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  • 1856
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anything and everything that came within range of his gun. Charley, on the other hand, had never fired a shot before, except out of an old horse-pistol; having up to this period been busily engaged at school, except during the holidays, which he always spent in the society of his sister Kate, whose tastes were not such as were likely to induce him to take up the gun, even if he had possessed such a weapon. Just before leaving Red River, his father presented him with his own gun, remarking, as he did so, with a sigh, that _his_ day was past now; and adding that the gun was a good one for shot or ball, and if he (Charley) brought down _half_ as much game with it as he (Mr. Kennedy) had brought down in the course of his life, he might consider himself a crack shot undoubtedly.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the two friends went nearly mad with excitation when the whole flock of gulls rose into the air like a white cloud, and sailed in endless circles and gyrations above and around their heads–flying so close at times that they might almost have been caught by the hand. Neither was it surprising that innumerable shots were fired, by both sportsmen, without a single bird being a whit the worse for it, or themselves much the better; the energetic efforts made to hit being rendered abortive by the very eagerness which caused them to miss. And this was the less extraordinary, too, when it is remembered that Harry in his haste loaded several times without shot, and Charley rendered the right barrel of his gun _hors de combat_ at last, by ramming down a charge of shot and omitting powder altogether, whereby he snapped and primed, and snapped and primed again, till he grew desperate, and then suspicious of the true cause, which he finally rectified with much difficulty.

Frequently the gulls flew straight over the heads of the youths– which produced peculiar consequences, as in such cases they took aim while the birds were approaching; but being somewhat slow at taking aim, the gulls were almost perpendicularly above them ere they were ready to shoot, so that they were obliged to fire hastily in _hope_, feeling that they were losing their balance, or give up the chance altogether.

Mr. Park sat grimly in his place all the while, enjoying the scene, and smoking.

“Now then, Charley,” said he, “take that fellow.”

“Which? where? Oh, if I could only get one!” said Charley, looking up eagerly at the screaming birds, at which he had been staring so long, in their varying and crossing flight, that his sight had become hopelessly unsteady.

“There! Look sharp; fire away!”

Bang went Charley’s piece, as he spoke, at a gull which flew straight towards him, but so rapidly that it was directly above his head; indeed, he was leaning a little backwards at the moment, which caused him to miss again, while the recoil of the gun brought matters to a climax, by toppling him over into Mr. Park’s lap, thereby smashing that gentleman’s pipe to atoms. The fall accidentally exploded the second barrel, causing the butt to strike Charley in the pit of his stomach–as if to ram him well home into Mr. Park’s open arms–and hitting with a stray shot a gull that was sailing high up in the sky in fancied security. It fell with a fluttering crash into the boat while the men were laughing at the accident.

“Didn’t I say so?” cried Mr. Park, wrathfully, as he pitched Charley out of his lap, and spat out the remnants of his broken pipe.

Fortunately for all parties, at this moment the boat approached a spot on which the guide had resolved to land for breakfast; and seeing the unpleasant predicament into which poor Charley had fallen, he assumed the strong tones of command with which guides are frequently gifted, and called out,–

“Ho, ho! à terre! à terre! to land! to land! Breakfast, my boys; breakfast!”–at the same time sweeping the boat’s head shoreward, and running into a rocky bay, whose margin was fringed by a growth of small trees. Here, in a few minutes, they were joined by the other boats of the brigade, which had kept within sight of each other nearly the whole morning.

While travelling through the wilds of North America in boats, voyageurs always make a point of landing to breakfast. Dinner is a meal with which they are unacquainted, at least on the voyage, and luncheon is likewise unknown. If a man feels hungry during the day, the pemmican-bag and its contents are there; he may pause in his work at any time, for a minute, to seize the axe and cut off a lump, which he may devour as he best can; but there is no going ashore–no resting for dinner. Two great meals are recognised, and the time allotted to their preparation and consumption held inviolable– breakfast and supper: the first varying between the hours of seven and nine in the morning; the second about sunset, at which time travellers usually encamp for the night. Of the two meals it would be difficult to say which is more agreeable. For our own part, we prefer the former. It is the meal to which a man addresses himself with peculiar gusto, especially if he has been astir three or four hours previously in the open air. It is the time of day, too, when the spirits are freshest and highest, animated by the prospect of the work, the difficulties, the pleasures, or the adventures of the day that has begun; and cheered by that cool, clear _buoyancy_ of Nature which belongs exclusively to the happy morning hours, and has led poets in all ages to compare these hours to the first sweet months of spring or the early years of childhood.

Voyageurs, not less than poets, have felt the exhilarating influence of the young day, although they have lacked the power to tell it in sounding numbers; but where words were wanting, the sparkling eye, the beaming countenance, the light step, and hearty laugh, were more powerful exponents of the feelings within. Poet, and painter too, might have spent a profitable hour on the shores of that great sequestered lake, and as they watched the picturesque groups– clustering round the blazing fires, preparing their morning meal, smoking their pipes, examining and repairing the boats, or suning their stalwart limbs in wild, careless attitudes upon the greensward– might have found a subject worthy the most brilliant effusions of the pen, or the most graphic touches of the pencil.

An hour sufficed for breakfast. While it was preparing, the two friends sauntered into the forest in search of game, in which they were unsuccessful; in fact, with the exception of the gulls before mentioned, there was not a feather to be seen–save, always, one or two whisky-johns.

Whisky-johns are the most impudent, puffy, conceited little birds that exist. Not much larger in reality than sparrows, they nevertheless manage to swell out their feathers to such an extent that they appear to be as large as magpies, which they further resemble in their plumage. Go where you will in the woods of Rupert’s Land, the instant that you light a fire two or three whisky-johns come down and sit beside you, on a branch, it may be, or on the ground, and generally so near that you cannot but wonder at their recklessness. There is a species of impudence which seems to be specially attached to little birds. In them it reaches the highest pitch of perfection. A bold, swelling, arrogant effrontery–a sort of stark, staring, self-complacent, comfortable, and yet innocent impertinence, which is at once irritating and amusing, aggravating and attractive, and which is exhibited in the greatest intensity in the whisky-john. He will jump down almost under your nose, and seize a fragment of biscuit or pemmican. He will go right into the pemmican-bag, when you are but a few paces off, and pilfer, as it were, at the fountain-head. Or if these resources are closed against him, he will sit on a twig, within an inch of your head, and look at you as only a whisky-john _can_ look.

“I’ll catch one of these rascals,” said Harry, as he saw them jump unceremoniously into and out of the pemmican-bag.

Going down to the boat, Harry hid himself under the tarpaulin, leaving a hole open near to the mouth of the bag. He had not remained more than a few minutes in this concealment when one of the birds flew down, and alighted on the edge of the boat. After a glance round to see that all was right, it jumped into the bag. A moment after, Harry, darting his hand through the aperture, grasped him round the neck and secured him. Poor whisky-john screamed and pecked ferociously, while Harry brought him in triumph to his friend; but so unremittingly did the bird scream that its captor was fain at last to let him off, the more especially as the cook came up at the moment and announced that breakfast was ready.

CHAPTER XII.

The storm.

Two days after the events of the last chapter, the brigade was making one of the traverses which have already been noticed as of frequent occurrence in the great lakes. The morning was calm and sultry. A deep stillness pervaded Nature, which tended to produce a corresponding quiescence in the mind, and to fill it with those indescribably solemn feelings that frequently arise before a thunderstorm. Dark, lurid clouds hung overhead in gigantic masses, piled above each other like the battlements of a dark fortress, from whose ragged embrasures the artillery of heaven was about to play.

“Shall we get over in time, Louis?” asked Mr. Park, as he turned to the guide, who sat holding the tiller with a firm grasp; while the men, aware of the necessity of reaching shelter ere the storm burst upon them, were bending to the oars with steady and sustained energy.

“Perhaps,” replied Louis, laconically.–“Pull, lads, pull! else you’ll have to sleep in wet skins to-night.”

A low growl of distant thunder followed the guide’s words, and the men pulled with additional energy; while the slow measured hiss of the water, and clank of oars, as they cut swiftly through the lake’s clear surface, alone interrupted the dead silence that ensued.

Charley and his friend conversed in low whispers; for there is a strange power in a thunder-storm, whether raging or about to break, that overawes the heart of man,–as if Nature’s God were nearer then than at other times; as if He–whose voice, indeed, if listened to, speaks even in the slightest evolution of natural phenomena–were about to tread the visible earth with more than usual majesty, in the vivid glare of the lightning flash, and in the awful crash of thunder.

“I don’t know how it is, but I feel more like a coward,” said Charley, “just before a thunderstorm than I think I should do in the arms of a polar bear. Do you feel queer, Harry?”

“A little,” replied Harry, in a low whisper. “and yet I’m not frightened. I can scarcely tell what I feel, but I’m certain it’s not fear.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Charley. “When father’s black bull chased Kate and me in the prairies, and almost overtook us as we ran for the fence of the big field, I felt my heart leap to my mouth, and the blood rush to my cheeks, as I turned about and faced him, while Kate climbed the fence; but after she was over, I felt a wild sort of wickedness in me, as if I should like to tantalise and torment him,– and I felt altogether different from what I feel now while I look up at these black clouds. Isn’t there something quite awful in them, Harry?”

Ere Harry replied, a bright flash of lightning shot athwart the sky, followed by a loud roll of thunder, and in a moment the wind rushed, like a fiend set suddenly free, down upon the boats, tearing up the smooth surface of the water as it flew, and cutting it into gleaming white streaks. Fortunately the storm came down behind the boats, so that, after the first wild burst was over, they hoisted a small portion of their lug sails, and scudded rapidly before it.

There was still a considerable portion of the traverse to cross, and the guide cast an anxious glance over his shoulder occasionally, as the dark waves began to rise, and their crests were cut into white foam by the increasing gale. Thunder roared in continued, successive peals, as if the heavens were breaking up, while rain descended in sheets. For a time the crews continued to ply their oars; but as the wind increased, these were rendered superfluous. They were taken in, therefore, and the men sought partial shelter under the tarpaulin; while Mr. Park and the two boys were covered, excepting their heads, by an oilcloth, which was always kept at hand in rainy weather.

“What think you now, Louis?” said Mr. Park, resuming the pipe which the sudden outburst of the storm had caused him to forget. “Have we seen the worst of it?”

Louis replied abruptly in the negative, and in a few seconds shouted loudly, “Look out, lads! here comes a squall. Stand by to let go the sheet there!”

Mike Brady, happening to be near the sheet, seized hold of the rope, and prepared to let go, while the men rose, as if by instinct, and gazed anxiously at the approaching squall, which could be seen in the distance, extending along the horizon, like a bar of blackest ink, spotted with flakes of white. The guide sat with compressed lips, and motionless as a statue, guiding the boat as it bounded madly towards the land, which was now not more than half-a-mile distant.

“Let go!” shouted the guide, in a voice that was heard loud and clear above the roar of the elements.

“Ay, ay,” replied the Irishman, untwisting the rope instantly, as with a sharp hiss the squall descended on the boat.

