THE RISING OF THE RED MAN A Romance of the Louis Riel Rebellion
by JOHN MACKIE
Author of "The Heart of the Prairie," "Tales of the Trenches," "The Cannibal Island," "Daring Deeds in Far Off Lands," "The Prodigal's Brother," "The Man Who Forgot," etc.
TO E.M. DAVY.
PROLOGUE I. IN THE GREAT LONE LAND II. TIDINGS OF ILL III. THE STORM BREAKS IV. HARD PRESSED V. TO BATTLEFORD VI. THE GRIM BLOCKADE VII. DETECTED VIII. IN THE JUDGMENT HALL IX. THE DWARF AND THE BEAR X. THE UNEXPECTED XI. THE RETREAT XII. A MYSTERIOUS STAMPEDE XIII. ROOFED XIV. A THREE-CORNERED GAME XV. CHECKMATED XVI. THE FATE OF SERGEANT PASMORE XVII. A CLOSE CALL XVIII. ACROSS THE ICE XIX. CAPTURED BY POUNDMAKER XX. THE BATTLE OF CUT-KNIFE XXI. BACK TO CAPTIVITY XXII. ANTOINE IN TROUBLE XXIII. THE DEPARTURE OF PEPIN xxiv. THE INDIANS' AWAKENING XXV. A PROPOSAL FROM PEPIN XXVI. A BOLD BID FOR LIBERTY XXVII. AN ONLY WAY XXVIII. THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
The 16th of March, 1885, was a charming day, and Louis David Riel, fanatic and rebellion-maker, was addressing a great general meeting of the half-breeds and Indians near Batoche on the Saskatchewan river in British North America. There were representatives from nearly every tribe; Poundmaker and his Stonies, who were always spoiling for trouble, being particularly well represented. Round the arch malcontent were a score of other harpies almost as wicked if less dangerous than himself. Among them were Gabriel Dumont, Jackson, Maxime, Garnot and Lepine. Riel's emissaries had been at work for months, and as the time was now ripe for a rising he had called them together to decide upon some definite course of action.
The weather was comparatively mild, and the Indians sat around on the snow that before many days was to disappear before the sudden spring thaw. Their red, white, and grey blankets against the dull-hued tepees [Footnote: Wigwams.] and the white wintry landscape, gave colour and relief to the scene. Two o'clock in the afternoon and the sun shone brightly down as he always does in these latitudes. Riel knew exactly how long it would continue to shine, for had not the almanac told him and all the world—with the exception of the ignorant half-breeds and Indians whom he was addressing—that there was to be an eclipse that day. The arch rebel knew how strongly dramatic effect appealed to his audience, so he was prepared to indulge them to the full in this respect, and turn the matter to account. Being an educated man there was a good deal of method in his madness.
The red-bearded, self-constituted prophet of the metis [Footnote: Half-breeds.] stood on a Red River cart and spun out his pleasant prognostications concerning that happy coming era in which unlimited food, tobacco and fire-water would make merry the hearts of all from the Missouri in the south, to the Kissaskatchewan in the north, if only they would do as he told them. As for Pere Andre and his fulminations against him, what did they want with the Church of Rome!—he, Louis David Riel, was going to start a church of his own! Yes, St. Peter had appeared to him in a vision, and told him that the Popes had been on the wrong tack long enough, and that he—Riel—was to be the new head of all things spiritual and temporal. He promised them a good all-round time when this came about, as it certainly would before long.
He wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and looked anxiously at the sun. What if, after all, the compilers of the almanac, or he himself, had made a mistake, and he had called this his most vital meeting on the wrong day? The bare idea was too terrible. But, no, his keen eyes detected a dark line on the outer edge of the great orb, and he knew that the modern astrologers had not erred. His grand opportunity had come, and he must seize it. He stretched out his hands and dramatically asked—
"But O, my people, tell me, how can I make manifest to you that these things shall be as I say? Shall I beg of the Manitou, the Great Spirit, to give to you a sign that He approves of the words his servant speaketh, and that these things shall come to pass?"
From the great crowd of half-breeds and Indians there went up a hoarse, guttural cry for confirmation.
Yes, if the Manitou would give a sign then no one in the land would doubt, and those who were feeble of heart would take courage.
Riel bowed his head, lifted off his beaver-skin cap, rolled his eyes about, and by his melodramatic movements claimed the attention of all. He, however, found, time to shoot a quick glance at the sun. Those almanac people were wonderfully accurate, but he must hurry up, for in another minute the eclipse would begin. In a loud voice he cried—
"You have asked for a sign, and it shall be given unto you; but woe unto those to whom a sign is given and who shall pay no heed to the same. Their days shall be cut short in the land, and their bodies shall burn for ever in the pit of everlasting fire. The Great Spirit will darken the face of the sun for a token, and a shadow, that of the finger of the Manitou Himself, shall sweep the land."
The knavish fanatic closed his eyes and raised his face heavenwards. There was a rapturous look on it, and his lips moved. He was calling upon the Almighty to give them the sign which he obligingly indicated. The new head of the church was already distinguishing himself. As for the half-breeds and Indians, they sat around with incredulity and awe alternately showing upon their faces. It was something new in their experiences for the Manitou to interest himself personally in their affairs. A great silence fell upon them; the prophet mumbled inarticulately and proceeded with his hanky-panky.
Then a great murmur and chorus of "Ough! Ough's!" and "me-was-sins!" [Footnote: Meaning good or approval.] arose from the Indians, while many of the half-breeds crossed themselves. Incredulity changed to belief and fear, and the simple ones raised their voices in wondering accents to testify to the potency of the "big medicine" that was being wrought before their eyes. The hand of the Manitou was slowly but surely passing over the face of the sun and darkening it. The shadow of that same hand was already creeping up from the east. The rapt prophet never once opened his eyes, but he knew from the great hoarse roar of voices around him that the almanac had not erred. And then the clamour subsided, as the face of the sun was darkened, and the ominous shadow fell like a chill over them ere passing westward. The Indians shivered in their blankets and were thrilled by this gratuitous and wonderful proof of their new leader's intimacy with the Great Spirit. But what if the Great Spirit should take it into His head to darken the face of the light-giver for ever! It was a most alarming prospect truly. Louis David Riel opened his eyes, glanced at the sun, and said—
"The Manitou is pleased to remove His hand and to give us light again."
Then, as it seemed more quickly than it had been darkened, the blackness was removed from the sun's face, and the shadow passed.
The murmur and the shout that went up from the wondering throng must have been as music in the ears of the arrant fraud. He looked down upon the deluded ones with triumph and a new sense of power.
"The Great Spirit has spoken!" he said with commendable dramatic brevity.
"Big is the Medicine of Riel!" cried the people. "We are ready to do his bidding when the time comes."
"The time has come," said Riel.
Never perhaps in the history of impostors from Mahomet to the Mahdi had an almanac proved so useful.
IN THE GREAT LONE LAND
It was the finest old log house on the banks of the mighty Saskatchewan river, and the kitchen with its old-fashioned furniture and ample space was the best room in it. On the long winter nights when the ice cracked on the river, when the stars twinkled coldly in the blue, and Nature slept under the snows, it was the general meeting-place of the Douglas household.
Henry Douglas, widower and rancher, was perhaps, one of the best-to-do men between Battleford and Prince Albert. The number of his cattle and horses ran into four figures, and no one who knew him begrudged his success. He was an upright, cheery man, who only aired his opinions round his own fireside, and these were always charitable. But to-night he did not speak much; he was gazing thoughtfully into the flames that sprang in gusty jets from the logs, dancing fantastically and making strange noises. At length he lifted his head and looked at that great good-natured French Canadian giant, Jacques St Arnaud, who sat opposite him, and said—
"I tell you, Jacques, I don't like it. There's trouble brewing oh the Saskatchewan, and if the half-breeds get the Indians to rise, there'll be—" he glanced sideways at his daughter, and hesitated—"well, considerable unpleasantness."
"That's so," said Jacques, also looking at the fair girl with the strangely dark eyes. "It is all so queer. You warned the Government two, three months ago, did you not, that there was likely to be trouble, but still they did not heed? Is not that so?"
"I did, but I've heard no more about it. And now the Police are beginning to get uneasy. They're a mighty fine body of men, but if the half-breeds and Indians get on the war-path, they'll swamp the lot, and—"
"Shoo!" interrupted the giant, again looking at the girl, but this time with unmistakable alarm on his face. "Them Injuns ain't going to eat us. You've been a good friend to them and to the metis. So!"
Jacques St. Arnaud had been in the rancher's service since before the latter's child had been born down in Ontario, some eighteen years ago, and followed him into the great North-West to help conquer the wilderness and establish his new home. He had a big heart in a large body, and his great ambition was to be considered a rather terrible and knowing fellow, while, as a matter of fact, he was the most inoffensive of mortals, and as simple in some ways as a child.
"Bah!" he continued after a pause, "the metis are ungrateful dogs, and the Indians, they are mad also. I would like to take them one by one and wring their necks—so!"
