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Title: Jules of the Great Heart
Author: Mott, Lawrence
Language: English
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                       Jules of the Great Heart.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             New 6s. Novels

                 THE LAKE
                   By GEORGE MOORE

                 BARBARA REBELL
                   By Mrs. BELLOC LOWNDES

                 NIGEL THOMSON
                   By V. TAUBMAN-GOLDIE

                 THE CONQUEST OF JERUSALEM
                   By MYRIAM HARRY

                 BABY BULLET
                   By LLOYD OSBOURNE

                 THE MAN
                   By BRAM STOKER

                 THE FOOL ERRANT
                   By MAURICE HEWLETT

                 SUSAN WOO’D AND SUSAN WON
                   By EMMA BROOKE

                 THE GAME
                   By JACK LONDON

                 MISS DESMOND
                   By MARIE VAN VORST

                 A VENDETTA IN VANITY FAIR
                   By ESTHER MILLER

                 A LAME DOG’S DIARY
                   By S. MACNAUGHTAN

                 THE FORTUNE-HUNTER
                   By HARALD MOLANDER

                 FATE’S INTRUDER
                   By FRANK SAVILE and A. E. T. WATSON


                                 LONDON

                           WILLIAM HEINEMANN

                        21 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         [Illustration: Jules]



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              Jules of the
                              Great Heart


                       “Free” Trapper and Outlaw
                        in the Hudson Bay Region
                           in the Early Days



                                   By

                             Lawrence Mott

                 With Frontispiece by F. E. Schoonover


                    [Illustration: Publisher’s Logo]


                                London:

                           William Heinemann

                                  1905



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          All rights reserved

               Copyright—LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN, 1905

               Copyright—NEW YORK: THE CENTURY CO., 1905



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS

                CHAPTER
                     I. A TRAGEDY OF THE SNOW                   1
                    II. AN UNRECOVERED TRAIL                   13
                   III. JULES OF THE GREAT HEART               25
                    IV. JULES OF THE RESCUE                    36
                     V. JULES’S STRATAGEM                      54
                    VI. NOËL                                   63
                   VII. “REMEMBER JULES!”                      73
                  VIII. “SOMME T’ING FOR HEEM”                 88
                    IX. MAN AGAINST MAN                        98
                     X. INTO THE NORTH                        112
                    XI. THE NEW COUNTRY                       118
                   XII. THE MEETING                           133
                  XIII. SOLITUDE                              149
                   XIV. LIGHT OF THE EVENING                  157
                    XV. “NO GREATER FRIEND....”               160
                   XVI. THE MESSENGER                         165
                  XVII. THE DREAM OF MORNING STAR             176
                 XVIII. FULFILMENT OF THE DREAM               196
                   XIX. THE AWAKENING OF THE GREAT HEART      212
                    XX. THE QUEST                             225
                   XXI. ON THE HEIGHTS                        235
                  XXII. ETIENNE ANNAOTAHA                     260
                 XXIII. THE CROSS ON THE MOUNTAIN             272
                  XXIV. “JE SUIS CONTENT!”                    274



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              TO MY MOTHER
                          IN LOVING GRATITUDE
                              AND DEVOTION


                       [Illustration: Decoration]



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   I

                         A TRAGEDY OF THE SNOW


MANOU stopped on a snow hill, and looked back over the way he had come;
then, steadying himself against the heavy northwest wind, he took off
his snow-shoes. The little steel-like particles of crust, eddying about
with the force of the gale, stung and bit him, and his six
“_huskies_”[1] crept under the lee of the sledge and huddled together.

Footnote 1:

   Sledge dogs.

He chafed and pounded his aching feet, untying the thongs that bound the
moccasins, his face drawn with pain; then he sat down beside the dogs
and shoved his feet among their warm furry bodies. They growled and
snarled, as if resenting this attempt to take some of their precious
heat from them, but he paid no attention. Continually his head turned to
the back trail, and he watched eagerly in that direction. Nothing but
snowy wastes met his eye, undulating on and on into the distance; not a
sound could his ears catch but the crisp _rustle-rustle_ of the frozen
snow as it scurried over the ice-bound surface. The cold was metallic in
its fierceness; drops of ice clustered under the edges of his fur cap,
where sweat had congealed as fast as it appeared, and his breath froze
on his lips as it came into contact with the bitter wind. He looked
again at the back trail. “Ah-h-h!” he muttered. A black dot was coming
over a distant ice ridge; it seemed strangely distorted in the
snow-haze, now looming up to the full figure of a man, now dwindling to
a dark speck against the whiteness of everything.

He drew on his over-moccasins and fastened his snow-shoes. “_Mush!
Mush!_”[2] he shouted to the dogs, cracking the long whip with
pistol-like effect. Away they went, the bone runners of the sledge
creaking sharply over the uneven surface as he strode beside it. He did
not stop to look back now, but urged his team to top speed with whip and
voice: “_Musha! Ar-r-rr! Musha!_”[3] Obediently the leader swung into an
ice ravine. It was down hill, so the man threw himself on the sledge.
His weight added to its momentum, and the dogs seemed not to touch the
ground as they raced ahead, striving to keep the traces taut. “Musha!
Ar-r-_ha_!” The leader turned sharply to the left, and the man hung far
out on the flying sledge to keep it from upsetting. At a steep decline
now, he used the braking-stick, as the hind feet of the nearest dogs
were rattling on the curved runners, though they were doing their best.

Footnote 2:

   Indian word of command, “Go on.”

Footnote 3:

  Word of command, “Go! Right! Go on!”

Back on the hill where Manou had rested was another man, keenly
examining the scratches of the dogs’ nails on the crust. He was tall and
gaunt, but with sinuous strength showing in every limb. At his feet were
three dogs and a light sledge. He stood up, and, shading his eyes from
the sun-glare, looked ahead and saw Manou hurrying onward.

“Ah-h-h!” he growled, “seex dog, hein? Sacré dam’! He t’ink he goin’ get
mes skins sauf to de compagnie, an’ dat me, Jules Verbaux, let heem do
heet sans bataille? We see! Mush! Allez!” The dogs leaped to their work,
and he followed swiftly after, his snow-shoes sliding in long, easy
strides.

Jules Verbaux was a “free” trapper in the Hudson Bay Company’s
territory. He was a thorn in the factor’s side, as he stole fur from the
traps of the Company’s Indians, and they could never catch him to send
him over the “long trail.” Manou, a half-breed Indian, had heard of
Jules’s _cache_,[4] where there was a lot of fur, and he had taken his
dogs and sneaked off, hoping, for his own profit, to break the cache and
get into one of the Company’s posts, where he would be safe to sell the
skins.

Footnote 4:

   Hiding-place where the trappers keep their furs.

Jules came up on a drift and saw Manou going, going. “Ah, diable,” he
muttered; “he goin’ win avec seex dog! Vat you t’ink me do? Jules, Ah
have vone leet’ plan; dat miserab’ he not know exactement la place; Ah
goin’ fool heem! Musha! ai-i-i-ii!” His voice trailed off in a nasal
whine, and the dogs whirled about to the right and raced on.

Manou was so far ahead that he thought it safe to stop again; he put his
dogs under the shelter of an ice clump while he climbed up on it. He
could not find his pursuer on the back trail, and he chuckled for a
moment. “Toi, Verbaux! Manou goin’ show to toi ’Ow to mush.” Then he
caught sight of Jules working off to the right. “Qu’est ça?” he
muttered, and after fumbling about in his pockets he brought out a
soiled and crumpled piece of paper. “Nor’ouest to ze hol’ trail, den
directement nor’ to ligne two, den sud’est; cache marrke, cross hon
piece of wood. V’y for he go dat chemin?” he asked himself, and looked
again.

Sure enough, Jules was now far off to the right, and going on fast. “Zat
dam’ femme! She no tell to Manou correctement! Ah go now cut heem hoff
zis chemin.” He slid and tumbled down the clump. “Mush! ai-i-i-i!” and
away he went in the direction calculated to bring him across the other’s
trail. As he travelled he pulled out an old pistol and examined the
cartridges carefully. “Ah feex dat Verbaux, den le facteur he mak’ me
vone big gif’—mabbe five dollaires—eef Ah breeng hees head cut hoff to
la poste!”

Meanwhile Jules passed over snow-barrens with tireless speed. Regularly
his snow-shoes clicked as he lifted them, and unceasingly he plied the
lash. “Allez—allez! Ho-o-o-p!” He shook his fist at the other when he
saw that Manou had fallen into the trap and was trying to head him off.
“Viens, scélérat! Ah goin’ lead you in la territoire du diable!” He
shouted aloud. The sound of his voice was whisked away even as his lips
moved; he shook his fist again. “You know, garçon, zat Jules he have no
gun; mais he have somme t’ing for you, Manou!” And he felt for the knife
that rested in his belt. “Now, Ah go fas’ et leeve ze beeg trail. You
come, Manou, hein? You come!” And he darted on at even greater speed.

An hour later Manou came to Verbaux’s trail. “C’est bien ça. Ah go fas’
now; an’ to-night, v’en he stop, Ah get heem.” He caressed the pistol.
“Mush! mush!” he screamed to the dogs, and twined the lash about their
heads. “Musha!”

Manou had forgotten his aching feet, forgotten his direction, forgotten
everything but the lust of gain and his hatred of the man he was now
pursuing.

On and on he went, cursing the dogs, and lashing them till the blood
oozed through their fur. Over ridges and across drifts, down gullies and
through ice ravines, following Jules’s broad trail, like a bloodhound he
flew, now and again getting a glimpse of his man ahead. Sometimes Jules
slowed up and breathed his dogs, and Manou’s eyes would snap when he saw
him so close at hand; again Jules would put on an extra burst of speed,
and Manou would curse horribly as he appreciated that the distance
between them had increased.

The arctic day began to wane; the sun was pale and orange-coloured as it
sank toward the snow-bound horizon. Jules sped on through the long
twilight; finally he stopped. “Now, Ah goin’ feenesh you, diable! Ah,
Jules Verbaux, goin’ do eet!”

He took off the dogs’ harness and lashed the biggest of the team firmly
about the body with the broad back-thongs; this done, he fastened the
light sledge strongly on his back, and then slung the wriggling,
snarling animal between the runners; he took off his snow-shoes and hung
them over his shoulder, and then pounded the remaining two dogs into a
semblance of docility and picked one up under each arm. “Viens donc,
Manou! Ah see you to-mor’, mabbe.” Shod only in his light moccasins, he
turned to the left and disappeared like a shadow, leaving not the
slightest track on the hard crust.

Manou came to the end of Jules’s trail; it was almost dark, but he got
down on his hands and knees, and, with his face close to the snow,
searched for the continuation of it. Finally he stood up.

“Night—dam’!—she protec’ you, Jules Verbaux; but to-mor’ Ah fin’ ze
track, an’ den Ah come!” And he cursed again.

His dogs were nearly finished; they stood with drooping heads and
half-closed eyes before the sledge, their hollow sides working like
bellows as they panted hoarsely. Manou kicked and dragged them into a
semicircle, then he turned the sledge sidewise for a windbreak, and
pulling out a blanket, curled up among the tired brutes. He was too
frenzied by disappointment to eat anything, nor did he give the dogs any
food. The sleep of utter exhaustion soon stopped his mutterings, and the
huskies lay inert about him.

The stars twinkled and blinked in the dark-blue heavens; the wind had
died away; everything was still. Manou slept, and the dogs did not move.
The stars suddenly seemed to lose their lustre; a little breeze sprang
up, eddied about, and sank again. Another came—this time a stronger one;
it ruffled the bushy tails of the huskies; it stirred the fur on the
blanket; then it, too, sank. The stars seemed to recede into the
farthest heavens, grow dim there, and disappear. The breeze grew into a
steady wind, the snow particles rustled again on the crust, and still
neither the man nor the dogs moved.

The wind strengthened into a strong blow, and the particles began to
huddle about the sleeping forms, covering them with a thin white sheet.
One of the huskies lifted its head, sniffed a moment, and then whined—a
long-drawn whine. Manou slept on. The blow increased to a gale, droning
over the sharp ice-edges on the hills; the drift came fast and thick,
threatening to cover man and dogs completely. Another husky awoke,
sprang to its feet, and howled dismally; Manou stirred, cursed the
brute, and went to sleep again. The gale grew into the awful Northern
hurricane; it shrieked through the ravines, and hissed away among the
sharp peaks; it grew wilder and stronger, and, dragging the fur blanket
from the sleeping man, drew it to itself and carried it over the snow
hills out of sight. The dogs were huddled in a solid mass, yelping and
howling. Manou felt the cold and heard the raging of the wind. “Dieu! la
tempête du Nord!” he cried in terror, and groped for the blanket; and,
when he could not find it, began to sob and to scream curses at God and
the storm.

He rose to his feet; the wind upset him; he rose again, and again the
gale threw him. Then he started on his hands and knees to find the
blanket. He crawled up the slope of the hill near by, thinking that it
would have lodged on the side, but it was not there. He crawled farther
on to the top. Here the wind was doubly strong; it seemed to shriek: “I
got the blanket out of the valley! I have _you_ here!” It buffeted and
beat him along ahead of it, turning him over and over, Manou fighting
and cursing all the way. He could not get back to the dogs; he dug his
fingers into the crust until the blood ran and their ends were split. In
vain! Inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by yard, the wind pushed and
hurtled him along. The frightful cold ate into his heart, his liver, the
nerve-centres of his spine; he gave up fighting, and the wind rolled his
body to a little precipice. He fell over its edge, down, down, until,
with a soft thud, he struck a deep drift, and sank in. The white mass
closed over his body like water, and filled his nose and his ears,
choking him into insensibility.

Overhead the storm raged on for hours, until finally it sank as
gradually as it had come, the gale dying to a strong blow, the strong
blow into a steady wind, the steady wind into a breeze, and the breeze
into little drafts that also died away. The sun rose from the snow-haze,
and marvelled not; it was used to these things—used to going down at
night, and, on rising the next morning, to seeing the barrens changed, a
hill here where it was flat yesterday, a ravine there where yesterday
stood a hill.

About noon a figure appeared in the distance; it grew, and as it
approached the tall, gaunt form of Jules Verbaux was recognisable. He
came directly, unerringly to the spot where he had broken his trail the
night before, and he laughed as he looked on the changes that had been
wrought.

“Ma foi, garçon! La tempête du Nord she get you, hein?”

He prodded about in the drifts with his sledge-stick, and struck
something hard; he dug in, and found Manou’s sledge. He prodded farther,
and found the bodies of the dogs buried deep.

“Seex chiens, poor beas’! Mais Manou, Ah vondaire v’ere ees he?”

He searched round, and dug in several places, but with no success. “Ah,
b’en, he ees feenesh. Ah no have to faire dis!” and he drew out the long
knife that glittered in the sunlight. He pried the bone runners from the
other’s sledge, and fastened them to his own, on top of the load of fur
it now carried, where yesterday it had been empty.

“Mush! Allez! Mush!” and the dogs scampered on.

“Manou!”—and he shook his fist at the four quarters of the horizon,—“you
took my wife, you vant steal my skins, and now le diable he have you! Je
suis content!”

And he followed on after the sledge with the same old easy stride.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   II

                          AN UNRECOVERED TRAIL


JULES VERBAUX was taking the fur from his traps, on what he called
_ligne quatre_;[5] he was very cheerful, as le bon Dieu had seen to it
that marten, sable, mink, and fox were plentifully scattered along his
line. He had no dogs with him on this trip, but drew the toboggan-sled,
which was already well laden with skins, by a thong over his shoulder.

Footnote 5:

   Line 4.

“Dat fine!” he chuckled, and his eyes danced, as he saw a fine gray fox
in one of the traps. It was a beautiful thing, this gray fox; the long
sleek fur had a sheen of silver as the light trickled through the spruce
branches and flickered over it, and its brush was full and thick. “Dat
fine!” he said again. He went on down the traps, rebaiting here,
resetting there, and often adding to the pile on the sled.

This line finished, he looked up at the sun. “_Mi-jou’!_[6] Ah have
taime to go ligne two,” he thought, and struck off due west through the
forest. Verbaux was a shrewd, careful man; he knew well that the Company
would give much to get him in their power, and he knew, too, that the
Company’s Indians hated him because he stole the fur from their traps;
therefore he advanced quietly through the woods, threading his way with
care among windfalls and spruce tangles, his gray eyes continually
watching on every side, even behind him.

Footnote 6:

   Midday.

Suddenly he stopped and listened; dead trees crackled from the intense
frost and chunks of snow dropped from the branches with a gentle
_sw-i-i-sh_ through the air and a little _plup_ when they struck the
crust; beyond these natural sounds, he heard nothing. Jules still
listened, and his nostrils dilated and contracted as he inhaled great
breaths of air. “Smok’, by gar! not ver’ far!” He threw off the
draw-thong, unbound his snow-shoes, and crept off in moccasins through
the tree trunks; and was gone like a shadow in a moment.

Half a mile from where Jules first smelled smoke were five men—all
Indians—and they were squatting about a little fire, drinking bitter,
coal-black tea. “Ce Verbaux,” one of them was saying, “voleur! He don’
tak’ skeens f’om mes trap’ las’ weeek! Ah tol’ le facteur; he ees ver’
beeg angree. He say to me lak’ dis: he say, ‘Tritou, you keel dis
Verbaux, een Ah geeve to you cinq, oui, dix dollaires, an’ som’ fine
blankeets!’ ‘Ah goin’ keel Verbaux, M’sieu’ le Facteur,’ Ah say to heem.
‘Bon!’ he say den.”

“Toi, Tritou?” another trapper laughed. “You keel Verbaux? Ha! ha! da’
’s fonnee! ’Ow you goin’ do heet, hein? tell to me dat!”

Tritou drew himself up as far as his squatty figure would allow. “Ah
goin’ track heem, an’ v’en he no expec’ Ah goin’ keel heem avec gun—so!”
And, to demonstrate what he would do, he threw the rifle that lay beside
him to his shoulder, and snapped the hammer. The others laughed, and the
sound of the gruff voices echoed dully among the trees.

“Bah, Tritou! You t’ink you goin’ snik on dat Verbaux? C’est impossible!
Ah try t’ree, four, cinq taimes, mais he vatch h’all taime, lak’ de
beavaire.”

They were all silent, trying to think of some way of killing Verbaux.
“V’ere ees he maintenant?” asked an Indian who had hitherto not spoken.
Tritou answered: “Ah see hees track near dose lignes two et t’ree las’
weeek; dat vas v’en Manou he go for to fin’ Verbaux hees cache. Manou he
no yet comme back, no yet!”

There was an ominous shaking of fur-covered heads, and Tritou added in a
whisper, “An’ Ah don’ t’ink Manou hee goin’ comme back.”

Silence fell on the men again as the possibility of Manou’s end was made
so apparent.

“Allons!” suggested a trapper nicknamed Le Grand because of his great
stature. “But vee svear to feenesh dat Verbaux, hein?”

“Bon!” agreed the rest. Tritou looked up from his work of adjusting his
dog-collars. “You mans, you so svear, but me, Tritou, keel heem!” he
said.

The men disentangled their huskies with sundry kicks and curses, and the
party left the resting-place.

Jules came out on the little clearing, a smile of satisfaction on his
swarthy face; the Indians’ voices had just faded away, and the forest
was still. He carefully gathered the embers of the dying fire, and blew
gently on the little flame that appeared; then he dropped bits of dry
wood on it, and tenderly nursed the feeble blaze. From a pocket he drew
a tin pannikin, filled it with snow, and set it on the fire; next he
produced a stubby, blackened pipe, and lighted it with a flaming twig.
He puffed and puffed; then an ugly glitter came to the gray eyes as he
thought. “Sacré-é! Dey goin’ keel Jules, hein? Keel me, Jules Verbaux!”
he went on, thumping himself on the chest, as though to emphasise the
fact that he indeed was the person intended.

At that moment the pannikin shook, and almost upset, as the burning
sticks settled to red-hot embers under it. “C’est bon, ça! Dat good
signe,” he said as he noted that the pannikin did not upset, but hung on
one side, the curling flames licking the surface of the now boiling
water. “Dey goin’ try, dey goin’ comme near, mais dey no goin’ have
success!” Jules was superstitious, as are all of his kind, and he felt
relieved at the sign of the pannikin. Having put some tea in the water,
he withdrew the receptacle from the fire, seeming not to feel its heat
on his bare fingers. Then he cut some chunks from a piece of
caribou-meat, which he got out of his fur _tote-bag_.[7] As he munched
the tough provender and sipped the strong tea, his eyes were fixed on
the smouldering fire in a thoughtful stare; of a sudden he laughed, not
loudly, but heartily nevertheless, as proved by the shaking of his big
shoulders. “Le bon Dieu merci, Ah play vone treek sur Tritou, Le Grand,
an’ dose mans to-night!” The frugal meal finished, he tucked away his
pipe, slung the bag over his shoulder, and departed by the way he had
come, still chuckling.

Footnote 7:

   Bag for carrying food, usually made of caribou or bear-skin.

Moose-birds and Canada jays fluttered down near the cooling ashes, and
squawked angrily because they could not find any food. An owl, attracted
by the smell of the fire, lit noisily, because of his day-blindness, in
a spruce overhead. “Whoo-o-o-a-aa!” His harsh note frightened the jays,
and they flew off, scolding and shrieking. The owl sat there a few
minutes, turning his head slowly from side to side; then he spread his
great wings and sailed away.

About five miles from this place, Tritou, Le Grand, and the others were
going steadily on. The crust was softer than it had been in the morning,
and it was necessary for one man to break trail for the dogs and
sledges; this the group did by turns. They sang and told stories as they
plodded through the wet snow. “Tell, Le Grand,” asked Tritou, “you know
Verbaux v’ere he leeve?” “Oh, he ees all place,” the other answered;
“somme taime vone place, somme taime long vay h’off, là-bas!” and he
waved his hand to the southward. In two hours’ time they came out on a
big barren. The crust was hard and swept snow-clear by the wind. The
five got on the sledges, and shouts of “Mush! Mush!” sounded loudly to
the whistling of whips. Away they flew in a mad race for the woods just
visible in the far distance.

Not long after they had gone Jules reached the edge of the barren, and
saw the sledges scurrying across: clouds of snow-dust hid them at times;
at others they appeared sharp and clear against the white. He quickly
gathered a pile of dead, dry limbs; on top of them he threw armfuls of
spruce boughs, which he deftly cut from trees near by; then he looked
for the sledges again: they were at the forest line now, and he laughed
as he scraped a match on his skin trousers and held it under the heap.
It flickered, died down, then caught and blazed up merrily; in a few
seconds a broad column of smoke was ascending to the tree-tops and being
whirled away from them by the strong wind. Jules watched the fire for a
moment, dropped a few marten-pelts near it, chuckled again, and went off
into the forest behind him, shuffling his snow-shoes as he went.

“Arrête! Stop!” screamed Tritou. He was behind the others; they were
fast nearing the timber, and paid no attention to his cries, thinking
that he wanted to steal up on them and win; for the speed of their
respective dog-teams was a matter of personal pride to the trappers, and
the winner of such a race as this was to be envied. Seeing that he could
not stop the rest, Tritou threw a shell into the barrel of his rifle and
fired. The success of this ruse was immediately apparent; with shouts of
“Bash! Bash-a-a!” and vigorous applications of their braking-sticks, the
four others brought their sledges to a standstill. Cartridges were
expensive at the post,—fifty marten skins per box,—and even one was
never fired uselessly. “Vat ees mattaire?” growled Le Grand. Tritou
waited till all were gathered together, so as to give greater import to
his news. “Look dere!” he said, pointing over the black trail as he
spoke. “Verbaux! au nom du diable!” said the others, together and
separately, as they saw the wisps of smoke flying with the wind. Well
they knew that this was their private trapping territory, and that no
man, not even their own brothers, would dare violate it, except one, and
that man was—Verbaux!

“Vite! Queeck! Queeck!” said Le Grand, as he dumped the food-bags and
blankets from his sledge in a heap. “Ve goin’ catch heem! He vone beeg
fool to mak’ so smoke!”

The others grasped his idea, and hastily piled their sledge-loads next
to his on the snow. “Allons!” said Tritou. The dogs were whirled back on
to the barren, and whips were used furiously as they got under way.
“Musha! Musha-a-a-hei-i!” the men yelled, and the dogs laid themselves
flat to the crust in their burst of speed. As the five sledges
approached the smoke they slowed up. “You’ gun prêt?” muttered Le Grand
to Tritou. The latter looked at his rifle, and nodded. They advanced
carefully, checking the dogs with hoarse commands. “V’y for h’afraid?”
said Tritou. “Five to vone, an’ heem no gun!” They came to the fire, and
saw the pelts. “Hees track vite!” whispered Le Grand; he felt sure of
their man now. “Dees eet!” answered Tritou, as with sharp eyes he found
the snow-shoe tracks leading down into the forest. “Comme, den!” he
called, and started his dogs on a jog-trot, watching the indentations in
the snow as he proceeded.

“Dix dollaires et des fine blankeet,” he thought to himself, and looked
at his rifle again, holding it in the hollow of his arm.

They travelled on thus in single file for half an hour, Tritou always in
the lead, spying out the snow-shoe marks as he went. Suddenly he
stopped; the tracks had ended!

“Ah, diable sacré-é! Ees he birrrd, den?” he asked the others.

They fastened the dogs together, and spread out fanwise to look for the
lost trail. Two hours they hunted, but in vain.

“Maledictions dam’!” said Tritou again. “He ees gone! Attend toi,
Verbaux: ze h’end of dis affaire she not comme encore; some taime ve
veel see dat!” and he cursed fiercely.

The five went to the sledges, and in silence started back across the
barren.

Meanwhile Jules tramped on into the woods; when he thought that he had
gone far enough for his purpose, he took off his snow-shoes, slung them
on his back, and swung himself up into a tree; for two hundred yards he
worked his way on the branches of the spruce grove; the trees clustered
thickly together in the little valley, and he had no trouble in gaining
the hill on the far side.

Once there, he put on the snow-shoes again and started for the barren at
high speed; the crust was hard on the hill, and it held him up
perfectly.

When he got to the open, he saw the flying sledges making for his fire,
which was some distance above him. He laughed. “Ver’ beeg fool, vous
touts! Jules goin’ show you vone lessone!” He gathered in his belt one
hole, tightened the woollen muffler about his throat, made sure that the
snow-shoe thongs were well fast, and started across the barren. The
sledges were a mile away, in a diagonal direction, and nearing the
smoke. He smiled, “Ah go hout on l’ouvert, pass you clos’, tout près!
You h’all too much beeg dam’ fool for to see,” and hurried on across.
When the Indians were almost abreast of him, he lay flat on his stomach,
and the wind covered him instantly with the drift particles; he lay
there until the Indians had passed, then he got up and went on. In an
hour he reached the other side, and soon found the sledge tracks, and
saw where they had turned back on perceiving his smoke. His eyes gleamed
with delight as he saw the blankets and food the Indians had left in
their hurry.

“Ah t’ink an’ ’ope dat you do lak’ dees; maintenant Verbaux he goin’
show vat he do.”

Jules gathered the lot of stuff in one heap; piled wood over and about
it; then he lighted a match, sheltered it from the little draft that
eddied among the trees, and touched the mass. The match-flame grew and
strengthened; it took hold of twigs, and then reached for the bigger
branches; at last it spread over all. The smell of burning wool and meat
mingled with the aroma of pine and hemlock limbs. Jules took off his
snow-shoes once more, and glided away to the southward, leaving no
trace, not a sign on the glare-crust at the edge of the timber.

When almost out of sight he stopped and shouted back, as though there
were some one to hear him:

“You goin’ keel Verbaux, hein? Bien! You go t’ree, four day hongree, to
arriver la poste!” He laughed loudly, and hurried away into the forest.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  III

                        JULES OF THE GREAT HEART


“BON jou’, Verbaux!”

A hoarse voice spoke at the door of the little bark hut. Jules opened
his eyes, and looked into the muzzle of a rifle in the hands of an
Indian trapper.

“Ah-ha, mon gar! Ah track you t’ree day in la forêt, an’ you aire
prisonnier to me, Le Grand. Stan’ h’up, an’ comme à moi.”

Jules thought quickly, and realised that the slightest deviation from
orders would mean instant death; he got up slowly and walked over to his
captor, who watched him like an animal.

“C’est ça; hol’ hout you’ han’s!”

Jules did so, but held them low in front of him; Le Grand, keeping the
rifle cocked and pointed in one hand, drew a thong with a noose in it
from his belt with the other hand, and threw it over Jules’s wrists;
then he stooped forward to draw the noose tight. Quick as a flash,
Jules’s right knee flew up and struck the other’s face with tremendous
force. The rifle dropped to the Indian’s feet, and he staggered; Jules
was on him in an instant, hitting him a fearful blow with his fist. Le
Grand groaned and fell limply. Hurriedly Jules bound the fallen man’s
wrists and ankles; then a knife gleamed in his hand.

“Maintenant, Le Grand, you go far ’way.” He lifted the blade, but
hesitated, and his arm dropped without having accomplished its purpose.
“Non, pas encore. Ah vant talk vone leet’ veet’ heem.”

He went outside and gathered some snow; this he rubbed vigorously on the
Indian’s face and neck; when it had melted he got more and repeated the
operation. Finally Le Grand moved and looked up.

“Ah, b’en, Verbaux,” he said; “Ah should keel you v’en Ah had ze chance,
onlee le facteur he vant you ver’ bad. He say feefty dollaires to man
who breeng Verbaux to ze post alive; so Ah track you many day, fin’ you
haslip, et maintenant you keel me, hein?”

Jules played with his knife a few minutes before he answered; then he
said: “You got vone leet’ girrrl, n’est-ce pas, Le Grand?”

The Indian’s face twitched slightly, and Jules went on: “Vat she do v’en
her faddaire ees dead?”

“Ah don’ know,” answered Le Grand.

“You got vone leet’ garçon, eh, Le Grand? Vat he do eef his faddaire ees
dead?”

“Ah don’ know,” answered the other again.

Then Jules spoke fiercely: “Ah tell to you vat zey do, dose deux leet’
vones. V’en le facteur he fin’ hout you no comme back, he sen’ dose
enfants een la forêt, Le Grand; he vant no des petits een ze post, v’en
no vone dere for to geeve zem to h’eat; an’ den ze wolfs, Le Grand, zey
aire hongree, maintenant, dese taimes, Le Grand.”

“Da’ ’s true,” answered the Indian, his voice quivering with emotion,
though his face showed no sign. Silence fell on the two men.

At last Jules said: “Le Grand, you know vat Ah ’m goin’ to do à toi?”

“Keel, je suppose,” was the answer.

“Non, Le Grand; not zis taime. A geeve you to your leet’ vones. Ah had a
papoose vonce; den dat Manou he stol’ ma femme, an’ de leet’ girrrl she
die.” His voice broke, and he knelt hurriedly and cut the lashings on
the ankles and wrists.

“Stan’ hup, Le Grand; voici ton fusil.” He handed the Indian the rifle.
“Maintenant go! Partez! an’ rememb’ Jules Verbaux.”

He stood aside from the hut entrance as he finished speaking. The Indian
stared at him as in a trance.

“Verbaux,” he said in a husky voice, “you vone beeg, beeg hearrt. Ah go
to mes petits; mais before Ah go Ah tell you dis: Le facteur he sen’
t’irt’ mans for to catch you. Au revoir.” He dropped the rifle into the
hollow of his arm, and went off, with bowed head, into the forest.

Jules crossed his body devoutly, and muttered an Ave Maria. “Le facteur
sen’ t’irt’ mans? C’est impossible. Dere ten mans on line seex, h’eight
mans on Haut Bois, t’ree mans au Rivière Noire; dat mak’ twenty-vone.
Den feeft’-t’ree en all h’at la poste! T’irt come for me; by gar, on’ly
two lef’ au poste!” he finished, adding on his fingers as he tallied up
the Indians of the entire post. “Ah don’ t’ink Le Grand he tell to me
vone lie. Bon! Ah go an’ Ah mak’ vone leet’ conversation avec M’sieu’ le
Facteur,” he decided.

Then he hurried about the hut, removing all signs of recent habitation;
he stowed away the blankets in his tote-bag, pulled the little bark door
from its wooden hinges, tore down a corner of the roof and let in a
quantity of snow, and kicked the moss bed to pieces; then he took his
snow-shoes outside, adjusted them, and went off at a brisk pace to the
westward.

All that day he travelled, and all night, guided by his unerring
knowledge of the country and of the stars. At daybreak he stopped and
built a small fire, carefully selecting the driest wood he could find
for it, so that no tale-bearing smoke should rise above the trees. He
ate a frugal breakfast, and started on again. The sun was in mid-heaven
when he approached the post; the snow was liberally tracked, and other
signs of habitation were plenty.

Jules advanced more warily now; he came to the big clearing, and saw the
post buildings before him. He watched long and carefully. The smoke from
the long chimneys rose lazily in the still air, and the company flag
drooped listlessly at its mast. A few children played and romped in and
out of the stockade gate, which stood wide open. Outside the yard was a
group of Indian _tepees_, picturesque and silent. At intervals he heard
the sound of women’s voices coming from the buildings, but the place was
deserted of men and dogs.

Jules watched some time longer; then he advanced boldly across the open,
entered the yard, took off his snow-shoes, went up the steps of the
store, opened the door, and walked in. An old Indian was arranging some
blankets on the counter with shaking hands; hearing the door open, he
looked up, then started back in dismay. “Ju-ules Ver-baux!” he
whispered.

“Bon jou’, Maquette,” said Jules, quietly. “Le facteur, où est-il?”

The old man nodded to a door in the rear. “Là-bas.” He followed Jules
with frightened eyes as the latter rapped on the indicated door.

“Coom in, Maquette. Whut the divil ails ye now, ye dodderin’
old—Verbaux!” The factor ended with a snarl as Jules stepped in, closing
the door after him.

“Jules Verbaux, M’sieu’ le Facteur; Ah hear you vant me; Ah come.” He
moved quietly between the factor, who was at his desk, and a rifle that
his keen eyes saw in a corner.

“Ye plundherin’ thafe!” the factor said, with an oath; “how’d ye know
there wasn’t a man on the posht? I’ll—I’ll take ye wid me own hands, so
I wull!” he shouted and leaped from his chair.

A long knife appeared suddenly in Jules’s hand, and an ugly glint came
into the gray eyes as he answered:

“No so fas’, M’sieu’ le Facteur; no so fas’. Ah vant talk veet’ you vone
leet’ first, s’il vous plait.”

The factor saw the glint on the knife and the glint in the eyes, and
realised that both were dangerous, so he sat down again, looking round
for some available weapon. “Go on,” he growled; “I’ll get the life-blood
out o’ ye fer this, ye divil!”

“V’y you ’ave you’ Indians hont Jules lak’ a chien? V’y you no let Jules
trap in peac’? V’y for you geeve hordaire’ zat les Indians zey burn mes
leet’ huts? V’y for you vant ma vie?” Jules asked these questions
slowly, as he faced the infuriated Irishman without a tremor.

“I’ll show ye whut fer, ye half-breed whelp!” And the factor started up
again.

“Pas encore, M’sieu’ le Facteur! You bes’ rester tranquille an’ hear vat
Jules Verbaux ’ave to say.” The insult—that he, Verbaux, a pure
French-Canadian, had Indian blood in him—roused Jules to fierce though
suppressed rage; the swarthy face paled under the bronze, and his breath
came and went with little hissing sounds.

“Ah demand zat you veel geeve hordaire’ to your Indians to leave Jules
halon’; la territoire du Nord ees zat h’of le bon Dieu. He geeve to us
zat territoire to mak’ hont; he no geeve eet to la compagnie for deir
h’own.”

