Produced by Andrew Sly
By E. Pauline Johnson
With Introduction by Ernest Thompson Seton
Dedicated to the Boy Scouts
How well I remember my first meeting with Tekahionwake, the Indian girl! I see her yet as she stood in all ways the ideal type of her race, lithe and active, with clean-cut aquiline features, olive-red complexion and long dark hair; but developed by her white-man training so that the shy Indian girl had given place to the alert, resourceful world-woman, at home equally in the salons of the rich and learned or in the stern of the birch canoe, where, with paddle poised, she was in absolute and fearless control, watching, warring and winning against the grim rocks that grinned out of the white rapids to tear the frail craft and mangle its daring rider.
We met at the private view of one of my own pictures. It was a wolf scene, and Tekahionwake, quickly sensing the painter’s sympathy with the Wolf, claimed him as a Medicine Brother, for she herself was of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawks. The little silver token she gave me then is not to be gauged or appraised by any craftsman method known to trade.
From that day, twenty odd years ago, our friendship continued to the end, and it is the last sad privilege of brotherhood to write this brief comment on her personality. I do it with a special insight, for I am charged with a message from Tekahionwake herself. “Never let anyone call me a white woman,” she said. “There are those who think they pay me a compliment in saying that I am just like a white woman. My aim, my joy, my pride is to sing the glories of my own people. Ours was the race that gave the world its measure of heroism, its standard of physical prowess. Ours was the race that taught the world that avarice veiled by any name is crime. Ours were the people of the blue air and the green woods, and ours the faith that taught men to live without greed and to die without fear. Ours were the fighting men that, man to man–yes, one to three–could meet and win against the world. But for our few numbers, our simple faith that others were as true as we to keep their honor bright and hold as bond inviolable their plighted word, we should have owned America to-day.”
If the spirit of Wetamoo, the beautiful woman Sachem, the Boadicea of New England, ever came back, it must have been in Tekahionwake the Mohawk. The fortitude and the eloquence of the Narragansett Chieftainess were born again in the Iroquois maiden; she typified the spirit of her people that flung itself against the advancing tide of white encroachment even as a falcon might fling himself against a horde of crows whose strength was their numbers and whose numbers were without end, so all his wondrous effort was made vain.
“The Riders of the Plains,” the “Legends of Vancouver,” “Flint and Feather,” and the present volume, “Shagganappi,” all tell of the spirit that tells them. Love of the blessed life of blue air without gold-lust is felt in the line and the interline, with joy in the beauty of beaver stream, tamarac swamp, shad-bush and drifting cloud, and faith in the creed of her fathers, that saw the Great Spirit in all things and that reverenced Him at all times, and over and above it all the sad note that tells of a proud race, conscious that it has been crushed by numbers, that its day is over and its heritage gone forever.
Oh, reader of the alien race, keep this in mind: remember that no people ever ride the wave’s crest unceasingly. The time must come for us to go down, and when it comes may we have the strength to meet our fate with such fortitude and silent dignity as did the Red Man his.
“Oh, why have your people forced on me the name of Pauline Johnson?” she said. “Was not my Indian name good enough? Do you think you help us by bidding us forget our blood? by teaching us to cast off all memory of our high ideals and our glorious past? I am an Indian. My pen and my life I devote to the memory of my own people. Forget that I was Pauline Johnson, but remember always that I was Tekahionwake, the Mohawk that humbly aspired to be the saga singer of her people, the bard of the noblest folk the world has ever seen, the sad historian of her own heroic race.”
ERNEST THOMPSON SETON.
The King’s Coin
A Night with “North Eagle”
Hoolool of the Totem Pole
The Scarlet Eye
Sons of Savages
Jack o’ Lantern
The Barnardo Boy
The Broken String
Maurice of His Majesty’s Mails
The Whistling Swans
The Delaware Idol
The King Georgeman
The Signal Code
The Shadow Trail
The Saucy Seven
When “Fire-Flint” Larocque said good-bye to his parents, up in the Red River Valley, and started forth for his first term in an Eastern college, he knew that the next few years would be a fight to the very teeth. If he could have called himself “Indian” or “White” he would have known where he stood in the great world of Eastern advancement, but he was neither one nor the other–but here he was born to be a thing apart, with no nationality in all the world to claim as a blood heritage. All his young life he had been accustomed to hear his parents and himself referred to as “half-breeds,” until one day, when the Governor-General of all Canada paid a visit to the Indian school, and the principal, with an air of pride, presented “Fire-Flint” to His Excellency, with “This is our head pupil, the most diligent boy in the school. He is Trapper Larocque’s son.”
“Oh? What tribe does he belong to?” asked the Governor, as he clasped the boy’s hand genially.
“Oh, Fire-Flint belongs to no tribe; he is a half-breed,” explained the principal.
“What an odd term!” said the Governor, with a perplexed wrinkle across his brows; then, “I imagine you mean a half-blood, not breed.” His voice was chilly and his eyes a little cold as he looked rather haughtily at the principal. “I do not like the word ‘breed’ applied to human beings. It is a term for cattle and not men,” he continued. Then, addressing “Fire-Flint,” he asked, “Who are your parents, my boy?”
“My father is half French and half Cree; my mother is about three-quarters Cree; her grandfather was French,” replied the boy, while his whole loyal young heart reached out towards this great man, who was lifting him out of the depths of obscurity. Then His Excellency’s hands rested with a peculiar half fatherly, half brotherly touch on the shoulders of the slim lad before him.
“Then you have blood in your veins that the whole world might envy,” he said slowly. “The blood of old France and the blood of a great aboriginal race that is the offshoot of no other race in the world. The Indian blood is a thing of itself, unmixed for thousands of years, a blood that is distinct and exclusive. Few white people can claim such a lineage. Boy, try and remember that as you come of Red Indian blood, dashed with that of the first great soldiers, settlers and pioneers in this vast Dominion, that you have one of the proudest places and heritages in the world; you are a Canadian in the greatest sense of that great word. When you go out into the world will you remember that, Fire-Flint?” His Excellency’s voice ceased, but his thin, pale, aristocratic fingers still rested on the boy’s shoulders, his eyes still shone with that peculiar brotherly light.
“I shall remember, sir,” replied Fire-Flint, while his homeless young heart was fast creating for itself the foothold amongst the great nations of the earth. The principal of the school stood awkwardly, hoping that all this attention would not spoil his head pupil; but he never knew that boy in all the five years he had instructed him, as His Excellency, Lord Mortimer, knew him in that five minutes’ chat.
“No,” said the Governor, again turning to the principal, “I certainly do not like that term ‘half-breed.’ Most of the people on the continent of America are of mixed nationality–how few are pure English or Scotch or Irish–or indeed of any particular race? Yet the white people of mixed nations are never called half-breeds. Why not? It would be quite reasonable to use the term regarding them.” Then, once again addressing Fire-Flint, he asked, “I suppose all the traders use this term in speaking of your parents and of you?”
“Of my parents, yes, sir,” replied the boy.
“And you?” questioned His Excellency, kindly.
“They call me the ‘Shagganappi,'” replied Fire-Flint.
“I am afraid that is beyond me, my boy,” smiled His Excellency. “Won’t you tell me what it means?” The boy smiled responsively.
“It is a buckskin, a color; a shagganappi cayuse is a buckskin color. They say I look that way.”
“Ah, I understand,” replied His Excellency, as his eyes rested on the dark cream brown tint of the boy’s face. “Well, it is a good name; buckskin is a thing essential to white people and to Indians alike, from the Red River to the Rockies. And the cayuse–well, the horse is the noblest animal known to man. So try to be worthy of the nickname, my boy. Live to be essential to your people like the buckskin; to be noble–like the horse. And now good-bye, Shagganappi, and remember that you are the real Canadian.”
Another handclasp and Lord Mortimer was walking away with the principal at his side, who was saying, “Your Excellency, you have greatly encouraged that boy; I think he always felt terribly that he was a half-bree–half-blood. He would have loved to claim either all Cree or all French ancestry.”
“He is a fine lad and I like him,” returned Lord Mortimer, rather shortly, for he felt a little impatient with the principal, who could so easily have lightened the boy’s heart from the very first year he had entered the school, by fostering within him pride of the two great races that blended within his veins into that one mighty nation called Canadian.
But that day proved the beginning of a new life for Fire-Flint; Lord Mortimer had called him Shagganappi in a half playful way, had said the name meant good and great things. No more did the little half-blood despise his own unusually tinted skin, no more did he hate that dash of grey in his brown eyes that bespoke “white blood,” no more did he deplore the lack of proper coloring that would have meant the heritage of pure Indian blood. He was content to fight it out, through all his life to come, as “The Shagganappi,” and when the time came for him to go to the great Eastern college in Ontario he went with his mind made up that no boy living was going to shoulder him into a corner or out-do him in the race for attainment.
* * * * * * * *
“Hello, fellows, there is an Indian blown in from the North-West. Cracker-jack of a looking chap,” announced “Cop” Billings to his roommates late one morning, as he burst into the room after his early mile run to find them with yet ten minutes to spare before the “rising bell.”
“Shut up, and let a fellow sleep,” growled “Sandy,” from his bed in the corner.
“Indian?” exclaimed young Locke, sitting bolt upright; “this ain’t a Redskin school; he’s got to get put out, or I’m a deader.”
“You’ll be a deader if you try to put him out,” sneered Cop Billings; “first place he’s got an arm like braided whipcord, and he’s got a chin–hanged determined swat-you-in-the-face sort of chin–not a boiled-fish sort of jaw like yours,” and he glared at the unfortunate Locke with sneering disapproval.
“Where’d you see him?” ventured little chunky Johnny Miller, getting into his clothes.
“Saw him in the library as I passed. The Head called me in and–“
“Stow it! stow it!” they all yelled; then Locke jeered, “The Head is never up at six-thirty–we are not rabbits.”
“Just where you get left; the Head was up at five-thirty and went to the station to meet mister Indian.”
“Well, I’ll be jing-banged,” exclaimed Sandy, nearly awake; “what’s the meaning of it all?”
“Meaning’s just this, my son,” replied Cop, getting out of his limited running togs into something more respectable, “that if you chumps guessed all day you’d never strike just how the Indian came to this school. Who do you suppose wrote to the Head recommending him to take the Redskin, and kind of insinuating that the college would do well to treat him properly? None other than His Excellency Lord Mortimer, Governor-General of ‘this Canada of ours.’ Now, Locke, will you act good and pretty, and take your bread and milk like a nice little tootsy-wootsy and allow the Indian to stay?”
“Whew!” bellowed Locke, “I guess I’m it, fellows.”