At that moment the rope became entangled round one of the oars, and the gale burst with all its fury on the distended sail, burying the prow in the waves, which rushed inboard in a black volume, and in an instant half filled the boat.

“Let go!” roared the guide again, in a voice of thunder; while Mike struggled with awkward energy to disentangle the rope.

As he spoke, an Indian, who during the storm had been sitting beside the mast, gazing at the boiling water with a grave, contemplative aspect, sprang quickly forward, drew his knife, and with two blows (so rapidly delivered that they seemed but one) cut asunder first the sheet and then the halyards, which let the sail blow out and fall flat upon the boat. He was just in time. Another moment and the gushing water, which curled over the bow, would have filled them to the gunwale. As it was, the little vessel was so full of water that she lay like a log, while every toss of the waves sent an additional torrent into her.

“Bail for your lives, lads!” cried Mr, Park, as he sprang forward, and, seizing a tin dish, began energetically to bail out the water. Following his example, the whole crew seized whatever came first to hand in the shape of dish or kettle, and began to bail. Charley and Harry Somerville acted a vigorous part on this occasion–the one with a bark dish (which had been originally made by the natives for the purpose of holding maple sugar), the other with his cap.

For a time it seemed doubtful whether the curling waves should send most water _into_ the boat, or the crew should bail most _out_ of it. But the latter soon prevailed, and in a few minutes it was so far got under that three of the men were enabled to leave off bailing and reset the sail, while Louis Pettier returned to his post at the helm. At first the boat moved but slowly, owing to the weight of water in her; but as this gradually grew less, she increased her speed and neared the land.

“Well done, Redfeather,” said Mr. Park, addressing the Indian as he resumed his seat; “your knife did us good service that time, my fine fellow.”

Redfeather, who was the only pure native in the brigade, acknowledged the compliment with a smile.

“_Ah, oui_,” replied the guide, whose features had now lost their stern expression. “These Injins are always ready enough with their knives. It’s not the first time my life has been saved by the knife of a red-skin.”

“Humph! bad luck to them,” muttered Mike Brady; “it’s not the first time that my windpipe has been pretty near spiflicated by the knives o’ the redskins, the murtherin’ varmints.”

As Mike gave vent to this malediction, the boat ran swiftly past a low rocky point, over which the surf was breaking wildly.

“Down with the sail, Mike,” cried the guide, at the same time putting the helm hard up. The boat flew round, obedient to the ruling power, made one last plunge as it left the rolling surf behind, and slid gently and smoothly into still water under the lee of the point.

Here, in the snug shelter of a little bay, two of the other boats were found, with their prows already on the beach, and their crews actively employed in landing their goods, opening bales that had received damage from the water, and preparing the encampment; while ever and anon they paused a moment to watch the various boats as they flew before the gale, and one by one doubled the friendly promontory.

If there is one thing that provokes a voyageur more than another, it is being wind-bound on the shores of a large lake. Rain or sleet, heat or cold, icicles forming on the oars, or a broiling sun glaring in a cloudless sky, the stings of sand-flies, or the sharp probes of a million musquitoes, he will bear with comparative indifference; but being detained by high wind for two, three, or four days together– lying inactively on shore, when everything else, it may be, is favourable: the sun bright, the sky blue, the air invigorating, and all but the wind propitious–is more than his philosophy can carry him through with equanimity. He grumbles at it; sometimes makes believe to laugh at it; very often, we are sorry to say, swears at it; does his best to sleep through it; but whatever he does, he does with a bad grace, because he’s in a bad humour, and can’t stand it.

For the next three days this was the fate of our friends. Part of the time it rained, when the whole party slept as much as was possible, and then _endeavoured_ to sleep _more_ than was possible, under the shelter afforded by the spreading branches of the trees. Part of the time was fair, with occasional gleams of sunshine, when the men turned out to eat and smoke and gamble round the fires; and the two friends sauntered down to a sheltered place on the shore, sunned themselves in a warm nook among the rocks, while they gazed ruefully at the foaming billows, told endless stories of what they had done in time past, and equally endless _prospective_ adventures that they earnestly hoped should befall them in time to come.

While they were thus engaged, Redfeather, the Indian who had cut the ropes so opportunely during the storm, walked down to the shore, and sitting down on a rock not far distant, fell apparently into a reverie.

“I like that fellow,” said Harry, pointing to the Indian.

“So do I. He’s a sharp, active man. Had it not been for him we should have had to swim for it.”

“Indeed, had it not been for him I should have had to sink for it,” said Harry, with a smile, “for I can’t swim.”

“Ah, true, I forgot that. I wonder what the red-skin, as the guide calls him, is thinking about,” added Charley in a musing tone.

“Of home, perhaps, ‘sweet home,'” said Harry, with a sigh. “Do you think much of home, Charley, now that you have left it?”

Charley did not reply for a few seconds. He seemed to muse over the question.

At last he said slowly–

“Think of home? I think of little else when I am not talking with you, Harry. My dear mother is always in my thoughts, and my poor old father. Home? ay; and darling Kate, too, is at my elbow night and day, with the tears streaming from her eyes, and her ringlets scattered over my shoulder, as I saw her the day we parted, beckoning me back again, or reproaching me for having gone away–God bless her! Yes, I often, very often, think of home, Harry.”

Harry made no reply. His friend’s words had directed his thoughts to a very different and far-distant scene–to another Kate, and another father and mother, who lived in a glen far away over the waters of the broad Atlantic. He thought of them as they used to be when he was one of the number, a unit in the beloved circle, whose absence would have caused a blank there. He thought of the kind voice that used to read the Word of God, and the tender kiss of his mother as they parted for the night. He thought of the dreary day when he left them all behind, and sailed away, in the midst of strangers, across the wide ocean to a strange land. He thought of them now–_without_ him– accustomed to his absence, and forgetful, perhaps, at times that he had once been there. As he thought of all this a tear rolled down his cheek, and when Charley looked up in his face, that tear-drop told plainly that he too thought sometimes of home.

“Let us ask Redfeather to tell us something about the Indians,” he said at length, rousing himself. “I have no doubt he has had many adventures in his life. Shall we, Charley?”

“By all means–Ho, Redfeather; are you trying to stop the wind by looking it out of countenance?”

The Indian rose and walked towards the spot where the boys lay.

“What was Redfeather thinking about?” said Charley, adopting the somewhat pompous style of speech occasionally used by Indians. “Was he thinking of the white swan and his little ones in the prairie; or did he dream of giving his enemies a good licking the next time he meets them?”

“Redfeather has no enemies,” replied the Indian. “He was thinking of the great Manito, [Footnote: God.] who made the wild winds, and the great lakes, and the forest.”

“And pray, good Redfeather, what did your thoughts tell you?”

“They told me that men are very weak, and very foolish, and wicked; and that Manito is very good and patient to let them live.”

“That is to say,” cried Harry, who was surprised and a little nettled to hear what he called the heads of a sermon from a red-skin, “that _you_, being a man, are very weak, and very foolish, and wicked, and that Manito is very good and patient to let _you_ live?”

“Good,” said the Indian calmly; “that is what I mean.”

“Come, Redfeather,” said Charley, laying his hand on the Indian’s arm, “sit down beside us, and tell us some of your adventures. I know that you must have had plenty, and it’s quite clear that we’re not to get away from this place all day, so you’ve nothing better to do.”

The Indian readily assented, and began his story in English.

Redfeather was one of the very few Indians who had acquired the power of speaking the English language. Having been, while a youth, brought much into contact with the fur-traders, and having been induced by them to enter their service for a time, he had picked up enough of English to make himself easily understood. Being engaged at a later period of life as a guide to one of the exploring parties sent out by the British Government to discover the famous North West Passage, he had learned to read and write, and had become so much accustomed to the habits and occupations of the “pale faces,” that he spent more of his time, in one way or another, with them than in the society of his tribe, which dwelt in the thick woods bordering on one of the great prairies of the interior. He was about thirty years of age; had a tall, thin, but wiry and powerful frame; and was of a mild, retiring disposition. His face wore a habitually grave expression, verging towards melancholy; induced, probably, by the vicissitudes of a wild life (in which he had seen much of the rugged side of nature in men and things) acting upon a sensitive heart, and a naturally warm temperament. Redfeather, however, was by no means morose; and when seated along with his Canadian comrades round the camp fire, he listened with evidently genuine interest to their stories, and entered into the spirit of their jests. But he was always an auditor, and rarely took part in their conversations. He, was frequently consulted by the guide in matters of difficulty, and it was observed that the “red-skin’s” opinion always carried much weight with it, although it was seldom given unless asked for. The men respected him much because he was a hard worker, obliging, and modest—three qualities that insure respect, whether found under a red skin or a white one.

“I shall tell you,” he began, in a soft, musing tone, as if he were wandering in memories of the past–“I shall tell you how it was that I came by the name of Redfeather.”

“Ah!” interrupted Charley, “I intended to ask you about that; you don’t wear one.”

“I did once. My father was a great warrior in his tribe,” continued the Indian; “and I was but a youth when I got the name.

“My tribe was at war at the time with the Chipewyans, and one of our scouts having come in with the intelligence that a party of our enemies was in the neighbourhood, our warriors armed themselves to go in pursuit of them. I had been out once before with a war-party, but had not been successful, as the enemy’s scouts gave notice of our approach in time to enable them to escape. At the time the information was brought to us, the young men of our village were amusing themselves with athletic games, and loud challenges were being given and accepted to wrestle, or race, or swim in the deep water of the river, which flowed calmly past the green bank on which our wigwams stood. On a bank near to us sat about a dozen of our women–some employed in ornamenting moccasins with coloured porcupine quills; others making rogans of bark for maple sugar, or nursing their young infants; while a few, chiefly the old women, grouped themselves together and kept up an incessant chattering, chiefly with reference to the doings of the young men.

“Apart from these stood three or four of the principal men of our tribe, smoking their pipes, and although apparently engrossed in conversation, still evidently interested in what was going forward on the bank of the river.

“Among the young men assembled there was one of about my own age, who had taken a violent dislike to me because the most beautiful girl in all the village preferred me before him. His name was Misconna. He was a hot-tempered, cruel youth; and although I endeavoured as much as possible to keep out of his way, he sought every opportunity of picking a quarrel with me. I had just been running a race along with several other youths, and although not the winner, I had kept ahead of Misconna all the distance. He now stood leaning against a tree, burning with rage and disappointment. I was sorry for this, because I bore him no ill-will, and if it had occurred to me at the time, I would have allowed him to pass me, since I was unable to gain the race at any rate.

“‘Dog!’ he said at length, stepping forward and confronting me, ‘will you wrestle?’

“Just as he approached I had turned round to leave the place. Not wishing to have more to do with him, I pretended not to hear, and made a step or two towards the lodges. ‘Dog,’ he cried again, while his eyes flashed fiercely, as he grasped me by the arm, ‘will you wrestle, or are you afraid? Has the brave boy’s heart changed into that of a girl?’

“‘No, Misconna,’ said I. ‘You _know_ that I am not afraid; but I have no desire to quarrel with you.’

“‘You lie!’ cried he, with a cold sneer,–‘you are afraid; and see,’ he added, pointing towards the women with a triumphant smile, ‘the dark-eyed girl sees it and believes it too!’