The rancher tried to conceal the concern he felt. His fifty odd years sat lightly upon him, although his hair was grey. His daughter had only been back from Ontario for two years, but in that time she had bulked so largely in his life that he wondered now how he could ever have got along without her. She reminded him of that helpmate and wife who had gone hence a few years after her daughter was born, and whose name was now a sacred memory. He had sent the girl down East to those whom he knew would look after her properly, and there, amid congenial surroundings, she grew and quickened into a new life. But the spell of the vast, broad prairie lands was upon her, and the love for her father was stronger still, so she went, back to both, and there her mind broadened, and her spirit grew in harmony with the lessons that an unconventional life was for ever working out for itself in those great, unfettered spaces where Nature was in the rough and the world was still young. She grew and blossomed into a beautiful womanhood, as blossoms the vigorous wild-flower of the prairies. When she smiled there was the light and the glamour of the morning star in her dark hazel eyes, and when her soul communed with itself, it was as if one gazed into the shadow of the stream. There was a gleam of gold in her hair that was in keeping with the freshness of her nature, and the hue of perfect health was upon her cheeks. Her eighteen years had brought with them all the promise of the May. That she had inherited the adventure-loving spirit of the old pioneers, as well as the keen appreciation of the humorous side of things, was obvious from the amount of entertainment she seemed to find in the company of Old Rory. He was an old-timer of Irish descent, who had been everywhere from the Red River in the east to the Fraser in the west, and from Pah-ogh-kee Lake in the south to the Great Slave Lake in the north. He had been voyageur, trapper, cowboy, farm-hand in the Great North-West for years, and nothing came amiss to him. Now he was the hired servant of her father, doing what was required of him, and that well. He was spare and wrinkled as an old Indian, and there was hardly an unscarred inch in his body, having been charged by buffaloes, clawed by bears and otherwise resented by wild animals.
"Rory," said the girl after a pause, and the softness of her voice was something to conjure with, "what do you think? Are the half-breeds and Indians going to interfere with us if they do rise?"
"Thar be good Injuns and bad Injuns," said Rory doggedly," but more bad nor good. The Injun's a queer animile when he's on the war-path; he's like Pepin Quesnelle's tame b'ar at Medicine Hat that one day chawed up Pepin, who had been like a father to 'im, 'cos he wouldn't go stares wid a dose of castor-oil he was a-swallerin' for the good of his health. You see, the b'ar an' Pepin used allus to go whacks like."
The girl laughed, but still she was uneasy in her mind. She mechanically watched the tidy half-breed woman and the elderly Scotchwoman who had been her mother's servant in the old Ontario days, as the two silently went on, at the far end of the long room, with the folding and putting away of linen. Her eyes wandered with an unwonted wistfulness over the picturesque brown slabs of pine that constituted the walls, the heavy, rudely-dressed tie-beams of the roof over which were stacked various trim bundles of dried herbs, roots and furs, and from which hung substantial hams of bacon and bear's meat. As she looked over the heads of the little group on the broad benches round the fire, she saw the firelight and lamplight glint cheerfully on the old-fashioned muskets and flintlock pistols that decorated the walls—relics of the old romantic days when the two companies of French and English adventurers traded into Hudson's Bay.
She had an idea. She would ask the sergeant of Mounted Police in charge of the detachment of four men, whose little post was within half-a-mile of the homestead, what he thought of the situation, and he would have to tell her. Sergeant Pasmore was one of those men of few words who somehow seemed to know everything. A man of rare courage she knew him to be, for had he not gained his promotion by capturing the dangerous renegade Indian, Thunder-child, single-handed? She knew that Thunderchild had lately broken prison, and was somewhere in the neighbourhood waiting to have his revenge upon the sergeant. Sergeant Pasmore was a man both feared and respected by all with whom he came in contact. He was the embodiment of the law; he carried it, in fact, on the horn of his saddle in the shape of his Winchester rifle; a man who was supposed to be utterly devoid of sentiment, but who had been known to perform more than one kindly action. Her father liked him, and many a time he had spent a long evening by the rancher's great fireside.
As she thought of these things, she was suddenly startled by three firm knocks at the door. Jacques rose from his seat, and opening it a few inches, looked out into the clear moonlight. He paused a moment, then asked—
"Who are you, and what you want?"
"How!" [Footnote: Form of salutation in common use among the Indians and half-breeds.] responded a strange-voice.
"Aha! Child-of-Light!" exclaimed Jacques.
And into the room strode a splendid specimen of a red man in all the glory of war paint and feathers.
TIDINGS OF ILL
"Mislike me not for my complexion, The shadow'd livery of the burnished sun." Merchant of Venice.
"How! How!" said the rancher, looking up at the tall Indian. "You are welcome to my fireside, Child-of-Light. Sit down."
He rose and gave him his hand. With a simple dignity the fine-looking savage returned his salutation.
"The master is good," he said. "Child-of-Light still remembers how in that bad winter so many years ago, when the cotton-tails and rabbits had died from the disease that takes them in the throat, and the wild animals that live upon them died also because there was nought to eat, and how when disease and famine tapped at the buffalo robe that screens the doorways of the tepees, he who is the brother of the white man and the red man had compassion and filled the hungry mouths."
"Ah, well, that's all right, Child-of-Light," lightly said Douglas, wondering what the chief had come to say. He understood the red man's ways, and knew he would learn all in good time.
But the chief would not eat or drink. He would, however, smoke, and helped himself from the pouch that Douglas offered. He let his blanket fall from his shoulders, and underneath there showed a richly-wrought shirt of true barbaric grandeur. On a groundwork of crimson flannel was wrought a rare and striking mosaic in beads of blue and yellow and red. The sun glowed from his breast, countless showy ermine tails dangled from his shoulders, his arms and his sides like a gorgeous fringe, and numerous tiny bells tinkled all over him as he moved. His features were large and marked, his forehead, high, and his nose aquiline. His Mongolian set eyes were dark and full of intellect, his expression a strange mixture of alertness, conscious power, and dignity. He was a splendid specimen of humanity.
He filled his pipe leisurely, then spoke as if he hardly expected that what he had to say would interest his hearers.
The half-breeds, led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, had risen, he said, and large numbers of the Indians had joined them. Before twenty-four hours there would hardly be a farmstead or ranche in Saskatchewan that would not be pillaged and burnt to the ground. He, Child-of-Light, had managed to keep his band in check, but there were thousands of Indians in the country, Crees, Salteaus, Chippeywans, Blackfoot, Bloods, Piegans, Sarcees, renegade Siouxs, and Crows who would join the rebels. Colonel Irvine, of the North-West Mounted Police at Fort Carlton, had already destroyed all the stores, and, having set fire to the buildings, was retreating on the main body.
Douglas the rancher had "sat quietly while the chief told his alarming news. He hardly dared look at his daughter.
"I have been a fool!" he said bitterly. "I have tried to hide the truth from myself, and now it may be too late. Of course it's not the stock and place I'm thinking about, Dorothy, but it's you—I had no right—-"
"Oh, hush, dad!" cried the girl, who seemed the least concerned of any. "I don't believe the rebels will interfere with us. Besides, have we not our friend, Child-of-Light?"
"The daughter of my brother Douglas is as my own child," said the chief simply, "and her life I will put before mine. But Indians on the war-path are as the We'h-ti-koo, [Footnote: Indians of unsound mind who become cannibals.] who are possessed of devils, whose onward rush is as the waters of the mighty Saskatchewan river when it has forced the ice jam."
"And so, Child-of-Light, what would you have us do?" asked Douglas. "Do you think if possible for my daughter and the women to reach the Fort at Battleford?"
But a sharp tapping at the door stopped the answer of the chief.
Rory shot back the bolt and threw open the door. A fur-clad figure entered; the white frost glistened on his buffalo-coat and bear-skin cap as if they were tipped with ermine. He walked without a word into the light and looked around—an admirable man, truly, about six feet in height, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, and without a spare ounce of flesh—a typical Rider of the Plains, and a soldier, every inch of him. In the thousands upon thousands of square miles in which these dauntless military police have to enforce law and order, the inhabitants know that never yet has the arm of justice not proved long enough to bring an offender to book. On one occasion a policeman disappeared into the wilderness after some one who was wanted. As in three months he neither came back, nor was heard of, he was struck off the strength of the force. But one day, as the men stood on parade in the barrack square, he came back in rags and on foot, more like a starved tramp than a soldier. But with him he brought his prisoner. That was the man, Sergeant Pasmore, who stood before them.
He inclined his head to Dorothy, and nodded to the men around the fire, but when he saw Child-of-Light he extended his left hand.
The Indian looked straight into the sergeant's eyes.
"What has happened?" he asked. "Ough! Ough! I see; you have met Thunderchild?"
The sergeant nodded.
"Yes," he said, with apparent unconcern, "Thunderchild managed to put a bullet through my arm. You may give me a hand off with my coat, Jacques. Luckily, the wound's not bad enough to prevent my firing a gun."
When they removed his overcoat they found that the sleeve of the tunic had been cut away, and that his arm had been roughly bandaged. The girl was gazing at it in a peculiarly concentrated fashion.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Douglas," he said, hastily turning away from her. "I had forgotten it looked like that, but fortunately the look is the worst part of it. It's only a flesh wound."
The girl had stepped forward to help him, as if resenting the imputation that the sight of blood frightened her, but Jacques had anticipated what was required. She wanted to bring him something to eat and drink, but he thanked her and declined. He had weightier matters on hand.
"Mr. Douglas," he said, quietly, "I've told my men to move over here. You may require their services in the course of the next twenty-four hours. What I apprehended and told you about some time ago has occurred."
"Pasmore," said the rancher, earnestly, "is there any immediate danger? If there is, my daughter and the women had better go into Battleford right now."
"You cannot go now—you must wait till to-morrow morning," was the reply. "It's no use taking your household goods into the Fort—there's no room there. Your best plan is to leave things just as they are, and trust to the rebels being engaged elsewhere. I believe your warriors, Child-of-Light, are in the wood in the deep coulee just above where the two creeks meet?"
"That is right, brother," said the Indian, "but what about Thunderchild, the turncoat?"
And then Pasmore told them how he had gone to Thunderchild's camp that day to arrest the outlaw, and warn his braves against joining the rebels, and how he had been shot through the arm, and only escaped with his life. He had come straight on to warn them. In the meantime he would advise the women to make preparations for an early start on the morrow. Food and clothing would have to be taken, as they might be away for weeks.
Then, while Dorothy Douglas and her two women-servants were already making preparations for a move, a brief council of war was held. Child-of-Light, when asked, advised that the Mounted Police and those present should next day escort the women into Fort Battleford, while he and his braves ran off the rancher's fine herd of horses, so as to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy.
