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As he continued to sit in silence, the gaze of affection gradually and slowly changed into a look of intense astonishment as he beheld the gray cat sitting comfortably on the table, and regarding him with a look of complacent interest, as if it thought Harry’s style of addressing it was highly satisfactory–though rather unusual.

“Brute!” exclaimed Harry, springing from his seat and darting towards it. But the cat was too well accustomed to old Mr. Kennedy’s sudden onsets to be easily taken by surprise. With a bound it reached the floor, and took shelter under the bed, whence it was not ejected until Harry, having first thrown his shoes, soap, clothes-brush, and razor-strop at it, besides two or three books and several miscellaneous articles of toilet, at last opened the door (a thing, by the way, that people would do well always to remember before endeavouring to expel a cat from an impregnable position), and drew the bed into the middle of the room. Then, but not till then, it fled, with its back, its tail, its hair, its eyes–in short, its entire body–bristling in rampant indignation. Having dislodged the enemy, Harry replaced the bed, threw off his coat and waistcoat, untied his neckcloth, sat down on his chair again, and fell into a reverie; from which, after half-an-hour, he started, clasped his hands, stamped his foot, glared up at the ceiling, slapped his thigh, and exclaimed, in the voice of a hero, “Yes, I’ll do it, or die!”

CHAPTER XXIX.

The first day at home–A gallop in the prairie, and its consequences.

Next morning, as the quartette were at breakfast, Mr. Kennedy, senior, took occasion to propound to his son the plans he had laid down for them during the next week.

“In the first place, Charley, my boy,” said he, as well as a large mouthful of buffalo steak and potato would permit, “you must drive up to the fort and report yourself. Harry and I will go with you; and after we have paid our respects to old Grant (another cup of tea, Kate, my darling)–you recollect him, Charley, don’t you?”

“Yes, perfectly.”

“Well, then, after we’ve been to see him, we’ll drive down the river, and call on our friends at the mill. Then we’ll look in on the Thomsons; and give a call, in passing, on old Neverin–he’s always out, so he’ll be pleased to hear we were there, and it won’t detain us. Then—“

“But, dear father–excuse my interrupting you–Harry and I are very anxious to spend our first day at home entirely with you and Kate. Don’t you think it would be more pleasant? and then, to-morrow–“

“Now, Charley, this is too bad of you,” said Mr. Kennedy, with a look of affected indignation: “no sooner have you come back than you’re at your old tricks, opposing and thwarting your father’s wishes.”

“Indeed, I do not wish to do so, father,” replied Charley, with a smile; “but I thought that you would like my plan better yourself, and that it would afford us an opportunity of having a good long, satisfactory talk about all that concerns us, past, present, and future.”

“What a daring mind you have, Charley,” said Harry, “to speak of cramming a _satisfactory_ talk of the past, the present, and the future all into _one_ day!”

“Harry will take another cup of tea, Kate,” said Charley, with an arch smile, as he went on,–

“Besides, father, Jacques tells me that he means to go off immediately, to visit a number of his old voyageur friends in the settlement, and I cannot part with him till we have had one more canter together over the prairies. I want to show him to Kate, for he’s a great original.”

“Oh, that _will_ be charming!” cried Kate. “I should like of all things to be introduced to the bold hunter.–Another cup of tea, Mr. S-Harry, I mean?”

Harry started on being thus unexpectedly addressed. “Yes, if you please–that is–thank you–no, my cup’s full already, Kate!”

“Well, well,” broke in Mr. Kennedy, senior, “I see you’re all leagued against me, so I give in. But I shall not accompany you on your ride, as my bones are a little stiffer than they used to be” (the old gentleman sighed heavily), “and riding far knocks me up; but I’ve got business to attend to in my glass house which will occupy me till dinner-time.”

“If the business you speak of,” began Charley, “is not incompatible with a cigar, I shall be happy to–“

“Why, as to that, the business itself has special reference to tobacco, and, in fact, to nothing else; so come along, you young dog,” and the old gentleman’s cheek went into violent convulsions as he rose, put on his cap, with the peak very much over one eye, and went out in company with the young men.

An hour afterwards four horses stood saddled and bridled in front of the house. Three belonged to Mr. Kennedy; the fourth had been borrowed from a neighbour as a mount for Jacques Caradoc. In a few minutes more Harry lifted Kate into the saddle, and having arranged her dress with a deal of unnecessary care, mounted his nag. At the same moment Charley and Jacques vaulted into their saddles, and the whole cavalcade galloped down the avenue that led to the prairie, followed by the admiring gaze of Mr. Kennedy, senior, who stood in the doorway of his mansion, his hands in his vest pockets, his head uncovered, and his happy visage smiling through a cloud of smoke that issued from his lips. He seemed the very personification of jovial good-humour, and what one might suppose Cupid would become were he permitted to grow old, dress recklessly, and take to smoking!

The prairies were bright that morning, and surpassingly beautiful. The grass looked greener than usual, the dew-drops more brilliant as they sparkled on leaf and blade and branch in the rays of an unclouded sun. The turf felt springy, and the horses, which were first-rate animals, seemed to dance over it, scarce crushing the wild-flowers beneath their hoofs, as they galloped lightly on, imbued with the same joyous feeling that filled the hearts of their riders. The plains at this place were more picturesque than in other parts, their uniformity being broken up by numerous clumps of small trees and wild shrubbery, intermingled with lakes and ponds of all sizes, which filled the hollows for miles round–temporary sheets of water these, formed by the melting snow, that told of winter now past and gone. Additional animation and life was given to the scene by flocks of water-fowl, whose busy cry and cackle in the water, or whirring motion in the air, gave such an idea of joyousness in the brute creation as could not but strike a chord of sympathy in the heart of a man, and create a feeling of gratitude to the Maker of man and beast. Although brilliant and warm, the sun, at least during the first part of their ride, was by no means oppressive; so that the equestrians stretched out at full gallop for many miles over the prairie, round the lakes and through the bushes, ere their steeds showed the smallest symptoms of warmth.