“I turned to look, and there I saw Wabisca gazing on me with a look of blank amazement. I could see, also, that several of the other women, and some of my companions, shared in her surprise.

“With a burst of anger I turned round. ‘No,’ Misconna,’ said I, ‘I am _not_ afraid, as you shall find;’ and springing upon him, I grasped him round the body. He was nearly, if not quite, as strong a youth as myself; but I was burning with indignation at the insolence of his conduct before so many of the women, which gave me more than usual energy. For several minutes we swayed to and fro, each endeavouring in vain to bend the other’s back; but we were too well matched for this, and sought to accomplish our purpose by taking advantage of an unguarded movement. At last such a movement occurred. My adversary made a sudden and violent attempt to throw me to the left, hoping that an inequality in the ground would favour his effort. But he was mistaken. I had seen the danger and was prepared for it, so that the instant he attempted it I threw forward my right leg, and thrust him backwards with all my might. Misconna was quick in his motions. He saw my intention–too late, indeed, to prevent it altogether, but in time to throw back his left foot and stiffen his body till it felt like a block of stone. The effort was now entirely one of endurance. We stood each with his muscles strained to the utmost, without the slightest motion. At length I felt my adversary give way a little. Slight though the motion was, it instantly removed all doubt as to who should go down. My heart gave a bound of exaltation, and with the energy which such a feeling always inspires, I put forth all my strength, threw him heavily over on his back, and fell upon him.

“A shout of applause from my comrades greeted me as I rose and left the ground; but at the same moment the attention of all was taken from myself and the baffled Misconna by the arrival of the scout, bringing us information that a party of Chipewyans were in the neighbourhood. In a moment all was bustle and preparation. An Indian war-party is soon got ready. Forty of our braves threw off the principal parts of their clothing; painted their faces with stripes of vermilion and charcoal; armed themselves with guns, bows, tomahawks and scalping knives, and in a few minutes left the camp in silence, and at a quick pace.

“One or two of the youths who had been playing on the river’s bank were permitted to accompany the party, and among these were Misconna and myself. As we passed a group of women, assembled to see us depart, I observed the girl who had caused so much jealousy between us. She cast down her eyes as we came up, and as we advanced close to the group she dropped a white feather, as if by accident. Stooping hastily down, I picked it up in passing, and stuck it in an ornamented band that bound my hair. As we hurried on I heard two or three old hags laugh, and say, with a sneer, ‘His hand is as white as a feather: it has never seen blood.’ The next moment we were hid in the forest, and pursued our rapid course in dead silence.

“The country through which we passed was varied, extending in broken bits of open prairie, and partly covered with thick wood, yet not so thick as to offer any hindrance to our march. We walked in single file, each treading in his comrade’s footsteps, while the band was headed by the scout who had brought the information. The principal chief of our tribe came next, and he was followed by the braves according to their age or influence. Misconna and I brought up the rear. The sun was just sinking as we left the belt of woodland in which our village stood, crossed over a short plain, descended a dark hollow, at the bottom of which the river flowed, and following its course for a considerable distance, turned off to the right and emerged upon a sweep of prairieland. Here the scout halted, and taking the chief and two or three braves aside, entered into earnest consultation with them.

“What they said we could not hear; but as we stood leaning on our guns in the deep shade of the forest, we could observe by their animated gestures that they differed in opinion. We saw that the scout pointed several times to the moon, which was just rising above the treetops, and then to the distant horizon: but the chief shook his head, pointed to the woods, and seemed to be much in doubt, while the whole band watched his motions in deep silence but evident interest. At length they appeared to agree. The scout took his place at the head of the line, and we resumed our march, keeping close to the margin of the wood. It was perhaps three hours after this ere we again halted to hold another consultation. This time their deliberations were shorter. In a few seconds our chief himself took the lead, and turned into the woods, through which he guided us to a small fountain which bubbled up at the root of a birch tree, where there was a smooth green spot of level ground. Here we halted, and prepared to rest for an hour, at the end of which time the moon, which now shone bright and full in the clear sky, would be nearly down, and we could resume our march. We now sat down in a circle, and taking a hasty mouthful of dried meat, stretched ourselves on the ground with our arms beside us, while our chief kept watch, leaning against the birch tree. It seemed as if I had scarcely been asleep five minutes when I felt a light touch on my shoulder. Springing up, I found the whole party already astir, and in a few minutes more we were again hurrying onwards.

“We travelled thus until a faint light in the east told us that the day was at hand, when the scout’s steps became more cautious, and he paused to examine the ground frequently. At last we came to a place where the ground sank slightly, and at a distance of a hundred yards rose again, forming a low ridge which was crowned with small bushes. Here we came to a halt, and were told that our enemies were on the other side of that ridge; that they were about twenty in number, all Chipewyan warriors, with the exception of one paleface–a trapper, and his Indian wife. The scout had learned, while lying like a snake in the grass around their camp, that this man was merely travelling with them on his way to the Rocky Mountains, and that, as they were a war-party, he intended to leave them soon. On hearing this the warriors gave a grim smile, and our chief, directing the scout to fall behind, cautiously led the way to the top of the ridge. On reaching it we saw a valley of great extent, dotted with trees and shrubs, and watered by one of the many rivers that flow into the great Saskatchewan. It was nearly dark, however, and we could only get an indistinct view of the land. Far ahead of us, on the right bank of the stream, and close to its margin, we saw the faint red light of watch fires; which caused us some surprise, for watch-fires are never lighted by a war-party so near to an enemy’s country. So we could only conjecture that they were quite ignorant of our being in that part of the country; which was, indeed, not unlikely, seeing that we had shifted our camp during the summer.

“Our chief now made arrangements for the attack. We were directed to separate and approach individually as near to the camp as was possible without risk of discovery, and then, taking up an advantageous position, to await our chief’s signal, which was to be the hooting of an owl. We immediately separated. My course lay along the banks of the stream, and as I strode rapidly along, listening to its low solemn murmur, which sounded clear and distinct in the stillness of a calm summer night, I could not help feeling as if it were reproaching me for the bloody work I was hastening to perform. Then the recollection of what the old woman said of me raised a desperate spirit in my heart. Remembering the white feather in my head, I grasped my gun and quickened my pace. As I neared the camp I went into the woods and climbed a low hillock to look out. I found that it still lay about five hundred yards distant, and that the greater part of the ground between it and the place where I stood was quite flat, and without cover of any kind. I therefore prepared to creep towards it, although the attempt was likely to be attended with great danger, for Chipewyans have quick ears and sharp eyes. Observing, however, that the river ran close past the camp, I determined to follow its course as before. In a few seconds more I came to a dark narrow gap where the river flowed between broken rocks, overhung by branches, and from which I could obtain a clear view of the camp within fifty yards of me. Examining the priming of my gun, I sat down on a rock to await the chief’s signal.

“It was evident from the careless manner in which the fires were placed, that no enemy was supposed to be near. From my concealment I could plainly distinguish ten or fifteen of the sleeping forms of our enemies, among which the trapper was conspicuous, from his superior bulk, and the reckless way in which his brawny arms were flung on the turf, while his right hand clutched his rifle. I could not but smile as I thought of the proud boldness of the pale-face–lying all exposed to view in the gray light of dawn while an Indian’s rifle was so close at hand. One Indian kept watch, but he seemed more than half asleep. I had not sat more than a minute when my observations were interrupted by the cracking of a branch in the bushes near me. Starting up, I was about to bound into the underwood, when a figure sprang down the bank and rapidly approached me. My first impulse was to throw forward my gun, but a glance sufficed to show me that it was a woman.

“‘Wah!’ I exclaimed, in surprise, as she hurried forward and laid her hand on my shoulder. She was dressed partly in the costume of the Indians, but wore a shawl on her shoulders and a handkerchief on her head that showed she had been in the settlements; and from the lightness of her skin and hair, I judged at once that she was the trapper’s wife, of whom I had heard the scout speak.

“‘Has the light-hair got a medicine-bag, or does she speak with spirits, that she has found me so easily?’

“The girl looked anxiously up in my face as if to read my thoughts, and then said, in a low voice,–

“‘No, I neither carry the medicine-bag nor hold palaver with spirits; but I do think the good Manito must have led me here. I wandered into the woods because I could not sleep, and I saw you pass. But tell me,’ she added with still deeper anxiety, ‘does the white-feather come alone? Does he approach _friends_ during the dark hours with a soft step like a fox?’

“Feeling the necessity of detaining her until my comrades should have time to surround the camp, I said: ‘The white-feather hunts far from his lands. He sees Indians whom he does not know, and must approach with a light step. Perhaps they are enemies.’

“‘Do Knisteneux hunt at night, prowling in the bed of a stream?’ said the girl, still regarding me with a keen glance. ‘Speak truth, stranger’ (and she started suddenly back); ‘in a moment I can alarm the camp with a cry, and if your tongue is forked–But I do not wish to bring enemies upon you, if they are indeed such. I am not one of them. My husband and I travel with them for a time. We do not desire to see blood. God knows,’ she added in French, which seemed her native tongue, ‘I have seen enough of that already.’

“As her earnest eyes looked into my face a sudden thought occurred to me. ‘Go,’ said I, hastily, ‘tell your husband to leave the camp instantly and meet me here; and see that the Chipewyans do not observe your departure. Quick! his life and yours may depend on your speed.’

“The girl instantly comprehended my meaning. In a moment she sprang up the bank; but as she did so the loud report of a gun was heard, followed by a yell, and the war-whoop of the Knisteneux rent the air as they rushed upon the devoted camp, sending arrows and bullets before them.

“On the instant I sprang after the girl and grasped her by the arm. ‘Stay, white-cheek; it is too late now. You cannot save your husband, but I think he’ll save himself. I saw him dive into the bushes like a cariboo. Hide yourself here; perhaps you may escape.’

“The half-breed girl sank on a fallen tree with a deep groan, and clasped her hands convulsively before her eyes, while I bounded over the tree, intending to join my comrades in pursuing the enemy.

“As I did so a shrill cry arose behind me, and looking back, I beheld the trapper’s wife prostrate on the ground, and Misconna standing over her, his spear uplifted, and a fierce frown on his dark face.

“‘Hold!’ I cried, rushing back and seizing his arm. ‘Misconna did not come to kill _women_. She is not our enemy.’

“‘Does the young wrestler want _another_ wife?’ he said, with a wild laugh, at the same time wrenching his arm from my gripe, and driving his spear through the fleshy part of the woman’s breast and deep into the ground. A shriek rent the air as he drew it out again to repeat the thrust; but before he could do so, I struck him with the butt of my gun on the head. Staggering backwards, he fell heavily among the bushes. At this moment a second whoop rang out, and another of our band sprang from the thicket that surrounded us. Seeing no one but myself and the bleeding girl, he gave me a short glance of surprise, as if he wondered why I did not finish the work which he evidently supposed I had begun.

