THE SILENT PLACES
STEWART EDWARD WHITE
Illustrated by Philip R. Goodwin
NEW YORK McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
Published, April, 1904
To My Mother
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The woodsmen, with a simultaneous movement, raised their rifles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
Facing page The child uttered a sharp cry of fright. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 "Pretty enough to kiss!" cried Dick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 "Listen, Little Sister," said he. "Now I go on a long journey" . . . 148 Dick jumped forward and snatched aside the opening into the wigwam . 228 The hound sniffed deep, filling his nostrils with the feather snow . 258 "Stop!" he commanded, his voice croaking harsh across the stillness. 294
THE SILENT PLACES
At about eight o'clock one evening of the early summer a group of men were seated on a grass-plot overlooking a broad river. The sun was just setting through the forest fringe directly behind them.
Of this group some reclined in the short grass, others lay flat on the bank's slope, while still others leaned against the carriages of two highly ornamented field-guns, whose embossed muzzles gaped silently at an eastern shore nearly two miles distant.
The men were busy with soft-voiced talk, punctuating their remarks with low laughter of a singularly infectious character. It was strange speech, richly embroidered with the musical names of places, with unfamiliar names of beasts, and with unintelligible names of things. Kenogami, Mamatawan, Wenebogan, Kapuskasing, the silver-fox, the sea-otter, the sable, the wolverine, the musk-ox, parka, babiche, tump-line, giddes,—these and others sang like arrows cleaving the atmosphere of commoner words. In the distant woods the white-throats and olive thrushes called in a language hardly less intelligible.
There scarcely needed the row of glistening birch-barks below the men, the warehouse with its picketed lane, the tall flag-staff, the block-house stockade, the half-bred women chatting over the low fences of the log-houses, the squaws wandering to and fro in picturesque silence, the Indian children playing noisily or standing in awe before the veranda of the white house, to inform the initiated that this little forest- and river-girt settlement was a post of the Honourable the Hudson's Bay Company. The time of sunset and the direction of the river's flow would have indicated a high latitude. The mile-long meadow, with its Indian camp, the oval of forest, the immense breadth of the river identified the place as Conjuror's House. Thus the blue water in the distance was James Bay, the river was the Moose; enjoying his Manila cheroot on the Factory veranda with the other officers of the Company was Galen Albret, and these men lounging on the river bank were the Company's post-keepers and runners, the travellers of the Silent Places.
They were of every age and dressed in a variety of styles. All wore ornamented moccasins, bead garters, and red sashes of worsted. As to the rest, each followed his taste. So in the group could be seen bare heads, fillet-bound heads, covered heads; shirt sleeves, woollen jerseys, and long, beautiful blanket coats. Two things, however, proved them akin. They all possessed a lean, wiry hardness of muscle and frame, a hawk-like glance of the eye, an almost emaciated spareness of flesh on the cheeks. They all smoked pipes of strong plug tobacco.
Whether the bronze of their faces, thrown into relief by the evening glow, the frowning steadiness of their eyes, or more fancifully the background of the guns, the flag-staff and the stockade was most responsible, the militant impression persisted strongly. These were the veterans of an hundred battles. They were of the stuff forlorn hopes are fashioned from. A great enemy, a powerful enemy, an enemy to be respected and feared had hardened them to the unyielding. The adversary could almost be measured, the bitterness of the struggle almost be gauged from the scars of their spirits; the harshness of it, the cruelty of it, the wonderful immensity of it that should so fashion the souls and flesh of men. For to the bearing of these loungers clung that hint of greater things which is never lacking to those who have called the deeps of man's nature to the conquering.
The sun dipped to the horizon, and over the landscape slipped the beautiful north-country haze of crimson. From the distant forest sounded a single mournful wolf-howl. At once the sledge-dogs answered in chorus. The twilight descended. The men gradually fell silent, smoking their pipes, savouring the sharp snow-tang, grateful to their toughened senses, that still lingered in the air.
Suddenly out of the dimness loomed the tall form of an Indian, advancing with long, straight strides. In a moment he was among them responding composedly to their greetings.