Pasmore said that this was exactly the right thing to do. He also intimated that there was a party of half-breeds, the Racettes and the St. Croixs, coming by trail at that very moment from Battleford to plunder and pillage; they would probably arrive before many hours. He had, however, taken the precaution of stationing men on the look-out on the neighbouring ridges.
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Jacques, springing to his feet. "It is the neck of that St. Croix I will want to wring. It is two, three years ago now he say he will wring mine; but very good care he will take to keep away. Ah, well, we shall see, my friend, we shall see!"
Child-of-Light stole out to his men in the coulee, and Jacques and Rory went to the stables and out-houses to make certain preparations so that they might be able to start at any moment. The windows were boarded up, so that if the half-breeds came no signs of life might be observed in the house. Douglas saw that certain loopholes in the walls commanding the lines of approach, which he himself had made by way of precaution when danger from the Indians had threatened in the old days, were reopened and plugged in case of emergency.
As for the sergeant, he had not slept for three days, and was too utterly tired out to be of any assistance. He had done what he could, and had now to await developments. The fire was good, and he had dropped, at the rancher's request, into a comfortable high-backed chair in a corner, where he fell asleep.
THE STORM BREAKS
Midnight, and the rancher had left the house to assist Rory and Jacques with the sleighs, which had to be packed with certain necessaries such as tea, coffee, sugar, bread and flour, frozen meat, pemmican, culinary articles, snow-shoes, and ammunition.
Dorothy, having made all the preparations she could, had re-entered the kitchen. The first thing that drew her attention was the sleeping figure of the sergeant in the chair. She was filled with self-reproach. Why had she forgotten all about this wounded, tired-out man? Why did she always seem to be holding him at arm's-length when there was, surely, no earthly reason why she should do so? His manner had always been perfectly courteous to her, and even deferential. He had done her father many acts of kindness, without as much as referring to them, and still, with a spice of perversity, she had always shrunk from appearing to notice him. She shrewdly suspected that his present life was not the sort of one he had been accustomed to, that, in fact, he belonged by birth and upbringing to a state of things very different from hers. He looked wretchedly uncomfortable and, doubtless, as his limbs seemed cramped, they were cold. She would find a rug to throw over him.
She picked up one, and, with a strange shyness that she had never experienced before, placed it carefully over him. If he awoke she would die with terror—now that he was asleep and did not know that she was looking after his comfort, she experienced a strange, undefinable pleasure in so doing. It was quite a new feeling—something that filled her with a vague wonder.
And then he suddenly opened his eyes, and looked at her for a few moments without stirring.
"Thank you," he said simply, and closed his eyes again.
She could have cried with vexation. If he had been profuse in his thanks she would have had an opportunity of cutting him short with some commonplace comment.
"Hadn't you better lie on the couch, Mr. Pasmore?" she said. "You don't look as if you fitted that chair, and it makes you snore so."
She had hardly thought herself capable of such perfidy, but she did not want him to think that she could be altogether blind to his faults. He sat bolt upright in an instant, and stammered out an apology.
But she cut it short. She resented the idea that he should imagine she took sufficient interest in him to be put out by a trifle.
At that very moment there rang out a rifle shot from the ridge just above the wood hard by. It was followed by another at a greater distance.
"There!" said the girl, with a finger pressed against her lower lip, and a look as if of relief on her face. "Now you will have some work to do. They have come sooner than you expected."
He scanned her face for a moment as if to note how this quick call to grim tragedy affected her. A man of courage himself, he instantly read there possibilities of a very high order and exceptional nerve. There was nothing neurotic about her. Whatever the wayward imaginings of her heart might be, she was a fresh, wholesome and healthy daughter of the prairie, one whose nerves were in accord with her mind and body, one for whom there were no physical or imaginary bogeys.
"It won't frighten you, will it, if we have to turn this kitchen into a sort of shooting gallery?" he asked.
She smiled at the very familiarity with which he handled his subject.
"It will be unpleasant," she replied simply, "but you know I'm accustomed to rifles."
"You don't seem to realise what a rising means amongst savages," he continued. "You must never lose your head, whatever happens, and you must never trust any one outside your own family circle. You must never let yourself fall into their hands; you understand me?"
"I understand," she said, facing him unflinchingly, "and I have my rifle in case of emergencies."
"You are stronger than I thought," he said thankfully, looking at her for the first time with unmistakable admiration.
The rancher entered the room. He had always been noted for his coolness in time of danger. He looked quickly at his daughter, and was wonderfully relieved to see her take the situation so quietly. He kissed her, and said—
"Now, my dear, you'd better get into the other room till this affair is over. There's no need to be alarmed."
How he wished he could have believed what he said!'
"I'm not frightened, dad, a little bit, and I'm going to stay right with" you and load the guns."
"Lower the lamp," cried Pasmore, suddenly.
In another minute each man was glancing along the barrel of his rifle out into the clear moonlight. They faced the entrance to the valley up which came the enemy. It was a dimly-defined half-circle, with a deep-blue, star-studded background. A fringe of trees ran up it, bordering the frozen creek alongside the trail. Stealthily stealing up, they could see a number of dark figures. Every now and again, from the heights above on either hand, they could see a little jet of fire spurt, and hear the crack of a Winchester as the Mounted Police on the look-out tried to pick off members of the attacking body from their inaccessible point of vantage. But the half-breeds and Indians contented themselves with firing an odd shot in order to warn them off. They would deal with them later. In the meantime they came nearer.
"Ah, St. Croix, old friend! It is my neck you will want to wring, is it? Eh, bien!" And Jacques chuckled audibly.
"Now, hold hard, and wait until I give you the word," said Pasmore, quietly.
The rebels, of whom there might be some thirty or forty, now came out into the open and approached the house until they were abreast of the out-buildings. In the clear moonlight they could be seen distinctly, clad in their great buffalo coats, with collars up over their ears, and bearskin and beaver-caps pulled well down.
At a signal from their leader they raised their rifles to send a preparatory volley through the windows.
"Now then!" thundered Pasmore.
Four rifles cracked like one, and three rebels dropped where they stood, while a fourth, clapping his hands to the lower part of his body, spun round and round, stamping his feet, reviling the comrades who had brought him there, and blaspheming wildly, while the blood spurted out between his fingers. At the same moment, several bullets embedded themselves in the thick window shutters and in the walls. One only found its way through the dried mud between the logs, and this smashed a bowl that stood on the dresser within two feet of Dorothy's head. She merely glanced at it casually, and picking up the basket of cartridges, prepared to hand them round. With fingers keen and warming to their work, the defenders emptied the contents of their magazines into the astonished half-breeds and Indians. It was more than the latter had bargained for. They made for an open shed that stood hard by, leaving their dead and wounded in the snow.
"What ho! Johnnie Crapaud, you pig!" cried Rory, withdrawing his rifle from the loophole, and applying his mouth to it instead. "It's the Red River jig I've bin dyin' to tache ye for many a long day."
At the same moment Jacques caught sight of his old bete noire, Leopold St. Croix the elder, and, not to be outdone by his friend Rory in the exchange of seasonable civilities with the enemy—although, when he came to think of it afterwards, he might as well have shot his man—he was applying his mouth to, his loophole to shout something in the same vein when the quick-eyed Leopold fired a shot at the spot from which the gun-barrel had just been withdrawn. So lucky or good was his aim that he struck the mud in the immediate neighbourhood of the hole, and sent the debris flying into the French-Canadian's mouth. Jacques spent the rest of his time when in the house watching for a long-haired half-breed with a red sash round his waist, who answered to the name of St. Croix the elder.
Ping, ping, ping, zip—phut—cr-runck! and the bullets played a very devil's tattoo upon the walls and windows. The enemy were still five to one, and if they could only succeed in rushing in and breaking down the doors, victory would be in their hands. But to do that meant death to so many.
Another half-hour, and the firing still continued, though in a more desultory fashion. It was a strange waiting game, and a grim one, that was being played. The defenders had shifted their positions to guard against surprise. Douglas had in vain begged his daughter to leave the room and join the women in an inner apartment, but she had pleaded so hard with him that he allowed her to remain.
As for the sergeant, he was outwardly, at least, his old self. He was silent and watchful, showing neither concern nor elation. He moved from one position to another, and never pulled the trigger of his Winchester without making sure of something. With the help of Douglas he had pulled on his fur coat again, as the fire was going out, and he was beginning to feel the cold in his wound.
"I can't make out why Child-of-Light hasn't come up with his men," he said at length, "but, anyhow, he is sure to turn up—"
He paused, listening. Then all in the room heard the chip-chop of an axe as it steadily cut its way through a post of considerable size. The rebels were evidently busy. Suddenly the sound stopped.
"They're preparing for a rush," observed Rory. "What I'm surprisit at is ther riskin' their ugly carcases as they do."
"Sargain Pasmore—Sargean?" cried some-one from the shed.
"Aha! he has recognised your voice," said Jacques. "He is as the fox, that St. Croix."
"Well, what is it?" shouted the sergeant.
What the half-breed had to say rather took the sergeant aback. It was to the effect that unless they surrendered within a few minutes, they would all most assuredly be killed.
Then for the first time that night Sergeant Pasmore betrayed in his voice any feeling that may have animated him.
"Go home, Leopold St. Croix," he cried, "go home, and those with you before it is too late! Go on to the Fort and ask pardon from those in authority, and it may yet be well with you; For as soon as the red-coated soldiers of the Great Queen come—and, take my word for it, they are in number more than the fishes in the Great Lake—you will be shot like a coyote on the prairie, or hanged by the neck, like a bad Indian, on the gallows-tree. That is our answer, Leopold St Croix; you know me of old, and you also know how I have always kept my word."