During the ride Kate took the lead, with Jacques on her left and Harry on her right, while Charley brought up the rear, and conversed in a loud key with all three. At length Kate began to think it was just possible the horses might be growing wearied with the slapping pace, and checked her steed; but this was not an easy matter, as the horse seemed to hold quite a contrary opinion, and showed a desire not only to continue but to increase its gallop–a propensity that induced Harry to lend his aid by grasping the rein and compelling the animal to walk.

“That’s a spirited horse, Kate,” said Charley, as they ambled along; “have you had him long?”

“No,” replied Kate; “our father purchased him just a week before your arrival, thinking that you would likely want a charger now and then. I have only been on him once before.–Would he make a good buffalo- runner, Jacques?”

“Yes, miss; he would make an uncommon good runner,” answered the hunter, as he regarded the animal with a critical glance–“at least if he don’t shy at a gunshot.”

“I never tried his nerves in that way,” said Kate, with a smile; “perhaps he would shy at _that_. He has a good deal of spirit–oh, I do dislike a lazy horse, and I do delight in a spirited one!” Kate gave her horse a smart cut with the whip, half involuntarily, as she spoke. In a moment it reared almost perpendicularly, and then bounded forward; not, however, before Jacques’s quick eye had observed the danger, and his ever-ready hand arrested its course.

“Have a care, Miss Kate,” he said, in a warning voice, while he gazed in the face of the excited girl with a look of undisguised admiration. “It don’t do to wallop a skittish beast like that.”

“Never fear, Jacques,” she replied, bending forward to pat her charger’s arching neck; “see, he is becoming quite gentle again.”

“If he runs away, Kate, we won’t be able to catch you again, for he’s the best of the four, I think,” said Harry, with an uneasy glance at the animal’s flashing eye and expanded nostrils.

“Ay, it’s as well to keep the whip off him,” said Jacques. “I know’d a young chap once in St. Louis who lost his sweetheart by usin’ his whip too freely.”

“Indeed,” cried Kate, with a merry laugh, as they emerged from one of the numerous thickets and rode out upon the open plain at a foot pace; “how was that, Jacques? Pray tell us the story.”

“As to that, there’s little story about it,” replied the hunter. “You see, Tim Roughead took arter his name, an’ was always doin’ some mischief or other, which more than once nigh cost him his life; for the young trappers that frequent St. Louis are not fellows to stand too much jokin’, I can tell ye. Well, Tim fell in love with a gal there who had jilted about a dozen lads afore; an’ bein’ an oncommon handsome, strappin’ fellow, she encouraged him a good deal. But Tim had a suspicion that Louise was rayther sweet on a young storekeeper’s clerk there; so, bein’ an off-hand sort o’ critter, he went right up to the gal, and says to her, says he, ‘Come, Louise, it’s o’ no use humbuggin’ with _me_ any longer. If you like me, you like me; and if you don’t like me, you don’t. There’s only two ways about it. Now, jist say the word at once, an’ let’s have an end on’t. If you agree, I’ll squat with you in whativer bit o’ the States you like to name; if not, I’ll bid you good-bye this blessed mornin’, an’ make tracks right away for the Rocky Mountains afore sundown. Ay or no, lass: which is’t to be?’

“Poor Louise was taken all aback by this, but she knew well that Tim was a man who never threatened in jest, an’ moreover she wasn’t quite sure o’ the young clerk; so she agreed, an’ Tim went off to settle with her father about the weddin’. Well, the day came, an’ Tim, with a lot o’ his comrades, mounted their horses, and rode off to the bride’s house, which was a mile or two up the river out of the town. Just as they were startin’, Tim’s horse gave a plunge that well-nigh pitched him over its head, an’ Tim came down on him with a cut o’ his heavy whip that sounded like a pistol-shot. The beast was so mad at this that it gave a kind o’ squeal an’ another plunge that burst the girths. Tim brought the whip down on its flank again, which made it shoot forward like an arrow out of a bow, leavin’ poor Tim on the ground. So slick did it fly away that it didn’t even throw him on his back, but let him fall sittin’-wise, saddle and all, plump on the spot where he sprang from. Tim scratched his head an’ grinned like a half-worried rattlesnake as his comrades almost rolled off their saddles with laughin’. But it was no laughin’ job, for poor Tim’s leg was doubled under him, an’ broken across at the thigh. It was long before he was able to go about again, and when he did recover he found that Louise and the young clerk were spliced an’ away to Kentucky.”

“So you see what are the probable consequences, Kate, if you use your whip so obstreperously again,” cried Charley, pressing his horse into a canter.

Just at that moment a rabbit sprang from under a bush and darted away before them. In an instant Harry Somerville gave a wild shout, and set off in pursuit. Whether it was the cry or the sudden flight of Harry’s horse, we cannot tell, but the next instant Kate’s charger performed an indescribable flourish with its hind legs, laid back its ears, took the bit between its teeth, and ran away. Jacques was on its heels instantly, and a few seconds afterwards Charley and Harry joined in the pursuit, but their utmost efforts failed to do more than enable them to keep their ground. Kate’s horse was making for a dense thicket, into which it became evident they must certainly plunge. Harry and her brother trembled when they looked at it and realised her danger; even Jacques’s face showed some symptoms of perturbation for a moment as he glanced before him in indecision. The expression vanished, however, in a few seconds, and his cheerful, self-possessed look returned, as he cried out,–“Pull the left rein hard, Miss Kate; try to edge up the slope.”

Kate heard the advice, and exerting all her strength, succeeded in turning her horse a little to the left, which caused him to ascend a gentle slope, at the top of which part of the thicket lay. She was closely followed by Harry and her brother, who urged their steeds madly forward in the hope of catching her rein, while Jacques diverged a little to the right. By this manoeuvre the latter hoped to gain on the runaway, as the ground along which he rode was comparatively level, with a short but steep ascent at the end of it, while that along which Kate flew like the wind was a regular ascent, that would prove very trying to her horse. At the margin of the thicket grew a row of high bushes, towards which they now galloped with frightful speed. As Kate came up to this natural fence, she observed the trapper approaching on the other side of it. Springing from his jaded steed, without attempting to check its pace, he leaped over the underwood like a stag just as the young girl cleared the bushes at a bound. Grasping the reins and checking the horse violently with one hand, he extended the other to Kate, who leaped unhesitatingly into his arms. At the same instant Charley cleared the bushes, and pulled sharply up; while Harry’s horse, unable, owing to its speed, to take the leap, came crashing through them, and dashed his rider with stunning violence to the ground.