The factor swore a string of horrible oaths, cursing the man before him.

“I’ll have the hearrrt from your dirty carcass to pay fer this, see if I
don’t!” he finished.

“You no haccep’ vat Jules say, M’sieu’ le Facteur?”

There was a note of warning in the low-spoken words, but the factor was
too wild with fury to notice it.

“I’ll accept nawthing but your life,——ye!—your life; an’ I’ll get it if
I have to hound ye outen the country to do it!” he screamed.

“Ver’ good! How’ hup your han’s!” In a second Jules had seized the rifle
behind him and was pointing it at the factor’s heart.

“Ye would n’t murther me in cowld blood, would ye?” The cowardly bully
was afraid, as he held his hands over his head.

“Non, M’sieu’ le Facteur; mais Ah ’m goin’ show your Indians ’Ow Jules
tak’ deir facteur, ’stead of deir facteur tak’ Jules! Stan’ hup an’
marche!” Jules motioned to the door.

With the abject fear of death in his eyes, the Irishman stumbled to the
door and lowered his hands to open it.

“How’ hup han’s! Call Maquette!” came the sharp order.

The captive refused to speak, so Jules called the Indian himself.
Maquette came and opened the door.

“Quick, Maquette! Hit him with an axe; he can’t watch the both of us!”
said the factor.

Jules spoke again: “Maquette, your faddaire an’ my faddaire dey mak’ la
chasse togedder lon’ before dees compagnie she comme een our territoire;
Maquette, Jules no vant hurrt the son h’of hees faddaire’s fr’en’. You
go h’out, Maquette, n’est-ce pas?”

The old man turned, and went out of the store.

“Marche, M’sieu’ le Facteur; en avant!” The incongruous pair went down
the steps and out into the yard; Jules deftly picked up his snow-shoes,
and the factor tried to turn off at the gate.

“Ve go een forêt,” said Jules, persuasively.

The children stopped their play and stared; then they scampered away
with loud cries.

Across the clearing the two went; then down a wood road till it ended,
and on into the woods. Beads of perspiration stood on the factor’s neck
and face, and his arms drooped every now and then, when Jules would say
quietly, “Han’s hup, M’sieu’ le Facteur!”

They went on thus for a long time, twisting and turning through the
timber, the factor breathing in hoarse gasps, and barely dragging one
foot after the other in the wet snow. Jules had been quietly preparing a
noosed thong, and now he stepped up behind his prisoner and tossed it
over the upheld arms, drawing it tight with a jerk.

“Ve stop maint’nant,” he said.

The factor swayed and would have fallen had not Jules caught him and
backed him against a tree. He then passed a thong under the Irishman’s
chin, and made that fast around the trunk, holding him up. He had to
stand upright, because when he relaxed his legs the thong choked him.
Then Jules unwound the wooden muffler from his own throat and neatly cut
a strip from it with the sharp knife. “H’open mout’!” he ordered.

In reply the factor shut his jaws with a snap. Jules smiled, and,
forcing the point of his blade between the clenched teeth, pried them
open and quickly slipped the heavy strip of wool inside the mouth,
drawing it tight and tying it behind the tree also. Then he stood off
and surveyed his work. The rifle he stuck up just out of the factor’s
reach.

“Ah don’ steal vat not belong to Jules,” he said; and continued, as he
put on his snow-shoes and rewound the muffler about his neck:
“Maint’nant, M’sieu’ le Facteur, you choe an’ choe—so,”—he moved his own
jaws as he spoke,—“an’ een vone heure, mabbe, you choe troo dat leet’
cravate; den you can free your-se’f an’ fin’ your vay to la poste.
Meanv’ile Ah go, M’sieu’ le Facteur. Adieu! Bonne chance!”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   IV

                          JULES TO THE RESCUE


NOTHING had been seen or heard of Jules Verbaux since the time when,
single-handed, he had captured the factor. Spurred on by the factor’s
offer of two hundred dollars for his capture dead or alive, the Indians
of the post gave up trapping for a week and hunted far and wide for him,
and, contrary to the custom of the posts, they were armed with rifles.

One by one, tired out and disheartened, the trappers gave up the search.
As they came back, the factor interviewed each one, inquiring eagerly
even for tracks of the man he wanted. The answers were all the
same—nothing, absolutely nothing. Then he cursed them for a pack of lazy
brutes, and swore that they had not hunted. Nothing more could be done
in the matter, so it was dropped.

Whenever there were any Indians on the post, solemn meetings to talk
over Verbaux’s strange disappearance took place about the fires in the
tepees outside of the stockade. The participants in these meetings would
squat in a half-circle, and smoke, smoke, smoke, conversing in low
tones. On a certain evening, Tritou, Le Grand, old Maquette, Le Hibou,
and a new-comer at the post named Le Bossu because of the hump on his
back, were sitting in Le Grand’s tepee. Outside it was snowing hard; the
great white flakes dropped so fast that at a distance of twenty feet a
man was invisible. The air had a heavy, damp feeling, and Le Grand
pulled the blanket which served as a door closer over the tepee
entrance.

“Ce Verbaux Ah hear so mooch tell, he beeg homme?” asked Le Bossu, after
a long silence.

Le Grand nodded, and the Indians puffed on.

“He know h’all zis territoire, an’ he go fas’ on de snow, hein?” asked
Le Bossu again, and they all nodded.

“He ees vone beeg t’ief; he keel Manou, he steal, he ver’ bad!” said
Tritou.

“Vone lie, ça!” contradicted Le Grand when Tritou had finished speaking.

The latter looked up quickly. “Vat dat you say, Le Grand?”

“Ah say you mak’ vone lie.”

“V’y for you say dat moi, Tritou, mak’ vone lie?”

“Nev’ min’ vat for. Ah say you mak’ beeg lie v’en you parler dat vay de
Verbaux. Ah say, an’ Ah know vat Ah say.”

Tritou made no comment upon Le Grand’s emphatic speech, and so the
conversation lapsed.

Le Bossu stared hard at the fire; then he shook himself, as though
waking up.

“Ah goin’ catch dees Verbaux,” he said quietly.

The others smiled. “’Ow?” they asked.

“C’est mon affaire,” answered the new man; “but Ah’m goin’ breeng heem
h’alive to la poste.”

Le Grand looked keenly at the speaker; then, as though satisfied with
his scrutiny, he chuckled. Nothing more was said, and one by one the
trappers got up, wrapped their blankets round them, and passed out into
the night and the snow, muttering, “Bon soi’, Le Grand!”

Le Grand sat a long time alone; his eyes shone like a caribou’s as the
firelight danced and mirrored itself in the black depths; then he went
to the flap and looked out. “Beeg storm,” he said, half aloud, as he lay
down on the heap of boughs that served him as a bed and drew the
blankets over him.

At daylight next morning the post was astir. There was shouting of men
and a scurrying about of women; the trappers came and went, carrying
food and blankets to their tepees. The factor stood at the store
entrance, checking off each Indian’s load as he went out.

“Here, you humpback,” he called, as Le Bossu passed with his supplies,
“ye got wan blanket too manny! Ye can’t cheat me, ye son of a gun! Take
it back to Maquette!”

In the yard trappers were getting their dogs into harness, and the din
was great, what with the snarling and yelping of the brutes, the cries
of children who clung tenaciously to the squaws’ skirts, and the clang
of the bell in the tower on the factor’s house, which was calling the
men for the start. At last all was ready; twenty-five men and eighteen
dog-teams were assembled in front of the store, the men, cap in hand,
waiting for the factor’s final orders.

The sun shone warmly now, and the melting snow dripped comfortably from
the store roof; a little breeze played daintily with the flag at the
masthead, making it curl in graceful folds and letting it fall again.
The factor held up his hand, and all was quiet.

“Now min’,” he said; “get ye a lot o’ fur better ’n lasht trip, or Oi’ll
cut yer grub next toime. That’s all, except, av coorse, me two hunderd
fer Verbaux shtands as I made ut; if anny o’ ye sees ’im, don’t dare
come back widout ’im.” He turned and went into the store.

“Who-o-o-e-e-e-e!” shouted the crowd, and with cries of “Au revoir!”
“Adieu!” “Bonne chance!” from those leaving and from those that
remained, the trappers urged on the dogs and scurried across the
clearing into the woods. For some time their voices were borne faintly
to the home crowd, who still clustered about the gate; then these died
away, and every one went off to his own duties.

“Ah t’ou’t las’ night, vone beeg storm to-day,” said Le Grand to the
crowd, as they hurried along as fast as the heavy travelling and hard
pulling for the dogs would allow. “Mais, by gar! de snow she ver’ deep
aujourd’hui!” he added. Snow-shoes were of no service at all, and the
Indians proceeded in single file, taking turns every few minutes at
breaking trail.

“Ah t’ink heet goin’ snow encore,” suggested Le Bossu.

It looked as though it might; the sun had grown dim and misty, and the
air was raw and chill. Huge masses of wet snow dropped continually from
the trees—usually the sign of a coming storm. The atmosphere was thick
and oppressive to the lungs, and the dogs were greatly distressed by it.

As the actual fall of snow did not come, the Indians hastened on,
anxious to get as far as possible on their way before they would have to
stop for the night.

The sky soon became dark, and twilight was very short; the men selected
a sheltered ravine in which to spend the night, and the dogs were
unharnessed from the sledges. They quickly dug holes for themselves, two
or three in a hole, and curled down in them, leaving their furry backs
showing over the surface. The trappers drew the sledges together and
banked snow between them, forming an efficient wind-shield; then a big
pile of wood was gathered and lighted. The glare of the flames reflected
warm on their faces, and the long shadows kept up a merry dance as the
men moved to and fro; the tree trunks stood out clear and strong in the
ruddy light, and their branches seemed woven into a network of dark
green that covered everything and shut out the dull, leaden skies.

Tea was soon ready in a lot of pannikins and kettles, and each man ate
his supper with relish, for an all-day tramp on “breaking” snow was no
easy work. The meal finished, they pulled out blankets from the bags,
rolled themselves up, and in a little while everything was still, except
the fire, which kept up its cheery crackling and popping. It had burned
down nearly two feet, and the snow-water began to choke out its
enthusiasm, when a big chunk, undermined by the heat, caved in,
quenching it entirely with a loud hiss and splutter.

“Ugh-h! Ver’ col’!” said Tritou, with a shiver, as he sat up about
midnight and drew his blankets closer round him. “Heet snow, by diable!
Dat too bad!” he added to himself, when he saw the ghostly flakes
dropping; then he went to sleep again.

“H’up, you mans!” called Le Hibou to the sleeping forms just as the
first gray light crept through the spruce branches. They moved and
grumbled.

“Sacré! she mak’ vone beeg lot snow las’ nuit!” said Le Bossu as he got
up and yawned prodigiously. There had, indeed, been a heavy snowfall;
the place where the fire had been was filled up smooth and white, and a
big circular mound showed the location of the sledges. The dogs had kept
themselves open to the air by throwing off the accumulating snow as it
fell, and the sides of their nests were piled up like fox burrows.

“Dam’!” said Le Grand as a lump of snow fell into his tea from a branch
overhead, splashing him with the steaming drink.

Breakfast over, they dug out the sledges, sorted the teams, harnessed
them, and started off.

The snow was three feet deeper than the day before, and the going was
therefore much worse; the advance of the party was a slow and laborious
one, the dogs sinking in to their bellies and floundering helplessly
about, so that the men had to take hold of the traces and pull in order
to move ahead at all.

“Sacré-é misère!” said Le Hibou, as he straightened up from the work and
passed a rough sleeve over his face, “dat harrrd travaille!”

“Ai-hai!” answered the rest.

The day grew warmer as they proceeded, and it was hot work on the open
barrens, where the sun shone with arctic brilliancy on the swearing,
sweating crowd.

“Vone t’ing ees good,” said Le Bossu as they all stopped for a breathing
spell: “dere veel be vone stronge crrus’ to-night. Ve go h’all dark
taime, and res’ to-mor’; vat you t’ink, vous autres, hein?”

“Hmm, toi Bossu! Vat you t’ink? Ve goin’ vorrk h’all day, h’all nuit?
Nevaire!” said Tritou.

“B’en, h’all sam’ to me! Ah goin’ sauf mes dog’; go h’on ze crrus’
to-night, and res’ v’en ze sonne she ees so warm. ’Ou go veet’ me?”
concluded Le Bossu.

“Ah go, Bossu,” answered Le Hibou.

“Moi aussi,” agreed another of the trappers, Dumois by name.

“Bon! Ve show to youse ow to go fas’ la nuit,” laughed Le Bossu.

They struggled on all day; as the sun sank lower and lower, the melted
surface of the snow hardened, and it soon held the teams up, though the
men sank in even with snow-shoes. At dark it set in very cold, and the
frost particles covered the men’s clothing with a shimmering coat.

They stopped for the night again, and after supper Le Hibou, Le Bossu,
and Dumois went on alone. Travelling was good now, and the woods were
more open, so the three made fast time of it. The stars shone with
extraordinary brilliancy, and Dumois stopped the others on a barren they
were then crossing to look at them.

“Ah t’ink mor’ snow plent’ queeck,” he said; “go to ze ouest; ve strike
Rivière Noire by ze short trail, hein?”

“You know de vay, Dumois?”

“Certainement. Ah go that chemin t’ree year h’ago. Ah remembaire sans
doute.” With these assurances as to his powers of guiding, Dumois swung
his team due west, and struck out at a smart pace, the two others
following closely.

Their shadowy figures rose and fell over the undulations of the barren,
to the _click, click, click_ of the snow-shoes and the sharp patter of
the dogs’ nails on the crust. A dim thing scurried away in front of
Dumois, and before he could catch hold of the sledge his dogs were off
in howling pursuit, Dumois after them, yelling curses and commands to
stop.

“Black fox, mabbe,” said Le Hibou as he and Le Bossu turned off slightly
and followed the sound of Dumois’s voice. They came up to him, and he
was using his whip freely. “Tu loup!” he shouted at the big leader of
the team, “Ah show toi to ronne so h’aftaire dam’ fox!” and the lash
whistled through the night air; the brute snarled a little as he felt
the sting, but he knew that he had done wrong, and his tail trailed
dejectedly on the snow.

“Maint’nant, starrt!” said Dumois when the team was straightened out. He
looked up at the stars as he spoke; they were less brilliant, and
sometimes they disappeared entirely when snow-clouds drifted between
them and the earth.

“C’est ça; ve go dees chemin,” he said, when he had studied out his
bearings.

“Mais, Dumois, you no go directe, comme befor’?” interposed Le Bossu.

Dumois smiled at him derisively, and the other said no more.

They travelled on hour after hour; no one spoke, saving breath for the
swift pace. Dumois stopped and examined the heavens again; the stars
were not to be seen, and a chill wind was blowing. He swung off a little
to the left; the others made no comments, because they could not now,
and the three went on and on, now through dense forests as dark as
pitch, where they had to slow down and feel their way, and again across
gray-white barrens where the wind tossed the drift into whirling clouds
and carried it along in its arms.

They came suddenly to a deep gorge. Dumois stopped, and looked at it
with growing fear in his eyes.

“Dere no ravine near to Rivière Noire,” he muttered to himself; then he
turned to the others, who stood waiting behind him. “Ah’m los’,” he said
quietly.

“Ve go back,” suggested Le Bossu.

In silence the three turned the dogs on the back trail.

It had begun to snow, a little at first, then faster and faster; the
flakes whirled and tumbled over one another in their long race to the
earth. It fell cold and clammy on the men’s faces as they breasted their
way against the wind, and they wound their mufflers close up to their
eyes. A big hill loomed in front of them, like some black monster; they
had fought their way for two hours against the storm and were tired out.

“Vat dat?” said Dumois in a helpless way.

No one answered.

“Ve bes’ res’ here de nuit,” finally suggested Le Hibou, in a dull
voice.

They made camp as well as they could. No wood was to be seen, and they
did not dare search for any, as the snow fell so thickly that a man
could easily be lost fifty feet from the others. They ate a cold,
cheerless meal, and having fed the dogs from their supply, they pulled
their blankets about them and slept. All night the white flakes came and
spread themselves thickly over everything; the wind blew dismally; and
the dogs huddled as close together as they could.

In the morning Dumois climbed up on the hill. As far as he could see
through the infolding shrouds of snow was a bleak, strange country; no
sign, no shadowy suspicion of forest anywhere. He went down and told the
others.

“V’ere you t’ink ve go?” asked Le Hibou.

Dumois and Le Bossu thought, and drew lines on the snow with their
fingers; then Le Bossu said, “Par là!” pointing to the right.

“Non, par ici—dees vay!” said Dumois, pointing to the left.

Le Hibou looked at their lines on the snow chart, and drew some of his
own. “En avant!” was his decision after he had finished his
calculations.

“Non, by gar! Ah no vant die los’!” shouted Dumois. “Ah go mon chemin!”

He fastened his dogs to his sledge, and the others imitated him
mechanically; then the three started off to the left. On and on they
went, over hills and down ravines, up clefts in the snow gorges, and
across wind-swept barrens; and always the snow came and covered their
tracks as fast as they made them.

They did not even stop for food; the snow grew deeper and heavier; it
clogged their way, piled itself on their snow-shoes, and heaped in soggy
masses in front of the sledges; the dogs gave up one by one, exhausted.

“Impossible!” said Dumois, after trying valiantly to drag the dogs and
sledge too by his own strength. “Ve res’ teel la neige she stop, hein?”
he suggested.

Le Hibou and Le Bossu agreed by not contradicting, and the three made a
rude shelter with the sledges and some spare blankets.

Le Hibou searched for his food-bag. “Bon Dieu!” he said, with white
face, “Ah geeve to Tritou, v’en ve starrt yes’day, ma food, becaus’ hees
sled ees mor’ leetle den mine, an’ Ah took hees blankets.”

The night before they had eaten of Dumois’s provisions, as his bag had
been more accessible than that of either of the others, so this calamity
had not been discovered. Dumois looked in his bag; there was little
left. The entire party had intended to reach Les Petites Colignes in
four days, and had taken just enough food per man to do it, as there was
at that place a big cache of flour, tea, and six caribou carcasses. Le
Bossu’s bag was still untouched, but it contained very little to feed
three men and eighteen dogs for no one knew how long. They had plenty of
blankets, and the mockery of it was terrible. They divided the food
sparingly, and fed the dogs separately, a handful of dried meat to each.

Another night passed, and morning brought the same old story—snow, snow,
snow, falling, dropping, tumbling in ceaseless, noiseless quantities.
They stayed there all that day, and the food supply dwindled, even
though they took but very little of it twice only in the twenty-four
hours. On the fourth day of their captivity the food was all gone, and
they drew lots to see who should kill one of his dogs; Dumois was drawn,
and he cut the throat of one of his team, tears streaming down his face
as he did so. “Blanchette, poor beas’! Ah’m désolé!” he said hoarsely.

And still it snowed. The surface of the barren was much higher than it
had been. The cold was intense, and in desperation Le Hibou smashed his
sledge, tore a blanket in slips, and made a fire; they husbanded the
feeble flame with tender care; but it was out all too soon, and they
shivered again in their covers.

Afternoon came, and the snow relaxed somewhat. The men, weak from lack
of food and almost numb, were about to smash up another sledge, when
suddenly, without a sound of any kind, a figure stood before them. It
was a tall, gaunt figure with curious wide snow-shoes on its feet. The
face was muffled entirely, only the gray eyes showing. As the three
stared in wonderment, half believing it a myth, the figure spoke:

“You los’, n’est-ce pas? Comme weet me!”

“Who ees?” whispered Le Bossu.

“Ah don’ know!” answered Dumois, with awe in his voice.

The stranger helped them gather the dogs together and fasten their
belongings on the two sledges that were left. “Viens!” he said, when all
was ready, and started off on what seemed to the lost men their back
trail. This strange being exerted a curious power over them: he did not
speak, but they felt security in his presence. They staggered on, he
helping first one, then the other, digging out the sledges when they
sank in the drifts and coaxing on the dogs by soft noises in his throat
which they seemed to know.

When night closed down hard and fast, he stopped.

They were in the woods, and the stranger helped them again by gathering
a lot of fire-wood. As it blazed up he spoke: “Stay here teel day! Ah
comme back een mornin’.”

Then he let his food-bag fall from his shoulder, and went off into the
black depths of the forest, stirring up clouds of snow-dust that
scintillated and shone in the firelight as he went.

The three stared at one another.

“Dat le bon Dieu!” whispered Le Bossu, crossing himself.

They took off their caps and repeated the Ave Maria, intoning it softly;
then they looked into the bag the stranger had left. It contained
food,—plenty of food,—and they fell on it eagerly, ferociously, as only
starving men can; the dogs were also fed, and the fire was well built
up; then they curled in their blankets and went to sleep, thanking the
Holy Mother for her mercy.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Taime to go,” said a voice, and they woke to find the stranger with
them again. He had built the breakfast fire, and water was boiling in
the pannikins. While they ate, watching him the while with pious awe, he
got the dogs together and harnessed them.

“Allons!” he said, and started on. The snow was not so deep in the
woods, and the three had had a good-night’s rest, so they were able to
follow fast. At noon the figure stopped again. “Le chemin—de trail,” he
said.

Le Hibou looked up and saw the blazes on the trees. “C’est le chemin—le
chemin!” he cried, and fell on his knees in the snow. Le Bossu and
Dumois knelt too. “Merci, Seigneur bon Dieu!” they said to the stranger.

He laughed softly, and unwound the muffler that had so successfully
hidden his face. “No le bon Dieu,” he said quietly—“onlee Jules
Verbaux.”

The three started as though bewitched; then Le Bossu got up slowly,
walked over, and held out his hand.

“Verbaux,” he said huskily, “Ah hear mooch bad de toi; mais Ah say dat
you have vone grand beeg hearrt!”

Jules smiled and waved his hand to the southward.

“Go! Allez! sauf to de post.”

Silently the men filed off, following the blazed trail; in a few minutes
they looked back, but he was gone.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   V

                           JULES’S STRATAGEM


TRITOU swore mighty and fearful oaths. For the third time in as many
weeks, his traps had been robbed of their fur and the empty ones sprung.
The first time it had happened he reset them, and let it go at that; the
second time he reset them, and watched half the night, but saw nothing,
and the next morning the traps were all sprung again; now, the third
time, it was too much for any hard-working Indian to stand.

Tritou set and baited his line once more; then he started off at full
speed for the post, forty miles away. He was on foot, and it was night
when he reached the stockade; without a word to any one, he went into
his tepee, brought out food, blankets, and his beloved rifle; then he
picked out his dogs, eight of them, from the pack that wandered about
the post yard, harnessed them to his light sledge, and went off into the
darkness.

The other trappers wondered at this extraordinary behaviour on Tritou’s
part; he was usually communicative, and often quarrelsome, therefore
this silent streak in him astonished his fellow-Indians. “Tritou he fin’
beeg lot caribou to-day, Ah t’ink,” said old Maquette. “Mabbe,” the
others answered, and that was all that was said about it.

Tritou urged on his dogs; mile after mile passed under the sledge, and
still he hurried on. It was a quiet night, and at times a cloudy one.
There had been no snow for several days, and the crust was very hard—so
hard that the sledge often whirled sidewise on the turns, because the
bone runners could get no hold on the glare surface. The dogs needed no
whip; there were eight of them to the light sledge, and they made easy
work of it with only one hundred and forty pounds to draw, for Tritou
was not a heavy man. Four hours they travelled; then Tritou _raa-a-ed_
softly to them, and they swung off to the right, following a snow gorge
which led across a long barren. At the edge of the timber Tritou stopped
his team, and fastened the leader to a tree; with rifle cocked and eyes
and ears alert, he went into the sombre woods. His snow-shoes clicked a
little, though he did his best to prevent it by walking wide-legged and
lifting them high at every step; with a muttered curse, he knelt and
took them off. The crust was too slippery to stand in moccasins alone,
so he was forced to put them on again.

He went very slowly, listening intently at every little sound, and
peering now high, then low, through the tree trunks. An owl, disturbed
by this strange marauder, screeched over his head and flew away. Tritou
started at the sound. “Hibou! Dam’!” he whispered to himself. Suddenly
he stopped and looked at something that rested in a V cut in a big
spruce; it was the first trap on his line, and—sprung!

“Ah-h-h!” he softly hissed through his teeth; then he felt on the crust
at his feet, and found fresh scratches and little places where bits of
ice had cracked under some weight. Slowly he worked his way along the
line of traps, finding each one sprung as he came to it.

The spruce trees stood less thickly here, and a weird, dim gray light
shone on the snow between their trunks. Tritou listened again; far away
he heard the faint _click-click_ of snow-shoes. His hold on the rifle
tightened, and he looked again to be sure that it was cocked, and
advanced more carefully than ever; then he stopped again; not far in
front of him he heard the thud of a deadfall as it struck the threshold
of a trap, and then the clicking moved on; so did he, now bending almost
double. The woods grew more and more open as the edge of a barren was
approached, and the moonlight trickled on to the snow freely in places.

Tritou stopped and knelt on one knee, raising the rifle to his shoulder
as he did so. One hundred yards away, in an open spot, stood a tall
figure; it loomed up in the moonlight clear and sharp.

“Ha!” shouted Tritou as he fired.

The figure swayed, tottered, then gathered itself and disappeared in the
shadows.

“Blessé! Woun’, by gar!” said Tritou, with great satisfaction, as he
hastened to the place where the figure had stood; he hurried carefully,
with his rifle ready for another shot. Nothing stirred anywhere; Tritou
bent over in the open space. “Du sang!” he said, as he saw the dark
spots spreading over the crust here in blotches, and there, close to the
woods, in a thin streak. He thought for a moment, “Ah go back for ze
dog’; he no go far; Ah shoot for zat beeg hearrt Ah hear so mooch
h’about!” He chuckled, and turned back for the sledge.

Jules Verbaux had had bad luck with his traps; the Company’s Indians had
destroyed two lines of them entirely, so he started out on a foraging
expedition against their traps. “An eye for an eye,” thought Jules. He
selected Tritou’s line to plunder, because he had hated Tritou ever
since that day in the woods when he heard him say that he, Tritou, was
going to kill Verbaux for “dix dollaires et des fines blankeets.”

Once he reaped the harvest of fur from the line marked “T,” and he,
unseen, had watched Tritou as Tritou watched for him on the second and
third reapings. Yesterday morning he had laughed when Tritou struck out
for the post, and had followed him for five miles; but as Tritou kept
steadily on, he came back, ate his supper, and went down the line of
traps for the fourth time. He was going along slowly, springing the
deadfalls and taking the fur he found in them, when suddenly he thought
he heard something; he stopped and listened. A sharp, burning pain
seized him under the left arm, and the shock sent his wits flying for an
instant; then he heard snow-shoes coming, and gathering his great
strength, he sped into the forest. His side pained him cruelly, and his
breath came and went in gasps for a few minutes; he opened his heavy
jacket as he travelled and put his hand under the two shirts, and felt a
little warm hole near the armpit; he felt further, and found another
hole higher up on the front of his shoulder. “Dat notting, dat!” he
chuckled, with great relief, and moved his arm up and down. “Ah t’ink
Ah’m feenesh dat taime certainlee. Tak’ care, Tritou!” he said to
himself as he tore off two pieces of his shirt and stuffed them in the
little holes, effectually stopping the flow of blood. The old sign of
the pannikin came back to him. “Dey goin’ try, dey goin’ comme near,
mais dey not goin’ have success.” He repeated his own words of four
months ago.

Daylight was just coming as he reached the big open barren; he went
across it at wonderful speed, and on the edge of the next woods he took
off his snow-shoes and ran on and on; he did not slip on the crust,
because the moccasins he wore had caribou-hair soles. He passed through
the timber and crossed to another barren; in the middle of it he put on
the snow-shoes again and sped on fast.

Behind him, Tritou with his team came to the blood again, and followed
it, expecting every instant to see Verbaux dead or dying. When the
blood-trail ended, Tritou cursed horribly. “Ah go h’aftaire you,
Verbaux, de res’ h’of ma life, but Ah fin’ you!” and he called on le bon
Dieu to witness his vow. It was full light now, and he followed the
snow-shoe marks easily enough to the timber edge; there they stopped,
and not a sign of any kind could Tritou find. “Sacré-é! he no owl or
ange!” he muttered. “He do dees trick las’ taime; Ah goin’ fin’ h’out!”

He fastened the dogs, and began working in circles, each one larger and
larger as he covered the ground. It was slow work in the woods, but at
last he found the lost trail out on the next barren, where Jules had put
on the telltale snow-shoes. Tritou rushed back to the team, and lashing
them, tore on, following the open tracks. These worked farther and
farther to the southward, until Tritou was travelling at right angles to
his original course. Every time the tracks ended he would swing the dogs
in a big circle, and invariably find them again and hurry on.

Jules was crossing a high snow hill; from it he could see a long way; he
looked back, and saw Tritou in the act of circling. “Ah-ha, Tritou! you
fin’ ma leetle trick, hein? Bon! Jules goin’ show to you ’nodder vone!”
He unfastened his snow-shoes, and stepping carefully in the middle of
his tracks, worked backward over his own trail till he came to a
depression in the barren; he ran down this, and crouched low behind a
drift. In a little while Tritou came tearing down the tracks, and
stopped on the hill. He looked all round: Jules could see him perfectly,
standing there shading his eyes from the glare; then he began to circle
again, swinging out wide, and of course moving ahead all the time; he
disappeared beyond a rise, and Jules glided off on the back trail.

Tritou circled and circled in vain; he covered and recovered the whole
barren in front of him, big as it was, but he could not find the least
trace of Verbaux. He was furious, and beat the dogs unmercifully as he
twisted and turned and traced over the white country. Then he took a
tremendous circle, nearly ten miles in diameter, but returned to the
hill unsuccessful. He cursed le bon Dieu for not helping him; he spat on
his enemy’s tracks that came to the top of the hill and ended there.
“Chien! Diable! Pig! Beas’!” he screamed, shaking his fist in the air.
“Ah goin’ keel you somme taime, Verbaux! Dam’ you to l’enfer!”

He climbed on the sledge and headed the dogs back. “Ah go to la ligne,
an’ set de trap,” he said to himself. When he reached the lower end of
the line he fastened the team to a tree again, and worked up, rebaiting
and setting. “He no comme back non plus, an’ Ah’m please’!” he muttered
consolingly.

When half-way up the line, he heard a voice calling behind him, “Tritou!
Tritou! Ah leave de dog h’at Rivière Noire to-mor’! Rememb’ Jules
Verbaux. Au r’voir!” then a laugh, and all was still. Tritou rushed
back, falling down twice in his frantic speed, and came to the tree to
which he had tied the dogs; they were gone! Sledge, dogs, everything was
gone! Forty yards away his rifle stuck up, butt first, in the snow, and
the cartridges were scattered about on the crust at his feet. Far off he
heard a faint crackling, but it died away instantly, and all was quiet.

He cried and screamed with rage for a time; then, picking up the shells
and gun, he started on his forty-mile tramp to the post.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   VI

                                  NOËL


IT was the day before Christmas. Jules was sitting in his home camp,
sixty miles from the post; he was lonely and sad. “Las’ Noël Ah have ma
femme, la petite, touts; an’ maintenant—” he looked about the bare
little room, “bon Dieu, ’Ow lonelee eet ees!”

It was a cheerless scene. Walls of bare logs, with moss plugged between
them to keep out the cold; a rude table; two misshapen stools; a bed of
boughs in one corner, with some blankets heaped on it; a little chimney
of small timber sticking out diagonally in another corner; and a few old
clothes hanging on wooden pegs near the door.

“Ah, b’en,” Jules said to himself, “eet ees de will of le bon Dieu. Ah
mus’ mak’ t’ink dat de wife an’ de leetle vone aire veet’ me for to-mor’
jus’ same.” He became full of life with the thought, and bustled about
the little hut, sweeping the hard ground with a spruce bough broom; he
carried out the old bed, and filled its place with fresh aromatic
boughs; then he brought streamers of moss from the woods, and festooned
them around the walls. In the corners he built little canopies of dark
green branches, and hung bunches of scarlet berries over the gray logs.
The old clothes were neatly wrapped up and stowed away under the boughs;
on their pegs he hung a big caribou-skin, its gray-brown colour mingling
with the green of the interior. He cleaned out the little fireplace, and
filled it with bright pine chips and dry wood.

“Dere!” he said, surveying his work, “dat mor’ good; de leet’ vone she
lak’ dees comme ça!” and tears came to the gray eyes. He brushed them
away hurriedly, and went out to a tiny shed behind the hut. There he dug
a quarter of caribou-meat from the snow, and carrying it back, he cut
thick, juicy steaks; these he placed in a rough frying-pan, and set it
on the table. From a hewn box he brought out a little bag of tea, some
salt, and some hard bread. Then he drew the two stools up to the board.
“Dere ees onlee two place’; la petite she vant place too!” Taking the
axe, he went out, and in a few minutes had made a high stool; this he
also put beside the table.

“Maintenant, Jules, go fin’ somme present for dose two for Noël.”

Outside it was snowing a little; the crisp flakes dropped gently through
the trees, and the tops of the spruce bowed gracefully, swayed by the
light north wind; they sighed, and murmured softly to one another. Jules
put on his snow-shoes, drew the fur cap well down over his ears, and
went off into the dull forest.

The skies turned a darker lead-colour; they seemed to threaten
something, and Jules said to himself as he travelled along, “De snow she
comme ver’ queeck!” and hastened on. Over hill and through valley he
went till he came to his traps; luck was against him: trap after trap
was empty and unsprung. He went all the way down this line, and not a
skin! He looked up at the heavens: it was snowing as ever; the
crystalline bits floated from their home in the clouds softly and
noiselessly. There was no wind at all now, and Jules listened for
something, he knew not what. Everything was silent; the spruce and pine
stood like martyrs, bravely holding up the heavy masses of snow that the
skies had poured on them. Sometimes a branch would rebel and drop its
load with a _swish_; as it flew back, relieved, it seemed to jar on the
stillness of everything, until it ceased its swaying and became quiet as
the rest.

“Ah go to ligne five,” he decided, and changed his course to northeast.
His way lay across wild barrens, and he stopped again to listen: the
solitude was wonderful; only the unceasing, silent fall of snow. It came
faster now, and the frost morsels covered Jules’s caribou jacket with a
dainty white coat that rested lightly on the hairs, their prismatic
forms plainly visible. He went on and on. “At las’!” he said as he came
to the first trap on ligne five. A fine marten lay under the deadfall,
its sleek hair smoothed close to the little frozen body; the eyes were
open and stared glassily on Jules as he lifted the heavy stick and put
the stiff form in his bag. “Merci, bon Dieu!” whispered Jules, as he
found almost every trap with its little victim dead and frozen. The line
led through a deep ravine, and Jules’s eyes gleamed when he came on a
heavy trap. A big black fox lay dead in it; the massive log had crushed
out the life God had given. On the crust were pitiful scratches where
the poor beast had tried frantically to pull away from the awful weight
that tortured it. “Ah-ha! Dat magnifique!” said Jules aloud, as he
lifted the fall and drew out the long, sinuous body. The heavy black
coat was glossy and thick; the under hair seemed to reflect darkly the
faint light that came from the leaden skies. “La petite up dere”—Jules
looked at the heavens as he spoke—“she ver’ content wid dees.” He
turned, and started for home.