“Just found it out, eh?” answered Cop; then, as the first bell clanged throughout the building and hustling was in order, he proceeded to explain that as he passed the library door on his way to the baths, Professor Warwick called him in and introduced him to the tall, lithe Westerner, who had wonderfully easy manners, a skin like a tan-colored glove, and whose English was more attractive than marred by a strong accent that sounded “Frenchy.”
“When he found that I was heading for the baths he asked to come, too,” rattled Cop; “been on the train over three days and nights coming from Winnipeg; said he felt grimy, so I took him along. Jingo, you should see his clothes–silk socks, silk shirt, top-coat lined with mink, an otter collar–must have cost hundreds. Says I, ‘Well, pal, your governor must be well fixed.’ Says he, ‘My father is a trapper and trades with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He trapped all these minks, and my other clothes–oh, we buy those at the H.B.C. in Winnipeg.’ Wouldn’t that phase you, fellows? But I forgot his clothes when I saw him strip. Jiminy Christmas! I never saw such a body. I’m in bully training, but I’m a cow compared to ‘Shag.'”
“What a rum name!” said Locke, still a little resentful.
“Found out all about that, too,” went on Cop. “Seems he has a whole string of names to choose from. Heard him tell the Head that his first name is ‘Fire-Flint,’ and his last name is ‘Larocque.’ Seemed to kind of take the Head where he is weakest.
“‘If you don’t like it,’ says the Indian, with a dead-quiet, plumb-straight look at the Head, ‘you may call me what the people up along the Red River call me; I’m known there as the Shagganappi–Shag, if you want to cut off part of the word. The other boys may call me Shag if they want to.’ Say, fellows, I liked him right there and then. He may chum up with me all he likes, for all his silk socks and shirts.”
“What did the Head say?” asked little Johnnie Miller.
“Said he liked the name Shag,” replied Cop. “‘Then I’m Shag to you, sir, and the others here,’ speaks up his Indian nibs. Then he and I struck for the tubs, then they took him to get his room, and I came up here.”
As Cop finished speaking the chapel bell sounded and all four boys scrambled down to prayers. As they entered the little sanctuary, one of the masters standing irresolute near the door, beckoned to Cop. “Billings,” he whispered, “Will you please go and ask Larocque if he cares to come to prayers? He’s in room 17; you met him this morning, I believe.”
“Certainly, sir,” replied Cop, dashing up the nearest stairway.
“Entrez,” replied an even voice to Cop’s unusually respectful knock. Then the voice rapidly corrected itself, “Enter, come in,” it said in English.
“How about prayers?” asked Cop. “Perhaps you’re tired and don’t care to come?”
“I’ll go,” replied the Indian, and followed noiselessly where Billings led.
They entered just as Professor Warwick was beginning prayers, and although the eighty or so boys present were fairly exemplary, none could resist furtive looks at the newcomer, who walked up the little aisle beside Billings with a peculiarly silent dignity and half-indifference that could not possibly be assumed. How most of them envied him that manner! They recalled their own shyness and strangeness on the first day of their arrival; how they stumbled over their own feet that first morning at prayers; how they hated being stared at and spoken of as “the new boy.” How could this Indian come among them as if he had been born and bred in their midst? But they never knew that Larocque’s wonderful self-possession was the outcome of his momentary real indifference; his thoughts were far away from the little college chapel, for the last time he had knelt in a sanctuary was at the old, old cathedral at St. Boniface, whose twin towers arose under the blue of a Manitoba sky, whose foundations stood where the historic Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet, about whose bells one of America’s sweetest singers, Whittier, had written lines that have endeared his name to every worshipper that bends the knee in that prairie sanctuary. The lines were drifting through his mind now. They were the first words of English poetry he had learned to memorize:
“Is it the clang of the wild geese?
Is it the Indian’s yell,
That lends to the call of the north wind The tones of a far-off bell?
“The voyageur smiles as he listens
To the sound that grows apace.
Well he knows the vesper ringing
Of the bells of St. Boniface.
“The bells of the Roman mission–
That call from their turrets twain To the boatman on the river,
To the hunter on the plain.”
“To the hunter on the plain,” said Shag’s thoughts, over and over. Perhaps the hunter was his trapper father, who with noiseless step and wary eye was this very moment stalking some precious fur-bearing animal, whose pelt would bring a good price at the great Hudson’s Bay trading-post; a price that would go toward keeping his son at this Eastern college for many terms. Shag’s grey-brown eyes grew dreamy. He saw the vast prairies sweeping away into the West, and his father, a mere speck on the horizon, the ever-present “gun,” the silent moccasin, the scarlet sash, the muffled step, all proclaiming “the hunter on the plain.”
The prayers were ended and Shag found that he was not really watching his father coming up some prairie trail, but that before him was a different type of man, Professor Warwick, whose studious eyes now required glasses to see through, and whose hand was white and silken in its touch–how hopelessly lost this little man would be should circumstances turn him forth to gain his livelihood at hunting and trapping. Old Larocque himself would hardly be more incongruous teaching in this college. It was this thought that made Shag smile as he rose from his knees, with the echoes of the bells of St. Boniface haunting his heart.
Then the chapel emptied, each boy on breakfast bent. “Cop” Billings still remained at the Indian’s elbow, but at the door one or two of the masters stopped to greet the new arrival, and a tall, remarkably handsome lad waited, apparently to speak. He was a boy that anyone would pick from a crowd of fifty–straight, well-built, with fine, strong, thin hands, and a face with contradictory eyes, for they twinkled and danced as if nothing so serious as thoughtfulness ever disturbed them. As the two boys approached him he stepped impulsively forward, extending his hand to Shag with the words, “May I shake hands with you and say hello?”
“Thank you;” replied Shag; “the way you boys are treating me makes me feel less strange.”
“Oh, no one feels strange here,” laughed the handsome boy. “You must try and like us. So you’re from Manitoba, are you?”
“Yes, Red River,” answered Shag.
“Father’s been up there, and grandfather, too,” said the other, falling in step with the two boys on their way to the dining-room. “Come up to my ranch some time soon–to-night if you like. Cop will bring you,” he added with a parting nod, as he left them for his own table at the other side of the room.
Cop stared hard at his companion. “Thunderation!” he blurted, “but you’re the lucky kid!”
“Yes?” questioned Shag. “Never mind the luck, but tell me who that chap is; he’s very nice; I like him.”
“Like him!” almost yelled Cop; “I should think you would like him! Why, he’s the ‘Pop!'”
“‘Pop?’ What’s that?” said Shag, with a puzzled air.
“Popular, the most popular boy in college–head in everything–clubs, classes, sports. Everybody is dippy over him from the Head right down to ‘Infant’ Innis, that little geezer in shorts across the table, who is only eleven last birthday. Even Dirty Dick, the gardener, is batty about him; and here he’s put himself out to shake your fin, and ask you up to his room–thing he’s only done twice since he entered college. You are lucky, kid!”
“Does he think a lot of himself?” asked Shag with some suspicion.
“He? Not much! Just the bulliest old pal in the world. Why, he wouldn’t be the ‘pop’ if he threw on side,” asserted Cop loyally.
“You haven’t told me who he is yet,” said Shag.
“Oh, I forgot,” apologized Cop. “It seems so funny that everybody shouldn’t know. Why, he’s Harry Bennington. You must have heard of Sir George Bennington, big railroad man. Queen Victoria knighted him for some big scoop he made for Canada or the Colonies or something. Well, Hal’s his son; but do you suppose that his dad’s title makes any difference to Hal? Not much! But Hal’s handshake will make a big difference to you in this college, I’ll tell you that, Shag. You’re made, that’s what you are–just made; even Lord Mortimer back of you couldn’t give you the place among the crowd here that Hal Bennington’s grip did to-day.”
Shag did not reply; he was looking across the room at Sir George Bennington’s son. He knew the name of the wealthy man whom Queen Victoria had honored, knew it well. His father, Trapper Larocque, had met Sir George in the old pioneer days of the railroad in the North-West. There was a little story about Sir George, well-known in the Red River Valley; Trapper Larocque knew it, the Hudson’s Bay Company knew it, Shag knew it, and was asking himself if Hal knew it. Then the boy from Manitoba took the story and locked it within his heart, sealed his lips above it, and said to his soul, “Hal Bennington won’t know it from me, nor will anyone else. He’s made my first day at this school an easy day; the fight won’t be half what I thought it would. I owe much to him, and above all I owe him my silence.”
“Coming up, fellows?” asked Hal genially, as Cop Billings stretched his big frame after grind in the evening at recreation hour before going to bed. The word “fellows” embraced him with a look that included Shag.
“Thanks, I guess we will,” said Cop, and the three boys proceeded upstairs to the private room occupied by Hal and one other, a stocky fellow known as “Shorty” Magee, who was just settling to his letter-writing as the boys entered. He nodded curtly, said “Hello!” rather grumpily, and did not offer to shake hands when Hal introduced Shag Larocque. Shorty always hated to be disturbed at anything, even if it were the irksome weekly letter home. He shoved aside his note-paper, however, and sat with his hands in his trousers pockets, his feet stretched out in front of him, and a tolerant expression on his face.
Hal, always gracious and kindly, seemed more so than ever to-night, evidently trying to make up for his roommate’s moroseness by his own geniality. He showed Shag his treasures, his collection of curiosities, his two lynx-skin rugs–animals shot by his father years before–his pet books, and finally came to his photographs.
“This is a splendid one of father,” he said enthusiastically; “it was taken when he was a young man surveying out West before they put the railroad through. That group of men to the left are axe-men. It should interest you, for Professor Warwick told me you came here to study surveying.”
“Yes,” said Shag, “that is my chosen work.”
“Then,” continued Hal, “that splendid-looking chap on father’s right was his guide and personal cook–the one in the blanket coat and sash. He was part French but mostly Indian, I fancy–Why, what’s the matter, Larocque?” for Shag had suddenly made some inarticulate exclamation, and had carried the photograph nearer the light.
“That is my father,” he said quietly. As he spoke the words he was well aware that they might tell against him some time or other. He knew enough of the civilization of the white people to understand that when two boys attend the same school, one with a titled father and the other with a father who had cooked for the titled one, that things are apt to become strained; but never for one second did he hesitate about claiming the Red River trapper as his sire. He would have despised himself far more than any boy in the school could possibly do now, had he failed to say the words, “That is my father.” The attitude of his three listeners was certainly a study. Cop Billings stood staring at him for a moment, then said, “Well, if your dad did cook he gets you far better shirts and socks than mine does me.” Shorty Magee uttered the four words, “Cooked for Sir George!” and with an ugly sneer turned again to his letter-writing.
Hal Bennington had sprung forward, tossing his arms about the Indian’s shoulders and exclaiming, “Your father! Is French Pete your father? Oh, I’m so glad! Father will be delighted when I tell him. I have heard him say a hundred times that he would never have lived to be ‘Sir’ George if it hadn’t been for French Pete.”