"Bo' jou', bo' jou', Me-en-gen," said they.
"Bo' jou', bo' jou'," said he.
He touched two of the men lightly on the shoulder. They arose, for they knew him as the bowsman of the Factor's canoe, and so understood that Galen Albret desired their presence.
Me-en-gen led the way in silence, across the grass-plot, past the flag-staff, to the foot of the steps leading to the Factory veranda. There the Indian left them. They mounted the steps. A voice halted them in the square of light cast through an intervening room from a lighted inner apartment.
The veranda was wide and low; railed in; and, except for the square of light, cast in dimness. A dozen men sat in chairs, smoking. Across the shaft of light the smoke eddied strangely. A woman's voice accompanied softly the tinkle of a piano inside. The sounds, like the lamplight, were softened by the distance of the intervening room.
Of the men on the veranda Galen Albret's identity alone was evident. Grim, four-square, inert, his very way of sitting his chair, as though it were a seat of judgment and he the interpreter of some fierce blood-law, betrayed him. From under the bushy white tufts of his eyebrows the woodsmen felt the search of his inspection. Unconsciously they squared their shoulders.
The older had some fifty-five or sixty years, though his frame was still straight and athletic. A narrow-brimmed slouch hat shadowed quiet, gray eyes, a hawk nose, a long sweeping white mustache. His hands were tanned to a hard mahogany-brown carved into veins, cords, and gnarled joints. He had kindly humour in the wrinkles of his eyes, the slowly developed imagination of the forest-dweller in the deliberation of their gaze, and an evident hard and wiry endurance. His dress, from the rough pea-jacket to the unornamented moccasins, was severely plain.
His companion was hardly more than a boy in years, though more than a man in physical development. In every respect he seemed to be especially adapted to the rigours of northern life. The broad arch of his chest, the plump smoothness of his muscles, above all, the full roundness of his throat indicated that warmth-giving blood, and plenty of it, would be pumped generously to every part of his body. His face from any point of view but one revealed a handsome, jaunty boy, whose beard was still a shade. But when he looked at one directly, the immaturity fell away. This might have been because of a certain confidence of experience beyond what most boys of twenty can know, or it might have been the result merely of a physical peculiarity. For his eyes were so extraordinarily close together that they seemed by their very proximity to pinch the bridge of his nose, and in addition, they possessed a queer slant or cast which twinkled perpetually now in one, now in the other. It invested him at once with an air singularly remote and singularly determined. But at once when he looked away the old boyishness returned, enhanced further by a certain youthful barbarity in the details of his dress—a slanted heron's feather in his hat, a beaded knife-sheath, an excess of ornamentation on his garters and moccasins, and the like.
In a moment one of the men on the veranda began to talk. It was not Galen Albret, though Galen Albret had summoned them, but MacDonald, his Chief Trader and his right-hand man. Galen Albret himself made no sign, but sat, his head sunk forward, watching the men's faces from his cavernous eyes.
"You have been called for especial duty," began MacDonald, shortly. "It is volunteer duty, and you need not go unless you want to. We have called you because you have the reputation of never having failed. That is not much for you, Herron, because you are young. Still we believe in you. But you, Bolton, are an old hand on the Trail, and it means a good deal."
Galen Albret stirred. MacDonald shot a glance in his direction and hastened on.
"I am going to tell you what we want. If you don't care to tackle the job, you must know nothing about it. That is distinctly understood?"
He hitched forward nearer the light, scanning the men carefully. They nodded.
"Sure!" added Herron.
"That's all right. Do you men remember Jingoss, the Ojibway, who outfitted here a year ago last summer?"
"Him they calls th' Weasel?" inquired Sam Bolton.
"That's the one. Do you remember him well? how he looks?"
"Yes," nodded Sam and Dick Herron together.
"We've got to have that Indian."
"Where is he?" asked Herron. Sam Bolton remained silent.