It was snowing harder, and his down tracks were only dimly discernible
through the opaque cover over them. The wind was coming slowly; a murmur
rose and fell weirdly in the forest; the trees moved, bowed to one
another, and shook off their white dress. Out on the barrens the drift
was whirling along, mingled with the fresh fall, and Jules’s snow-shoes
clicked with a deadened sound as he hastened on. A herd of caribou
crossed before him, their hoofs rattling faintly as they raced on with
the wind. They came, and were gone in a few moments, wrapped in the
clouds of snow-dust which their fast-moving feet stirred from its
resting-place on the crust. Jules stopped at the edge of a timber patch,
and examined marks at his feet, not long made. “Vone, deux, t’ree, five
snow-shoe!” he said grimly, and swung off to the left. He went on
carefully, listening every now and then; nothing but the whispering of
the wind in the tree-tops answered his quest for sound. The hut was
close by now; the tracks he had seen five miles back had disappeared, so
Jules approached with a pathetic gladness in his heart. “Jules goin’
have Noël jus’ sam’!” he said, and then he sang a French Christmas song
as he saw the clearing in the distance.

“Oh, Dieu! Oh, Dieu!” His little song died suddenly. He had reached the
clearing where his hut had stood; in place of it a heap of smouldering
ashes met his eyes—gray, dull-red, black, and smoking. Gone! All gone!
The home camp, with its little Christmas trimmings, its strings of moss,
its table, its pitiful high stool—all gone, and a mass of ashes remained
in their place. Their smoke twined slowly upward into the trees and
disappeared in the wide, wide air above. Silence—infinite silence! A
faint spluttering now and then as the cold snow quenched the hot embers;
beyond this stillness, solitude.

Jules stared with heavy eyes, a tearing pain at his heart, which beat
thickly and fast. A split of pine caught his sight; on its white surface
was roughly traced, “Bon Noël, Verbaux.—T.” That was all. Many
intertracting snow-shoe tracks showed how the poor little home had been
destroyed. An apathetic mood controlled Jules. He looked at the remnants
of his Christmas shelter with drooping eyes. “Oh, Dieu! Bon Dieu!” he
repeated over and over again. Then he changed swiftly; a blaze of anger
came to the gray eyes, and his muscles heaved and surged under the
caribou jacket. “Sacré-é-é-é!” he growled; then fury interrupted the
words, and only inarticulate sounds came. “Jules Verbaux he goin’ show
to you h’all vat he do for dees!”

He turned, and struck off rapidly to the westward. It was nearly night;
the snow was coming fast, and the wind had increased in force, but Jules
hurried on, seemingly imbued with a supernatural power; his strides were
tremendous, and the clogging white on his snow-shoes did not affect him
in the least. On in the darkness and falling curtains of snow he went;
on over hill and across barren, the wind tearing at his clothes, and
hurling the stinging drift in his face; on through the woods, where the
trees roared their discomfort; on across lakes, where the ice was swept
bare, and where his snow-shoes slid three feet to every stride; on in
ravines, where the gale curled the flying snow over the sharp edges; on
over ice-clumps, where the drift beat itself to tiny pieces on the
jagged sides. The miles came, were passed, and fell behind. Jules
travelled on tirelessly, like a steel machine, his snow-shoes rising,
falling, rising, falling, ever and always in that long, regular step.
Twenty, thirty, thirty-five miles had come and gone, but Jules sped on.
Then daylight with its dim gray appeared, and broadened over the white
wastes; the flakes came from farther up in the lowering skies, always
whirling, racing down.

At last the post buildings stood before him, dimly visible through the
screens of white; the flag was frozen to its mast, and crackled when the
vicious blasts of wind sought to tear it from its hold. The post was
awake, alive; blue smoke issued from the chimneys, and faded away in the
grasp of the storm. The roofs were covered deep with a white coat, and
the tepees outside the stockade were mounds of snow with only the tops
of the poles visible. Jules went round the clearing, keeping under cover
of the timber, and came up behind the store. Within all was gaiety and
laughter; through the window-panes he saw the children and the women
dancing about a little spruce tree, whose branches scintillated with
Christmas candles, and beneath which were cakes and presents tied with
coloured caribou-thongs. Tritou, Le Grand, Le Bossu, Dumois, old
Maquette, and all the other trappers were there, standing in a circle
round the tree. The factor, his red face shining with perspiration, was
making speeches and giving presents to all.

“Jules goin’ feex you touts!” he snarled, and quickly gathered dry wood
and limbs and piled them against the logs of the store wall; he went
off, and brought other heaps, and placed them against all the post
buildings, where the wind should catch the flames the best and hurry
them on to their work of destruction. All was ready. Verbaux lighted a
match and held it under the wood-heap at the store; the bit of pine
flared and went out. He struck another; it too flashed, then the wind
put out its feeble blaze.

Jules stopped, thought, and looked in the window again. The children
were opening their parcels, and screaming with delight at the little
toys and knickknacks that appeared. Gradually his eyes softened. “Ah had
leetle papoose—vonce; she vould lak’ dat!” he said, and the tears came
again to the deep eyes, and coursed unhindered down the bronzed cheeks.
The snow fell against the panes, and dimmed his view of the interior,
but the cheery Christmas candles shone blurredly through the mist.

“Ah no goin’ do dees!” he said huskily. “No hurrrt vomans an’ leetle
vones; she vould not lak’ for me to do eet. Have good Noél, enfants! Mes
petits, geeve merci to le bon Dieu. Somme taime, Tritou, Ah feex you!
Ah, enfants, have plaisir; t’ink somme taime of Verbaux, h’alon’, seul,
hongree, wid’out home, wid’out anyzing in de fores’ an’ la tempête.” He
looked wistfully at the warm, happy scene within, then turned abruptly
away and disappeared across the clearing silently, hidden by the
ever-falling quantities of snow.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  VII

                           “REMEMBER JULES!”


IT was noon. The day was bright and warm, and as Jules rested on a snow
clump at the upper end of the Big Barren, he took off his muffler and
fur cap and mopped his broad forehead. The sky was an opal blue; not a
cloud to be seen anywhere above the horizon; the sun was comforting and
genial in its heat, and the crust melted fast.

As Jules’s eyes roamed over the dazzling space, he saw whole hillsides
split and sag deeply, the heavy melting snow sinking on the light, dry
powder underneath. His great, wide snow-shoes were on his feet, and the
fur tote-bag beside him bulged with pelts, for it had been a good
morning at the traps. He looked up sharply, keenly, as a faint, far-away
sound struck on his ever-listening ears—_Pop! pop! pop-pop!_ very
distant, but plainly discernible. Jules jumped to his feet and shaded
his eyes. Out of the snowy distance came a dozen black specks,
travelling swiftly over the country. “Caribou! Feefteen! Somme vone mak’
shooting là-bas!” Soon the frightened animals were close to him, their
heads thrown high, their little tails straight up, and their long legs
twinkling as the herd sped by with even, graceful trot. One staggered a
little, swayed, but kept on bravely with the rest. Jules’s sharp eyes
saw the flecks of blood on its hind quarter.

“By gar! Ah get dat caribou!” he said aloud.

He threw the bag hastily over his shoulders, and stuck the muffler in a
pocket; then, cap in hand, he left the clump and started off at great
speed after the fleeing animals, which were again specks on the horizon
beyond him.

Shortly afterward, from the white nothingness out of which the caribou
had come, a larger speck appeared, and travelled nearly as fast as they
had. It grew into a sledge and seven dogs, and on the sledge was a
trapper named Lavalle. “Mush—ei-i!” his voice sounded weakly in space.
As the outfit swung past the place where Jules had stopped, Lavalle
caught sight of the wide tracks on the soft crust. He checked his dogs
and tumbled from the sledge.

“C’est Verbaux,” he said to himself. “Les autres dey tol’ to me hees
shoe-marrk, an’ dat’s eet certainement.”

He examined the tracks at his feet carefully. They were wide and short,
and the toe-bar indentation was high on the front; the lacings were of
broad, thick bands, as the trail plainly showed, and the front of the
snow-shoe turned in slightly.

“Ah vould lak’ b’en to catch heem,” Lavalle said longingly, and walked
up on the snow clump, looking about. “He ees gon’ ’way; mais Tritou he
come aftaire me dam’ queeck, and to-mor’ ve go catch Verbaux,” he
muttered. Then seeing the single dot disappearing to the northward,
“Voilà mon woun’ caribou!” he cried, and, leaping down to the sledge,
hurried the dogs on and forgot about Jules.

The team raced ahead across the softening snow; the sledge-runners sank
in often with a scrunch, and Lavalle would lift the body up and then go
on. As they passed over a rise in the barren he looked forward
carefully, but saw nothing of the wounded caribou.

“He fall somme place not far,” he said to himself, and kept the dogs to
their work. The country was more level here for several miles, and when
the sledge approached the next hill he stopped the team at the foot of
it, and, rifle in hand, stole noiselessly up the side; then, dropping to
his hands and knees, crept on and peered over the top.

In the little gully on the other side lay a dead caribou, and bending
over it was a tall man who was rapidly stripping the skin from the
steaming body.

Lavalle ducked his head quickly at the unexpected sight in the gully,
and lay on the snow, thinking.

“Dat ees Verbaux, certainement. Ah get heem et le caribou, by gar! Dat
magnifique! Ah go leetle furdaire h’along, an’ mak’ good shoot.”

He slid down the hillside a few yards, then worked his way to the top
again, pushing the rifle slowly along the crust. Just below him, Jules
had finished the skinning, and was deftly unjointing the caribou’s
quarters. Lavalle shoved the rifle carefully in front of his eyes, took
aim between Verbaux’s broad shoulders, and pulled the trigger.

Jules heard a dull explosion, and dropped instantly by the caribou
carcass; then, looking up slowly, he saw on the hilltop near by a man
writhing and rolling as if in agony. He watched several minutes: the
man’s contortions grew less; finally he lay spasmodically kicking.

“He try keel Jules,” said Verbaux, as he stood up and advanced warily
toward the prostrate figure. It was no sham, and Jules uttered an
exclamation of disgust at what he saw. Lavalle, in creeping along the
hillside, had unwittingly plugged the rifle-barrel heavily with wet
snow; and when, after taking aim at Jules, he had fired, the old barrel
had exploded, and the breech-block had “blown back” in his face. The
heavy bolt had torn away one cheek, and the raw flesh lay gaping on the
jaw-bone; Lavalle’s forehead was pierced and gashed in several places by
bits of the shell, and a jagged rip in the skull over the left temple
showed where a piece of metal had forced its way through the skin. The
gun itself lay a few feet off, dismantled and useless.

“Dat good so; you try keel me,” said Jules, thoughtfully, as he watched
the twitchings of the torn and distorted features. “Jules go now.”

He turned and left the hill and its repulsive occupant. He cut strips
from the caribou-hide, and with them fastened a quarter of meat on his
back, and another over his chest, to balance the weight; then, taking
the skin under his arm, he started off. When he had gone a little way he
stopped and looked back at the shape lying on the reddened snow. He
stood motionless for several minutes, then he threw off his load.

“Bah! Jules Verbaux, you got vone too beeg heart!” he said to himself
sarcastically, as he went back to the wounded man. He tore long pieces
from his own shirt, and skilfully laid the ragged flesh of the cheek in
its place, fastening it there with the cloth; the slit in the skull he
drew together with rough care, and pinned the flaps of loose skin with a
bit of wood which he sharpened and cleaned with his knife for the
purpose. Then he gently pricked out the steel pieces that he could see
embedded in Lavalle’s face. The semi-conscious man moved, and muttered
incoherently, “Ah go-in’ ke-e-el Ver-baux main-te-nant,” and he feebly
threw up his arms as though holding a gun. The flesh around the eyes was
so swollen that he could not open them, and he lay there whispering and
tossing.

“’Ow he comme so queeck, hein?” thought Jules to himself; then he took
Lavalle’s back trail and found the sledge; the dogs were asleep in a
warm mass. He straightened their harness and drove the team up to the
wounded man, picked him off the snow like a feather, and stretched him
carefully on the boards of the sledge, lashing him securely. The dogs
went on, Jules holding a trace so that the speed should not be too
great. At the bottom of the hill he gathered the quarters of meat and
the skin, and secured them on the sledge at Lavalle’s feet. Then “Mush!
Allez!” he shouted, and the team scampered on, he following swiftly,
controlling their speed by a long thong fastened to one of the
sledge-runners. Over hill and across flat they went, hour after hour,
till the forest-land was reached. Here Jules swerved the dogs to the
northeast, and kept on.

Lavalle became more conscious, and struggled against the thongs that
tied him fast; then he began to whimper, and the tears forced themselves
through the puffed eyelids and ran down over his ears. Jules paid no
attention, and they travelled on. The afternoon grew dark, a breeze
sprang up, and in a little while veils of mist unfolded themselves over
the barrens, and Jules pulled out his muffler, winding it round his neck
as he strode along. The mist became heavier and changed into a chill
rain that soaked rapidly through the wounded man’s clothes.

“Ah’m co-ol’, co-ol’!” he sobbed; and Jules took off his own caribou
jacket, and covered Lavalle with it, tucking the corners under the
lashings so that it should not be blown away.

The country sloped gradually upward, and at last the top of the long
rise was reached. Jules stopped the team and looked back. The bare,
rolling, white distances were blurred by the falling rain; the air was
damp and had a bitter edge of cold to it; overhead masses of grey scud
and blue-black clouds hurried past, and the wind yowled intermittently
across the hilltop. Nothing living was in sight. Lavalle muttered and
cried, and the dogs panted. Jules gazed long and thoroughly all over,
then he started the team again, turning sharply to the right.

In an hour the timber came in view, and in a few minutes they plunged
into its shadows. Soon a little clearing appeared, and in the centre of
it was a hut. It looked lonely and minute, nestling among the giant
spruce and pine. Jules halted the outfit at the door, and, gently
untying Lavalle, he carried him inside and laid him on some boughs; the
dogs he unharnessed and turned loose, and he took the meat, skin, and
other things from the sledge into his little home. With pine chips and
dry branches he built a fire on the tiny hearth; the slight smoke
drifted about the room for a moment, then, feeling the strength of the
draft through the round hole in the roof, it hurried out, as though glad
to be free.

“L’eau! Wat’!” the wounded man was articulating painfully, and Jules
filled a pannikin with snow, melted it over the flames, and held it to
Lavalle’s lips. The sick man could not open them enough to drink, and he
began to cry again. Jules took up a wind-cured pelt from a pile of
skins, twisted it into a stiff horn, and carefully forced the small end
between the bruised and cut lips, and poured in a thin stream of water.
Lavalle’s throat rose and fell as he swallowed, and he shook his head a
little when he had had enough. “Merci!” he whispered, and sank into
semi-consciousness again.

It was dark outside. The dogs were growling and snapping over the meat
Jules had thrown to them. The wind made the trees creak and groan, and
the rain had turned to snow. It was growing colder, and when Jules
opened the bark door a stinging blast whirled in, eddying the ashes
about the fire and causing the wounded man in the corner to shiver.

Verbaux cut some caribou steaks, and set them in a frying-pan on the
fire; he dropped a little tea in the pannikin, and built up the blaze;
then he sat near it and waited. The fire shone on his face ruddily, and
the flames leaped and danced by reflection in the gray eyes. The hut was
quiet, save for the crackling of the pine sticks and the raucous
breathing of Lavalle. Soon the steaks began sizzling, and the odour of
frying meat filled the little interior. Outside the wind had increased,
and it sirened now loud, now softly across the open hole overhead. Every
now and then Jules mechanically turned the meat, his eyes on the fire in
a curious set stare. Then he ate his supper slowly, decisively, sipping
the black tea and munching the heavy bread in great mouthfuls, his big
white teeth gleaming between the strong, healthy lips at each bite. When
he had finished he set the pan aside, leaving the pannikin with its
remnants of tea near the heat; he put more wood on the fire, and drew a
blanket up to it, filled his pipe, lighted it, and sat down, nursing his
knees in his hands, his head swaying to and fro. Lavalle’s breathing was
more quiet and regular, and the loudest sound in the hut was the thick
_puff-puff—puff-phooooo_—as Jules exhaled clouds of smoke.

The red light flickered strangely over the spotted bark walls, and the
shadow of Jules’s head grew and shrank as the sticks settled, flared up,
burned out, and settled again on the hearth. And still Jules sat there.
His pipe was out, and the dull black bowl gleamed fitfully in the
spasmodic light. The fire dimmed and dimmed; at last but a heap of
gleaming coals was left. Jules lay down slowly, folded the blanket about
him, and slept. The storm had come outside; the snow hurled itself
against the little hut and piled around it; the dogs had crept to the
lee side and were warmly huddled together; the sledge was a mound of
white; and the gale screamed and roared through the pine and spruce.

Daylight came, grew, and brightened everything. All was silent yet in
the bark shelter: one form, hideous, bloody, bandaged, in the corner;
the other, long, strong, and graceful in repose, slept in the fur
blanket before the cold hearth. Then it stirred, and Jules got up slowly
and looked at Lavalle. He was still asleep, and Jules felt his head.

“Bon!” he said to himself, and went outside. The snow was still falling,
and he waded through the drifts that had come during the night to his
wood-heap; then with an armful of sticks he went back, arranged the
morning fire, and lighted it. The wounded man woke, and in his blindness
mumbled, “Tritou, eet ees you, hein?”

Jules started violently, then he answered in a gruff voice, “Oui.”

“Tritou,” went on the other in a thick tone, “Ah tr-y to keel Verbaux
yest’da-y; ma-is Ah don’ know eef Ah do heet when Ah was woun’. You
kno-w, he-in?”

A long pause, then Jules decided. “Oui,” he answered again, still more
gruffly.

“Ah ’m please’. Le facteur he gee-ef to me two hond’ed dollaires, hein?”

“Oui,” Jules answered for the third time.

The tea was ready, and he went over to Lavalle, and using the skin horn
again, poured the warm liquid down his throat.

“C’est b-on; me-rci;” and he became comatose again.

All that day Jules stayed in the camp; he fed the dogs and watched them
fight and snarl over their rations; he gave Lavalle some tea three
times, and he cut bits of meat very fine, softened them in warm water,
and pushed them between the helpless lips. The throat swallowed, and
Lavalle was strengthened. In the evening Jules unbound the terrible
wounds, washed them with tepid water in which he had steeped some
pine-bark, and then tied them up again with fresh strips from his
shirts.

And thus day after day passed; Lavalle growing stronger with each
twenty-four hours. His face was still in a frightful condition, and the
eyes remained puffed and unopened. Jules rarely spoke, and the hurt man
begged petulantly to be talked to; but Verbaux kept silent, or answered
in monosyllables, and then gruffly, rudely. In the daytime he would take
the dogs and go off through the forest, coming back at night with his
furs, sometimes with many, sometimes with only a few skins.

Three weeks came and went, and Jules still fed and cared for Lavalle.
One night, as Jules sat thinking, thinking, before the fire, the other
man spoke. “Ha, Tritou! Ah can see de flame at las’!” Verbaux sprang to
his feet, and scattered the blaze with swift kicks.

“Vat you do dat for? Ah van’ see,” Lavalle said crossly.

“Sl’ip—dormir,” answered Jules, hoarsely, and the other said no more.

Before daylight the next morning Jules deftly wound a bandage securely
over Lavalle’s now seeing eyes.

“Tritou, vat you do?” he asked with fear and anger. Without answering,
Jules tied Lavalle’s ankles and wrists, and carried him out to the
sledge, lashed him to it, and harnessed the dogs, while Lavalle cursed
and raved. They started off in the gray darkness of dawn, and travelled
all that day and all night across the wilderness. The following evening
they stopped, and Jules fed the blindfolded man as usual; then wrapped
him in a blanket, still bound hand and foot, curled up himself, and
slept. They were off again at dawn, and on and on till noon; then Jules
halted the team, lifted Lavalle, and steadied him on his feet.

“Ah feex you, Tritou! Dam’ fine vay to breeng me to la poste! Vell,
Tritou, you got ze head h’of Verbaux for to geef le facteur?” asked he.

“Oui,” answered Jules. He cut the wrist and ankle bindings, and with a
quick turn of his knife severed the bandage over Lavalle’s forehead. It
was dim in the forest, and the other rubbed his eyes gently.

“Trit—” he began; then his half-opened eyes cringed, and an awful fear
came into them, as they saw the tall, gaunt figure with wide snow-shoes.

“Oh! Oh, Dieu! Grâce!” he cried wildly, and shrieked in his terror; he
tried to run, but Jules caught his arm in a powerful grip.

“Leesten to moi, Lavalle! You try keel moi, Jules Verbaux. Ah sauf you’
laife for sak’ du bon Dieu; tak’ you’ dog’, go to la poste! Here de vay!
An’—rememb’ Jules Verbaux! Allez!” He stood like a statue, pointing to
the westward along the blazed trail.

Slowly and haltingly Lavalle crept to the sledge, crawled on it, and
screamed, “Mush!” to the dogs; and they raced away among the trees.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  VIII

                         “SOMME T’ING FOR HEEM”


LE GRAND, Dumois, Hibou, and Bossu were camped fifty miles beyond
Rivière Noire. They had their trap-lines set out like spokes of a wheel
from the main camp, and were having great luck. Fur was plenty, and bait
easy to get because of the numerous herds of caribou.

It was night, and the four men sat about a roaring-hot fire. The dogs
had a shed for themselves, and the sledges were pushed under the bough
cover.

“Ah vould lak’ to know ’Ow Verbaux he ees!” said Dumois. “Ah vant t’ank
heem for dat las’ taime!”

The others stared thoughtfully at the leaping, dancing flames, that
crackled and snapped, casting a warm red sheen over each figure.

“Lavalle he say dat Verbaux he gone Ouest!” finally said Bossu.

“He ees très beeg hear-rt, dat Jules,” Hibou said quietly, and his black
eyes softened and shone suspiciously in the reflected light.

“Ai-hai!” answered the rest, nodding solemnly.

Le Grand brought more wood for the fire; as he threw it on, piece by
piece, showers of scintillating sparks were born and scurried up to
their brief existence in the cold air, gleamed brightly for a moment,
then disappeared. The fresh logs sang merrily, and their rough bark
curled and reddened in the fierce heat of the glowing embers underneath.

“De fairées!” said Dumois, smiling, when a loud _pop_, then a shrill
_pi-i-ing_, came from a flaming log.

“She ees gone h’up dere!” suggested Bossu, looking up at the
star-brightened heavens.

“Oui, she gone leave h’on star!” Hibou answered gravely, and a far-away
expression came to his eyes.

The group were quiet, watching the swift changes that took place in the
position of the wood and coals.

“Un loup-cervier!” said Le Grand, pointing to a shape, visible to him,
formed by three blackened sticks and some dull coals.

It was a cold night, and the steam from their wet trousers and moccasins
rose in gray-white clouds and drifted away among the dark branches. A
little wind breathed gently through the spruce, and curled the tops of
the long flames as they shot up into nothingness.

Bossu slowly pulled out his pipe, and as slowly cut tobacco from a
dirt-begrimed plug. He rolled and crushed the pieces between his hands
and filled the bowl, carefully pushing them down with a stubby
forefinger. Then he caught up a red-hot coal, dropped it on the tobacco,
and puffed silently. The others watched the familiar operation with that
unconscious attention which is born of a lack of anything of real
interest to look at. “V’ere ees dat oglee Tritou dese taimes?” asked
Hibou.

“Bah! Tritou he look, look h’all taime for Verbaux hees track!” said Le
Grand.

“He ver’ beeg fool; Verbaux he keel Tritou somme taime certainement!”
announced Bossu, speaking with slow precision, and with pauses between
each word. The others nodded, and the conversation ceased.

Then, weirdly and noiselessly, a tall gaunt figure stepped into the edge
of the firelight behind them, and stood there in silence, surveying the
group in front of him. His snow-shoes were slung over his back, and the
woollen muffler was tied loosely around the strong neck; the swarthy
face was shining with sweat, and the massive chest rose and fell
rapidly, as though in distress. He moved forward quietly, limping as he
walked; when he was close to the four trappers he spoke softly, “Bon
soi’!”

They leaped to their feet and stared at him. “Verbaux!” they said then.

“Ah’m hur-rt!” Jules spoke slowly and pointed to his left leg. The rough
trouser and heavy moccasin were soggy with blood, which had congealed on
them in a black mass. As Jules finished speaking he swayed a little and
passed his big hand wearily over his forehead. Dumois jumped to his
side.

“How you woun’?” he asked, a deep sympathy in his voice.

“Hax,” answered Jules, simply; then he added, “Ah cut moi par h’accident
dees morn’n’; no can go h’on snow-shoe’; have had notting for heat; you
can geeve me leetle, hein?” He looked at the others with pain-dulled
eyes. “Ah see your trap’ and comme for help,” he continued.

“By gar! dat too dam’ bad!” said Hibou, loudly, to hide the lump in his
throat that threatened to break his voice.

Tenderly and carefully the men supported Verbaux and laid him gently on
a blanket before the fire. The gray eyes flashed their gratitude; then
they closed and Verbaux fainted from hunger and pain. The trappers
looked at the long, powerful form stretched helpless at their feet, and
no one spoke.

“Bon! queeck!” said Bossu then, “ve mus’ feex dat woun’!” He knelt, and
quickly split the trouser and cut away the top of the moccasin. A long,
deep gash in the calf of the leg showed black and ugly; Bossu shook his
head. “Ver’ bad dat!” he said. Water was heated and the wound thoroughly
cleansed. It was a clean cut; the axe had bitten deep, but the lips of
the gash were smooth and even. Bossu drew them together, and tied the
leg up tightly, first with cloth, then with wide caribou-thongs.

Jules stirred. “Dat good, merci!” he whispered. Le Grand had been
preparing tea and food, and he fed Jules like a child. Then the four
lifted the big figure and carried it into the camp, and placed Jules on
a fresh heap of boughs, covered him with blankets, and left him asleep.

Hibou threw more wood on the fire, and they squatted about it again.

“Ah’m ver’ content; Ah can do somme t’ing for heem!” said Le Grand.

“Nous aussi,” quickly answered the others, then silence came over the
group.

The wind sighed through the trees. “Leesten!” Bossu held up his hand.

Far off in the forest a scratching and faint pattering could be heard on
the hard crust. The trappers listened intently; the sound grew, and then
they heard a long “Who-ee-e!” They looked at one another.

“Tritou, by diable!” said Dumois. “Vat he comme for, hein?” He looked at
the camp as he spoke, nodding toward it. The others perceived his
meaning and growled, “Nevaire!”

“Ho-o-o-p!” shouted Bossu. An answering call sounded near by, and in a
few minutes six dogs drawing a light sledge ran into the firelight and
stopped, panting. Behind them Tritou’s squat figure appeared, rifle on
his arm.

“Bon soi’!” answered Bossu. “Vat you do here, Tritou?”

“Ah come f’om Petites Colignes las’ night et to-day; Ah go to Hautes
Terres to-mor’. ’Ow many here?” he asked.

“Five!” said Le Grand. The three other Indians’ eyes gleamed for a
moment, but they made no comment.

“Who ees de hoddaire mans?” asked Tritou, looking about for the fifth
member of the party.

“Clement! ’Sleep!” answered Le Grand, jerking his thumb toward the camp
as he named an Indian who, he knew, was away from the post, trapping to
the southward.

Tritou unharnessed his team and fed them. Then he drew his blankets from
the sledge and, with a nod to the others, went in the camp.

Bossu walked in quietly after him, his knife in his hand.

Tritou had wrapped himself up and lain down next to Verbaux on the fresh
boughs. There was only a dim, shadowed light, that came from the fire,
in the interior, and Bossu chuckled softly as he saw where Tritou had
chosen to sleep. He sneaked out and beckoned to the others; they came,
saw, and laughed softly. Then they brought in their own covers and
stretched out in the camp for the night—all but Le Grand, who arranged
his blankets in the angle of the walls, and sat there through the long
winter darkness, his eyes fixed on the corner where Tritou and Verbaux
slept side by side. Sometimes he would take out his pipe, and the
_cheep-cheep-cheep_ of the sharp knife-edge cutting through the tobacco
would break the breathing stillness of the camp.

At last daylight filtered through the trees, and in its dark interior
objects took shape, and grew in distinctness. Tritou moved and sat up.

Le Grand quickly slipped to the floor and watched. The short figure
rose, glanced over the sleeping companions, and went outside, taking his
blankets. Le Grand heard him splitting wood, and then the cheery
crackling of the morning fire sounded on the quiet of dawn. Then he
heard the rattle of a pannikin and the frying of meat, then silence.

Tritou finished his lonely breakfast, and harnessed his dogs. He stuck
his head in the camp door. “Au revoir, h’all; Ah go now!” and his shouts
of “Musha! Mush!” rang loudly between the log walls. The dogs yelped and
went on, Tritou following. In a few minutes his voice died away to the
eastward and all was quiet.

Le Grand breathed a sigh of relief and put away the long knife that had
not left his hands since Tritou came. He went over to Jules; he was
awake, and the big eyes looked inquiringly at him. “Ah t’ought Ah hear
Tritou hees talk!” he said.

Le Grand laughed. “Tritou he slep’ ici las’ night, near to you!” and he
pointed to the crushed boughs beside Jules. The latter struggled up and
looked first at Le Grand, then at the empty green bed. He growled, and
his hand felt under his wide belt. “Sacré!” he murmured, “Ah no know
dat; but Ah’m no ver’ strong!” Then he stood up, limped to the door, and
listened. “Ah bien!” he said, turning to Le Grand, “dat nev’ mind! Somme
taime Ah show to heem! ’Ow he not know Jules be here?”

Le Grand told him how Tritou had been fooled, and Jules laughed softly,
but the gray eyes looked in the forests searching for something.

The others were awake, and they chuckled again and again at their luck
in avoiding a fight. After breakfast the four took their teams and went
off to the traps, leaving Jules in camp. He walked about in the snow a
little; his leg was stronger, it still ached, but the tight bandages
supported the muscles and he could move quite easily.

“Ah mus’ go,” he said to himself; “mes dog notting h’eat t’ree day, poor
beas’!” He took a small piece of caribou-meat and a little bread and put
them in his pocket for himself on his trip. He sewed the rough
trouser-leg together, and patched the cut moccasin. Then he peeled a
square of thin bark from a small timber, and using a charred stick as a
pencil he traced roughly, “Merci.—V.,” and put it on the boughs in the
camp, then slung the snow-shoes over his back, and limped off in the
deep timber.

In the evening the trappers returned, and Hibou called, “Verbaux!” No
answer; they were frightened. Then Le Grand found the tracing in the
camp, and showed it to the others. They were silent for a minute, when
Bossu spoke huskily. “Ah, bien, ve do somme t’ing for heem! Bonne
chance, Verbaux!” he said as he looked at the darkening forests.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   IX

                            MAN AGAINST MAN


THE Montaignis came down to the post on one of their trading
expeditions, and they told weird tales of seeing a tall figure on
strange wide snow-shoes up among the hills, two hundred miles away. This
figure, they said, had been seen by many of the tribe, but no one had
been able to get close enough to speak to him.

Tritou, since the time of his wounding Verbaux, had been always on the
watch for the familiar tracks, but had never found anything, so he
listened eagerly to the mountaineers’ stories.

“C’est Verbaux, Ah know,” he said afterward to one of his cronies; “he
no comme back ici!” and he nodded wisely. Dumois overheard this
affirmation. “V’y for Verbaux he no comme back?” he asked, and Tritou
became silent. He had not told any one of his misfortune—how Verbaux had
borrowed his dog-team and left it, eighty miles away, at Rivière Noire;
but revenge burned fiercely in his thoughts, and he would mutter curses
when Verbaux’s name was mentioned.

Thus it was that Tritou, to follow up the blood price he promised
himself day by day, got permission from the factor to take a trip with
the Montaignis, when they returned to their hill country. He did not
tell his true reason for wishing to go, but whispered in the factor’s
ear, that “mabbe un gran’ territoire pour la chasse là-bas, an’ ve sen’
mans from la poste, hein?”

The factor saw the force of this argument, and agreed that Tritou should
go.

The Montaignis waited about the post, camped outside the stockade, until
the weather should be good for the start. The snow-storms in their
territory were much more to be feared than they were here, about the
post. The Athabascan country is treacherous in the snow months, January
and March, and no Indian sets out long trap-lines then.

One evening, Washook, the Montaignis leader, said that they would leave
the next morning at daylight. Tritou’s eyes gleamed when he heard this,
but he said nothing. He was alone in his tepee, getting his blankets and
supplies ready, when the flap was pushed aside, and Le Grand came in.
“Bon soi’, Tritou!” he said.

Tritou was not overfond of Le Grand, because he felt that in some way
Verbaux and he were friends. It was strange that no one could say a word
against Verbaux without Le Grand contradicting him quietly and firmly.
When asked his reasons for this, he would refuse to explain, saying
always, “Ah know of vat Ah say!” So Tritou was suspicious of the visit,
feeling uncomfortable in Le Grand’s presence, as though the latter knew
that revenge was his object for going away into the Montaignis country.

Le Grand opened the conversation. “You goin’ get des skeens, hein,
Tritou?”

“’Ope so!” the latter answered shortly, and went on folding up his
blankets in small bundles, tying them with caribou-thongs.

“Ah see Verbaux hees track yes’day!” announced Le Grand suddenly,
watching Tritou closely. This was a lie, but Le Grand wanted to know how
much of Tritou’s desire for the long, hard trip with the Montaignis was
actuated by his madness to find Verbaux.

Tritou looked up quickly, and his breath came faster. “Vat figure, den,
dose Montaignis dey talk h’about?” he asked.

Le Grand did not answer at once, but stared fixedly at his host. Then he
spoke. “Tritou, you goin’ h’aftaire Verbaux; Ah know eet, an’ Ah goin’
warn you, Tritou, dat you veel be keel, keel! Ond’stan’, Tritou?”

Tritou’s face was ugly to see: the black eyes gleamed dully, and the
broad nostrils quivered; the lips were drawn back in a half-snarl, and
the tobacco-stained teeth looked like the fangs of a wolf.

“An’ Ah tell to you, Le Grand, dat eet ees no you’ affaire. You lak’
Verbaux, Ah t’ink, an’ Ah goin’ breeng back Verbaux hees head cut hoff,
to show to la poste, tu comprends ça?” and he leered horribly.

“You veel t’ink somme taime of Le Grand, vat he tol’ to you! Bon soi’,
Tritou!” With these words Le Grand left the tepee.

Tritou chuckled. “Ah ça, you no can sauf Verbaux!” he said to himself.
Then, his preparations completed, he rolled up in his blankets and
slept.

The next morning was a beautiful one, and amid laughter, cheers and au
r’voirs the Montaignis left the post, bound for home, two hundred and
thirty miles away to the northwest. Tritou accompanied them with his big
sledge and ten dogs. As he went out of the gate Le Grand called to him,
“Gare Jules Verbaux!” and Tritou scowled.

Day after day the party travelled on across miles of deep timber and
long stretches of barrens where the wind bit fiercely and the frost
patched their faces with gray. Night after night they camped, built big
fires, and curled up round them in their blankets, and all the time
Tritou was sullen and spoke rarely to his companions. One day, when
travelling over soft crust in single file, the man’s sled just in front
of Tritou’s upset, and the load scattered over the snow. Tritou never
offered to help him reload, but made a detour to avoid the accident, and
kept on in silence. These things were noticed by the Montaignis, and
they began to wonder what sort of man was this who wouldn’t talk, who
wouldn’t even smoke with them by the fire in the evenings. Mutterings
were frequent among the Indians about it, and at last suspicion was
openly talked of in their own language, which Tritou did not understand.
They suspected him of being a Company spy, and one of them went so far
as to tell him so in halting, broken French. Tritou made no answer, and
the Indians grew uglier toward him.