“Yes, they call my father French Pete because, although he is nearly all Indian, he speaks French so well,” announced Shag.
Then followed a narration of two occasions when Shag’s father had saved Sir George’s life, once from drowning in the Assiniboine and once from freezing to death on the plains. The recreation interval was all too short for the boys to have their talk out, and when the “good-nights” came Hal wrung Shag’s hand with a sincerity and heartiness that brought a responsive thrill into the fingers of the lonely boy who was spending his first night fifteen hundred miles away from home.
“Well,” snorted Shorty, as the two boys left for the night, “going to chum around with the son of your father’s cook, are you?”
Hal whirled on his heel, his hand clenched, his knuckles standing out white and bony; then he checked the torrent of words that sprang to his lips and answered quietly, “Yes, I am.”
“Going to take him to Sir George and Lady Bennington’s city residence for the Easter Vac?” sneered Shorty.
The answer came again quietly, “Yes, I am”; then, after a brief interval, “if he will pay me the compliment of coming.”
Shorty subsided; he had not expected this, and, truth to tell, he felt at that moment that his sneers had accomplished precisely the opposite effect to what he had intended; but Hal made no comment until just before they got into their beds; then he said evenly:
“Shorty, you and I are room-mates, we have been pals for over a year; we won’t discuss Shag Larocque, for I see that we shall never agree about him.”
“I hate a mongrel,” sniffed Shorty; “this fellow is neither Indian nor white.”
“He’s more Indian than white, and better for it, too,” said Hal; “but, I say, Shorty–what nationality was your father?”
“Irish,” said Shorty, with some pride.
“And your mother?” persisted Hal relentlessly.
“Oh, mother’s parents were English; she was born here in Canada,” replied Shorty a little weakly.
“Oh!” was all Hal said, but it held a world of meaning.
“Now, see here, Hal,” began Shorty apologetically, “I know what you are thinking, but I’m British right through and my skin’s white, no matter how you take it. I’m white on both sides of the family; I’m not splashed with tinted blood like this fellow from the North-West that’s strayed in here; his skin’s almost yellow.”
“Yes,” acquiesced Hal, “his skin is tinted–it is tinted, not tainted. There’s a big difference, Shorty. Do you know, I’d give the world if I had as much of a copper-colored tint to my skin as Shag has.”
“Rot!” ejaculated Shorty.
“No rot at all,” cut in Hal; “I love the Indian people. You call this chap a ‘mongrel,’ but I tell you he is Indian–anyone can see it, and I know it. His father may have cooked in camp for my father, and did so, but from what my father told me, he, French Pete, was an honest man, and a brave one, too, and his son’s good enough for me, and I’m his friend until the last dog’s hung.”
That ended things for the time, for the college bells clanged out “lights out,” and the inmates, both white and Indian, slept.
* * * * * * * *
“Yes, my dear boy,” wrote Sir George, some weeks later, “by all means bring young Larocque home for the Easter vacation; I shall welcome the son of my old friend and guide with the greatest delight. I have frequently told you of French Pete’s heroism and unselfishness, and if by a little hospitality I can show the son what I think of the father, I shall regard it as a privilege. Your dear mother will write you to-night, and will enclose a little note of invitation from us both to your friend ‘Shagganappi’–how that good old North-West word brings back my youth! I think I like your friend, even before I see him, just because he has adopted that name.”
So it was all arranged that Shag should spend the Easter vacation at the palatial home of the Benningtons in Montreal. As Hal was so popular, this holiday invitation was always regarded as the greatest compliment by any boy who was fortunate enough to receive it, but never before had Lady Bennington written personally to invite one of Hal’s friends.
It was such a dear little note, too; Hal never admired his mother quite so much as when Shag handed him the invitation to read. Lady Bennington was famous as one of the few women who always say and do the right thing at the right moment. The note ran:
“Do come with my boy at Eastertide; we want you–come. “Your friend, Hal’s mother,
So Easter found the boys at Montreal, Shag a little shy at first amidst all the grandeur and wealth of Hal’s home, but covering that shyness with a quiet dignity that sat very well on his young shoulders. With a wonderful knack of delicacy, Hal would smooth out any threatened difficulty for the Indian boy–little table entanglements, such as new dishes or unaccustomed foods. But Shag was at times surprisingly outspoken, and the first night at dinner seemingly won Sir George’s heart by remarking when the fruit plates and finger-glasses were served, “Now, Hal, don’t be afraid that I won’t understand this; fortunately I dined on the dining-cars on the way East.” Everyone laughed then, including Shag, and Sir George said, “Then you are better up in things than I was at your age, my boy. I never saw a finger-glass until I was twenty.” So this little confidence put them all on a kind of family footing; and during the rest of his visit Shag was not afraid to ask and learn any of the usages of wealthy city houses and manners that might puzzle him. When he left he had endeared himself to Hal’s parents as no other boy had done before. Lady Bennington especially seemed to have become attached to him. Once when Hal was taking some snapshots of the grounds, she called Shag to her side, and, placing one hand on his shoulder, asked Hal to photograph them together. Shag almost trembled with pleasure, but his delight knew no bounds when a week after their return to school he received a little copy of the photograph framed in silver and inscribed on the back with “To Shagganappi Larocque, with love from Hal’s mother.”
“I don’t know why you and your people are so good to me,” he declared to Hal, when they both had duly admired the little picture. Hal stared at him rather oddly, but did not reply, and it was many months before Shag understood what that look meant; but when it was explained the Indian recalled many things that had once perplexed him.
* * * * * * * *
It was late in May when Sir George and Lady Bennington left on their yearly visit to England, leaving Hal with the enviable holiday ahead of him of playing host at their summer residence in the Thousand Islands. He was privileged to ask what boys he liked; he could have his own canoe and sailboat, any of the servants from the city residence that he wished, and just put in one long, golden summer, swimming, boating, rollicking around, getting tanned and healthy. The only stipulation his parents made was that in addition to the crowd of boys asked he must invite one of the masters. It did not matter which one, so what did Hal do but “cheek it up” to the Head, who had no family to summer with, and who usually wandered off to some lonely mountain resort by himself for the entire vacation. Professor Warwick was amazed.
“Why, Bennington,” he exclaimed, “what ever do you want an old codger like me for? There’s young Graham, almost a boy himself, and Lewes, the science man, a funny chap. I always think Mr. Lewes is more fun than a cage of cats. I’m a dried-up old fellow that most of the boys are afraid of. You won’t enjoy yourself with me around all the time.”
“We’re only afraid of you in classes, sir,” laughed Hal; “no one is afraid of you outside. I’ve heard the boys josh you on the ball grounds and at the sports no end of times. You’ve just got to come, Professor!” And the old gentleman did go, to the delight of Hal’s parents, who left for England perfectly satisfied that the boys would be well looked after if the Professor was an inmate of their island home.
The party was just about the right size; two of the little boys who lived at the Pacific coast were asked, then Shorty and Cop and little chunky Johnny Miller and Shag Larocque–seven all told, including Hal, and eight, counting the Professor, who, on the first night in camp said, a little gravely, “Hal, my boy, it is a great privilege to be the son of a wealthy man. I have never cared for money, but I would like to be in a position where I could have the pleasure of entertaining my friends in this delightful way.”
“I hope I appreciate it, Professor,” replied the boy. “Dad is always reminding me of the stacks of people not so well fixed as we are. He frequently tells me of the times when he went hungry–really hungry, without twenty-five cents with which to buy a meal, and he says if ever I forget it and try to put on ‘side’ that he will thrash me within an inch of my life, even after I am twenty-one.”
The Professor roared, a regular boyish shout. “And he’d do it, too, I believe,” he chuckled. “That is what makes Sir George so wonderful; with all his wealth he is the same dear old chap he always was. I knew him when he was your age almost–and the only thing about him that has changed is his hair; it is a little thinner now–and grey.”
“Yes, dad’s a boy yet,” smiled Hal, “but I won’t give him a chance to lick me on the money score; it’s too good fun having you all here, and a royal holiday ahead of us, without hunting for a trimming from dad because I play the la-de-da or think I’m the whole thing.”
Shag was thinking hard, but he said nothing; yet, little as he knew of the world, he was quite aware how few boys in Hal’s position would act as he had done. Had it not been for Sir George’s son what would his life at college have been? He knew Locke never liked him, he knew that Shorty positively disliked him, he knew there was a strong element of prejudice in the school against him, and he knew positively that, were it not for Lord Mortimer’s influence and recommendation, he would never have been accepted in this exclusive college as a student. What then did he owe to Hal? Everything, as far as making life in the East bearable, as far as being received on an equality with the other boys went. It was a tremendous debt that he owed this handsome boy who was his host for the summer. But before the holiday was ended Shag paid that debt with all his heart, and almost with his life.
It happened one day from the simple cause that the camp had run short of bread, and one of the youngsters from the Pacific coast, Freddy by name, had volunteered to paddle over to the mainland for it. The sailboat being laid up for repairs, Freddy ran out the light little Peterborough, and was just getting away from the island when Hal descried him and shouted to him to wait. “Think I’d let you go alone in that canoe, kiddie?” he asked. “There’s too much wind to-day; look at her sweep down the north channel. Why, she’d turn you round and round like ‘Willie waltzing.’ Hold on, I’m coming with you.” With that he sprang into the canoe and they were away.
It was rather a cold wind for early September, and the two boys were glad to paddle hard to keep their circulation up. Both were in shirt sleeves and both somewhat chilled; but by the time they had reached the mainland they were all tingling with rioting blood and with appetites ready to attack their cargo of bread, even minus the butter. They started back in good shape, although Hal’s weather eye observed that the wind was picking up and that they would have to work for it to make the island in good time for supper. All went well for some distance, although sometimes the waves galloped up and slipped over the bow where Freddy knelt, plying his paddle in good form. Out in mid-stream, with both wind and current against him, Hal had considerable difficulty in steering; his strong, muscular arms pulled little Freddy’s stroke around, and he bent to the work of “digging potatoes” with a vengeance. The bow with its light boyish ballast would rise and rise again, slapping down on the surface or taking the waves like a cork. Then came a line of combers, one on top of another. The taut little Peterborough rode the first like a shell, the second she dipped, the third she shipped a whole bucketful of water. As it poured over the deck, little Freddy flung himself backward to escape the drenching, the canoe dipped, Freddy landed full weight on the leeward gunwale–and they were over. For the first instant, Hal was conscious of but one thing, that he was being struck through with the chill of the water on top of being in a heat of perspiration with battling the canoe through the waves. Then he came to the surface to see the canoe, turned turtle, floating bottom up three yards away. Then a limp mass of brown clothes and brown curls cannoned into him, and reaching out, he grasped Freddy.