Fortunately no bones were broken, and a draught of clear water, brought by Jacques from a neighbouring pond, speedily restored Harry’s shaken faculties.

“Now, Kate,” said Charley, leading forward the horse which he had ridden, “I have changed saddles, as you see; this horse will suit you better, and I’ll take the shine out of your charger on the way home.”

“Thank you, Charley,” said Kate, with a smile. “I’ve quite recovered from my fright–if, indeed, it is worth calling by that name; but I fear that Harry has–“

“Oh, I’m all right,” cried Harry, advancing as he spoke to assist Kate in mounting. “I am ashamed to think that my wild cry was the cause of all this.”

In another minute they were again in their saddles, and turning their faces homeward, they swept over the plain at a steady gallop, fearing lest their accident should be the means of making Mr. Kennedy wait dinner for them. On arriving, they found the old gentleman engaged in an animated discussion with the cook about laying the table-cloth, which duty he had imposed on himself in Kate’s absence.

“Ah, Kate, my love,” he cried, as they entered, “come here, lass, and mount guard. I’ve almost broke my heart in trying to convince that thick-headed goose that he can’t set the table properly. Take it off my hands, like a good girl.–Charley, my boy, you’ll be pleased to hear that your old friend Redfeather is here.”

“Redfeather, father!” exclaimed Charley, in surprise.

“Yes; he and the parson, from the other end of Lake Winnipeg, arrived an hour ago in a tin kettle, and are now on their way to the upper fort.”

“That is, indeed, pleasant news; but I suspect that it will give much greater pleasure to our friend Jacques, who, I believe, would be glad to lay down his life for him, simply to prove his affection.”

“Well, well,” said the old gentleman, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and refilling it so as to be ready for an after-dinner smoke, “Redfeather has come, and the parson’s come too; and I look upon it as quite miraculous that they have come, considering the _thing_ they came in. What they’ve come for is more than I can tell, but I suppose it’s connected with church affairs.–Now then, Kate, what’s come o’ the dinner, Kate? Stir up that grampus of a cook! I half expect that he has boiled the cat for dinner, in his wrath, for it has been badgering him and me the whole morning.–Hollo, Harry, what’s wrong?”

The last exclamation was in consequence of an expression of pain which crossed Harry’s face for a moment.

“Nothing, nothing,” replied Harry. “I’ve had a fall from my horse, and bruised my arm a little. But I’ll see to it after dinner.”

“That you shall not,” cried Mr Kennedy energetically, dragging his young friend into his bedroom. “Off with your coat, lad. Let’s see it at once. Ay, ay,” he continued, examining Harry’s left arm, which was very much discoloured, and swelled from the elbow to the shoulder, “that’s a severe thump, my boy. But it’s nothing to speak of; only you’ll have to submit to a sling for a day or two,”

“That’s annoying, certainly, but I’m thankful it’s no worse,” remarked Harry, as Mr. Kennedy dressed the arm after his own fashion, and then returned with him to the dining-room.

CHAPTER XXX.

Love–Old Mr. Kennedy puts his foot in it.

One morning, about two weeks after Charley’s arrival at Red River, Harry Somerville found himself alone in Mr. Kennedy’s parlour. The old gentleman himself had just galloped away in the direction of the lower fort, to visit Charley, who was now formally installed there; Kate was busy in the kitchen giving directions about dinner; and Jacques was away with Redfeather, visiting his numerous friends in the settlement: so that, for the first time since his arrival, Harry found himself at the hour of ten in the morning utterly lone, and with nothing very definite to do. Of course, the two weeks that had elapsed were not without their signs and symptoms, their minor accidents and incidents, in regard to the subject that filled his thoughts. Harry had fifty times been tossed alternately from the height of hope to the depth of despair, from the extreme of felicity to the uttermost verge of sorrow, and he began seriously to reflect, when he remembered his desperate resolution on the first night of his arrival, that if he did not “do” he certainly would “die.” This was quite a mistake, however, on Harry’s part. Nobody ever did _die_ of unrequited love. Doubtless many people have hanged, drowned, and shot themselves because of it; but, generally speaking, if the patient can be kept from maltreating himself long enough, time will prove to be an infallible remedy. O youthful reader, lay this to heart: but pshaw! why do I waste ink on so hopeless a task? _Every_ one, we suppose, resolves once in a way to _die_ of love; so–die away, my young friends, only make sure that you don’t _kill_ yourselves, and I’ve no fear of the result.

But to return. Kate, likewise, was similarly affected. She behaved like a perfect maniac–mentally, that is–and plunged herself, metaphorically, into such a succession of hot and cold baths, that it was quite a marvel how her spiritual constitution could stand it.

But we were wrong in saying that Harry was _alone_ in the parlour. The gray cat was there. On a chair before the fire it sat, looking dishevelled and somewhat _blase,_ in consequence of the ill-treatment and worry to which it was continually subjected. After looking out of the window for a short time, Harry rose, and sitting down on a chair beside the cat, patted its head–a mark of attention it was evidently not averse to, but which it received, nevertheless, with marked suspicion, and some indications of being in a condition of armed neutrality. Just then the door opened, and Kate entered.

“Excuse me, Harry, for leaving you alone,” she said, “but I had to attend to several household matters. Do you feel inclined for a walk?”

“I do indeed,” replied Harry; “it is a charming day, and I am exceedingly anxious to see the bower that you have spoken to me about once or twice, and which Charley told me of long before I came here.”

“Oh, I shall take you to it with pleasure,” replied Kate; “my dear father often goes there with me to smoke. If you will wait for two minutes I’ll put on my bonnet,” and she hastened to prepare herself for the walk, leaving Harry to caress the cat, which he did so energetically, when he thought of its young mistress, that it instantly declared war, and sprang from the chair with a remonstrative yell.