On the sixth day out from the post, the chief, who was in the lead,
suddenly stopped and examined some tracks which crossed their course;
the others gathered about and jabbered excitedly. Tritou noticed the
unusual commotion from his place in the rear, and came up to find out
the cause. He saw the strange, wide snow-shoe trail, and his eyes
glistened venomously; but still he said nothing. That night, when the
party made camp, he was missing. No one had seen him leave, and
conjectures were many and loud.

The chief listened to them all, and decided that they had better not do
anything about it; that Tritou had gone of his own volition, and that it
was his affair, not theirs. “He has probably turned back to the post,”
he said; so the next day the Montaignis went on without him.

Tritou had at once recognised the snow-shoe trail as that of Verbaux,
and when he dropped back to his position in the line, he determined to
leave the Montaignis secretly at the first opportunity, go back, pick up
the trail and follow it to its maker. The Indians’ course took them
through a wooded ravine; Tritou saw it a long way off, and he dropped
back little by little, intending to leave the others when they turned
the ravine corner at the upper end. It happened as he planned; the
others kept on steadily, and he slowed up until there was five hundred
yards between him and the last of his travelling companions.

When the ravine was reached they all went up through it, turned the
corner, and Tritou stopped his team, threw himself on the sledge and
lashed the dogs. They bounded forward, and he was soon out of hearing of
the Indians’ voices, going back to his enemy’s trail. It was only five
miles off, and Tritou soon covered that distance, for he was going very
fast.

“Ah-ha-a-a! at las’, Verbaux!” he said hoarsely when he came to the
tracks again, “Ah goin’ keel you dees taime!”

Before starting on the chase he lashed the load firmly on the sledge,
filled his rifle with cartridges, and looked to the dogs’ harness; then,
with everything secured he started on the trail. The country was
entirely strange to him, as this was two hundred and ten miles from the
post, and he had never hunted in this direction. It was all hills and
valleys; the timber was thick, and the hillsides steep; his advance,
therefore, was slow. The wide tracks led due north; over hill and
through valley, up ravines and across barrens it went, straight as a
compass course. It was at least a day old, Tritou decided; and he coaxed
the dogs to their best efforts. The tracks led over a high, bare hill,
and he stopped to look about. He could see a long, long way ahead, but
as far as his eyes could reach were barrens on barrens, white and
desolate; not a living thing in sight on the snow or in the air.

The sun shone over the glare-crust with dazzling brilliancy, and he
could not look on it long. “Mush!” he shouted to the dogs, and went on.
The trail kept its northern course, straight over the barrens and down
through the deep timber on the far side; always a day old it seemed to
Tritou, fast as he went. The dogs were lagging; he stopped to feed them,
and ate some cold food himself. He did not dare to light a fire for fear
of warning the man he was after. In an hour he started on again. The
landscape changed. He came to a big lake, where ice was black and deep,
and where the cutting wind made him shiver and draw his muffler close.
He lost the trail here, but remembering Jules’s old tricks, he went
across the ice in a northern direction and found that the tracks began
again on the other side.

It was coming twilight; the sun was sinking; it grew colder, and Tritou
saw that he should not get up on Verbaux that night. He travelled as
long as he could see the tracks before him; then he lay down among the
dogs, and slept.

Day was just beginning to lighten the sky when he was up and, after a
hasty, cold breakfast, went on again. The trail turned a little to the
northeast as he went, and then he came to the remnants of a fire, and
saw where Jules had slept, and where the dogs had dug holes for
themselves in the snow. The signs were not very old; indeed, Tritou
fancied that he could still feel heat in the ashes. With renewed vigour
he pushed on and on. The course lay through heavy timber now, and he had
to stop and puzzle out the faint snow-shoe scratches in several places.
He came to another lake, but this was covered with snow, and the tracks
showed clear upon it. Half-way across he stopped; to the northeast of
him, in the woods, a thin blue haze indicated smoke. Tritou breathed
faster, and followed the tracks to the edge of the woods. There he left
the team and, rifle in hand, sneaked along the snow-shoe marks. “At
las’!” he whispered, as he saw the smoke ascending through the trees two
hundred yards in front of him. He loosened the knife in his belt, and
made sure that the rifle was ready. Then he crept forward warily.

Jules was skinning some marten in front of a little shed hut; a fire
burned brightly near him, and he sang merrily as he peeled the sleek fur
from the little stiff body in his hands.

                        “La boule elle roule,
                         Laridon-dè, laridon-da!”

_Crang!_ His ear stung and he drew his hand away from it bloody.
_Crang!_ His cap twitched as he flung the marten to one side and dashed
behind a big pine. All was silent. He wondered who it was that had fired
at him. Then he took off his cap and saw the bullet-hole in it, near the
fur tassel. “C’est près, ça! Dat close!” he said. He stuck the cap on a
twig and pushed it carefully from behind the trunk. _Cran-ng!_ and the
cap fell to the crust. “He shoot good!” muttered Jules, as he kept
perfectly still behind his tree.

A soft crunch broke the silence; Verbaux stuck his head in and out from
the tree trunk quickly.

“Tritou!” His voice quivered ominously, and his hands clenched. He had
seen Tritou as the latter, knowing that Jules had no gun, went from one
tree to another, to get a near shot when opportunity offered.

“Bon! you tak’ care!” shouted Jules.

A mocking laugh from the other was the only answer.

Round and round Verbaux worked about his tree, keeping its protecting
trunk between him and Tritou. The latter did not dare approach too
close, as he feared that Jules might rush him if he did. The long
afternoon passed thus, each man seeking an opportunity that would not
come. The shadows grew deeper, and the skies turned a dark green-blue;
still the two watched and waited. Darkness came and the forest was
plunged in black. Verbaux listened intently. Everything was absolutely
still, except for the hoot of an owl in the distance. Slowly, very
slowly he stepped out from behind his tree and listened again. No sound!
Inch by inch he worked his way in Tritou’s direction. It was wonderful;
he moved over the crust and made not the tiniest crackle.
_Swish—crunch_! came from the darkness beyond, very softly, but Jules
heard it and sneaked on. “Diable!” he thought, as an unseen stick
crackled under him; he stopped. Tritou had heard it, too, and was
fleeing through the woods, his snow-shoes clicking loudly. He had not
dreamed that Jules was so near. Verbaux started after him. Tritou’s
snow-shoes gave him a decided advantage, because Jules slipped and slid
on the crust. He did not have on his moccasins with caribou-hair soles.
_Cran-ng_! sounded the rifle, and the bullet pi-i-nged viciously over
Jules’s head. He made no answer, but ran on at full speed. _Cran-ng!_
again, and the bullet thudded into a tree near by. Tritou was firing
toward the sound of Jules’s leaps on the crust! _Cran-ng!_ The leaden
missile _zi-i-i-ped_ at Jules’s feet. He dodged to the right and
listened. Tritou stopped, too, and the woods were deathlike in their
stillness.

“You, Tri—” _Cran-ng!_ Jules did not hear the bullet this time.
“Tritou!” he called again; no answer. “Tritou! tak’ care!” _Whe-e-e_!
the bullet whined from a tree close by. Jules said no more, but knelt
down and took off his moccasins; then he stole forward in his coarse
stockings. “Dat bettaire,” he muttered, as the woollen material stuck
well to the slippery surface.

Tritou had not moved, and Jules edged noiselessly forward, listening
between each step. He put his hand on a big pine to lighten his weight,
and stopped again. _Swsht_! a light rustle came from behind it. Jules
drew his knife softly from his shirt and put it between his teeth, then
sprang like lightning round the trunk. “Ha-rgh-rr!” he growled as his
hands felt a warm, living body. “Tu diable!” screamed Tritou and fired
the rifle. The bullet went wild and the two men fell, rolling over and
over on the crust. Jules felt Tritou trying to draw his knife, and he
used both hands to prevent him. His own knife was still clenched in his
jaws. “Ah tear ze eyes h’out of your tête!” screamed Tritou, crazed with
rage. “Ah cut ze hearrt’ f’om your corps!” and he struggled again for
his knife. Jules made no answer. The two men writhed and tumbled over
the snow, one snarling like an animal, the other silent. Jules held on
grimly, waiting his chance. The struggle grew fiercer instead of less;
now both men breathed in loud gasps, and grunted as one or the other
came underneath in their rolling.

All this time Jules was silent, fighting strongly; of a sudden the
animal sprang up in him, something snapped in his brain, his strength
redoubled, and dropping the knife from his teeth, he threw his head
forward, and down to Tritou’s throat, and opened his mouth as he felt
the hot, sweating flesh on his lips; his teeth closed tighter and
tighter, cutting through skin, blood-vessels, and muscle. “Arh! Arh!
Arh! Arh!” screeched Tritou, kicking and writhing; he felt the teeth
crunching and chewing, mouthing his life away. Jules bit deeper and
deeper; his teeth sank into the gums, he held them there, then with a
supreme effort he twisted his head sidewise, wrenching Tritou’s throat
apart. The body under him relaxed, quivered, and jerked spasmodically,
then lay still. The hot blood covered Jules’s face; it was up his nose,
and had gone down his open throat. He got up slowly and looked at the
limp body he could just see in the darkness at his feet. Then he sank to
his knees and crossed himself.

“Oh, bon Dieu! Leesten vat Jules say! Zis Tritou, he follow me ev’
place, he try for to keel me so h’often, an’ now, bon Dieu, Ah have keel
heem! Pardon, bon Dieu! Grâce for me, miserabl’ dat Ah am!”

He rose, dull-eyed and trembling, and went away, leaving the dead man
stretched out and stiffening on the snow.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   X

                             INTO THE NORTH


IT was twilight on an early spring day in the far North. The snows had
melted a great deal, and the giant spruce and pine were clean of their
winter clothes of heavy white. The forest was absolutely still. Jules
stood beside a crushed and wrecked heap of bark that had been a hut, and
his home; his big sledge and five dogs were near; on it was piled a load
of fur, well fastened; the old frying-pan hung out behind, and the
familiar tote-bag lay on top of the heap; the blankets were rolled up
and thonged to the curve of the sledge-runners in front, and a worn
axe-handle stuck out at one side. Jules took off the fur cap. “Adieu,
hol’ place, forhevaire! Ah had many pain’, many joy’ here! Le facteur
an’ hees Indians destroi mes trap, mes hut, ev’t’ing! Jules go far ’way,
v’ere he can be h’alone. Adieu!” He looked sorrowfully at the ruins of
his home, and waved his hand to the tall, silent trees about, who had
been his only friends for so long. “Allez!” he said to the dogs, and
with them vanished in the darkening forest.

It was a fine evening; overhead the stars appeared dimly in the
pale-green skies, then brightened as their background grew dark. There
was enough crust to hold up the sledge and team, but Jules sank in, and
his snow-shoes crunched loudly in the silence of the black timber.
Straight into the North he travelled, until he came to an open place
among the tree trunks. At one side, faintly visible in the dim light,
stood a little rough-hewn cross; Jules stopped the dogs, went to it, and
knelt. “Adieu, petite; your faddaire he go far ’way, but he t’ink hall
taime of toi. Adieu!” He bowed, and kissed the cold snow at the foot of
the little cross; the tears trickled over the bronzed cheeks, and fell
unheeded from the square chin. He rose, hoarsely ordered the team on,
and left the white cross glimmering, faithfully watched by the tall,
sombre pines.

Steadily and speedily he and the dogs coursed on over hills; across wide
barrens, where the starlight shone mystically on the white surface;
through ravines, where the heavy woods cast dark shadows; in deep
timber, where the blackness of everything was intense; on and on and on.
The country changed; it became flat and bare; the barrens were miles in
length, and forest-land was scarce. The north star gleamed white, blue,
pink, then white again in the far, far distant heavens; and ever toward
it Jules travelled on ceaselessly.

Daylight paled the eastern skies; at first gray-rose, then purple,
slate, and yellow, and at last the orange-red of sunrise spread and
washed the few clouds in the heavens with golden splendour. The gleaming
sphere appeared, grew, broadened, and shone brilliant over the desolate
whiteness of the lonely northern wastes. Jules still hurried on. The
dogs were tiring; he himself was wearied after the ceaseless swift pace
of the night. He stopped, and at the edge of the forest island built a
tiny fire; he boiled some tea; and fed the brutes who worked so strongly
for him. Then, standing up, he gazed long over the back trail.

“Bon Dieu, Ah loove dat countree wit’ all mon cœur, but Jules he ees
driven h’out lak’ a wolf, lak’ a chien; he go een straing’ territoire
forhevaire. Puneesh dose Indiens, bon Dieu, an’ le facteur!”

It was broad, light day and glorious when Jules started the dogs on
again, he following the sledge with even strides and the
_click-click-click_ of his wide snow-shoes. The sun warmed the little
snow that was left over the earth, and the going was hard for the team.
At noon Jules halted again, climbed a tree, and from its top he looked
over the white barrens far and wide.

“Dey comme, bon Dieu!” he muttered as he saw many specks on his trail in
the distance. “Dey goin’ track Jules to de las’! Vat Ah do?” He looked
ahead, and saw a small lake at his feet; the soft ice was almost gone
under its cover of thin snow, as the long cracks in it showed. Jules’s
eyes gleamed. “Dat’s good! Vous autres,” he called to the oncoming
sledges, “for de las’ taime, Ah’m goin’ show to you h’all dat Jules
Verbaux ees inconquerable!”

He slid rapidly down the tree, its rough bark tearing his caribou jacket
and scratching his hands. “Mush! Mush! Allez!” he shouted, and the dogs
hurried on till they came to the lake edge beyond. Here Jules stopped
them, and tested the white surface with his foot; it crackled and
groaned, and, when he put his whole weight on it, split into fragments
and showed the green, cold waters beneath. “Allez! Ho-o-o-o-pp!” he
cried, and the team scampered across, their speed and light weight
saving them from breaking through, though the ice crackled with muffled
reports as they raced over it. Verbaux watched them reach the other
side; then he laughed. “You Indiens! Follow de track, hein?” He took off
his snow-shoes and sneaked, as of old, in his moccasins, on the back
trail for a little distance; then he leaped strongly from it, far out to
the left, put on the thonged hoops again, and travelled swiftly around
the lake. The team had stopped when they reached the far side, and he
found them there, curled up asleep. He drove the outfit over the rise,
and sat down on the sledge where he could see below him.

Soon sounds of gruff voices broke the noon stillness, and Jules watched
eagerly. They came—ten men, ten sledges, and many dogs. Their calls
echoed vaguely across to him, as they came to the lake at different
places along the bank. “Voici le track direct!” shouted one of the
Indians, and the whole crowd rushed on, pell-mell, over the treacherous
surface.

_Crack! Cra-a-a-a-a-ck! Crunk!_ The thin ice crumbled to bits under the
heavy weight of ten men, ten sledges, and many dogs.

“Oh, Dieu! Sacré-é! Dam’! Furies!” screamed the men, as they floundered
in the icy water; the sledges had upset and their loads were thoroughly
soaked. Slowly the crowd fought their way to the shore near by through
the rotten snow-ice, swearing with hoarse voices. The dogs had twisted
and chewed their way out of harness, and had crawled to the bank, but
the sledges drifted tantalisingly among the floes, their loads totally
ruined.

Jules’s big shoulders heaved and shook, and the swarthy face was
wrinkled with hearty laughter, as he watched the half-frozen men gather
together on the other side and gesticulate wildly.

“Diable! Diable! Diable misère!” screamed one of them in frantic rage,
“ce dam’ Verbaux he ees drown, an’ dat ver’ good jus’ so!”

Jules stepped to the edge of the hill. “Holla, là-bas!” he called
loudly, “long chemin to la poste!”

The Indians looked up, startled, and saw the tall, gaunt figure
silhouetted against the glorious azure sky. It spoke again. “Jules
Verbaux he speet on you! Adieu!” The figure laughed mockingly, waved its
hand in derision, and disappeared.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   XI

                            THE NEW COUNTRY


SPRING came and went. The summer months passed, finding Verbaux
sometimes at one post for a few days, and again travelling into the
North steadily, now by canoe, then on foot, carrying his food, blankets,
and the axe. At last he reached a wild and desolate stretch of territory
between Bear Lake and Lac des Sables.

He built a little home and stayed there, thinking that he was to be
alone and free. He came to know his new country, and to love it for its
utter solitude, for its breadth and depth, and because fur was plenty.
The gray eyes were ever sad, but they had a look of freedom in them, and
did not always watch on every side.

Winter had come again; the greens were browns in the forests, and the
browns were now covered with white. Verbaux was in the deep
timber-lands; before him stood a comfortable log hut, with a dog-shed
behind it. A pile of wood neatly stacked was at one side; two giant
pines stood by the little home, their great branches reaching out and
meeting over the roof, and the smoke from the tiny chimney filtered away
through their needles in graceful plumes.

He turned the dogs loose from the sledge at his feet, and went into the
camp. The log walls were covered with skins, a raised bough bed was near
the fireplace, and the frying-pan stood black in a corner by the rough
but even table. At the head of the bed hung a child’s woollen cap,
surrounded by a wreath of moss.

“Dose Cree-e Indians, Ah see deir track to-day; Ah lak’ know vat for dey
comme so far au Nord,” said Jules aloud as he built up the fire and
brushed the cold ashes in a mound about it. He cooked a frugal meal of
caribou-meat and warmed some heavy bread in the hot pan.

The door stood open, and the light breeze waved the hair of the skins on
the walls. Verbaux lighted his old pipe and threw himself on the boughs;
little by little the clouds of tobacco smoke lessened, then the strong
jaw dropped, the pipe fell, and Jules slept.

Outside the bright afternoon passed slowly; the shadows grew deeper and
the skies changed from blue to yellow-green; then a long streak of
crimson stretched across the west, the sun sank below the narrow horizon
of the woods, and the northern twilight began. The stars shone tiny
bright at first, then grew and grew, seeming to approach the earth,
until the dark-blue heavens were scintillating with their number, all
twinkling, flickering, gleaming. Jules slept on, the long, gaunt figure
stretched in rough grace on the dark green bed, the big chest rising and
falling regularly, and the massive hands loose in rest by his side. The
dogs were quiet, the breeze had died away, the two huge trees were
motionless, only a faint haze came from the chimney.

From out the darkness of the black forests came a sound, faintly at
first, then it grew into footsteps on the soft snow. They stopped, and
then advanced carefully. There was dim starlight in the clearing before
the hut; a dark figure loomed up in it, stopping as it saw the peaked
shape between the big trees. It stood and looked, crept to the door,
listened, and went in.

The footfalls, gentle as they were, wakened Jules. “Qui ees dere?” he
asked suddenly, leaping to his feet. Absolute stillness was his answer.
He held his breath and listened, motionless, while the gray eyes
searched the darkness of the interior.

“Ah t’ink Ah hear somme t’ing,” he muttered as he walked to the door. He
looked out—nothing. He made the round of the hut outside—nothing. He
listened again, but there was no sound of any kind.

“Ah rêve!” he said. “Ees cold; mus’ mak’ fire!” He went back, and drew a
match-stick sharply over the table surface; it flared, then the wood
burned dimly between his fingers. A strange feeling came to him. He
turned quickly and held the dying match over his head. By its uncertain
light he saw a man standing near the door; the new-comer’s eyes shone
black in the yellow light.

“By gar! Qu’est-ce?” growled Jules, bounding forward. The match went
out, and the red bits dropped to the floor; his hands closed on empty
air. He felt round the walls, then listened out in the night—silence!

“Dat ver’ drôle! Ah see man here certainement!” At that instant another
light flashed in the blackness; Jules stared at it eagerly. The man he
had seen held it, and the stranger now stood by the bed.

“Candelle,” he said gutturally. Verbaux felt on a little shelf, found
the caribou-fat candle, and gave it to the man. He lighted it and set it
on the table. The two looked at each other.

“Vat you do ici, an’ vat your name?” asked Jules.

“Mon nom Le Pendu; Ah go nord, Fond du Lac,” answered the other, while
his black eyes shifted hither and thither restlessly.

“Vat for?” Jules asked again.

“Porter hordaires to les Indians là-bas h’of de war; hordaires to keel
dose mans of odder Compagnie!”

“Mak’ fight?” Verbaux questioningly repeated, and the other continued,
“Dat Compagnie du Nor’ouest she t’ink she have ever’t’ing for hersel’;
she t’ink dat h’all dis territoire ees to elle, an’ dat nous autres, ve
can go hongree! Ve goin’ mak’ bataille, an’ den you, Verbaux, go wid
nous, hein?” The man leaned forward slightly as he finished.

Jules was silent; the candle-flame guttered and flickered between them.

“Non,” Verbaux said gravely, “Ah no tak’ life h’of mans v’en Ah no have
to.” His voice was decisive and strong. Le Pendu rose, turned to the
door, and disappeared. Jules sat still. Then, with a slight whirring
sound, something flashed past his eyes and thudded on the logs; he
looked up and saw a knife quivering there, buried deep in the wood. With
one puff he blew out the light and crouched low; then he stole out to
the cold air. Le Pendu was gone. Jules watched and listened a long time,
but heard nothing.

“Dat traître!” he ejaculated, “Ah see heem trois month’ h’ago h’at Lac
la Pluie. Somme taime Ah see heem haga’n, mabbe!”

He relighted the candle and sat on the edge of the bed, looking at the
hafted blade that stuck viciously from the logs.

“Ah vondaire vat eet ees wid Compagnie Nor’ouest? Ah mus’ go to-mor’
fin’ h’out.” He got up, took his blankets from the boughs, and went out
into the deep shadows, leaving the candle glimmering on the table. Some
distance away from the hut he curled up between the rough, gnarled roots
of a spruce and slept.

The long night passed; then the light grays of dawn stole through the
woods. Verbaux woke, listened a minute, and went back to the hut.
Everything was as he had left it. The candle was a lump of grease on the
table, and the early morning wind disturbed the cold ashes on the
hearth. He looked for the knife, but it was gone. “He comme back après,”
Jules said; “he t’ink he catch me, hein?” then he laughed softly. He
lighted the fire and had his breakfast; then he cleaned up the cabin,
took down the wide snow-shoes, slung them over his back, and put the
child’s cap in a pocket. “Maintenant Jules he go Isle la Crosse, warrn
Facteur Maac Taveesh h’of dose Cree Indiens.” He filled his tote-bag
with pemmican and bread, and struck off into the forests, travelling
southwest.

It was a cold, dark day; the skies were dull, and the wind murmured
restlessly through the tall spruce and pine. Jules went on steadily,
swinging along with even strides. He came out on a small lake; there was
a light covering of snow on the ice, and many tracks of moccasins led
down to the river beyond (Petite Rivière la Biche). He stopped and
examined them. “C’est bien Indiens!” he muttered as he moved ahead
carefully. “Bon comme ça!” he thought as it began to snow. The flakes
came thicker and thicker, deadening the sound of his steps, and hiding
the landscape in a falling white shroud. There was little wind, and
Verbaux went on faster, keeping his direction with unerring instinct. He
followed the course of the river and reached the next lake; at the edge
of the timber he stopped. Figures were moving to and fro, like shadows
in the veiled light, just across from him; he saw the gleam of a fire,
and every now and then he could faintly hear rough voices. He watched,
but was not sure who the men were. “Ah mus’ see eef dose les Crees,” he
whispered to himself. Taking the snow-shoes from his back, he hid them
under a little thick spruce, and stole forward, crouching as he
advanced, his eyes keen and bright. Yard by yard the distance lessened,
and he stopped often, listening.

The gruff voices were very near, but the curtain of snow prevented his
seeing the men. Closer he went till he heard the crackling of the
flames; then he sat down under a tree to listen. His caribou clothes and
fur cap matched its bark, and he was motionless there; only the sharp
eyes, looking, watching, were alive.

The men squatted about the fire, and Verbaux scowled as he recognised
Etienne Annaotaha, a renegade half-breed Canadian. “Dat Verbaux,” the
man was saying, “he leeve Lac des Sables.”

“Mm-m-m, cle-ootz-tin-sale-oo-anno-we-koo-e-ya? [Maybe, will he go with
us?]” asked an Indian.

“Ah don’ savoir eef tul-ul-um-oo-e-koo-e-ya [he will go with us]; mais
eef non, den—” and Annaotaha laughed unpleasantly.

“Ah-ha [Yes],” answered the others.

“Ni-mi-na-hon-an [We kill] h’at Isle Crosse,” Etienne said, and he
scanned the heavy faces around him.

“Ta-is-pi? [When?]” some one asked.

“Nis-to day’ [Three days off].” Grunts of approval were uttered by the
party; they smoked awhile in silence.

“Cho-oe, wa-a-te-la-lesh! [Come, hurry!]” Annaotaha spoke sharply. The
crowd picked up their packs and went off over the lake, laughing and
talking.

Jules hurried down to the edge of the ice and watched them go. “Etienne
Annaotaha! By gar, Jules see vous somme taime h’aga’n!” he said aloud,
then went back for his snow-shoes, and kept on rapidly to the southwest.
He came to the end of the timber-lands, and crossed out on the barrens.
Here the snow fell faster than ever; the frozen morsels of white coated
his jacket and cap, stuck on his straggling moustache until his breath
melted them, and they froze in globules of ice on the ends of the hair.
Jules looked back, but the shifting snow hid the forest, and he went on
rapidly. He travelled without stopping again all that day, and when
night closed in he built a little fire with some bits of wood he had
brought under the shelter of a drift, ate his supper, then wrapped
himself in his blanket and slept. The storm increased at midnight; the
wind blew in dismal gusts, whirling the snow-dust along in chilling
clouds. Verbaux’s form was covered with it, but he kept his face clear
even in his sleep. Suddenly he sat up and listened. To the right of him
he heard the yelping of wolves; the sound came closer, and he saw the
big black forms moving noiselessly about him. “Ho-o-op!” he shouted, and
lighted a match under cover of his jacket. Like phantoms the beasts
disappeared, and all was silent, save for the soft, almost inaudible
sound of the wind-driven flakes as they settled on him. He lay down
again.

The wolves yowled throughout the night on the barrens, but they feared
this living thing of fire and did not approach it again. In the morning
Jules waked, stood up, stretched himself, and swung on in the dim hours
of daylight. The snow was deep, and he put on the snow-shoes; they
clicked dully and were ever laden with the flying drift. On and on
Verbaux went till he came out on a high hill. The gale pushed him here
and there, but he smiled as he saw. Below him in the distance were the
twinkling lights of the Northwest Company’s post, Isle la Crosse. “Dat
bon!” he said. “Ah no too lat’ encore!” and he hastened toward them.

Soon he entered the clearing, and stopped at the stockade gate. There
was riotous noise and life within; he listened to the shouts of the
Indians and the tom-tom of their drums, then he went in quietly. In the
yard were crowds of Dog Rib (Plats Côtes de Chiens) and Slave Indian
trappers; they danced round an empty wine-keg, reeling and screaming
with drunken energy; the squaws stood in groups about the men, chanting
in minor tones; the factor’s house was dark, but as Jules watched he saw
MacTavish moving among the howling crowd. Verbaux elbowed his way
through the sweating, drink-reeking Indians to the factor’s side.

“M’sieu’ MaacTaveesh,” he said quietly, touching the big Scotchman’s
arm, “Ah vant spik to you.”

The factor turned quickly.

“Ah, Verba’, ’tis glad I am to see ye! Wull ye drink?”

“Non, M’sieu’ le Facteur, Jules mus’ spik wid you, important,” Verbaux
answered.

MacTavish noticed the serious note in the deep voice.

“Coom into the house,” he said, and led the way through the shrieking
crowd to his log house. Jules followed. The factor got a light, and then
faced his guest. “Whut is ’t, mon? Can I do aught for ye?”

“Non pour moi, M’sieu’ le Facteur; Ah comme warrn vous dat les Crees
f’om hoddaire Compagnie goin’ hattack here ver’ queeck!”

The factor’s face turned white. “Attack us here, mon!” he cried, and
began pacing up and down the little room. “How d’ye know?”

“Dat scélérat Le Pendu he tell to me dis, an’ he h’ask Jules to mak’ war
on vous,” Jules answered slowly.

Both men were silent.

Outside the noise had increased, and the babel of voices came to them
distorted and strange, mingled with curses and the sounds of the Indian
Wobbano songs.

“And whut ’d ye say to him?” MacTavish said at last, watching Jules
closely.

“Ah tell to heem dat Jules Verbaux no keel mans v’en he no have to!”

“But ye’ll fecht wi’ us, mon, won’t ye? We’ll pay ye weel fur ’t!”

Jules drew himself up proudly, and the factor winced at the sombre gleam
of the gray eyes.

“Non!” Verbaux answered. “Ah no tak’ l’or to keel, M’sieu’ le Facteur!”
He turned for the door. “Rememb’ vat Jules he tell you: gare les Crees!”

“Verba’, fur God’ sake don’t leave me like that, mon; I meaned na
eensult to ye. Whut am I to dae? The min are all druunk, as ye can see.
I had to gie ’em the liquor tae keep ’em frae the Houdson Bay people!”

Jules stopped, his hand on the latch. “M’sieu’ MaacTaveesh,” he said,
“eef you had beene bon to dose Indians dey vould no leave vous for
hoddaire Compagnie!”

“Ye fule that ye are! Oh, ye fule! Canna ye see that I hae to obey
arders? I hae to do as I am bid; ’tis na choice o’ mine. Wull ye help me
straighten oop those damn things out there? Ye and me are near the only
sober min on th’ place!” The Scotchman’s voice was anxious and eager.

Jules hesitated for an instant, then he spoke quietly. “Ah do vat Ah can
pour vous, M’sieu’ le Facteur, parceque vonce you help Jules. Allons,
dere ees no mooch taime.” He opened the door and stepped out. A big fire
had been built in the yard, and the Indians looked like red fiends
dancing and rolling about it. The light showed the buildings up sharply,
and threw strong shadows in the corners where Flat Head, Chippewyan, Dog
Rib Indians and Canadian voyageurs lurched and slept in their drunken
orgy. Tom-toms still thrubbed monotonously, and the snow fell unheeded
on everything. Unconsciously Jules looked across the yard, out into the
black snowy night, then at the wild scene before him.

“Come queeck,” he said again, and the two plunged into the throng.

“Nan-to-bun-ne-win! [War!]” shouted MacTavish lustily, shaking every man
he could reach. They laughed crazily in his face, yelling the louder.
Then a murmur rose. “Way-mit-tic-goo-sh an-i-mou-che! [French dog!]” It
grew fiercer! some one threw a hatchet, and the blade clipped Jules on
the shoulder. “Oo-e! Oo-e! [Go!]”

One by one the Indians took up the cry and rushed at Verbaux, who tried
to tell them of the danger. MacTavish heard the threatening roar, and
saw the mass edging toward Jules. “Gang, mon! Gang awa’; ye can do nae
mair!” he shouted to him from a group of voyageurs he was beating and
kicking to make them understand. Jules faced the ugly cries, then with a
powerful voice that rang loud above the clamour he called, “Les Crees du
Hodson Baie comme queeck. Tak’ care!” Mocking laughter and insults
answered him, and missiles of all sorts were hurled in his direction. He
shrugged his big shoulders. “Bon! Jules have do vat he can; he go
maintenant.” With long strides and thrusts from his massive hands, he
fought his way to the gate and went out into the darkness.

“Sacré-é!” he muttered as he discovered that the tote-bag with his food
had been taken from him. A few Indians followed, screaming curses at him
for disturbing their dance, but they soon fell behind and returned to
the post.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XII

                              THE MEETING


JULES went on. The sounds from the buildings faded gradually away. The
snow was soft and deeper than ever, and he stopped in a thick patch of
woods. His snow-shoes had not been taken, and he was grimly lacing their
thongs round his ankles when he looked up and listened. From the
direction of Isle la Crosse he heard the faint sounds of rifle-shots;
dropping the snow-shoes, he climbed a tall pine, going up through its
dense branches with speed and ease. When at the top he could see the
lights of Isle la Crosse; the reports of guns multiplied, and the air
crackled with detonations. As he watched, a lurid flame shot up; then
more appeared, and countless red fire tongues curled and whipped in the
wind. The glow was reflected in copper hues on the clouds, and Verbaux
smelled the burning wood.

“Dat terrible,” he said. It seemed like a dream: the flames, the awful
fight and massacre he knew were going on, and yet about him everything
was silent save for the whispering of the wind. “Pauvre MaacTaveesh; Ah
goin’ fin’ hout eef he ees keel.” He got down out of the tree, put on
his snow-shoes, and hurried back.

Between the tops of the spruce, as he went along, he could see the
glowing sky dim shade by shade; at last just their own gray-black colour
remained. Then he heard voices coming through the dark woods; he stepped
swiftly to one side and crouched behind a big log. Shadowy forms passed
him, many of them in single file; some carried heavy loads, and he heard
a woman’s stifled crying. One of the party spoke. “Mis-ta-bou-tah-kse!
[Very good work!]”

“Ah-ha,” answered another figure.

“Bon t’ing, dat; ha-ree-no-os-kit-chip! [I am glad!]” some one else
said.

“Annaotaha h’aga’n!” Jules growled softly to himself. He counted
forty-two men. They had all gone by, but Verbaux waited a little while,
then started on fast. He came to the ruins of the post, and his eyes
hardened at what they saw. Not a building remained standing; bright
masses of coals marked their places, and the black, pungent smoke
floated off heavily and noiselessly, laden with tiny sparks. The falling
snow showed very white against it.

Jules listened, but there was no sound of living thing; the coals hissed
and spluttered, and the dull crashes of the charred logs sounded thickly
as they fell in on one another. There was a grim feeling of solitude
over it all, and Verbaux’s face was stern as he moved forward carefully.
A little light, given out by a few feeble spurts of flame, intensified
the desolate and mournful scene.

Parts of the stockade were standing, but every log house, fur and
supply-shed was gone. Verbaux took off his show-shoes and walked slowly
towards the remains of the factor’s house; suddenly he stumbled over
something; he looked down, and felt of the obstruction. It was a body,
still warm. He listened a moment, then got a small flaming brand from
one of the fires and held it over the face. It was one of the voyageurs,
hacked and disfigured.

“Ah vondaire ’Ow many get sauf ’vay?” and Jules sighed as he rose and
hunted further. At the ruin of the voyageurs’ house were the scorched
forms of three men resting on the hot coals beneath; the odour of
burning flesh was sickening, but Verbaux turned all the bodies over,
trying to identify them.

“Non, pas MaacTaveesh!” He prodded and searched among the ruins for two
hours, and found the bodies of eleven men and seven women; all were
mutilated. “Bien!” Jules said when he had finished the gruesome search;
“le facteur no keel; maintenant did he get ’vay sauf, ou était il
capture?” He went out to the edge of the ruins. “Notting to h’eat; Jules
have to go queeck deux jours hongree for arriver home!” he said to
himself. Accordingly, he started out of the stockade to the northeast;
he had gone but a little way, and was kneeling, putting on his
snow-shoes, when a bigger blaze than the others caught his eye; he
looked, and saw a figure pass between him and it.

“Dat somme vone. Vat he vant là-bas, hein?” Jules asked himself.

He worked his way back closer and closer to the now brightly burning
fire; keeping under cover of the upright portion of the stockade, he
approached to within twenty yards of the flames, and peered through a
chink between the logs. He could see the dark form moving rapidly among
the ruins, searching here, there, everywhere. Verbaux felt for his knife
and loosened it in its caribou-hide sheath, then he stepped forward
noiselessly and went to the fire. The stranger was back toward him, and
Jules waited silently; the man turned. “Verbaux!” he said, with awe in
his voice. Jules’s face brightened, and a faint smile drew up the
corners of the mouth. “Le Grand!” he said. The two stared at each other;
the light of the leaping flames between them played over their figures,
and still both were silent. The wind was coming, and it whirled the snow
and cold ashes hither and thither; then Le Grand came forward, a step at
a time.