"That is for you to find out." MacDonald then went on to explain himself, hitching his chair still nearer, and lowering his voice. "A year ago last summer," said he, "he got his 'debt' at the store of two hundred castors which he was to pay off in pelts the following spring. He never came back. I don't think he intends to. The example is bad. It has never happened to us before. Too many Indians get credit at this Post. If this man is allowed to go unpunished, we'll be due for all sorts of trouble with our other creditors. Not only he, but all the rest of them, must be made to feel that an embezzler is going to be caught, every time. They all know he's stolen that debt, and they're waiting to see what we're going to do about it. I tell you this so you'll know that it's important."
[Footnote 1: One hundred dollars.]
"You want us to catch him?" said Bolton, more as a comment than an inquiry.
"Catch him, and catch him alive!" corrected MacDonald. "There must be no shooting. We've got to punish him in a way that will make him an example. We've got to allow our Indians 'debt' in order to keep them. If we run too great a risk of loss, we cannot do it. That is a grave problem. In case of success you shall have double pay for the time you are gone, and be raised two ranks in the service. Will you do it?"
Sam Bolton passed his emaciated, gnarled hand gropingly across his mouth, his usual precursor of speech. But Galen Albret abruptly interposed, speaking directly, with authority, as was his habit.
"Hold on," said he, "I want no doubt. If you accept this, you must not fail. Either you must come back with that Indian, or you need not come back at all. I won't accept any excuses for failure. I won't accept any failure. It does not matter if it takes ten years. I want that man."
Abruptly he fell silent. After a moment MacDonald resumed his speech.
"Think well. Let me know in the morning."
Bolton again passed his hand gropingly before his mouth.
"No need to wait for me," said he; "I'll do it."
Dick Herron suddenly laughed aloud, startling to flight the gravities of the moment.
"If Sam here's got her figured out, I've no need to worry," he asserted. "I'm with you."
"Very well," agreed MacDonald. "Remember, this must be kept quiet. Come to me for what you need."
"I will say good-by to you now," said Galen Albret. "I do not wish to be seen talking to you to-morrow."
The woodsmen stepped forward, and solemnly shook Galen Albret's hand. He did not arise to greet these men he was sending out into the Silent Places, for he was the Factor, and not to many is it given to rule a country so rich and extended. They nodded in turn to the taciturn smokers, then glided away into the darkness on silent, moccasined feet.
The night had fallen. Here and there through the gloom shone a lamp. Across the north was a dim glow of phosphorescence, precursor of the aurora, from which occasionally trembled for an instant a single shaft of light. The group by the bronze field-cannon were humming softly the sweet and tender cadences of La Violette dandine.
Instinctively the two woodsmen paused on the hither side of rejoining their companions. Bolton's eyes were already clouded with the trouble of his speculation. Dick Herron glanced at his comrade quizzically, the strange cast flickering in the wind of his thought.
"Oh, Sam!" said he.
"What?" asked the older man, rousing.
"Strikes me that by the time we get through drawin' that double pay on this job, we'll be rich men—and old!"
The men stood looking vaguely upward at the stars.
Dick Herron whipped the grasses with a switch he had broken in passing a willow-bush. His mind was little active. Chiefly he regretted the good time he had promised himself here at the Post after the labour of an early spring march from distant Winnipeg. He appreciated the difficulties of the undertaking, but idly, as something that hardly concerned him. The details, the planning, he dismissed from his mind, confident that his comrade would rise to that. In time Sam Bolton would show him the point at which he was to bend his strength. Then he would stoop his shoulders, shut his eyes, and apply the magnificent brute force and pluck that was in him. So now he puckered his lips to the sibilance of a canoe-song, and waited.
But the other, Sam Bolton, the veteran woodsman, stood in rapt contemplation, his wide-seeing, gentle eyes of the old man staring with the magnitude of his revery.
Beyond the black velvet band lay the wilderness. There was the trackless country, large as the United States itself, with its great forests, its unmapped bodies of water, its plains, its barren grounds, its mountains, its water courses wider even than the Hudson River. Moose and bear, true lords of the forest, he might see any summer day. Herds of caribou, sometimes thousands strong, roamed its woodlands and barrens. Wolves, lurking or bold as their prey was strong or weak, clung to the caribou bands in hope of a victim. Wolverines,—unchanged in form from another geological period—marten, mink, fisher, otter, ermine, muskrat, lynx, foxes, beaver carried on their varied affairs of murder or of peaceful industry. Woods Indians, scarcely less keen of sense or natural of life than the animals, dwelt in their wigwams of bark or skins, trapped and fished, made their long migrations as the geese turn following their instinct. Sun, shadow, rain, cold, snow, hunger, plenty, labour, or the peaceful gliding of rivers, these had watched by the Long Trail in the years Sam Bolton had followed it. He sensed them now dimly, instinctively, waiting by the Trail he was called upon to follow.