“Don’t get scared, kid,” he gasped, spluttering the water out of his throat; “keep cool and don’t clutch me too tight.” He might as well have spoken to the winds, for little Freddy, chilled through and terror-stricken, was clinging to him like an octopus, impeding his arm and leg action, and almost choking the breath out of his lungs. “Oh, Hal, we’re in mid-stream!” gulped the child; “we’ll be drowned!”
“Not on your life, kiddie!” spluttered Hal. “I’ll get that bally canoe. Only don’t hold on around my neck, that’s a good kiddie. There, that’s better,” as Freddy loosened his fingers from Hal’s shirt collar, and the boy struck out with one arm around the child and the other working for all the grit and muscle there was in it. His magnificent stroke, helped by the wind and current, soon overhauled the canoe. By a supreme effort he clutched the immersed gunwale. With one arm around Freddy he could never hope to right the boat, but even bottom up she was a salvation. “Grip her, kiddie, grip her as I shove you up,” he gasped, “and don’t let go; straddle her and hang on! Promise me you will hang on,–promise me!” he cried.
“I’ll promise,” gulped the child. Then Hal’s powerful arm flung itself upwards, his two hands “boosted,” and Freddy landed on the upturned canoe, gripping it with all fours and coughing the water from his mouth.
Hal made an attempt to climb up, his fingers slipped; then two terrible little demons seemed to grasp the calves of his legs; their fingers ripped the muscles out and tied them into knots, knots that extended to his knees, his hips, his stomach; his fingers weakened with the agony of it–Hal Bennington knew he was going down with cramps.
Away off to the right he thought he heard a voice; it was saying, “Keep up, Hal, keep up, I’m coming!” but he could not answer. With a last effort he literally screamed, “Hang on, Freddy, hang on!” Then he felt numb, very numb, and all was dark.
Professor Warwick had gone out to furl the awnings against the rising wind. His kindly little eyes were peering through their spectacles at sea and sky when suddenly they rested on a frail canoe that was taking an erratic course toward the island. Instantly he was around at the other side of the cottage. “Boys, boys,” he shouted frantically, “Quick, get out the sailboat, Hal’s canoe is in danger!”
“Sailboat!” gasped Cop Billings, springing to his feet; “she’s no good; bottom’s out, a whole patch of her. She’s being repaired.” But while he talked he was running wildly to the boathouse followed by all the others. As they reached the little wharf they were just in time to see the combers strike the canoe, to see Freddy start, then to see it capsize. For a moment they were horror-stricken, speechless, then Cop yelled, “He’s got Freddy! See, he’s got him!” It seemed an eternity before they saw Hal grasp the child, then with more horror they saw the upturned canoe floating away, away, away.
“Boys, boys, can nothing be done to help them?” choked the Professor. “Oh, boys, this is terrible!”
“Who swims?” yelled Shorty, “–swims well, I mean.”
“You do,” jerked Shag at his elbow, with a face bloodless and drawn. “You’re the best swimmer in the school. Will you come with me?”
“Come with you?” yelled Shorty. “Out there? Why, you know as well as I do that I can’t swim that far, not nearly that far; neither can you.”
“I can, and I will,” announced Shag in a strangely quiet voice, while with rapid fingers he stripped off his coat and boots.
“You shan’t go alone,” shouted Cop, beginning to undress; “I’m with you!”
“No, you don’t,” said the Indian, gripping him by the wrist. “You can’t swim twenty yards–you know you can’t; and if you get played out, Cop, I tell you right here that I can’t stop to help you; I’m going to help Hal.”
“Why can’t you try it, Shorty?” roared Cop “Anything rather than let him go alone!”
But Shorty stood resolute. “I tell you I can’t swim that far and back, and I ain’t going to try it only to get drowned,” he snarled; but even as he spoke there flashed past him a lithe, tan-colored body in skintight silken underwear; there followed a splash, and Shag’s clean, dark face rose to the surface as he struck out towards the unfortunates.
The Professor was beside himself with horror. “Boys, boys!” he cried aloud, “Hal’s going down! Something is wrong; he’s sinking!” The words reached Shag’s ears and he seemed to leap ahead like a giant fish.
“Heaven help them!” moaned poor Cop. “Oh, what an idiot I was never to practise more!”
“It’s awful!” began Shorty.
“Don’t you open your head!” shouted Cop; “if I could swim like you nothing would keep me ashore.”
“Never mind, boys,” moaned Professor Warwick; “don’t quarrel with this tragedy before us. Look, Shag’s simply leaping ahead. There goes Hal again–that’s the second time he’s gone under! Oh, my boy!–my poor Hal!” and the little old man rushed wildly up to the servants’ quarters for the cook and the pantry-boy and ropes–anything, everything that would hold out a hope of rescue.
And on against wind and current Shag battled his way; inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by yard he forged forward, until he saw Hal loose his grip and sink, and then rise and fight to reach the canoe again. It was then that Shag raised his chin and shouted hoarsely, “Keep up, Hal, keep up! I’m coming!” the words that faintly reached Hal’s ears before the silence and the dark came. Then as he rose from the depths, an unconscious, helpless hulk, a strong tan-colored arm wound around him like a lifebelt, and a well-nigh breathless boy, with almost superhuman strength, flung him, limp and nearly lifeless, across the canoe. The impact almost hurled Freddy from his slender hold, but for a few seconds the two boys were safe. Above the slippery bow poor Shag clasped his arms, allowing his body to drift.
With but this frail anchorage, he well knew that the canoe would never float them all. There was but little of her above the water. The waves were beating hard now; any moment weak little Freddy and unconscious Hal might be swept off. Once, as the fear of losing life gripped him, he began to struggle on to the canoe; then he remembered, and slipped back to float, to cling, to slowly–slowly–await the horrors of the unknown.
For five terrible minutes they drifted, minutes that were an eternity to those on shore, and to those fighting for life in mid-stream. Then around the bend of the island came the thin, shrill whistle of a steam launch as it headed directly for the upturned canoe, the skipper signalling to those on the island that he was hot on the way to the rescue.
Old Professor Warwick wept like a woman when he saw it fly past, and the boys gulped back their breath. They dared not even try to cheer; their voices were strangled in their throats.
“Just in time, and that’s all, captain,” said the engineer as he brought the launch about. “Better reach for the chap in the water first.”
“No,” Shag managed to say, “take the kiddie; he’s slipping off. I’m good for a minute longer.” So they lifted Freddy into the launch, then poor unconscious Hal, and lastly Shag, exhausted but gritty and game to the last.
Hal had been in his own bed for two hours before he spoke, and the first word he said was “Freddy?”
“Freddy’s here,” trembled Professor Warwick, “here safe and sound, and you’re safe, too.”
“I dreamt I heard Shag call, call that he was coming to me,” said Hal feebly.
“It was no dream, Hal,” answered the Professor; “he did call and went to you, saved you, swam out like the prince he is–saved you, Hal, saved you!” Hal started up, his eyes wild with fear.
“Where is he? Where’s Shag?” he demanded.
“Here, Hal,” said the Indian from the opposite side of the room.
Hal stretched out his hand; Shag walked very shakily across and clasped it within his own.
“If you hadn’t been here, Shag, I could never have looked dad and mother in the face again,” he sighed.
“But I am here,” smiled Shag, “and, what is better, you’re here and Freddy, too.”
“Yes, but I know the reason that I’m here is that you somehow pulled me out,” said Hal. “I had an idea once that Shorty might come, he swims so well; but you came, Shag!” Then he fell asleep; but Shag did not remove his hand, although the boy slept for hours.
* * * * * * * *
Not long after this college opened for the autumn term, and Professor Warwick and his charges were well settled in residence before the old gentleman was obliged to acknowledge that Hal seemed unable to throw off the shock of the accident, or the chill that seemed to cling to him in spite of all care; but he tucked in bravely at his studies, and only the Professor knew that the boy was not his own self.
But a great event was now absorbing the attention of all the faculty and students. His Excellency Lord Mortimer was to visit the city, and had expressed his wish to spend an hour or two at this famous college for boys, so with much delight at the compliment paid, the entire school began to make preparations. A handsome address was prepared, and a programme of sports–for the Governor dearly loved athletic boys. In fact gossip at the capital frequently stated that His Lordship would rather witness a good lacrosse match than eat a good dinner. Such a thing as voting as to who should represent the school and read the address was never even thought of. Hal Bennington was the head boy of the whole college, he was the most popular, the best beloved, he had not an enemy in all the scores of boys within its gates, so of course it was a foregone conclusion.
“I hate the idea of it,” asserted Hal. “I hate these public show-offs, besides, I don’t feel well. I wish they would make some other chap do it.” But neither masters nor boys would take no for an answer. Then disaster threatened, for a week before the event Hal fell really ill; a slow fever seemed to grip him, and if Sir George and Lady Bennington had not been already on the sea on their homeward way, Professor Warwick would have felt very much like cabling them. Hal was utterly disgusted when it was mentioned to him. “Don’t you think of it,” he growled. “You’ve done as I wished about not telling them about that bally accident, and don’t you hurry them home for me.” So the boy was made to stay in bed, and, truth to tell, he was too ill to remonstrate much.
But the night before the viceregal visit Hal knew in his heart that he was too ill to go out and read the address. Late at night he sent for Professor Warwick, told him the truth, and asked him to get substitute.
“My boy, I am more distressed than I can say,” began the Professor. “Your illness is worse than any upsetting of arrangements; we are getting a trained nurse for you, and I shall relieve your mind of all worries. We have hardly time now to consult everyone about a substitute, but if I tell the boys you have appointed a deputy, so to speak, I think they will be satisfied.”
“Then let Shag Larocque take my place,” decided Hal instantly.
“Very appropriate, too, I should say,” replied the Professor spontaneously. “Lord Mortimer has seen Shag and knows him; very appropriate.”
So Hal slept that night contentedly, with never a dream of the storm that would burst on the morrow.
The first indication of the tempest was when Locke burst into his room after breakfast, with, “Hal, you _must_ be sick! Why, man alive, you are clean batty! Shag read that address–why, it is impossible!”
“And why?” said Hal, glaring at him.
“He can’t do it; we won’t let him; we won’t have that Indian heading the whole school!”
“We! we! we!–Do you hear it? _We_!” yelled Locke.
“You and Shorty and Simpson and about two others, I suppose,” answered Hal. “Well, he’s going to read it; now, get out and shut the door–I feel a draft.”
“Well, he isn’t going to read it!” thundered Locke, banging the door after himself as he stormed down the hall to the classrooms, where the boys were collecting to arrange details for the day. Hal shivered back into the bedclothes, listening anxiously to various footsteps trailing past. He could occasionally catch fragments of conversation; everyone seemed to be in a high state of excitement. He could hear his own name, then Shag’s, then Shorty’s, and sometimes Locke’s.