There was a dead silence for a minute or two, and whilst it lasted one could hear the embers of the dying fire fall into ashes. On a shelf, an eight-day clock ticked ominously; the girl stood with one hand upon her father's shoulder, motionless and impassive, like some beautiful statue. There was no trace of fear of any impending tragedy to mar the proud serenity of her face. At length the sound of voices came to them from outside. It grew in volume and rose like the angry murmur of the sea. Pasmore was looking through a crack when the noise of the chopping began again. In another minute there was a crash of falling timber.
The sergeant turned to the girl.
"Miss Douglas," he said, "will you kindly go into the other room for a minute! They have cut down one of the large posts in the shed and are going to make a battering-ram of it so as to smash in the door. Come this way, all of you. Two on either side. That is right. Fire into them as they charge!"
The half-breeds and Indians, keen and determined as they were to effect an entrance to the house at any costs, were not without considerable foresight and strategy. But their feint failed, and when they did make a rush with their ram two or three of them were picked off. The survivors dropped the ram, and made a dash across the open for the stable.
Pasmore telling the others to remain at their loopholes, went to a room at the end of the long passage, Dorothy following him.
The rebels must have applied a match to some of the inflammable matter, for in another instant the growing, hissing roar of fire was audible.
"It will spread to the house in a few minutes more," remarked the sergeant, quietly, "and I'm afraid that will be the end of it."
But he had already seized an axe and was opening the door.
"Shut the door after me and go to your father," he exclaimed. "I'll cut down the slabs that connect it with the house. Child-of-Light may come up yet. Good-bye—in case of accidents."
She caught him by the arm and looked into his face.
"You can't do that—you must not do that! You are sure to be shot down."
"And I may be shot if I don't." Forcibly, but with what gentleness the action permitted, he disengaged her firm white hand.
"You can't use an axe with that arm," she pleaded, all her old reserve vanishing.
"I can at a pinch," he replied. "It is good of you to trouble about me."
He slipped out and pulled the door behind him. The look he had seen in her eyes had come as a revelation and given him courage.
She stood for a moment speechless and motionless, with a strained, set expression on her face. It was old Rory who aroused her to the gravity of the situation. He came running along the passage.
"Come hyar, honey, and into the cellar wid ye," he cried. "There's more of the inimy comin' along the trail, but there's still a chanct. Nivir say die, sez I."
As if roused from some horrible dream her feverish energy and readiness of resource returned to her.
"Come into the next room," she cried to Rory; "we can see the oil-house from the window. He is out there pulling down the stockade and we can keep them back from him. Quick, Rory!"
Like one possessed she made for the first door on the left of the passage.
Along the trail came the new lot of half-breeds and Indians to the assistance of their fellows, or, perhaps it would be more correct to say, to see to it that they did not miss their full share of the plunder. Roused to fresh efforts by the sight of the others, those on the spot fairly riddled the doors and windows of the house. The bullets were whizzing into the kitchen in every direction, splintering the furniture and sending the plaster flying from the walls until the room was filled with a fine, blinding, choking dust. It was impossible to hold out much longer. The final rush was sure to come in a very few minutes—and all would be over.
Pasmore had cut off the house from the burning shed by hewing down the connecting wall, while Dorothy Douglas and Rory, by firing from a side window, had kept the enemy from approaching; After what seemed an age, Pasmore rejoined them.
There was a pause in the firing, then a hoarse murmur of excited voices came from the sheds. It rose like a sudden storm on the Lake of the Winds. There was a wild volley and a rush of feet. A dark body smashed in the casement and tried to follow it, but Rory's long knife gleamed in the air, and the intruder fell back in his death agony. Rory seldom wasted powder and shot at close quarters. The sergeant looked at the girl strangely.
"Come with me to your father," he said hoarsely.
"Is it the end?" she asked.
"I fear it is," he replied; "but we'll fight to the finish."
He opened the door and led the way out.
"I must go to the others," he continued. "Rory can guard this end of the house. Will you come with me?"
"Yes, and remember your promise—I am not afraid."
"I am," he admitted, "but not of them."
They reached the kitchen, but he would not let her enter.
"Stay where you are for a moment," he commanded firmly.
He found Douglas and Jacques still holding the doorway, though the door itself, and the table which had been placed against it, were badly wrecked. A breed had actually forced his body through a great rent when they had rushed, but Jacques had tapped him over the head with the stock of his rifle and cracked it as he would have done an egg-shell. The lifeless body still filled the gap.
"Bravo, gentlemen," cried the sergeant, "we shall exact our price. If we can only stand them off a little longer—"
The words died on his lips as a rattle of musketry awoke somewhere in the neighbourhood of the surrounding ridges. It grew in volume until it seemed all around them. Several bullets struck the house that did not come from those immediately attacking. A series of wild whoops could be heard from among the pines on the hillside, and they came nearer and nearer.
"It's Child-of-Light and his Crees!" cried Pasmore. "He saw the new lot approaching and waited until they fell into the trap. Now he has surrounded them."
"Thank God!" cried the rancher, and never had he breathed a more sincere thanksgiving.
The breeds and Indians made back for the out-buildings; then, realising that sooner or later these must prove untenable, they scurried for the pine wood on the hillside. But now Child-of-Light and his braves were on the ridges and a desperate running fight ensued. Not more than a dozen of the enemy managed to get safely away. For hours afterwards they held their own from the vantage of the rocks and pines.
When those in the house realised that all immediate danger was over, they took the change of situations characteristically. The rancher went quietly to find his daughter. She showed no signs of any reaction, although perhaps she had a hard struggle to conquer her feelings. Jacques wanted to sally out and seek for Leopold St. Croix, so that they might settle once and for all their little differences, but Sergeant Pasmore vetoed this. There was other work to do, he said. It was no use remaining at the ranche; the women must go into the fort at Battleford—if, indeed, it were possible to get through to it. As for Rory, he had gone to the stables and seen to the horses and the dogs that were to pull the sleighs; these latter, by the way, were a remarkable lot, and comprised as many varieties as there are different breeds of pigeons. There were Chocolats, Muskymotes, Cariboos, Brandies, Whiskies, Corbeaus, and a few others. During the fight they had kept wonderfully quiet, but now they seemed to know that it was over, and began, after the playful manner of their kind, to indulge in a spirited battle on their own account. Rory snatched up a whip with the object of seeing fair play.
An hour later and a strange scene that kitchen presented, with its wounded, smoke-stained men, Its shattered doors and windows, and splintered tables and dresser. The four Mounted Policemen had come down from the ridges where they had so harassed the enemy and were now receiving steaming pannikins of coffee.
Child-of-Light had just come in, and told how to the north Big Bear and his Stonies were lurking somewhere, not to speak of Thunderchild and one or two others, so it would be as well to try Battleford first. His braves at that moment were pursuing the fleeing breeds and Indians, but he had ordered them to return soon in order that they might remove the dead and wounded from the ranche, and then see after the stock belonging to their brother Douglas. It had been as Sergeant Pasmore had said—they had seen the fresh enemy coming up and delayed their attack until they could surround them.
But grey-eyed morn had come at last; the sleighs were packed and brought round to the door. It was time to make a start.
It was quite a little procession of jumpers and sledges that set out from the rancher's that morning after the fight. First went the police, each man on his little box-like jumper with its steel-shod runners drawn by a hardy half-bred broncho. Next came Rory in a dog-sled cariole, with his several pugnacious canine friends made fast by moose-skin collars. They would have tried the patience of Job. They fought with each other on the slightest pretext from sheer love of fighting, and knew not the rules of Queensberry. If one of them happened to get down in one of their periodical little outbreaks, the others promptly abandoned their more equal contests to pile on to that unfortunate one.
The rancher and Dorothy came next in a comfortable sleigh, with large buffalo robes all around them to keep out the cold. Then came the two women servants in a light wagon-box set on runners, and driven by Jacques. A Mounted Policeman in a jumper formed the rear-guard at a distance of about half-a-mile. The wagons were well stocked with all necessaries for camping out.
It was a typical North-West morning, cold, bracing and clear. The dry air stimulated one, and the winter sun shone cheerfully down upon the great white land of virgin snow.
There was a sense of utter solitude, of an immensity of space. There was no sound save the soft, even swish of the runners over the snow, and the regular muffled pounding of the horses' hoofs.
Within the next hour so buoyant were Dorothy's spirits, and so light-hearted and genuine her outlook on things in general, that Douglas began to wonder if the events of the previous evening were not, after all, the imaginings of some horrible nightmare.
On, on, over the plains of frozen snow. The sun was so strong now that Douglas was obliged to put great goggles over his eyes, and Dorothy pulled a dark veil down over hers, for fear of snow-blindness. They had left the flat prairie behind, and were now in the bluff country which was simply heights and hollows lightly timbered with birch, poplar and saskatoon bushes, with beautiful meadows and small lakes or "sloughs" scattered about everywhere. They passed many pretty homesteads nestling cosily in sheltered nooks; but no smoke rose from their chimneys; they all seemed to have been deserted in a hurry. Their occupants had doubtless fled into Battleford. What if they had been too late to reach that haven of refuge!
At noon the travellers stopped in a little wooded valley for dinner. It was more like a picnic party than that of refugees fleeing for their lives. The Scotswoman actually made a dish of pancakes for the troopers, because she said there was one of them who reminded her of her own son, whom she had not seen for many a long day. The sincere thanks of the hungry ones were more than recompense for the worthy dame.
They all sat down on buffalo robes spread on the snow, and Dorothy was immensely taken with the gentlemanly, unobtrusive way in which the troopers waited upon the women of the party. But they were all mostly younger sons of younger sons, and public school men, so after all it was not to be wondered at. The high standard of honour and duty, and the courage that was a religion animating the force—the North-West Mounted Police—was easily accounted for. She began to understand how it was that some men preferred such a life to that of the mere quest for gold.