Sam Bolton had lived many years in the forest, and many years alone. Therefore he had imagination. It might be of a limited quality, but through it he saw things in their essences.
Now from the safe vantage ground of the camp, from the breathing space before the struggle, he looked out upon the wilderness, and in the wilderness he felt the old, inimical Presence as he had felt it for forty years. The scars of that long combat throbbed through his consciousness. The twisting of his strong hands, the loosening of the elasticity, the humbling of the spirit, the caution that had displaced the carelessness of youth, the keenness of eye, the patience,—all these were at once the marks of blows and the spoils of victory received from the Enemy. The wilderness, calm, ruthless, just, terrible, waited in the shadow of the forest, seeking no combat, avoiding none, conquering with a lofty air of predestination, yielding superbly as though the moment's victory for which a man had strained the fibres of his soul were, after all, a little, unimportant thing; never weary, never exultant, dispassionate, inevitable, mighty, whose emotions were silence, whose speech was silence, whose most terrible weapon was the great white silence that smothered men's spirits. Sam Bolton clearly saw the North. He felt against him the steady pressure of her resistance. She might yield, but relentlessly regained her elasticity. Men's efforts against her would tire; the mechanics of her power remained constant. What she lost in the moments of her opponent's might, she recovered in the hours of his weakness, so that at the last she won, poised in her original equilibrium above the bodies of her antagonists. Dimly he felt these things, personifying the wilderness in his imagination of the old man, arranging half-consciously his weapons of craft in their due order.
Somewhere out beyond in those woods, at any one of the thirty-two points of the compass, a man was lurking. He might be five or five hundred miles away. He was an expert at taking care of himself in the woods. Abruptly Sam Bolton began to formulate his thoughts aloud.
"We got to keep him or anybody else from knowin' we's after him, Dick," said he. "Jest as soon as he knows that, it's just too easy for him to keep out of our way. Lucky Jingoss is an Ojibway, and his people are way off south. We can fool this crowd here easy enough; we'll tell 'em we're looking for new locations for winter posts. But she's an awful big country."
"Which way'll we go first?" asked Dick, without, however, much interest in the reply. Whatever Sam decided was sure to be all right.
"It's this way," replied the latter. "He's got to trade somewheres. He can't come into any of the Posts here at the Bay. What's the nearest? Why, Missinaibie, down in Lake Superior country. Probably he's down in that country somewheres. We'll start south."
"That's Ojibway country," hazarded Dick at random.
"It's Ojibway country, but Jingoss is a Georgian Bay Ojibway. Down near Missinaibie every Injun has his own hunting district, and they're different from our Crees,—they stick pretty close to their district. Any strangers trying to hunt and trap there are going to get shot, sure pop. That makes me think that if Jingoss has gone south, and if he's trading now at Missinaibie, and if he ain't chummed up with some of them Ojibways to get permission to trap in their allotments, and if he ain't pushed right on home to his own people or out west to Winnipeg country, then most likely we'll find him somewheres about the region of th' Kabinakagam."
"So we'll go up th' Missinaibie River first," surmised Dick.
"That's how we'll make a start," assented Bolton.
As though this decision had terminated an interview, they turned with one accord toward the dim group of their companions. As they approached, they were acclaimed.
"Here he is," "Dick, come here," "Dick, sing us the song. Chante donc 'Oncle Naid,' Deeck."
And Dick, leaning carelessly against the breech of the field-guns, in a rich, husky baritone crooned to the far north the soft syllables of the far south.
"Oh, there was an old darkey, and his name was Uncle Ned, And he lived long ago, long ago!"