“I’ve evidently kicked up a hornets’ nest,” he smiled weakly to himself, too tired and ill to care whether the hornets stung or not. Presently Locke returned. “I tell you, Hal, it won’t do; that Indian isn’t a fit representative of this college.”
“The masters won’t do a thing; you’ve got to appoint someone else. You’re disgracing the college,” said Shorty at the door. “We won’t stand for it, Hal; this is no North-West Indian school. We won’t have it, I tell you!”
“Shag’s going to read that address!” said Hal, sitting up with an odd drawn but determined look around his mouth.
“Well, he isn’t!” blurted Shorty. “There’s a big meeting in the classroom, and there’s a row on–the biggest row you ever saw.”
“Shag Larocque read that address!” yelled Simpson from the hall; “not if I know it! He’s not a decent sport, even–he won’t resent an insult. I called him a Red River halfbreed and he never said a word–just swallowed it!”
“Shut that door!” shouted Hal, the color surging into his face, “and shut yourselves on the outside! Go to the classroom, insult him all you like, but you’ll be sorry for it–take my word for it!”
Once more they banged the door. No sooner was it closed than Hal sprang out of bed. His legs shook with weakness, his hands trembled with illness, but he began to get into some clothes, and his young face flushed scarlet and white in turn.
Out in the classroom a perfect bedlam reigned. Dozens of voices shouted, “Shag’s the man for us! Hurrah for Shag!” and dozens replied, “Who will join the anti-Indians? Who will vote for a white man to represent white men? This ain’t an Indian school–get out with the Indians!”
Then Shorty took the floor. “Boys,” he yelled, “we won’t stand for it. No Indian’s going to be head of this school, and Shag Larocque isn’t even a decent Indian, he’s a halfbreed, a French halfbreed, he’s–“
The door burst open and Hal Bennington flung himself into the room; his trousers were dragged up over his nightshirt, his feet were in slippers without socks, his hair was unbrushed, his eyes were brilliant with fever, his face was pinched and grey; but his voice rang out powerfully, “Stop it, boys!” He had taken in the situation instantly–the crowd breaking from all rule, two masters endeavoring to restore order, and Shag, alone, terribly alone, his back to the wall, his face to the tumult, standing like a wild thing driven into a corner, but yet gloriously game. “Shorty, how dare you speak of Shag Larocque like that?” Hal cried furiously.
“And how dare you support him?” Shorty flung back. “How dare you ask us to have as our leader a halfbreed North-West Indian, who is the son of your father’s cook?”
“Yes, he is the son of my father’s cook, and if I ever get the chance I’ll cook for him on my knees–cook for him and serve him; he saved my life and nearly lost his own–while you, Shorty, a far better swimmer, would have let me drown like a dog.”
“He’s nothing but a North-West halfbreed,” sneered Shorty, hiding his cowardice behind ill words for others.
“So is my mother a North-West halfbreed, and she’s the loveliest, the grandest woman in all Canada!” said Hal in a voice that rang clear, sharp, strong as a man’s.
There was a dead silence. “Do you hear me, you fellows?” tormented Hal’s even voice again, “you who have of your own free will placed me, a quarter blood, as the leading boy in this school, my mother is a halfbreed, if you wish to use that refined term, and my mother is proud of it. Her mother, my grandmother, wore a blanket and leggings and smoked a red stone pipe upon the Red River years ago, and I tell you my mother is proud of it, and so am I. I have never told you fellows this before–what was the use? I felt you would never understand, but you hear me now! Do you quite grasp what I am telling you–that _my mother is a halfbreed_?”
Shorty’s hand went blindly to his head; he looked dazed, breathless. “Lady Bennington a halfbreed!” was all he said.
“Yes, Lady Bennington,” said Hal. “And now will you let Shag read that address?” But Shag was at his elbow.
“Hal, Hal, oh, why did you tell them?” he cried.
Hal whirled about like one shot. “_Tell them_–what do you mean by tell _them_? Did you know this all along?”
“Yes,” said Shag regretfully. “I always knew that Lady Bennington was half Indian, but I thought that you didn’t, and I promised father that I should never tell when I came down East.” But softly as he spoke, the boys near by heard him. “Do you mean to say,” Locke, gripping Shag’s shoulders in vice-like fingers, “that all this time we have been ragging you and running on you, that you knew Hal’s mother was a half Indian and you never said a word?”
“Why should I?” asked Shag, raising his eyebrows.
“Boys,” said Locke, facing the room like a man, “we’ve been–well, just cads. And right here I propose that Shag Larocque read the address to His Excellency to-day.”
“And I second the motion,” said Shorty–“second it heartily”; then he walked over to Shag.
“I’m not going to ask you to shake hands with me, Larocque,” he said; “I’ve been too much of a cad for that. You must despise me too much to forgive me, despise me for my cowardice in not going with you to help Hal when he was drowning, despise me for my mean prejudices, despise me for–oh, pshaw! I ain’t fit to even ask you to forgive me. I ain’t fit to even offer you my hand.”
“Hold on! hold on!” smiled Shag. “There is nothing to despise in a chap who is big enough to offer an apology. Here’s my hand, Shorty. Will you take it at last?”
And Shorty took it.
A few hours later, just before Shag stepped out on the platform to read the address to His Excellency, he paid a flying visit to Hal, who, feeling much better, in fact quite on the mend, was sitting up in bed devouring toast and broth.
“Luck to you, old Shag,” he said between mouthfuls.
“Oh, Hal, you’ve been all the world to me,” was all he could reply.
“And you’ll be all the world to my dad and mother when they hear what you have done, fishing me out of the drink and saving my life.” But Shorty shouting up the hall interrupted them.
“Come on, Shag,” he called; then, as he appeared in the doorway, he said bravely, “I haven’t been so happy for years; I’ve been a sneak and now that I say it I feel better. Shag, there isn’t a boy living who I consider better fitted to represent this school than you. Do you believe me?”
“I do believe you, and I thank you, Shorty, old chap,” said Shag happily, and linking arms they left Hal’s room together, for cheers outside were announcing the approach of Lord Mortimer–and the feud was ended forever.
The King’s Coin
Because the doctor had forbidden Jack Cornwall to read a single line except by daylight, the boy was spending a series of most miserable evenings. No books, no stories, no studies, for a severe cold had left him with an inflammation of the eyes; and, just as he was careering with all sorts of honors through the high school, he was ordered by the great oculist to drop everything, leave school, and–“loaf.”
Young Cornwall hated “loafing.” His brain and body loved activity. He would far sooner have taken a sound flogging than all the idle hours that had been forced on him to endure. To-night, particularly, time hung very heavy on his hands. He sat for a full hour, his eyes shaded from the lamp, his hands locked round his knee, doing nothing, and finding it most difficult. His father read the newspaper, his mother mended stockings, his little brother pored frowningly over his algebra. Presently Jack’s nerves seemed to break. He sprang up impetuously, then, controlling himself, sat down again, and said: “Oh, it is brutal, this sitting around! I don’t believe I can stand it much longer. I wish I were out in the wilds, or on the sea, or somewhere where I could work with my hands, if I mustn’t use my eyes.”
His mother looked up, saying, sympathetically, that it _was_ hard. His father put down the paper, looked at him quizzically for a moment, then, extracting a letter from his pocket, and laying it on the table, said:
“John, did you ever know that your father was a stupid old numskull? Here’s news that I have had for three days, and I never thought of you in connection with it. Here’s the chance of your life–the very thing you want–a letter from your Uncle Matt. He’s going up North, to the end of civilization. Started at his old business of fur-trading again. He says here”–and Mr. Cornwall referred to the letter, reading–“‘But there’s something else taking me north besides otter and mink skins. I’ll tell it to you when I return, but just now the secret must be mine alone. I only wish I had some decent chap to go with me; but in this chasing-for-the-dollar age, no one seems to be able to leave their miserable little shops for mere adventures into the wilds. I suppose I’ll have to hunt up some strapping boy as a partner, but the trouble is to get one who is strong enough to work and starve alternately; one who will sleep in the open, live on rabbits and beans, let his clothes dry on him when they get wet, and who will keep his mouth shut and his ears open. They aren’t making young men like that now, I’m afraid.'”
“Yes, they are, father! Yes, they are!” cried Jack, springing to his feet, his eyes gleaming with excitement. “Do you think Uncle Matt will take me?”
His father measured him carefully with a very keen eye. “You certainly have great shoulders, my son. Why, I never really noticed them before. You’re built like an ox! How old are you?”
“Seventeen next month, and I’m not only built like an ox, I’m as strong as one, and–I think I can keep my mouth shut and my ears open.”
“Yes, you can do that if you are your mother’s son,” said his father, glancing slyly at his mother. Then they all laughed, for Mrs. Cornwall was renowned among her relatives as a silent little woman, who heard everything but who repeated nothing.
That night a telegram was sent to Uncle Matt, and, late the following day, came the reply:
“Sure! Will take Jack gladly. Expect me Saturday. Be ready to start Tuesday. MATT.”
When Matt Larson arrived he was not at all what Jack expected he would be. In the first place, he was not like one’s uncle. Jack had forgotten that his mother had frequently told him that her little brother Matt was only six years old when she was married, and had acted “page” at the wedding. So to-day Matt, who was only twenty-five, looked more like a big brother than an uncle. His eyes, however, were as shrewd as those of a man of forty, and already a fine dusting of grey hairs swept away from each temple. His skin was swarthy from many winds and suns, his nose determined, and his mouth as kind and sweet as Jack’s own mother’s, but his hands and shoulders were what spoke of his pioneer life. There was something about those strong, clean fingers, those upright shoulders, that made Jack love him at sight.
Matt Larson never dressed like anyone else. Years of exploring the wilds had got him so accustomed to heavy boots and leather knee gaiters, that he never seemed to be able to discard them when he touched town life, which, truth to tell, was as seldom as possible. His suit of heavy, rough tweeds, blue flannel shirt and flowing black silk handkerchief for a tie, never seemed to leave his back, and no one recollected having ever seen him wear a hat. A small, checked cloth cap, flung on the very back of his head, was his only head covering, rain or shine.
“No, don’t call me ‘uncle,'” he laughed, as Jack greeted him with the respect the relationship demanded. “You and I are just going to be pals. All hands up north call me Larry–I suppose it’s short for Larson–so it’s Larry to you, isn’t it, old man?”
“Yes, Larry,” replied Jack, with all his heart warming to this extraordinarily handsome, genial relative, “and I think we will be pals, all right,” he continued.
