _AN INGENIOUS EXPEDIENT._


One morning a few weeks later the sun rose quickly over the horizon, as
if it had overslept and was hurrying to make up lost time. Its angry
crimson face threw a lurid glow across the sky, like the reflection of
some mighty conflagration.

A small coast-boat, dancing on the waves of a flood-tide, tugged
impatiently at her anchor, while a strong south wind sportively dashed
an occasional drenching spray across her deck, much to the discomfort of
a number of men lying there.

At length one of these recumbent figures rose slowly to his feet and
scanned the horizon with a sailor’s eye. It was our old friend George
Hopkins. He stood for a moment staring at the crimson sunrise, then
touched the nearest sleeper with his foot. “_At-tee, Oulybuck, A-no-ee
pi-chi-ak_ (Now, Oulybuck, it is a fair wind),” he said.

The Eskimo addressed threw back his blankets with a sleepy ejaculation,
rose to his knees and then to his feet, gazing around him the while.
When his eye encountered the threatening sky he uttered a disapproving
grunt.

One by one four other Eskimos crawled from under their blankets, yawned,
stretched themselves, and scowled at the approaching storm.

In a few minutes the little anchor was up and the boat was speeding on
her way north. Hopkins perched himself in the stern to steer while the
Eskimos dropped into positions of ease, awaiting orders.

Soon the wind freshened and the sea began to dance. As the boat cut her
way through the billows a head was poked out from an improvised cabin
amidships. It was the head of a man well on in years, with grey hair and
a long grey beard. His keen blue eyes scanned the heavens, noted the
direction of the wind, then turned to the steersman.

“Fair wind, eh! George?” he remarked.

Hopkins glanced at the lowering clouds, then with dubious cheerfulness,
he replied: “Yes, but we’ll have bad weather before long.”

“Let us hope you are mistaken,” returned the other, withdrawing his
head.

In a few minutes he reappeared fully attired. It was Chief Factor
McLeod, accompanied by his daughter Lena and his nephew Frank, and on
his way to inspect Fort Future.

Shortly after Mr. McLeod’s appearance the sound of girlish laughter,
mingled with the protesting voice of a man, proceeded from the cabin.
There was the noise of a scuffle, then a young woman burst out and
sprang behind the Factor. As she stood there, her face alive with
mischievous laughter, her eyes sparkling with merriment, her bosom
heaving with the exertions of her playful struggle, she was the picture
of a bonny, saucy, Scottish maiden.

Soon a fresh, boyish face appeared in the cabin doorway.

“Look here, Uncle,” groveled the young fellow, a little sulkily, “I wish
you would keep that daughter of yours in order. She is more mischievous
than a monkey. Yes, a monkey, miss,” he added severely, for the girl was
making grimaces at him from behind her father’s back. “She can’t leave
me alone five minutes, sir.”

“Lena! Lena!” admonished Mr. McLeod with a smile and a look of deep
affection. “Will you never act as a grown-up young lady should?”

The girl laughed derisively at her cousin, then, abruptly turning her
back, she caught her father’s arm and pulled him to the side of the
boat. As they gazed over the turbulent waters, a low, hoarse roar made
itself heard above the noise of dashing waves. The expected gale was
upon them. A damp column of cold air struck the boat, bellying out the
canvas with a jerk, and wrenching the yielding mass, until it bowed
heavily over before the shock.

The mainsail was quickly dropped and the boat righted herself.
Sluggishly great waves buffeted her, causing her to stagger when they
struck.

Presently the gale became furious, fully justifying Hopkins’
prognostications. The sea was so rough that the boat was in great danger
of being smashed by the sheer weight of water hurled against her side.
But they were compelled to go on, however terrible the storm might be,
for the wind had swerved round to the west and this, with the tide on
the ebb, prevented them running close-in to anchor in one of the
numerous rivers along the coast. The boat was fast being carried out to
sea, the land was becoming a thin black line in the far distance, and
shortly all trace of it was lost to sight.