“‘Wah!’ he exclaimed; and uttering another yell plunged his spear into the woman’s breast, despite my efforts to prevent him–this time with more deadly effect, as the blood spouted from the wound, while she uttered a piercing scream, and twined her arms round my legs as I stood beside her, as if imploring for mercy. Poor girl! I saw that she was past my help. The wound was evidently mortal. Already the signs of death overspread her features, and I felt that a second blow would be one of mercy; so that when the Indian stooped and passed his long knife through her heart, I made but a feeble effort to prevent it. Just as the man rose, with the warm blood dripping from his keen blade, the sharp crack of a rifle was heard, and the Indian fell dead at my feet, shot through the forehead, while the trapper bounded into the open space, his massive frame quivering, and his sunburned face distorted with rage and horror. From the other side of the brake six of our band rushed forward and levelled their guns at him. For one moment the trapper paused to cast a glance at the mangled corpse of his wife, as if to make quite sure that she was dead; and then uttering a howl of despair, he hurled his axe with a giant’s force at the Knisteneux, and disappeared over the precipitous bank of the stream.

“So rapid was the action that the volley which immediately succeeded passed harmlessly over his head, while the Indians dashed forward in pursuit. At the same instant I myself was felled to the earth. The axe which the trapper had flung struck a tree in its flight, and as it glanced off the handle gave me a violent blow in passing. I fell stunned. As I did so my head alighted on the shoulder of the woman, and the last thing I felt, as my wandering senses forsook me, was her still warm blood flowing over my face and neck.

“While this scene was going on, the yells and screams of the warriors in the camp became fainter and fainter as they pursued and fled through the woods. The whole band of Chipewyans was entirely routed, with the exception of four who escaped, and the trapper whose flight I have described; all the rest were slain, and their scalps hung at the belts of the victorious Knisteneux warriors, while only one of our party was killed.

“Not more than a few minutes after receiving the blow that stunned me, I recovered, and rising as hastily as my scattered faculties would permit me, I staggered towards the camp, where I heard the shouts of our men as they collected the arms of their enemies. As I rose, the feather which Wabisca had dropped fell from my brow, and as I picked it up to replace it, I perceived that it was _red_, being entirely covered with the blood of the half-breed girl.

“The place where Misconna had fallen was vacant as I passed, and I found him standing among his comrades round the camp fires, examining the guns and other articles which they had collected. He gave me a short glance of deep hatred as I passed, and turned his head hastily away. A few minutes sufficed to collect the spoils, and so rapidly had everything been done that the light of day was still faint as we silently returned on our track. We marched in the same order as before, Misconna and I bringing up the rear. As we passed near the place where the poor woman had been murdered, I felt a strong desire to return to the spot. I could not very well understand the feeling, but it lay so strong upon me that, when we reached the ridge where we first came in sight of the Chipewyan camp, I fell behind until my companions disappeared in the woods, and then ran swiftly back. Just as I was about to step beyond the circle of bushes that surrounded the spot, I saw that some one was there before me. It was a man, and as he advanced into the open space and the light fell on his face, I saw that it was the trapper. No doubt he had watched us off the ground, and then, when all was safe, returned to bury his wife. I crouched to watch him. Stepping slowly up to the body of his murdered wife, he stood beside it with his arms folded on his breast and quite motionless. His head hung down, for the heart of the white man was heavy, and I could see, as the light increased, that his brows were dark as the thunder-cloud, and the corners of his mouth twitched from a feeling that the Indian scorns to show. My heart is full of sorrow for him now” (Redfeather’s voice sank as he spoke); “it was full of sorrow for him even _then_, when I was taught to think that pity for an enemy was unworthy of a brave. The trapper stood gazing very long. His wife was young; he could not leave her yet. At length a deep groan burst from his heart, as the waters of a great river, long held down, swell up in spring and burst the ice at last. Groan followed groan as the trapper still stood and pressed his arms on his broad breast, as if to crush the heart within. At last he slowly knelt beside her, bending more and more over the lifeless form, until he lay extended on the ground beside it, and twining his arms round the neck, he drew the cold cheek close to his, and pressed the blood- covered bosom tighter and tighter, while his form quivered with agony as he gave her a last, long embrace. Oh!” continued Redfeather, while his brow darkened, and his black eye flashed with an expression of fierceness that his young listeners had never seen before, “may the curse–” He paused. “God forgive them! How could they know better?

“At length the trapper rose hastily. The expression of his brow was still the same, but his mouth was altered. The lips were pressed tightly like those of a brave when led to torture, and there was a fierce activity in his motions as he sprang down the bank and proceeded to dig a hole in the soft earth. For half an hour he laboured, shovelling away the earth with a large, flat stone; and carrying down the body, he buried it there, under the shadow of a willow. The trapper then shouldered his rifle and hurried away. On reaching the turn of the stream which shuts the little hollow out from view, he halted suddenly, gave one look into the prairie he was henceforth to tread alone, one short glance back, and then, raising both arms in the air, looked up into the sky, while he stretched himself to his full height. Even at that distance I could see the wild glare of his eye and the heaving of his breast. A moment after, and he was gone.”

“And did you never see him again?” inquired Harry Somerville, eagerly.

“No, I never saw him more. Immediately afterwards I turned to rejoin my companions, whom I soon overtook, and entered our village along with them. I was regarded as a poor warrior, because I brought home no scalps, and ever afterwards I went by the name of _Redfeather_ in our tribe.”

“But are you still thought a poor warrior?” asked Charley, in some concern, as if he were jealous of the reputation of his new friend.

The Indian smiled. “No,” he said: “our village was twice attacked afterwards, and in defending it, Redfeather took many scalps. He was made a chief!”

“Ah!” cried Charley, “I’m glad of that. And Wabisca, what came of her? Did Misconna get her?”

“She is my wife,” replied Redfeather.

“Your wife! Why, I thought I heard the voyageurs call your wife the white swan.”

“Wabisca is _white_ in the language of the Knisteneux. She is beautiful in form, and my comrades call her the white swan.”

Redfeather said this with an air of gratified pride. He did not, perhaps, love his wife with more fervour than he would have done had he remained with his tribe; but Redfeather had associated a great deal with the traders, and he had imbibed much of that spirit which prompts “_white_ men” to treat their females with deference and respect–a feeling which is very foreign to an Indian’s bosom. To do so was, besides, more congenial to his naturally unselfish and affectionate disposition, so that any flattering allusion to his partner was always received by him with immense gratification.

“I’ll pay you a visit some day, Redfeather, if I’m sent to any place within fifty miles of your tribe,” said Charley with the air of one who had fully made up his mind.

“And Misconna?” asked Harry.

“Misconna is with his tribe,” replied the Indian, and a frown overspread his features as he spoke; “but Redfeather has been following in the track of his white friends; he has not seen his nation for many moons.”

CHAPTER XIII.

The canoe–Ascending the rapids–The portage–Deer shooting and life in the woods.

We must now beg the patient reader to take a leap with us, not only through space, but also through time. We must pass over the events of the remainder of the journey along the shore of Lake Winnipeg. Unwilling though we are to omit anything in the history of our friends that would be likely to prove interesting, we think it wise not to run the risk of being tedious, or of dwelling too minutely on the details of scenes which recall powerfully the feelings and memories of bygone days to the writer, but may, nevertheless, appear somewhat flat to the reader.

We shall not, therefore, enlarge at present on the arrival of the boats at Norway House, which lies at the north end of the lake, nor on what was said and done by our friends and by several other young comrades whom they found there. We shall not speak of the horror of Harry Somerville, and the extreme disappointment of his friend Charley Kennedy, when the former was told that instead of hunting grizzly bears up the Saskatchewan he was condemned to the desk again at York Fort, the depot on Hudson’s Bay,–a low, swampy place near the sea-shore, where the goods for the interior are annually landed and the furs shipped for England, where the greater part of the summer and much of the winter is occupied by the clerks who may be doomed to vegetate there in making up the accounts of what is termed the Northern Department, and where the brigades converge from all the wide scattered and far-distant outposts, and the _ship_ from England– that great event of the year–arrives, keeping the place in a state of constant bustle and effervescence until autumn, when ship and brigades finally depart, leaving the residents (about thirty in number) shut up for eight long, dreary months of winter, with a tenantless wilderness around and behind them, and the wide, cold frozen sea before. This was among the first of Harry’s disappointments. He suffered many afterwards, poor fellow!

Neither shall we accompany Charley up the south branch of the Saskatchewan, where his utmost expectations in the way of hunting were more than realised, and where he became so accustomed to shooting ducks and geese, and bears and buffaloes, that he could not forbear smiling when he chanced to meet with a red-legged gull, and remembered how he and his friend Harry had comported themselves when they first met with these birds on the shores of Lake Winnipeg! We shall pass over all this, and the summer, autumn, and winter too, and leap at once into the spring of the following year.

On a very bright, cheery morning of that spring a canoe might have been seen slowly ascending one of the numerous streams which meander through a richly-wooded fertile country, and mingle their waters with those of the Athabasca River, terminating their united career in a large lake of the same name. The canoe was small–one of the kind used by the natives while engaged in hunting, and capable of holding only two persons conveniently, with their baggage. To any one unacquainted with the nature and capabilities of a northern Indian canoe, the fragile, bright orange-coloured machine that was battling with the strong current of a rapid must indeed have appeared an unsafe and insignificant craft; but a more careful study of its performances in the rapid, and of the immense quantity of miscellaneous goods and chattels which were, at a later period of the day, disgorged from its interior, would have convinced the beholder that it was in truth the most convenient and serviceable craft that could be devised for the exigencies of such a country.

True, it could only hold two men (it _might_ have taken three at a pinch), because men, and women too, are awkward, unyielding baggage, very difficult to stow compactly; but it is otherwise with tractable goods. The canoe is exceedingly thin, so that no space is taken up or rendered useless by its own structure, and there is no end to the amount of blankets, and furs, and coats, and paddles, and tent- covers, and dogs, and babies, that can be stowed away in its capacious interior. The canoe of which we are now writing contained two persons, whose active figures were thrown alternately into every graceful attitude of manly vigour, as with poles in hand they struggled to force their light craft against the boiling stream. One was a man apparently of about forty-five years of age. He was a square-shouldered, muscular man, and from the ruggedness of his general appearance, the soiled hunting-shirt that was strapped round his waist with a party-coloured worsted belt, the leather leggings, a good deal the worse for wear, together with the quiet, self-possessed glance of his gray eye, the compressed lip and the sunburned brow, it was evident that he was a hunter, and one who had seen rough work in his day. The expression of his face was pleasing, despite a look of habitual severity which sat upon it, and a deep scar which traversed his brow from the right temple to the top of his nose. It was difficult to tell to what country he belonged. His father was a Canadian, his mother a Scotchwoman. He was born in Canada, brought up in one of the Yankee settlements on the Missouri, and had, from a mere youth, spent his life as a hunter in the wilderness. He could speak English, French, or Indian with equal ease and fluency, but it would have been hard for anyone to say which of the three was his native tongue. The younger man, who occupied the stern of the canoe, acting the part of steersman, was quite a youth, apparently about seventeen, but tall and stout beyond his years, and deeply sunburned. Indeed, were it not for this fact, the unusual quantity of hair that hung in massive curls down his neck, and the voyageur costume, we should have recognised our young friend Charley Kennedy again more easily. Had any doubts remained in our mind, the shout of his merry voice would have scattered them at once.

