Part 4 out of 7
The chief then makes a speech relative to the circumstance which has
called them together; and which is always more or less interlarded
with boastful reference to his own deeds, past, present, and
prospective, eulogistic remarks on those of his forefathers, and a
general condemnation of all other Indian tribes whatever. These
speeches are usually delivered with great animation, and contain much
poetic allusion to the objects of nature that surround the homes of
the savage. The speech being finished, the chief sits down amid a
universal "Ho!" uttered by the company with an emphatic prolongation
of the last letter--this syllable being the Indian substitute, we
presume, for "rapturous applause."
The chief who officiated on the present occasion, having accomplished
the opening ceremonies thus far, sat down; while the pipe-bearer
presented the sacred stem to the members of the company in
succession, each of whom drew a few whiffs and mumbled a few words.
"Do as you see the red-skins, Mr. Charles," whispered Jacques, while
the pipe was going round.
"That's impossible," replied Charley, in a tone that could not be
heard except by his friend. "I couldn't make a face of hideous
solemnity like that black thief opposite if I was to try ever so
"Don't let them think you're laughing at them," returned the hunter;
"they would be ill-pleased if they thought so."
"I'll try," said Charley, "but it is hard work, Jacques, to keep from
laughing; I feel like a high-pressure steam-engine already. There's a
woman standing out there with a little brown baby on her back; she
has quite fascinated me; I can't keep my eyes off her, and if she
goes on contorting her visage much longer, I feel that I shall give
At this moment the pipe was presented to Charley, who put it to his
lips, drew three whiffs, and returned it with a bland smile to the
The smile was a very sweet one, for that was a peculiar trait in the
native urbanity of Charley's disposition, and it would have gone far
in civilized society to prepossess strangers in his favour; but it
lowered him considerably in the estimation of his red friends, who
entertained a wholesome feeling of contempt for any appearance of
levity on high occasions. But Charley's face was of that agreeable
stamp that, though gentle and bland when lighted up with a smile, is
particularly masculine and manly in expression when in repose, and
the frown that knit his brows when he observed the bad impression he
had given almost reinstated him in their esteem. But his popularity
became great, and the admiration of his swarthy friends greater, when
he rose and made an eloquent speech in English, which Jacques
translated into the Indian language.
He told them, in reply to the chief's oration (wherein that warrior
had complimented his pale-faced brothers on their numerous good
qualities), that he was delighted and proud to meet with his Indian
friends; that the object of his mission was to acquaint them with the
fact that a new trading-fort was established not far off, by himself
and his comrades, for their special benefit and behoof; that the
stores were full of goods which he hoped they would soon obtain
possession of, in exchange for furs; that he had travelled a great
distance on purpose to see their land and ascertain its capabilities
in the way of fur-bearing animals and game; that he had not been
disappointed in his expectations, as he had found the animals to be
as numerous as bees, the fish plentiful in the rivers and lakes, and
the country at large a perfect paradise. He proceeded to tell them
further that he expected they would justify the report he had heard
of them, that they were a brave nation and good hunters, by bringing
in large quantities of furs.
Being strongly urged by Jacques to compliment them, on their various
good qualities, Charley launched out into an extravagantly poetic
vein, said that he had heard (but he hoped to have many opportunities
of seeing it proved) that there was no nation under the sun equal to
them in bravery, activity, and perseverance; that he had heard of men
in olden times who made it their profession to fight with wild bulls
for the amusement of their friends, but he had no doubt whatever
their courage would be made conspicuous in the way of fighting wild
bears and buffaloes, not for the amusement but the benefit of their
wives and children (he might have added of the Hudson's Bay Company,
but he didn't, supposing that that was self-evident, probably). He
complimented them on the way in which they had conducted themselves
in war in times past, comparing their stealthy approach to enemies'
camps to the insidious snake that glides among the bushes, and darts
unexpectedly on its prey; said that their eyes were sharp to follow
the war-trail through the forest or over the dry sward of the
prairie; their aim with gun or bow true and sure as the flight of the
goose when it leaves the lands of the sun, and points its beak to the
icy regions of the north; their war-whoops loud as the thunders of
the cataract; and their sudden onset like the lightning flash that
darts from the sky and scatters the stout oak in splinters on the
At this point Jacques expressed his satisfaction at the style in
which his young friend was progressing.
"That's your sort, Mr. Charles. Don't spare the butter; lay it on
thick. You've not said too much yet, for they are a brave race,
that's a fact, as I've good reason to know."
Jacques, however, did not feel quite so well satisfied when Charley
went on to tell them that although bravery in war was an admirable
thing, war itself was a thing not at all to be desired, and should
only be undertaken in case of necessity. He especially pointed out
that there was not much glory to be earned in fighting against the
Chipewyans, who, everybody knew, were a poor, timid set of people,
whom they ought rather to pity than to destroy; and recommended them
to devote themselves more to the chase than they had done in times
past, and less to the prosecution of war in time to come.
All this, and a great deal more, did Charley say, in a manner, and
with a rapidity of utterance, that surprised himself, when he
considered the fact that he had never adventured into the field of
public speaking before. All this, and a great deal more--a very great
deal more--did Jacques Caradoc interpret to the admiring Indians, who
listened with the utmost gravity and profound attention, greeting the
close with a very emphatic "Ho!"
Jacques's translation was by no means perfect. Many of the flights
into which Charley ventured, especially in regard to the manners and
customs of the savages of ancient Greece and Rome, were quite
incomprehensible to the worthy backwoodsman; but he invariably
proceeded when Charley halted, giving a flight of his own when at a
loss, varying and modifying when he thought it advisable, and
altering, adding, or cutting off as he pleased.
Several other chiefs addressed the assembly, and then dinner, if we
may so call it, was served. In Charley's case it was breakfast; to
the Indians it was breakfast, dinner, and supper in one. It consisted
of a large platter of dried meat, reindeer tongues (considered a
great delicacy), and marrow-bones.
Notwithstanding the graphic power with which Jacques had prepared his
young companion for this meal, Charley's heart sank when he beheld
the mountain of boiled meat that was placed before him. He was
ravenously hungry, it is true, but it was patent to his perception at
a glance that no powers of gormandizing of which he was capable could
enable him to consume the mass in the course of one day.
Jacques observed his consternation, and was not a little entertained
by it, although his face wore an expression of profound gravity while
he proceeded to attack his own dish, which was equal to that of his
Before commencing, a small portion of meat was thrown into the fire
as a sacrifice to the Great Master of Life.
"How they do eat, to be sure!" whispered Charley to Jacques, after he
had glanced in wonder at the circle of men who were devouring their
food with the most extraordinary rapidity.
"Why, you must know," replied Jacques, "that it's considered a point
of honour to get it over soon, and the man that is done first gets
most credit. But it's hard work" (he sighed, and paused a little to
breathe), "and I've not got half through yet."
"It's quite plain that I must lose credit with them, then, if it
depends on my eating that. Tell me, Jacques, is there no way of
escape? Must I sit here till it is all consumed?"
"No doubt of it. Every bit that has been cooked must be crammed down
our throats somehow or other." Charley heaved a deep sigh, and made
another desperate attack on a large steak, while the Indians around
him made considerable progress in reducing their respective
Several times Charley and Redfeather exchanged glances as they paused
in their labours.
"I say, Jacques," said Charley, pulling up once more, "how do you get
on? Pretty well stuffed by this time, I should imagine?"
"Oh no! I've a good deal o' room yet."
"I give in. Credit or disgrace, it's all one. I'll not make a pig of
myself for any red-skin in the land."
"See," continued Charley, "there's a fellow opposite who has devoured
as much as would have served me for three days. I don't know whether
it's imagination or not, but I do verily believe that he's _blacker_
in the face than when we sat down!"
"Very likely," replied Jacques, wiping his lips, "Now I've done."
"Done! you have left at least a third of your supply."
"True, and I may as well tell you for your comfort that there is one
way of escape open to you. It is a custom among these fellows, that
when any one cannot gulp his share o' the prog, he may get help from
any of his friends that can cram it down their throats; and as there
are always such fellows among these Injins, they seldom have any
"A most convenient practice," replied Charley, "I'll adopt it at
Charley turned to his next neighbour with the intent to beg of him to
eat his remnant of the feast.
"Bless my heart, Jacques, I've no chance with the fellow on my left
hand; he's stuffed quite full already, and is not quite done with his
"Never fear," replied his friend, looking at the individual in
question, who was languidly lifting a marrowbone to his lips; "he'll
do it easy. I knows the gauge o' them chaps, and for all his sleepy
looks just now he's game for a lot more."
"Impossible," replied Charley, looking in despair at his unfinished
viands and then at the Indian. A glance round the circle seemed
further to convince him that if he did not eat it himself there were
none of the party likely to do so.
"You'll have to give him a good lump o' tobacco to do it, though; he
won't undertake so much for a trifle, I can tell you." Jacques
chuckled as he said this, and handed his own portion over to another
Indian, who readily undertook to finish it for him.
"He'll burst; I feel certain of that," said Charley, with a deep
sigh, as he surveyed his friend on the left.
At last he took courage to propose the thing to him, and just as the
man finished the last morsel of his own repast, Charley placed his
own plate before him, with a look that seemed to say, "Eat it, my
friend, _if you can._"
The Indian, much to his surprise, immediately commenced to it, and in
less than half-an-hour the whole was disposed of.
During this scene of gluttony, one of the chiefs entertained the
assembly with a wild and most unmusical chant, to which he beat time
on a sort of tambourine, while the women outside the enclosure beat a
"I say, master," whispered Jacques, "it seems to my observation that
the fellow you call Redfeather eats less than any Injin I ever saw.
He has got a comrade to eat more than half his share; now that's
"It won't appear strange, Jacques, when I tell you that Redfeather
has lived much more among white men than Indians during the last ten
years; and although voyageurs eat an enormous quantity of food, they
don't make it a point of honour, as these fellows seem to do, to eat
much more than enough. Besides, Redfeather is a very different man
from those around him; he has been partially educated by the
missionaries on Playgreen Lake, and I think has a strong leaning
While they were thus conversing in whispers, Redfeather rose, and
holding forth his hand, delivered himself of the following oration:--
"The time has come for Redfeather to speak. He has kept silence for
many moons now, but his heart has been full of words. It is too full;
he must speak now. Redfeather has fought with his tribe, and has been
accounted a brave, and one who loves his people. This is true. He
_does_ love, even more than they can understand. His friends know
that he has never feared to face danger and death in their defence,
and that, if it were necessary, he would do so still. But Redfeather
is going to leave his people now. His heart is heavy at the thought.