Perceiving their peril, Hopkins gave the helm to a trusty lieutenant and
stumbled forward to speak to the Chief Factor, who was standing there
alone. He had long since sent Lena to the cabin and now stood with his
arm twined around a back-stay, strung to the tension of a harpstring,
and his eyes sparkling with excitement as the little craft beneath him
tossed and rolled and tore along. His drenched hair and beard were
flying back from his face, which was streaming with salt water.

“She’s not holding her own against the combined fury of wind and tide,”
he cried at Hopkins’ approach.

“We’re being carried out to sea, sir,” declared George with some
disgust. Just then a tremendous sea caught the boat and she gave a
lurch, throwing him violently down. The plunging masses of water made
her quiver to her keel, and threatened to swamp her, but digging her
nose into the great waves she staggered on.

“Thank God we are still afloat,” murmured Mr. McLeod. “Another shock
like that and it will be all up with us.” Then turning to Hopkins he
enquired whether he had been hurt in the fall.

Hopkins shook his head.

“We are being carried out to sea, you say, but what can we do?”
questioned the Factor.

“We can drop anchor, and try to ride it out, sir.”

The Factor shook his head. “The seas would smash us,” he said.

George nodded. “Then we must hoist the mainsail again. I’m afraid she
won’t carry it, but we can try. There’s a shoal that runs from a point
of land ahead of us; if we can make that we’ll anchor in the lee of it.”

“All right! Hoist your mainsail, then. But have it close reefed.”

Staggering back to the stern, Hopkins resumed charge of the rudder and
the mainsail was reefed and hoisted, but with great difficulty, for the
wind, catching the spreading canvas, flapped it with a report like a
gun-shot, threatening to snatch it away. The extra sail caused the boat
to heel over alarmingly.

A smothered ejaculation of concern came from the cabin and soon Lena
appeared, enveloped in a serviceable macintosh. Perceiving that she was
alone the Factor hastened to assist her to a position of safety.
Meanwhile Hopkins was straining his eyes in search of land. He was
feeling very uneasy, for it seemed impossible that the boat could much
longer resist the perpetual attack of the waves. The point at issue was
simply—would the coast-boat last till they reached a place where they
could anchor, or would she be swamped or smashed to pieces before they
reached a place of safety?

At length there was a shout from an Eskimo lookout in the bow.

“_Nuna!_ (land)” he cried.

“_Ninne? Ninne?_ (where? where?)” asked the other Eskimos in chorus.

“_Na-nee!_ (there)” cried the bowsman, pointing almost straight ahead.

“Thank God!” exclaimed Mr. McLeod, with a long sigh of relief, while
Hopkins’ face cleared, and the Eskimos lost their anxious looks, for
right ahead of them was a small island of sand, over which the waves
broke in rapid succession. It was the shoal of which Hopkins had spoken,
and for which they had been so anxiously looking.

Their jubilation was shortlived, however, for they had scarcely got the
anchor ready before the boat struck something under water with a
terrible thud and remained fast. The jerk caused by the sudden stoppage
threw the men off their feet, and snapped the mainmast short at the
shaft, carrying the sail and gear overboard. The boat heeled over, great
waves dashed into her and in an instant she was full of water.

Quick of action, the Chief Factor caught Lena about the waist and
hoisted her to the top of the cabin, then, scrambling up himself, he
signaled to the others to do likewise. The roaring of the surf, breaking
over the small island, drowned all other noises.

Turning to Hopkins and forming a trumpet with his hands, the Factor
endeavored to make himself heard. “Tide’s going out,” he shouted. “Shoal
will dry . . . may walk ashore . . . if boat will only last till then.”

Hopkins’ lips moved in answer but his words were carried away by the
wind.

For two hours the group crouched miserably upon the cabin, clutching at
anything within reach to save being washed away by the great volumes of
water that poured over them. Lashed by the wind, and drenched to the
skin, they waited for the tide to ebb and leave the boat high and dry
upon the shoal. The tempest continued with unabated fury, but the little
island grew larger every minute.