On their way down to the bower, which was situated in a picturesque, retired spot on the river’s bank about a mile below the house, Harry and Kate tried to converse on ordinary topics, but without success, and were at last almost reduced to silence. One subject alone filled their minds; all others were flat. Being sunk, as it were, in an ocean of love, they no sooner opened their lips to speak, than the waters rushed in, as a natural consequence, and nearly choked them. Had they but opened their mouths wide and boldly, they would have been pleasantly drowned together; but as it was, they lacked the requisite courage, and were fain to content themselves with an occasional frantic struggle to the surface, where they gasped a few words of uninteresting air, and sank again instantly.

On arriving at the bower, however, and sitting down, Harry plucked up heart, and, heaving a deep sigh, said–

“Kate, there is a subject about which I have long desired to speak to you-“

Long as he had been desiring it, however, Kate thought it must have been nothing compared with the time that elapsed ere he said anything else; so she bent over a flower which she held in her hand, and said in a low voice, “Indeed, Harry, what is it?”

Harry was desperate now. His usually flexible tongue was stiff as stone and dry as a bit of leather. He could no more give utterance to an intelligible idea than he could change himself into Mr. Kennedy’s gray cat–a change that he would not have been unwilling to make at that moment. At last he seized his companion’s hand, and exclaimed, with a burst of emotion that quite startled her,–

“Kate, Kate! O dearest Kate, I love you! I _adore_ you! I–“

At this point poor Harry’s powers of speech again failed; so being utterly unable to express another idea, he suddenly threw his arms round her, and pressed her fervently to his bosom.

Kate was taken quite aback by this summary method of coming to the point. Repulsing him energetically, she exclaimed, while she blushed crimson. “O Harry–Mr Somerville!” and burst into tears.

Poor Harry stood before her for a moment, his head hanging down, and a deep blush of shame on his face.

“O Kate,” said he, in a deep tremulous voice, “forgive me; do–do forgive me! I knew not what I said. I scarce knew what I did” (here he seized her hand). “I know but one thing, Kate, and tell it you _will,_ if it should cost me my life. I love you, Kate, to distraction, and I wish you to be my wife. I have been rude, very rude. Can you forgive me, Kate?”

Now, this latter part of Harry’s speech was particularly comical, the comicality of it lying in this, that while he spoke, he drew Kate gradually towards him, and at the very time when he gave utterance to the penitential remorse for his rudeness, Kate was infolded in a much more vigorous embrace than at the first; and what is more remarkable still, she laid her little head quietly on his shoulder, as if she had quite changed her mind in regard to what was and what was not rude, and rather enjoyed it than otherwise.

While the lovers stood in this interesting position, it became apparent to Harry’s olfactory nerves that the atmosphere was impregnated with tobacco smoke. Looking hastily up, he beheld an apparition that tended somewhat to increase the confusion of his faculties.

In the opening of the bower stood Mr. Kennedy, senior, in a state of inexpressible amazement. We say inexpressible advisedly, because the extreme pitch of feeling which Mr. Kennedy experienced at what he beheld before him cannot possibly be expressed by human visage. As far as the countenance of man could do it, however, we believe the old gentleman’s came pretty near the mark on this occasion. His hands were in his coat pockets, his body bent a little forward, his head and neck outstretched a little beyond it, his eyes almost starting from the sockets, and certainly the most prominent feature in his face: his teeth firmly clinched on his beloved pipe, and his lips expelling a multitude of little clouds so vigorously that one might have taken him for a sort of self-acting intelligent steam-gun that had resolved utterly to annihilate Kate and Harry at short range in the course of two minutes.

When Kate saw her father she uttered a slight scream, covered her face with her hands, rushed from the bower, and disappeared in the wood.

“So, young gentleman,” began Mr. Kennedy, in a slow, deliberate tone of voice, while he removed the pipe from his mouth, clinched his fist, and confronted Harry, “you’ve been invited to my house as a guest, sir, and you seize the opportunity basely to insult my daughter!”

“Stay, stay, my dear sir,” interrupted Harry, laying his hand on the old man’s shoulder and gazing earnestly into his face. “Oh, do not, even for a moment, imagine that I could be so base as to trifle with the affections of your daughter. I may have been presumptuous, hasty, foolish, mad if you will, but not base. God forbid that I should treat her with disrespect, even in thought! I love her, Mr. Kennedy, as I never loved before. I have asked her to be my wife, and–she–“

“Whew!” whistled old Mr. Kennedy, replacing his pipe between his teeth, gazing abstractedly at the ground, and emitting clouds innumerable. After standing thus a few seconds, he turned his back slowly upon Harry, and smiled outrageously once or twice, winking at the same time, after his own fashion, at the river. Turning abruptly round, he regarded Harry with a look of affected dignity, and said, “Pray, sir, what did my daughter say to your very peculiar proposal?”

“She said ye–ah! that is–she didn’t exactly _say_ anything, but she–indeed I–“

“Humph!” ejaculated the old gentleman, deepening his frown as he regarded his young friend through the smoke. “In short, she said nothing, I suppose, but led you to infer, perhaps, that she would have said yes if I hadn’t interrupted you.”

Harry blushed, and said nothing.

“Now, sir,” continued Mr, Kennedy, “don’t you think that it would have been a polite piece of attention on your part to have asked _my_ permission before you addressed my daughter on such a subject, eh?”

“Indeed,” said Harry, “I acknowledge that I have been hasty, but I must disclaim the charge of disrespect to you, sir. I had no intention whatever of broaching the subject to-day, but my feelings, unhappily, carried me away, and–and–in fact–“

“Well, well, sir,” interrupted Mr. Kennedy, with a look of offended dignity, “your feelings ought to be kept more under control. But come, sir, to my house. I must talk further with you on this subject. I must read you a lesson, sir–a lesson, humph! that you won’t forget in a hurry.”

“But, my dear sir–” began Harry.

“No more, sir–no more at present,” cried the old gentleman, smoking violently as he pointed to the footpath that led to the house, “Lead the way, sir; I’ll follow.”