Perhaps many moons will come and go, many snows may fall and melt
away, before he sees his people again; and it is this that makes him
full of sorrow, it is this that makes his head to droop like the
branches of the weeping willow."
Redfeather paused at this point, but not a sound escaped from the
listening circle: the Indians were evidently taken by surprise at
this abrupt announcement. He proceeded:--
"When Redfeather travelled not long since with the white men, he met
with a pale-face who came from the other side of the Great Salt Lake
towards the rising sun. This man was called by some of the people a
missionary. He spoke wonderful things in the ear of Redfeather. He
told him of things about the Great Spirit which he did not know
before, and he asked Redfeather to go and help him to speak to the
Indians about these strange things. Redfeather would not go. He loved
his people too much, and he thought that the words of the missionary
seemed foolishness. But he has thought much about it since. He does
not understand the strange things that were told to him, and he has
tried to forget them, but he cannot. He can get no rest. He hears
strange sounds in the breeze that shakes the pine. He thinks that
there are voices in the waterfall; the rivers seem to speak,
Redfeather's spirit is vexed. The Great Spirit, perhaps, is talking
to him. He has resolved to go to the dwelling of the missionary and
stay with him."
The Indian paused again, but still no sound escaped from his
comrades. Dropping his voice to a soft plaintive tone, he continued--
"But Redfeather loves his kindred. He desires very much that they
should hear the things that the missionary said. He spoke of the
happy hunting grounds to which the spirits of our fathers have gone,
and said that we required a _guide_ to lead us there; that there was
but one guide, whose name, he said, was Jesus. Redfeather would stay
and hunt with his people, but his spirit is troubled; he cannot rest;
he must go!"
Redfeather sat down, and a long silence ensued. His words had
evidently taken the whole party by surprise, although not a
countenance there showed the smallest symptom of astonishment, except
that of Charley Kennedy, whose intercourse with Indians had not yet
been so great as to have taught him to conceal his feelings.
At length the old chief rose, and after complimenting Redfeather on
his bravery in general, and admitting that he had shown much love to
his people on all occasions, went into the subject of his quitting
them at some length. He reminded him that there were evil spirits as
well as good; that it was not for him to say which kind had been
troubling him, but that he ought to consider well before he went to
live altogether with pale-faces. Several other speeches were made,
some to the same effect, and others applauding his resolve. These
latter had, perhaps, some idea that his bringing the pale-faced
missionary among them would gratify their taste for the marvellous--a
taste that is pretty strong in all uneducated minds.
One man, however, was particularly urgent in endeavouring to dissuade
him from his purpose. He was a tall, low-browed man; muscular and
well built, but possessed of a most villainous expression of
countenance. From a remark that fell from one of the company, Charley
discovered that his name was Misconna, and so learned, to his
surprise, that he was the very Indian mentioned by Redfeather as the
man who had been his rival for the hand of Wabisca, and who had so
cruelly killed the wife of the poor trapper the night on which the
Chipewyan camp was attacked, and the people slaughtered.
What reason Misconna had for objecting so strongly to Redfeather's
leaving the community no one could tell, although some of those who
knew his unforgiving nature suspected that he still entertained the
hope of being able, some day or other, to weak his vengeance on his
old rival. But whatever was his object, he failed in moving
Redfeather's resolution; and it was at last admitted by the whole
party that Redfeather was a "wise chief;" that he knew best what
ought to be done under the circumstances, and it was hoped that his
promised visit, in company with the missionary, would not be delayed
That night, in the deep shadow of the trees, by the brook that
murmured near the Indian camp, while the stars twinkled through the
branches overhead, Charley introduced Redfeather to his friend
Jacques Caradoc, and a friendship was struck up between the bold
hunter and the red man that grew and strengthened as each successive
day made them acquainted with their respective good qualities. In the
same place, and with the same stars looking down upon them, it was
further agreed that Redfeather should accompany his new friends,
taking his wife along with him in another canoe, as far as their
several routes led them in the same direction, which was about four
or five days' journey; and that while the one party diverged towards
the fort at Stoney Creek, the other should pursue its course to the
missionary station on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.
But there was a snake in the grass there that they little suspected.
Misconna had crept through the bushes after them, with a degree of
caution that might have baffled their vigilance, even had they
suspected treason in a friendly camp. He lay listening intently to
all their plans, and when they returned to their camp, he rose out
from among the bushes, like a dark spirit of evil, clutched the
handle of his scalping-knife, and gave utterance to a malicious
growl; then, walking hastily after them, his dusky figure was soon
concealed among the trees.
The return--Narrow escape--A murderous attempt, which fails--And a
All nature was joyous and brilliant, and bright and beautiful.
Morning was still very young--about an hour old. Sounds of the most
cheerful, light-hearted character floated over the waters and echoed
through the woods, as birds and beasts hurried to and fro with all
the bustling energy that betokened preparation and search for
breakfast. Fish leaped in the pools with a rapidity that brought
forcibly to mind that wise saying, "The more hurry, the less speed;"
for they appeared constantly to miss their mark, although they jumped
twice their own length out of the water in the effort.
Ducks and geese sprang from their liquid beds with an amazing amount
of unnecessary sputter, as if they had awakened to the sudden
consciousness of being late for breakfast, then alighted in the water
again with a _squash,_ on finding (probably) that it was too early
for that meal, but, observing other flocks passing and re-passing on
noisy wing, took to flight again, unable, apparently, to restrain
their feelings of delight at the freshness of the morning air, the
brightness of the rising sun, and the sweet perfume of the dewy
verdure, as the mists cleared away over the tree-tops and lost
themselves in the blue sky. Everything seemed instinct not only with
life, but with a large amount of superabundant energy. Earth, air,
sky, animal, vegetable, and mineral, solid and liquid, all were
either actually in a state of lively exulting motion, or had a
peculiarly sprightly look about them, as if nature had just burst out
of prison _en masse_, and gone raving mad with joy.
Such was the delectable state of things the morning on which two
canoes darted from the camp of the Knisteneux, amid many expressions
of goodwill. One canoe contained our two friends, Charley and
Jacques; the other, Redfeather and his wife Wabisca.
A few strokes of the paddle shot them out into the stream, which
carried them rapidly away from the scene of their late festivities.
In five minutes they swept round a point which shut them out from
view, and they were swiftly descending those rapid rivers that had
cost Charley and Jacques so much labour to ascend.
"Look out for rocks ahead, Mr. Charles," cried Jacques, as he steered
the light bark into the middle of a rapid, which they had avoided
when ascending by making a portage. "Keep well to the left of yon
swirl. _Parbleu_, if we touch the rock _there_ it'll be all over with
"All right," was Charley's laconic reply. And so it proved, for their
canoe, after getting fairly into the run of the rapid, was evidently
under the complete command of its expert crew, and darted forward
amid the foaming waters like a thing instinct with life. Now it
careered and plunged over the waves where the rough bed of the stream
made them more than usually turbulent. Anon it flew with increased
rapidity through a narrow gap where the compressed water was smooth
and black, but deep and powerful, rendering great care necessary to
prevent the canoe's frail sides from being dashed on the rocks. Then
it met a curling wave, into which it plunged like an impetuous
charger, and was checked for a moment by its own violence. Presently
an eddy threw the canoe a little out of its course, disconcerting
Charley's intention of _shaving_ a rock, which lay in their track, so
that he slightly grazed it in passing.
"Ah, Mr. Charles," said Jacques, shaking his head, "that was not well
done; an inch more would have sent us down the rapids like drowned
"True," replied Charley, somewhat crestfallen; "but you see the other
inch was not lost, so we're not much the worse for it."
"Well, after all, it was a ticklish bit, and I should have guessed
that your experience was not up to it quite. I've seen many a man in
my day who wouldn't ha' done it _half_ so slick, an' yet ha' thought
no small beer of himself; so you needn't be ashamed, Mr. Charles. But
Wabisca beats you for all that," continued the hunter, glancing
hastily over his shoulder at Redfeather, who followed closely in
their wake, he and his modest-looking wife guiding their little craft
through the dangerous passages with the utmost _sangfroid_ and
"We've about run them all now," said Jacques, as they paddled over a
sheet of still water which intervened between the rapid they had just
descended and another which thundered about a hundred yards in
"I was so engrossed with the one we have just come down," said
Charley, "that I quite forgot this one."
"Quite right, Mr. Charles," said Jacques, in an approving tone,
"quite right. I holds that a man should always attend to what he's
at, an' to nothin' else. I've lived long in the woods now, and the
fact becomes more and more sartin every day. I've know'd chaps, now,
as timersome as settlement girls, that were always in such a mortal
funk about what _was_ to happen, or _might_ happen, that they were
never fit for anything that _did_ happen; always lookin' ahead, and
never around them. Of coorse, I don't mean that a man shouldn't look
ahead at all, but their great mistake was that they looked out too
far ahead, and always kep' their eyes nailed there, just as if they
had the fixin' o' everything, an' Providence had nothin' to do with
it at all. I mind a Canadian o' that sort that travelled in company
with me once. We were goin' just as we are now, Mr. Charles, two
canoes of us; him and a comrade in one, and me and a comrade in
t'other. One night we got to a lot o' rapids that came one after
another for the matter o' three miles or thereabouts. They were all
easy ones, however, except the last; but it _was_ a tickler, with a
sharp turn o' the land that hid it from sight until ye were right
into it, with a foamin' current, and a range o' ragged rocks that
stood straight in front o' ye, like the teeth of a cross-cut saw. It
was easy enough, however, if a man _knew_ it, and was a cool hand.
Well, the _pauvre_ Canadian was in a terrible takin' about this shoot
long afore he came to it. He had run it often enough in boats where
he was one of a half-dozen men, and had nothin' to do but look on;
but he had never _steered_ down it before. When he came to the top o'
the rapids, his mind was so filled with this shoot that he couldn't
attend to nothin', and scraped agin' a dozen rocks in almost smooth
water, so that when he got a little more than half-way down, the
canoe was as rickety as if it had just come off a six months' cruise.
At last we came to the big rapid, and after we'd run down our canoe I
climbed the bank to see them do it. Down they came, the poor Canadian
white as a sheet, and his comrade, who was brave enough, but knew
nothin' about light craft, not very comfortable. At first he could
see nothin' for the point, but in another moment round they went, end
on, for the big rocks. The Canadian gave a great yell when he saw
them, and plunged at the paddle till I thought he'd have capsized
altogether. They ran it well enough, straight between the rocks (more
by good luck than good guidance), and sloped down to the smooth water
below; but the canoe had got such a battering in the rapids above,
where an Injin baby could have steered it in safety, that the last
plunge shook it all to pieces. It opened up, and lay down flat on the
water, while the two men fell right through the bottom, screechin'
like mad, and rolling about among shreds o' birch bark!"