Gradually the billows receded from the boat. They then discovered that
Hopkins had run her on a part of a shoal which extended to a great
distance under water at high tide.

At length the shipwrecked party were able to drop over the boat’s side
to the sand beneath, and walk to the prominence of the sandy island,
where for a time, at least, they would be safe.

Calling Hopkins aside, the Factor attempted to prepare for
eventualities. But it was only by turning their backs to the wind that
they were able to distinguish what was said.

“Hopkins,” Mr. McLeod began, “it is necessary that we should discover if
there is any means of leaving this shoal before the tide turns.”

“Yes, sir,” replied George, “and the sooner the better.”

“But it will necessitate an exploration of that part of the shoal,” said
the Chief Factor, indicating the part nearest the mainland, “and that is
still under water.”

“I am ready, sir.”

“Yes, George, I know you are always ready to do your duty, but you
cannot go alone. We will go together. I must see for myself. My nephew
and daughter will remain with the Eskimos. You will tell the Eskimos to
stay near them till we return.”

Hopkins instructed the Eskimos who straightway grouped themselves near
by.

Meanwhile Mr. McLeod was informing Lena of the proposed reconnaissance.
Embracing her father, the girl urged him not to risk himself
unnecessarily. The Factor promised to be as prudent as possible, then
called Hopkins and they set out.

It was with the greatest difficulty that they faced the wind, but
struggling desperately and unceasingly, they crept along. After an
extremely difficult and laborious journey they arrived at the other end
of the island, or shoal, and to their dismay found it was divided from
the mainland by a large bay of water, which the wind was lashing into
furious waves.

Taking off his l’Assumption belt and tying a stone in one end of it,
Hopkins lowered it into the water to ascertain the depth, but was unable
to touch bottom. At this, his face lengthened and the Factor, who had
been closely watching him, gave a groan of dismay, for their hopes of
escape by wading ashore were destroyed.

“Nothing but a raft can save us now,” said George dejectedly.

The other shook his head dubiously. He was turning his footsteps
sorrowfully backwards when a great shout from his companion brought him
to a halt. Turning quickly, he discovered Hopkins wildly gesticulating
toward a point of land in the far distance, and looking in that
direction, he first saw something infinitely small dancing upon the
waters, then several small objects which speedily followed it. He turned
to his companion for information.

“Eskimos,” explained Hopkins in answer to the other’s look of puzzled
enquiry. “They’ve lashed their _ka-yaks_ (parchment canoes) together and
are coming to help us. See,” he added excitedly, pointing to the far-off
land, “they’re camped over there to hunt _nitchuk_ (seal).”

The Factor turned his eyes to the spot indicated by his companion and
after close scrutiny made out several tiny white objects dotted about
the sand—these were tents.

Chief Factor McLeod had witnessed many daring feats, but never one to
compare with this which the Eskimos were attempting. The waves dashed
threateningly over the _ka-yaks_, but seemed powerless to harm the
fragile crafts, which floated with the buoyancy of cork. At times waves
larger than their fellows caught them, and, carrying them up on their
towering crests appeared to capsize them, but a few strokes of the
_pou-tik_ (paddle) seemed to right them again.

As the Eskimos drew nearer, the Factor could see how skillful they
really were, with what wonderful precision they handled the _ka-yaks_,
which, in this instance were lashed together in threes, and any doubts
he might have had about their effecting a rescue by this ingenious
expedient were immediately dispelled. Turning, he gave a joyful shout,
which, carried along on the wind, was plainly heard by the anxiously
waiting party at the other end of the island. These instantly started to
come to him. The Eskimos staggered on sturdily, but Lena found it
difficult to force herself forward against the tempest; the wind caught
her garments and pressed her backwards, threatening to throw her off her
feet. It was only by desperately clinging to her cousin’s arm that she
was able to keep her balance and walk slowly on.