In the selection of paddles early next morning Sam insisted that the Indian rule be observed, measuring carefully that the length of each implement should just equal the height of its wielder. He chose the narrow maple blade, that it might not split when thrust against the bottom to check speed in a rapid. Further the blades were stained a brilliant orange.
Dick Herron had already picked one of a dozen birch-bark canoes laid away under the bridge over the dry coulee. He knew a good canoe as you would know a good horse. Fourteen feet it measured, of the heavy winter-cut of bark, and with a bottom all of one piece, without cracks or large knots.
The canoe and the paddles they laid at the water's edge. Then they went together to the great warehouse, behind the grill of whose upper room MacDonald was writing. Ordinarily the trappers were not allowed inside the grill, but Dick and Sam were told to help themselves freely. The stocking Dick left to his older companion, assuring himself merely of an hundred rounds of ammunition for his new model Winchester rifle, the 44-40 repeater, then just entering the outskirts of its popularity.
In the obscurity of the wide, low room the old woodsman moved to and fro, ducking his head to avoid things hanging, peering into corners, asking an occasional question of MacDonald, who followed him silently about. Two small steel traps, a narrow, small-meshed fish-net, a fish-line and hooks, powder, ball, and caps for the old man's muzzle-loader, a sack of salt were first laid aside. This represented subsistence. Then matches, a flint-and-steel machine, two four-point blankets. These meant warmth. Then ten pounds of plug tobacco and as many of tea. These were necessary luxuries. And finally a small sack of flour and a side of bacon. These were merely a temporary provision; when they should be exhausted, the men would rely wholly on the forest.
Sam Bolton hovered over the pile, after it was completed, his eyes half shut, naming over its items again and again, assuring himself that nothing lacked. At his side MacDonald made suggestions.
"Got a copper pail, Sam? a frying-pan? cups? How about the axe? Better have an extra knife between you. Need any clothes? Compass all right?"
To each of these questions Sam nodded an assent. So MacDonald, having named everything—with the exception of the canvas square to be used as a tarpaulin or a tent, and soap and towel—fell silent, convinced that he could do nothing more.
But Dick, who had been drumming his fingers idly against the window, turned with a suggestion of his own.
"How're we fixed for shoe pacs? I haven't got any."
At once MacDonald looked blank.
"By George, boys, I ain't got but four or five pairs of moccasins in the place! There's plenty of oil tan; I can fix you all right there. But smoke tans! That Abitibi gang mighty near cleaned me out. You'll have to try the Indians."
Accordingly Bolton and Herron took their way in the dusty little foot-trodden path—there were no horses in that frontier—between the Factor's residence and the Clerk's house, down the meandering trail through the high grasses of the meadow to where the Indian lodges lifted their pointed tops against the sky.
The wigwams were scattered apparently at random. Before each a fire burned. Women and girls busied themselves with a variety of camp-work. A tame crow hopped and fluttered here and there just out of reach of the pointed-nosed, shaggy wolf-dogs.
The latter rushed madly forward at the approaching strangers, yelping in a curious, long-drawn bay, more suggestive of their wolf ancestors than of the domestic animal. Dick and Sam laid about them vigorously with short staffs they had brought for the purpose. Immediately the dogs, recognising their dominance, slunk back. Three men sauntered forward, grinning broadly in amiable greeting. Two or three women, more bashful than the rest, scuttled into the depths of wigwams out of sight. A multitude of children concealed themselves craftily, like a covey of quail, and focussed their bright, bead-like eyes on the new-comers. The rest of the camp went its way unmoved.
"Bo' jou', bo' jou'," greeted Sam Bolton.
"Bo' jou', bo' jou'," replied the three.
These Indians were of the far upper country. They spoke no English nor French, and adhered still to their own tribal customs and religious observances. They had lingered several days beyond their time for the purpose of conjuring. In fact at this very moment the big medicine lodge raised itself in the centre of the encampment like a miniature circus tent. Sam Bolton addressed the two in their own language.
"We wish to buy many moccasins of your old women," said Sam.