“C’est b’en toi, Verbaux?” he asked hoarsely, his face gray under the
tan.

“Jules Verbaux!” the other answered.

“La femme, Verbaux, you have see la femme?” Le Grand asked then in low
tones.

“Y’h’our wife? Non, pauvre Le Grand, Ah have no see. She vas ici?” Jules
pointed to the ruins.

“Ta femme, Verbaux!” Le Grand spoke solemnly.

An awful look came on Jules’s face; the gray eyes narrowed to gleaming
slits, the mouth was rigid, and the nostrils quivered and dilated; the
muscles of his temples surged and played under the edges of the fur cap,
and his whole body contracted like a steel spring about to be released;
his breath came and went with a hissing sound. Le Grand stared,
fascinated; the fire crackled sharply, and the howling of wolves
suddenly broke the silence of the black timber beyond. The sounds rose
and fell in lonely cadence, now carried by the wind, then weakened by
it. Neither of the men spoke, and the tension between them was terrible.

“Ma femme?” Jules said at last, speaking with difficulty and in a
strange, hollow voice.

“Oui,” answered Le Grand as though hypnotised by the flashing gray eyes
that stared into his soul; “la vieille poste v’ere you vas vonce destroi
lak’ dees; Maquette, Hibou, Bossu, le facteur, an’ mes petits—keel! Ah,
Le Grand, go ’way fas’ an’ fin’ votre femme, Verbaux, hongree, near to
dead, dans la forêt; she h’ask me to breeng elle to fin’ toi, Verbaux.
H’aftaire toi leave dose Indians h’at Lac de la Petite Hache Ah see your
track go nord direct; den w’en Ah fin’ dat fille hongree, h’alon’, Ah
t’ink h’of dat track an’ breeng ta femme for to fin’ toi, Verbaux. Ah
lef’ Marie ici t’ree day’ gone, an’ den Ah loook, loook pour toi; dey
tell to me dat ils ne savaient _pas_ v’ere you leeve, alors Ah chercher
partout, ev’ place. To-night Ah come back, an’—” his stoicism broke down
and silent sobs shook him.

Jules spoke no word, but a spasm of agony crossed the strong face. The
wolves’ voices drew nearer, and the dismal sounds echoed vaguely through
the storm; then Jules held out his hand.

“Le Grand,” he said brokenly, “you h’aire good mans!” The other took it,
and they stood thus with hands clasped, looking steadfastly at each
other; the yellow light flickered about them, blurring their shadows
into one across the ash-begrimed snow.

“Verbaux, ve go, you an’ moi, for to fin’ Marie?” Le Grand asked, with a
pitiful note of hope in the words. His black eyes were wet with tears,
and their moisture was reflected by the flames. Silence came on the two
again; Jules’s face changed swiftly from mood to mood, now hope, then
despair, and old memories with their stabs of pain pictured themselves,
and his sombre eyes dulled. Le Grand watched, leaning toward Verbaux and
quivering with eagerness. Jules spoke at last, but the voice that
sounded monotonously in the snow-laden air was not his.

“Non, Le Grand, she lef’ Jules pour Manou; je suis content!” His face
twitched as if in mortal stress, his hands clenched, and sweat broke out
on his forehead, but he stood fast.

“No—go—fin’—Marie?” Le Grand whispered as he and Jules drew apart, and
his voice was tremulous. “She loove toi, Verbaux; Ah, Le Grand, say so,
an’ Ah know h’of vat Ah say!” he continued, and held out his arms
appealingly to Jules.

The wind blew hard through the trees, and the fire at the men’s feet
roared fitfully. Verbaux moved as though to take the outstretched hands
again, then he stopped and shuddered.

“Non!” he said slowly.

“Alors, Verbaux, eef you no go avec moi to fin’ Marie, to sauf dat
leetle fille, Ah, Le Grand go h’alon’ fin’ her; an’ rememb’, Jules
Verbaux, vat Ah tell to toi, dat Marie she loove you; somme taime you
veel t’ink of vat Ah tol’ à toi dees night, le bon Dieu leesten!” Le
Grand held up his right hand to the dark heavens as he finished.

Jules shook his head. “Je suis content,” he whispered, drawing a long
breath. “She lef’ me for Manou!”

“B’en, Verbaux, Ah go! Au revoir; mabbe adieu forhevaire!” Le Grand
bowed his head for an instant, then shook hands with Jules silently,
fastened on his snow-shoes, strapped the food-bag to his back, and went
off in the darkness and snow.

“Le Gr—” Verbaux called and started after him, but he was gone. Nothing
was to be heard but the yelping and quarrelling of the wolves, scenting
the bodies and coming very near. Jules returned to the fire and stood
before it, his eyes fixed in an unseeing, heedless stare. The snow fell
very thickly and fast, the gale dashed wildly now in the forests, and
the stench of the burning dead was eddied about among the ruins and
carried away into the black timber-lands.

Jules looked in the direction that Le Grand had taken. “Ah ’ope dat—” He
stopped. “Non, Le Grand, Jules no ’ope so!” he finished, and slowly
wound his snow-shoe thongs round his ankles; once more he looked over
the lonely scene, then struck off to the northeast, leaving the hungry
wolves to their feast undisturbed.

He went steadily on through the dense forests, where the blasts of wind
shrieked in the spruce, pine, and hemlock; down by frozen brooks, where
the snow was banked in deep drifts; up over hills, where the full force
of the storm struck him, hurling the biting frost in his face and eyes;
across the big barrens, where he had to lean against the fierce gusts
that swept everything from their path except him. On a rise of land he
stopped, breathing hard from his fast pace. He looked back. Nothing but
hurtling masses of white met his eyes. “Bon Dieu!” he groaned and faced
his course again. The woollen muffler about his neck was damp with
sweat, and his body was as if on fire; nature rebelled, the powerful
legs weakened and trembled slightly, but his iron will overcame all and
it forced the weary body on and on. He did not stop again, either for
food or rest, but raced ahead as though escaping some awful fate. His
face was blotched with the gray of the cold; the eyes shone with
undimmed strength. “Allez! Allez!” Jules said to himself when he felt
his strength lagging. The physical pain alleviated the agony of his
mind, dulled it into semi-consciousness. All the next day he travelled
ceaselessly; the shoe thongs wore their way through the heavy moccasins
into the flesh, but Jules did not know it.

At last he crossed Petite Rivière la Biche, and went through the forests
that surrounded his home. Staggering, he came into the little clearing,
hungry, faint, exhausted body and soul, and stopped, leaning against a
tree.

The camp had been destroyed. The walls were pulled down and the logs
scattered about; ashes here and there showed how an attempt had been
made to burn it, but had failed. Jules looked and scarcely understood;
then a new vigour came to him, and he searched among the fallen logs,
and found the child’s woollen cap crushed under the snow. He kissed
it. “Marie! Marie!” he groaned, then the will overpowered the body
again. “Non! Je suis content,” he whispered. There was no pemmican or
food of any kind among the ruins. The gnawing pangs of hunger forced
themselves on him; he held up his hand and looked at it; it shook
strangely. “Verbaux, you do vat Ah say!” The will spoke aloud to the
worn body. “Ah go maintenant to Poste Fond du Lac for somme t’ing to
h’eat; dat ees l’autre compagnie; but mabbe dey not know Jules!” And
he went on to the westward. The storm was dying away; the snow fell in
smaller flakes and less thickly, but it lay deep on the ground, and
Jules dragged his wide snow-shoes painfully along, stopping often. The
strong face was drawn with pain, great shadows had grown about the
eyes, and deep lines scarred the under lip and high forehead. The gray
eyes themselves were undimmed, and the will master as always. He
crossed one of his trap-lines and went along it, looking, hoping for
something to satisfy the wild cravings of his stomach. In one trap he
found a wolverine; he tore the throat open and sucked the cold,
sluggish blood. “C’est—bon!” he said as he felt a little strength
creeping over him. He cut off the haunches and chewed the red meat as
he travelled on. At night he stopped and rested for the first time in
three days. He lay down uncovered and slept in an instant. It was
broad daylight when he hastened on. All day he travelled, his
snow-shoes rising and falling ceaselessly, though his ankles were raw
and bleeding. That night he saw the lights of the Hudson Bay Company’s
post, Fond du Lac, before him. He watched them for an instant from a
hill-barren. “Eef dey know Jules dere, alors—c’est—finis,” he said,
and went on slowly to the post. The gate was closed; he listened, but
heard only subdued voices within. Then he knocked heavily with his
fist. Some one came across the yard and the gate swung open; a big
Slave Indian looked at him.

“Has-sa-tch? [Your name?]” he inquired. “Le Chassè’,” answered Jules.
“Facteur?” he continued. Silently the Indian closed the gate and led the
way across to a big log building. He went in, Jules following. “Sa-ner,”
the Indian said briefly to a tall white man, and turned away.

“Who air ye?” the factor asked.

“Canadien, Le Chassè’.”

“What do ye want?” The factor’s questions were sharp and curt.

“Somme t’ing to h’eat—am hongree,” Jules answered.

“Where did ye come from?”

“Poste Reliance.”

“Two hundred and twenty miles, mon?” The factor was incredulous.

“Oui,” came the steady answer.

“Did ye pass à la Crosse?”

“Oui, heet destroy!” Jules said quietly, looking at the big Scotchman.

“Ah-ha! that’s fine; we’ll show that Nor’west Company that we can push
’em out. Did ye see any pairson gettin’ awa’?” he asked then.

“Non, M’sieu’ le Facteur.”

“Weel, tell me, did ye know aught o’ a mon somewhaire downe in that
deestrict called—Let me see; Le Pendu was here last week and told me his
name—Verbox, Verbax, something like that?”

“Oui, Ah know heem; he leeve au sud long way h’off,” Jules answered, and
the gray eyes snapped.

“Weel, ye go an’ get ye summat to eat, but ye’ll have to pay me in
furs!” The factor looked keenly at the big French-Canadian before him.

“Certainement!” Jules answered, and went out of the store. A voyageur
showed him to the supply-house, and he got some pemmican, tea and bread,
and a blanket. Then he cooked himself a meal at one of the tepee fires
and ate long, but slowly and carefully. When he had finished, he went
over and squatted silently with a group of Indian trappers and Canadian
voyageurs. He was tired out, but his long sufferings seemed dulled; he
rested and listened to the low, monotonous hum of the rough voices about
him, rarely speaking himself. A French trapper took pity on the haggard
face, and when one by one the crowd turned in, he touched Jules on the
arm.

“S’lip là-bas!” he said, pointing to a tepee across the stockade. Jules
bowed his head. “Merci!” he said, and went to his new friend’s camp.

It was a big tepee; the circular interior was covered with skins, and
wolf-hides were patched together for a floor. The light consisted of
three fat candles held up by sticks; they fluttered and flickered at the
draft the two men created on entering. In one corner was an Indian girl
of the Ojibway type. She rose as they came in, and Jules sighed to
himself as he saw two children asleep together. The girl was tall and
graceful, with almond black eyes, like those of a deer; long, straight
black hair fell away from each side of her small head, and the yellow,
uncertain light shone dreamily over the delicately browned face; the
high, straight nose threw a shadow on her cheek, and the small,
well-shaped chin was gracefully poised over the slender throat. She
stood shyly by her husband, and the small hand crept into his big one.

“Un ami!” he said, nodding toward Jules, who stood by the blanketed
entrance.

“Ni-coun-is [Friend],” she repeated softly, and sat down by the
children.

The man turned to Jules. “Mon nom Jean Cuchoise,” he said.

Verbaux looked at him keenly for a moment, then, “Mon nom Jules
Verbaux!” His voice was quiet.

Cuchoise started violently. “Verbaux?” he asked, and a deep frown came
over his heavy face. “Le Pendu he tell to me dat he keel Verbaux five
day gon’ at Lac des Sables.”

“He no tell to le facteur dat,” Jules said.

“You tell to M’sieu’ Neelson ton nom Verbaux?” Cuchoise asked him.

Jules smiled and shook his head. “Non!”

The two men faced each other; the girl watched with stoic eyes, and the
children slept on peacefully.

“Bon!” Cuchoise said at last. “Verbaux, you confie en moi, Jean
Cuchoise, Ah no tell heet to le facteur.”

When he had finished, the voyageur stretched himself on a bed of skins.
“Bon soi’, Verbaux,” he said, and was soon asleep.

Jules unfolded his blanket, spread it across some boughs, and in a few
minutes he too slept. The girl arranged her bed beside the little ones,
blew out the candles, and silence came on everything.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XIII

                                SOLITUDE


THE dogs about the post yelped and quarreled throughout the night; and
the nearly full moon fell slowly through the northern heavens, showing
gray-white and metallic on everything. The north star was vividly bright
and twinkled ceaselessly. All was still about the post so far as human
beings were concerned. Oft in the steel-blue distances wolves howled,
and the sounds of their voices came softly across the intervening cold
wastes; the dogs stopped and listened, then broke forth in louder
clamourings.

The night passed, and then a growing light brightened the eastern skies;
little by little they turned from deep blue-black to light green, then a
faint rose-colour appeared and broadened; it changed into darting beams
of golden light that spread over the heavens, fading to pale yellow in
the west. A few clouds drifted slowly across the path of the rising sun
and were bathed in its warm glow. One by one figures came from the
tepees and buildings in the post; the smoke from many fires curled
upward slowly in the still, crisp air.

Jules and Cuchoise came out into the yard together. “Ah mus’ get hax,”
said Jules.

“M-m,” the other answered, went back to the tepee, and brought Verbaux a
bright new axe. “Voilà!” he said as he gave it to him.

“Merci, Jean, Ah go maintenant get des poils; au revoir!”

Verbaux, snow-shoes on his feet, went out of the yard and struck off
northwest across the white country. His ankles were stiff and lame, but
he travelled at a good pace. He crossed a large river, frozen solid and
three feet of snow over the ice. The land on both sides was level and
sunken for many miles back. “Rivière du Grand Marais,” Jules said to
himself, and shifted his course to west. The sun was three-quarters low
when he reached the timber-lands. After an hour’s tramp he stopped,
threw off the fur tote-bag that contained his food, and in a short time
built a little lean-to of bark and branches; then he cut some fire-wood,
and went off into the deep forest to make and set his traps. When the
work was finished he had twenty traps ready, and he went back to the
lean-to and built a roaring fire.

The evening was a beautiful one; the stars came out one by one and
glimmered with their cold gray, celestial light. The water in the
pannikin on the fire bubbled, and Jules dropped some cherry-tree tea in
it, then munched chunks of pemmican slowly, staring at the flames before
him. The meal over, he lay down in his blanket by the heat, his head
resting on one hand.

The red flames sprang fiercely in the air, subsided, sprang again, while
the embers underneath glowed white-hot, pink, and dull-red. The gray
eyes filled with great tears. “Marie! Marie!” The strong head was buried
between the arms, and here, in the silence and solitude of the deep
black forest, Jules gave way for the first time, and rasping, choking
sobs came. The changing, shifting, glancing light played over the
prostrate figure that heaved. The giant trees about were motionless,
their high peaks silhouetted against the dark heavens, like teeth of an
uneven saw. At last the long figure lay quiet, the fire lessened slowly,
then smoke came instead of flames and twisted its way through the
intervening branches into the free air and was lost. A dark, lithe thing
edged gingerly from the shadows toward the sleeping man, sniffing the
air delicately and moving without sound; it came close, then scented the
human body and scurried away, flitting ghost-like between the black
trunks until it disappeared. A marten, its curiosity aroused, scampered
swiftly hither and thither about the lean-to, searching, smelling,
stopping, then scampering off again with its queer long little jumps,
and it too went away.

The fire was out completely, but a few tiny wreaths of haze came from
the ashes. Jules slept, his head on his arms, the long limbs resting in
graceful repose on the blanket.

The silence, the infinite silence, was deep and wonderful; not a breath
of wind moved the weakest branch on the trees, not a light breeze even
disturbed the ashes. The cold moon sailed up and across and down again
over the noiseless landscape. Then the stars faded and their twinkling
lights were gone. The air grew warm and a blackness settled over
everything where the steel light had been. Clouds, black, gray, lowering
clouds, came, and soon the patter of thousands of raindrops sounded.
These lasted but a few minutes, then changed to big white flakes that
fell silently. Jules turned in his sleep.

“Ma femme, Marie!” he muttered, and tossed restlessly.

A whispering came sibilant and faint through the forest.

“La petite! la petite! she call!”

The big figure rose in the falling snow, the eyes were wide open and
set; straight ahead Jules went till he stumbled over a log and fell,
awaking. “Bon Dieu, Ah see la petite dat taime!” he groaned aloud. The
dull black depths of the branches overhead choked the sound of his
voice, and he stood, half awake, dreaming and wondering.

The snow had ceased, but the wind grew stronger, and it whistled and
moaned about him. The air cooled and became bitter with the sting of
frost. Jules shivered and found his way back to the lean-to, crawled in
it with his blanket, and tried to sleep. He tried in vain; always his
dream was lifelike before his eyes, and he turned and twisted over and
over under the fur covering. Then his sharp ears caught a faint cracking
sound; he sat up and listened. A gaunt white form came and stood
motionless before him, then it lifted its head, yowled dismally, and was
gone. “Loup blanc! Dat bad signe!” Jules spoke dully—lay down and closed
his eyes, striving to forget. Sleep, deep sleep, came again, and the
figure under the blanket was still.

It was gray dawn when Verbaux woke. After the morning meal he went down
through the woods to his traps, and found six sable, a cross-fox, and a
marten in them. “Dat pay for mon h’eat!” he said as he skinned out the
dead forms. Then he took up his axe and food-bag and started for the
post again. The wind was strong; it dashed the loose snow over the
barrens; its bitter edge made Jules draw his muffler close and compress
his lips to keep his teeth from aching with the cold. “Ah lak’ see dees
territoire,” he thought, and worked his way steadily along to the
south-east. After crossing the wide, desolate stretches of level waste
he came into the timber-lands again. The trees stood very thickly and
the leaden skies cast but little light beneath their branches. There
were many tracks of the inhabitants of the forest on the snow.

Here the short leaps of the sable, there the shuffling trail of a
marten, and beyond the dainty footprints of a fox—faint, soft lines
showing that he was care-free as he dragged his heavy brush. The tall
hemlock and spruce swayed and bowed gracefully with a caressing,
monotonous sound, and Jules felt the soothing influence of the great
wilderness as he strode on, his snow-shoes stirring the loose white that
rested on the light rain-crust. Overhead the sun shone coldly,
mystically, through flying scud and hurrying thin clouds. The forest
ended again, and straight ahead loomed the endless cold distances; the
snow-line and the gray-white horizon came together and blended into one.
Jules stopped and looked about him: everywhere white, everything white
and still. The greatness of the wastes and the depth of nature came over
him.

“Ah am notting,” he whispered, and went on. The miles came, were passed
over, and fell behind the tall, gaunt form that hurried on tirelessly.
Jules crossed Lac au Loups and changed his course to east; going over a
hill he saw a herd of caribou; the fleet animals sped on across the wind
and disappeared like wraiths in the harmonious white desert. Late in the
afternoon Fond du Lac appeared as a black dot, then grew into the
buildings and the stockade as he went toward it. Entering the yard, he
crossed to Cuchoise’s tepee and went in. It was empty. He lighted his
pipe and lay down on the boughs, his eyes roaming wistfully over the
Indian girl’s clothes and the children’s rag dolls. He turned his back
and lay there thinking, dreaming the day-dreams of waking hours.

The flap was softly pushed aside and the girl came in alone. She started
a little at the sight of the strong form stretched at her feet, then sat
down quietly and began to sew with caribou-sinews on some of Cuchoise’s
moccasins. Jules listened and watched with half-opened eyes.

“Ma-shca-wis-sie! [He is strong!]” she whispered, looking at him.
“Ki-wa-bi-min In-nin-ee sak-ar-te-win [I look at you, big man, with
love],” she murmured softly. Jules closed his eyes; a shadow of pain
flitted over his face. “Bon Dieu, no dat!” he prayed, and lay still. The
girl moved little by little toward him. “Ki-non-don-no-ne? [Do you
hear?]” she asked. He feigned heavy sleep. Her black eyes played over
him and he felt their glow; his soul rebelled, and he sat up quickly;
the girl uttered a little cry, holding her hands, delicate and thin,
toward him. “Ne-na-bhai-m! [My true husband!]” she whispered. Jules
stood up slowly. The gray eyes were sad, and a weariness seemed to come
over his body.

“In-din-ne-ga-wwe-go-in-dum-m [I am sorry],” he said in low tones, and
passed out of the tepee, taking the food-bag and the light axe. He went
to the store and threw the pelts he had at the factor’s feet. “Dat
good?” he asked. Nelson looked at the skins. “Yes, but ye ’re not awa’,
mon?” he asked. Jules nodded and went out of the store, across the yard,
through the gate, and away into the wilderness once more.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XIV

                          LIGHT OF THE EVENING


ONAWGUISHIN (Light of the Evening) jumped to her feet, ran swiftly to
the gate, and watched him go. The finely chiselled face quivered, then
she turned and went to the store. Silently pushing her way through the
Indians gathered there, she found the factor. “Wa-ymit-te-go-osh,
Weer-baux [Frenchman gone, Verbaux],” she told him abruptly, and went
quickly as she had come. The black eyes gleamed fiercely, as she went
back to the tepee and sat down to the sewing of the moccasins.
Everything was turmoil in the yard; the Indians and voyageurs ran about
shouting, the factor yelled furious orders from the store; then a dozen
men on snow-shoes sped out of the post, took Verbaux’s trail swiftly,
and disappeared on it. Evening Star sewed on quietly. Steps approached
the tepee and Cuchoise came, threw down his load of fur, and looked
around the interior. “Verbaux ta-nin-dai? [Where is Verbaux?]” The girl
looked up at him steadily. “Ma-tche-ma-ni-tou [Evil Spirit],” she
answered. He stared at her without understanding.

“Here, girl, where did this mon Verbaux ye told me of go?” The factor’s
loud voice at the entrance startled them both. Cuchoise’s face was blank
in amazement.

“Sa-gai-egan wa-bu-no-ng [Lake to the East],” she answered.

“Hurry up there, he’s gang over Bear Lake to the island; take the quick
road,” Nelson shouted to some one in the yard, and went back to the
store.

Jean Cuchoise’s eyes were ugly; he stepped toward the girl, who stitched
on silently.

“Oo-kut-ta-aw koo-me-cha-n! [You betrayed my friend!]” he said in a low
voice. Evening Light nodded. The voyageur’s face grew black with rage at
the thought of Jules, who confided in him, having been betrayed by his
wife. He lunged forward, and his big hands closed round the girl’s brown
throat. Her head fell back and the black eyes looked up into his, but
she did not make the slightest struggle. “Serpent!” he snarled, flung
her from him, rushed from the tepee, picking up his snow-shoes as he
went. In the yard he stopped and listened. All the men had gone on the
chase, and the place was deserted. He stole out of the post and hurried
away toward Bear Lake, that showed flat and dreary in front of him. He
could see many specks straggling over the surface, heading for an island
whose timber showed black in the distance.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   XV

                        “NO GREATER FRIEND....”


WHEN Jules left Fond du Lac he intended to strike off south of east back
to his own country, but something forced him to go across Bear Lake. He
reached the wooded island and looked back. At the edge of the lake, four
miles away, he saw many specks coming toward him fast. “Dat fille, she
tell!” he ejaculated, and thought a moment, then hurried on round the
base of the woods, keeping on the ice and making a broad trail. Half-way
round he took off his snow-shoes under a big pine, then pulled himself
up carefully in the branches. He worked his way, swinging from tree to
tree, for a hundred yards, then dropped lightly, ran to the other side
of the island, and crawled under some thick young spruce.

Voices came in a few minutes, and he saw the Indians stop in front of
him and wait for those that came on behind. When all were together, they
crept forward carefully in a mass on his trail, and disappeared round
the point of the woods.

Jules waited a few moments longer, then darted with wonderful speed
across to the mainland, half a mile away. Under cover of its protecting
shadows he laughed, put on the snow-shoes again, and travelled on,
following the dense timber by the edge of the lake. He looked across and
saw the Indians hunting about and gesticulating under the pine that he
had climbed. He laughed again. “You h’all no catch Jules Verbaux,” he
said grimly.

In a little while Petite Rivière de l’Ours (Little Bear River) twined
its way at his feet to the southward. The cold roar of rushing waters
filled the quiet air. Just below, a quick water was open, and the
freezing current dashed on among rocks and ice banks, the silver crest
of each rapid wavelet shining with a thousand sparkles in the afternoon
sunlight. Jules went down on the ice to where the live water came from
under the snow, took the thonged hoops from his feet, slung them over
his back, and stepped into the chilling flow.

“Ugh!” he said as it penetrated instantly to the bone with numbing
effect. It was not deep,—just over his knees,—and he walked on down,
keeping close to the banks, out of the strongest current. The water was
ice free for a quarter of a mile, and when he stepped out of it and put
on his snow-shoes his legs ached with the cold. “B’en! Comme den, vous
autres, fin’ Jules’s track, hein?” he said aloud, and went on into the
forests, stamping his feet vigorously and sending up myriads of snow
particles that eddied lightly in his wake, then settled again on the
crust.

Meanwhile Cuchoise hurried over toward the island; the others had
disappeared on the far side. “Ah sauf Verbaux!” he muttered, and changed
his course, going straight up the lake instead of across the lower end.
He travelled on fast, looking often over his shoulder; no one in sight,
he slowed up.

“Sa-ner!” shouted a Cree. He had come through the upper end of the woods
on the island, and saw the figure in the distance on the lake. The cry
was taken up by a score of throats; the rest gave up the search for
tracks and raced on madly after Cuchoise. He saw them coming at last,
and took off his tasselled cap. “Ah t’ink dey know dat,” he said, and
laughed to himself as he thought how easily he had drawn the pursuit
upon himself and given Verbaux a chance to get away.

He increased his speed, edging toward the forest on the left. When he
came to it he stopped. Behind him, a mile away, came the Indians,
travelling swiftly over the snow-covered ice. Cuchoise chuckled and went
into the sombre depths. The afternoon light was fading and it was dim
there under the shadowing trees. He kept on for another mile, then sat
down on a log. “Voilà! V’en dey comme, Jean Cuchoise he mak’ rire!” he
said, and waited. It grew darker and darker; the tree trunks lost their
shapes at fifty yards. A faint clicking came from beyond, and Jean
smiled broadly as he thought of his companions’ discomfiture. Then the
sound ceased, all was still. “Serpent! Traître!” Cuchoise said to
himself as he thought of the girl.

Then an awful pain came; he fell from the log, writhing and doubling on
the snow, that reddened slowly under him. “Finis!” he groaned weakly;
his head fell limp, blood gushed from his mouth, the kindly eyes dulled
and became set. The heavy, strong body quivered a moment, then relaxed
inertly.

An Indian strode up, rifle in hand; behind him came others, sneaking
closer and closer. They stopped when they saw the dim shape lying on the
blood-blackened white.

“Me-on-wash-in! [Good!]” said the Cree who had fired. A voyageur went
forward and turned the stiffening body over with his foot. “Dieu!” He
started in alarm. The rest crowded about, saw, took off their caps
slowly, and were silent. Everything was quiet; the men stood about the
dead form; the Cree shivered and shook, but no one spoke. The northern
twilight was at its height and the distant light shone but little on the
death scene. Then somewhere in the black woods a lynx shrieked; the
rasping, curdling sound echoed and re-echoed in the crisp air. A
Canadian spoke slowly. “No tell le facteur dees!” he said, looking at
his companions. They shook their heads, and the Cree who had done the
killing was still. Silently the men knelt and dug a hole through the
crust and deep into the snow, boring it out with their bare hands. They
dug till the hard, frozen ground was reached, then reverently they
lifted the body of Jean Cuchoise, lowered it carefully, pushed the cold
white feathery sod over it, and stamped it down. Then they dragged up
logs and big branches and piled them over the freezing grave, so that
the wolves should not dig where they had dug and find what they had
buried there. Each man crossed himself and muttered the Ave Maria; then
they made off silently through the dense shadows.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XVI

                             THE MESSENGER


VERBAUX travelled on and on across the wilderness of silence and of
space. He heard nothing but the howling of the wolves, saw nothing but
colourless barrens, dark green timber depths, and frozen waters. He came
at last to the clearing by Lac des Sables, and built up his wrecked
home. It took him two days to finish the work, and two more to catch the
dogs he had turned loose to shift for themselves sixteen days gone.

It was evening; a cheery fire crackled on the little hearth. The
interior shone warm and comfortable in its glow, but the log walls were
gray and bare instead of warm and brown with skins as they used to be.
Jules sat before the fire; his eyes reflected the light dully and his
thoughts were far away—where he knew not, but of whom he knew. The old
heartbroken moan for Marie, Marie came from his lips, and he would start
violently, as though dreaming, and shake his head. “Je suis content!” he
muttered; tears came, nevertheless, and rolled slowly down the bronzed
cheeks, dripping drop by drop and glistening on the rough shirt.

The yellow-red flames played noiselessly in the air, but their sources
snapped and gave out tiny diamond sparks that died two inches from the
place of birth. A storm was coming from the northeast. Little by little
the wind increased in strength, first whispering, then sighing, then
moaning fitfully by gusts, and finally shrieking through the millions of
branches that are the forest. Jules heard but heeded not. The violent
draft carried the smoke away in straight blue lines, the sparks had
longer lives and disappeared in the wooden flue. A dog yelped, the
others awoke and joined him, and their voices blended into one long
minor clamour that sounded above the whistling wind, and cadenced with
the now loud, then softer notes of the gale. A muffled roaring came down
the little chimney; sometimes the powerful back draft imprisoned the
smoke and it filled the hut with its pungent acrid smell. Dream figures
appeared to Jules and passed in long review before his half-closed eyes.
The very flames were distorted into living things that moved and, as he
saw them, disappeared. He rose, went to the new bed of boughs, fell on
it, and slept instantly. And in his vague, unrestful slumber the figures
came and passed again before his brain.

“Traître!” he growled in his sleep; “Ah, Maquette, mon vieux, how ees,
hein? An you, Bossu, an’ Hibou, mes camarades dat Ah sauve’!” The
changeless voice shrilled then, and the long arms stretched out,
“Petite! Marie!” He awoke, dazed, and heard the sobbing of the storm
overhead. “Bon Dieu, grâce!” he said, and knelt by the bough bed, his
face buried in his hands. He prayed, but always, even in his prayers,
the squat, ugly figure of Manou with his treacherous eyes came before
him; and much as the body cried out for the woman that lived somewhere
under the broad expanse of God’s heavens, still the iron will and reason
spoke through the pain-compressed lips and said, “Je suis content!” The
fight was awful in its terrible fierceness; at last he sank, utterly
exhausted, on the boughs and slept dreamlessly. The northern hurricane
grew under the black skies; it lashed the trees until they groaned and
snapped. As an accompaniment to the shrieking voices of the wind sounded
the crashing reports of falling trees, here, there, everywhere. The two
giant pines on each side of the hut moved to their foundations and
twisted; their great roots heaved and tore the frozen sod beneath its
white cover, and the walls of the camp trembled at each furious gust.
And Verbaux slept on.

Long past its regular hour, the timid light of dawn appeared and
broadened over the wild, tumultuous earth. By its light the flying
masses of filmy clouds tore across the leaden skies. Sometimes a big
black one came over the horizon and was whirled away over the lonely
north at tremendous speed. Two sables came to the hut, pushed and
buffeted by the gale, their tree home destroyed by the storm; they crept
within the shelter of its lee side and curled up there together, hungry
and frightened. The dogs howled at intervals, but their voices were
almost lost in the heavy peals of the monstrous noises of the forest.

A gray shape came speeding past the hut, saw it, and stopped under its
lee, disturbing the little sables. It was a tall caribou that stood
there panting, its scarlet tongue dripping with foam, its great eyes
drooping, its tired sides pumping air ceaselessly to satisfy the big
lungs. And in a moment a dozen dark forms came and stood silently in a
half-circle before the hut, breathing hoarsely, drool streaming from
their open jaws. The wind pushed them about, but they stayed and
watched. The dogs caught a whiff of the stench of wolves and set up a
great cry in their shed, that sounded even above the hurricane. The dark
forms listened, heard, recognised, and disappeared at once, wrapped in
dim snow-clouds, through which their fleeing shapes appeared for an
instant and were gone.

The caribou rested awhile, then faded away among the trees. Jules slept
on, inert, on the boughs; the little sables cuddled closer together and
were still.

More and more light came, and Verbaux awoke to another day. The weather
remained the same, and he pulled his fur cap well down when he went out
to the traps. Trees fell about him, broken branches dropped, rattling on
the crust, great rents in the trunks of the hemlocks showed the fierce
wrenching power of the wind. No living thing moved in the complaining,
groaning forests, but Jules was happy in the chaos, and his loneliness
and longing left him for a time. “By gar! Ah get beaucoup de poils!” he
said. Every third trap held its dead prisoner. When he had finished the
line, the load of furs on his back was heavy: eight sable, two lynx,
three wolverine, four marten, and a gray fox.

He was on his way to the camp when suddenly, faint in the gale, he heard
a voice calling “Holla, là-bas!” Then he saw coming toward him a short,
broad figure on snow-shoes. The stranger came along easily, watching the
trees that snapped and squeaked and bowed to their waists. Jules stopped
and waited. “Bo’ jou’!” said the stranger in a friendly way. He was a
French-Canadian, keen of eye, characteristic in face, strong in figure.

“Je suis Philippe Crevier. Ah comme two hunder’ mile’ look for un homme;
you got fir’?”

“Oui; comme!” Jules said, and the two travelled across the timber-land
to Verbaux’s camp.

Jules lighted the fire, then set food on the table. Crevier sat and
watched him silently; with a nod, he ate a hearty meal.

“Ah-h, c’est bon!” and he sighed comfortably when he had finished, and
ceremoniously drew out his quilled and beaded tobacco-bag and presented
it to Jules. The latter filled his pipe; Crevier did the same; then
Verbaux leaned back against the wall with legs firmly spread, the gray
eyes fixed on the other, who was stretched on the green boughs. They
smoked in silence for several minutes; the interior was redolent with
the powerful reek of the black tobacco; the roof quivered with the
sudden impacts of heavy wind, and there was the faint patter of millions
of crust bits that, driven before the storm, struck the logs with all
their minute weight and strength.

“Ah look for vone Jules Verbaux. Dat Le Grand h’at Poste Reliance he
comme dere nine days h’ago wid une femme; by gar, she vas tire’ and
hongree! She vas tak’ by Hodson Baie Compagnie at la destruction de Isle
la Crosse by dat Annaotaha. Le Grand, fr’en’ to me, fin’ dis girrl and
mak’ bataille avec dat scélérat. Le Grand seeck ver’ bad; he say to me,
he say: ‘Philippe, you go fin’ Jules Verbaux; dees femme hees wife; she
loove him mooch, mais he don’ t’ink dat trrue. You tell to heem, eef you
can fin’ heen, dat ol’ Le Grand he ver’ bad, and vant for to see heem
befor’ Le Grand est mort.’ Den Ah comme loook!”

Jules listened; his face was expressionless and at rest. His eyes
glistened for an instant, then they too were void of feeling; he seemed
interested, nothing more.

“You know dis Verbaux?” Crevier asked.

A flash came to the gray eyes. “Oui, Ah know heem; dis ees hees
territoire; he gon’ Fond du Lac h’eight jour’ passé.”

“B’en, Ah go to Fond du Lac to-mor’; Ah geeve promesse to Le Grand for
to fin’ heem eef eet possible, and he pay moi ten skin’ de day for do
heet. Ah can stay avec vous ici to-night, hein?”