While Jacques was thus descanting philosophically on his experience
in time past, they had approached the head of the second rapid, and
in accordance with the principles just enunciated, the stout
backwoodsman gave his undivided attention to the work before him. The
rapid was short and deep, so that little care was required in
descending it, excepting at one point, where the stream rushed
impetuously between two rocks about six yards asunder. Here it was
requisite to keep the canoe as much in the middle of the stream as
Just as they began to feel the drag of the water, Redfeather was
heard to shout in a loud warning tone, which caused Jacques and
Charley to back their paddles hurriedly.
"What can the Injin mean, I wonder?" said Jacques, in a perplexed
tone. "He don't look like a man that would stop us at the top of a
strong rapid for nothin'."
"It's too late to do that now, whatever is his reason," said Charley,
as he and his companion struggled in vain to paddle up stream.
"It's no use, Mr. Charles; we must run it now--the current's too
strong to make head against; besides, I do think the man has only
seen a bear, or something o' that sort, for I see he's ashore, and
jumpin' among the bushes like a cariboo."
Saying this, they turned the canoe's head down stream again, and
allowed it to drift, merely retarding its progress a little with the
Suddenly Jacques uttered a sharp exclamation. "_Mon Dieu!_" said he,
"it's plain enough now. Look there!"
Jacques pointed as he spoke to the narrows to which they were now
approaching with tremendous speed, which increased every instant. A
heavy tree lay directly across the stream, reaching from rock to
rock, and placed in such a way that it was impossible for a canoe to
descend without being dashed in pieces against it. This was the more
curious that no trees grew in the immediate vicinity, so that this
one must have been designedly conveyed there.
"There has been foul work here," said Jacques, in a deep tone. "We
must dive, Mr. Charles; there's no chance any way else, and _that's_
but a poor one."
This was true. The rocks on each side rose almost perpendicularly out
of the water, so that it was utterly impossible to run ashore, and
the only way of escape, as Jacques said, was by diving under the
tree, a thing involving great risk, as the stream immediately below
was broken by rocks, against which it dashed in foam, and through
which the chances of steering one's way in safety by means of
swimming were very slender indeed.
Charley made no reply, but with tightly-compressed lips, and a look
of stern resolution on his brow, threw off his coat, and hastily tied
his belt tightly round his waist. The canoe was now sweeping forward
with lightning speed; in a few minutes it would be dashed to pieces.
At that moment a shout was heard in the woods, and Redfeather darting
out, rushed over the ledge of rock on which one end of the tree
rested, seized the trunk in his arms, and exerting all his strength,
hurled it over into the river. In doing so he stumbled, and ere he
could recover himself a branch caught him under the arm as the tree
fell over, and dragged him into the boiling stream. This accident was
probably the means of saving his life, for just as he fell the loud
report of a gun rang through the woods, and a bullet passed through
his cap. For a second or two both man and tree were lost in the foam,
while the canoe dashed past in safety. The next instant Wabisca
passed the narrows in her small craft, and steered for the tree.
Redfeather, who had risen and sunk several times, saw her as she
passed, and making a violent effort, he caught hold of the gunwale,
and was carried down in safety.
"I'll tell you what it is," said Jacques, as the party stood on a
rock promontory after the events just narrated: "I would give a
dollar to have that fellow's nose and the sights o' my rifle in a
line at any distance short of two hundred yards."
"It was Misconna," said Redfeather. "I did not see him, but there's
not another man in the tribe that could do that."
"I'm thankful we escaped, Jacques. I never felt so near death before,
and had it not been for the timely aid of our friend here, it strikes
me that our wild life would have come to an abrupt close.--God bless
you, Redfeather," said Charley, taking the Indian's hand in both of
his and kissing it.
Charley's ebullition of feeling was natural. He had not yet become
used to the dangers of the wilderness so as to treat them with
indifference. Jacques, on the other hand, had risked his life so
often that escape from danger was treated very much as a matter of
course, and called forth little expression of feeling. Still, it must
not be inferred from this that his nature had become callous. The
backwoodsman's frame was hard and unyielding as iron, but his heart
was as soft still as it was on the day on which he first donned the
hunting-shirt, and there was much more of tenderness than met the eye
in the squeeze that he gave Redfeather's hand on landing.
As the four travellers encircled the fire that night, under the leafy
branches of the forest, and smoked their pipes in concert, while
Wabisca busied herself in clearing away the remnants of their evening
meal, they waxed communicative, and stories, pathetic, comic, and
tragic, followed each other in rapid succession.
"Now, Redfeather," said Charley, while Jacques rose and went down to
the luggage to get more tobacco, "tell Jacques about the way in which
you got your name. I am sure he will feel deeply interested in that
story--at least I am certain that Harry Somerville and I did when you
told it to us the day we were wind-bound on Lake Winnipeg."
Redfeather made no reply for a few seconds. "Will Mr. Charles speak
for me?" he said at length. "His tongue is smooth and quick."
"A doubtful kind of compliment," said Charley, laughing; "but I will,
if you don't wish to tell it yourself."
"And don't mention names. Do not let him know that you speak of me or
my friends," said the Indian, in a low whisper, as Jacques returned
and sat down by the fire again.
Charley gave him a glance of surprise; but being prevented from
asking questions, he nodded in reply, and proceeded to relate to his
friend the story that has been recounted in a previous chapter.
Redfeather leaned back against a tree, and appeared to listen
Charley's powers of description were by no means inconsiderable, and
the backwoodsman's face assumed a look of good-humoured attention as
the story proceeded. But when the narrator went on to tell of the
meditated attack and the midnight march, his interest was aroused,
the pipe which he had been smoking was allowed to go out, and he
gazed at his young friend with the most earnest attention. It was
evident that the hunter's spirit entered with deep sympathy into such
scenes; and when Charley described the attack, and the death of the
trapper's wife, Jacques seemed unable to restrain his feelings. He
leaned his elbows on his knees, buried his face in his hands, and
"Mr. Charles," he said, in a deep voice, when the story was ended,
"there are two men I would like to meet with in this world before I
die. One is the young Injin who tried to save that girl's life, the
other is the cowardly villain that took it. I don't mean the one who
finished the bloody work: my rifle sent his accursed spirit to its
"_Your_ rifle!" cried Charley, in amazement.
"Ay, mine! It was _my_ wife who was butchered by these savage dogs on
that dark night. Oh, what avails the strength o' that right arm!"
said Jacques, bitterly, as he lifted up his clenched fist; "it was
powerless to save _her_--the sweet girl who left her home and people
to follow me, a rough hunter, through the lonesome wilderness!"
He covered his face again, and groaned in agony of spirit, while his
whole frame quivered with emotion.
Jacques remained silent, and his sympathising friends refrained from
intruding on a sorrow which they felt they had no power to relieve.
At length he spoke. "Yes," said he, "I would give much to meet with
the man who tried to save her. I saw him do it twice; but the devils
about him were too eager to be balked of their prey."
Charley and the Indian exchanged glances. "That Indian's name," said
the former, "was _Redfeather!_"
"What!" exclaimed the trapper, jumping to his feet, and grasping
Redfeather, who had also risen, by the two shoulders, stared wildly
in his face; "was it _you_ that did it?"
Redfeather smiled, and held out his hand, which the other took and
wrung with an energy that would have extorted a cry of pain from any
one but an Indian. Then, dropping it suddenly and clinching his
hands, he exclaimed,--
"I said that I would like to meet the villain who killed her--yes, I
said it in passion, when your words had roused all my old feelings
again; but I am thankful--I bless God that I did not know this
sooner--that you did not tell me of it when I was at the camp, for I
verily believe that I would not only have fixed _him_, but half the
warriors o' your tribe too, before they had settled _me!_"
It need scarcely be added that the friendship which already subsisted
between Jacques and Redfeather was now doubly cemented; nor will it
create surprise when we say that the former, in the fulness of his
heart, and from sheer inability to find adequate outlets for the
expression of his feelings, offered Redfeather in succession all the
articles of value he possessed, even to the much-loved rifle, and was
seriously annoyed at their not being accepted. At last he finished
off by assuring the Indian that he might look out for him soon at the
missionary settlement, where he meant to stay with him evermore in
the capacity of hunter, fisherman, and jack-of-all-trades to the
The scene changes--Bachelor's Hall--A practical joke and its
consequences--A snow-shoe walk at night in the forest.
Leaving Charley to pursue his adventurous career among the Indians,
we will introduce our reader to a new scene, and follow for a time
the fortunes of our friend Harry Somerville. It will be remembered
that we left him labouring under severe disappointment at the idea of
having to spend a year, it might be many years, at the depot, and
being condemned to the desk, instead of realising his fond dreams of
bear-hunting and deer-stalking in the woods and prairies.
It was now the autumn of Harry's second year at York Fort. This
period of the year happens to be the busiest at the depot, in
consequence of the preparation of the annual accounts for
transmission to England, in the solitary ship which visits this
lonely spot once a year; so that Harry was tied to his desk all day
and the greater part of the night too, so that his spirits fell
infinitely below zero, and he began to look on himself as the most
miserable of mortals. His spirits rose, however, with amazing
rapidity after the ship went away, and the "young gentlemen," as the
clerks were styled _en masse_, were permitted to run wild in the
swamps and woods for the three weeks succeeding that event. During
this glimpse of sunshine they recruited their exhausted frames by
paddling about all day in Indian canoes, or wandering through the
marshes, sleeping at nights in tents or under the pine trees, and
spreading dismay among the feathered tribes, of which there were
immense numbers of all kinds. After this they returned to their
regular work at the desk; but as this was not so severe as in summer,
and was further lightened by Wednesdays and Saturdays being devoted
entirely to recreation, Harry began to look on things in a less
gloomy aspect, and at length regained his wonted cheerful spirits.
Autumn passed away. The ducks and geese took their departure to more
genial climes. The swamps froze up and became solid. Snow fell in
great abundance, covering every vestige of vegetable nature, except
the dark fir trees, that only helped to render the scenery more
dreary, and winter settled down upon the land. Within the pickets of
York Fort, the thirty or forty souls who lived there were actively
employed in cutting their firewood, putting in double window-frames
to keep out the severe cold, cutting tracks in the snow from one
house to another, and otherwise preparing for a winter of eight
months' duration, as cold as that of Nova Zembla, and in the course
of which the only new faces they had any chance of seeing were those
of the two men who conveyed the annual winter packet of letters from
the next station. Outside of the fort, all was a wide, waste
wilderness for _thousands_ of miles around. Deathlike stillness and
solitude reigned everywhere, except when a covey of ptarmigan whirred
like large snowflakes athwart the sky, or an arctic fox prowled
stealthily through the woods in search of prey.