Every one seemed in the best of spirits. Wounds were not mentioned, so it went without saying that these, owing to the healthy bodies of their owners, were giving no trouble. The only interruption of a non-harmonic nature was when a burly Muskymote dog of Rory's team took it into its head that a little tete-noire dog had received a portion of frozen fish from its master out of all proportion to its inconsiderable size, so, as soon as Rory's back was turned, showed its disapproval of such favouritism by knocking the favoured one down, and trying to bite off the tips of its ears. As the other dogs, with their peculiar new Queensberry instincts, at once piled on to the one that was getting the worst of it, Rory had to put down the chicken leg he was enjoying to arbitrate with his whip in the usual way. He gave the jealous Muskymote an extra smack or two for its ill-timed behaviour as he thought of that chicken leg.
To Dorothy's no little surprise she found Pasmore unusually communicative. Despite his seeming austerity, he possessed a keen vein of humour of a dry, pungent order that was eminently entertaining. To-day he gave vent to it, and she found herself laughing and talking to him in a way that, twenty-four hours before she would not have deemed possible.
Dinner over, the horses were watered—they had now cooled down—the culinary articles were stowed away, pipes lit, and preparations made for a fresh start. It would be necessary to move with extreme caution, as they were not more than twelve miles from Battleford, and the enemy were pretty sure to have their scouts out.
On again through the still air, and between the winding avenues of birch, poplar and saskatoon bushes. Nothing to be heard save the occasional call of the grouse in the bracken, and the monotonous chafing of the harness. At dusk they arrived within a mile or two of the little town, and halted.
A fire was lit in a deserted farmhouse, and a good drink of hot tea put fresh life into them. There was trying and dangerous work to be done that night; they would require to be well prepared.
An hour later, when the moon began to show over the tree-tops, the entire party moved out silently by a little-used by-path towards Battleford. A couple of troopers went on some considerable distance in front, and one on either flank, with strict instructions to create no alarm if possible in meeting with an enemy, but to at once warn the main body.
And now on the still air came a weird, monotonous sound, rising and falling, as does that of the far-off rapids, borne on the fitful breath of the Chinook winds. Tap, tap, tap, it went, tum, tum, tum, in ever-recurring monotones. As they stopped to listen to it, the girl realised its nature only too well. It was the tuck of the Indian drum, and the Indian was on the war-path. As they walked on they could hear it more plainly, and soon the sound of whooping, yelling human voices, and the occasional discharge of fire-arms, fell upon their apprehensive ears.
"They've bruk into the stores, an' are paintin' the town red," explained Rory. "Guess they're hevin' a high ole time."
And now they could see a red glare tingeing the heavens above the tree-tops. They ascended a hill to the right, and looking down on the valley of the Saskatchewan, a truly magnificent but terrifying sight met their gaze.
THE GRIM BLOCKADE
The great chief Poundmaker and his Stonies had broken loose, and, after looting the Hudson Bay and other stores in Battleford, were indulging in a wild orgie. Some of the buildings were already burning, and the Indians, mad with blood and fire-water, were dancing wildly around the spouting flames that lit up that pine and snow-clad winter scene for miles?
Some of the warriors, more particularly round the burning buildings, had donned uncanny masks that took the shape of buffalo and moose heads, with shaggy manes, horns and antlers, and, horror of horrors, some of them, silhouetted blackly against the fierce glare, showed themselves to be possessed of tails that made them look like capering demons.
Pom, pom, pom, went the hollow-sounding drums. Round and round danced the wildly-gesticulating imp-like crowds. They yelped and howled like dogs. They brandished tomahawks and spears, all the time working themselves into a frenzy. It more resembled an orgie of fiends than of human beings.
"It is horrible," exclaimed Dorothy, shivering, despite her resolve to face bravely whatever might come.
Within half-a-mile of the burning township, looming up dimly over there among the trees, was the new village of Battleford, and further back still, hardly discernible, lay the Fort. Within several hundred yards of the latter, under cover of hastily-improvised trenches of bluff and scrub, was a cordon of half-breeds and Indians, by no means too strong and not too well posted, for one of the Police had already managed to elude the careless and relaxed watch, and join the besieged ones. Under the circumstances it was impossible for the defenders to make a sortie, as this would leave the bulk of the refugees unprotected. All they could do was to hold their position and wait patiently until help came from Prince Albert and the south.
What the rancher's party had to do was plain, i.e. separate, and endeavour, in ones and twos, to pass the rebel lines and enter the Fort. Fortunately they could all speak the curious patois of English, French, and Cree that the enemy used, and therefore they had no need to be at a loss. Moreover, with beaver-skin caps, and long fur coats down to their heels, with the addition of a sash round their waists, they were in no way different from hundreds of others. Dorothy noticed that even the Police had adopted means to conceal their identities so far as appearances went.
Sergeant Pasmore did not take long to make his plans. He did not ask for any advice now, but gave his orders promptly and explicitly. It would be better that they should all endeavour to pass through the enemy at the same time, so that in the event of an alarm being given, some of them at least might be able to push on into the Fort.
Mrs. Macgregor and the half-breed woman were sent away round by the right flank under the charge of Jacques, who was to go ahead and try to pilot them into the Fort in safety. The Police were to move round on the left flank.
As for Douglas and his daughter, they were to go down separately to the foot of the ridge, walk leisurely through the scattered houses, evading as much as possible the straggling groups of rebels, and make towards a certain point where a series of old buffalo-wallows would to a great extent prevent their being seen. He warned Douglas against keeping too near his daughter. He, being so well-known, would be easily recognised, and their being close together might lead to the capture of both.
Douglas at first demurred, but presently saw the force of this advice. It was a hard thing to be separated from Dorothy, but he realised that otherwise he might only compromise her safety, so he kissed her and went in the direction the sergeant pointed out. Pasmore and his charge were now left quite alone. There was a dead silence for some moments.
"I think we'd better go," he said, at length. "Now, do you feel as if you could keep your nerve? So much depends on that."
"I'm going to rise to the occasion," she answered smilingly, and with a look of determination on her face. "Let us start."
"One moment—you mustn't show quite so much of your face—it isn't exactly an everyday one. Let me fix you up a little bit first."
She looked at him laughingly as he pressed her beaver-cap well down over her smooth white forehead until it hid her dark, arched eyebrows. He turned up her deep fur collar, and buttoned it in front until only her pretty hazel eyes and straight white nose were to be seen. Then he regarded her with critical gravity.
"I wish I could hide those eyes of yours," he said, with whimsical seriousness. "You mustn't let any young Johnny Crapaud or Indian see them any more than you can help."
They descended the bluff and walked silently together for some little distance through the thicket of birch and saskatoon bushes. They were now close to the garden of the first straggling house, and they could see dark figures moving about everywhere. He pointed out to her the way she would have to take.
"Now, au revoir," he said, "and good luck to you."
They shook hands, and she wished him an equal luck. "You have been very good to us," she added, "and I hope you will believe that we are grateful."
He took off his cap to her, and they went on their separate ways.
Now that the girl had gone so far that there was no turning back, she rose to the occasion as she said she would. She faced the ghastly sights with much of her father's old spirit.
She put her hands in her large side pockets and lounged leisurely past the gable end of a house. A half-breed woman, carrying a large armful of loot, met her on the side-walk. In the moonlight the girl caught the glint of the bold, black, almond-shaped eyes and the flushed face. The woman was breathing hard, and her two arms encircled the great bundle. She shot a quick glance at Dorothy. She was more Indian than white.
Only that the rebels that night did not see with their normal eyesight, the girl realised that she would have been detected and undone.
Two drunken Indians came walking unsteadily towards her, talking excitedly. Though quaking inwardly, she kept straight on her way, imitating a man's gait as much as she could, for with those long buffalo coats that reach to the ground, it was impossible to tell a man from a woman save by the walk. The moccasins made the difference even less. But the Indians passed her, and she breathed more freely. Several people crossed and recrossed her path, but beyond a half-curious look of inquiry, they did not trouble about her. She passed a store in flames, and saw a number of breeds and Indians yelling and whooping and encouraging an intoxicated metis to dash into it at the imminent risk of his life to fetch out some article of inconsiderable value as a proof of his prowess. As she passed on she heard a dull thud; and, looking back, realised by the vast shaft of sparks which rose into the air that the roof had fallen in. Jean Ba'tiste had played with Death once too often.
Sick with horror, the girl hurried on. A few hundred yards more, and she would be clear of that awesome Bedlam. She had to pass between some, huts, one of which she could see was in flames. Hard by she could hear the sound of a fiddle, and the excited whoops of dancers. The Red River jig was evidently in full blast. She turned the corner of a corral and came full on it. Several people were standing apart round a bare spot of ground. A capering half-breed, with great red stockings reaching above his knees, with blanket suit, long crimson sash, and red tuque on his head, was capering about like a madman. His partner had just retired exhausted. He caught sight of Dorothy, and peered into her face.
"My faith!" he exclaimed; "but we shall dance like that—so? Bien!"
He made a grotesque bow, and seizing her by the arm, pulled her into the clear space facing him.
For the moment a horrible sickening fear took possession of Dorothy when she found herself thrust into such a very prominent position. It was quite bad enough to have to pass through that scene of pillage and riot, but to pose as the partner of an excitable half-breed in the execution of the Red River jig was more than the girl had bargained for. The fantastic shuffling and capering of the long-legged metis were wonderful to behold. The tassel of his long red tuque dangled and bobbed behind him like the pigtail of a Chinaman trying to imitate a dancing Dervish. His flushed face, long snaky black locks, and flashing eyes all spoke of the wild fever in his blood and his Gallic origin. Still, the girl noted he was not what might be termed an ill-looking fellow; he did not look bad-natured, nor was he in drink. He was merely an excited irresponsible.