“Certainement!” Jules answered.

There was a silence—one man comfortable, happy, care-free; the other too
full for utterance, but with calm, undisturbed features through it all.

The storm raved on through the afternoon, but with the coming of night
it slackened, the gusts were less fierce, the trees ceased their
contortions, and gradually a deep stillness spread over the forest. In
the hut the two men ate their supper; Jules fed the dogs. The fire
burned lightly, and Crevier’s dark face showed in sharp relief against
the light-gray logs.

“Vat you t’ink—” he began; then he caught sight of the child’s cap in
its old place over the bed. He looked at it, then looked at Verbaux.

Jules had not seen the discovery of the cap. He sat, his broad shoulders
stooped forward, his chin in his hands.

“Jules Verbaux!” Crevier spoke the name slowly and quietly.

Verbaux started, then his eyes looked sharply from under the strong,
heavy brows. “Pourquoi you call me Jules Verbaux?” he asked. Crevier’s
arm stretched out, long in the dancing light, the dark hand pointed
silently to the little cap, and he smoked again.

“Ah tol’ you dat dees Verbaux hees place, hees territoire, dat he gone
’way las’ weeek!” Jules spoke aggressively.

Crevier shook his head. “Non!”

“Pourquoi non? You say dat I mak’ de lie?”

The other seemed not to notice the angry tones; he took his pipe
leisurely from his mouth and spoke again in a low, soft voice. “Le Grand
he tol’ to me dat Verbaux he had petite fille vonce, dat he loove dat
enfant ver’ mooch. You tell to me dat dees ees hees place to mak’ la
chasse; Ah see dat leetle chapeau là,” and he looked up again at the
cap. “an’ den Ah, Crevier, say dat you aire Verbaux.”

“Pourquoi?” asked Jules again.

“Becaus’ Verbaux no go ’way an’ leave dat souvenir of enfant ici!”

Crevier looked at Jules through drooping lids. The stooped figure swayed
a little, stopped, swayed again, then shivered very slightly, and was
still.

Crevier stood up and went to the door. Outside, it was a fine, clear
night. The straggler clouds of the storm hurried in little groups across
the light faces of the stars to catch up with the main body. The cold,
penetrating air was fresh-smelling of the pine and laden with ozone of
the wind and snow. He turned.

“To-mor’ ve go back to Poste Reliance!” he said quietly, then stepped
out into the shadowless gloom.

Verbaux raised his head and listened; everything was still but the
snapping fire at his feet.

“Pauvre Le Grand,” he murmured. “Ah mus’ go an’ see heem, mais Ah go
seul’ment for dat, seul’ment for dat!” he repeated rapidly, as though
trying to choke down the other thoughts that craved expression in
different words from those that he had just spoken. Alternately a pale,
wan face, then a rugged, kindly one, came before his eyes. “Ah not go
for to see dat femme!” he almost shouted, because he feared to trust
himself in the silence.

“Toi ver’ beeg fool!”

Crevier stood in the door; his arms held a pile of fire-wood, and jets
of freezing moisture streamed from his nostrils as he came in out of the
night and closed the bark door. He threw his load down in the corner,
the dry sticks breaking sharply above the crackle of the hearth fire. He
got out a light blanket from his carry-bag and laid it over some skins
that were on the floor. “À demain, Verbaux,” he said as he stretched
himself on it; he turned over, and was asleep in a moment. Jules stood
looking down at the still form for long minutes.

“Ah go ’way for leetle taime. Ah no can go weet heem!” he whispered to
himself; then silently and quickly he took his snow-shoes, reached up
for the little cap and put it in his shirt, took some food, and went
away into the darkness.

For a long time after he had gone nothing stirred. The trees were
resting after their long turmoil, and stood as though carved from
green-black marble. Crevier slept on quietly.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XVII

                       THE DREAM OF MORNING STAR


JULES trod with care until he was out of hearing of the camp; then, with
the keenness natural to a born woodsman’s eyes, he hurried on through
the dense blackness, rarely making a sound except the soft crunch of his
moccasins on the crust. After two hours’ swift travelling he came out on
a barren, and stopped in the open and listened—silence—greater than
death which is laden with sorrow, that silence of the great and
boundless wilderness of the North which is unfathomable, indescribable.
Straight away from him lay the long, rolling waste, at his feet white,
farther on gray, and beyond that void of colour. He looked up at the
heavens, and as he watched the glinting stars he saw one appear from
behind the others and rush across the sky to the south-east, leaving yet
drawing a long fiery tail behind it. It arc-ed, sailed below the
tree-tops, and disappeared.

The gray eyes looked into the dim distance, then behind him at the
woods. “Dat étoile say go back.” He retraced his noiseless way through
the black timber to the hut. As he went in Crevier, who was smoking by
the heap of glowing embers, said slowly, “Ah know dat you comme back.”
“Vat for mans!” Verbaux muttered; then he sat near the heat in silence.
It was so absolutely still that the soft little burning hiss of the
tobacco at each breath Crevier drew on the pipe was audible. The light
of the coal created on the walls vague shadows that grew more and more
shapeless. Then only a dim dark red shone on the men’s faces; everything
else was black. The two sat on, silent. Then, crisply, rifle-shots rang
out on the bitter-cold air, and silence again. Crevier leaped to the
door and listened. Nothing at first; then, “Verbaux!” he called softly.
Jules was behind him. “Leesten!” he said.

Far off in front of them they could just hear the crunching and light
crackling of the crust as something ran over it; then a snapping of
branches. “Somme vone comme fas’!” Jules said. The steps approached
rapidly; then they heard heavy, laboured breathing that sounded hoarsely
out there under the thick hemlock and pine. The thing that hurried and
ran came close, and was passing the camp when it stopped and coughed—a
rasping, harsh cough. “Trappé!” A man’s voice groaned with agony and
fear in the tones. As one, Crevier and Verbaux ran swiftly out among the
black trunks; the man heard them coming and started on. “Qu’est-ce?”
called Crevier in a low, penetrating voice. The man stopped, turned, and
came toward them. The three stood close but could not distinguish one
another. “Pierre Du—bat, moi, Compagnie Nor’ouest,” said the stranger,
brokenly, and breathing hard, “chassé par les Indiens du Hodson Baie
Compagnie; dey comme h’aftaire moi ver’ queeck aussi.”

Crevier and Verbaux heard the man stagger in the darkness as he finished
speaking. They caught hold of an arm each and rushed him to the hut. He
sat weakly on the bed, and Verbaux began to build up the fire. “Non!
Non!” said Pierre hastily, “dey see le feu and comme ici. Non!” Then he
faltered to the door to listen. The two others were motionless. “Ah-h!”
Pierre whispered. The patter of dogs’ feet could be heard coming
swiftly, then the light creaking of sledges, eerie and mysterious in the
depths of trees. The three men stood in the little doorway. “Mes dog!”
Jules said very softly. “Dose Indiens go pas’ eef dose dog’ no mak’
barrrk!” They waited. On came the sledges; one was approaching the
clearing: they could hear a voice swearing at the darkness. Then a team
came into the scarce light.

“Bash!” shouted the man on the sledge. The dogs stopped.

“Hache!” breathed Crevier as the three fell back silently in the hut.
Verbaux reached behind the door and handed him the axe.
“Ho-o-e’o-o-ooe!” called this new arrival. Answering shouts came from
near by, echoing back and forth dully. The man came up to the hut, then
stopped, listened. The three kept still. He advanced to the door and
looked in. The dogs in the shed smelled their kind outside and howled
loudly. The man stepped in; Crevier swung the axe viciously at the
figure that showed against the dim light of the outside. It dropped
without a groan. Then all was still again in the little interior.

“Chies! Chies!” a voice called harshly close by.

“Annaotaha!” muttered Jules.

“Diable! v’ere he go?” said the voice again. The shouts and cries of
other men were closing in. “Choo-ee! [Come here!]” called the voice
hurriedly.

“He ’ave see la hutte; vat ve do?” whispered Dubat.

“Sssssh!” warned Jules.

Somebody was approaching the camp from behind; the steps came round, and
then another figure darkened the door. Pierre swung the axe again, but
missed, and the sharp tool struck heavily in the logs.

“Dam’!” The figure spoke and jumped back. “Pierre Dubat, ve ’ave toi! La
mort dees taime!” and it laughed.

“Pas encore, Etienne Annaotaha!” Dubat answered savagely, the two others
were silent. Dim forms moved to and fro in the little clearing.

“She-se-eemont, Dubat? [Are you hungry and tired?]” called Annaotaha,
mockingly; coarse laughs sounded here and there. _Crang!_—a spit of
straight flame. The rough bullet whizzed through the door against the
logs of the back wall. The three flattened against the side of the hut.

“Sacré-é-é!” growled Pierre, “dey goin’ shoot!” In answer to his words
sounded the _crang!_ _crack!_ _crang-crang!_ _crang-crang!_
_crang-crang!_ _crack!_ of rifles. The bullets hurtled and droned, they
thudded in the logs, caromed and _pi-in-inged_ shrilly in the interior.
Jules stood close by the door, behind the upright timber. Dubat was flat
on the bed and Crevier under it. And still the rifles spouted flame and
the leaden missiles sang and _whinged_ through the hut. Then they ceased
suddenly. After the furious noise all was deathlike in stillness.
Everyone listened.

“Tha-la-il [Dead!]” said Annaotaha to his companions after several
minutes of the intense silence. An indistinct form came and stood in the
door, listening with gun ready. It heard no sound, for the three were
silent and holding their breath.

“Tha-la-il! [Dead!]” he said it again, and entered the camp fearlessly.
A heavy fall, that sounded but thick and muffled, and the figure
sprawled in death on the ground motionless. “C’est bon!” said Etienne
approaching. He came to the entrance, stumbled over the two limp
figures, and sprang back, screaming in fear, then his voice died away.

Inside the hut Jules crept noiselessly to the bed.

“Go now! ve be keel ici! Dubat go nord! Crevier go sud! Ah go ouest!” he
said in almost inaudible tones.

Carefully the two others followed him to the door, and they sprang
through the clearing into the blackness of the forests.

“Trois mans, by diable!” screamed Annaotaha as he saw the three flit
like shadows from the camp. The Indians’ rifles barked again, and the
bullets _pludd-ed_ among the tree trunks. Wild cries and shouts arose,
and Jules heard some one running after him. He increased his speed and
went on swiftly through the deep woods, his pursuer cursing aloud and
losing ground fast. Soon Jules could hear nothing of the man behind him,
and he stopped. Everything was still; then far to the rear the faint
_pang_ of a rifle jarred the crisp silence.

Verbaux started again and travelled steadily to the southwest. Hour
after hour passed; daylight came, then broad day swept over the land,
and still Jules kept on. At last the timber-land ended; he crossed out
on the great barrens. The morning wind created living things of the
loose drift. Round, oblong snow-clouds whirled and twisted along, their
under sides blue, their tops dazzling white in the sun. Many delicate
tones of gray-blue and dark gray mingled and blended into one another as
the wind scud passed over the face of the sun and cast fast-changing
shadows. The wind was cold; it had come for thousands of miles over
chilled countries, endless barrens, black lakes and rivers frozen in
fantastic shapes, and was always laden with the ice particles, that
hummed and rustled monotonously, caught up by one gust, dropped, taken
by another and hurried through miles of space. Verbaux covered his face
with his muffler. “Ah had for leave dat _chappette_,”[8] he said sadly.
He looked back. The timber fringe of the barrens was far away; only the
giant trees lifted their peaked tops above the solid line of dark green.
Then Verbaux slowed his pace, hesitating. “Ah lak’ go back for dat,” he
thought, and the gray eyes were wistful. “Non! Ah mus’ fin’—Le Grand,
oui, Le Grand!” Not the slightest admission of his heart’s wish came
from his lips.

Footnote 8:

   Little cap.

“Ha! dere track!” he muttered as a little farther on his keen eyes saw
many snow-shoe marks; he bent over them, but the drift had almost
obliterated the indentations, and he was not able to recognise any of
the trails. There was one long, narrow track that turned in at the heel
instead of at the toe. “Ah nevaire see dat befor’!” Verbaux said as he
walked along slowly, watching the peculiar marks. As he proceeded his
interest grew strangely, and soon he was following the trail backward at
a rapid pace; the other snow-shoes had crossed and recrossed it, but the
long scratches and slidings on the crust showed clearly by comparison.
“Comme f’om Poste Reliance, Ah t’ink!” Jules raised his head, then
stopped suddenly. A few yards ahead of him lay a body thinly covered
with white; dark stains in the snow around the head told the story. He
brushed the form clear; it was that of a squaw; the eyes were fixed and
glaring stonily into his own as he turned the figure over. A deep gash
in the throat had given the outlet to the life-blood that coated the
freezing surface about it red and brown. “Diables, dose mans!” Jules
growled. The long track traced in and out near the body, and he puzzled
out where the maker of that trail had stood and bent over the dying
woman. She was not very old, and not ugly. “Eet ees near to t’irt’ mile’
to Reliance,” Jules thought. “Ah no can tak’ dat femme là-bas, an’ Ah
have notting to mak’ de trou ici!” He straightened up. “B’en, Jules have
to go! Pauv’e femme!” he said aloud and travelled on. Shortly afterward
he came upon a snow hill. Rising black from the white before him was the
forest again, a few miles on. He turned his head on the back trail and
shuddered. Specks were moving hither and thither, now dark and sharp,
then blurred and dim as drift puffs partially hid them. They gathered
together in a certain spot on the barren and seemed motionless. “De
loups dey have fin’ dat corps’! Bon Dieu, Jules Verbaux he t’ink dat
somme taime he have to mak’ la guerre on dat Hodson Baie Compagnie an’
keel lak’ dose Indiens dey keel!” His voice was low and savage. He went
on again.

Late in the afternoon the buildings of the Northwest Post of Lac la
Pluie (Rainy Lake) showed up ahead, and in an hour he entered the yard.

“Et toi, Verbaux!” one of the group of voyageurs called to him
laughingly; “vat you do so far ’way de Lac des Sables?”

“Ah go Poste Reliance in vone, two day’!” Jules answered as he joined
the group. Picturesque men they were and rough in their tanned-skin
shirts that hung outside of the broad caribou-hide trousers; fringes of
hair adorned the ends of their shirts, and choice bits of ermine were
cleverly stitched in various designs here and there on the brown skins.
Beaver, otter, and fox caps were predominant on the men’s heads, and
tassels of picked fur dangled gracefully over the sides of their faces.
Long moccasins with coloured beads were on their feet, and bright
handkerchiefs knotted loosely about many of their throats showed their
childlike love of bright colours. They offered Jules tobacco; he filled
his pipe and lighted it. “Ah see dat Annaotaha an’ les Crees!” he said
then. “Quand?” “V’ere?” “V’en?” The questions came eagerly. “Las’ nuit
dey h’attack Crevier, Dubat, an’ moi, an’ comme near feenesh nous
aussi!” and Jules laughed silently. The crowd were clamorous for
details. Jules told them the story of the night attack, and how he and
the two others had fled, and of his success in getting away; he told of
finding the woman’s body, and deep curses showed the feeling of these
men of the wilderness. When he had finished his story, there was a
silence.

“Verbaux, you somme taime go avec nous feex dat Hodson Baie Compagnie?”
a square-shouldered, deep-chested voyageur asked. Jules looked at him
for a moment. “Oui,” he answered, “somme taime.” He left the group and
went over to the supply-house and found the factor; to him he told his
story, and asked to be “trusted for skins” for a blanket and some food.

“Aye, Verbaux lad, ye ’re welcome!” Factor McNeil answered. “But wull ye
gie us a leeft with these deevils when the time coomes?”

“Mabbe!” Jules answered gravely, got his “stuff” from the clerk, and
went out among the trappers and tepees.

“Tell, mon frère, you been Fond du Lac deese taime gon’,” a genial
Frenchman, named Gregoire, asked.

“Vas dere trois day’ gon’; dey fin’ h’out Ah vas no’ goin’ avec dem, an’
dey try for to catch moi, but Ah arrivé Lac des Sables ver’ queeck jus’
sam’!” and Jules chuckled.

“Ah t’ink dat dose Hodson Baie mans dey mak’ du trouble for nous. Las’
Mercredi Ah vas comme f’om Rivière Folle Avoine an’ see dose canaille
Crees et des Piegans veet’ dem; Ah mak’ le détour an’ comme sauf, mais
dose bad, ver’ bad!” Gregoire looked troubled as he spoke.

A tall, wiry half-breed Canadian joined in the conversation. “Vone mont’
’go Ah fin’ vone compagnie of dose Plats Côtes de Chiens [Dog Rib
Indians], par là, au nor’e’st, an’ dey had fusils, an’ mak’ lot beeg
talk, tell h’all taime mooch vat dey goin’ do à nous touts du Compagnie
Nor’ouest.”

And so the late afternoon passed, the men laughing and talking together.
The blue skies darkened, then shone with myriads of bright points as the
stars crept into view. Fires gleamed more and more warmly, and groups of
light-hearted voyageurs, singing and jesting, sat about some of them;
around others serious Indians squatted and smoked, watching their squaws
get supper. Twilight died away; then came the clear, sharp night of the
ice-bound latitudes. Overhead the northern lights drifted slowly,
sometimes fading to misty white shafts, then blazing out in brilliant
lights that brought every log house and tepee into deep relief against
the surrounding forests. Faint reports, sometimes distant crashes like
far-off thunder, came from the ever-changing aurora, and great nebulous
rings appeared, disappeared, narrowed, broadened, always shifting,
moving. Dogs wandered among the men, snuffing here and there restlessly.
The strong, tanned faces were lighted by the yellow tongues of the
fires, and the deep voices harmonised with the animated scene.

Verbaux ate his supper with his friends, and afterwards they lighted
their pipes and silence came over the little group. As they sat there,
these typical men of the woods and wastes, an Indian approached and sank
on his knees by the fire. He was handsome; dark eyes, quantities of
straight hair, a strong aquiline nose, high cheek-bones, long sinewy
arms, light hands with tapering fingers; dressed in a fancy skin shirt
on which coloured beads glittered as he moved, with high moccasins on
his feet and legs, and wolf-hide trousers. He smoked a long pipe slowly,
meditating between puffs; then he spoke in his own language, and
everyone listened.

“My friends and brothers: to me, Morning Star, the great Manitou sent a
dream on the last night, and I come to tell that dream to you.” He began
swaying back and forth gently, and his voice sank into a musical
monotone. No one moved.

“A spirit of my forefathers came and stood before my eyes, and it spoke
to me. ‘Morning Star, Chief of the Chippewyans, war, death, hunger,
fire, and cold are coming on you,’ the spirit said. ‘You will be
overwhelmed, crushed, beaten, and thrown to the wolves unless there
comes to aid you a big man. So that you and your brothers may know this
man, I say to you that he has gray eyes, that he is tall, but short in
many things, that he comes to you but to leave you, that he wants what
he does not want, and that he fears no one but himself. When this man
comes, tell him what I say, and tell him that the justice of the Manitou
and the cause of the Indian demand that he stay for the hour that
approaches!’”

Morning Star’s eyes were closed as he finished speaking, and his swaying
ceased.

Jules’s face had paled under the deep brown as the chief told his dream,
and now all eyes were on him. He leaned forward, his eyes glittering
with awe and excitement, for he had never seen Morning Star and knew of
him only by name.

“Étoile du Matin! call h’on le Manitou an h’ask de Marie an’ Le Grand,”
he said, with powerful emotion in his voice.

The Indian’s eyes remained closed. “Who speaks?” he asked.

“Ah, Jules Verbaux!”

The lights of the fires were dim and cast fitful shadows; voices about
them were hushed and a throbbing silence was over everything. Then the
Indian rose to his feet, an inch at a time, yet without seeming motion;
he stood upright, his left arm pointing to the heavens, where blinked
the stars. He remained thus for several minutes, then he spoke again,
his voice low and vibrating:

“Jules Verbaux, the great Manitou bids me say that the woman you seek is
safe, that she waits for you, that she can wait in safety and in plenty,
that the white man cares for her, that the man she came with is sick of
a wound, but that it may be so that all will be well with him if the big
man obeys the orders of Our Father, the great Manitou!”

The chief turned abruptly and left the fireside. Jules shivered to
himself and groaned.

Antoine Clement spoke quietly. “Dat Étoile du Matin he have des rêves,
mais dey comme h’alway’ trrue!”

“Toujours vrais,” said the rest, solemnly. One by one they got up and
went to their tepees.

Jules sat there, thinking, then a light tap on his shoulder roused him.
“Dormir là-bas veet’ me,” Gregoire said, pointing to his home, and left
the circle of light shed by the bright coals; the silence of rest was on
the post.

Somewhere wolves voiced their doleful cry out in the wilderness; Jules
disliked the sound strangely to-night and muttered angrily as the
distant tones rose and fell, echoed, and died away. He got up and moved
noiselessly from the fire, through the tepees, and out of the yard. The
woods were there, grim, black, motionless. He listened; then he went
slowly round the post, treading carefully, his gray eyes watching
everywhere. Suddenly as he stood by the gates again the northern lights
brightened. Their cold, pure gleam grew swiftly and things became shapes
as by the light of day. A white form trotted out from the dark timber
and came straight toward him; it drew close, then stopped, threw up its
head, and a long howl came from its throat. Verbaux could see the
shining fangs in the open jaws; he caught the glint in the eyes as they
reflected the sky light, and he shuddered unconsciously when the dreary
wail died away, its sound killed by the thick trees. A moment longer the
form stood there, then it moved off silently and was gone. The
brightness of the aurora faded; everything was star-dark again.

“Ah-bah! ’nodder loup blanc! Dat ver’ mauvais signe toujours!” He turned
into the yard, closed and barred the gates, and went over to Gregoire’s
home. It took but a moment to spread his blankets on the boughs, stretch
himself on them, and he slept instantly.

The dogs were very restless; they trotted hither and thither in the
yard, whining sometimes, and scratching at the foot of the stockade. The
hours passed slowly, and daylight was coming faint rose over the
tree-tops to the eastward when Jules sat up quickly. He listened, but
everything was normal. He wondered what had wakened him; he felt a sense
of alertness and got up. Then across the yard came a long howl; other
dogs took up the cry and the air was full of sound. The brutes ceased
all at once. Verbaux was already in the yard. “Dere ees somme t’ing dat
mak’ dose chiens inquiet!” he muttered. Faint grumblings from some of
the tepees showed that the dogs’ voices had disturbed the slumber of a
few, otherwise everything was still.

The eastern skies glowed with the sunlight that crept up the horizon; it
was bitterly cold at this hour between darkness and dawn, and Jules
shivered as he watched.

A cracking of branches caught his ear, then a soft swishing and rubbing
sound was audible, as of pine-needles brushing against something.
Verbaux looked at the trees; they were motionless, except that a big
branch on a pine swayed and trembled.

“Ha! dey loook for see!” and Jules crouched low.

The branch shook; then the next one above it trembled. Jules traced the
spy working his way quietly upward. Then against the fast-brightening
heavens a head appeared at the top of the tree, black and sharp. For a
moment it was there motionless, then it disappeared; the branches
quivered again one by one all the way down the pine. Jules ran swiftly
to the gate, unbarred it softly and looked out. The shadows were still
heavy under the trees, and he could just see a figure stealing away from
the foot of the big pine; it was lost at once in the sombre light.
Verbaux went out of the post, and hurried into the deep timber.

It took him but an instant to pick up the spy’s trail, and he hastened
along it. Once or twice the keen gray eyes caught glimpses of the man
ahead; Verbaux slowed up.

“Ah vant fin’ h’out, no catch!” he whispered to himself. The figure
before him travelled on fast, never looking round, entirely
unsuspicious. Then it turned to the left, and Jules stopped. He heard
voices not far away, and went on carefully. The light was strong now in
the woods, and he dodged warily from tree to tree till he was close to
the party. There were about seventy men—Indians, half-breeds, and
voyageurs—all belonging to the Hudson Bay Company.

“Bien, Ah see de poste!” said one of the group.

“Le Pendu!” Jules whispered, “dat traître, hein? Bon!”

The men all began talking at once, and he could not understand anything
he heard.

“Silence, mans!” an authoritative voice spoke, and the crowd were still.

“Ve go dees midi h’at sun-’igh to feenesh dat poste!”

“Bravo!” “Bon!” “Magnifique!” said the rest.

Verbaux had heard enough; he turned back and sped as fast as he could to
the post.

It was breakfast-time when he reached it. The morning breeze played with
the smoke of the fires, twisting it into long curves and spirals, then
wafting it away into the wilderness.

“Gregoire! Gregoire!” Jules called as he went among the trappers.

“Ici; qu’est-ce?” answered he.

Verbaux told him what he had heard.

“Ah-h-h, at las’!” growled Gregoire, brutally. “Ve show dose mans vat ve
do, hein?”

Jules did not answer at once; then Morning Star’s dream came to him,
powerful and compelling. He again saw the white wolf in memory.

“Ve goin’ try!” he said in solemn tones.

“Bon! Ah go fin’ le facteur; toi tell to de oddaires la bataille come
maintenant!” Gregoire said and ran off.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 XVIII

                        FULFILMENT OF THE DREAM


JULES spread the news fast, and although a tremendous hurrying and
running about took place, still everything was done in an orderly way
and with significant purpose. The roofs of the buildings were quickly
covered with green wolf-hides as a protection against firebrands; the
women and children were placed in the strongest log house; tepees were
pulled down and the poles thrust sharp end upward against the stockade.
The gates were double-barred and braced, and big logs rolled against
them. The factor dealt out guns and ammunition, also axes to the men. In
an hour everything was ready; many of the Frenchmen had tied their
bright handkerchiefs over their foreheads, thrown off their mufflers,
and rolled up their shirt-sleeves, showing the weather-blackened and
muscle-knotted arms. The Indians were quiet and grave, the white men
joking and laughing, some in earnest, a few to hide their fear. The
squaws wept and wailed in unison in their strong house; their voices
sounding discordant and shrill, mingled with the tearful screams of
children. Then the factor came among the defenders.

“Me lads, do the best ye can, and God forgie us and them,” he said.

Then came the lull before the storm. Men stationed as sentries on four
sides of the stockade stared at the forests through the little spaces
between the logs. Only muffled cryings came from the women; the men,
with their guns, waited grimly for the attack.

Jules, a long, light axe in his hand, paced up and down under the
stockade, peering through here and there.

The farthest sentry moved his hand in signal. Jules ran to him and
looked. Men were moving rapidly among the tree trunks, but silently; as
Verbaux watched he saw them open out like a fan and skirt the edge of
the timber. He turned to the others and laid his fingers on his lips.

The attacking party came out into the clearing, advancing step by step
and listening. On they came till they reached the stockade. Something
pressed against the gate; it creaked lightly, a heavier shove made it
groan, then Gregoire’s rifle sounded loudly.

“Nor’ouest! Nor’ouest! Nor’ouest!” shouted the defenders.

Outside the upright logs rifles crashed merrily, their bullets whistling
and sighing across the yard. “Ah, diable!” screamed a Northwest voyageur
and fell, writhing, clutching at his chest.

Outside and in the shouts and curses grew and grew until the sound was
gigantic. Oaths, blasphemies, bitter curses, rang out while the guns
rattled on through the chinks in the logs. The choking powder smoke
burdened the air; it hung close and suffocating in the yard. A hand
appeared on the top of the stockade.

_Cludd!_ and Gregoire’s axe severed four of its fingers: they fell
inside, and lay on the snow waxen and bloody.

“Oh, Dieu! blessée!” groaned a huge trapper, Eugenois by name; he
staggered to and fro, gasping for air, reeling weakly, then he fell and
lay still.

Little by little the flames of battle, of hate, grew in Jules’s heart as
he saw his friends limping, falling about him.

Wild screams sounded from the squaws’ refuge; a bullet had found its way
in and had killed a child. The men’s fury redoubled. The smoke settled
lower and lower until figures were only as shadows flitting through it,
firing, loading, and firing again from the yard and building-tops. A
loud crash resounded thickly, and the splintering of wood; the big gates
were buckling under the impact of some strong material. _Crash!_
_crackle!_ _crack!_ The wood bent, sagged, broke, and fell inward bit by
bit.

“Here, lads, for God’s sake stand ’em off; think of yer squaws, me
lads!”

The factor’s voice sounded true and strong over the awful tumult.
Trappers rushed to him, working their rifles frantically, some wounded,
the bright red blood streaming from arms, sides, and faces. Big Indians,
stoic in their pain, hard hit, fired regularly at the men outside.

“Ha!” shouted a Canadian as he rolled off the store roof to the ground
below, striking it with a thud.

“At ’em, lads; gie it to ’em!” screamed the factor, seizing an axe and
striking hard at a face that showed over the wall. For a second the
growing gash showed livid and terrible, then the head sank. Always and
ever the rifles outside and within the stockade spat tongues of flame.

Incessantly their death missiles twanged and shrilled, striking logs and
living men. The yells and agonised cries grew fiercer and more wild;
then “Le feu!” Verbaux shouted, as he saw tongues of flame creeping,
licking, leaping over the logs of a shed. He tore off his shirt, wrapped
it about his hands, and beat at the flames; they scorched and burned
him, but he beat on; others joined him, leaping at the scarlet waves of
fire, and together they put them out and returned to the stockade. An
Indian near Verbaux dropped his rifle, swayed a moment, and tumbled
without a word.

“Hurrt bad?” shrieked Jules.

The black eyes looked into his, a spasm crossed the strong face, and it
was over.

From the trees themselves came a hail of bullets, humming,
_pi-i-i-inging_ in the yard. A hot thing passed through Jules’s forearm.

“Sacré-é-é-é!” he growled as he tied his handkerchief above the wound,
that dripped blood steadily. It ached, it burned, it seared his mind,
this wound. He became savage instead of defensive. Here and there forms
and faces tried to climb over the stockade.

“Çà toi!” Jules slashed powerfully at one of them, and felt his axe bite
deep; the handle was nearly wrenched from his grasp as the man fell, his
head split to the chin, and the hot red flow ran down the wooden handle
and covered Verbaux’s hand. “Bon!” he said to himself, and watched for
more.

“_Crang!_ _crash!_ _bang!_ _whi-i-i-i-ng!_ _crack!_ _pang-pang-pang!_”
sounded the guns without and within.

“I’m hit, lads!” the factor called, and tumbled to the bloody ground.

Jules and Gregoire ran to him. The heart’s flow ebbed in spurts from his
chest.

“Keep it up, me lads; gie it to ’em! Don’t gie up, Verbaux. I trust the
post to ye, lad. Good-b—” The brave man’s voice died away in a deep sigh
and he lay still.

In the midst of the turmoil, with death passing them close each instant,
the two pulled off their caps and muttered a prayer.

“Come, den,” Gregoire said, “la mort for touts!”

Everywhere men slashed and hacked wildly; loaded and fired with blood
fury, gnashing their teeth and howling in frenzy. A big dog ran round
and round in a circle, biting at a wound in his side and foaming at the
mouth; in his pain-blindness he fell against Gregoire; the latter with
one quick stroke of his axe severed the suffering beast’s head, picked
it up and hurled it at the figures that tried desperately to scale the
stockade. Then firebrands began dropping fast among and on the
buildings; here and there spouts of red showed that they had caught.
Verbaux put them out; he climbed on the highest shed and stood there
with bullets moaning through the air, seeking him, but he was not
afraid, and stamped out another blaze. He could see over the walls, and
counted many men in the attacking party; several lay on the snow, some
rolling and twisting, others motionless. Still the wind would not come,
and the sullen powder fumes hung like gray shrouds over everything, the
fighting, cursing forms rushing back and forth through them like
phantoms. Fifteen bodies lay inert in the yard, trampled on by the
defenders; there was no time or chance to carry them away.

A bullet breathed against Jules’s face, then another and another passed
close to his head. He looked at the trees across the clearing; jets of
thick blue smoke came from the green masses, opened out, then floated
upward grudgingly.

“En bas! En bas!” shrieked Gregoire at him from below, and he leaped
down into the thick of the defence.

“By Dieu! Dey goin’ keel nous, by dam’!” a trapper yelled, as he wiped
powder grains from his eyes with bloody hands.

Again the women broke into frantic cries and came rushing out into the
yard. Unnoticed, the corner of their refuge had caught from a brand, and
half the structure was blazing fiercely; flames leaped into the
smoke-thickened atmosphere, cleaving it with their forked tines, and the
heat was frightful. Higher and higher the flames danced and played; the
women crouched by the store, the children, dumb with fear, watched the
horrible scene with set eyes. A young squaw moaned pitifully and fell on
her side; the others chanted as they saw the red coming from under the
black hair. Jules went to the wounded girl, but she was dead.

“For dat Ah keel, bon Dieu!” and Verbaux cursed as he ran back to the
others. “Mes frères, ve go hout and keel!” he called loudly, a strange
note in the powerful voice. Every man able to stand ran to him; with
quick strokes they cut the weakened gates open and rushed out. A big
Indian came at Jules with reversed gun, trying to club him; Verbaux
parried the stroke, swung his axe underhand and drove the steel into the
other’s legs; the man sank, and tried to crawl away on his hands and
knees; Gregoire saw him and finished that life with a fearful blow on
the Indian’s skull. The Hudson Bay’s men could not get into the yard;
men fought hand to hand and in groups. The curses and shouts ceased
somewhat; only gasps and hoarse grunts could be heard above the roaring
of the burning house in the post. Some one made a lunge at Verbaux with
a knife; the keen blade slit his shirt and scratched the skin; before
Jules could retaliate a Northwester killed the man with the stock of his
gun.

“Bon le Nor’ouest! Bon! Bien fait!” Jules shouted as he saw that his men
were slowly forcing the others back to the edge of the timber. He
gripped his axe with both hands and leaped into the hardest of the
fight, pounding and slicing. Little by little the enemy were driven off.

“Los’! Sauf you’self dat can!” screamed a voice.

With one thought, what was left of the attacking party turned and fled,
running through the trees.

“Non! Non!” Jules yelled at those of his men who started to pursue. “Put
h’out de fir’!”

The men tore into the yard, and despite the heat and glare they pulled
down the burning building and stopped the advance of the conflagration
on other sheds that had caught.

The reeking smoke lifted and rolled away slowly, and the afternoon sun
shone clear on the scene.

No one spoke; disfigured bodies, some scorched and blackened, others
twisted in inconceivable shapes, were all over the yard. The smell of
clotting blood tainted the air; low cryings and monotonous chants
sounded as the women rocked to and fro over their dead. Broken rifles
and dismantled axe-heads were scattered about; quantities of
gun-waddings were everywhere. The logs showed little black-rimmed holes
where the unsuccessful lead had buried itself in the wood. Nearly all
the trappers were tying up wounds, grumbling and swearing. The smell of
burnt wood and cloth came strongly from the ruined shed, where nothing
but charred logs and twining smoke was left. Jules went the rounds and
took account. Nineteen dead, thirteen wounded, some badly.

“Ah t’ink dat dose man no come back ici ver’ immédiatement,” he said.

Then came the work of clearing up. In two hours the dead were heaped by
the gate to be taken out for burial, the tepees reset, fires started,
and the badly hurt stretched as comfortably as possible in the back of
the store. The widowed squaws sat by the heap of inanimate forms, their
heads dishevelled, dresses torn and awry; they wept and sobbed as they
kept up their ceaseless rocking.