As if in opposition to the gloom and stillness and solitude outside,
the interior of the clerks' house presented a striking contrast of
ruddy warmth, cheerful sounds, and bustling activity.
It was evening; but although the sun had set, there was still
sufficient daylight to render candles unnecessary, though not enough
to prevent a bright glare from the stove in the centre of the hall
taking full effect in the darkening chamber, and making it glow with
fiery red. Harry Somerville sat in front, and full in the blaze of
this stove, resting after the labours of the day; his arms crossed on
his breast, his head a little to one side, as if in deep
contemplation, as he gazed earnestly into the fire, and his chair
tilted on its hind legs so as to balance with such nicety that a
feather's weight additional outside its centre of gravity would have
upset it. He had divested himself of his coat--a practice that
prevailed among the young gentlemen when _at home_, as being free-
and-easy as well as convenient. The doctor, a tall, broad-shouldered
man, with red hair and whiskers, paced the room sedately, with a long
pipe depending from his lips, which he removed occasionally to
address a few remarks to the accountant, a stout, heavy man of about
thirty, with a voice like a Stentor, eyes sharp and active as those
of a ferret, and a tongue that moved with twice the ordinary amount
of lingual rapidity. The doctor's remarks seemed to be particularly
humorous, if one might judge from the peals of laughter with which
they were received by the accountant, who stood with his back to the
stove in such a position that, while it warmed him from his heels to
his waist, he enjoyed the additional benefit of the pipe or chimney,
which rose upwards, parallel with his spine, and, taking a sudden
bend near the roof, passed over his head--thus producing a genial and
equable warmth from top to toe.
"Yes," said the doctor, "I left him hotly following up a rabbit-
track, in the firm belief that it was that of a silver fox."
"And did you not undeceive the greenhorn?" cried the accountant, with
another shout of laughter.
"Not I," replied the doctor. "I merely recommended him to keep his
eye on the sun, lest he should lose his way, and hastened home; for
it just occurred to me that I had forgotten to visit Louis Blanc, who
cut his foot with an axe yesterday, and whose wound required
redressing, so I left the poor youth to learn from experience."
"Pray, who did you leave to that delightful fate?" asked Mr. Wilson,
issuing from his bedroom, and approaching the stove.
Mr. Wilson was a middle-aged, good-humoured, active man, who filled
the onerous offices of superintendent of the men, trader of furs,
seller of goods to the Indians, and general factotum.
"Our friend Hamilton," answered the doctor, in reply to his question.
"I think he is, without exception, the most egregious nincompoop I
ever saw. Just as I passed the long swamp on my way home, I met him
crashing through the bushes in hot pursuit of a rabbit, the track of
which he mistook for a fox. Poor fellow! He had been out since
breakfast, and only shot a brace of ptarmigan, although they are as
thick as bees and quite tame. 'But then, do you see,' said he, in
excuse, 'I'm so very shortsighted! Would you believe it, I've blown
fifteen lumps of snow to atoms, in the belief that they were
ptarmigan!' and then he rushed off again."
"No doubt," said Mr. Wilson, smiling, "the lad is very green, but
he's a good fellow for all that."
"I'll answer for that," said the accountant; "I found him over at the
men's houses this morning doing _your_ work for you, doctor."
"How so?" inquired the disciple of Ćsculapius.
"Attending to your wounded man, Louis Blanc, to be sure; and he
seemed to speak to him as wisely as if he had walked the hospitals,
and regularly passed for an M.D."
"Indeed!" said the doctor, with a mischievous grin. "Then I must pay
him off for interfering with my patients."
"Ah, doctor, you're too fond of practical jokes. You never let slip
an opportunity of 'paying off' your friends for something or other.
It's a bad habit. Practical jokes are very bad things--shockingly
bad," said Mr. Wilson, as he put on his fur cap, and wound a thick
shawl round his throat, preparatory to leaving the room.
As Mr. Wilson gave utterance to this opinion, he passed Harry
Somerville, who was still staring at the fire in deep mental
abstraction, and, as he did so, gave his tilted chair a very slight
push backwards with his finger--an action which caused Harry to toss
up his legs, grasp convulsively with both hands at empty air, and
fall with a loud noise and an angry yell to the ground, while his
persecutor vanished from the scene.
"O you outrageous villain!" cried Harry, shaking his fist at the
door, as he slowly gathered himself up; "I might have expected that."
"Quite so," said the doctor; "you might. It was very neatly done,
undoubtedly. Wilson deserves credit for the way in which it was
"He deserves to be executed for doing it at all," replied Harry,
rubbing his elbow as he resumed his seat.
"Any bark knocked off?" inquired the accountant, as he took a piece
of glowing charcoal from the stove wherewith to light his pipe. "Try
a whiff, Harry. It's good for such things. Bruises, sores,
contusions, sprains, rheumatic affections of the back and loins,
carbuncles and earache--there's nothing that smoking won't cure; eh,
"Certainly. If applied inwardly, there's nothing so good for
digestion when one doesn't require tonics--Try it, Harry; it will do
you good, I assure you."
"No, thank you," replied Harry; "I'll leave that to you and the
chimney. I don't wish to make a soot-bag of my mouth. But tell me,
doctor, what do you mean to do with that lump of snow there?"
Harry pointed to a mass of snow, of about two feet square, which lay
on the floor beside the door. It had been placed there by the doctor
some time previously.
"Do with it? Have patience, my friend, and you shall see. It is a
little surprise I have in store for Hamilton."
As he spoke, the door opened, and a short, square-built man rushed
into the room, with a pistol in one hand and a bright little bullet
in the other.
"Hollo, skipper!" cried Harry, "what's the row?"
"All right," cried the skipper; "here it is at last, solid as the
fluke of an anchor. Toss me the powder-flask Harry; look sharp, else
A powder-flask was immediately produced, from which the skipper
hastily charged the pistol, and rammed down the shining bullet.
"Now then," said he, "look out for squalls. Clear the decks there."
And rushing to the door, he flung it open, took a steady aim at
something outside, and fired.
"Is the man mad?" said the accountant, as with a look of amazement he
beheld the skipper spring through the doorway, and immediately return
bearing in his arms a large piece of fir plank.
"Not quite mad yet," he said, in reply, "but I've sent a ball of
quicksilver through an inch plank, and that's not a thing to be done
every day--even _here_, although it _is_ cold enough sometimes to
freeze up one's very ideas."
"Dear me," interrupted Harry Somerville, looking as if a new thought
had struck him, "that must be it! I've no doubt that poor Hamilton's
ideas are _frozen_, which accounts for the total absence of any
indication of his possessing such things."
"I observed," continued the skipper, not noticing the interruption,
"that the glass was down at 45 degrees below zero this morning, and
put out a bullet-mould full of mercury, and you see the result." As
he spoke he held up the perforated plank in triumph.
The skipper was a strange mixture of qualities. To a wild, off-hand,
sailor-like hilarity of disposition in hours of leisure, he united a
grave, stern energy of character while employed in the performance of
his duties. Duty was always paramount with him. A smile could
scarcely be extracted from him while it was in the course of
performance. But the instant his work was done a new spirit seemed to
take possession of the man. Fun, mischief of any kind, no matter how
childish, he entered into with the greatest delight and enthusiasm.
Among other peculiarities, he had become deeply imbued with a thirst
for scientific knowledge, ever since he had acquired, with infinite
labour, the small modicum of science necessary to navigation; and his
doings in pursuit of statistical information relative to the weather,
and the phenomena of nature generally, were very peculiar, and in
some cases outrageous. His transaction with the quicksilver was in
consequence of an eager desire to see that metal frozen (an effect
which takes place when the spirit-of-wine thermometer falls to 39
degrees below zero of Fahrenheit), and a wish to be able to boast of
having actually fired a mercurial bullet through an inch plank.
Having made a careful note of the fact, with all the relative
circumstances attending it, in a very much blotted book, which he
denominated his scientific log, the worthy skipper threw off his
coat, drew a chair to the stove, and prepared to regale himself with
a pipe. As he glanced slowly round the room while thus engaged, his
eye fell on the mass of snow before alluded to. On being informed by
the doctor for what it was intended, he laid down his pipe and rose
hastily from his chair.
"You've not a moment to lose," said he. "As I came in at the gate
just now, I saw Hamilton coming down the river on the ice, and he
must be almost arrived now."
"Up with it then," cried the doctor, seizing the snow, and lifting it
to the top of the door." Hand me those bits of stick, Harry; quick,
man, stir your stumps.--Now then, skipper, fix them in so, while I
hold this up."
The skipper lent willing and effective aid, so that in a few minutes
the snow was placed in such a position that upon the opening of the
door it must inevitably fall on the head of the first person who
should enter the room.
"So," said the skipper, "that's rigged up in what I call ship-shape
"True," remarked the doctor, eyeing the arrangement with a look of
approval; "it will do, I think, admirably."
"Don't you think, skipper," said Harry Somerville gravely, as he
resumed his seat in front of the fire, "that it would be worth while
to make a careful and minute entry in your private log of the manner
in which it was put up, to be afterwards followed by an account of
its effect? You might write an essay on it now, and call it the
extraordinary effects of a fall of snow in latitude so and so, eh?
What think you of it?"
The skipper vouchsafed no reply, but made a significant gesture with
his fist, which caused Harry to put himself in a posture of defence.
At this moment footsteps were heard on the wooden platform in front
of the building.
Instantly all became silence and expectation in the hall as the
result of the practical joke was about to be realised. Just then
another step was heard on the platform, and it became evident that
two persons were approaching the door.
"Hope it'll be the right man," said the skipper, with a look
savouring slightly of anxiety.
As he spoke the door opened, and a foot crossed the threshold; the
next instant the miniature avalanche descended on the head and
shoulders of a man, who reeled forward from the weight of the blow,
and, covered from head to foot with snow, fell to the ground amid
shouts of laughter.
With a convulsive stamp and shake, the prostrate figure sprang up and
confronted the party. Had the cast-iron stove suddenly burst into
atoms, and blown the roof off the house, it could scarcely have
created greater consternation than that which filled the merry
jesters when they beheld the visage of Mr. Rogan, the superintendent
of the fort, red with passion and fringed with snow.
"So," said he, stamping violently with his foot, partly from anger,
and partly with a view of shaking off the unexpected covering, which
stuck all over his dress in little patches, producing a somewhat
piebald effect,--"so you are pleased to jest, gentlemen. Pray, who
placed that piece of snow over the door?" Mr. Rogan glared fiercely
round upon the culprits, who stood speechless before him.