“Hold hard, Jacques,” he cried, as the canoe trembled in the current, “one moment, till I get my pole fixed behind this rock. Now, then, shove ahead. Ah!” he exclaimed with chagrin, as the pole slipped on the treacherous bottom and the canoe whirled round.

“Mind the rock,” cried the bowsman, giving an energetic thrust with his pole, that sent the light bark into an eddy formed by a large rock which rose above the turbulent waters. Here it rested while Jacques and Charley raised themselves on their knees (travellers in small canoes always sit in a kneeling position) to survey the rapid.

“It’s too much for us, I fear, Mr. Charles,” said Jacques, shading his brow with his horny hand. “I’ve paddled up it many a time alone, but never saw the water so big as now.”

“Humph! we shall have to make a portage then, I presume. Could we not give it one trial more? I think we might make a dash for the tail of that eddy, and then the stream above seems not quite so strong. Do you think so, Jacques?”

Jacques was not the man to check a daring young spirit. His motto through life had ever been, “Never venture, never win”–a sentiment which his intercourse among fur-traders had taught him to embody in the pithy expression, “Never say die;” so that, although quite satisfied that the thing was impossible, he merely replied to his companion’s speech by an assenting “Ho,” and pushed out again into the stream. An energetic effort enabled them to gain the tail of the eddy spoken of, when Charley’s pole snapped across, and, falling heavily on the gunwale, he would have upset the little craft had not Jacques, whose wits were habitually on the _qui vive_, thrown his own weight at the same moment on the opposite side, and counterbalanced Charley’s slip. The action saved them a ducking; but the canoe, being left to its own devices for an instant, whirled off again into the stream, and before Charley could seize a paddle to prevent it, they were floating in the still water at the foot of the rapids.

“Now isn’t that a bore?” said Charley, with a comical look of disappointment at his companion.

Jacques laughed.

“It was well to _try_, master. I mind a young clerk who came into these parts the same year as I did, and _he_ seldom _tried_ anything. He couldn’t abide canoes. He didn’t want for courage neither; but he had a nat’ral dislike to them, I suppose, that he couldn’t help, and never entered one except when he was obliged to do so. Well, one day he wounded a grizzly bear on the banks o’ the Saskatchewan (mind the tail o’ that rapid, Mr. Charles; we’ll land t’other side o’ yon rock). Well, the bear made after him, and he cut stick right away for the river, where there was a canoe hauled up on the bank. He didn’t take time to put his rifle aboard, but dropped it on the gravel, crammed the canoe into the water and jumped in, almost driving his feet through its bottom as he did so, and then plumped down so suddenly, to prevent its capsizing, that he split it right across. By this time the bear was at his heels, and took the water like a duck. The poor clerk, in his hurry, swayed from side to side tryin’ to prevent the canoe goin’ over. But when he went to one side, he was so unused to it that he went too far, and had to jerk over to the other pretty sharp; and so he got worse and worse, until he heard the bear give a great snort beside him. Then he grabbed the paddle in desperation, but at the first dash he missed his stroke, and over he went. The current was pretty strong at the place, which was lucky for him, for it kept him down a bit, so that the bear didn’t observe him for a little; and while it was pokin’ away at the canoe, he was carried down stream like a log and stranded on a shallow. Jumping up he made tracks for the wood, and the bear (which had found out its mistake), after him; so he was obliged at last to take to a tree, where the beast watched him for a day and a night, till his friends, thinking that something must be wrong, sent out to look for him. (Steady, now, Mr. Charles; a little more to the right. That’s it.) Now, if that young man had only ventured boldly into small canoes when he got the chance, he might have laughed at the grizzly and killed him too.”

As Jacques finished, the canoe glided into a quiet bay formed by an eddy of the rapid, where the still water was overhung with dense foliage.

“Is the portage a long one?” asked Charley, as he stepped out on the bank, and helped to unload the canoe.

“About half-a-mile,” replied his companion. “We might make it shorter by poling up the last rapid; but it’s stiff work, Mr. Charles, and we’ll do the thing quicker and easier at one lift.”

The two travellers now proceeded to make a portage. They prepared to carry their canoe and baggage overland, so as to avoid a succession of rapids and waterfalls which intercepted their further progress.

“Now, Jacques, up with it,” said Charley, after the loading had been taken out and placed on the grassy bank.

The hunter stooped, and seizing the canoe by its centre bar, lifted it out of the water, placed it on his shoulders, and walked off with it into the woods. This was not accomplished by the man’s superior strength. Charley could have done it quite as well; and, indeed, the strong hunter could have carried a canoe twice the size with perfect ease. Immediately afterwards Charley followed with as much of the lading as he could carry, leaving enough on the bank to form another load.

The banks of the river were steep–in some places so much so that Jacques found it a matter of no small difficulty to climb over the broken rocks with the unwieldy canoe on his back; the more so that the branches interlaced overhead so thickly as to present a strong barrier, through which the canoe had to be forced, at the risk of damaging its delicate bark covering. On reaching the comparatively level land above, however, there was more open space, and the hunter threaded his way among the tree stems more rapidly, making a detour occasionally to avoid a swamp or piece of broken ground; sometimes descending a deep gorge formed by a small tributary of the stream they were ascending, and which to an unpractised eye would have appeared almost impassable, even without the encumbrance of a canoe. But the said canoe never bore Jacques more gallantly or safely over the surges of lake or stream than did he bear _it_ through the intricate mazes of the forest; now diving down and disappearing altogether in the umbrageous foliage of a dell; anon reappearing on the other side and scrambling up the bank on all-fours, he and the canoe together looking like some frightful yellow reptile of antediluvian proportions; and then speeding rapidly forward over a level plain until he reached a sheet of still water above the rapids. Here he deposited his burden on the grass, and halting only for a few seconds to carry a few drops of the clear water to his lips, retraced his steps to bring over the remainder of the baggage. Soon afterwards Charley made his appearance on the spot where the canoe was left, and throwing down his load, seated himself on it and surveyed the prospect. Before him lay a reach of the stream which spread out so widely as to resemble a small lake, in whose clear, still bosom were reflected the overhanging foliage of graceful willows, and here and there the bright stem of a silver birch, whose light-green leaves contrasted well with scattered groups and solitary specimens of the spruce fir. Reeds and sedges grew in the water along the banks, rendering the junction of the land and the stream uncertain and confused. All this and a great deal more Charley noted at a glance; for the hundreds of beautiful and interesting objects in nature which take so long to describe even partially, and are feebly set forth after all even by the most graphic language, flash upon the eye in all their force and beauty, and are drunk in at once in a single glance.

But Charley noted several objects floating on the water which we have not yet mentioned. These were five gray geese feeding among the rocks at a considerable distance off, and all unconscious of the presence of a human foe in their remote domains. The travellers had trusted very much to their guns and nets for food, having only a small quantity of pemmican in reserve, lest these should fail–an event which was not at all likely, as the country through which they passed was teeming with wild-fowl of all kinds, besides deer. These latter, however, were only shot when they came inadvertently within rifle range, as our voyageurs had a definite object in view, and could not afford to devote much of their time to the chase.

During the day previous to that on which we have introduced them to our readers, Charley and his companion had been so much occupied in navigating their frail bark among a succession of rapids, that they had not attended to the replenishing of their larder, so that the geese which now showed themselves were looked upon by Charley with a longing eye. Unfortunately they were feeding on the opposite side of the river, and out of shot. But Charley was a hunter now, and knew how to overcome slight difficulties. He first cut down a pretty large and leafy branch of a tree, and placed it in the bow of the canoe in such a way as to hang down before it and form a perfect screen, through the interstices of which he could see the geese, while they could only see, what was to them no novelty, the branch of a tree floating down the stream. Having gently launched the canoe, Charley was soon close to the unsuspecting birds, from among which he selected one that appeared to be unusually complacent and self- satisfied, concluding at once, with an amount of wisdom that bespoke him a true philosopher, that such _must_ as a matter of course be the fattest.

“Bang” went the gun, and immediately the sleek goose turned round upon its back and stretched out its feet towards the sky, waving them once or twice as if bidding adieu to its friends. The others thereupon took to flight, with such a deal of sputter and noise as made it quite apparent that their astonishment was unfeigned. Bang went the gun again, and down fell a second goose.

“Ha!” exclaimed Jacques, throwing down the remainder of the cargo as Charley landed with his booty, “that’s well. I was just thinking as I comed across that we should have to take to pemmican to-night.”

“Well, Jacques, and if we had, I’m sure an old hunter like you, who have roughed it so often, need not complain,” said Charley, smiling.

“As to that, master,” replied Jacques, “I’ve roughed it often enough; and when it does come to a clear fix, I can eat my shoes without grumblin’ as well as any man. But, you see, fresh meat is better than dried meat when it’s to be had; and so I’m glad to see that you’ve been lucky, Mr. Charles.”

“To say truth, so am I; and these fellows are delightfully plump. But you spoke of eating your shoes, Jacques. When were you reduced to that direful extremity?”

Jacques finished reloading the canoe while they conversed, and the two were seated in their places, and quietly but swiftly ascending the stream again, ere the hunter replied.

“You’ve heerd of Sir John Franklin, I s’pose?” he inquired, after a minute’s consideration.

“Yes, often.”

“An’ p’r’aps you’ve heerd tell of his first trip of discovery along the shores of the Polar Sea?”

“Do you refer to the time when he was nearly starved to death, and when poor Hood was shot by the Indian?”

“The same,” said Jacques.

“Oh, yes; I know all about that. Were you with them?” inquired Charley, in great surprise.

“Why, no–not exactly _on_ the trip; but I was sent in winter with provisions to them–and much need they had of them, poor fellows! I found them tearing away at some old parchment skins that had lain under the snow all winter, and that an Injin’s dog would ha’ turned up his nose at–and they don’t turn up their snouts at many things, I can tell ye. Well, after we had left all our provisions with them, we started for the fort again, just keepin’ as much as would drive off starvation; for, you see, we thought that surely we would git something on the road. But neither hoof nor feather did we see all the way (I was travellin’ with an Injin), and our grub was soon done, though we saved it up, and only took a mouthful or two the last three days. At last it was done, and we was pretty well used up, and the fort two days ahead of us. So says I to my comrade–who had been looking at me for some time as if he thought that a cut off my shoulder wouldn’t be a bad thing–says I, ‘Nipitabo, I’m afeard the shoes must go for it now;’ so with that I pulls out a pair o’ deerskin moccasins. ‘They looks tender,’ said I, trying to be cheerful. ‘Wah!’ said the Injin; and then I held them over the fire till they was done black, and Nipitabo ate one, and I ate the tother, with a lump o’ snow to wash it down!”

“It must have been rather dry eating,” said Charley, laughing.

“Rayther; but it was better than the Injin’s leather breeches, which we took in hand next day. They was _uncommon_ tough, and very dirty, havin’ been worn about a year and a half. Hows’ever, they kept us up; an’ as we only ate the legs, he had the benefit o’ the stump to arrive with at the fort next day.”