The barbaric, musical rhyme on the cat-gut took a fresh lease of life; the delighted spectators clapped their hands in time, and supplemented the music with the regulation dog-like yelps. The Red River jig consists of two persons of opposite sex standing facing each other, each possessed with the laudable ambition of dancing his or her partner down. As may readily be imagined, it is a dance necessitating considerable powers of endurance. When one of the dancers sinks exhausted and vanquished, another steps into the breach. When Dorothy had made her appearance, a slim and by no means bad-looking half-breed girl had been unwillingly obliged to drop out of the dance. The bright eyes of the new arrival had caught Pierre La Chene's fancy, and, after the manner of his kind, he had made haste to secure her as a partner. Pierre was a philanderer and an inconstant swain. The dark eyes of Katie the Belle flushed with anger as she saw this strange girl take her place. She noticed with jealous eyes the elegant fur coat which the other wore, the dainty silk-sewn moccasins, the natty beaver cap, and felt that she, herself a leader of fashion among her people, had yet much to learn.
Dorothy stood stock still for a moment while her partner and the spectators shouted to her to begin. A wrinkled old dame remarked, in the flowery language of her people, that, as the figure of the girl was slender as the willow, and her feet small and light as those of the wood spirits that return to the land in the spring, surely she could out-dance Pierre La Chene, who had already out-worn the light-footed Jeanette and the beautiful Katie. Pierre shouted to his partner to make a start. Surely now she must be discovered and undone!
Then something that, when one comes to think of it, was not strange, happened—Dorothy rose to the occasion. She had danced the very same fantasia many a time out of sheer exuberance of spirits, and the love of dancing itself. She must dance and gain the sympathy of that rough crowd, in the event of her identity being discovered. There was nothing so terrible about this particular group after all. They were merely dancing while the others were going in for riot and pillage. There was something so incongruous and ludicrous in the whole affair that the odd, wayward, fun-loving spirit of the girl, of late held in abeyance, asserted itself, and she forgot all else save the fact that she must do her best to dance her partner down.
Her feet caught the rhythm of the "Arkansaw Traveller" —that stirring, foot-catching melody without beginning or ending—and in another minute Dorothy was dancing opposite the delighted and capering half-breed, and almost enjoying it. With hands on hips, with head thrown back, and with feet tremulous with motion, she kept time to the music. She was a good dancer, and realised what is meant by the poetry of motion. The fiddler played fairly well, and Pierre La Chene, if somewhat pronounced in his movements, was at least a picturesque figure, whose soul was in the dance. So amusing, were his antics that the girl laughed heartily, despite the danger of her position.
It was evident that Pierre was vastly taken with his partner. He rolled his eyes about in a languishing and alarming fashion; he twisted and wriggled like a contortionist, and occasionally varied the lightning-like shuffle of his own feet by kicking a good deal higher than his own head. He called upon his partner to "stay with it" in almost inarticulate gasps. "Whoop her up!" he yelled. "Git thar, Jean! Bravo, ma belle! Whoo-sh!"
It was a very nightmare of grotesqueness to Dorothy. The moonlight night, the black houses and pines looming up against the snowy landscape, the red glare in the immediate foreground caused by the burning buildings, the gesticulating figure of her half-breed partner, the excited, picturesque onlookers, the vagaries of the fiddler and the never-ceasing sound of the Indian drum, all tinged with an air of unreality and a sense of the danger that menaced, made up a situation that could not easily be eclipsed. And she was dancing and trying to make herself believe she was enjoying it, opposite a crazy half-breed rebel! She recognised him now as the dandy Pierre, the admiration of the fair sex in his own particular world on the Saskatchewan. If only any of her people could see her now, what would they think of her?
But was this wild dance to go on for ever? Already she was becoming warm in her fur coat, despite the lowness of the temperature. There was a limit to her powers of endurance, albeit she was stronger than the average girl. The onlookers, charmed with the grace of this unknown dancer, were noisy in their applause. She must feign fatigue and drop out, letting some one else take her place.
With an inclination of her head to her partner she did so, but he, doubtless captivated by the dark, laughing eyes he saw gazing at him above the deep fur collar, did not care to continue the dance with some one whose eyes might not be so bewitching, and dropped out also. The half-breed girl, his former partner, who up till now had contented herself by gazing sulkily from lowering brows upon this strange rival, was at last stirred by still deeper feeling. She came close up to Dorothy, and gazed searchingly into her face. At the same moment they recognised each other, for often had Dorothy admired the full, wildflower beauty, the delicate olive skin, and the dark, soulful eyes of this part descendant of a noble Gallic race and a barbaric people, and spoken kindly to her. The half-savage Katie had looked upon her white sister as a superior being from another world, and had almost made up her mind that she loved her, but she loved Pierre La Chene in a different way, and when that sort of love comes into one's life, all else has to give place to it With a quick movement she drew down Dorothy's fur collar, exposing her face.
"Voila!" she cried; "one of the enemy—the daughter of Douglas!"
It was as if the rebels had suddenly detected an embodied spirit that had worked evil in their midst, for the music stopped, and the excited crew rushed upon her. But Pierre La Chene kept them back. Those proud, defiant eyes had exercised a singular charm over him, and when he saw her face he almost felt ready to fight the whole crowd—almost ready, for, like a good many other lady-killers, Pierre had a very tender regard for his own personal safety. Still, he cried—
"Prenez garde—tek caar! Ma foi, but she can dance it! Let us tek her to Louis Riel. He is at the chapel. We may learn much."
With her keen instincts, Katie saw the ruse.
"She has the evil eye, and has bewitched Pierre!" she cried, and made as if to lead her old lover away.
But Pierre's response was to thrust her violently from him. Katie would have fallen but that Dorothy caught her.
"Oh, Katie, poor Katie!" was all she said.
And then the half-breed girl realised the evil she had wrought, and shrunk from the kindly arms of the sister she had betrayed.
"To Riel with her!—to Riel with her!" was the cry of the fickle malcontents, and, with a yelling following at her heels, Dorothy was led away.
IN THE JUDGMENT HALL
Now that Dorothy knew the worst was about to happen, she, strangely enough, felt more self-possessed than she had done before. These rebels might kill her, or not, just as the mood swayed them, but she would let them see that the daughter of a white man was not afraid.
In that short walk to the chapel she reviewed her position. She hoped that by this time the others had managed to reach the Fort. If they had, then she could face with comparative equanimity what might happen to herself. Her only fear was what her father, in his distress on hearing of her capture, might do.
Fortunately it was not far to the chapel which Riel had converted into his headquarters. Indeed, he was only paying a hurried visit there to exhort the faithful and long-suffering metis and Indians to prompt and decisive action. He intended to go off again in a few hours to Prince Albert to direct the siege against that town. Only those who had witnessed the wantonness and the capture of the "white witch" followed. Most of the rebels were too busy improving the shining hour of unlimited loot. A half-breed on one side and an Indian on the other, each with a dirty mitt on Dorothy's shoulder, led her to the Judgment Hall of the dusky prophet, Louis David Riel, "stickit priest," and now malcontent and political agitator by profession. This worthy gentleman had already cost the Government a rebellion, but why he should have been allowed to run to a second is one of those seeming mysteries that can only be accounted for by the too clement policy of a British Government.
Dorothy and her captors entered the small porch of the chapel and passed into the sacred edifice. For one like Riel, who had been educated for the priesthood in Lower Canada, it was a strange use to put such a place to. The scene when they entered almost defies description. It was crowded with breeds and Indians armed to the teeth with all manner of antiquated weapons. Most of them wore blue copotes and kept on their unplucked beaver caps or long red tuques. Haranguing them close to the altar was the great Riel himself, the terror of the Saskatchewan.
He did not look the dangerous, religious fanatic that he was in reality. He was about five feet seven in height, with red hair and beard. His face was pale and flabby, and his dark grey eyes, set close together, glowed when he spoke and were very restless. His nose was slightly aquiline, his neck long, and his lips thick. His voice, though low and gentle in ordinary conversation, was loud and abrupt now that he was excited.
He was so carried away by the exuberance of his own eloquence when Dorothy and her captors entered, that he still kept on in a state of rapt ecstasy. His semi-mystical oration was a weird jumble of religion and lawlessness, devout exhortation, riot, plunder, prayer, and pillage. He extolled the virtues of the murderous Poundmaker and Big Bear. He said that Mistawasis and Chicastafasin, the chiefs, and some others, were feeble of heart and backsliders, for they had left their reserves to escape being drawn into the trouble. Crowfoot, head chief of the Blackfoot nation, was protesting his loyalty to the Lieutenant-Governor, and his squaws would one day stone him to death as a judgment. Fort Pitt, Battleford and Prince Albert must shortly capitulate to them, and then the squaws would receive the white women of those places as their private prisoners to do with as their sweet wills suggested. Already many of the accursed whites had been slaughtered, as at Duck Lake, for instance, but many more had yet to die. They must be utterly exterminated, so that the elect might possess the land undisturbed.
At this point he caught sight of the newcomers. At a sign from him they approached.
"Ha!" he said, with an unctuous accent in his voice, and rubbing his hands like a miserable old Fagin, "Truly the Lord is delivering them into our hands. What are you, woman?"
But beyond her name Dorothy would at first tell him nothing. Her captors briefly stated the little they knew concerning her presence in the town. The self-constituted dictator tried bombast, threats and flattery to gain information from her, but they were of no avail. His authority being thus disputed by a woman, and his absurd self-esteem ruffled, he gave way to a torrent of abuse, but Dorothy was as if she heard it not. It was only when Riel was about to give instructions to his "General," Gabriel Dumont, and more of the members of his staff and "government" to instantly cause a search to be made in the camp for those who might have been with the girl, that she said he might do so if he chose, but it would be useless, as her friends must have entered the Fort an hour ago.