For a moment he stood silent, as if uncertain how to act; then
turning short on his heel, he strode quickly out of the room, nearly
overturning Mr. Hamilton, who at the same instant entered it,
carrying his gun and snowshoes under his arm.
"Dear me, what has happened?" he exclaimed, in a peculiarly gentle
tone of voice, at the same time regarding the snow and the horror-
stricken circle with a look of intense surprise.
"You _see_ what has happened," replied Harry Somerville, who was the
first to recover his composure; "I presume you intended to ask, 'What
has _caused_ it to happen?' Perhaps the skipper will explain; it's
beyond me, quite."
Thus appealed to, that worthy cleared his throat, and said,--
"Why, you see, Mr. Hamilton, a great phenomenon of meteorology has
happened. We were all standing, you must know, at the open door,
taking a squint at the weather, when our attention was attracted by a
curious object that appeared in the sky, and seemed to be coming down
at the rate of ten knots an hour, right end-on for the house. I had
just time to cry, 'Clear out, lads,' when it came slap in through the
doorway, and smashed to shivers there, where you see the fragments.
In fact, it's a wonderful aërolite, and Mr. Rogan has just gone out
with a lot of the bits in his pocket, to make a careful examination
of them, and draw up a report for the Geological Society in London. I
shouldn't wonder if he were to send off an express to-night; and
maybe you will have to convey the news to headquarters, so you'd
better go and see him about it soon."
_Soft_ although Mr. Hamilton was supposed to be, he was not quite
prepared to give credit to this explanation; but being of a peaceful
disposition, and altogether unaccustomed to retort, he merely smiled
his disbelief, as he proceeded to lay aside his fowling-piece, and
divest himself of the voluminous out-of-door trappings with which he
was clad. Mr. Hamilton was a tall, slender youth, of about nineteen.
He had come out by the ship in autumn, and was spending his first
winter at York Fort. Up to the period of his entering the Hudson's
Bay Company's service, he had never been more than twenty miles from
home, and having mingled little with the world, was somewhat
unsophisticated, besides being by nature gentle and unassuming.
Soon after this the man who acted as cook, waiter, and butler to the
mess, entered, and said that Mr. Rogan desired to see the accountant
"Who am I to say did it?" enquired that gentleman, as he rose to obey
"Wouldn't it be a disinterested piece of kindness if you were to say
it was yourself?" suggested the doctor.
"Perhaps it would, but I won't," replied the accountant, as he made
In about half-an-hour Mr. Rogan and the accountant re-entered the
apartment. The former had quite regained his composure. He was
naturally amiable; which happy disposition was indicated by a
habitually cheerful look and smile.
"Now, gentlemen," said he, "I find that this practical joke was not
intended for me, and therefore look upon it as an unlucky accident;
but I cannot too strongly express my dislike to practical jokes of
all kinds. I have seen great evil, and some bloodshed, result from
practical jokes; and I think that, being a sufferer in consequence of
your fondness for them, I have a right to beg that you will abstain
from such doings in future--at least from such jokes as involve risk
to those who do not choose to enter into them."
Having given vent to this speech, Mr. Rogan left his volatile friends
to digest it at their leisure.
"Serves us right," said the skipper, pacing up and down the room in a
repentant frame of mind, with his thumbs hooked into the arm-holes of
The doctor said nothing, but breathed hard and smoked vigorously.
While we admit most thoroughly with Mr. Rogan that practical jokes
are exceedingly bad, and productive frequently of far more evil than
fun, we feel it our duty, as a faithful delineator of manners,
customs, and character in these regions, to urge in palliation of the
offence committed by the young gentlemen at York Fort, that they had
really about as few amusements and sources of excitement as fall to
the lot of any class of men. They were entirely dependent on their
own unaided exertions, during eight or nine months of the year, for
amusement or recreation of any kind. Their books were few in number,
and soon read through. The desolate wilderness around afforded no
incidents to form subjects of conversation further than the events of
a day's shooting, which, being nearly similar every day, soon lost
all interest. No newspapers came to tell of the doings of the busy
world from which they were shut out, and nothing occurred to vary the
dull routine of their life; so that it is not matter for wonder that
they were driven to seek for relaxation and excitement occasionally
in most outrageous and unnatural ways, and to indulge now and then in
the perpetration of a practical joke.
For some time after the rebuke administered by Mr. Rogan, silence
reigned in _Bachelor's Hall_, as the clerks' house was termed. But at
length symptoms of _ennui_ began to be displayed. The doctor yawned
and lay down on his bed to enjoy an American newspaper about twelve
months old. Harry Somerville sat down to reread a volume of
Franklin's travels in the polar regions, which he had perused twice
already. Mr. Hamilton busied himself in cleaning his fowling-piece;
while the skipper conversed with Mr. Wilson, who was engaged in his
room in adjusting an ivory head to a walking-stick. Mr. Wilson was a
jack-of-all-trades, who could make shift, one way or other, to do
_anything_. The accountant paced the uncarpeted floor in deep
At length he paused, and looked at Harry Somerville for some time.
"What say you to a walk through the woods to North River, Harry?"
"Ready," cried Harry, tossing down the book with a look of contempt--
"ready for anything."
"Will _you_ come, Hamilton?" added the accountant. Hamilton looked up
"You don't mean, surely, to take so long a walk in the dark, do you?
It is snowing, too, very heavily, and I think you said that North
River was five miles off, did you not?"
"Of course I mean to walk in the dark," replied the accountant,
"unless you can extemporize an artificial light for the occasion, or
prevail on the moon to come out for my special benefit. As to snowing
and a short tramp of five miles, why, the sooner you get to think of
such things as _trifles_ the better, if you hope to be fit for
anything in this country."
"I _don't_ think much of them," replied Hamilton, softly and with a
slight smile; "I only meant that such a walk was not very
_attractive_ so late in the evening."
"Attractive!" shouted Harry Somerville from his bedroom, where he was
equipping himself for the walk; "what can be more attractive than a
sharp run of ten miles through the woods on a cool night to visit
your traps, with the prospect of a silver fox or a wolf at the end of
it, and an extra sound sleep as the result? Come, man, don't be soft;
get ready, and go along with us."
"Besides," added the accountant, "I don't mean to come back to-night.
To-morrow, you know, is a holiday, so we can camp out in the snow
after visiting the traps, have our supper, and start early in the
morning to search for ptarmigan."
"Well, I will go," said Hamilton, after this account of the pleasures
that were to be expected; "I am exceedingly anxious to learn to shoot
birds on the wing."
"Bless me! have you not learned that yet!" asked the doctor, in
affected surprise, as he sauntered out of his bedroom to relight his
The various bedrooms in the clerks' house were ranged round the hall,
having doors that opened directly into it, so that conversation
carried on in a loud voice was heard in all the rooms at once, and
was not infrequently sustained in elevated tones from different
apartments, when the occupants were lounging, as they often did of an
evening, in their beds.
"No," said Hamilton, in reply to the doctor's question, "I have not
learned yet, although there were a great many grouse in the part of
Scotland where I was brought up. But my aunt, with whom I lived, was
so fearful of my shooting either myself or someone else, and had such
an aversion to firearms, that I determined to make her mind easy, by
promising that I would never use them so long as I remained under her
"Quite right; very dutiful and proper," said the doctor, with a
grave, patronising air.
"Perhaps you'll fall in with more _fox_ tracks of the same sort as
the one you gave chase to this morning," shouted the skipper, from
"Oh! there's hundreds of them out there," said the accountant; "so
let's off at once."
The trio now proceeded to equip themselves for the walk. Their
costumes were peculiar, and merit description. As they were similar
in the chief points, it will suffice to describe that of our friend
On his head he wore a fur-cap made of otter-skin, with a flap on each
side to cover the ears, the frost being so intense in these climates
that without some such protection they would inevitably freeze and
As the nose is constantly in use for the purposes of respiration, it
is always left uncovered to fight with the cold as it best can; but
it is a hard battle, and there is no doubt that, if it were possible,
a nasal covering would be extremely pleasant. Indeed, several
desperate efforts _have_ been made to construct some sort of nose-
bag, but hitherto without success, owing to the uncomfortable fact
that the breath issuing from that organ immediately freezes, and
converts the covering into a bag of snow or ice, which is not
agreeable. Round his neck Harry wound a thick shawl of such
portentious dimensions that it entirely enveloped the neck and lower
part of the face; thus the entire head was, as it were, eclipsed--the
eyes, the nose, and the cheek-bones alone being visible. He then
threw on a coat made of deer-skin, so prepared that it bore a slight
resemblance to excessively coarse chamois leather. It was somewhat in
the form of a long, wide surtout, overlapping very much in front, and
confined closely to the figure by means of a scarlet worsted belt
instead of buttons, and was ornamented round the foot by a number of
cuts, which produced a fringe of little tails. Being lined with thick
flannel, this portion of attire was rather heavy, but extremely
necessary. A pair of blue cloth leggings, having a loose flap on the
outside, were next drawn on over the trousers, as an additional
protection to the knees. The feet, besides being portions of the body
that are peculiarly susceptible of cold, had further to contend
against the chafing of the lines which attach them to the snow-shoes,
so that special care in their preparation for duty was necessary.
First were put on a pair of blanketing or duffel socks, which were
merely oblong in form, without sewing or making-up of any kind. These
were wrapped round the feet, which were next thrust into a pair of
made-up socks, of the same material, having ankle-pieces; above these
were put _another_ pair, _without_ flaps for the ankles. Over all was
drawn a pair of moccasins made of stout deer-skin, similar to that of
the coat. Of course, the elegance of Harry's feet was entirely
destroyed, and had he been met in this guise by any of his friends in
the "old country," they would infallibly have come to the conclusion
that he was afflicted with gout. Over his shoulders he slung a
powder-horn and shot-pouch, the latter tastefully embroidered with
dyed quill-work, A pair of deer-skin mittens, having a little bag for
the thumb, and a large bag for the fingers, completed his costume.
While the three were making ready, with a running accompaniment of
grunts and groans at refractory pieces of apparel, the night without
became darker, and the snow fell thicker, so that when they issued
suddenly out of their warm abode, and emerged into the sharp frosty
air, which blew the snow-drift into their eyes, they felt a momentary
desire to give up the project and return to their comfortable
"What a dismal-looking night it is!" said the accountant, as he led
the way along the wooden platform towards the gate of the fort.
"Very!" replied Hamilton, with an involuntary shudder.
"Keep up your heart," said Harry, in a cheerful voice; "you've no
notion how your mind will change on that point when you have walked a
mile or so and got into a comfortable heat. I must confess, however,
that a little moonshine would be an improvement," he added, on
stumbling, for the third time, off the platform into the deep snow.