Perceiving her predicament the Factor went to the rescue, and with the
wind at his back he scudded along and was soon by her side. He managed,
by shouting his loudest, to make her hear the broken sentences.

“Eskimos . . . encamped . . . neck of land . . . coming . . . _ka-yaks_
. . . . rescue us . . . .”

By the time they had reached the further end of the island, the
_ka-yaks_ were lying high and dry upon the sand and the Eskimo strangers
grouped together waiting to greet them.

With quaint gestures, the Factor endeavored to thank them for coming to
the rescue of himself and party.

The intrepid Eskimos received phlegmatically the earnest expressions of
gratitude.

They nodded deliberately, glanced at the ebbing tide, then walked to the
_ka-yaks_ where they stood significantly waiting.

Divining from their behavior that they were anxious to start before the
tide turned, which, flowing against the wind would make a rougher and
angrier sea than ever, Mr. McLeod lost no more time, but straightway led
Lena to the _ka-yaks_. A trio were now put on the water and Lena was
lifted into the middle one. Then an Eskimo stepped quickly into each of
the outside _ka-yaks_ and a start was made for the shore. The Factor
watched the men paddle desperately for a few moments, then walked
quickly to where a set of _ka-yaks_ was waiting for him. And in a very
little while the whole number of frail craft were on the water, battling
against wind and waves, which had providentially lessened in violence.

After an hour or so of arduous paddling the _ka-yak_ containing Lena
touched the shore and the girl was lifted unceremoniously in a pair of
malodorous arms and carried to dry land.

Then at intervals others of the shipwrecked crew arrived, all very wet,
very cold, and very stiff from sitting in such cramped positions, and
painfully they walked up to a large fire which the Eskimo women had
kindled.

After such strenuous efforts, the thoughts of the Eskimo rescuers turned
to a meal, and taking their shipwrecked comrades with them, they
strolled to where several large kettles hung suspended over as many
fires. Then the men seated themselves in a circle, the women arranging
themselves in another at some little distance from them.

Two large, oblong, wooden dishes, one for each group, were brought from
the fires and their contents emptied upon the ground. This was the
signal for a mad rush. The men displayed remarkable agility as they
scrambled with hearty laughter for the sickly mess—boiled seal
meat—while screams from the group of women told that excitement was
likewise rife in their midst. Procuring as much as they could hold in
both hands, they retired to their former positions in the circle and
with the aid of long, murderous-looking knives, wolfishly devoured their
portions—cramming their mouths to the utmost extent and cutting off the
remainder uncomfortably close to their flat noses and chins.

When all the solids had disappeared, liquids were brought on. Large
kettles containing the water in which the meat had been boiled were
carried into the centre of the two groups, which once more became
struggling masses of humanity, all of them endeavoring to dip a can or a
mug into the kettles at one and the same time. The uproar gradually
subsided as each person retired to his or her place, chuckling over a
mug of greasy liquid.

This simple but animated repast at an end, the Eskimos settled
themselves for a deliberate smoke.

Meanwhile the wants of the Chief Factor and party had been cared for by
the resourceful Hopkins, and they were glad to be able, at least for a
little time, to rest and be thankful. But their respite was of short
duration. Fate had chosen that, at that time and place, they should
learn of the awful catastrophe at Fort Future and the harrowing news was
travelling fast toward them in the person of Acpa, who was on his way
with a party of Eskimos in a whaleboat to take charge of the ruins of
the Company’s property at Fort Future in compliance with Kasba’s
request, and was on the lookout for a suitable spot to put ashore and
camp. Perceiving Eskimo tents dotted along the point of land, those in
the boat quickly dropped the sail and pulled to the shore.

“Why, it’s Acpa!” declared George Hopkins, greatly astonished, as the
old Eskimo stepped out of the boat. “Wonder what he’s doing here,” and
with that he strolled down to greet the old fellow, little dreaming what
terrible news he would bring back.