Immediately one of the Indians glided away. From time to time during the next few minutes he was intermittently visible as he passed from the dark interior of one wigwam, across the sunlight, and into the dark interior of another.
The older of the two still in company of the white men began to ask questions.
"The Little Father is about to make a long journey?"
"Does one buy so many moccasins for a short?"
"He goes to hunt the fur?"
"In what direction does he set the bow of his canoe?"
Suddenly Dick Herron, who had, as usual, been paying attention to almost anything rather than the matter in hand, darted suddenly toward a clump of grass. In a moment he straightened his back to hold at arm's length a struggling little boy. At the instant of his seizure the child uttered a sharp cry of fright, then closed his lips in the stoicism of his race.
That one cry was enough, however. Rescue darted from the nearest wigwam. A flying figure covered the little distance in a dozen graceful leaps, snatched the child from the young man's hands and stood, one foot advanced, breast heaving, a palpitating, wild thing, like a symbol of defiance.
The girl belonged distinctly to the more attractive type; it required but little imagination to endow her with real beauty. Her figure was straight and slim and well-proportioned, her eyes large, her face oval and quite devoid of the broad, high-cheeked stupidity so common in the northern races. At the moment she flashed like a brand with quick-breathed anger and fear.
Dick looked at her at first with amazement, then with mingled admiration and mischief. He uttered a ferocious growl and lowered his shoulders as though about to charge. Immediately the defiance broke. The girl turned and fled, plunging like a rabbit into the first shelter that offered, pursued by shrieks of delight from the old squaws, a pleased roar from Dick, and the laughter of the Indian men themselves.
"May-may-gwan," said the oldest Indian, naming her, "foster sister to the boy you had caught."
[Footnote 2: The Butterfly.]
"She is Ojibway, then," exclaimed Dick, catching at the Ojibway word.
"Ae," admitted the Cree, indifferently. Such inclusions of another tribe, either by adoption or marriage, are not uncommon.
At this moment the third Indian approached.
"No moccasins," he reported. "Plenty buckskin."
Sam Bolton looked troubled. This meant a delay. However, it could not be avoided.
"Let the old women make some," he decided.
The Cree old-man shook his head.
"That cannot be. There is not time. We turn our canoes to the Missinaibie by next sun."
Sam pondered again, turning over in his mind this fresh complication. But Dick, kicking the earth clods in impatience, broke in.
"Well, we're going by the Missinaibie, too. Let the women make the moccasins. We will accompany you."
"That might be," replied the Indian.
"It is well," said Bolton.
An old woman was summoned. She measured her customers' feet with a buckskin thong. Then they departed without further ceremony. An Indian rarely says farewell. When his business is finished he goes.
"Dick," said Sam, "you ought not to have broke in there."
"What do you mean?" asked the other, puzzled.
"Suggesting our travelling with them."
"Why?" cried Dick in astonishment. "Ain't you never travelled with Injuns before?"
"That ain't th' question. Did you notice that third Injun? the one who didn't do any talking?"
"Sure! What of him?"
"Well, he's an Ojibway. Th' rest are Wood Crees. And I miss my guess if he ain't a bad customer. He watched us mighty close, and his eyes are bad. He's sharp. He's one of that wondering kind. He's wondering now who we are, and where we're going, and why we're hitting so long a trail. And what's more, he belongs to this Jingoss's people in a roundabout sort of way. He's worse than fifty Crees. Maybe he knows all about Jingoss, and if he does, he'll get suspicious the minute we angle down into that country."
"Let's let 'em slide, then," suggested Dick, impatiently. "Let's buy some buckskin and make our own moccasins."
"Too late now," negatived Sam. "To back out would be bad."
"Oh, well, you're just borrowing trouble anyway," laughed Dick.
"Maybe, maybe," acknowledged the other; "but borrowing trouble, and then figuring out how you're going to meet it if it comes to you in good earnest, is mighty good woodcraft."
"Sam," burst out Dick, whose attention had been caught by a word in his companion's first speech, and whose mind had been running on it throughout the ensuing discussion, "did you notice that girl? She's a tearing little beauty!"