"Hear to her, hear to this shameless woman!" cried the fanatical and self-constituted saviour of the metis, gesticulating and trying, as he always did, to work upon the easily-roused feelings of his semi-savage following. "She convicts herself out of her own mouth; she must suffer. She is young and fair to look upon, but she is the daughter of Douglas, the great friend of the English, and therefore evil of heart. Moreover, she defies me, even me, to whom St Peter himself appeared in the Church of St. James at Washington, Columbia! Take her hence and keep her as a prisoner until we decide what fate shall be hers. In the days of the old prophets the dogs licked the blood of a woman from the stones—of a woman who deserved better than she."
With a wave of his hand the arch rebel, who was yet to pay the penalty of his inordinate vanity and scheming with his life, dismissed the prisoner and her captors. He instructed an Irish renegade and member of his cabinet, called Nolin, to see to it that the prisoner was kept under close arrest until her fate was decided upon—which would probably be before morning. Nolin told some of Katie's relatives to take charge of Dorothy. He himself, to tell the truth, did not particularly care what became of her one way or the other. Already this gentleman was trying to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare.
Dorothy looked around the improvised court-house in the vague hope of finding some one whom she might have known in the days of peace, and whose intervention would count for something. But alas! the vision of dark, cruel and uncompromising faces that met her gaze, gave her no hope. They had all been wrought up to such a high pitch of excitement that murder itself was but an item in their programme. Her heart sank within her, but still her mind was active. She was not one of the sort who submit tamely to what appears to be the inevitable. She came of a fighting stock—of a race that had struggled much, and prevailed.
Katie's male kinsman, the huge half-breed and the officious redskin, again seized Dorothy and hurried her away, followed by the curious, straggling mob. Arrived, at length, at a long, low log-house on the outskirts of the town, they hammered on the closed door for admittance.
THE DWARF AND THE BEAR
Dorothy noticed that there was a light in the windows of this house, and wondered how it was that the occupants seemed to be quietly staying at home while evidently all the half-breed inhabitants of the town were making a night of it. She also noticed that when her guides had knocked they drew somewhat back from the doorway, and that the motley crowd which had been pressing close behind followed their example. They also ceased their noisy talk and laughter while they waited for the door to be opened. Only Katie, the flouted belle who had been following them up, did not seem to possess the same diffidence as the others, but stood with one hand on the door, listening. Dorothy became strangely curious as to the inmates of this isolated house.
A strange shuffling and peculiar deep breathing were heard in the passage; a bolt was withdrawn, Katie drew quickly back, and next moment the door was thrown open. A flood of light streamed out, and two weird and startling figures were outlined sharply against it. Instinctively Dorothy shrank backwards with a sense of wonder and fear. Standing on its hind legs in the doorway was a bear, and by its side a dwarf with an immense head covered with a great crop of hair, and with long arms and a broad chest which indicated great strength.
"Whur-r! What you want here and at this hour of night, you cut-throats, you?" asked the outspoken manikin in a voice of sufficient volume to have equipped half-a-dozen men.
"A sweetheart for you, Pepin. A sweetheart, mon ami" answered the big breed, in a conciliatory voice.
Dorothy nearly sank to the ground in horror when she heard this rude jest.
"Bah!" cried the manikin, "it is another female you will want to foist off upon me, is it? Eh? What? But no, coquin, Pepin has not been the catch of the Saskatchewan all these years without learning wisdom. Who is she—a prisoner? Eh? Is not that so?"
"That is so, Pepin, she is preesonar, and Riel has ordered her to be detained here. Your house is the only quiet one in the town this night, and that is why we came. Tell Antoine to be so good as to stand back."
Antoine was the bear, which still stood swaying gently from one side to the other with a comical expression of inquiry and gravity on its old-fashioned face.
Pepin surveyed the mob with no friendly scrutiny.
"What you want here, you canaille, sans-culottes?" he demanded. And then in no complimentary terms he bade them begone.
The crowd, however, still lingered, with that spirit of curiosity peculiar to most crowds; so the dwarf brought them to their senses. Suddenly poking Antoine in the ribs, he brought him down on all fours, and then, brushing past Dorothy and her captors, and still leading the bear, he charged the mob with surprising agility, scattering it right and left. It was evident that they stood in wholesome dread of Pepin and his methods. Then, coming back with the bear, he put one hand on his heart, and with a bow of grotesque gallantry, bade Dorothy enter the house. The Indian he promptly sent about his business with a sudden blow over the chest that would probably have injured a white man's bones. The red man looked for a moment as if he meditated reprisals, but Pepin merely blinked at the cudgel, and Man-of-might, with a disgusted "Ough! ough!" changed his mind and incontinently fled. Dorothy's captor, Pierre La Chene, and Katie, alone entered the dwarf's abode.
It suddenly occurred to Dorothy that this was the Pepin Quesnelle of whom and of whose tame bear Rory was wont to tell tales. Dorothy noticed that Katie had a brief whispered conference with the truculent Pepin before entering. The result of it was somewhat unexpected; the half-breed girl took Dorothy by the arm and led her into a low room, which was scrupulously clean, at the end of the passage. There was no one in it. Katie seemed strangely nervous as she shut the door, and the girl wondered what was about to happen. Then the half-breed turned suddenly and looked into her eyes, at the same time placing one hand upon her wrist.
"Listen," she said, "I thought I loved you, but you have made me mad—so mad this night! Now tell me true—verite sans peur—you shall—you must tell me—do you love Pierre?"
If it had not been for the tragic light in the poor girl's eyes, Dorothy would have laughed in her face at the bare idea. As it was, she answered in such an emphatic way that Katie had no more doubts on that point. Then Dorothy asked the latter to send Pierre to her and to be herself present at the interview.
Katie at first demurred. She was afraid that the interview might prove too much for the susceptible frail one. But she brought him in, and when Dorothy had spoken a few words to him, the fickle swain was only too anxious to make it up with his real love. This satisfactory part of the programme completed, Katie packed him off into the next room, and then, with the emotional and demonstrative nature of her people, literally grovelled in the dust before Dorothy. She stooped and kissed her moccasined feet, and called on the girl to forgive her for her treacherous conduct But Dorothy raised her from the ground and comforted her as best she could. To her she was as a child, although perhaps her passion was a revelation that as yet she but imperfectly comprehended. But Katie was to prove the sincerity of her regret in a practical fashion.
"Where are your friends?" she asked. "Tell me everything—yes, you can trust me. By the Blessed Virgin, I swear I will serve you faithfully!" She raised her great dark tear-stained eyes to Dorothy's.
The girl instinctively felt that Katie was to be trusted. The only question was, could she count upon her discretion? She felt that she could do that also; she knew that in a matter of intrigue the dusky metis have no equals. The chances were that the others had reached the Fort; if so, no more harm could be done. Briefly she told Katie about those who had started out with her to steal through the rebel lines to the English garrison.
"If Jacques and the women went in the direction you say," said Katie, "the chances are they have got to the Fort. It matters not about the Police and Rory—they can look after themselves. I doubt, however, if your father and the sergeant have got through. You will stay in this house while I go and see. I have many friends among our people; the hearts of some of them not being entirely with Riel, they will help me. I shall take Pierre. Pepin and his mother you need not fear—they are not of the rebels; they have lived too long at Medicine Hat with the whites."
And then she went on briefly to explain how Pepin was a man renowned for his great wisdom and his cunning, as well as for the bodily strength which had once enabled him to strangle a bear. Still, his one great weakness was conceit of his personal appearance, and his belief that every woman was making a dead set at him. He also prided himself upon his manners, which were either absurdly elaborate or rough to a startling degree, as the mood seized him, and as Dorothy had seen for herself. His mother, whom she would see in the next room, was rather an amiable old soul, whose one providentially overpowering delusion was that Pepin was all that he considered himself to be. She regarded most young unengaged women with suspicion, as she fancied they looked upon her son with matrimonial designs. Katie knew that the old lady was at heart a match-maker, but, with the exception of herself, who, however, was engaged, she had found no one good or beautiful enough to aspire to an alliance with the Quesnelle family.
Dorothy felt vastly relieved at hearing all this. Then Katie took her by the hand, and, telling her to be of good courage, as she had nothing to fear led her into the next room.
"A good daughter for you, mother," she said smilingly to the dame who sat by the fire.
The old white-haired woman, who was refreshingly clean and tidy, turned her dark eyes sharply upon the new arrival. Whether it was that Dorothy was prepossessed in her favour and showed it, and that the old lady took it as a personal compliment, or that the physical beauty of the girl appealed to her, is immaterial; but the fact remained that she in her turn was favourably impressed. She motioned to a seat beside herself.
"Sit hyar, honey," she said. "I will put the kettle on the fire and give you to eat and drink."
But the girl smilingly thanked her, and said that she had not long since finished supper. In no way loth to do so, she then went and sat down next the old dame, who regarded her with considerable curiosity and undisguised favour. Katie, seeing that she could safely leave her charge there, spoke a few words in a strange patois of Cree and French to Pepin, and, calling Pierre, left the house.
Dorothy glanced in wonder round the common sitting-room of this singular family. It was a picturesque interior, decorated with all kinds of odds and ends. There were curios in the way of Indian war weapons, scalping knives, gorgeously beaded moccasins and tobacco pouches, barbaric plumed head-dresses, stuffed birds and rattlesnakes, butterflies, strings of birds' eggs, and grinning and truly hideous Indian masks for use in devil and give-away dances. At the far end of the room was a rude cobbler's bench and all the paraphernalia of one who works in boots, moccasins, and harness. Thus was betrayed the calling of Pepin Quesnelle.