                              CHAPTER XIX.
                          _KASBA’S SACRIFICE._


Meanwhile Roy Thursby dragged out a miserable existence in the little
hut on the bank of the river. Day by day his frame of mind grew more and
more despondent and morbid. Everything worth while seemed at an end.
Except that at certain times there was the sound of his companions’
movements, and at others only a dreadful stillness for long days
together, all “Time” was alike to him; to-day the same as yesterday and
to-morrow but a repetition of to-day. He was merely a machine, going
through the daily routine of getting up and lying down, eating and
drinking, with automatic precision, and the outgoings and incomings of
the male members of his party marked the period for each of these acts.
It was one long, dreary monotony. He had long since lost count of the
days. He was conscious that the occupations of his companions varied as
the season wore on and that, in consequence, his diet changed from
venison to fish, varied with the flesh of migratory birds, but this
interested him not at all. He had long lost all pleasure in food—just
eating and drinking to keep the machine going, that was all. A pathetic
indifference to everything possessed him. He sat for hours without
uttering a word, and when he spoke it was always in monosyllables, and
an awed, unnatural silence lay over the house from morn till night, for,
as if by tacit consent, the three Indians carried their conversation to
the outside of the house.

Thus weeks passed. Sahanderry and David hunted or fished and did the
heavier chores. Kasba dressed and smoked deerskins to make into
moccasins, made and mended the clothes of herself and companions, cooked
the meals and attended to a hundred and one other things.

One day the girl brought Roy his dinner as usual. It was a piece of
salmon, the first they had caught. Setting the plate before him, she
retired to a seat and took up a garment which required mending. Slowly,
and with the indifference of a man without an appetite Roy lifted the
food to his mouth, turned it on his tongue, sat a moment as if struck by
a sudden thought, and then got unsteadily to his feet, dropping the fork
as he arose. He stood a moment like one suddenly awakened from a deep
sleep, then: “This is salmon,” he said with a slight inflection as of
interest in his voice.

At the sound of his words Kasba started forward, letting the garment
fall to the ground. Her lips were parted, her eyes sparkled. This sudden
interest might portend a break-up in Roy’s apathy, and to the girl it
was as the clear sunshine after days of dismal gloom.

“Yes, Bekothrie,” she answered as soon as emotion would permit her to
speak. “We caught the first yesterday.”

“Then this is the middle of July,” he said thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said the girl, divining the trend of his thoughts.

Roy breathed hard and his lips moved; but he dropped slowly back to his
seat without further speech.

The girl stood with parted lips watching him expectantly, then, finding
he had nothing more to say, and that he seemed fully occupied with his
thoughts, she breathed a little disappointed sigh, took up the dropped
garment and went patiently on with her sewing. The stitch, stitch of her
needle and the song of the busy mosquitoes were the only sounds.

From that time Roy was as one laboring under some suppressed excitement,
uneasy, as if waiting for something to happen and dreading while
desiring it. He became restless and impatient to a large degree and as
Kasba went quietly about her household affairs, she frequently paused to
blink away salt tears, called to her eyes by the sight of his misery.
The once hulking big fellow was but the shadow of his former self. Great
rings showed round his eyes, his face was becoming more and more haggard
and drawn, his cheekbones protruded sharply. Perceiving that he was
rapidly becoming ill and divining the cause, she timidly essayed a
proposal. She would go back to Fort Future and by secretly watching
discover when _Bekothrie nithee_ (the far-away master, in this case Mr.
McLeod), came. But Roy would not hear of this, though as the time for
Mr. McLeod’s arrival at Fort Future drew near he could scarcely contain
himself.

He fancied the scene; the dismantled Fort, the grey-haired Chief Factor
sorrowfully supporting Lena, sobbing out her heart over what she
believed to be his grave. He could hear her heart-breaking cries as she
bewailed his loss; hear the cold, tense voice of the Chief Factor
swearing to be avenged on the perpetrator of the outrage and murder.
Then Lena would be led on board and the boat would sail away. That would
be the end. His mind would dwell upon this till his brain reeled, and he
would put his hot hand up to his burning forehead as if to press back
his thoughts.