By now it was nearly noon. The travellers carried the packs they had made up down to the water-side where the canoe lay. Although the Indians would not get under way until the following morning, it had been decided to push on at once, thus avoiding the confusion of a crowded start.
In the course of the morning's business the news of their expedition had noised abroad. Especially were they commiserated by the other runners and post-keepers. During all the winter these men had lived under the frown of the North, conducting their affairs confidently yet with caution, sure of themselves, yet never sure of the great power in whose tolerance they existed, in spite of whom they accomplished. Now was the appointed time of rest. In the relaxation of the thought they found pity for those ordered out of season into the Silent Places.
So at the river's bank Sam Bolton and Dick Herron, ready for departure, found a group gathered. It was supposed that these men were to act as scouts, to reconnoitre shrewdly in the Enemy's country, to spy out the land, so that in the autumn the Company might throw into the wilderness new posts, to be inhabited during the colder months.
"Look heem Bla'k Bevair Lak," advised Louis Placide; "I t'ink dose Ojibway mak' heem lots marten, mink la bas."
"Lads," said Kern, the trader at Old Brunswick House, "if you're going up th' Missinaibie just cast an eye on my cache at Gull Lake, and see that the carcajaus have let her be."
Young Herbert was curious. "Where are you headed, boys?" he inquired.
But Ki-wa-nee, the trusty, the trader at Flying Post, the only Indian in the Company's service holding rank as a commissioned officer, grunted in contempt at the question, while Achard, of New Brunswick House, motioned warningly toward the groups of Indian trappers in the background. "Hush, boy," said he to Herbert, "news travels, and in the south are the Free Traders to snatch at a new country."
By now the voyageurs had turned their canoe over, slid it into the water, and piled the duffle amidships.
But before they had time to step aboard, came Virginia Albret, then seventeen years old and as slender and graceful as a fawn. The daughter of the Factor, she had acquired a habit of command that became her well. While she enunciated her few and simple words of well-wishing, she looked straight out at them from deep black eyes. The two woodsmen, awed into a vast respect, fumbled their caps in their hands and noted, in the unconscious manner of the forest frequenter, the fresh dusk rose of her skin, the sharply defined red of her lips, the soft wheat colour of her hair. It was a gracious memory to carry into the Silent Places, and was in itself well worth the bestowal. However, Virginia, as was her habit, gave presents. On each she bestowed a long silk handkerchief. Sam Bolton, with a muttered word of thanks, stuffed his awkwardly into his shirt bosom. Dick, on the other hand, with a gesture half of gallantry, half of bravado, stripped his own handkerchief from his neck and cast it far into the current, knotting the girl's gift in its place. Virginia smiled. A strong push sent the canoe into the current. They began to paddle up-stream.
For perhaps a mile their course threaded in and out the channel of a number of islands, then shot them into the broad reach of the Moose itself. There they set themselves to straight-forward paddling, hugging closely the shore that they might escape as much as possible the full strength of the current. In this manner they made rapid progress, for, of course, they paddled in the Indian fashion—without bending either elbow, and with a strong thrust forward of the shoulders at the end of the stroke—and they understood well how to take advantage of each little back eddy.
After an hour and a half they came to the first unimportant rapids, where they were forced to drop their paddles and to use the long spruce-poles they had cut and peeled that morning. Dick had the bow. It was beautiful to see him standing boldly upright, his feet apart, leaning back against the pressure, making head against the hurrying water. In a moment the canoe reached the point of hardest suction, where the river broke over the descent. Then the young man, taking a deep breath, put forth the strength that was in him. Sam Bolton, poised in the stern, holding the canoe while his companion took a fresh hold, noted with approval the boy's physical power, the certainty of his skill at the difficult river work, the accuracy of his calculations. Whatever his heedlessness, Dick Herron knew his trade. It was, indeed, a powerful Instrument that Galen Albret in his wisdom had placed in Sam Bolton's hands.
The canoe, torn from the rapid's grasp, shot into the smooth water above. Calmly Sam and Dick shook the water from their poles and laid them across the thwarts. The swish click! swish click! of the paddles resumed.