“What’s yon ahead?” exclaimed Charley, pausing as he spoke, and shading his eyes with his hand.

“It’s uncommon like trees,” said Jacques. “It’s likely a tree that’s been tumbled across the river; and from its appearance, I think we’ll have to cut through it.”

“Cut through it!” exclaimed Charley; “if my sight is worth a gun- flint, we’ll have to cut through a dozen trees.”

Charley was right. The river ahead of them became rapidly narrower; and either from the looseness of the surrounding soil, or the passing of a whirlwind, dozens of trees had been upset, and lay right across the narrow stream in terrible confusion. What made the thing worse was that the banks on either side, which were low and flat, were covered with such a dense thicket down to the water’s edge, that the idea of making a portage to overcome the barrier seemed altogether hopeless.

“Here’s a pretty business, to be sure!” cried Charley, in great disgust.

“Never say die, Mister Charles,” replied Jacques, taking up the axe from the bottom of the canoe; “it’s quite clear that cuttin’ through the trees is easier than cuttin’ through the bushes, so here goes.”

For fully three hours the travellers were engaged in cutting their way up the encumbered stream, during which time they did not advance three miles; and it was evening ere they broke down the last barrier and paddled out into a sheet of clear water again.

“That’ll prepare us for the geese, Jacques,” said Charley, as he wiped the perspiration from his brow; “there’s nothing like warm work for whetting the appetite, and making one sleep soundly.”

“That’s true,” replied the hunter, resuming his paddle. “I often wonder how them white-faced fellows in the settlements manage to keep body and soul together–a-sittin’, as they do, all day in the house, and a-lyin’ all night in a feather bed. For my part, rather than live as they do, I would cut my way up streams like them we’ve just passed every day and all day, and sleep on top of a flat rock o’ nights, under the blue sky, all my life through.”

With this decided expression of his sentiments, the stout hunter steered the canoe up alongside of a huge flat rock, as if he were bent on giving a practical illustration of the latter part of his speech then and there.

“We’d better camp now, Mister Charles; there’s a portage o’ two miles here, and it’ll take us till sundown to get the canoe and things over.”

“Be it so,” said Charley, landing. “Is there a good place at the other end to camp on?”

“First-rate. It’s smooth as a blanket on the turf, and a clear spring bubbling at the root of a wide tree that would keep off the rain if it was to come down like water-spouts.”

The spot on which the travellers encamped that evening overlooked one of those scenes in which vast extent, and rich, soft variety of natural objects, were united with much that was grand and savage. It filled the mind with the calm satisfaction that is experienced when one gazes on the wide lawns studded with noble trees; the spreading fields of waving grain that mingle with stream and copse, rock and dell, vineyard and garden, of the cultivated lands of civilized men; while it produced that exulting throb of freedom which stirs man’s heart to its centre, when he casts a first glance over miles and miles of broad lands that are yet unowned, unclaimed; that yet lie in the unmutilated beauty with which the beneficent Creator originally clothed them–far away from the well-known scenes of man’s checkered history; entirely devoid of those ancient monuments of man’s power and skill that carry the mind back with feelings of awe to bygone ages, yet stamped with evidences of an antiquity more ancient still in the wild primeval forests, and the noble trees that have sprouted, and spread, and towered in their strength for centuries–trees that have fallen at their posts, while others took their place, and rose and fell as they did, like long-lived sentinels whose duty it was to keep perpetual guard over the vast solitudes of the great American Wilderness.

The fire was lighted, and the canoe turned bottom up in front of it, under the branches of a spreading tree which stood on an eminence, whence was obtained a bird’s-eye view of the noble scene. It was a flat valley, on either side of which rose two ranges of hills, which were clothed to the top with trees of various kinds, the plain of the valley itself being dotted with clumps of wood, among which the fresh green foliage of the plane tree and the silver-stemmed birch were conspicuous, giving an airy lightness to the scene and enhancing the picturesque effect of the dark pines. A small stream could be traced winding out and in among clumps of willows, reflecting their drooping boughs and the more sombre branches of the spruce fir and the straight larch, with which in many places its banks were shaded. Here and there were stretches of clearer ground where the green herbage of spring gave to it a lawn-like appearance, and the whole magnificent scene was bounded by blue hills that became fainter as they receded from the eye and mingled at last with the horizon. The sun had just set, and a rich glow of red bathed the whole scene, which was further enlivened by flocks of wild-fowls and herds of reindeer.

These last soon drew Charley’s attention from the contemplation of the scenery, and observing a deer feeding in an open space, towards which he could approach without coming between it and the wind, he ran for his gun and hurried into the woods while Jacques busied himself in arranging their blankets under the upturned canoe, and in preparing supper.

Charley discovered soon after starting, what all hunters discover sooner or later–namely, that appearances are deceitful; for he no sooner reached the foot of the hill than he found, between him and the lawn-like country, an almost impenetrable thicket of underwood. Our young hero, however, was of that disposition which sticks at nothing, and instead of taking time to search for an opening, he took a race and sprang into the middle of it, in hopes of forcing his way through. His hopes were not disappointed. He got through–quite through–and alighted up to the armpits in a swamp, to the infinite consternation of a flock of teal ducks that were slumbering peacefully there with their heads under their wings, and had evidently gone to bed for the night. Fortunately he held his gun above the water and kept his balance, so that he was able to proceed with a dry charge, though with an uncommonly wet skin. Half-an-hour brought Charley within range, and watching patiently until the animal presented his side towards the place of his concealment, he fired and shot it through the heart.

“Well done, Mister Charles,” exclaimed Jacques, as the former staggered into camp with the reindeer on his shoulders. “A fat doe, too.”

“Ay,” said Charley; “but she has cost me a wet skin. So pray, Jacques, rouse up the fire, and let’s have supper as soon as you can.”

Jacques speedily skinned the deer, cut a couple of steaks from its flank, and placing them on wooden spikes, stuck them up to roast, while his young friend put on a dry shirt, and hung his coat before the blaze. The goose which had been shot earlier in the day was also plucked, split open, impaled in the same manner as the steaks, and set up to roast. By this time the shadows of night had deepened, and ere long all was shrouded in gloom, except the circle of ruddy light around the camp fire, in the centre of which Jacques and Charley sat, with the canoe at their backs, knives in their hands, and the two spits, on the top of which smoked their ample supper, planted in the ground before them.

One by one the stars went out, until none were visible except the bright, beautiful morning star, as it rose higher and higher in the eastern sky. One by one the owls and the wolves, ill-omened birds and beasts of night, retired to rest in the dark recesses of the forest. Little by little, the gray dawn overspread the sky, and paled the lustre of the morning star, until it faded away altogether; and then Jacques awoke with a start, and throwing out his arm, brought it accidentally into violent contact with Charley’s nose.

This caused Charley to awake, not only with a start, but also with a roar, which brought them both suddenly into a sitting posture, in which they continued for some time in a state between sleeping and waking, their faces meanwhile expressive of mingled imbecility and extreme surprise. Bursting into a simultaneous laugh, which degenerated into a loud yawn, they sprang up, launched and reloaded their canoe, and resumed their journey.

CHAPTER XIV.

The Indian camp–The new outpost–Charley sent on a mission to the Indians.

In the councils of the fur-traders, on the spring previous to that about which we are now writing, it had been decided to extend their operations a little in the lands that lie in central America, to the north of the Saskatchewan River; and in furtherance of that object, it had been intimated to the chief trader in charge of the district that an expedition should be set on foot, having for its object the examination of a territory into which they had not yet penetrated, and the establishment of an outpost therein. It was, furthermore, ordered that operations should be commenced at once, and that the choice of men to carry out the end in view was graciously left to the chief trader’s well-known sagacity.

Upon receiving this communication, the chief trader selected a gentleman named Mr. Whyte to lead the party; gave him a clerk and five men, provided him with a boat and a large supply of goods necessary for trade, implements requisite for building an establishment, and sent him off with a hearty shake of the hand and a recommendation to “go and prosper.”

Charles Kennedy spent part of the previous year at Rocky Mountain House, where he had shown so much energy in conducting the trade, especially what he called the “rough and tumble” part of it, that he was selected as the clerk to accompany Mr. Whyte to his new ground. After proceeding up many rivers, whose waters had seldom borne the craft of white men, and across innumerable lakes, the party reached a spot that presented so inviting an aspect that it was resolved to pitch their tent there for a time, and, if things in the way of trade and provision looked favourable, establish themselves altogether. The place was situated on the margin of a large lake, whose shores were covered with the most luxuriant verdure, and whose waters teemed with the finest fish, while the air was alive with wild-fowl, and the woods swarming with game. Here Mr. Whyte rested awhile; and having found everything to his satisfaction, he took his axe, selected a green lawn that commanded an extensive view of the lake, and going up to a tall larch, struck the steel into it, and thus put the first touch to an establishment which afterwards went by the name of Stoney Creek.

A solitary Indian, whom they had met with on the way to their new home, had informed them that a large band of Knisteneux had lately migrated to a river about four days’ journey beyond the lake at which they halted; and when the new fort was just beginning to spring up, our friend Charley and the interpreter, Jacques Caradoc, were ordered by Mr. Whyte to make a canoe, and then, embarking in it, to proceed to the Indian camp, to inform the natives of their rare good luck in having a band of white men come to settle near their lands to trade with them. The interpreter and Charley soon found birch bark, pine roots for sewing it, and gum for plastering the seams, wherewith they constructed the light machine whose progress we have partly traced in the last chapter, and which, on the following day at sunset, carried them to their journey’s end.

From some remarks made by the Indian who gave them information of the camp, Charley gathered that it was the tribe to which Redfeather belonged, and furthermore that Redfeather himself was there at the time; so that it was with feelings of no little interest that he saw the tops of the yellow tents embedded among the green trees, and soon afterwards beheld them and their picturesque owners reflected in the clear river, on whose banks the natives crowded to witness the arrival of the white men.

Upon the greensward, and under the umbrageous shade of the forest trees, the tents were pitched to the number of perhaps eighteen or twenty, and the whole population, of whom very few were absent on the present occasion, might number a hundred–men, women, and children. They were dressed in habiliments formed chiefly of materials procured by themselves in the chase, but ornamented with cloth, beads, and silk thread, which showed that they had had intercourse with the fur- traders before now. The men wore leggings of deerskin, which reached more than half-way up the thigh, and were fastened to a leathern girdle strapped round the waist. A loose tunic or hunting-shirt of the same material covered the figure from the shoulders almost to the knees, and was confined round the middle by a belt–in some cases of worsted, in others of leather gaily ornamented with quills. Caps of various indescribable shapes, and made chiefly of skin, with the animal’s tail left on by way of ornament, covered their heads, and moccasins for the feet completed their costume. These last may be simply described as leather mittens for the feet, without fingers, or rather toes. They were gaudily ornamented, as was almost every portion of costume, with porcupines’ quills dyed with brilliant colours, and worked into fanciful, and in many cases extremely elegant, figures and designs; for North American Indians oftentimes display an amount of taste in the harmonious arrangement of colour that would astonish those who fancy that _education_ is absolutely necessary to the just appreciation of the beautiful.