"It is full moon just now," said the accountant, "and I think the
clouds look as if they would break soon. At any rate, I've been at
North River so often that I believe I could walk out there
As he spoke they passed the gate, and diverging to the right,
proceeded, as well as the imperfect light permitted, along the
footpath that led to the forest.
The walk continued--Frozen toes--An encampment in the snow.
After quitting York Fort, the three friends followed the track
leading to the spot where the winter's firewood was cut. Snow was
still falling thickly, and it was with some difficulty that the
accountant kept in the right direction. The night was excessively
dark, while the dense fir forest, through which the narrow road ran,
rendered the gloom if possible more intense.
When they had proceeded about a mile, their leader suddenly came to a
"We must quit the track now," said he; "so get on your snow-shoes as
fast as you can."
Hitherto they had carried their snow-shoes under their arms, as the
beaten track along which they travelled rendered them unnecessary;
but now, having to leave the path and pursue the remainder of their
journey through deep snow, they availed themselves of those useful
machines, by means of which the inhabitants of this part of North
America are enabled to journey over many miles of trackless
wilderness, with nearly as much ease as a sportsman can traverse the
moors in autumn, and that over snow so deep that one hour's walk
through it _without_ such aids would completely exhaust the stoutest
trapper, and advance him only a mile or so on his journey. In other
words, to walk without snow-shoes would be utterly impossible, while
to walk with them is easy and agreeable. They are not used after the
manner of skates, with a _sliding_, but a _stepping_ action, and
their sole use is to support the wearer on the top of snow, into
which without them he would sink up to the waist. When we say that
they support the wearer on the _top_ of the snow, of course we do not
mean that they literally do not break the surface at all. But the
depth to which they sink is comparatively trifling, and varies
according to the state of the snow and the season of the year. In the
woods they sink frequently about six inches, sometimes more,
sometimes less, while on frozen rivers, where the snow is packed
solid by the action of the wind, they sink only two or three inches,
and sometimes so little as to render it preferable to walk without
them altogether. Snow-shoes are made of a light, strong framework of
wood, varying from three to six feet long by eighteen and twenty
inches broad, tapering to a point before and behind, and turning up
in front. Different tribes of Indians modify the form a little, but
in all essential points they are the same. The framework is filled up
with a netting of deer-skin threads, which unites lightness with
great strength, and permits any snow that may chance to fall upon the
netting to pass through it like a sieve.
On the present occasion the snow, having recently fallen, was soft,
and the walking, consequently, what is called heavy.
"Come on," shouted the accountant, as he came to a stand for the
third time within half-an-hour, to await the coming up of poor
Hamilton, who, being rather awkward in snow-shoe walking even in
daylight, found it nearly impossible in the dark.
"Wait a little, please," replied a faint voice in the distance; "I've
got among a quantity of willows, and find it very difficult to get
on. I've been down twice al--"
The sudden cessation of the voice, and a loud crash as of breaking
branches, proved too clearly that our friend had accomplished his
"There he goes again," exclaimed Harry Somerville, who came up at the
moment. "I've helped him up once already. We'll never get to North
River at this rate. What _is_ to be done?"
"Let's see what has become of him this time, however," said the
accountant, as he began to retrace his steps. "If I mistake not, he
made rather a heavy plunge that time, judging from the sound."
At that moment the clouds overhead broke, and a moonbeam shot down
into the forest, throwing a pale light over the cold scene. A few
steps brought Harry and the accountant to the spot whence the sound
had proceeded, and a loud startling laugh rang through the night air,
as the latter suddenly beheld poor Hamilton struggling, with his
arms, head, and shoulders stuck into the snow, his snow-shoes twisted
and sticking with the heels up and awry, in a sort of rampant
confusion, and his gun buried to the locks beside him. Regaining
one's perpendicular after a fall in deep snow, when the feet are
encumbered by a pair of long snow-shoes, is by no means an easy thing
to accomplish, in consequence of the impossibility of getting hold of
anything solid on which to rest the hands. The depth is so great that
the outstretched arms cannot find bottom, and every successive
struggle only sinks the unhappy victim deeper down. Should no
assistance be near, he will soon beat the snow to a solidity that
will enable him to rise, but not in a very enviable or comfortable
"Give me a hand, Harry," gasped Hamilton, as he managed to twist his
head upwards for a moment.
"Here you are," cried Harry, holding out his hand and endeavouring to
suppress his desire to laugh; "up with you," and in another moment
the poor youth was upon his legs, with every fold and crevice about
his person stuffed to repletion with snow.
"Come, cheer up," cried the accountant, giving the youth a slap on
the back; "there's nothing like experience--the proverb says that it
even teaches fools, so you need not despair."
Hamilton smiled as he endeavoured to shake off some of his white
"We'll be all right immediately," added Harry; "I see that the
country ahead is more open, so the walking will be easier."
"Oh, I wish that I had not come!" said Hamilton, sorrowfully,
"because I am only detaining you. But perhaps I shall do better as we
get on. At any rate, I cannot go back now, as I could never find the
"Go back! of course not," said the accountant; "in a short time we
shall get into the old woodcutters' track of last year, and although
it's not beaten at all, yet it is pretty level and open, so that we
shall get on famously."
"Go on, then," sighed Hamilton.
"Drive ahead," laughed Harry, and without further delay they resumed
their march, which was soon rendered more cheerful as the clouds
rolled away, the snow ceased to fall, and the bright full moon poured
its rays down upon their path.
For a long time they proceeded in silence, the muffled sound of the
snow, as it sank beneath their regular footsteps, being the only
interruption to the universal stillness around. There is something
very solemnizing in a scene such as we are now describing--the calm
tranquillity of the arctic night; the pure whiteness of the snowy
carpet, which rendered the dark firs inky black by contrast; the
clear, cold, starry sky, that glimmered behind the dark clouds, whose
heavy masses, now rolling across the moon, partially obscured the
landscape, and anon, passing slowly away, let a flood of light down
upon the forest, which, penetrating between the thick branches,
scattered the surface of the snow, as it were, with flakes of silver.
Sleep has often been applied as a simile to nature in repose, but in
this case death seemed more appropriate. So silent, so cold, so still
was the scene, that it filled the mind with an indefinable feeling of
dread, as if there was some mysterious danger near. Once or twice
during their walk the three travellers paused to rest, but they spoke
little, and in subdued voices, as if they feared to break the silence
of the night.
"It is strange," said Harry, in a low tone, as he walked beside
Hamilton, "that such a scene as this always makes me think more than
usual of home."
"And yet it is natural," replied the other, "because it reminds us
more forcibly than any other that we are in a foreign land--in the
lonely wilderness--far away from home."
Both Harry and Hamilton had been trained in families where the
Almighty was feared and loved, and where their minds had been early
led to reflect upon the Creator when regarding the works of His hand:
their thoughts, therefore, naturally reverted to another home,
compared with which this world is indeed a cold, lonely wilderness;
but on such subjects they feared to converse, partly from a dread of
the ridicule of reckless companions, partly from ignorance of each
other's feelings on religious matters, and although their minds were
busy, their tongues were silent.
The ground over which the greater part of their path lay was a swamp,
which, being now frozen, was a beautiful white plain, so that their
advance was more rapid, until they approached the belt of woodland
that skirts North River. Here they again encountered the heavy snow,
which had been such a source of difficulty to Hamilton at setting
out. He had profited by his former experience, however, and by the
exercise of an excessive degree of caution managed to scramble
through the woods tolerably well, emerging at last, along with his
companions, on the bleak margin of what appeared to be the frozen
North River, at this place, is several miles broad, and the opposite
shore is so low that the snow causes it to appear but a slight
undulation of the frozen bed of the river. Indeed, it would not be
distinguishable at all, were it not for the willow bushes and dwarf
pines, whose tops, rising above the white garb of winter, indicate
that _terra firma_ lies below.
"What a cold, desolate-looking place!" said Hamilton, as the party
stood still to recover breath before taking their way over the plain
to the spot where the accountant's traps were set. "It looks much
more like the frozen sea than a river."
"It can scarcely be called a river at this place," remarked the
accountant, "seeing that the water hereabouts is brackish, and the
tides ebb and flow a good way up. In fact, this is the extreme mouth
of North River, and if you turn your eyes a little to the right,
towards yonder ice-hummock in the plain, you behold the frozen sea
"Where are your traps set?" inquired Harry.
"Down in the hollow, behind yon point covered with brushwood."
"Oh, we shall soon get to them then; come along," cried Harry.
Harry was mistaken, however. He had not yet learned by experience the
extreme difficulty of judging of distance in the uncertain light of
night--a difficulty that was increased by the ignorance of the
locality, and by the gleams of moonshine that shot through the
driving clouds and threw confused fantastic shadows over the plain.
The point which he had at first supposed was covered with low bushes,
and about a hundred yards off, proved to be clad in reality with
large bushes and small trees, and lay at a distance of two miles.
"I think you have been mistaken in supposing the point so near,
Harry," said Hamilton, as he trudged on beside his friend.
"A fact evident to the naked eye," replied Harry. "How do your feet
stand it, eh? Beginning to lose bark yet?"
Hamilton did not feel quite sure. "I think," said he softly, "that
there is a blister under the big toe of my left foot. It feels very
"If you feel at all _uncertain_ about it, you may rest assured that
there _is_ a blister. These things don't give much pain at first. I'm
sorry to tell you, my dear fellow, that you'll be painfully aware of
the fact to-morrow. However, don't distress yourself; it's a part of
the experience that everyone goes through in this country. Besides,"
said Harry smiling, "we can send to the fort for medical advice."
"Don't bother the poor fellow, and hold your tongue. Harry," said the
accountant, who now began to tread more cautiously as he approached
the place where the traps were set.
"How many traps have you?" inquired Harry in a low tone.
"Three," replied the accountant.
"Do you know I have a very strange feeling about my heels--or rather
a want of feeling," said Hamilton, smiling dubiously.
"A want of feeling! what do you mean?" cried the accountant, stopping
suddenly and confronting his young friend.
"Oh, I daresay it's nothing," he exclaimed, looking as if ashamed of
having spoken of it; "only I feel exactly as if both my heels were
cut off, and I were walking on tip-toe!"
"Say you so? then right about wheel. Your heels are frozen, man, and
you'll lose them if you don't look sharp."
"Frozen!" cried Hamilton, with a look of incredulity.
"Ay, frozen; and it's lucky you told me. I've a place up in the woods
here, which I call my winter camp, where we can get you put to
rights. But step out; the longer we are about it the worse for you."