The footpath, although wide enough to allow Kate and Harry to walk, beside each other, did not permit of two gentlemen doing so conveniently–a circumstance which proved a great relief to Mr. Kennedy, inasmuch as it enabled him, while walking behind his companion, to wink convulsively, smoke furiously, and punch his own ribs severely, by way of opening a few safety-valves to his glee, without which there is no saying what might have happened. He was nearly caught in these eccentricities more than once, however, as Harry turned half round with the intention of again attempting to exculpate himself–attempts which were as often met by a sudden start, a fierce frown, a burst of smoke, and a command to “go on.” On approaching the house, the track became a broad road, affording Mr. Kennedy no excuse for walking in the rear, so that he was under the necessity of laying violent restraint on his feelings–a restraint which it was evident could not last long. At that moment, to his great relief, his eye suddenly fell on the gray cat, which happened to be reposing innocently on the doorstep.

“_That’s_ it! there’s the whole cause of it at last!” cried Mr. Kennedy, in a perfect paroxysm of excitement, flinging his pipe violently at the unoffending victim as he rushed towards it. The pipe missed the cat, but went with a sharp crash through the parlour window, at which Charley was seated, while his father darted through the doorway, along the passage, and into the kitchen. Here the cat, having first capsized a pyramid of pans and kettles in its consternation, took refuge in an absolutely unassailable position. Seeing this, Mr. Kennedy violently discharged a pailful of water at the spot, strode rapidly to his own apartment, and locked himself in.

“Dear me, Harry, what’s wrong? my father seems unusually excited,” said Charley, in some astonishment, as Harry entered the room, and flung himself on a chair with a look of chagrin.

“It’s difficult to say, Charley; the fact is, I’ve asked your sister Kate to be my wife, and your father seems to have gone mad with indignation.”

“Asked Kate to be your wife!” cried Charley, starting up, and regarding his friend with a look of amazement.

“Yes, I have,” replied Harry, with an air of offended dignity. “I know very well that I am unworthy of her, but I see no reason why you and your father should take such pains to make me feel it.”

“Unworthy of her, my dear fellow!” exclaimed Charley, grasping his hand and wringing it violently; “no doubt you are, and so is everybody, but you shall have her for all that, my boy. But tell me, Harry, have you spoken to Kate herself?”

“Yes, I have.”

“And does she agree?”

“Well, I think I may say she does.”

“Have you told my father that she does?”

“Why, as to that,” said Harry, with a perplexed smile, “he didn’t need to be told; he made _himself_ pretty well aware of the facts of the case.”

“Ah! I’ll soon settle _him_,” cried Charley. “Keep your mind easy, old fellow; I’ll very soon bring him round.” With this assurance, Charley gave his friend’s hand another shake that nearly wrenched the arm from his shoulder, and hastened out of the room in search of his refractory father.

CHAPTER XXXI.

The course of true love, curiously enough, runs smooth for once; and the curtain falls.

Time rolled on, and with it the sunbeams of summer went–the snowflakes of winter came. Needles of ice began to shoot across the surface of Red River, and gradually narrowed its bed. Crystalline trees formed upon the window-panes. Icicles depended from the eaves of the houses. Snow fell in abundance on the plains; liquid nature began rapidly to solidify, and not many weeks after the first frost made its appearance everything was (as the settlers expressed it) “hard and fast.”

Mr. Kennedy, senior, was in his parlour, with his back to a blazing wood-fire that seemed large enough to roast an ox whole. He was standing, moreover, in a semi-picturesque attitude, with his right hand in his breeches pocket and his left arm round Kate’s waist. Kate was dressed in a gown that rivalled the snow itself in whiteness. One little gold clasp shone in her bosom; it was the only ornament she wore. Mr. Kennedy, too, had somewhat altered his style of costume. He wore a sky-blue, swallow-tailed coat, whose maker had flourished in London half-a-century before. It had a velvet collar about five inches deep, fitted uncommonly tight to the figure, and had a pair of bright brass buttons, very close together, situated half-a-foot above the wearer’s natural waist. Besides this, he had on a canary-coloured vest, and a pair of white duck trousers, in the fob of which _evidently_ reposed an immense gold watch of the olden time, with a bunch of seals that would have served very well as an anchor for a small boat. Although the dress was, on the whole, slightly comical, its owner, with his full, fat, broad figure, looked remarkably well in it, nevertheless.

It was Kate’s marriage-day, or rather marriage-evening; for the sun had set two hours ago, and the moon was now sailing in the frosty sky, its pale rays causing the whole country to shine with a clear, cold, silvery whiteness.

The old gentleman had been for some time gazing in silent admiration on the fair brow and clustering ringlets of his daughter, when it suddenly occurred to him that the company would arrive in half-an- hour, and there were several things still to be attended to.

“Hello, Kate!” he exclaimed, with a start, “we’re forgetting ourselves. The candles are yet to light, and lots of other things to do.” Saying this, he began to bustle about the room in a state of considerable agitation.

“Oh, don’t worry yourself, dear father!” cried Kate, running after him and catching him by the hand. “Miss Cookumwell and good Mrs. Taddipopple are arranging everything about tea and supper in the kitchen, and Tom Whyte has been kindly sent to us by Mr. Grant, with orders to make himself generally useful, so _he_ can light the candles in a few minutes, and you’ve nothing to do but to kiss me and receive the company.” Kate pulled her father gently towards the fire again, and replaced his arm round her waist.

“Receive company! Ah, Kate, my love, that’s just what I know nothing about. If they’d let me receive them in my own way, I’d do it well enough; but that abominable Mrs. Taddi-what’s her name-has quite addled my brains and driven me distracted with trying to get me to understand what she calls _etiquette_.”

Kate laughed, and said she didn’t care _how_ he received them, as she was quite sure that, whichever way he did it, he would do it pleasantly and well.

At that moment the door opened, and Tom Whyte entered. He was thinner, if possible, than he used to be, and considerably stiffer, and more upright.

“Please, sir,” said he, with a motion that made you expect to hear his back creak (it was intended for a bow)–“please, sir, can I do hanythink for yer?”