The women attired themselves in leggings and coats differing little from those of the men, except that the latter were longer, the sleeves detached from the body, and fastened on separately; while on their heads they wore caps, which hung down and covered their backs to the waist. These caps were of the simplest construction, being pieces of cloth cut into an oblong shape, and sewed together at one end. They were, however, richly ornamented with silk-work and beads.

On landing, Charley and Jacques walked up to a tall, good-looking Indian, whom they judged from his demeanour, and the somewhat deferential regard paid to him by the others, to be one of the chief men of the little community.

“Ho! what cheer?” said Jacques, taking him by the hand after the manner of Europeans, and accosting him with the phrase used by the fur-traders to the natives. The Indian returned the compliment in kind, and led the visitors to his tent, where he spread a buffalo robe for them on the ground, and begged them to be seated. A repast of dried meat and reindeer-tongues was then served, to which our friends did ample justice; while the women and children satisfied their curiosity by peering at them through chinks and holes in the tent. When they had finished, several of the principal men assembled, and the chief who had entertained them made a speech, to the effect that he was much gratified by the honour done to his people by the visit of his white brothers; that he hoped they would continue long at the camp to enjoy their hospitality; and that he would be glad to know what had brought them so far into the country of the red men.

During the course of this speech the chief made eloquent allusion to all the good qualities supposed to belong to white men in general, and (he had no doubt) to the two white men before him in particular. He also boasted considerably of the prowess and bravery of himself and his tribe, launched a few sarcastic hits at his enemies, and wound up with a poetical hope that his guests might live for ever in these beautiful plains of bliss, where the sun never sets, and nothing goes wrong anywhere, and everything goes right at all times, and where, especially, the deer are outrageously fat, and always come out on purpose to be shot! During the course of these remarks his comrades signified their hearty concurrence to his sentiments, by giving vent to sundry low-toned “hums!” and “has!” and “wahs!” and “hos!” according to circumstances. After it was over Jacques rose, and addressing them in their own language, said,–

“My Indian brethren are great. They are brave, and their fame has travelled far. Their deeds are known even so far as where the Great Salt Lake beats on the shore where the sun rises. They are not women, and when their enemies hear the sound of their name they grow pale; their hearts become like those of the reindeer. My brethren are famous, too, in the use of the snow-shoe, the snare, and the gun. The fur-traders know that they must build large stores when they come into their lands. They bring up much goods, because the young men are active, and require much. The silver fox and the marten are no longer safe when their traps and snares are set. Yes, they are good hunters: and we have now come to live among you” (Jacques changed his style as he came nearer to the point), “to trade with you, and to save you the trouble of making long journeys with your skins. A few days’ distance from your wigwams we have pitched our tents. Our young men are even now felling the trees to build a house. Our nets are set, our hunters are prowling in the woods, our goods are ready, and my young master and I have come to smoke the pipe of friendship with you, and to invite you to come to trade with us.”

Having delivered this oration, Jacques sat down amid deep silence. Other speeches, of a highly satisfactory character, were then made, after which “the house adjourned,” and the visitors, opening one of their packages, distributed a variety of presents to the delighted natives.

Several times during the course of these proceedings, Charley’s eyes wandered among the faces of his entertainers, in the hope of seeing Redfeather among them, but without success; and he began to fear that his friend was not with the tribe.

“I say, Jacques,” he said, as they left the tent, “ask whether a chief called Redfeather is here. I knew him of old, and half expected to find him at this place.”

The Indian to whom Jacques put the question replied that Redfeather was with them, but that he had gone out on a hunting expedition that morning, and might be absent a day or two.

“Ah!” exclaimed Charley, “I’m glad he’s here. Come, now, let us take a walk in the wood; these good people stare at us as if we were ghosts.” And taking Jacques’s arm, he led him beyond the circuit of the camp, turned into a path which, winding among the thick underwood, speedily screened them from view, and led them into a sequestered glade, through which a rivulet trickled along its course, almost hid from view by the dense foliage and long grasses that overhung it.

“What a delightful place to live in!” said Charley. “Do you ever think of building a hut in such a spot as this, Jacques, and settling down altogether?” Charley’s thoughts reverted to his sister Kate when he said this.

“Why, no,” replied Jacques, in a pensive tone, as if the question had aroused some sorrowful recollections; “I can’t say that I’d like to settle here _now_. There was a time when I thought nothin’ could be better than to squat in the woods with one or two jolly comrades, and–“(Jacques sighed); “but times is changed now, master, and so is my mind. My chums are most of them dead or gone one way or other. No; I shouldn’t care to squat alone.”

Charley thought of the hut _without_ Kate, and it seemed so desolate and dreary a dwelling, notwithstanding its beautiful situation, that he agreed with his companion that to “squat” _alone_ would never do at all.

“No, man was not made to live alone,” continued Jacques, pursuing the subject; “even the Injins draw together. I never knew but one as didn’t like his fellows, and he’s gone now, poor fellow. He cut his foot with an axe one day, while fellin’ a tree. It was a bad cut; and havin’ nobody to look after him, he half bled and half starved to death.”

“By the way, Jacques,” said Charley, stepping over the clear brook, and following the track which led up the opposite bank, “what did you say to those red-skins? You made them a most eloquent speech apparently.”

“Why, as to that, I can’t boast much of its eloquence, but I think it was clear enough. I told them that they were a great nation; for you see, Mr. Charles, the red men are just like the white in their fondness for butter; so I gave them some to begin with, though, for the matter o’ that, I’m not overly fond o’ givin’ butter to any man, red or white. But I holds that it’s as well always to fall in with the ways and customs o’ the people a man happens to be among, so long as them ways and customs a’n’t contrary to what’s right. It makes them feel more kindly to you, and don’t raise any onnecessary ill- will. However, the Knisteneux _are_ a brave race; and when I told them that the hearts of their enemies trembled when they heard of them, I told nothing but the truth; for the Chipewyans are a miserable set, and not much given to fighting.”

“Your principles on that point won’t stand much sifting, I fear,” replied Charley: “according to your own showing, you would fall into the Chipewyan’s way of glorifying themselves on account of their bravery, if you chanced to be dwelling among them, and yet you say they are not brave. That would not be sticking to truth, Jacques, would it?”

“Well,” replied Jacques with a smile, “perhaps not exactly, but I’m sure there could be small harm in helping the miserable objects to boast sometimes, for they’ve little else than boasting to comfort them.”

“And yet, Jacques, I cannot help feeling that truth is a grand, a glorious thing, that should not be trifled with even in small matters.”

Jacques opened his eyes a little. “Then do you think, master, that a man should _never_ tell a lie, no matter what fix he may be in?”

“I think not, Jacques.”

The hunter paused a few minutes, and looked as if an unusual train of ideas had been raised in his mind by the turn their conversation had taken. Jacques was a man of no religion, and little morality, beyond what flowed from a naturally kind, candid disposition, and entertained the belief that the _end_, if a good one, always justifies the _means_–a doctrine which, had it been clearly exposed to him in all its bearings and results, would have been spurned by his straightforward nature with the indignant contempt that it merits.

“Mr. Charles,” he said at length, “I once travelled across the plains to the head waters of the Missouri with a party of six trappers. One night we came to a part of the plains which was very much broken up with wood here and there, and bein’ a good place for water we camped. While the other lads were gettin’ ready the supper, I started off to look for a deer, as we had been unlucky that day–we had shot nothin’. Well, about three miles from the camp I came upon a band o’ somewhere about thirty Sieux (ill-looking, sneaking dogs they are, too!), and before I could whistle they rushed upon me, took away my rifle and hunting-knife, and were dancing round me like so many devils. At last a big black-lookin’ thief stepped forward, and said in the Cree language, ‘White men seldom travel through this country alone; where are your comrades?’ Now, thought I, here’s a nice fix! If I pretend not to understand, they’ll send out parties in all directions, and as sure as fate they’ll find my companions in half- an-hour, and butcher them in cold blood (for, you see, we did not expect to find Sieux, or indeed any Injins, in them parts); so I made believe to be very narvous, and tried to tremble all over and look pale. Did you ever try to look pale and frighttened, Mr. Charles?”

“I can’t say that I ever did,” said Charley, laughing.

“You can’t think how troublesome it is,” continued Jacques, with a look of earnest simplicity. “I shook and trembled pretty well, but the more I tried to grow pale, the more I grew red in the face, and when I thought of the six broad-shouldered, raw-boned lads in the camp, and how easy they would have made these jumping villains fly like chaff if they only knew the fix I was in, I gave a frown that had well-nigh showed I was shamming. Hows’ever, what with shakin’ a little more and givin’ one or two most awful groans, I managed to deceive them. Then I said I was hunter to a party of white men that were travellin’ from Red River to St. Louis, with all their goods, and wives, and children, and that they were away in the plains about a league off.

“The big chap looked very hard into my face when I said this, to see if I was telling the truth; and I tried to make my teeth chatter, but it wouldn’t do, so I took to groanin’ very bad instead. But them Sieux are such awful liars nat’rally that they couldn’t understand the signs of truth, even if they saw them. ‘Whitefaced coward,’ said he to me, ‘tell me in what direction your people are.’ At this I made believe not to understand; but the big chap flourished his knife before my face, called me a dog, and told me to point out the direction. I looked as simple as I could and said I would rather not. At this they laughed loudly and then gave a yell, and said if I didn’t show them the direction they would roast me alive. So I pointed towards apart of the plains pretty wide o’ the spot where our camp was. ‘Now lead us to them,’ said the big chap, givin’ me a shove with the butt of his gun; ‘an’ if you have told lies–‘he gave the handle of his scalpin’-knife a slap, as much as to say he’d tickle up my liver with it. Well, away we went in silence, me thinkin’ all the time how I was to get out o’ the scrape. I led them pretty close past our camp, hopin’ that the lads would hear us. I didn’t dare to yell out, as that would have showed them there was somebody within hearin’, and they would have made short work of me. Just as we came near the place where my companions lay, a prairie wolf sprang out from under a bush where it had been sleepin’, so I gave a loud hurrah, and shied my cap at it. Giving a loud growl, the big Injin hit me over the head with his fist, and told me to keep silence. In a few minutes I heard the low, distant howl of a wolf. I recognised the voice of one of my comrades, and knew that they had seen us, and would be on our track soon. Watchin’ my opportunity, and walkin’ for a good bit as if I was awful tired–all but done up–to throw them off their guard, I suddenly tripped up the big chap as he was stepping over a small brook, and dived in among the bushes. In a moment a dozen bullets tore up the bark on the trees about me, and an arrow passed through my hair. The clump of wood into which I had dived was about half-a-mile long; and as I could run well (I’ve found in my experience that white men are more than a match for red-skins at their own work), I was almost out of range by the time I was forced to quit the cover and take to the plain. When the blackguards got out of the cover, too, and saw me cuttin’ ahead like a deer, they gave a yell of disappointment, and sent another shower of arrows and bullets after me, some of which came nearer than was pleasant. I then headed for our camp with the whole pack screechin’ at my heels. ‘Yell away, you stupid sinners,’ thought I; ‘some of you shall pay for your music.’ At that moment an arrow grazed my shoulder, and looking over it, I saw that the black fellow I had pitched into the water was far ahead of the rest, strainin’ after me like mad, and every now and then stopping to try an arrow on me; so I kept a look-out, and when I saw him stop to draw, I stopped too, and dodged, so the arrows passed me, and then we took to our heels again. In this way I ran for dear life till I came up to the cover. As I came close up I saw our six fellows crouchin’ in the bushes, and one o’ them takin’ aim almost straight for my face. ‘Your day’s come at last,’ thought I, looking over my shoulder at the big Injin, who was drawing his bow again. Just then there was a sharp crack heard; a bullet whistled past my ear, and the big fellow fell like a stone, while my comrade stood coolly up to reload his rifle. The Injins, on seein’ this, pulled up in a moment; and our lads stepping forward, delivered a volley that made three more o’ them bite the dust. There would have been six in that fix, but, somehow or other, three of us pitched upon the same man, who was afterwards found with a bullet in each eye, and one through his heart. They didn’t wait for more, but turned about and bolted like the wind. Now, Mr. Charles, if I had told the truth that time, we would have been all killed; and if I had simply said nothin’ to their questions, they would have sent out to scour the country, and have found out the camp for sartin, so that the only way to escape was by tellin’ them a heap o’ downright lies.”