But it was the man himself, with his extraordinary personality, who fascinated Dorothy. He was standing with his hands behind his back and his legs apart, talking to the sulky, uncompromising half-breed who had brought her there. He was not more than three feet in height, and he seemed all head and body. His arms were abnormally long and muscular. He had a dark shock head of hair, and his little black moustache was carefully waxed. His forehead was low and broad, and his aquiline nose, like his jet-black, almond-shaped eyes, betrayed an Indian ancestor. His face betokened intelligence, conceit, and a keen sense of sardonic humour; still, there was nothing in it positively forbidding. To those whom he took a fancy to, he was doubtless loyal and kind, albeit his temperament was of a fiery and volatile nature. In this he showed the Gallic side of his origin. It was very evident that, despite his inconsiderable size, his hulking and sulky neighbour stood in considerable awe of him.
"Pshaw! Idiot! Pudding-head!" he was saying. "But it is like to as many Muskymote dogs you are—let one get down and all the others attack him. What, I ask, did your Riel do for you in '70? Did he not show the soles of the moccasins he had not paid for as soon as he heard that the red-coats were close to Fort Garry, and make for the States? Bah, you fools, and he will do so again—if he gets the chance! But he will not, mark my words, Bastien Lagrange; this time the red-coats will catch him, and he and you—yes, you, you chuckle-head—will hang all in a row at the end of long ropes in the square at Regina until you are dead, dead, dead! Think of it, Lagrange, what a great big ugly bloated corpse you'll make hanging by the neck after your toes have stopped twitching, twitching, and your face is a beautiful blue. Eh? Bien! is not that so, blockhead?"
And the dwarf grinned and chuckled in such a bloodthirsty and anticipating fashion that the girl shuddered.
Bastien Lagrange did not seem to relish the prospect, and his shifty eyes roamed round the walls.
"But the red-coats, how can they come?" he weakly asked. "Where are they, the soldiers of the Great Mother? Riel has said that those stories of the cities over seas and the many red-coats are all lies, and that the Lord will smite the Police and those that are in the country with the anthrax that kills the cattle in the spring. Riel swears to that, for St. Peter appeared to him and told him so. He said so himself!"
"Bah, idiot!" retorted Pepin, "if it is that Riel is on such friendly terms with St. Peter, and the Lord is going to do such wonderful things for him, why does not the Saint give his messengers enough in advance for them to pay the poor men who make for them the moccasins they wear? Why does he suffer them to steal from their own people? Pshaw, it is the same old tale, the same old game from all time, from Mahomet to the present down-at-heel! But courage, mon cher Bastien! I will come and see you ch-chk, ch-chk!"—he elongated and twisted his neck, at the same time turning his eyes upwards in a horrible fashion—"while your feet go so ... so,"—he described a species of pas-seul with his toes. "Is that not so, Antoine? Eh?—you beauty, you?" and here he gave the great bear, that had been gravely sitting on its haunches watching him like an attendant spirit, a sudden and affectionate kick.
To Dorothy's horror the great brute made a quick snap at him, which, however, only served to intensely amuse Pepin, for he skilfully evaded it, and, seizing his stick, at once began to dance up and down. The cunning little black eyes of the beast watched him apprehensively and resentfully.
"Aha, Antoine!" he cried. "Git up, you lazy one, and dance! Houp-la!"—the huge brute stood up on its hind legs—"Now, then, Bastien, pick up that fiddle and play. That's it, piff-poum—piff-poum! Houp-la! piff-poum!" and in another minute the man and the bear were dancing opposite each other. It was a weird and uncanny sight, the grotesque dwarf, with his face flushed and his hair on end, capering about and kicking with his pigmy legs, and the bear with uncouth waddles waltzing round and round, its movements every now and again being accelerated by a judicious dig in the ribs from Pepin's stick. Bastien Lagrange fiddled away as if for dear life, and the old dame, her face beaming with pride and admiration, clapped her hands in time to the music. Every minute or two she would glance from her son to Dorothy's face to note what impression such a gallant sight had made.
"Is it not magnifique? Is he not splendid?" she asked the girl.
"He is indeed wonderful," replied Dorothy, truthfully enough.
Despite the suggestion of weirdness the goblin-like scene created in her mind, the grimaces and antics of the manikin, and the sulkily responsive movements of the bear, were too absurd for anything. She thought of Rory's story of how the "b'ar" resented being left out of its share in Pepin's castor-oil; and was so tickled by the contrast of their present occupation that, despite herself, she broke out into a fit of laughter. Fearful of betraying the reason of it, she began to clap her hands like the old lady, which action, being attributed by the others to her undisguised admiration, at once found favour in their eyes. Dorothy began to imagine she was getting on famously.
"Honey," cried the old lady, raising her voice and stooping towards the girl, "I like yer face. Barrin' Katie, you're the only gal I'd like for Pepin. I reckon we'll just stow you away quietly like, and then afterwards you kin be his wife."
But the prospect so alarmed Dorothy that her heart seemed to stop beating again. At the same moment Pepin showed signs of fatigue, and the music stopped abruptly. Antoine, however, in a fit of absent-mindedness, kept on waltzing around on his own account, until Pepin gave him a crack over the head and brought him to his senses.
"Come hyar, Pepin," cried the old dame. "Mam'selle is took wid you. I think she'd make you a good wife, my sweet one."
Dorothy grew hot and cold at the very thought of it. She really did not know what these people were capable of.
Pepin approached her with what he evidently intended to be dignified strides. For the first time he honoured her with a searching scrutiny. Poor Dorothy felt as if the black eyes of this self-important dwarf were reading her inmost thoughts. She became sick with apprehension, and her eyes fell before his, In another minute the oracle spoke.
"No, ma mere, <no," he said. "She is a nice girl upon the whole; her hair, her figure, and her skin are good, but her nose stops short too soon, and is inclined to be saucy. Though her ways are sleek like a cotton-tail's, I see devilry lurking away back in her eyes. Moreover, her ways are those of a grande dame, and not our ways—she would expect too much of us. She is a good girl enough, but she will not do. Voila tout!" And with a not unkindly bow the petit maitre turned his attention to Antoine, who, during the examination, had taken the opportunity of seizing its master's cudgel and breaking it into innumerable little bits.
Dorothy breathed again, but, true to the nature of her sex, she resented the disparaging allusions to her nose and eyes—even from Pepin. What a conceited little freak he was, to be sure! And to tell her that she would not do! At the same time she felt vastly relieved to think that the dwarf had resolved not to annex her. The only danger was that he might change his mind. His mother had taken his decision with praiseworthy resignation, and tried in a kindly fashion to lighten what she considered must be the girl's disappointment. Meanwhile Lagrange, judging by his lugubrious countenance, was evidently pondering over the pleasant prospect Pepin had predicted for him. The dwarf himself was engaged in trying to force the fragments of the stick down Antoine's throat, and the latter was angrily resenting the liberty.
Dorothy was becoming sleepy, what with the fatigue she had undergone during the day and the heat of the fire, when suddenly there came three distinct taps at one of the windows.
It was fortunate for Antoine the bear that the taps at the window came when they did, for Pepin with his great arms had got it into such an extraordinary position —doubtless the result of many experiments—that it would most assuredly have had its digestion ruined by the sticks which its irate master was administering in small sections. To facilitate matters, he had drawn its tongue to one side as a veterinary-surgeon does when he is administering medicine to an animal. On hearing the taps the dwarf relinquished his efforts and went to the door. The bear sat up on its haunches, coughing and making wry faces, at the same time looking around for moccasins or boots or something that would enable it to pay its master out with interest, and not be so difficult to swallow when it came to the reckoning.
The dwarf went to the door, and, putting one hand on it, and his head to one side, cried—
"Hello, there! Qui vive? Who are you, and what do you want?"
"All right, Pepin, it's me—Katie."
The door was thrown open, and the half-breed woman entered. At her heels came a man who was so muffled up as to be almost unrecognisable. But Dorothy knew him, and the next moment was in her father's arms. The dwarf hastened to close the door, but before doing so he gazed out apprehensively.
"You are quite sure no one followed you?" he asked Katie, on re-entering the room.
"No one suspected," she replied shortly. "Jean Lagrange has gone to look out for the others. I fear it will go hard with the shermoganish unless you can do something, Pepin."
Dorothy had been talking to her father, but heard the Indian word referring to the Police.
"I wonder if Mr. Pasmore has got through to the Fort, dad!" she said suddenly.
"I was just about to tell you, my dear, what happened," he replied. "I was going quietly along, trying to find some trace of you, when a couple of breeds came up behind and took me prisoner. I thought they were going to shoot me at first, but they concluded to keep me until to-morrow, when they would bring me before their government. So they shut me up in a dug-out on the face of a bank, keeping my capture as quiet as possible for fear of the mob taking the law into its own hands and spoiling their projected entertainment. I hadn't been there long before the door was unbarred and Pasmore came in with Katie here. He told me to go with her, and, when I had found you, to return to where we had left the sleighs, and make back for the ranche by the old trail as quickly as possible. He said he'd come on later, but that we weren't to trouble about him. Katie had made it right, it seems, with my jailers, whom I am inclined to think are old friends of hers."
"But why couldn't he come on, dad, with you?"
There was something about the affair that she could not understand.
"I suppose he thought it would attract less attention to go separately. I think the others must have got safely into the Fort. It seems that since they have discovered that some of the English are trying to get through their lines they have strengthened the cordon round the Fort, so that now it is impossible to reach it."
"It's not pleasant, dad, to go back again and leave the others, is it?"
"It can't be helped, dear. I wish Pasmore would hurry up and come. He said, however, we were not to wait for him. That half-breed doesn't look too friendly, does he?"
"Pepin Quesnelle is, so I fancy it doesn't matter about the other," replied Dorothy.
The rancher turned to the others, who had evidently just finished a serious argument.
"Pepin," he observed, "I'm glad to find you're not one of those who forget their old friends."
"Did you ever think I would? Eh? What?" asked the manikin cynically, with his head on one side.