Evening came; the shadows lengthened and blackened shade by shade.
Verbaux sat by the fire with Gregoire, Charles Chartier, Jacques
Pelisse, Jean Fainéant, Josèphe Hebert, Batiste Lafarge, and Morning
Star. They ate their supper silently. Verbaux’s arm bothered him; it
throbbed and pulsated painfully, and he moved it to and fro, as the
motion alleviated the aching. The chief lighted his long pipe and passed
it gravely to Jules, who puffed on it a few times and handed it back.
Then Morning Star spoke:

“Ah-ta-tah-ke-bou-tis-in [Big man of the fight], the great Manitou is
pleased. What are your orders?” The others looked at Jules curiously.
Verbaux sat thinking, pondering, when one of the sentries came up
hurriedly.

“Somme vone dey comme h’alon’!” he said. As he spoke a rapping was heard
on the reinforced gates.

“Laissez entre!” Jules said.

A small Canadian ran in, panting. He stopped when he saw the dead piled
near the gate, and his eyes widened at the sight of the burned building
and the bandaged men.

“Ah comme so queeck Ah can for to tell dat you goin’ be h’attack h’aga’n
von taime dam’ ver’ soon; Ah see vone hunder’ mans yes’day by Lac Plat.
Ah sneeek an’ leesten; dey say dey comme ici!” He sat down wearily; a
long silence ensued; every one looked at Jules. Morning Star puffed on
stoically.

The faint night breeze swung the smoke here and there, wafting it across
the men’s faces, that shone ruddy in the light. The lulling death-song
of the squaws floated on the wind; the sniffing and querulous bickerings
of the dogs came harshly on the night stillness. Bright spark-eyes from
the coals hastened to their end in the cooling atmosphere, and beyond in
the deep timber the trees sighed and their branches rubbed sibilantly
together. Verbaux was silent; the rest waited.

“Étoile du Matin, vat you say to dees?” he asked, in a few minutes.

Morning Star rose, and looking at the heavens that sparkled with the
diamond lights of the stars, he answered in a sing-song voice:

“Ah-ta-tah-ke-bou-tis-in, your words are heard by the Manitou; you ask,
he answers through me: do as you would do for the best”; and Morning
Star relapsed into silence again and smoked on.

Then sharply over the soothing quiet sounded the yelping bark of a fox.
Once, twice, thrice, the piercing note thrilled and echoed, then quiet,
with its suggestiveness of peace, fell over everything.

And Verbaux thought deeply: on one hand, his heart’s desire and his
cravings; on the other, his duty as he saw it. “Ah t’ink dat h’all mus’
go ’way, partir, f’om dees place; dere ees no de facteur, ve can no
stand h’off autre h’attack; Ah no desire stay ici; an’ Ah say, den, dat
to-mor’, v’en de sonne comme h’ovaire de tree, dat ve brûler dis poste,
dat vous h’all go, partez, to Maison du Lac, an’ dat moi, Ah go to
Reliance!”

Morning Star nodded, the others grunted their approval and betook
themselves to sleep and rest. So did Verbaux, and nothing moved in the
post but the four sentries that paced silently up and down, across, and
between the log openings.

The night was dark and the air damp and still; at daylight snow fell
swiftly; the cold white bits massed themselves on everything; shapes
grew, becoming distorted and vague. The soft murmuring of the trees as
they bowed to and fro in the light wind came faintly through the screens
of white; like veils of down, the big flakes floated to the earth,
silently and relentlessly. The sentries gathered together, and their
guttural whisperings sounded thick and muffled on the heavy air; one
lighted his pipe, and the faint glow of the match showed the four faces
close together, and cast thin shadows behind their ears. Up and down, up
and down they paced again, their figures moving by unseen motion in the
dim half-morning light. The smell of burnt wood was blown about by the
eddying draft that moved within the walls, seeking its way out. Then
from somewhere floated a cry—an unknown, indescribable tone that
vibrated, thrilled a moment, and died away.

“Qu’est-ce?” asked one of the Indians. No answer: the others were
listening. Only the snow silence could be heard; the minute settling of
the flakes on the logs, the drifting of the heavier ones against the
buildings, was audible; beyond these nothing was felt but the peace of
the coming of day, that hour when everything is truly still, when man
sleeps the heaviest, when animals are about to wake, but have not moved
from their night’s bed. The sentries watched from their loopholes and
saw the light come stronger and stronger; saw the outlines of the
clearing define themselves; saw the branches of the trees stand out
clearer and clearer from the mass and become separate; saw them bending
farther and farther with their load of white, and finally could see
through the dull gloom of the forest trunks, and discern the stillness
of everything. The atmosphere changed suddenly; it became steel-like in
its sting of cold. The falling snow was harder and the wind increased,
blowing it into the men’s faces in biting myriads. The light was
chilling and gray; comfortless and repellent. For a fleeting instant one
yellow ray of the coming sun forced itself athwart the pallid heavens,
then it was gone and all was bleak and stern again.

A fire was lighted by a tepee; voices came and went; then more fires
shone uncertainly through the changing, ever-falling white, and the post
was awake. Dull and lifeless seemed the inhabitants as they moved hither
and thither solemnly. For were they not to leave their homes to-day and
go into the Unknown of the wilderness? Breakfasts were eaten in quiet;
the flames that boiled the tea and cooked the meal alone gave life to
the cheerless scene. And afterward came the tearing down of homes, the
packing of necessities and little family treasures, the gathering of all
outside the stockade. Jules had arranged everything, and now he went,
firebrand in hand, from building to shed and building, setting them all
ablaze. As the lurid fires shot skyward he took off his fur cap and
muttered “Adieu!” with the rest. “Dieu soit veet’ you h’all!” he said
then, and gravely watched the trappers and their families as they
disappeared, with the wounded on the dog-teams, into the dense
timber-land beyond. He listened for their voices, and a feeling of
loneliness, of longing for some one, came over him with unpitying force.
The buildings burned with roars and crashings, and the billows of sparks
were lifted up and carried far into the snow air. And still he watched,
fascinated: shed by shed, log house by log house, the post caught,
flared, and fell before him. At last the stockade caught the
conflagration, and rings of fire crept slowly round it; and then it was
all gone but heaps of smouldering ashes.

“Adieu encore,” Jules said as he swung about and went off under the
thick trees, his snow-shoes sounding dully as he strode along.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XIX

                    THE AWAKENING OF THE GREAT HEART


ON and on through the dense forests he went, straight, unswerving, to
the southward. Hours passed as he traversed the black depths, then more
hours came and went as he hurried over long miles of barrens. The winter
darkness brightened, and the light of another day grew and shone
cold-coloured on the face of the northern solitudes. Many times Jules
saw wolves, now running before him, then sneaking cowardly on his trail,
and yowling with notes of hunger in their deep voices. He crossed trails
of the musk-ox, that shy inhabitant of the far North that shuns the
slightest suspicion of a human being. Foxes scuttled away as he
advanced, and the white ptarmigan whirred with boisterous wings from his
course. He saw traces of the grizzly bear, and sighed as he thought of
the thick warm skins of these monsters that he once had had as his own,
Each night of his travel he built a little fire, ate, then slept beside
it, and the next day sped on. Sometimes the whirling snow would wrap
itself about him caressingly, but with the fierce grasp of the cold in
it; again all would be still—no wind, nothing but the sound of his own
steps to break the insolvable, inscrutable stillness of everything. He
followed frozen rivers, crossed the shapes of lakes, solid and deep with
snow, went over mountains, climbing slowly up their steep, slippery
sides and airily coasting down beyond on his wide snow-shoes. He watched
for human tracks, but saw none. Day after day his eyes scanned the
interminable distances, and roved over the desolate barren scenes and
solemn depths of the forests.

Then one evening, just as the northern lights began their fantastic
contortions and shiftings, he reached Poste Reliance. The faint
reflections of many fires shone glowingly over the top of the walls, and
Jules’s heart was glad as he went in the gate. “Marie!” he whispered
softly, looking about him.

There was a crowd around a tepee; they sat there talking in low tones,
and he joined them. They looked up, hearing his steps.

“Verbaux, par Dieu!” said a voice. Instantly he was surrounded by the
men.

“Le Pendu!” Jules said. “Vat you do ici h’at Nor’ouest Compagnie?”

“Nor’ouest? Dat bon! Nor’ouest! Ha, ha, ha!” and the crowd roared with
laughter.

Jules tried to withdraw, but everywhere were ugly looks and strong
bodies in his way.

“Vat ees?” he asked.

No one answered, and he stood there, towering over the other figures,
his eyes searching for a friendly face; then Pendu spoke coarsely:

“Dees place ees Hodson Baie maintenant! Ve le capture four day’ gon’;
you aire prisonnier, Jules Verbaux!”

With a bound Jules forced his way clear of the men, but they fell on
him, seized his hands, his arms, his ankles, his body, and bore him to
the ground, helpless. He knew that it was useless to fight against such
odds, and lay still. They brought thongs and bound him securely, then
rolled him to the firelight.

“Ah-ha! mon vieux, dis taime you aire no h’at liberté, by gar! Vous
autres,” Le Pendu shouted to the crowd that had increased about the
fallen man, “her’ ees Jules Verbaux, le beeg mans du Nor’ouest, tie’
han’ an’ pied; ve goin’ have du plaisir avec heem?”

“C’est ça!” “Dat feen!” “Bon!” shouted they; and Le Pendu turned to
Jules.

“You goin’ tell to us vat ’appen’ h’at Lac la Pluie?” Verbaux was
silent. The fury of unfair means controlled him and he was sullen.

“You no tell? Bien, le feu!” said Le Pendu.

Red-hot brands were drawn from the fire by some of the crowd; with them
they closed in on Le Pendu and his prisoner.

“What ye do, min?”

A strong voice sounded above the curses and growls as Hudson Bay Factor
Donalds kicked and elbowed his way through the crowd.

They fell back respectfully, and the factor saw the bound form lying
near the fire.

“Who aire ye?” he asked Jules.

No answer. Then Le Pendu interrupted eagerly.

“M’sie’u le Facteur, dat homme ees Jules Verbaux, du Nor’ouest
Compagnie. Ah see heem vonce t’ree mont’ gon’; he say den dat he no mak’
fight avec nous; to-night he come ici an’ he t’ink dat dees place encore
Nor’ouest Compagnie. Ve h’all h’ask heem du Lac la Pluie; he no tell; ve
mak’ le feu, den, for heem. Dat bon, hein?”

The factor knelt and severed Jules’s bonds with his own knife for
answer, while the rest stood aghast and Le Pendu fell back step by step,
muttering angrily.

“Ye aire Verbaux?” the Scotchman asked then.

“Oui, M’sieu’ le Facteur,” Verbaux answered as he rose to his feet.

“Thrree min bring him to the store,” the factor said, and went away.

The sheen of the flames was on the angry faces that threatened with
black looks and growlings; three big Indians stepped forward and fell in
beside Jules. One hit him on the back with his fist; like lightning
Verbaux turned to retaliate, but he restrained himself and walked ahead
quietly between his guards. They led him to the store, showed him up the
steps and in the low door; four candles flared uncertainly by a table at
which the factor and another stranger sat.

“Get out!” the factor ordered, and the Indians disappeared.

“Weel, Verbaux! we have ye mon nou! What d’ ye say is to be doune wid
ye?”

Jules was silent; in his brain was the thought, the wild fear, for Marie
and Le Grand.

“Speak oop, mon, speak oop!” the stranger said harshly, and Verbaux
turned to him.

“Ah comme ici loook for ma wife an’ ma fr’en’; Ah tin’k dat dees poste
ees to Nor’ouest,” he said.

The two men chuckled. “So she war, lad, so she war, tull four days ago;
thin the Hudson Coompany tookit posseesion,” the factor grunted.

Jules stepped backward and leaned against the log wall, tumultuous and
furious thoughts passing in whirlwinds through his mind.

“Den ma wife and ma fr’en’?” he asked huskily.

“Don’t know who they may be, but the place was gien oop tae us
quiet-like; there was nae fecht; them that wanted to leave I let gang,
an’ mony deed go, bad luck to ’em!”

A cold grip of despair came over Jules and he staggered. “Parti! Parti!”
he whispered dully.

“Now, Verbaux, ye can bide here, an’ hount for us, or I wull hae to keel
ye, mon!”

“Nevaire Ah mak’ la chasse for you; Ah mus’ go. Oh, bon Dieu!” and Jules
shook in his pain.

“Aweel, mon, me bruither was to Posht Fearless, an’ he told me ab’ut ye.
Now look here, lad: gie me yere promeese to stay an’ not try to jump
yere work an’ I’ll let ye go free to hount for us, an’ tell us whut ye
knaw. Coome, what d’ ye say?” the factor asked, and waited.

“Non! Jamais, par Dieu!” Jules shouted fiercely at him. “V’ere ees ma
femme an’ Le Grand? Ah mus’ go ce soir!”

“It aire too bad, me lad, thut ye’re no opin to sic a chaince. Aweel,
God ha’ maircy on yere soule!” He whistled sharply as he finished, and
the store was suddenly filled with Indians.

“Take him awa’ and look after him till sun-oop, thin shoot him!” the
factor ordered, and Jules was buffeted and hustled out of the store. The
guards goaded and insulted him; they tied him hand and foot and pushed
him headlong into an empty tepee, without blankets or food, and left him
there, powerless.

He lay on his back and unconsciously listened to the heavy, gruff voices
whose hoarse murmur penetrated to him from the fireside beyond. Then a
tremor of rage thrilled him; the powerful muscles twisted and bulged,
but the fastenings held and the thongs cut into the skin. Jules gave up
and was still, while fears and hopes for Her crossed and recrossed in
his brain. “V’ere dey go? Par où dey gon’?” he whispered to himself time
and again. The restrained circulation in his arms and legs pained, and
thumped audibly, it seemed to him; his hands had lost their feeling and
were growing cold. Time dragged slowly on; all had become silent in the
post, when some one came into the tepee and stood in the darkness,
chuckling.

“Le Pendu,” Jules thought, but said nothing.

“Eh, tu!” his visitor said, pushing him with his foot. No answer. The
Indian kicked Verbaux hard. “Wak’ hup, cochon, beas’!” he growled.

Jules’s anger seethed, but he gave no sign of it. “Vat tu vant?” he
asked.

“Notting,” the other answered. “Ah comme for to tell dat cette vomans
an’ l’Indien be los’ certainement; dey gone au nord, loook for toi,
an’—ha, ha! c’est drôle—you den comme here! Bien, c’est bon comme ça; Ah
tol’ to you dat you mus’ be au Hodson Baie Compagnie, hein?”

“Oui.” Jules spoke quietly, resolved not to let his tormentor know of
his sufferings.

“You be keel dans le matin, an’ Ah goin’ shoot toi, Verbaux; den mabbe
Ah go fin’ dat femme?” he laughed and stepped nearer to Jules.

The latter heard the Indian close to his feet, though he could not see
him, and raising his tied legs, he shot them forward viciously with a
straight hip thrust and caught the other in the stomach.

“Dam’ toi to l’enfer!” Le Pendu coughed as he lurched out of the tepee.
“Ah feex toi for dat!” and he swore fiercely.

Jules heard him move away, coughing hard, and was satisfied. “Ah geeve
heem good keeck!” and he felt more comfortable. Then, “Los’, bon Dieu?
Non! not los’! Marie! Marie! eef Ah could onlee fin’ toi an’ Le Grand,
eef Ah could seulement see you vonce h’aga’n an’ tell to vous dat—Ah,
non! no encore; not so, Marie; mais Ah vant see toi—an’ eet ees feenesh
dis taime!” He spoke aloud and his voice trembled. He rolled over on his
stomach, rested his chin on the hard, lumpy ground; the change of
position lightened the strain of the bindings and he slept.

Day had just broken across the high skies when they woke him, severed
his feet-thongs, and led him out into the yard. It was bitterly cold,
and tears of chill welled in the corners of Jules’s eyes as his guards
stood him by one of the log houses, facing the east.

He looked at the heavens, over which swung veils of different colours
that changed continually. The yard was crowded with Indians and
trappers; they were silent, in a semicircle, their blankets fluttering
slightly in the wind of the dawn that blew across between the buildings.
Five of them, grouped together in front of him, had guns. Everything was
still, and Jules thought of his lonely, free life that he loved. He
looked passionately on the forests that showed black and uneven beyond
the post walls, and his keener senses felt the glorious, fierce winds
that swept the wastes. He saw, not his executioners, not the
death-hungry crowd, not the stiff houses, but the white country, and far
away a hut that stood desolate between two giant pines; he saw the
child’s cap, and then a form, a slight figure, stood before his
dream-eyes; beside it a strong face, with long black hair about it,
looked at him, and Le Grand’s voice came to his dream-ears. “Ah, Dieu!”
he whispered, and knelt there in the snow with bowed head. The crowd
shuffled uneasily, then one by one they took off their caps, all but Le
Pendu, who held a gun and grunted contemptuously. Slowly the dark vaults
above lightened and faint yellow beams stole, far-reaching, over the
dark spruce.

“Bénissez, vous bon Dieu, ma femme et mon ami, si c’est votre volonté
dat Ah die ains’. B’en, c’est fini!” He stood up and faced the east
again.

A candle-lantern approached, and the factor came into the circle. “Aire
ye ready, me lads?” he asked.

“Mm-hm!” answered Le Pendu; no one else spoke.

“Verbaux!”—the chief turned to Jules—“I’ll gie ye a chaince mair, mon,
for ye life, If ye’ll gie me yere worrd o’ hanair not to gang awa’, an’
to bide here an’ trap for me, I’ll let ye go. Me bruither, God rest his
soule! told me of ye, an’ said ye cud be truisted when ye promeesed.”

Jules straightened up proudly. “Ah’m no h’afraid of la mort, M’sieu’ le
Facteur, an’ Jules Verbaux he no can be forcé to do vat he no vant to
do!” he answered.

The Scotchman shook his head slowly. “I’m vera sorry,” he said, stepping
back; he nodded to the shooting squad. They moved forward, cocking their
guns, then stopped. A picture of a woman, alone, destitute, maybe
hounded by an Indian; the reflection of a rugged face, of a strong form
now bent of wounds, yet doing what he could for his sake, passed rapidly
before Jules; then came the thought of the child: this was its mother
after all. The craving to see Marie again some time, to find her, the
heart’s cry for her, was too strong, and won at last. The deep voice
spoke hoarsely.

“Ah geeve ma promesse, M’sieu’ Le Facteur,” Jules said.

A long sigh came from the men; Le Pendu cursed under his breath.

“I’m glad, Verbaux! Cut him loose,” and the factor went away.

Some one parted his wrist-thongs and Verbaux was free, alone in the
yard; from beyond a tepee Le Pendu shook his fist at him and
disappeared.

Jules went to the gates and walked out to the edge of the dark woods.
The smell of the trees drove him to madness, and he caressed the rough
bark of a tall hemlock. “Ah go fas’, dey no catch me!” he thought, and
looked back. Nothing stirred at the post; the gray light made shapes
dimly visible. “Non! Jules he geeve hees promesse, he no can go,” he
whispered, and went into the yard again. He felt friendless and alone;
nowhere to go, no one to speak to, no one to say a kind word to Her, or
tell him of Her.

Hesitatingly he wandered to his prison tepee and threw himself on the
cold earth. At first he regretted his weakness, then he condoned it with
thoughts of Marie. “Somme taime Ah fin’ dat fille, eef Le Grand he ees
h’alive an’ stay veet’ her’ an’ Ah know dat he do dat!” Then he resigned
himself to the situation, and stepped gravely out among the fires that
crackled cheerily for the morning meals at Hudson Bay Company’s Poste
Reliance.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   XX

                               THE QUEST


THERE were but few squaws to be seen. “Dey no arriver encore,” Jules
muttered. The voyageurs nodded to him in a friendly way; the Indians
seemed not to notice his presence, and Le Pendu scowled openly. Verbaux
approached one of the fires where French-Canadians breakfasted, and they
made room for him to sit. One of them offered Jules his pannikin and
plate and motioned toward the food—a caribou-stew that simmered in an
iron pot and gave off appetising vapours. Verbaux ate silently; no one
spoke to him, and he did not feel the necessity of speech. His meal
finished, he went to the factor’s house and asked for orders; and as he
stood listening to what the factor said, his eyes wandered longingly
through the forest tops, and focused themselves on a white strip of
barren that was the horizon, many miles beyond the trees.

“I’ll gie ye dogs, sledge, food, an’ blankit to start wi’; ye’ll sattle
wi’ yere fierst lot o’ skin!”

The old prison tepee was given him as his home; five mangy brutes were
turned over to his care as his team; a medium-light sledge, two thin
blankets, some tea and pemmican completed his indebtedness to the Hudson
Bay Company. He smiled a trifle bitterly when the factor concluded his
orders by “Do yere worrk weel, mon, an’ ye’ll be recht; eef ye don’t
I’ll make ye that feine ye canna be sweeped!” and the throb for freedom
and Her came over him hard, but he answered quietly enough, “Oui,
M’sieu’ le Facteur,” then turned away, leading the scrawny dogs and
dragging the sledge and outfit.

All day he worked steadily, patching up the rotten skins of his tepee,
and bringing boughs for his bed. He made his own fire, ate alone, and
lived apart from the other inhabitants of the post. When night came
again his home was comfortable and warm, and he slept with the prayer
for Marie on his lips.

Long before any one was awake the next morning he started off, taking
all his food and his blankets. He travelled as fast as his dogs could go
until evening, then built a temporary camp at the edge of the open
country. He fastened the team after supper, put on his snow-shoes, and
crossed out from under the black timber to the barrens. A light breeze
was blowing and Jules inhaled great lungsful of its strength. The cold
stars glittered above him, and the crust crackled sharply under his
weight. In the centre of the space he stopped. Behind and beyond showed
the skirts of the woods, like black cords drawn about a white sheet.
Shooting comets trailed and flashed athwart the studded heavens, and he
wondered whence they came and whither they went. There was no sound but
that of the icy myriads as they moved along over the crust, impelled by
the breeze.

“Eef Ah onlee could go an’ loook! Eef Ah could go—have liberté vonce
h’aga’n!” and Jules sighed. “Dat no possible; somme taime Ah get ’way,
tell le facteur dat Ah go, an’ den go queeck—somme taime, mabbe!” He
retraced his way slowly, lingering over each step that took him toward
the things that belonged to the Company. The dark line heightened as he
went, and when he reached the woods again he could see the shifting
reflection of his fire. He came to the bough camp, wrapped himself in
his blankets, and passed into the unconsciousness of sleep while the
darkness hung on, then little by little gave way to the irresistible
power of another sun.

This day Jules set forty traps, and in four days had twenty marten,
nineteen sable, three fox (one gray), six wolverine, five lynx, and a
beaver (that he killed on a neighbouring pond).

The fifth day he set out for the post again. A strong northerly storm
was on, and the sleet dashed against him with dizzying strength as he
slowly forced his way against it. He broke the trail, and the dogs
followed on his heels, whining and shivering, their long hair clustered
with white and their tails dragging heavily. The wind sang riotously in
Jules’s ears, and their inner rims were covered with the blowing drift;
the hair in his nose froze solid, and prickled as he breathed; and the
gusts found their way inside the thick muffler and chilled his body. But
he loved it, and fought his way steadily to Reliance.

A few trappers were in the open when Verbaux entered the yard, and they
grunted surprisedly as they saw the tall, gaunt figure leading the team
and sledge.

“’ave success?” asked one.

Jules nodded and went to his tepee, fed the dogs, gathered up his skins,
and sought the factor.

“Voilà! Dat h’anough for you?” he asked.

“Aye, that’s guid!” the Scotchman answered, and counted the pelts.
“That’s guid, mon,” he repeated, but Verbaux had gone out of the store.

Jules passed close to Le Pendu’s camp on the way to his own, and he
stopped suddenly. Lying at one side were Le Pendu’s snow-shoes, and it
was their remarkable and unpleasantly familiar shape that caught Jules’s
attention; they were long and narrow, turning up at the toe and heel,
with thin lacings.

“Ah rememb’ maintenant! Dat le track Ah see long ’go’ par dat femme mort
près de Lac la Pluie!” he muttered, and went on.

The winter days, weeks, and months rolled sluggishly by. Verbaux kept to
his promise and worked faithfully and hard. To be sure, he got good pay
for his skins from the factor, and this he saved carefully. He had
brought his dogs to perfect form and they held the reputation of being
the fastest team on the post. The Indians had grown to like Jules, while
the voyageurs were outspoken in their admiration for his great skill in
the forests, and for his wonderful sagacity and cunning in setting
traps. His luck had been phenomenal up to the close of the season, and
represented a good share of the entire take of the post. Le Pendu was
always ugly, but Jules laughed in his face and snapped his fingers at
him.

Five long months had passed since he had given his word to stay with
Factor Donalds. The snows had all gone; in their place the spring
gray-green of the barren tundra showed, suggestive of hot suns and warm
skies. In the forests the undergrowth was thick, and bright, tender
leaves appeared from day to day. The birches spread their budding limbs
hungrily to the southern winds that came caressingly from warmer climes,
and the winter masses shrivelled on their trunks and died. The ice had
melted from the lakes and rivers, and their cold waters shone dancingly
in the lengthening days. Snow-shoes were laid away, and in their stead
graceful bark canoes lay daintily on the beach before the post at the
lake edge. The dogs strolled lazily about, their work finished for some
months. And still Jules remained. One night he pushed a canoe from the
shore, and leaping in sent it flying over the calm waters with long,
sweeping strokes of his paddle. Some distance out he ceased paddling and
drifted. The darkness was warm, the night air laden with the odours of
the fresh things of early summer; the still waters mirrored the tiny
bright lamps of the heavens, and as he watched and lived in the silence
of the waters a gleaming crescent lifted its horns above the trees and
cast long, glancing rays across the lake. Jules was kneeling in the
canoe, resting his hands on the paddle, that lay athwart the craft.

“La lune, by gar she mak’ bon signe!” he said aloud as he noted that
both tips of the new moon pointed strongly upward. Higher and higher it
rose; the shining dew on his tanned shirt shone gray and the little
drops of moisture on his cap gleamed in the blue-white sheen. The light
swirls of trout as they rose to the surface here and there broke the
silence; from far beyond in the marshes came the solitary _qu-a-a-ck_ of
a duck; the hoarse croaking of a heron sounded faintly; then the dull,
booming calls of the marsh bittern floated up out of a distant valley
stream.

“Ah mus’ go to-mor’,” Verbaux decided as he listened to these sounds of
the summer wilderness; the heartache to find Marie overpowered him. He
paddled slowly back, dipping the blade lightly into the dark waters; the
soft lap of the little wave at the bow of the canoe sounded like liquid
music to his ears, and he sighed as it ceased and changed to the harsh,
sandy grating of land. He lifted the light craft, carried it on shore
and turned it over, then he went to the tepee and lay down to sleep.
“For de las’ taime,” he promised himself as he felt nature’s
unconsciousness approaching.

The hard patter of rain on the skins woke him, and he got up and looked
out. The heavens were dark and lowering, and the rain poured in thin
sheets from the low-hanging clouds; it coursed in streamlets from the
roofs of the buildings and twisted its way out under the stockade,
furrowing deeper as he watched it. The roar of the falling drops in the
forest came to him murmuringly. A heavy fog spread across the big lake,
motionless and thick; the air was tinged with warmth. Jules made his
preparations to go: he tied up his blankets, putting his food, tea, and
the clothes he had made between them. Then he ate a cold breakfast and
went out in the wet to the factor’s house.

The Scotchman listened to Verbaux’s frank admission of his intended
departure, then he laughed.

“Na, na, ye’ll no be gangin’ awhile yit. I want ye to bide and wait for
the big brigade that’ll coom now damn soon,” he answered.

“Ah tak’ back ma promesse!” Jules said, shrugging his shoulders as he
left; but the factor only laughed again incredulously.

Verbaux waited all day in his tepee; he called his dogs and caressed
them for the last time. In the afternoon the rain ceased and only the
drip, drip from the soaking roofs remained of the earlier splashing
fall. The trappers and Indians were in their tepees, some asleep, others
talking, their voices sounding muffled and dead in the damp air.

Jules listened; no one moved. He took up his meagre load, left the
tepee, crossed the yard, and went out of the gate unnoticed. His team
leader trotted up to him, and Verbaux patted the big shaggy head kindly.
The dark mist rolled upon the bank and enshrouded the trees; Jules
disappeared into it, and soon a light scratching sound was audible, then
an instant’s gurgle of disturbed water. That slight sound was heard by a
figure that appeared dimly on the bank. It listened, then ran back to
the post and hurried to Jules’s tepee, glanced in, saw that it was
stripped of everything, and rushed, calling loudly, to the Store.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XXI

                             ON THE HEIGHTS


VERBAUX put his bundle in the canoe and carried it to the water; he
stepped in, shoved off into the dense opaqueness, and paddled away to
the south-east, and had gone but a short distance when he heard shouts
and cries in the direction of the post. The sounds penetrated eerily to
him, and seemed first behind, then to one side; a gun-shot vibrated
softly, the harsh edges of the sound smoothed off by the motionless,
lifeless fog. Jules smiled grimly, laid his paddle across his knees
while he unfastened his shirt at the neck, turned up the loose sleeves,
and laid his cap on the bottom of the canoe; then he knelt and braced
himself strongly with his knees, grasped the paddle firmly in his big
hands, and listened. In a minute he heard the faint rolling of shingle
as canoes were pushed rapidly over it. He thrust the paddle deep into
the water and swung the canoe sharply to the right, and then worked
noiselessly along. The thick atmosphere was cleft by the bow and rolled
visibly to either side as his little craft cut through it rapidly; he
swung to the right again and backed water when he saw the trees looming
up a few yards ahead. Then he drifted. Not far along the shore he could
hear the fast-fading thumps of hastily wielded paddles, and the advices
shouted to his pursuers. He heard the factor’s strident tones cursing
and growling, and he chuckled when the sounds of the canoes had gone and
the voices went back to the post.

Then with silent, revolving strokes of the long paddle he left the murky
shadows of the trees and moved in stillness out on the lake; little
eddying bubbles showed his track over the calm surface. Soon he
increased the speed of the canoe, and long threads of wavelets parted
and fell away from the bow with liquid whisperings.

“Ha! dey aire là-bas!” he muttered as his keen senses caught the distant
clu-u-ck thump of the paddles. He stopped to listen.

“Ki-mi-na-hon an-ootch-kee-je-gak. Pen-du-u-u? [You kill to-day,
Pendu?]”

Jules heard the words plainly, and they seemed magnified by the wet
denseness.

“Ah-ha!” answered a voice from somewhere to the left. Nothing then but
the regular sounds of paddles again, going on.

“Dees bon!” Verbaux thought, and kept on, paddling quietly and keeping
within sound of those ahead. Two hours passed, and then the far-off
roaring of rapids penetrated the gray atmosphere; Jules lost the canoes
ahead and slowed up, drifting with the light wind that was coming from
the north. Nearer and nearer sounded the quick water of the thoroughfare
between Lac des Rochers and the dead water of Rivière du Renard.

“Ah go for dat an’ mabbe have bonne chance an’ passer dose hoddaires!”
he decided, and paddled fast. In a few minutes he felt the strength of
the current, and he stood up in the canoe as the turmoil of water
rushing over rocks and bars sounded straight ahead. The north wind
increased and the fog began to lift; he was on the edge of the rapids;
white water gleamed here and there, but Verbaux guided his craft with
powerful strokes of his blade, now to the right, then to the left, among
the jutting reefs and shifting sand ledges. The crest of a furling water
shoulder broke on the gunwales, half filling the little craft, but Jules
laughed softly when he glided safe beyond the wet jaws of the rapids,
into the flat calm of the next lake. He shoved ashore, drew his canoe
under the thickets, and watched.

Gradually the thick mist rose and disappeared, and he could see
everywhere. The falling sun shone warm over the blue-green expanse;
beyond, the forests were gently moving and the tiny wind ripples hurried
along, rolling to the shore, where they broke and lapped the pebbles
with a monotonous tinkling.

Voices came to him sharply, and from the mouth of the thoroughfare came
five canoes. They drifted out in front of him.

“By sacré-é-é-é! Ah hear somme t’ing go pas’ v’en ve vatch’ au
commencement du rapide!” the single occupant of a canoe growled as he
looked searchingly about the shores and out on the watery distance. The
other men laughed, and Jules smiled. He waited motionless under his
green protection, while the canoes sidled aimlessly along with the light
wind. The birch leaves quivered and rubbed against one another; a little
brown bird lighted on a twig at his feet, cocked its head on one side,
and the black eyes peered merrily at him. Satisfied with its
examination, the little inhabitant of the forest fluttered, cheeping,
into a bush, and sat in its nest.

Jules heard voices again; he crouched at the water’s edge and looked out
along the rippling surface: the canoes were coming back in single file,
passing close along the bushes. He crept away from the water and lay
flat behind a heap of last year’s leaves. He could see the lake fringe
plainly; soon the bow of the first canoe came within range of his eyes;
it moved evenly and steadily, then Le Pendu’s figure, kneeling in the
stern and paddling silently, showed dark. Jules could see him watching,
first the mouth of the stream, then the woods. Le Pendu passed and the
other four, and they were gone noiselessly. Verbaux kept still for some
time. The sun set rayonning in the west, while the purples and gold of
its good-night intensified, then paled and melted away. The little wind,
too, sank, and the summer twilight was soft and mysterious; the
twinkling points of night appeared one by one, and the moon gleamed in
its blue-white strength.

“Ah go, mabbe!” Jules whispered to himself, and cautiously worked his
way to the canoe. He reached it and listened: the tiny noises of the
night, the shrill _bzzzing_ of mosquitoes, the distant murmur of the
fast water, were all that broke the lonely silence. With a heave and a
few quick steps Jules slid his little canoe in the black waters, sat
himself quietly on its ribbed bottom, and started to push out from the
shadows of the trees. A long black something appeared out in front of
him, moving very slowly. A branch caught on the thwart of his canoe, it
grated, creaked a little, then snapped back, swishing. Jules sat still,
his paddle holding the bottom. The something beyond stopped its motion;
then it swung inshore and came toward him without a sound.

“Maintenant mak’ fight!” Jules thought, and felt under his shirt for his
knife, found it, put it between his teeth, and sat waiting. The
something grew into the shape of a canoe with a man. It came on slowly;
then the man stopped paddling, and Jules pictured him listening. Nearer
and nearer drifted the canoe; only the _drip-drip-drip_ of the drops
from the oncoming paddle-blade that rested across the canoe. Right up to
the bow of Jules’s craft it came, then the man backed water, seeing the
woods ahead of him, and his canoe was motionless while he listened, five
feet from Verbaux. Everything became still, it seemed to Jules; even the
insects ceased humming; his heart-beats were heavy, a surely audible
sound he thought, as he gripped the knife closer with his teeth. He
could see the man perfectly now: Le Pendu it was; the cold moonlight
brought his figure into clear relief with the dark background. Le Pendu
sat there listening, scanning the woods.

“Diable, vat dat Ah hear?” he said, half aloud, and listened again. A
musquash swam between the two canoes, and saw the strange things; it
dove at once with a noisy splash; the ripples flowed away, sparkling in
the night light, and broke with a light curling on the pebbles of the
shore. In a moment the black head reappeared beyond the stern of Le
Pendu’s canoe; it swam round and looked at this unknown thing that
invaded the sanctity of the wild waters of the North. Le Pendu moved his
head, watching; instantly the musquash saw and dove again loudly, and
was gone beneath the waters; its wake rolled evenly away and was
dispersed by the weight of the lake. Jules sat in his canoe, watching
the man almost at his elbow. And so the two were, when an indistinct
thumping sounded from beyond.

Le Pendu swung his canoe round with a long stroke of his paddle; another
canoe loomed black and drew near.

“S-s-s-st!” its guide said softly.

“S-s-s-st!” Le Pendu answered, and moved his craft to meet the other.