Charley looked very much perplexed at this.

“You have indeed placed me in a difficulty. I know not what I would have done. I don’t know even what I _ought to do_ under these circumstances. Difficulties may perplex me, and the force of circumstances might tempt me to do what I believed to be wrong. I am a sinner, Jacques, like other mortals, I know; but one thing I am quite sure of–namely, that when men speak it should _always_ be truth and _never_ falsehood.”

Jacques looked perplexed too. He was strongly impressed with the necessity of telling falsehoods in the circumstances in which he had been placed, as just related, while at the same time he felt deeply the grandeur and the power of Charley’s last remark.

“I should have been under the sod _now_,” said he, “if I had not told a lie _then_. Is it better to die than to speak falsehood?”

“Some men have thought so,” replied Charley. “I acknowledge the difficulty of _your_ case and of all similar cases. I don’t know what should be done, but I have read of a minister of the gospel whose people were very wicked and would not attend to his instructions, although they could not but respect himself, he was so consistent and Christianlike in his conduct. Persecution arose in the country where he lived, and men and women were cruelly murdered because of their religious belief. For a long time he was left unmolested, but one day a band of soldiers came to his house, and asked him whether he was a Papist or a Protestant (Papist, Jacques, being a man who has sold his liberty in religious matters to the Pope, and a Protestant being one who protests against such an ineffably silly and unmanly state of slavery). Well, his people urged the good old man to say he was a Papist, telling him that he would then be spared to live among them, and preach the true faith for many years perhaps. Now, if there was one thing that this old man would have toiled for and died for, it was that his people should become true Christians–and he told them so; ‘but,’ he added, ‘I will not tell a lie to accomplish that end, my children–no, not even to save my life.’ So he told the soldiers that he was a Protestant, and immediately they carried him away, and he was soon afterwards burned to death.”

“Well,” said Jacques, “_he_ didn’t gain much by sticking to the truth, I think.”

“I’m not so sure of _that_. The story goes on to say that he _rejoiced_ that he had done so, and wouldn’t draw back even when he was in the flames. But the point lies here, Jacques: so deep an impression did the old man’s conduct make on his people, that from that day forward they were noted for their Christian life and conduct. They brought up their children with a deeper reverence for the truth than they would otherwise have done, always bearing in affectionate remembrance, and holding up to them as an example, the unflinching truthfulness of the good old man who was burned in the year of the terrible persecutions; and at last their influence and example had such an effect that the Protestant religion spread like wild-fire, far and wide around them, so that the very thing was accomplished for which the old pastor said he would have died– accomplished, too, very much in consequence of his death, and in a way and to an extent that very likely would not have been the case had he lived and preached among them for a hundred years.”

“I don’t understand it, nohow,” said Jacques; “it seems to me right both ways and wrong both ways, and all upside down every how.”

Charley smiled. “Your remark is about as clear as my head on the subject, Jacques; but I still remain convinced that truth is _right_ and that falsehood is _wrong_, and that we should stick to the first through thick and thin.”

“I s’pose,” remarked the hunter, who had walked along in deep cogitation, for the last five minutes, and had apparently come to some conclusion of profound depth and sagacity–“I s’pose that it’s all human natur’; that some men takes to preachin’ as Injins take to huntin’, and that to understand sich things requires them to begin young,’ and risk their lives in it, as I would in followin’ up a grizzly she-bear with cubs.”

“Yonder is an illustration of one part of your remark. They begin _young_ enough, anyhow,” said Charley, pointing as he spoke to an opening in the bushes, where a particularly small Indian boy stood in the act of discharging an arrow.

The two men halted to watch his movements. According to a common custom among juvenile Indians during the warm months of the year, he was dressed in _nothing_ save a mere rag tied round his waist. His body was very brown, extremely round, fat, and wonderfully diminutive, while his little legs and arms were disproportionately small. He was so young as to be barely able to walk, and yet there he stood, his black eyes glittering with excitement, his tiny bow bent to its utmost, and a blunt-headed arrow about to be discharged at a squirrel, whose flight had been suddenly arrested by the unexpected apparition of Charley and Jacques. As he stood there for a single instant, perfectly motionless, he might have been mistaken for a grotesque statue of an Indian cupid. Taking advantage of the squirrel’s pause the child let fly the arrow, hit it exactly on the point of the nose, and turned it over, dead–a consummation which he greeted with a rapid succession of frightful yells.

“Cleverly done, my lad; you’re a chip of the old block, I see,” said Jacques, patting the child’s head as he passed, and retraced his steps, with Charley, to the Indian camp.

CHAPTER XV.

The feast–Charley makes his first speech in public, and meets with an old friend–An evening in the grass.

Savages, not less than civilized men, are fond of a good dinner. In saying this, we do not expect our reader to be overwhelmed with astonishment. He might have guessed as much; but when we state that savages, upon particular occasions, eat six dinners in one, and make it a point of honour to do so, we apprehend that we have thrown a slightly new light on an old subject. Doubtless there are men in civilised society who would do likewise if they could; but they cannot, fortunately, as great gastronomic powers are dependent on severe, healthful, and prolonged physical exertion. Therefore it is that in England we find men capable only of eating about two dinners at once, and suffering a good deal for it afterwards; while in the backwoods we see men consume a week’s dinners in one, without any evil consequences following the act.

The feast which was given by the Knisteneux in honour of the visit of our two friends was provided on a more moderate scale than usual, in order to accommodate the capacities of the “white men;” three days’ allowance being cooked for each man. (Women are never admitted to the public feasts.) On the day preceding the ceremony, Charley and Jacques had received cards of invitation from the principal chief in the shape of two quills; similar invites being issued at the same time to all the braves. Jacques being accustomed to the doings of the Indians, and aware of the fact that whatever was provided for each man _must_ be eaten before he quitted the scene of operations, advised Charley to eat no breakfast, and to take a good walk as a preparative. Charley had strong faith, however, in his digestive powers, and felt much inclined, when morning came, to satisfy the cravings of his appetite as usual; but Jacques drew such a graphic picture of the work that lay before him, that he forbore to urge the matter, and went off to walk with a light step, and an uncomfortable feeling of vacuity about the region of the stomach.

About noon, the chiefs and braves assembled in an open enclosure situated in an exposed place on the banks of the river, where the proceedings were watched by the women, children, and dogs. The oldest chief sat himself down on the turf at one end of the enclosure, with Jacques Caradoc on his right hand, and next to him Charley Kennedy, who had ornamented himself with a blue stripe painted down the middle of his nose, and a red bar across his chin. Charley’s propensity for fun had led him thus to decorate his face, in spite of his companion’s remonstrances,–urging, by way of excuse, that worthy’s former argument, “that it was well to fall in with the ways o’ the people a man happened to be among, so long as these ways and customs were not contrary to what was right.” Now Charley was sure there was nothing wrong in his painting his nose sky blue, if he thought fit.

Jacques thought it was absurd, and entertained the opinion that it would be more dignified to leave his face “its nat’ral colour.”

Charley didn’t agree with him at all. He thought it would be paying the Indians a high compliment to follow their customs as far as possible, and said that, after all, his blue nose would not be very conspicuous, as he (Jacques) had told him that he would “look blue” at any rate when he saw the quantity of deer’s meat he should have to devour.

Jacques laughed at this, but suggested that the bar across his chin was _red_. Whereupon Charley said that he could easily neutralise that by putting a green star under each eye; and then uttered a fervent wish that his friend Harry Somerville could only see him in that guise. Finding him incorrigible, Jacques, who, notwithstanding his remonstrances, was more than half imbued with Charley’s spirit, gave in, and accompanied him to the feast, himself decorated with the additional ornament of a red night-cap, to whose crown was attached a tuft of white feathers.

A fire burned in the centre of the enclosure, round which the Indians seated themselves according to seniority, and with deep solemnity; for it is a trait in the Indian’s character that all his ceremonies are performed with extreme gravity. Each man brought a dish or platter, and a wooden spoon.

The old chief, whose hair was very gray, and his face covered with old wounds and scars, received either in war or in hunting, having seated himself, allowed a few minutes to elapse in silence, during which the company sat motionless, gazing at their plates as if they half expected them to become converted into beefsteaks. While they were seated thus, another party of Indians, who had been absent on a hunting expedition, strode rapidly but noiselessly into the enclosure, and seated themselves in the circle. One of these passed close to Charley, and in doing so stooped, took his hand, and pressed it. Charley looked up in surprise, and beheld the face of his old friend Redfeather, gazing at him with an expression in which were mingled affection, surprise, and amusement at the peculiar alteration in his visage.

“Redfeather!” exclaimed Charlie, in delight, half rising, but the Indian pressed him down.

“You must not rise,” he whispered, and giving his hand another squeeze, passed round the circle, and took his place directly opposite.

Having continued motionless for five minutes with becoming gravity, the company began operations by proceeding to smoke out of the sacred stem–a ceremony which precedes–all occasions of importance, and is conducted as follows:–The sacred stem is placed on two forked sticks to prevent its touching the ground, as that would be considered a great evil. A stone pipe is then filled with tobacco, by an attendant specially appointed to that office, and affixed to the stem, which is presented to the principal chief. That individual, with a gravity and _hauteur_ that is unsurpassed in the annals of pomposity, receives the pipe in both hands, blows a puff to the east (probably in consequence of its being the quarter whence the sun rises), and thereafter pays a similar mark of attention to the other three points. He then raises the pipe above his head, points and balances it in various directions (for what reason and with what end in view is best known to himself), and replaces it again on the forks. The company meanwhile observe his proceedings with sedate interest, evidently imbued with the idea that they are deriving from the ceremony a vast amount of edification–an idea which is helped out, doubtless, by the appearance of the women and children, who surround the enclosure, and gaze at the proceedings with looks of awe-struck seriousness that is quite solemnizing to behold.