“Yes, Tom, you can,” replied Mr. Kennedy. “Light these candles, my man, and then go to the stable and see that everything there is arranged for putting up the horses. It will be pretty full to-night, Tom, and will require some management. Then, let me see–ah yes, bring me my pipe, Tom, my big meerschaum.–I’ll sport that to-night in honour of you, Kate.”

“Please, sir,” began Tom, with a slightly disconcerted air, “I’m afeared, sir, that–um–“

“Well, Tom, what would you say? Go on.”

“The pipe, sir,” said Tom, growing still more disconcerted–“says I to cook, says I, ‘Cook, wot’s been an’ done it, d’ye think?’ ‘Dun know, Tom,’ says he, ‘but it’s smashed, that’s sartin. I think the gray cat–‘”

“What!” cried the old trader, in a voice of thunder, while a frown of the most portentous ferocity darkened his brow for an instant. It was only for an instant, however. Clearing his brow quickly, he said with a smile, “But it’s your wedding-day, Kate, my darling. It won’t do to blow up anybody to-day, not even the cat.–There, be off, Tom, and see to things. Look sharp! I hear sleigh-bells already.”

As he spoke Tom vanished perpendicularly, Kate hastened to her room, and the old gentleman himself went to the front door to receive his guests.

The night was of that intensely calm and still character that invariably accompanies intense frost, so that the merry jingle of the sleigh-bells that struck on Mr. Kennedy’s listening ear continued to sound, and grow louder as they drew near, for a considerable time ere the visitors arrived. Presently the dull, soft tramp of horses’ hoofs was heard in the snow, and a well-known voice shouted out lustily, “Now then, Mactavish, keep to the left. Doesn’t the road take a turn there? Mind the gap in the fence. That’s old Kennedy’s only fault. He’d rather risk breaking his friends’ necks than mend his fences!”

“All right, here we are,” cried Mactavish, as the next instant two sleighs emerged out of the avenue into the moonlit space in front of the house, and dashed up to the door amid an immense noise and clatter of bells, harness, hoofs, snorting, and salutations.

“Ah, Grant, my dear fellow!” cried Mr. Kennedy, springing to the sleigh and seizing his friend by the hand as he dragged him out. “This is kind of you to come early. And Mrs. Grant, too. Take care, my dear madam, step clear of the haps; now, then–cleverly done” (as Mrs. Grant tumbled into his arms in a confused heap). “Come along now; there’s a capital fire in here.–Don’t mind the horses, Mactavish–follow us, my lad; Tom Whyte will attend to them.”

Uttering such disjointed remarks, Mr. Kennedy led Mrs. Grant into the house, and made her over to Mrs. Taddipopple, who hurried her away to an inner apartment, while Mr. Kennedy conducted her spouse, along with Mactavish and our friend the head clerk at Fort Garry, into the parlour.

“Harry, my dear fellow, I wish you joy,” cried Mr. Grant, as the former grasped his hand. “Lucky dog you are. Where’s Kate, eh? Not visible yet, I suppose.”

“No, not till the parson comes,” interrupted Mr. Kennedy, convulsing his left cheek.–“Hollo, Charley, where are you? Ah! bring the cigars, Charley.–Sit down, gentlemen; make yourselves at home–I say, Mrs. Taddi–Taddi–oh, botheration–popple! that’s it–your name, madam, is a puzzler-but-we’ll need more chairs, I think. Fetch one or two, like a dear!”

As he spoke the jingle of bells was heard outside, and Mr. Kennedy rushed to the door again.

“Good-evening, Mr. Addison,” said he, taking that gentleman warmly by the hand as he resigned the reins to Tom Whyte. “I am delighted to see you, sir (Look after the minister’s mare, Tom), glad to see you, my dear sir. Some of my friends have come already. This way, Mr, Addison.”

The worthy clergyman responded to Mr. Kennedy’s greeting in his own hearty manner, and followed him into the parlour, where the guests now began to assemble rapidly.

“Father,” cried Charley, catching his sire by the arm, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, but you dance about like a will-o’-the- wisp. Do you know I’ve invited my friends Jacques and Redfeather to come to-night, and also Louis Peltier, the guide with whom I made my first trip. You recollect him, father?”

“Ay, that do I, lad, and happy shall I be to see three such worthy men under my roof as guests on this night.”

“Yes, yes, I know that, father; but I don’t see them here. Have they come yet?”

“Can’t say, boy. By the way, Pastor Conway is also coming, so we’ll have a meeting between an Episcopalian and a Wesleyan. I sincerely trust that they won’t fight!” As he said this the old gentleman grinned and threw his cheek into convulsions–an expression which was suddenly changed into one of confusion when he observed that Mr. Addison was standing close beside him, and had heard the remark.

“Don’t blush, my dear sir,” said Mr. Addison, with a quiet smile, as he patted his friend on the shoulder. “You have too much reason, I am sorry to say, for expecting that clergymen of different denominations should look coldly on each other. There is far too much of this indifference and distrust among those who labour in different parts of the Lord’s vineyard. But I trust you will find that my sympathies extend a little beyond the circle of my own particular body. Indeed, Mr. Conway is a particular friend of mine; so I assure you we won’t fight.”

“Right, right” cried Mr. Kennedy, giving the clergy man an energetic grasp of the hand; “I like to hear you speak that way. I must confess that I’ve been a good deal surprised to observe, by what one reads in the old-country newspapers, as well as by what one sees even hereaway in the backwood settlements, how little interest clergymen show in the doings of those who don’t happen to belong to their own particular sect; just as if a soul saved through the means of an Episcopalian was not of as much value as one saved by a Wesleyan, or a Presbyterian, or a Dissenter. Why, sir, it seems to me just as mean-spirited and selfish as if one of our chief factors was so entirely taken up with the doings and success of his own particular district that he didn’t care a gun-flint for any other district in the Company’s service.”

There was at least one man listening to these remarks whose naturally logical and liberal mind fully agreed with them. This was Jacques Caradoc, who had entered the room a few minutes before, in company with his friend Redfeather and Louis Peltier.

“Right, sir! That’s fact, straight up and down,” said he, in an approving tone.