Then one day by a process akin to telepathy he became aware that Lena
was near. It was the very day Mr. McLeod’s boat was wrecked and its
occupants rescued by the Eskimos, and it happened that they were landed
near where Roy had, as he thought, so securely hidden himself from all
communication with his own kind. At first the poor fellow believed that
his mind must be wandering. But the conviction that Lena was there,
close at hand, grew stronger every minute, and at last he could contain
himself no longer. He felt he must send to the coast to ascertain if
anyone had lately landed, or he would go mad. Unwilling to trust the
garrulous Sahanderry, he must perforce send Kasba. The girl was outside
attending to the fire, he could hear her talking to David. He called to
her, and almost instantly she was at his side, and in a few words he
explained what he wanted her to do. She smiled confidently. “Yes,
Bekothrie,” she said quietly, and without another word she made her
preparation and at once started off for the coast, which was about a
mile distant.

Arriving at her destination, she discovered the shipwrecked voyagers.
From Roy’s description she at once recognized them. The Factor was
standing apart with Lena and her cousin. Overcome with feelings of
bitter jealousy, she ventured dangerously near in order that she might
better discern the features of her fortunate rival.

The grim expression of the Factor’s countenance bore token of a severe
determination of mind. Bitter sorrow for the tragic end of his
promising, inordinately ambitious young friend mingled with the wrath he
felt toward the perpetrator of the tragedy. He gazed with loving
solicitude upon Lena, who sat in an attitude of great sorrow. The news
had been a great shock to her. The bright, sunny expression had entirely
disappeared and a pained, startled expression had come into her face.
Her lips trembled as her father’s hand fell lightly upon her head.

“Be brave, my little girl, for my sake,” he pleaded brokenly. Then he
walked to where Acpa was sitting, surrounded by a number of Eskimos.

Left alone with his cousin, Frank was in a dilemma; he knew not what to
say. Lena’s uncontrollable grief was extremely painful to witness, for
he loved her.

At length he leaned over and gazed into the tear-stained features,
“Lena, my darling,” he said, “do not grieve so.”

There was a strange pleading in his manly voice. “It breaks my heart to
see your distress. After all, it may be, it must be, some mistake. We
shall yet find Roy Thursby and find him alive and well.”

“It is kind of you to say so, Frank,” said the girl in a mournfully
sweet voice, “but there is no hope, can be no hope, for poor Roy.”

“But, my dear Lena,” began Frank, then glancing behind him, “I heard
something moving,” he added, partly to himself.

It was Kasba. Attracted by the sight of Lena’s grief she had drawn quite
close. Crouched down among the rocks she had heard, and the poor girl’s
despair made Kasba’s warm, affectionate heart ache. The sorrow she
herself had suffered, was still suffering, made her tenderly solicitous
for another’s misery. She stood with hands tightly clenched, battling
with her own desires. She dreaded to speak, to tell Lena that her lover
lived, for she well knew what the result would be. Yet she longed to
comfort her.

The conflict raged fiercely. The issue at stake was all heaven and earth
to her, for without Roy life would be blank indeed. Then why should she
give him up? Then she remembered Roy’s misery, that in his heart he was
pining for the companionship of his own kind, and the inborn truth, the
native generosity and candor, that always overruled every other element
in her, conquered now. Girding herself to make a great sacrifice, she
stepped into the open.

“_Bekothrie nithee!_” she cried in a tremulous voice.

Mr. McLeod turned sharply. Lena sprang to her feet expectant of she knew
not what.

Then, nerving herself, Kasba spoke the words which would make her
forever desolate: “Mr. Thursby is alive,” she said.

With a cry of joy Lena ran swiftly to the brave girl.

“What do you mean?” she asked with feverish eagerness, holding the girl
by the wrist. “Roy not dead?” Her voice broke.