Harry Somerville was at first disposed to think that the accountant
jested, but seeing that he turned his back towards his traps, and
made for the nearest point of the thick woods with a stride that
betokened thorough sincerity, he became anxious too, and followed as
fast as possible.
The place to which the accountant led his young friends was a group
of fir trees which grew on a little knoll, that rose a few feet above
the surrounding level country. At the foot of this hillock a small
rivulet or burn ran in summer, but the only evidence of its presence
now was the absence of willow bushes all along its covered narrow
bed. A level tract was thus formed by nature, free from all
underwood, and running inland about the distance of a mile, where it
was lost in the swamp whence the stream issued. The wooded knoll or
hillock lay at the mouth of this brook, and being the only elevated
spot in the neighbourhood, besides having the largest trees growing
on it, had been selected by the accountant as a convenient place for
"camping out" on, when he visited his traps in winter, and happened
to be either too late or disinclined to return home. Moreover, the
spreading fir branches afforded an excellent shelter alike from wind
and snow in the centre of the clump, while from the margin was
obtained a partial view of the river and the sea beyond. Indeed, from
this look-out there was a very fine prospect on clear winter nights
of the white landscape, enlivened occasionally by groups of arctic
foxes, which might be seen scampering about in sport, and gambolling
among the hummocks of ice like young kittens.
"Now we shall turn up here," said the accountant, as he walked a
short way up the brook before mentioned, and halted in front of what
appeared to be an impenetrable mass of bushes.
"We shall have to cut our way, then," said Harry, looking to the
right and left in the vain hope of discovering a place where, the
bushes being less dense, they might effect an entrance into the knoll
"Not so. I have taken care to make a passage into my winter camp,
although it was only a whim, after all, to make a concealed entrance,
seeing that no one ever passes this way except wolves and foxes,
whose noses render the use of their eyes in most cases unnecessary."
So saying, the accountant turned aside a thick branch, and disclosed
a narrow track, into which he entered, followed by his two
A few minutes brought them to the centre of the knoll. Here they
found a clear space of about twenty feet in diameter, round which the
trees circled so thickly that in daylight nothing could be seen but
tree-stems as far as the eye could penetrate, while overhead the
broad flat branches of the firs, with their evergreen verdure, spread
out and interlaced so thickly that very little light penetrated into
the space below. Of course at night, even in moonlight, the place was
pitch dark. Into this retreat the accountant led his companions, and
bidding them stand still for a minute lest they should stumble into
the fireplace, he proceeded to strike a light.
Those who have never travelled in the wild parts of this world can
form but a faint conception of the extraordinary and sudden change
that is produced, not only in the scene, but in the mind of the
beholder, when a blazing fire is lighted on a dark night. Before the
fire is kindled, and you stand, perhaps (as Harry and his friend did
on the present occasion) shivering in the cold, the heart sinks, and
sad, gloomy thoughts arise, while your eye endeavours to pierce the
thick darkness, which, if it succeeds in doing so, only adds to the
effect by disclosing the pallid snow, the cold, chilling beams of the
moon, the wide vista of savage scenery, the awe-inspiring solitudes
that tell of your isolated condition, or stir up sad memories of
other and far-distant scenes. But the moment the first spark of fire
sends a fitful gleam of light upwards, these thoughts and feelings
take wing and vanish. The indistinct scenery is rendered utterly
invisible by the red light, which attracts and rivets the eye as if
by a species of fascination. The deep shadows of the woods
immediately around you grow deeper and blacker as the flames leap and
sparkle upwards, causing the stems of the surrounding trees, and the
foliage of the overhanging branches, to stand out in bold relief,
bathed in a ruddy glow, which converts the forest chamber into a snug
_home-like_ place, and fills the mind with agreeable, _home-like_
feelings and meditations. It seemed as if the spirit, in the one
case, were set loose and etherealized to enable it to spread itself
over the plains of cold, cheerless, illimitable space, and left to
dwell upon objects too wide to grasp, too indistinct to comprehend;
while, in the other, it is recalled and concentrated upon matters
circumscribed and congenial, things of which it has long been
cognizant, and which it can appreciate and enjoy without the effort
of a thought.
Some such thoughts and feelings passed rapidly through the minds of
Harry and Hamilton, while the accountant struck a light and kindled a
roaring fire of logs, which he had cut and arranged there on a
previous occasion. In the middle of the space thus brilliantly
illuminated, the snow had been cleared away till the moss was
uncovered, thus leaving a hole of about ten feet in diameter. As the
snow was quite four feet deep, the hole was surrounded with a pure
white wall, whose height was further increased by the masses thrown
out in the process of digging to nearly six feet. At one end of this
space was the large fire which had just been kindled, and which,
owing to the intense cold, only melted a very little of the snow in
its immediate neighbourhood. At the other end lay a mass of flat pine
branches, which were piled up so thickly as to form a pleasant
elastic couch, the upper end being slightly raised so as to form a
kind of bolster, while the lower extended almost into the fire.
Indeed, the branches at the extremity were burnt quite brown, and
some of them charred. Beside the bolster lay a small wooden box, a
round tin kettle, an iron tea-kettle, two tin mugs, a hatchet, and a
large bundle tied up in a green blanket. There were thus, as it were,
two apartments, one within the other--namely, the outer one, whose
walls were formed of tree-stems and thick darkness, and the ceiling
of green boughs; and then the inner one, with walls of snow, that
sparkled in the firelight as if set with precious stones, and a
carpet of evergreen branches.
Within this latter our three friends were soon actively employed.
Poor Hamilton's moccasins were speedily removed, and his friends,
going down on their knees, began to rub his feet with a degree of
energy that induced him to beg for mercy.
"Mercy!" exclaimed the accountant, without pausing for an instant;
"faith, it's little mercy there would be in stopping just now.--Rub
away, Harry. Don't give in. They're coming right at last."
After a very severe rubbing, the heels began to show symptoms of
returning vitality. They were then wrapped up in the folds of a thick
blanket, and held sufficiently near to the fire to prevent any chance
of the frost getting at them again.
"Now, my boy," said the accountant, as he sat down to enjoy a pipe
and rest himself on a blanket, which, along with the one wrapped
round Hamilton's feet, had been extracted from the green bundle
before mentioned--"now, my boy, you'll have to enjoy yourself here as
you best can for an hour or two, while Harry and I visit the traps.
Would you like supper before we go, or shall we have it on our
"Oh, I'll wait for it by all means till you return. I don't feel a
bit hungry just now, and it will be much more cheerful to have it
after all your work is over. Besides, I feel my feet too painful to
enjoy it just now."
"My poor fellow," said Harry, whose heart smote him for having been
disposed at first to treat the thing lightly, "I'm really sorry for
you. Would you not like me to stay with you?"
"By no means," replied Hamilton quickly. "You can do nothing more for
me, Harry; and I should be very sorry if you missed seeing the
"Oh, never mind the traps. I've seen traps, and set them too, fifty
times before now. I'll stop with you, old boy, I will," said Harry
doggedly, while he made arrangements to settle down for the evening.
"Well, if _you_ won't go, I will," said Hamilton coolly, as he
unwound the blanket from his feet and began to pull on his socks.
"Bravo, my lad!" exclaimed the accountant, patting him approvingly on
the back; "I didn't think you had half so much pluck in you. But it
won't do, old fellow. You're in _my_ castle just now, and must obey
orders. You couldn't walk half-a-mile for your life; so just be
pleased to pull off your socks again. Besides, I want Harry to help
me to carry up my foxes, if there are any;--so get ready, sirrah!"
"Ay, ay, captain," cried Harry, with a laugh, while he sprang up and
put on his snow-shoes.
"You needn't bring your gun," said the accountant, shaking the ashes
from his pipe as he prepared to depart, "but you may as well shove
that axe into your belt; you may want it.--Now, mind, don't roast
your feet," he added, turning to Hamilton.
"Adieu!" cried Harry, with a nod and a smile, as he turned to go.
"Take care the bears don't find you out."
"No fear. Good-bye, Harry," replied Hamilton, as his two friends
disappeared in the wood and left him to his solitary meditations.
Shows how the accountant and Harry set their traps, and what came of
The moon was still up, and the sky less overcast, when our amateur
trappers quitted the encampment, and, descending to the mouth of the
little brook, took their way over North River in the direction of the
accountant's traps. Being somewhat fatigued both in mind and body by
the unusual exertions of the night, neither of them spoke for some
time, but continued to walk in silence, contemplatively gazing at
their long shadows.
"Did you ever trap a fox, Harry?" said the accountant at length.
"Yes, I used to set traps at Red River; but the foxes there are not
numerous, and are so closely watched by the dogs that they have
become suspicious. I caught but few."
"Then you know how to _set_ a trap?"
"Oh, yes; I've set both steel and snow traps often. You've heard of
old Labonté, who used to carry one of the winter packets from Red
River until within a few years back?"
"Yes, I've heard of him; his name is in my ledger--at least, if you
mean Pierre Labonté, who came down last fall with the brigade."
"The same. Well, he was a great friend of mine. His little cabin lay
about two miles from Fort Garry, and after work was over in the
office I used to go down to sit and chat with him by the fire, and
many a time I have sat up half the night listening to him as he
recounted his adventures. The old man never tired of relating them,
and of smoking twist tobacco. Among other things, he set my mind upon
trapping, by giving me an account of an expedition he made, when
quite a youth, to the Rocky Mountains; so I got him to go into the
woods and teach me how to set traps and snares, and I flatter myself
he found me an apt pupil."
"Humph!" ejaculated the accountant; "I have no doubt you do _flatter_
yourself. But here we are. The traps are just beyond that mound; so
look out, and don't stick your feet into them."
"Hist!" exclaimed Harry, laying his hand suddenly on his companion's
arm. "Do you see _that_?" pointing towards the place where the traps
were said to be.
"You have sharp eyes, younker. I _do_ see it, now that you point it
out. It's a fox, and caught, too, as I'm a scrivener."
"You're in luck to-night," exclaimed Harry, eagerly, "It's a _silver_
fox. I see the white tip on its tail."
"Nonsense," cried the accountant, hastening forward; "but we'll soon
settle the point."
Harry proved to be right. On reaching the spot they found a beautiful
black fox, caught by the fore leg in a steel trap, and gazing at them
with a look of terror.
The skin of the silver fox--so called from a slight sprinkling of
pure white hairs covering its otherwise jet-black body--is the most
valuable fur obtained by the fur-traders, and fetches an enormous
price in the British market, so much as thirty pounds sterling being
frequently obtained for a single skin. The foxes vary in colour from
jet black, which is the most valuable, to a light silvery hue, and
are hailed as great prizes by the Indians and trappers when they are
so fortunate as to catch them. They are not numerous, however, and
being exceedingly wary and suspicious, are difficult to catch, ft may
be supposed, therefore, that our friend the accountant ran to secure
his prize with some eagerness.