“No ‘think’ about it; it’s a dead sure fact!” asserted Matt Larson, gripping Jack’s hand with those splendid, sturdy fingers of his. Then, turning abruptly to his dunnage bags, gun cases, and the general duffle of the “up-norther,” he extracted therefrom a most suspiciously-shaped russet leather case, and handing it to Jack, said: “That’s yours, boy, never to be used except in emergency, but always to be kept in the pink of condition, ready for instant action.”
Jack’s poor, weak eyes fairly danced; it was a beautiful new revolver.
“But, unc–I mean, Larry–why do we take revolvers on a fur-trading expedition?” he asked.
Matt Larson shot a swift glance at him, answering quietly, “There are other things up north besides furs.”
“Do you mean desperadoes?” questioned Jack.
“Well,” hesitated his uncle, “perhaps I do; perhaps I mean other things, too.” And that was all Jack could get him to say on the subject. But the boy was very proud of his “gun,” and a little curious as to just why his uncle had given it to him, so that night, when they were alone a moment, he said: “Larry, that shooter is–bully! It’s great to have it. I’d rather have it at my hip than be in a position sometime to wish I had it.”
“I was there once, and not so very long ago, my boy,” said Matt Larson, with a quick frown. Then, half to himself, “But the man in the mackinaw* will never catch me unarmed again.”
[*A mackinaw is a short, rough coat of material much like a grey horse blanket. It is worn by most lumberjacks, explorers, miners and woodsmen in the regions north of the great Canadian lakes.]
“The man in the mackinaw, eh?” echoed Jack, lifting his eyebrows meaningly.
“Oh, ho, youngster! You’re the boy for me!” grinned his uncle. “You’re sharp! You’ve caught on, all right. Yes; he’s the man you’ve got to keep your eyes in the back of your head to watch for. He’s a bad lot. He may bother us. Now, are you afraid to tackle the wilderness, since you know there is menace–perhaps danger?”
“I’m not afraid of anything with you, Matt Larson,” said the boy, gravely, looking the other directly in the eyes.
“But suppose we should get separated, by some unlucky chance, what then?” asked the man.
“I don’t think I would be afraid–I _shall not_ be afraid, even then,” Jack answered.
“That’s the way to talk! Now I know you are game,” said Larson, seizing the boy by the shoulders and peering into his eyes. Then they shook hands silently, but it was an unspoken pledge nevertheless.
“The man in the mackinaw,” repeated Jack, slowly, as their hands gripped. Then his eyes narrowed down to little slits of light. “I think, Larry, I should know him by instinct.”
“You’re a wolf on two legs, boy!” replied Larry, with delight. “You have the intuition of the wiser animals. Why have I never really known you before? Why have I not had you?”
“You’ve got me now, anyway, and you are going to keep me, Larry,” said the boy. Then they said good-night with a bond of manly friendship between them that was destined to last throughout their lives.
* * * * * * * *
They left the luxurious sleeping-car of the great Canadian Pacific Railway, at a little settlement on the north shore of Lake Superior. There were but three buildings in the place, all of logs: the railway station, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trading post, and “French” Pierre’s “bunk and eating-house.” The northern forest closed in on all sides, and the little settlement in all amounted to nothing more than a clearing.
The instant they stepped from the car, Matt Larson’s eyes swept the platform, alighting with a pleased expression on the figure of a wiry, alert-looking boy of perhaps eighteen, who stepped forward silently, quickly, and laid his hand in Larson’s, outstretched to greet him. The boy was Indian through and through, with a fine, thin, copper-colored face, and eyes of very rare beauty. The instant Jack Cornwall saw those eyes, he knew that they could see almost unseeable things. But Matt Larson was introducing them. “Fox-Foot,” he said, turning to the Indian, “here is Jack, my own sister’s son. He has my confidence. He will know all that I know. You may trust him with _everything_. Jack, old man, this Chippewa boy, Fox-Foot, is my friend and our guide. His canoe is ours for weeks ahead. He knows what I know. You may trust him with _everything_. Shake hands.”
But the two boys were already shaking hands, friends at once because of their friendship for Matt Larson. Then came the packing of duffle and dunnage bags into the narrow bark canoe beached on the river bank, fifty yards away. A last look at the outfit, to see if there were sufficient matches and other prime necessities, then they were off–off on that strange quest Jack knew so little of. His alert senses had long ago grasped the fact that furs alone were not taking them north, that something unspoken of was the real cause of this expedition; but he was content to wait until the time came when he should be told. His handsome young uncle knelt at the bow thwart, the silent Chippewa boy at the stern. The canoe shot forth like a slender arrow, and the wilderness closed in about them Just as they rounded the bend of the river which was to shut the settlement from sight, Matt Larson turned his head several times quickly, looking behind them with something of the lightning movement and sharp rapidity of a wild animal. It struck Jack as an odd action, betraying suspicion–suspicion perhaps that they might be followed. That night wisdom came to him. The day had been a heavy one, paddling upstream against a cruel current; and, after they had pitched camp for the night at the foot of an exquisite cascade of water called the Red Rock Falls, and eaten a tremendous supper, Jack strolled to the water’s margin to see that the canoe was properly beached high and safe. On the opposite side of the river a slim shadow slipped along–a canoe that contained a single man, who wore a rough coat of indefinite greyish plaid. Jack crept noiselessly up the river bank. “Larry, Fox-Foot,” he said in a hoarse, low whisper, “look, look across the river! A canoe, with a man in it–a man in a mackinaw!”
Matt Larson sprang to his feet, spitting out a strange foreign word that boded no good to the intruder. His hand leaped to his revolver instantly. Then he swung around to look at Fox-Foot, but the boy had disappeared for a moment. The two stood silent, then Jack’s quick eye caught sight of the Chippewa many yards distant crawling on his belly like a snake, in and out among the blueberry bushes upstream. “Foxy’s gone for all night; we’ll never see him until daylight. He’ll watch that canoe like a lynx. He’s worth his weight in gold,” murmured Matt Larson. Then he added, addressing Jack, “I thought I brought you out here because your eyes were gone smash! Why, boy, you have an eye like a vulture, to make out that canoe and that coat in this twilight.”
Jack fairly beamed with pride at this praise. “Larry,” he said, “I believe I saw that canoe as much with my brain as with my eyes; besides, my eyes don’t hurt unless I strain them.”
“Your eyes are bully; we’ll take care of them, and of you, too, Jack. You are–yes, invaluable. Well, somebody has got to sleep to-night to be fit to work up-stream to-morrow, so, Jack, you and I shall be the somebodies, for Foxy will never close an eye to-night. We’re safe as a church with that boy a-watch. You must paddle all to-morrow, son, while Foxy sleeps amidships.”
“I guess I’m good for it. Feel that forearm,” answered Jack.
Larry ran his fingers down the tense muscles, then up to the manly shoulder-blades. “Why, boy, you are built like an ox!” he exclaimed.
“Just father’s expression!” smiled Jack.
“Well, to bed and sleep now! If you hear any creeping noise in the night it will be Foxy. He’ll never let another living soul near us while we sleep,” said Larry, as he prepared for his blanket bed.
“What are you thinking of, boy?” he added, curiously.
“I am wondering if by any chance I could possibly be right,” replied Jack. “Tell me, Larry, did that man out there, the man in the mackinaw, have anything to do with causing those grey hairs above your ears–did he?”
“You _certainly_ have the intuition of an animal,” was the reply. “Jack, I love you, old pal; you’re white and sharp and clean right through! Yes, he ‘powder-puffed’ my hair. I’ll tell you about it some day. Not to-night. You must sleep to-night, and remember, ‘all’s well’ as long as Foxy’s at the helm.”
“The man wouldn’t shoot Fox-Foot, wouldn’t _kill_ him, would he, Larry?” came Jack’s anxious voice.
“Shoot him! Shoot Foxy!” Then Matt Larson laughed gleefully into his blankets. “Why, Jack, no man living could ever get a bead on Foxy in this wilderness. No man could ever find him or see him, though he were lying right at the man’s own feet. I think too much of Foxy to expose him to danger. But the best of it is, you can’t put your eye, or your ear, or your fingers on that boy. You can’t even _smell_ him. He’s the color of the underbrush, silent as midnight, quick as lightning. You can’t detect the difference between the smell of his clothes and of his skin and burning brushwood, or deer-hide. He can sidle up to the most timid wild thing. Oh! don’t you worry, son! Go to sleep; our Fox-Foot is his own man, nobody else’s.”
“All right, Larry, but I’m here, if anyone wants me,” yawned Jack.
And Matt Larson knew in his heart of hearts that Jack Cornwall spoke truly–that he was there to stand by his uncle and Fox-Foot should he be called upon to do so.
Dawn was breaking as they awoke–simultaneously to a slight crackling sound outside. Larry’s head burrowed out of the tent.
“Foxy cooking breakfast,” was his cool remark. Then, “Jingo! He’s got a fish–a regular crackerjack! It’s as long as my arm! Ha! there’s a breakfast for you!” But Jack was already up and out.
“Fine luck I have! Big fish!” smiled Fox-Foot, as fresh and alert as if he had had a night in blankets instead of hours of watchfulness. Already half of the freshwater beauty was sizzling in the frying-pan, the Indian lifting and turning it with a long pointed stick. Matt Larson got busy coffee-making. “We’ll pit these two odors one against the other,” he remarked; “though I am bound to admit that the only time a frying fish does really smell good and appetizing is when it has been dead about twenty minutes, and is cooking over a camp-fire.” Then quickly, in a low, tense voice: “Where is he, Foxy? Where did you leave him?”
The Indian went on turning the fish, indicating with his head the direction across the river.
“He’s over there, asleep.”
“He may wake at any moment; we must get away at once,” hurried Larry.
“No,” said Fox-Foot, with indifference, “he won’t wake. There is a flower grows here, small seeds; I creep up close, put it in his teapot. He not see me. He boil tea, he drink it; he wake–maybe sundown to-night.”
Larry and Jack looked at each other. Then with one accord they burst into laughter.
“Flower seeds! Where did you learn of these seeds, boy?” asked Larry.
“My mother teach me when I’m small. She said only use when pain is great, or,” he hesitated, then, with a sly, half humorous look, “or when your enemy is great.”
“Beats all, doesn’t it, Jack?” said Larry. “Foxy, you’re a wonder! Did you do anything else to him?”
“No, just to his canoe,” replied the boy. “I wore a hole through the bottom with rocks; he’ll think he did it himself. Takes time mend that canoe; we be far up river by then–far beyond the forks; he not know which headwater we take.”
Matt Larson laid his hand on the straight, jet-black hair. “Bless you, my boy!” he said comically, but his undertone held intense relief, which did not escape Jack’s ears.
The fish and coffee were ready now, and all three waded into that breakfast with fine relish.