“Sa-win? [Do you hear anything?]” The rough voice was toned low.

“Ah-ha,” Le Pendu answered, “mais eet vas kil-ou-th [muskrat], Ah
t’ink!”

“La-cha-ne-weet-chil-to-o? [Did you see him?]”

“Non,” Le Pendu growled softly, and the two canoes floated side by side.

Jules waited; the canoes near him watched, and lay there, mirrored
vaguely on the even waters. An owl hooted from the black forests, and
its hoarse call echoed away among the trees. Then Le Pendu’s canoe began
to move down the shore.

“Et-chin-oo-e? [Where are you going?]” asked the man in the canoe. Le
Pendu did not answer.

“Et-chin—” began the man again.

“Se-eith-lint-ai! [I hear you!]” Le Pendu answered savagely.
“Qu-ar-a-koot cho-oe! [You are a fool. Come!]” he added.

The two canoes moved away silently and disappeared in the shadow gloom,
following the timber edge. Jules breathed a sigh of relief and took his
knife from his mouth.

“By diable, Ah t’ink dat taime bataille, sans doute!” he muttered, and
sat still. The summer night passed on; the moon sank slowly and
everything was dark; Verbaux pushed carefully out on the open water and
listened, but nothing stirred. Then he moved off rapidly with scarce a
ripple. Very soon the forest behind shrank to a black line, then that
was gone and only the flat water stretched away on all sides. He paddled
faster, heading to the south, his body swaying regularly to and fro, to
and fro as he plied the ash blade.

“Ah mus’ arrive Rivière des Loups befor’ de sonne comme!” he said as he
saw the faint lightening of the eastern skies. The one word “Marie” and
the one thought to find her thrummed in his mind. “Marie!” on the
forward stroke, “Marie!” on the back sway, he whispered continuously.

“Enfin!” and he felt relieved as the distant noise of running water came
softly through space; a little while more and trees grew up before him,
and then he reached them and stopped to eat—but only drew himself under
some bushes, and did not leave the canoe. As he ate and scooped up
handfuls of water, the heavens underwent their beautiful changes of
sunrise; a loon laughed from the bottom of a cove, and the shrill cry
echoed on the morning air.

A marsh bottom was near Jules’s resting-place, and something moving on
it caught his eyes; he looked at it, and distinguished the black shape
of a moose. The huge animal walked to the water’s edge and splashed
noisily as it waded along, feeding on the pod roots and tender
water-grasses. It came toward Verbaux, and as the light grew stronger he
could see the sprouting antlers and the long ears flopping awkwardly. A
gentle draft blew from him to the moose; suddenly the animal stopped,
lifted its head, and stared in Verbaux’s direction. “Who-offf!” A few
lumbering strides, then a crashing in the underbrush, and it was gone.
Jules watched towards the blue far-away land that marked the place he
had come from in the night, but no pursuing canoe appeared.

“By gar Jules get ’way good dat taime certainement!” he said to himself,
and started on again.

He paddled on until the sun stood full high; a strong wind was blowing,
and little foam crests raced after one another as far as his eyes could
reach across the shining waters. Billowy clouds passed overhead, rolling
on out of sight beyond the far mountains. Soon the lake waters narrowed
and Jules pushed easily, hurried on by the wind. He looked ahead
thoroughly; nothing moved. Then a sharp bend in the lake outlet, and he
was in calm waters that flowed silently but strongly onward; he stopped
working and watched the banks slide by as if by magic. Dull whirlpools
and huge eddies appeared here and there as the current was headed by
rocks on the bottom and recoiled to the surface. Birds fluttered to and
fro over the stream, and gray and white moose-jays floated on the air
with open wings, calling harshly. Silently Verbaux went on and down with
the waters. Suddenly he thrust his paddle in the strong flow and brought
the canoe to a standstill with a giant heave. Splashings went on round
the next bend; they sounded plainly on the drafty air. Then
_qu-a-a-ack_.

“Bah! des canards!” laughed Jules, and let himself glide on. The
afternoon passed thus; scenes shifted, and new ones, as green and
soothing, filled their places for an instant, then they too changed, and
evermore they came in endless lines on both sides of the river,
motionless, soft and fragrant with the odours of the wilderness. The
water quickened, riffles showed long and even, and then the dull booming
of a fall came heavily to Jules’s ears.

“Ah stop là ce soir; dere ees place for ’slip!” he said aloud, and stood
up to guide the canoe hither and thither among the sharp rock-heads that
shone wet and glistening above their wave-skirts. It continued white,
then evened again, and the flow was irresistible; below him Verbaux
could see the river line finish, and beyond that the tops of tall pines
appeared on a level with him.

“La chute d’eau! go to lan’ maintenant.” He swept the canoe to the bank
on the right-hand side and stepped ashore. Gratefully he stretched his
long body and bathed his sun- and wind-burned skin. A good trail led
away into the sombering woods; he picked up the canoe, threw it on his
shoulders with a quick heave, and went on down the path, half trotting,
with loose knees, to ease the weight. The open path kept just in from
the river, under the huge trees whose branches met the fast water and
swayed as it carried them with it, then springing back to be caught
again.

“Personne comme dees vay encore!” Jules muttered, watching the soft
mosses and boggy clays under his feet as he scuffled along.

“By gar mus’ soon arriver à la chute!” he thought, and just then came
out on the top of the falls and put down the canoe.

At his feet the black water unrolled smoothly over the edge, then broke
into green and white sheets with a deep roar that reverberated hollowly
from the cliff-circled pool below. Mist-spouts and clouds of spray
whirled into the air, enwreathing the low branches of the forest. Great
masses of bubbles and froth that gleamed coldly in the evening light
were born before his eyes, and carried swiftly off, to burst and die.
The chill scent of the mist rose invigoratingly to him.

“Bon Dieu, dat fin’!” he whispered. Little by little the long tree
shadows crept athwart the perpendicular waters, and the last rays of the
sun shone through their falling depths, fringing each sheet with
sparkling points. Then the lights changed; slowly the waters turned
black, and the foam showed whiter than ever. Still Jules watched the
wonderful changes of the wilds. In a few minutes he could not see the
pool, and the roar seemed deeper and more powerful. Wild and glorious it
sounded down there, unseen, unfelt, mysterious, and grand. And ever at
his feet the flow passed on sullenly, to be dashed to mist and foam
beneath.

“Dat bon!” Verbaux said again, drawing a deep breath. “Ah go heet
maintenant an’ dormir. To-mor’ Ah mus’ arriver Lac des Diables.” He left
the brink, drew the canoe into the bushes, and felt his way along the
trail in the darkness to a tumbled-down bark lean-to.

Early the following morning he went up to the falls for his canoe and
lugged it down to the pool. The drafts played with the flying spume,
twisting it into fantastic clouds that eddied from cliff to cliff; the
black shapes of trout showed now and then as they rolled up lazily in
the froth under the fall. The air dripped with its overload of moisture,
and as Jules stepped in the canoe and shoved off, he brushed away the
little beads of water that clung to his hair and eyebrows.

The current, now fast, then slow, carried him down-stream until noon,
then the bank widened again and Verbaux passed out on another lake. The
waters were unruffled and reflected the skies accurately.

“Dere comme la brigade; mabbe Ah fin’ h’out somme t’ing de Marie, Dieu
l’espère!” Jules said aloud as he saw a convoy of canoes coming toward
him across the lake. He waited, motionless, and his reflection grew
longer and shorter in the calm waters as the canoe swung round idly,
moved by the faint strength of the current that flowed into the lake
behind him.

“Verbaux, mon Gar, bon Dieu, dat toi?” shouted a voice from the canoes.
Jules started violently.

“Le Grand!” he whispered. “B’en, oui!” he shouted back. Then a canoe
separated from the group and came on fast, the man paddling hard while
the others cheered and laughed. The two canoes floated side by side and
the two men grasped each other’s hands.

“Marie?” Jules said hoarsely.

“Là-bas, h’all sauf!” smiled Le Grand, pointing beyond the distant
mountains.

“Dieu merci!” and Jules bowed his head; Le Grand was silent. The rest
came up. “Bon, toi fin’ heem, hein?” said a big voyageur laughingly to
Le Grand. The latter nodded gravely.

“’Ow toi comme ici?” asked the voyageur, Maurice Lefèvrier, of Jules.

“Le facteur he sen’ moi for to go Lac Tonnerres see eef dose
Assiniboines tak’ de trap’!” Verbaux answered.

Le Grand looked at him quickly, and Jules narrowed his eyes; the other
understood and made no comment.

It grew late, and some one suggested stopping for the night; the canoes
were grounded and their loads covered from the dew. After supper Verbaux
beckoned silently to Le Grand, and the two walked out to a little bank
that overlooked the water, and sat down. A soft wind surged from the
lake, and overhead banks of clouds drove on; sometimes their masses
split and the silver of the full moon streamed through in a white flood,
only to be dammed again by the hurrying gloom. Above the two stretched
spreading branches, through whose leaves the night wind blew, making
them breathe tremulously. The lulling song of curling ripples overbore
all other sound; even the mosquitoes bit silently.

Jules and Le Grand filled their pipes; Le Grand struck a light, and its
sheen was bright as he held it to the bowl; he passed it to Verbaux, and
the two smoked quietly, watching the uncertain waters that merged into
total darkness out there beyond them.

“Vat for toi comme?” Le Grand asked then slowly.

“To fin’ Marie!” Jules whispered.

“Bon!” and Le Grand nodded.

“She ees bien?” Verbaux breathed deeply and looked at Le Grand hard.

The latter nodded again. “She vait for toi, Verbaux! Ah tol’ Marie Ah
comme for to fin’ toi h’aga’n; mais,” and he chuckled softly, “toi comme
fin’ me! C’est bon!” he repeated.

The two smoked on, silent both. The wind fell away gradually, the leaves
were still, the clouds had gone, and the moon shone unrestrained in all
its power, creating black shadows and distances, harshening outlines,
softening the vague shades that lay on the two men. Insects hummed, and
little animals seeking their food travelled through the thick underbrush
with suggestive cracklings.

“Dam’!” Le Grand said as he slapped his face, “dat mosquit’ he bit’
harrd!” And Verbaux smiled.

“Le Grand, Ah vant h’ask toi somme t’ing important!” he said.

“Qu’est?” asked the other, taking his pipe from his mouth.

“Marie, she h’ask for moi?” A note of eagerness, one of faint suspicion,
but it was the voice of Jules’s big heart that spoke, trembling a
little.

Le Grand laughed and put out his hand. “She h’ask many, many taime for
toi, Jules, an’ Ah have comme to breeng toi to dat petite fille!” he
said.

Verbaux shuddered, and his eyes grew soft and moist. “Ah go avec toi
to-mor’!” he said simply.

“Bon!” Le Grand replied, and they were silent again, each thinking his
own thoughts: the thoughts of two men, but of one woman whom each loved,
but each in a different way.

The moon rose higher and higher until it cast no shadows; fleeting stars
shot hither and thither, and were mirrored, flashing, in the black
water. Owls hooted, loons called shrilly, things of the night stirred
noisily, but the thoughts of the two men were always of one.

“Allons!” Le Grand spoke, “to-mor’ ve mus’ go far! You ronne ’vay f’om
Facteur Donal’?”

“Oui.” Jules looked in surprise at his friend that guessed so well.
“Non!” he added, “Ah no ronne ’vay; Ah tell to le facteur dat Ah go
’vay, an’ den Ah ronne—en canot!” and he laughed, so did Le Grand, and
the two went back to where the rest had made camp. Most of the crowd
were asleep in their blankets by the big fire; some still sat there
talking.

“Dis Verbaux,” Le Grand said to Lefèvrier, who rested in the warm light,
his back against a log, his feet to the heat. The big voyageur and Jules
shook hands. They talked awhile, then slept with the rest.

A mink, drawn by the smell of pemmican, sneaked up from the shore, its
wet body glistening in the dying firelight. It scuffled here and there,
nosing about the supper remains, then vanished to the lake again with a
bit of the dried meat. All night everything was silent, but when the
birds began to flutter in the brush and the kingfisher called harshly on
the shore, the men awakened and got up, one by one, to the work of
another day.

“Toi go veet’ me to loook—see eef dose trap’ aire dere?” Jules asked of
Le Grand at breakfast.

“Certainement Ah go, an’ den mus’ go back to la poste,” Le Grand
answered, with a swift glance at the others.

“Au r’voir, Verbaux, Le Grand!” the crowd shouted as Jules and the other
paddled away while the brigade went on toward the mouth of the stream
and the falls above.

“Adieu!” shouted the two, set their faces to the south-east, and paddled
fast.

They worked on for an hour, and neither spoke; then Jules stopped
paddling and rested his long arms.

“Ve have to go fas’!” he said. “V’en dose oddaires dey comme to la
poste—alors!” and he chuckled.

“Allons, den!” grunted his companion, and plied his paddle the faster.

They crossed Lac Terrible and sped on through the dead water of Les
Cerfs. It took them two days to reach Les Rapides du Diable on Rivière
de l’Échelle [River of Ladders]. When they came to the foaming rapids
that lay treacherous before them, white and menacing, Le Grand spoke.

“Eef ve could onlee passé ça!”

“Dat be good!” Jules answered as he guided the canoe ashore.

They ate a light lunch. “Maintenant,” Jules said when they were ready to
start on, “ve go par la rivière an’ les lacs, ou tak’ le canot an’ go
’cross de forêts an’ climb le Mont d’Ours [Bear Mountain]. Vat toi
t’ink, Le Grand?”

His companion thought a minute. “Mor’ queeck go h’ovaire Mont d’Ours,
mais harrd travaille!” he said.

“Bah! dat notting; Ah have attend so long taime for see Marie, Ah vant
go so queeck possible!”

Le Grand smiled. “Eef you had seulement comme avec moi long h’ago h’at
Isle la Crosse, den ve have feenesh dat Annaotaha, et puis tu vould have
Marie maintenant.”

“Jules beeg fou dose taimes,” Verbaux answered, and let his eyes roam
over the forests that rose hill on hill to mountain heights beyond; for
a second a hateful figure passed in his brain and he shivered.

Le Grand saw and understood. “She h’ask h’all taime for toi, Verbaux,
dese sev’n mont’ passé,” he said softly.

The disagreeable thought was gone, and Jules nodded gratefully to his
friend.

“B’en go!” As he spoke Le Grand lifted the canoe to throw it on his
shoulders, but put it down with a groan.

“Mon pauvre vieux, dat woun’ do dat, hein?”

Jules threw the little craft on his own broad back and led the way into
the green thickets. For a long time the woods were level and the two
picked their way among windfalls and tangled masses of last year’s
undergrowth. Twice they put the canoe in little lakes and paddled across
their clear waters. Then they began to rise; unnoticeably at first, the
walking sloped uphill, then it grew steeper and steeper until they were
climbing slowly up the bouldered side of a mountain whose top looked
down at them through the trees from far above. They came to a little
brook that dashed refreshingly among the rocks and mosses, and Jules put
down the canoe to rest. The forest was hot and breathless, but the
little stream gave off a sense of coolness that was grateful to the two
men. They drank of its strengthening flow and started on. Upward and
onward they toiled, Jules always carrying the canoe, though Le Grand
often attempted to get it, but Verbaux would not give it up.

“Laissez faire,” he said, “Ah’m no fatigue’.” So Le Grand followed,
sometimes pushing when a particularly steep place had to be got over. At
last the top was reached, and they both were glad.

“By gar, dat magnifique!” Le Grand said as they sat on the upturned
canoe and looked round them.

It was coming evening; as far as the eye could reach, the lighter shades
and deep greens of the wilderness spread away in beautiful expanse;
still beyond, fifty miles or more, big mountain ranges loomed blue and
gray in the afternoon haze, their bases clad in dark colours, their
heads touching the sunset clouds. Scattered about, like jewels on a
green cloth, were quantities of lakes shimmering in the soft glare of
the sinking sun. Here they were bright and silvered, there they were
dull, some blue, some colourless; all were still and like liquid drops
and blotches from a mighty pen on a green background. One sheet of water
that lay in the sun’s rays shone like a body of mercury, dazzling the
eye. Lower and still lower sank the fiery globe, turning from yellow to
orange; then deeper and grander shades came and it changed to pink, then
red, tingeing the clouds with its hot colours. The upper winds of the
skies drove streaks and long groups of feathery cloud across the sun’s
face; these were at once magnified and painted in brilliant hues—the
denser ones blue-black, the lighter ones gray, green, yellow, and
scarlet. Ever changing, ever shifting, moving always, the ethereal
scenes bewildered the senses of the two that sat there, spell-bound,
watching: one dreaming, the other happy, contented with his friend, his
quest ended, his hopes realised. Then but half of the red circle showed
above the distant mountains; it cast far-reaching rays athwart the now
purpling heavens and gilded the peak of Mont d’Ours with a mellow glow
that softened everything. The canoe was deep yellow, the men were gently
shadowed by its power. Gradually the light of day sank, and the deep
shades of evening grew. The lakes and streams lost their sparkle and
became vague, almost invisible. A deep sombreness spread over
everything, then white mists rose from the waters as their surfaces
condensed into vapour and floated upward to join the drifting clouds.

Dark it became and darker, and still the two stayed; distance shortened
until nothing but the sides of their own mountain were to be seen. The
thousand night lights appeared one by one till a new, cold glow showed
the forests black, the nearest lakes as indistinct spots, the clouds as
but dark quantities that drifted evenly across the heavens. A
silence,—that silence of the mountains,—absolute, fathomless, was over
everything. No sound, not the slightest breeze moved; only their own
thoughts were heard by the two. The chill strength of the stars grew;
all objects became black in their light, and full night had come.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XXII

                           ETIENNE ANNAOTAHA


LE GRAND stood up. “Go dere an’ mak’ camp,” he said, pointing toward the
woods that lay enshrouded in gloom on the far side of the mountain.
Verbaux nodded, picked up the canoe, and followed. They felt their way
through the impenetrable shades and found an open spot with a little
spring beside it.

“Ah stay ici two year’ gon’!” Le Grand said as he broke some fire-wood
and lighted the evening blaze. Jules went off in the yellow light that
reached out among the trees, and brought back long boughs and some
forked limbs; with these he quickly made a lean-to. When he and Le Grand
finished supper they got out their pipes, and soon tobacco smoke mingled
with the fire fumes. “To-mor’ ve see Marie.” Jules’s voice was soft, and
his eyes wandered into the darkness.

Le Grand bowed his head. “Dieu merci!” he whispered, and the two were
silent. After a long time Verbaux moved over to Le Grand and put his
hand affectionately on the old man’s shoulder.

“Le Grand, Ah desire dat toi leeve avec Marie an’ moi; you’ leetle vones
aire mort; you have no place, no home, dat have do so mooch for Marie
an’ moi?”

Le Grand did not answer at once, but his form shook, and Jules’s arm
slid round the thin neck. “Toi do dees for Jules?”

The other spoke then quietly. “Non, Verbaux; Le Grand ees ol’ man
maintenant; he no vant mak’ du travaille pour toi. Non, you an’ Marie
mus’ be content togeddaire, h’alon’. Toi ’ave beeg cœur, mais Ah can no
h’accep’. Ah go avec toi an’ see Marie encore vone taime, den Le Grand
he go to Poste Determination an’ travailler so long he can.”

The old man puffed stoically on. Jules sighed deeply, but said no more.
He knew the iron will that lived in this body worn of years, bent with
pain, but strong yet. They sat awhile before the fire, then crawled in
on the fresh aromatic bed of green.

A distant grumbling broke the silence.

“Tonnerre, by dam’!” Le Grand ejaculated. “Bes’ put h’on de branches.”
He and Jules hurriedly gathered more thick boughs and laid them,
thatch-wise, over their heads, end to end across the forked limbs that
served as supports.

“Dat h’anough,” Verbaux said, and they got inside and waited. The
approaching thunder muttered louder and louder, and tines of ragged
lightning darted from the black skies.

“By gar! dat goin’ be grand tempête!” said Jules.

The air was heavy and silent; the forest motionless.

“La voilà!” Le Grand shouted as the wind came suddenly, bending the dark
trees and whistling shrilly through their impeding arms.

The thunder pealed, roar on roar, the vicious bolts jaggedly seared the
air all round them, and then the rain fell in soaking torrents. It beat
its way through the men’s shelter and dripped steadily on them.

“Bah! Phu-i-i-a!” Jules grunted as a stream of water poured on his face;
his companion laughed and drew his skin jacket over his eyes.

_Boom! Crash! Cr-a-ckk!_ the lightning hurled itself on the forest, and
the earth vibrated with the sharp rolls of voluminous sound. The water
came now in solid sheets, and the lean-to was as a sieve over Jules and
Le Grand. They were wet to the skin, but they were happy.

Then quickly as it had come, the storm passed by, the rain ceased, the
air was still again; only the trees dripped liquidly while the hoarse
mumblings and white flashes faded away to the southward.

The two wrung out their saturated clothes and slept.

Le Grand was the first to get up in the morning.

“Eternellement diable!” he said aloud; his voice wakened Jules.

“Somme t’ing de mattaire?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.

“Sacré by dam’, oui! Ah lef’ mon couteau dat toi geeve to me t’ree year’
h’ago à la rivière yes’day! Ah no vant lose dat, non plus; mus’ go back
an’ fin’ eet,” and Le Grand swore.

“Ah go pour toi,” Jules suggested.

“Non pas encore vieillard moi! No sooch ol’ man dat Ah can no go à
traverse les forêts manny year’!” the other grunted, and the two had
breakfast.

“Vait for me ici; Ah comme back ver’ queeck!” Le Grand said, and
disappeared among the trees.

It was a warm, bright day, and Verbaux ensconced himself in the sun’s
heat while his clothes dried, spread on bushes. He alternately dozed and
smoked for a long time, dreaming of her he was soon to see. Noon passed;
he pulled on the dry apparel and walked to the mountain-top, but no Le
Grand was in sight.

“Drôle! He should be back before dees taime!” he said to himself, and
looked up at the sun; it was a quarter low and cast lengthening shadow
behind him.

“T’irt’ mile f’om ici to Marie; Ah go dere, an’ Le Grand comme
h’aftaire,” he thought aloud, and turned to go to the post where his
wife awaited him thirty miles away; but as he moved a fear came to him
hard. He stopped.

“Mabbe dat he hurrt; Jules mus’ fin’ h’out! Ah go fas’, no tak’ long
taime,” he said, with anxiety in his voice, and he hurried away on
yesterday’s up-trail. As he travelled along he kept a sharp watch for Le
Grand, and expected to meet him at any moment; but the distance to the
river lessened and he had seen no sign of his friend. Then in a little
while he caught a glimpse of water flashing through the trees, and still
no Le Grand.

He was about to call, when he smelled a fire, and heard a hateful voice;
at once he became alert and his eyes snapped, because he recognised the
tones as those of the renegade Annaotaha. He crept forward warily with
noiseless speed, then stopped and looked.

A little blaze burned on the river-bank; tied hand and foot and lashed
to a young birch was Le Grand; his feet were stripped. Before him
crouched Annaotaha, stirring the fire; his rifle lay in a canoe that was
half drawn on the shore. Verbaux almost sprang out, but the renegade
began to speak, and he listened.

“V’ere ees dat traître Verbaux?” Etienne asked his helpless prisoner.
“Lefèvrier he don’ tol’ moi dat Verbaux ees gone avec toi.”

Le Grand did not answer; his head was bent to one side and a little
blood flowed from a cut on his cheek.

“V’ere ees dat femme Marie?” asked Annaotaha, savagely.

Again no answer.

“Dam’ toi, Ah mak’ toi tell!” The half-breed cursed and pushed the now
strongly burning fire toward the naked feet.

With one bound Jules was in the open; another, and he was but a few feet
from the treacherous, torturing devil. Annaotaha heard the sound of feet
and turned.

“Ha! Ah show to toi!” he shouted as he leaped to Le Grand and swiftly
plunged the knife he held into the old man’s side.

Verbaux was on him then; the fiend stabbed desperately at him, and they
fell, growling and snarling; by a quick twist Jules caught the other’s
knife hand in a fearful grip. Slowly he bent it back—back until the
wrist broke with a loud snap, and the knife dropped. The wretch screamed
and writhed, biting at Verbaux’s shirt and neck. Jules got a hold on the
renegade’s knees, drew himself up and with a mighty jerk hurled
Annaotaha against the stony ground with stunning force. The half-breed
lay there senseless. Verbaux sprang to Le Grand and slashed his bindings
apart; the old man slid down limply; Jules gathered him in his strong
arms. All this time the old man’s life was trickling away, soaking into
the earth.

“Ah, Dieu, mon ami, mon vieux!” Jules groaned, trying to stop the red
current. Le Grand opened his eyes.

“Trop tard,” he murmured weakly and coughed; then he gathered
a little strength. “He—catch—moi f’om
arrière,—try—mak’—moi—tell—heem——h’about—toi—an’—an’—Marie;
mais—Ah-h-h——n-o——tell”; his voice trailed off in a whisper. Verbaux
laid him flat, ripped open the blood-soaked shirt, and tied his own long
neckerchief tight about the wound. Then he got water and bathed Le
Grand’s face and hands. The black eyes opened again, but they were
dulling fast; the lips moved, and Verbaux bent to catch their faint
whisper.

“Tell—M’r-ie——dat——Ah—fin’——toi
h’—at——las’!——She——h’ask——p-ou-r——Verb—b—x.” The dimming eyes looked at
Verbaux with mute appeal.

“Oui, oui, mon vieux, mon ami, Dieu te bénit,” Jules answered hoarsely,
and great tears fell on the other’s hands. Le Grand must have felt them,
for he smiled wanly.

“Pau—vre——Ver—b—aux, al-lez——she-e——att-ends pour—toi——adi——” and the
life was gone.

Verbaux felt for heart-beats, but in vain; he listened at the motionless
white lips for a faint breath, but uselessly. Then he knelt beside his
lifelong friend and repeated the Ave Maria softly; his voice was often
choked, and the tears rolled down unheeded. A long time he knelt, still
but for great heavings of his shoulders. At last he rose.

“Mon ami, dat have do so mooch pour moi, Ah revanche toi!” and he went
over to where Annaotaha lay.

He yanked the shirt from Etienne’s body, tore it into strips, with which
he tied the unconscious man firmly; then he picked up his cap, filled it
with water at the river, and dashed it over the renegade; again and
again he did this till Annaotaha stirred slightly.

Jules waited till Etienne was fully conscious; then he went to the bank
and gathered long, heavy stones; he brought these up one by one and laid
them beside the murderer. The latter watched with growing fear in his
shifting eyes.

“Vat for dose?” he asked. Jules made no reply. When he had collected
about a hundred pounds of these stones he sat down, and carefully bound
each one with a strip of cloth, leaving some of the lashings to spare;
then he fastened one securely to Annaotaha’s ankles. The coward
screeched and begged as he understood now what the stones were for.
Jules worked on, silent and relentless. At last the weights were all
made fast to the half-breed’s form.

“Là!” Verbaux said with a quiet deadliness. “Touts prêts!” and he stood
up.

“No goin’ keel moi, Verbaux!” Annaotaha shrilled.

Jules towered over him, his hands clenched, his whole body quivering
with fury. The waters of the river murmured gently, with lapping sounds;
a little draft sported among the trees, causing them to shudder faintly;
from far off came a long wail that rose and died away.

Verbaux listened to the sound. In a moment the lonely howl came from the
forest, but it was nearer. And once more the wild note pierced the
atmosphere of night, and sank; Jules moved away from the stone-laden
figure at his feet and crouched in the thickets that bordered on the
clearing. A white shape came into the starlight, shuffled up to the dark
thing that lay there, sniffed of it a moment and then sent out a mystic,
curdling yowl that echoed and reëchoed over the steadily flowing river.

The white thing faded eerily away, trotting without sound, and
disappeared in the shadows. Verbaux stalked silently to the renegade,
who whispered and cried.

“Etienne Annaotaha, leesten vat Ah say: dat loup blanc he mak’ bad signe
for toi! Long h’ago, long taime gone, you keel vone femme near to Lac la
Pluie.” The half-breed winced. “Maintenant you have keel Le Grand, mon
ami! H’at Isle la Crosse you took ma femme, an’ for dese t’ing’ toi
goin’ be keel by le bon Dieu!”

“Non! Non! Non!” the man shrieked, and his voice carried far into the
wilderness.

“Oui,” Jules answered; “an’ eef Ah could, Ah vould torture toi leet’
piece by taime, mais Le Grand an’ Marie no lak’ dat. So Ah ’m goin’
laisse’ les eaux du bon Dieu do heet!”

He stopped and rolled the bound figure, with its clinging stones that
struck dully together, to the canoe. He slit the light bark in several
places, then with a powerful heave he lifted Annaotaha, stones and all,
and dropped him into the craft.

“Le diable he have you een five minute’!” he said as he pushed the canoe
with its burden far out into the rushing current. It hung there a
moment, then gathering speed, dashed away toward the rapids that shone
white and ugly below. Verbaux watched it and listened to the renegade’s
screams; the canoe settled lower and lower, then it struck the first
fast water; it lurched and plunged soggily, cleared one big wave,
hovered staggering on the next crest, disappeared in the hollow beyond,
and came in sight no more.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 XXIII

                       THE CROSS ON THE MOUNTAIN


JULES turned from the water’s edge. The night was clear with the light
of the rising moon.

“To-mor’ Ah tak’ toi sur la montagne, an’ mak’ de las’ camp pour toi
là-bas,” he said mournfully to the body of his friend, then lay beside
it on the cold ground; all night he lay there, awake and bitterly
saddened.

“Eef Ah had onlee comme back for dat knife!” he muttered again and
again.

At dawn he got up, hungry and aching, and tenderly fastened
carrying-straps, which he made from his own shirt, about Le Grand’s
stiff body; he straightened out the cold limbs, lifted the dead-weight
form to his back, and started on his last tramp with his friend. He
lingered over the places where Le Grand had rested the day before, and
smoothed the mosses where his “ami” had sat, and finally he reached the
peak of Mont d’Ours again with his burden.

The clouds hovered near, almost touching the height. Jules gathered
stones and built a grave of smooth slabs; when it was finished he
reverently placed the body in it, straightening out the arms and legs
and crossing the toil-scarred hands.

“Adieu, mon ami,” he whispered, and laid stone on stone on and round the
grave. He made it thick and heavy, so that the winds of heaven should
not tear it apart, and on top of all he roughly fashioned a big cross.
When it was done he prayed for a moment, then waved his hand. “Somme
taime, Le Grand, mabbe Ah see toi h’aga’n,” he said gravely, and went
away.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XXIV

                           “JE SUIS CONTENT!”


AT the little lean-to he gathered up his food and the canoe and
travelled on down the mountain through the dense green forests. In three
hours he came to the bottom, and a long lake stretched away, mirror-like
and reflecting, at his feet. He pushed in the canoe and paddled out.
From its centre he looked back.

High above him, and seemingly far away, was the top of Mont d’Ours; he
waved his hand toward it again, and as he watched with sorrow-laden
eyes, a great white cloud rolled down on the peak, hiding it from his
sight; in a moment it lifted again.

“Le Grand he gone au bon Dieu!” Jules said solemnly and sadly, turned
his back, and paddled on round a bend that shut out the mountain
entirely.

He saw nothing of the forest scenes, and worked on automatically.

“Mon vieux, mon pauvre Le Grand!” was the only thought that faded the
lustre of his hopes to see Marie so soon.

When he reached the foot of the lake and the last of his water trails he
dragged the canoe into the underbrush, then went back to the lake edge
and let his eyes wander over the green distances and focus themselves on
Mont d’Ours, that lifted its heights proudly above its timbered base. He
imagined that he could see a black dot which marked the grave of his
friend, and strained his eyes in vain, trying to distinguish the cross.

“Au revoir, Le Grand!” he called loudly, and entered the forest. The
trail was good, and he hastened on at a half-lope, hurrying to Her. He
forded a wide stream, leaping agilely from rock to rock.

“Onlee feeft’en mile’ an’ den Ah see Marie!” he murmured, and kept on.

The blazed path widened; here and there were side tracks where the men
from the post came for wood. Then he reached Rivière des Sauvages. Two
trees lashed together in the middle afforded the chance of a dry
crossing, and Jules ran along them nimbly; he was three-quarters of the
way over when he stumbled on a knot that stuck sharp and tripping from
the trunk, and he fell. The water was shallow, as he was near the shore,
and he struck the bottom heavily. He lay there an instant, shocked into
numbness, while the cold water rippled round him.

“Oh, dat jambe!” he cried as he struggled to stand up. A thrust of pain
ran through his body; he tried to rise again, but the violent surge of
physical suffering overcame him and he tumbled back in the water,
sickened and weak.

The chill strength of the liquid flow restored him somewhat in a few
minutes. He felt of his left leg and found that it was broken below the
knee.

“Par dam’, dat ver’ bad!” he moaned, dragged himself ashore, and sat
there suffering. His leg was numb below the knee; but above, it throbbed
and caused him piercing pain.

“No stay ici lak’ dees!” he grunted stoically; “mus’ see Marie!” Inch by
inch he worked his way to an alder clump and cut long sticks from it;
these, with cloth as bandages, he used as rough splints and tied up the
broken leg securely.

“Ah go jus’ sam’!” he said, and started on the trail again on his hands
and one knee, dragging the useless leg. It was slow, racking work, but
Jules forced himself, though the maimed leg staggered him with its
thrusts of pain. In a little while the palms of his hands were raw and
his one good knee ached and bled, but he kept on.

The darkness was still and hot; summer insects burned his skin and
tortured his face; the unevenness of the trail made him slip and fall
flat often, forcing groans from him, but he pushed ahead slowly and
resolutely. He was exhausted and throbbed from head to foot.

“Marie, Ah comme!” he whispered, spoke, then called, and struggled
forward on the dimly visible trail.

All through the summer darkness he fought on, finally but worming his
way. The light of day stole through the forest and found him creeping
on.

At sunrise he dropped on the edge of the post clearing, and looked with
half-opened eyes that but vaguely saw the habitations before them.

“Leetle furdaire,” he articulated, and dragged himself ahead.

The post was awake; smoke curled from the chimneys and floated off on
the light morning breeze; figures moved about at the gates.

“Qu’est-ça?” a trapper asked as he saw the low crooked shape creeping in
the clearing.

A shrill cry, and a woman leaped past him into the open.

“Jules! Jules!” she screamed in ecstasy, and ran to the form that had
fallen helpless.

“Marie—oh, Marie, dat toi h’at las’?” Verbaux whispered as he felt warm
arms about his neck and saw the longed-for face, as in a dream, looking
into his.

“Mon Jules!” the woman sobbed, and pillowed the weary head in her lap.

The others that had come out from the post disappeared quietly, and the
two were alone.

The sun rose glorious and bright, gilding everything and casting warm
lights over all; the air was still, the silence was absolute. Verbaux
opened his eyes.

“C’est b’en toi, Marie?” He groped for her hand.

The woman kissed his bleeding lips for answer.

“Tu loove me encore?”

She sank her face against his and her tears trickled over his shoulders.

“Ah attend so long pour toi!” she murmured softly.

Jules sighed.

“Le Grand, v’ere ees he?” Marie asked.

“Mort!” he answered huskily.

“An’ dat Annaotaha?” she asked again.

“Keel!” and his voice thrilled with anger.

“An’—an’ toi, Jules?” Her voice trembled, and she gazed steadily into
the deep gray eyes.

Verbaux smiled, and kissed the thin hand that caressed his forehead.

“Moi? Je suis content!”



                                THE END



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                    RICHARD CLAY AND SONS, LIMITED,
                      BREAD STREET HILL, E.C., AND
                            BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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