“Ha! Jacques, my good fellow, is that you?–Redfeather, my friend, how are you?” said Mr. Kennedy, turning round and grasping a hand of each.–“Sit down there, Louis, beside Mrs. Taddi–eh?–ah!–popple.– Mr. Addison, this is Jacques Caradoc, the best and stoutest hunter between Hudson’s Bay and Oregon.”

Jacques smiled and bowed modestly as Mr. Addison shook his hand. The worthy hunter did indeed at that moment look as if he fully merited Mr. Kennedy’s eulogium. Instead of endeavouring to ape the gentleman, as many men in his rank of life would have been likely to do on an occasion like this, Jacques had not altered his costume a hair- breadth from what it usually was, excepting that some parts of it were quite new, and all of it faultlessly clean. He wore the usual capote, but it was his best one, and had been washed for the occasion. The scarlet belt and blue leggings were also as bright in colour as if they had been put on for the first time; and the moccasins, which fitted closely to his well-formed feet, were of the cleanest and brightest yellow leather, ornamented, as usual, in front. The collar of his blue-striped shirt was folded back a little more carefully than usual, exposing his sun-burned and muscular throat. In fact, he wanted nothing, save the hunting-knife, the rifle, and the powder-horn, to constitute him a perfect specimen of a thorough backwoodsman.

Redfeather and Louis were similarly costumed, and a noble trio they looked as they sat modestly in a corner, talking to each other in whispers, and endeavouring, as much as possible, to curtail their colossal proportions.

“Now, Harry,” said Mr. Kennedy, in a hoarse whisper, at the same time winking vehemently, “we’re about ready, lad. Where’s Kate, eh? shall we send for her?”

Harry blushed, and stammered out something that was wholly unintelligible, but which, nevertheless, seemed to afford infinite delight to the old gentleman, who chuckled and winked tremendously, gave his son-in-law a facetious poke in the ribs, and turning abruptly to Miss Cookumwell, said to that lady, “Now, Miss Cookumpopple, we’re all ready. They seem to have had enough tea and trash; you’d better be looking after Kate, I think.”

Miss Cookumwell smiled, rose, and left the room to obey; Mrs. Taddipopple followed to help, and soon returned with Kate, whom they delivered up to her father at the door. Mr. Kennedy led her to the upper end of the room; Harry Somerville stood by her side, as if by magic; Mr. Addison dropped opportunely before them, as if from the clouds; there was an extraordinary and abrupt pause in the hum of conversation, and ere Kate was well aware of what was about to happen, she felt herself suddenly embraced by her husband, from whom she was thereafter violently torn and all but smothered by her sympathising friends.

Poor Kate! she had gone through the ceremony almost mechanically– recklessly, we might be justified in saying; for not having raised her eyes off the floor from its commencement to its close, the man whom she accepted for better or for worse might have been Jacques or Redfeather for all that she knew.

Immediately after this there was heard the sound of a fiddle, and an old Canadian was led to the upper end of the room, placed on a chair, and hoisted, by the powerful arms of Jacques and Louis, upon a table. In this conspicuous position the old man seemed to be quite at his ease. He spent a few minutes in bringing his instrument into perfect tune; then looking round with a mild, patronising glance to see that the dancers were ready, he suddenly struck up a Scotch reel with an amount of energy, precision, and spirit that might have shot a pang of jealousy through the heart of Neil Gow himself. The noise that instantly commenced, and was kept up from that moment, with but few intervals, during the whole evening, was of a kind that is never heard in fashionable drawing-rooms. Dancing in the backwood settlements _is_ dancing. It is not walking; it is not sailing; it is not undulating; it is not sliding; no, it is _bona-fide_ dancing! It is the performance of intricate evolutions with the feet and legs that make one wink to look at; performed in good time too, and by people who look upon _all_ their muscles as being useful machines, not merely things of which a select few, that cannot be dispensed with, are brought into daily operation. Consequently the thing was done with an amount of vigour that was conducive to the health of performers, and productive of satisfaction to the eyes of beholders. When the evening wore on apace, however, and Jacques’s modesty was so far overcome as to induce him to engage in a reel, along with his friend Louis Peltier, and two bouncing young ladies whose father had driven them twenty miles over the plains that day in order to attend the wedding of their dear friend and former playmate, Kate–when these four stood up, we say, and the fiddler played more energetically than ever, and the stout backwoodsmen began to warm and grow vigorous, until, in the midst of their tremendous leaps and rapid but well-timed motions, they looked like very giants amid their brethren, then it was that Harry, as he felt Kate’s little hand pressing his arm, and observed her sparkling eyes gazing at the dancers in genuine admiration, began at last firmly to believe that the whole thing was a dream; and then it was that old Mr. Kennedy rejoiced to think that the house had been built under his own special directions, and he knew that it could not by any possibility be shaken to pieces.

And well might Harry imagine that he dreamed; for besides the bewildering tendency of the almost too-good-to-be-true fact that Kate was really Mrs. Harry Somerville, the scene before him was a particularly odd and perplexing mixture of widely different elements, suggestive of new and old associations. The company was miscellaneous. There were retired old traders, whose lives from boyhood had been spent in danger, solitude, wild scenes and adventures, to which those of Robinson Crusoe are mere child’s play. There were young girls, the daughters of these men, who had received good educations in the Red River academy, and a certain degree of polish which education always gives; a very _different_ polish, indeed, from that which the conventionalities and refinements of the Old World bestow, but not the less agreeable on that account–nay, we might even venture to say, all the _more_ agreeable on that account. There were Red Indians and clergymen; there were one or two ladies of a doubtful age, who had come out from the old country to live there, having found it no easy matter, poor things, to live at home; there were matrons whose absolute silence on every subject save “yes” or “no” showed that they had not been subjected to the refining influences of the academy, but whose hearty smiles and laughs of genuine good-nature proved that the storing of the brain has, after all, _very_ little to do with the best and deepest feelings of the heart. There were the tones of Scotch reels sounding–tones that brought Scotland vividly before the very eyes; and there were Canadian hunters and half-breed voyageurs, whose moccasins were more accustomed to the turf of the woods than the boards of a drawing- room, and whose speech and accents made Scotland vanish away altogether from the memory. There were old people and young folk; there were fat and lean, short and long. There were songs too– ballads of England, pathetic songs of Scotland, alternating with the French ditties of Canada, and the sweet, inexpressibly plaintive canoe-songs of the voyageur. There were strong contrasts in dress also: some wore the home-spun trousers of the settlement, a few the ornamented leggings of the hunter. Capotes were there–loose, flowing, and picturesque; and broad-cloth tail-coats were there, of the last century, tight-fitting, angular–in a word, detestable; verifying the truth of the proverb that extremes meet, by showing that the _cut_ which all the wisdom of tailors and scientific fops, after centuries of study, had laboriously wrought out and foisted upon the poor civilised world as perfectly sublime, appeared in the eyes of backwoodsmen and Indians utterly ridiculous. No wonder that Harry, under the circumstances, became quietly insane, and went about committing _nothing_ but mistakes the whole evening. No wonder that he emulated his father-in-law in abusing the gray cat, when he found it surreptitiously devouring part of the supper in an adjoining room; and no wonder that, when he rushed about vainly in search of Mrs. Taddipopple, to acquaint her with the cat’s wickedness, he, at last, in desperation, laid violent hands on Miss Cookumwell, and addressed that excellent lady by the name of Mrs. Poppletaddy.