Then came the arduous portage around Red Rock Falls, a difficult task which occupied more than an hour. Then away upstream once more, this time Jack paddling bow, with young Fox-Foot, lying on a blanket amidships, wrapped in a well-earned sleep. But once during the entire morning the Indian stirred; he did not seem to awake as other boys do, but more like a rabbit. His eyes opened without drowsiness; he shot to his knees, sweeping the river bank with a glance like the boring of a gimlet. Larry, looking at him, knew that nothing—nothing, bird, beast or man–could escape that penetrating scrutiny. Then, without comment, the boy curled down among his blankets again and slept.
They did not stop for “grub” at midday–just opened a can of pork and beans, finished up the cold fried fish, and drank from the clear blue waters of the river. Then on once more upstream, which now began to broaden into placid lakelets, thereby lessening the current and giving them a chance to make more rapid headway. At four o’clock they reached the forks of the stream–one flowed towards them from the north, the other from the west.
“Which way?” asked Larson, rousing the Chippewa. The boy got up immediately and took the stern paddle, steering the western course. They had paddled something over two miles up that arm when Fox-Foot beached the canoe, built a fire, spilled out the remainder of the pork and beans, threw the tin can on the bank, then marshalled his crew aboard again, and deliberately steered over the course they had already come.
“We lose two miles good work,” he explained. “We build decoy fire, we leave tin can, he come; he think we go that way, but we go north.” Back to the forks and up the northern branch they pulled, both Larry and Jack not only willing to have done four miles of seemingly unnecessary paddling, but loud in their praise and appreciation of the Indian’s shrewd tactics. At supper time Fox-Foot would allow no fire to be built, no landing to be made, no trace of their passing to be left. They ate canned meat and marmalade, drank again of the stream and pushed on, until just at dusk they reached the edge of a long, still lake, with shores of granite and dense fir forest. “Larry and Jack, you sleep in canoe to-night; no camp. Lake ten miles long; no current; I paddle–me,” said the Indian, and nothing that Larry could urge would alter the boy’s edict.
“Jack, you must wonder what all these precautions are for, yet you never ask,” said Larry.
“Because I know,” returned the boy. “We are trying to escape the man in the mackinaw. He is following you. He is your enemy.”
“Yes, boy, and to-night you shall know why,” replied Larry. “You have taken so much for granted, you have never asked a single question; now you shall know what Foxy and I are after.”
“You said you were after furs,” Jack smiled.
“Yes, but not furs _alone_, my son,” said the man. Then leaning meaningly towards the boy he half whispered, “I am after the king’s coin–_gold_! My boy, nuggets and nuggets of _gold_, that I prospected for myself up in these wilds two years ago, found _pockets_ of it in the rocks, cached it, away, as I thought, from all human eyes, awaiting the time I could safely bring it to ‘the front.’ I knew of but one being in all the North that I could trust with my secret. That being is Fox-Foot. One night I confided it to him, showing him the map I had made of the lakes and streams of the north country, and the spot where the gold was cached. We were, as I thought, alone in Fox-Foot’s log house. That is, alone in speaking English, for his people don’t understand a single word that is not Chippewa. We were poring over the map I had made, when something made me look behind me. Against the small hole in the logs that served as a window was a man’s head and shoulders–a white man–and he wore a grey mackinaw. Foxy and I were on our feet at once, but the man crashed through the woods and was gone. But he had heard my story, had seen I had a map, and–well, he wants my gold! That is all.”
“And the grey hair above your eyes, Larry?” asked Jack, in an awed voice.
“_That_ came the time I mentioned when I gave you your revolver, and you remarked you would hate to be in a position where you might _wish_ you had one. I told you I had been there myself. It was last August, on a lonely trail far east of here. I had lain down during the intense heat of the day to sleep, only to wake to see his peering eyes, to feel that my feet were tied together, my hands caught in his vise-like clutch, bound together. Then I was dragged to a tree and lashed to it by yards of leather strapping, and all the time looking into the barrel of his revolver. He searched every stitch of clothing I had on, but he did not find the map. I was not armed, was perfectly helpless, and he left me lashed to that tree, naked all but my trousers and socks. I was there forty hours. The black flies came in swarms, the mosquitoes in thousands, and the second night timber wolves barked in the distance. Towards morning they came nearer, nearer. The agony from the insects made me desperate, but it was the yapping of those wolves that drove me crazy. I chewed through the leather straps binding my shoulder, chewed the shoulder with it, boy, and broke loose, with the blood running from every fly-bite, my eyes blinded with their poison, my throat cracked with thirst. I staggered to the river to drink, drink, drink, to lie in its cool waters, then to drink again, again, again.”
Jack’s face blanched, his hands turned stiff with cold, at the horror of the tale.
“When I could really see with my eyes,” continued Larry, “I discovered, while looking into the still river, that this powder had puffed itself above my ears.”
“And the map?” questioned Jack.
“Oh, the map? Well, he didn’t get _that_,” answered Larry, in something of his natural voice. “You see, I had once an accident, breaking through the ice on the lake. The map got wet and was almost destroyed, so I copied it out on cotton with marking ink, and sewed it inside the lining of my coat, and it did not crackle, as the paper map would have done had he passed his hands over it. Why, he never suspected it was there.”
Jack drew a great breath of relief. “I wouldn’t care if he did get it, Larry, so long as he left you alive.”
“Oh, he’s too cowardly to kill a man outright; don’t be afraid of that. But he’s after the King’s Coin, all right,” was the reply.
“And he don’t get King’s Coin, not while I live–me,” said the low voice of Fox-Foot, as, with squared shoulders and set teeth, he gripped his paddle firmly and started up the long stretch of Ten-mile Lake.
* * * * * * * *
All that night Larry and Jack slept in the canoe, while the Chippewa boy paddled noiselessly, mile after mile. Above them the loons laughed, and herons called, and in the dense forest ashore foxes barked and owls hooted. A beautiful bow of light arched itself in the north, its long, silvery fingers stretching and darting up to the sky’s zenith. But the Indian paddled on. Those wild sounds and scenes were his birthright, and he knew no fear of them.
At daylight he beached the canoe so motionlessly the sleepers never stirred, and he wakened them only when he had the coffee made and a huge pan of delicious bacon fried above the coals. Both of the paleface friends then arose, yawned, stretched, stripped and plunged into the lake, to swim about for a few moments, and then to jump into their shirts and sweaters, and fall upon the coffee and bacon with fine relish.
“I believe,” said Jack, devouring his third helping, “that my eyes are better. They don’t ache or smart in the least to-day.”
“Eye bad?” asked Fox-Foot.
“I cure, me, if you like. Root good for bad eye grows here, north,” said the Chippewa.
“Better let him try,” urged Larry. “He knows all these things. His flower seeds have evidently put the kibosh on the man in the mackinaw.”
“I get root, you try. No harm,” said the Indian. “You scairt put in your eye, then just smell it, and tie round your head.”
“I’ll try it, by all means,” asserted Jack.
So, at noon, while Larry and Jack cooked the dinner, Fox-Foot penetrated the woods, returning with some crooked little brown roots, which he bound about Jack’s forehead and made him inhale. They exuded a peculiar sweetish odor, that seemed to wash the eyeball like water, and when the afternoon was half spent, Jack remarked that his eyelids had ceased to smart.
“One week, maybe, be all right,” answered the Indian. And his words proved correct. Daily he gathered fresh roots, treating Jack’s eyes as skilfully as the oldest medicine man of his tribe could have done, until the poor red rims faded white, and the bloodshot eyeballs grew clear and bluish. Jack was beside himself with gratitude and delight, his one regret being that there was no possible way of mailing a letter to his parents telling them the good news. This week was one of work, sometimes toil. Often they encountered rapids over which they must portage. Once it was a whole mile through brush and rock and deep, soft mosses, but still they struggled on, until one evening, as they pitched camp and lighted their fire, Fox-Foot said coolly:
“You know this place, Larry?”
“No,” was the answer, “never saw it before.”
“The reason you say that,” said the Indian, “is ’cause you come and go over that bluff behind us. Lake Nameless just twenty yards ‘cross that bluff.”
“_What_!” yelled Larry.
“I bring you in other side. Bluff separate this river and Lake Nameless. There is your cache,” laughed Fox-Foot, throwing a pebble and striking a point of red rock ten yards away.
Larry and Jack fairly stumbled over their own feet to get there. Every mark that Matt Larson had left to identify the hiding-place of his treasure still remained undisturbed. The round white pebble placed near the shelving rock, the three-cornered flint, the fine, tiny grey bits of stone set like a bird’s eggs in a nest of lichen, the two standing pines with a third fallen, storm-wrecked, at their roots–every landmark was there, intact.
Larry almost flew for the pick, and began to hack away at loose rocks, swinging the pick above shoulder as a woodsman swings an axe. Two feet below the surface, the pick caught in a web of cloth. In another minute Larry lifted out an old woollen jersey undershirt, that had been fastened up bag-wise. He snatched his knife, ripped open the sleeves, and the setting sun shot over a huge heap of yellow richness, quarts and quarts of heavy golden nuggets–_the King’s Coin_. Larry sat down limply, wiping the oozing drops from his forehead. The two boys stood gazing at the treasure as if fascinated. Then Jack moistened his lips with his tongue, drew the back of his hand across his blinking eyes, moistened his lips again, but no words seemed to come to him. It was Fox-Foot who spoke first. Touching one splendid nugget almost contemptuously with the toe of his moccasin, he sneered “It is the curse of the paleface, this gold. ‘Most every white man he sell the soul within his body for gold, gold, but not so Larry. _I_ know him. He prize this thing because it is the reward of pluck, of work, of great patience, of what white men call ‘grit.'”
“Thank you, Foxy,” said Larry, rising and extending his fine hand, which grasped the Indian’s with a warm, true grip. “You mean that–mean it with all your loyal young redskin heart. Yes, boys, I hope it is for the love of pluck, the pride of ‘grit,’ that I value this thing. I hope it is not greed, not avarice, not–“
“_Never_!” interrupted Jack’s ringing voice. “Never any greed of gold in you, Larry. You best and bulliest of men alive, but I _am_ glad the gold is yours. You deserve every ounce of it,” and Jack was clinging to his handsome young uncle’s other hand with a heartiness that rang as true as the nuggets lying at his feet. Presently he stooped to lift one. Its rugged yellow bulk reflected the dying sun. It was a goodly thing to look at, rare, precious, beautiful. Then he dropped it among its fellows, his fingers curled into his palms. Unconsciously his hands moulded themselves into fists, and each fist rested with a peculiar bulldog movement above each sturdy hip. His eyes met Larry’s.
“We’ll have a tough fight for it,” he said, meaningly, “but that gold is going to get past the man in the mackinaw.”