“No, God performed a miracle for me.” The girl spoke simply, fully
believing what she said. “Mr. Thursby was dead for many hours,” she
explained, “then he came to himself. But he is—” Kasba hesitated,
fearing to speak the terrible truth.

Lena noticed the girl’s hesitation and was alarmed at once. “Go on,” she
cried, clutching the girl’s wrist hard. “Tell me, tell me quickly!
Something has happened?” Her voice expressed the utmost anxiety.

“He is totally blind,” said Kasba sadly. She spoke in the greatest
distress.

Lena’s face grew dead-white, she stood stiff and rigid, staring at the
girl, quite dazed at the horror of the thing.

“Blind!” cried the Chief Factor who had come up. “How terribly horrible!
Poor Roy! Ah!” He was just in time to catch his daughter, who uttered a
short unnatural sound and reeled against him. But she did not lose
consciousness and in a moment her strength returned.

“Let me go!” she cried, sobbing wildly and struggling in her father’s
arms. “Let me go to him, or I shall die!”

“You shall go, my child,” said the Chief Factor soothingly. He glanced
at Kasba, who nodded and stretched out her hand, that tiny brown hand,
which small though it was, had pulled Roy out of the water.

“Come,” she said simply, “I will take you to him.”

Arriving at the hut Kasba stood aside to let Lena pass. “You will find
him in there,” she said. But Lena did not hear her, for she was already
through the door.

As the door opened Roy started upright in an instant, conscious of the
girl’s presence in the room. Lena’s eyes opened wide with horror at the
sight of him, she started and drew slightly back, struck speechless by
the fearful change in the splendidly vital figure.

There was a painful silence.

Roy stood with head thrust slightly forward in an attitude of listening
intently,—in that attitude of concentrated expectancy of sounds
peculiar to the totally blind; holding his breath to catch the slightest
sound. He trembled all over with excitement. “Lena!” he cried, in a low,
tense voice, though believing it impossible that she should be there.
Then he swayed unsteadily.

Lena came forward to him quickly, and with a little cry, in which there
was more of anguish than joy, her arms went about his neck.

Kasba had remained outside, but she could hear their voices and for a
moment her heart stopped beating and her lips set tightly. She pressed
one hand to her bosom, uttering a stifled wail like a wounded animal.
The sacrifice had been great. She reeled and almost fell. Then she made
a great effort, straightened herself and went and leaned against the
hut, on the other side, away from the door, and covered her face with
her hands. Then a feeling of utter loneliness fell upon her. She felt
that something had been taken from her and given to another—something
that was more to her than life.

She could still hear their voices. They were happy together; while she
was outside alone. And so it would always be now. They would take Roy
away and leave her behind, and she would see him no more. Then she heard
footfalls, and one was Sahanderry’s. He came and stood beside her. She
could hear his sharp breathing. Then, in an impulse, she dropped her
hands and gave them to him. “He is happy now,” she said, a little
bitterly. “Take me. It was my father’s wish. I am yours.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Here ends the story of Kasba, and the chronicler makes apology for all
that has been amiss in the telling of the events recorded, conscious
that a better man could have done it better. Whether Kasba will ever
come into another story the author himself cannot tell, nor does he know
whether she will be welcome if she comes.



                 *        *        *        *        *



Transcriber’s note:

Archaic spellings and hyphenation have been retained as in the original.

Punctuation has been corrected without note. Other errors have been
corrected as noted below:

page 72, The fellow semed too ==> The fellow seemed too

page 92, combined fellings of ==> combined feelings of

page 95, burst into fit of ==> burst into a fit of

page 139, the few sparce spruce ==> the few sparse spruce

page 145, signs of lood luck. ==> signs of good luck.

page 153, went thoughtfullly along ==> went thoughtfully along

page 196, and throughly shaken. ==> thoroughly shaken.

page 205, brushwood camp esconsed in ==> brushwood camp ensconsed in

page 245, off his l’Assumtion belt ==> off his l’Assumption belt





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