Were we courageous enough to make the attempt, we would endeavour to describe that joyful evening from beginning to end. We would tell you how the company’s spirits rose higher and higher, as each individual became more and more anxious to lend his or her aid in adding to the general hilarity; how old Mr. Kennedy nearly killed himself in his fruitless efforts to be everywhere, speak to everybody, and do everything at once, how Charley danced till he could scarcely speak, and then talked till he could hardly dance; and how the fiddler, instead of growing wearied, became gradually and continuously more powerful, until it seemed as if fifty fiddles were playing at one and the same time. We would tell you how Mr. Addison drew more than ever to Mr. Conway, and how the latter gentleman agreed to correspond regularly with the former thenceforth, in order that their interest in the great work each had in hand for the _same_ Master might be increased and kept up; how, in a spirit of recklessness (afterwards deeply repented of), a bashful young man was induced to sing a song which in the present mirthful state of the company ought to have been a humorous song, or a patriotic song, or a good, loud, inspiriting song, or _anything_, in short, but what it was–a slow, dull, sentimental song, about wasting gradually away in a sort of melancholy decay, on account of disappointed love, or some such trash, which was a false sentiment in itself, and certainly did not derive any additional tinge of truthfulness from a thin, weak voice, that was afflicted with chronic flatness, and _edged_ all its notes. Were we courageous enough to go on, we would further relate to you how during supper Mr. Kennedy senior, tried to make a speech, and broke down amid uproarious applause; how Mr. Kennedy, junior, got up thereafter–being urged thereto by his father, who said, with a convulsion of the cheek, “Get me out of the scrape, Charley, my boy” –and delivered an oration which did not display much power of concise elucidation, but was replete, nevertheless, with consummate impudence; how during this point in the proceedings the gray cat made a last desperate effort to purloin a cold chicken, which it had watched anxiously the whole evening, and was caught in the very act, nearly strangled, and flung out of the window, where it alighted in safety on the snow, and fled, a wiser, and, we trust, a better cat. We would recount all this to you, reader, and a great deal more besides; but we fear to try your patience, and we tremble violently, much more so, indeed, than you will believe, at the bare idea of waxing prosy.

Suffice it to say that the party separated at an early hour–a good, sober, reasonable hour for such an occasion–somewhere before midnight. The horses were harnessed; the ladies were packed in the sleighs with furs so thick and plentiful as to defy the cold; the gentlemen seized their reins and cracked their whips; the horses snorted, plunged, and dashed away over the white plains in different directions, while the merry sleigh-bells sounded fainter and fainter in the frosty air. In half-an-hour the stars twinkled down on the still, cold scene, and threw a pale light on the now silent dwelling of the old fur-trader.

* * * * * * *

Ere dropping the curtain over a picture in which we have sought faithfully to portray the prominent features of those wild regions that lie to the north of the Canadas, and in which we have endeavoured to describe some of the peculiarities of a class of men whose histories seldom meet the public eye, we feel tempted to add a few more touches to the sketch; we would fain trace a little farther the fortunes of one or two of the chief factors in our book. But this is not to be.

Snowflakes and sunbeams came and went as in days gone by. Time rolled on, working many changes in its course, and among others consigning Harry Somerville to an important post in Red River colony, to the unutterable joy of Mr. Kennedy, senior, and of Kate. After much consideration and frequent consultation with Mr. Addison, Mr. Conway resolved to make another journey to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to those Indian tribes that inhabit the regions beyond Athabasca; and being a man of great energy, he determined not to await the opening of the river navigation, but to undertake the first part of his expedition on snow-shoes. Jacques agreed to go with him as guide and hunter, Redfeather as interpreter. It was a bright, cold morning when he set out, accompanied part of the way by Charley Kennedy and Harry Somerville, whose hearts were heavy at the prospect of parting with the two men who had guided and protected them during their earliest experience of a voyageur’s life, when, with hearts full to overflowing with romantic anticipations, they first dashed joyously into the almost untrodden wilderness.

During their career in the woods together, the young men and the two hunters had become warmly attached to each other; and now that they were about to part–it might be for years, perhaps for ever–a feeling of sadness crept over them which they could not shake off, and which the promise given by Mr. Conway to revisit Red River on the following spring served but slightly to dispel.

On arriving at the spot where they intended to bid their friends a last farewell, the two young men held out their hands in silence. Jacques grasped them warmly.

“Mister Charles, Mister Harry,” said he, in a deep, earnest voice, “the Almighty has guided us in safety for many a day when we travelled the woods together; for which praised be His Holy Name! May He guide and bless you still, and bring us together in this world again, if in His wisdom He see fit.”

There was no answer save a deeply-murmured “Amen.” In another moment the travellers resumed their march. On reaching the summit of a slight eminence, where the prairies terminated and the woods began, they paused to wave a last adieu; then Jacques, putting himself at the head of the little party, plunged into the forest, and led them away towards the snowy regions of the Far North.

THE END.