“It certainly will, if you’re going to act as you look now,” laughed Larry. “Why, boy, you look as if you would stop at nothing to outwit our unpleasant follower.”
“I shall stop at very little,” said Jack doggedly. “Your gold will get to the front, Larry, if I have full fling in the matter.”
“Fling away, son,” was the reply. “Only always remember: don’t _use_ your revolver unless he is killing you.”
“Or killing you or Fox-Foot,” supplemented the boy.
“Same thing,” said Larry. “We are all one in this matter, but I don’t want you to be sorry in after years that you pulled a gun too quickly, that is all.”
“No gun,” joined Fox-Foot, slyly. “You leave the man to me. I fix him.”
“I guess that’s right,” answered Larry. “Foxy’s the boy to trip up Mr. Mackinaw in his nice little race for what does not belong to him. Now, boys, for supper, but we’ll tuck away these pretty little playthings first.”
The nuggets were divided into two stout canvas sacks, which were never to leave the lynx eyes of these three adventurers. They were to eat off those sacks, sleep on them, sit on them, think of them, dream of them, work for them, swim for them, fight for them. That was the vow that these three sturdy souls and manly hearts made one to another, before they sat down to bacon and beans, in the vast wilderness of the North, that glorious summer night.
“Downy pillow, this!” growled Larry, as he folded his sweater over a gold sack to get at least a semblance of softness for his ear to burrow into.
“Never mind, Larry, you can swap it for a good slice of ‘down’ when we get to the front,” said Jack from the depths of his blankets. “It strikes me that it will be the cause of your sleeping on ‘down’ for the rest of your life.”
“I shall never sleep or rest for long, son, nor do I want a downy life, but there is a difference between rose leaves and these bulky nuggets prodding a fellow in the neck.”
“You sleep on blankets, I sleep on the wampum,” said Fox-Foot, extracting with his slim brown fingers the “pillow” from beneath Larry’s tired head.
“All right, Foxy,” murmured the man, sleepily. “The gold only goes to itself when it goes to you. You’re gold right through and through. Good-night.”
“Good-night,” came Jack’s voice.
“How,” answered the Chippewa, after the quaint custom of his tribe.
And all night long they slept the hours peacefully away, the strong, athletic, well-knit, muscular white boy, the slender, agile, adroit Indian side by side, their firm young cheeks pillowed on thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of yellow gold.
With the first hint of dawn, Fox-Foot was astir. Before he left the tent, however, he cautiously placed his sack under Larry’s blanket, and within the turn of that gentleman’s elbow. Once more good luck attended his efforts with rod and line, and he got a dozen trout in almost as many minutes. Larry’s nose usually awakened him when it sniffed early cooking, so now he rolled over to pummel Jack, then up to sing and whistle through his morning toilet like a schoolboy. Breakfast over, they struck camp, Fox-Foot taking command in packing the canoe, giving most rigid instructions as to saving the sacks should there be an upset. Larry took one long, last look at the wild surroundings. The dense pine forest, the forbidding rocks, the silver upper reaches of the river where his fought-for treasure had lain hidden for two years from all human eyes, unknown to any living man save himself. Then the canoe swung into midstream for the return voyage, its narrow little bow facing the south at last.
For many days the taut little craft danced merrily, homeward bound. For many nights the three voyageurs camped, slept, and dreamed, with only the laughing loons, the calling herons, the plaintive owls, and distant fox bark to sweep across their slumbers. But as the days went on, the Indian boy grew more wary; his glance seemed keener, his ears forever on the alert; he appeared like a lithe, silent watchdog, holding itself ready to spring, and snap, and bury its fine white teeth in the throat of an enemy to its household. His paddle dipped noiselessly, his head turned rapidly, his eye narrowed dangerously. Larry and Jack saw it all, but they said nothing, only relieved the Chippewa of all the work they possibly could, so that, should necessity demand that Fox-Foot must lose rest and food, he would be well fortified for every tax placed upon him. Jack took to cooking the meals, as a wild duck takes to the water, insisting that Fox-Foot rest after paddling, and the Indian accepting it all without comment, and sleeping at a moment’s notice–seemingly storing it up against future needs. But the evening came when the laughing river gurgled into Lake Nameless, and that night they camped below its frowning shores on a narrow strip of beach, where the driftwood of many years and many storms had stranded, seemingly forever. All three had rolled into blankets, with sleep hovering above and about them, when, noiselessly as the dawn, Fox-Foot slipped from his bed like an eel, dipped under the tent, and was gone.
“Larry,” whispered Jack, fearfully.
“Yes, boy?” came the reply.
“Did you see that?”
“But–Larry, oh, it’s horrible! I hate myself for saying it–but, oh, Larry, he’s taken a sack with him. I saw it.”
“Listen! Oh, Larry, s-s-h–“
Matt Larson turned on his back, every nerve strung to snapping pitch. Two whispering voices assailed his ears. The horror of them seemed to grip his heart and stop its very beating. Fox-Foot was speaking.
“You’s not a good man. I hate you. You’s bad all over, but I _have_ to trust you. You got me cornered. Here’s the gold, same’s I promised. You take half. I take half. _You hide it_. Bime-by when I get _them_ out of this, I come back, _then_ we divide. But you sure _hide it now, hide it. Good. GOOD_.”
Then came the reply in English, good English. There was only one voice in all the world that had that hissing, snaky sound, and Larry knew it to his cost. It was the voice of the man in the mackinaw, and it was hissing:
“Bet your life I’ll hide it, Fox-Foot, and you’re a good, decent Indian boy. You shall have half, _sure_, but get both of those _dogs_ out of here. Get ’em away, right off.”
“I scairt,” replied the Indian, “I clean scairt. When he finds out, maybe he kill me. I got no knife, no gun–nothing. I scairt.”
“Here, take my revolver,” replied the man. “And I tell you, Fox-Foot, if they kick up, you put a bullet clean through them, _both_ of them.”
“Sure. Give me it,” said the Indian in a soft, oily voice. Then, “Now, now, I feel safer with _that_ inside my shirt.”
Matt Larson’s face was white as a sheet. He did not care a dollar for his lost gold, but for this Indian boy to fail him–oh, it was heartbreaking! He buried his face in his hands. “Oh, Foxy!” he almost sobbed. “Foxy, my little Chippewa friend, I have tried _so_ hard to treat you square–and–Foxy, you’ve failed me! You’ve failed me.” And big, burly Jack Cornwall’s tear-wet face was lying against Larry’s hand, and poor, big, burly Jack Cornwall’s voice was catching in his throat as he said:
“Oh, Fox-Foot! Fox-Foot! I’d rather have died than heard this–this from _you_!”
Then came a hurried good-bye between the two creatures outside, and Fox-Foot slipped back into the tent, slipped back noiselessly, snakily as an eel in its own slime.
For a full hour Larry and Jack lay there in the dark, hand gripping hand. One sack of gold had gone, stolen by their trusted friend, who lay near them, a loaded revolver inside his shirt, and a threat on his lips–a threat to kill them both.
At the end of the hour the Indian arose, struck a match, lighted a bit of candle, and taking the revolver from his shirt, examined it closely. Through narrowed lids Larry could see by even that faint light that it was fully loaded.
With a sweet, almost motherly movement, Matt Larson curled his arm around the boy at his side. They at least would face death together. But the Indian was crawling slowly, silently up towards them, closer, closer. At last the slim, brown fingers touched Larry’s shoulder, and the soft Chippewa voice whispered:
“Larry, Jack, wake! See, see, the great thing I got. I got _his_ revolver. He never harm us now.”
Larry sat bolt upright.
“What do you mean, Foxy? What do you mean, I say? What have you done _with my gold_?”
“Gold? Your gold?” exclaimed the Indian boy in surprise. “Your gold? Why, she’s all here”; and flinging back his cover blanket he displayed a gorgeous sight. There, in a thick, deep layer, piled on his under blanket, lay every single, blessed nugget belonging to the one sack he had slept on.
“But,” stammered Larry, his eyes popping out of his head in amazement, “but, Foxy, I _heard_ you bargain with him, I _heard_ you give him the sack of gold.”
“No,” replied the Indian, smiling; “heard me give him the _sack_, the sack filled with stones and pebbles, _not_ with gold. But I’ve got his gun, got it _here, here_ in my shirt. He is now unarmed. _He can’t shoot you now_!”
Matt Larson held out his arms. “Oh, Foxy, Foxy, forgive me, forgive me! For the moment I mistrusted you, I doubted you, my boy.”
“I love you just same as ever; no difference if you did suspect, I no change,” said the Indian, as Larry’s splendid arms closed about his lithe young shoulders.
Then Jack Cornwall’s voice found utterance. “Fox-Foot! Oh, Fox-Foot!” was all he could say, but the Indian boy laid his slim finger across Jack’s honest, boyish lips, saying:
“I know. Indian he always know. I love you just same as if you never doubt.”
And Jack knew that Fox-Foot spoke the truth.
“But we must go, go at once,” continued the Chippewa. “He maybe come back, if he find I cheat him. I bad fellow–me. Long ago, before you come on train, I think maybe he follow us, maybe steal your gold, so I find him, I speak to him with two tongues, one false tongue, one straight tongue. I bargain with him to come to Lake Nameless. I meet him here. We divide your gold, he and I. All the time I make bargain with him I have plan in my heart, just trick to get all his revolver from him, so he can’t shoot you, Larry. I know he shoot you if I don’t get that gun from him. So–I do all this to-night. I play my trick on him. We save our gold, we save our lives, maybe. So–you understand now? I bad fellow, me, but I am only bad to bad man like him. You understand now? You?”
“Understand?” cried Larry, leaping to his feet. “Understand? Why, Foxy, you’re a prince! You’re a king! You’re the best boy that ever drew the breath of life. You are–“
“Don’t stop now to tell me what I am,” laughed Fox-Foot. “It is enough that I am your friend, Jack’s friend, and the man may be back with his sack of pebbles.” Here the Indian sat down in a fit of irresistible laughter. Then, controlling himself, he continued, “We must be away inside ten minutes–quick!”
The other two had long ago grasped the entire situation, and in a twinkling camp was struck, and they were heading for the far shore, Larry paddling bow, the Indian astern, and both working for dear life.
Before daybreak they had reached the outlet of the lake, and, wearied as they were with excitement, haste and continuous paddling, Larry still urged that they proceed. But the Indian would not listen to it. Larry and Jack must sleep, he insisted, or none of them would be fit to face the man should he follow, which he undoubtedly would, as soon as he discovered the trick which had been played on him. So the two palefaces once more rolled in their blankets, not waiting to pitch the tent, and the Indian crouched forward near the water’s edge to watch, watch, watch, with sleepless, peering eyes, that nothing, living or dead, could hope to escape.