"Now, then, my beauty, don't shrink," he said, as the poor fox backed
at his approach as far as the chain which fastened the trap to a log
of wood, would permit, and then, standing at bay, showed a formidable
row of teeth. That grin was its last; another moment, and the handle
of the accountant's axe stretched it lifeless on the snow.
"Isn't it a beauty!" cried he, surveying the animal with a look of
triumphant pleasure; and then feeling as if he had compromised his
dignity a little by betraying so much glee, he added, "But come now,
Harry; we must see to the other traps. It's getting late."
The others were soon visited; but no more foxes were caught. However,
the accountant set them both off to see that all was right; and then
readjusting one himself, told Harry to set the other, in order to
clear himself of the charge of boasting.
Harry, nothing loath, went down on his knees to do so.
The steel trap used for catching foxes is of exactly the same form as
the ordinary rat-trap, with this difference, that it has two springs
instead of one, is considerably larger, and has no teeth, as these
latter would only tend to spoil the skin. Owing to the strength of
the springs, a pretty strong effort is required to set the trap, and,
clumsy fellows frequently catch the tails of their coats or the ends
of their belts, and not unfrequently the ends of their fingers, in
their awkward attempts. Haying set it without any of the above
untoward accidents occurring, Harry placed it gently on a hole which
he had previously scraped--placing it in such a manner that the jaws
and plate, or trigger, were a hair-breadth below the level of the
snow. After this he spread over it a very thin sheet of paper,
observing as he did so that hay or grass was preferable; but as there
was none at hand, paper would do. Over this he sprinkled snow very
lightly, until every vestige of the trap was concealed from view, and
the whole was made quite level with the surrounding plain, so that
even the accountant himself, after he had once removed his eyes from
it, could not tell where it lay. Some chips of a frozen ptarmigan
were then scattered around the spot, and a piece of wood left to mark
its whereabouts. The bait is always scattered _round_ and not _on_
the trap, as the fox, in running from one piece to another, is almost
certain to set his foot on it, and so get caught by the leg; whereas,
were the bait placed _upon_ the trap, the fox would be apt to get
caught, while in the act of eating, by the snout, which, being wedge-
like in form, is easily dragged out of its gripe.
"Now then, what say you to going farther out on the river, and making
a snow trap for white foxes?" said the accountant. "We shall still
have time to do so before the moon sets."
"Agreed," cried Harry. "Come along."
Without further parley they left the spot and stretched out towards
The snow on the river was quite hard on its surface, so that snow-
shoes being unnecessary, they carried them over their shoulders, and
advanced much more rapidly. It is true that their road was a good
deal broken, and jagged pieces of ice protruded their sharp corners
so as to render a little attention necessary in walking; but one or
two severe bumps on their toes made our friends sensitively alive to
these minor dangers of the way.
"There goes a pack of them!" exclaimed Harry, as a troop of white
foxes scampered past, gambolling as they went, and, coming suddenly
to a halt at a short distance, wheeled about and sat down on their
haunches, apparently resolved to have a good look at the strangers
who dared to venture into their wild domain.
"Oh, they are the most stupid brutes alive," said the accountant, as
he regarded the pack with a look of contempt. "I've seen one of them
sit down and look at me while I set a trap right before his eyes; and
I had not got a hundred yards from the spot when a yell informed me
that the gentleman's curiosity had led him to put his foot right into
"Indeed!" exclaimed Harry. "I had no idea that they were so tame.
Certainly no other kind of fox would do that."
"No, that's certain. But these fellows have done it to me again and
again. I shouldn't wonder if we got one to-night in the very same
way. I'm sure, by the look of these rascals, that they would do
anything of a reckless, stupid nature just now."
"Had we not better make our trap here, then? There is a point, not
fifty yards off, with trees on it large enough for our purpose."
"Yes; it will do very well here. Now, then, to work. Go to the wood,
Harry, and fetch a log or two, while I cut out the slabs." So saying,
the accountant drew the axe which he always carried in his belt; and
while Harry entered the wood and began to hew off the branch of a
tree, he proceeded, as he had said, to "cut out the slabs." With the
point of his knife he first of all marked out an oblong in the snow,
then cut down three or four inches with the axe, and putting the
handle under the cut, after the manner of a lever, detached a thick
solid slab of about three inches thick, which, although not so hard
as ice, was quite hard enough for the purpose for which it was
intended. He then cut two similar slabs, and a smaller one, the same
in thickness and breadth, but only half the length. Having
accomplished this, he raised himself to rest a little, and observed
that Harry approached, staggering under a load of wood, and that the
foxes were still sitting on their haunches, gazing at him with a look
of deep interest.
"If I only had my gun here!" thought he. But not having it, he merely
shook his fist at them, stooped down again, and resumed his work.
With Harry's assistance the slabs were placed in such a way as to
form a sort of box or house, having one end of it open. This was
further plastered with soft snow at the joinings, and banked up in
such a way that no animal could break into it easily--at least such
an attempt would be so difficult as to make an entrance into the
interior by the open side much more probable. When this was finished,
they took the logs that Harry had cut and carried with so much
difficulty from the wood, and began to lop off the smaller branches
and twigs. One large log was placed across the opening of the trap,
while the others were piled on one end of it so as to press it down
with their weight. Three small pieces of stick were now prepared--two
of them being about half a foot long, and the other about a foot. On
the long piece of stick the breast of a ptarmigan was fixed as a
bait, and two notches cut, the one at the end of it, the other about
four or five inches further down. All was now ready to set the trap.
"Raise the log now while I place the trigger," said Harry, kneeling
down in front of the door, while the accountant, as directed, lifted
up the log on which the others lay so as to allow his companion to
introduce the bait-stick, in such a manner as to support it, while
the slightest pull on the bait would set the stick with the notches
free, and thus permit the log to fall on the back of the fox, whose
effort to reach the bait would necessarily place him under it.
While Harry was thus engaged, the accountant stood up and looked
towards the foxes. They had approached so near in their curiosity,
that he was induced to throw his axe frantically at the foremost of
the pack. This set them galloping off, but they soon halted and sat
down as before.
"What aggravating brutes they are, to be sure!" said Harry, with a
laugh, as his companion returned with the hatchet.
"Humph! yes, but we'll be upsides with them yet. Come along into the
wood, and I wager that in ten minutes we shall have one."
They immediately hurried towards the wood, but had not walked fifty
paces when they were startled by a loud yell behind them.
"Dear me!" exclaimed the accountant, while he and Harry turned round
with a start. "It cannot surely be possible that they have gone in
already." A loud howl followed the remark, and the whole pack fled
over the plain like snow-drift, and disappeared.
"Ah, that's a pity! something must have scared them to make them take
wing like that. However, we'll get one to-morrow for certain; so come
along, lad, let us make for the camp."
"Not so fast," replied the other; "if you hadn't pored over the big
ledger till you were blind, you would see that there is _one_
This proved to be the case. On returning to the spot they found an
arctic fox in his last gasp, lying flat on the snow, with the heavy
log across his back, which seemed to be broken. A slight tap on the
snout with the accountant's deadly axe-handle completed its
"We're in luck to-night," cried Harry, as he kneeled again to reset
the trap. "But after all these white brutes are worth very little; I
fancy a hundred of their skins would not be worth the black one you
"Be quick, Harry; the moon is almost down, and poor Hamilton will
think that the polar bears have got hold of us."
"Ail right! Now then, step out," and glancing once more at the trap
to see that all was properly arranged, the two friends once more
turned their faces homewards, and travelled over the snow with rapid
The moon had just set, leaving the desolate scene in deep gloom, so
that they could scarcely find their way to the forest; and when they
did at last reach its shelter, the night became so intensely dark
that they had almost to grope their way, and would certainly have
lost it altogether were it not for the accountant's thorough
knowledge of the locality. To add to their discomfort, as they
stumbled on, snow began to fall, and ere long a pretty steady breeze
of wind drove it sharply in their faces. However, this mattered but
little, as they penetrated deeper in among the trees, which proved a
complete shelter both from wind and snow. An hour's march brought
them to the mouth of the brook, although half that time would have
been sufficient had it been daylight, and a few minutes later they
had the satisfaction of hearing Hamilton's voice hailing them as they
pushed aside the bushes and sprang into the cheerful light of their
"Hurrah!" shouted Harry, as he leaped into the space before the fire,
and flung the two foxes at Hamilton's feet. "What do you think of
_that_, old fellow? How are the heels? Rather sore, eh? Now for the
kettle. Polly, put the kettle on; we'll all have--My eye! where's
the kettle, Hamilton? have you eaten it?"
"If you compose yourself a little, Harry, and look at the fire,
you'll see it boiling there."
"Man, what a chap you are for making unnecessary speeches! Couldn't
you tell me to look at the fire without the preliminary piece of
advice to _compose_ myself? Besides, you talk nonsense, for I'm
composed already, of blood, bones, flesh, sinews, fat, and--"
"Humbug!" interrupted the accountant. "Lend a hand to get supper, you
"And so," continued Harry, not noticing the interruption, "I cannot
be expected, nor is it necessary, to _compose_ myself over again. But
to be serious," he added, "it was very kind and considerate of you,
Hammy, to put on the kettle, when your heels were in a manner
"Oh, it was nothing at all; my heels are much better, thank you, and
it kept me from wearying."
"Poor fellow!" said the accountant, while he busied himself in
preparing their evening meal, "you must be quite ravenous by this
time--at least _I_ am, which is the same thing."
Supper was soon ready. It consisted of a large kettle of tea, a lump
of pemmican, a handful of broken biscuit, and three ptarmigan--all of
which were produced from the small wooden box which the accountant
was wont to call his camp-larder. The ptarmigan had been shot two
weeks before, and carefully laid up for future use; the intense frost
being a sufficient guarantee for their preservation for many months,
had that been desired.
It would have done you good, reader (supposing you to be possessed of
sympathetic feelings), to have witnessed those three nor'-westers
enjoying their supper in the snowy camp. The fire had been
replenished with logs, till it roared and crackled again, as if it
were endued with a vicious spirit, and wished to set the very snow in
flames. The walls shone like alabaster studded with diamonds, while
the green boughs overhead and the stems around were of a deep red
colour in the light of the fierce blaze. The tea-kettle hissed,
fumed, and boiled over into the fire. A mass of pemmican simmered in
the lid in front of it. Three pannikins of tea reposed on the green