Now the river began to hurry in the ten-mile descent below the Abitibi. Although the smooth rush of water was unbroken by the swirls of rapids, nevertheless the current proved too strong for paddling. The voyagers were forced again to the canoe poles, and so toiled in graceful but strenuous labour the remaining hours of their day's journey. When finally they drew ashore for the night, they had but just passed the mouth of French River.
To men as skilled as they, the making of camp was a brief affair. Dick, with his axe, cleared the space of underbrush, and sought dry wood for fuel. The older man in the meantime hunted about until he found a dead white-birch sapling. This he easily thrust to the ground with a strong push of his hand. The jar burst here and there the hard envelope of the birch bark to expose a quantity of half-powdery, decayed wood, dry as tinder and almost as inflammable as gunpowder. Into a handful of this Sam threw the sparks from his flint and steel. The bark itself fed admirably the first flame. By the time Dick returned, the fire was ready for his fuel.
They cooked tea in the copper pail, and roasted bacon on the ends of switches. This, with bread from the Post, constituted their meal. After supper they smoked, banked the fire with green wood, and rolled themselves in their blankets to sleep. It was summer, so they did not trouble to pitch their shelter.
The night died into silence. Slowly the fire worked from within through the chinks of the green logs. Forest creatures paused to stare at it with steady eyes, from which flashed back a blaze as intense as the fire's own. An owl took his station near and began to call. Overhead the brilliant aurora of the Far North palpitated in a silence that seemed uncanny when coupled with such intensity of movement. Shadows stole here and there like acolytes. Breezes rose and died like the passing of a throng. The woods were peopled with uncanny influences, intangible, unreal, yet potent with the symbolism of the unknown Presence watching these men. The North, calm, patient, biding her time, serene in the assurance of might, drew close to the camp in the wilderness.
By and by a little pack of wolves came and squatted on their haunches just in the shadow. They were well fed and harmless, but they sat there blinking lazily at the flames, their tongues lolling, exactly like so many shaggy and good-humoured dogs. About two o'clock Dick rolled out of his blanket and replenished the fire. He did it somnolently, his eyes vacant, his expression that of a child. Then he took a half-comprehending glance at the heaven's promise of fair weather, and sank again into the warmth of his blanket. The wolves had not stirred.
Now the small sack of flour and the side of bacon and the loose provisions brought from the Post could last but a little time, and the journey was like to be long. The travellers were to be forced from now on, just as are the wolves, the eagles, the hawks, the carcajous, and other predatory creatures of the woods, to give their first thoughts to the day's sustenance. All other considerations gave way to this. This was the first, the daily tribute to be wrested from the stubborn grasp of the North. Winning that, anything was possible; failing that, nothing could follow but defeat. Therefore, valuable exceedingly were the two little steel traps and the twelve-foot length of gill-net, the sharp, thin knives in the beaded sheaths, and especially precious, precious above all things else, the three hundred rounds of ammunition for the rifles. They must be guarded and cared for and saved.
Therefore an incident of the early afternoon was more than welcome.
All the morning they had toiled against the current, sometimes poling, sometimes "tracking" by means of a sixty-foot cod-line. Dick looped this across his chest and pulled like a horse on the tow-path, while Sam Bolton sat in the stern with the steering-paddle. The banks were sometimes precipitous, sometimes stony, sometimes grown to the water's edge with thick vegetation. Dick had often to wade, often to climb and scramble, sometimes even to leap from one foothold to another. Only rarely did he enjoy level footing and the opportunity for a straight pull. Suddenly in a shallow pool, near the river's edge, and bordered with waist-high grass, he came upon a flock of black ducks. They were full grown, but as yet unable to fly. Dick dropped his tow-line and ran forward with a shout. At once the ducks became confused, scattering in all directions, squawking madly, spattering the water. The mother flew. The brood, instead of making for the open river, where it would have been safe, scuttled into the tall grasses.
Here was the chance for fresh meat without the expenditure of a shot. Sam Bolton promptly disembarked. To us it would have seemed a simple matter. But the black duck is an expert at concealment, even in the open. He can do wonders at it when assisted by the shadows of long grass. And when too closely approached he can glide away to right and left like a snake, leaving no rustle to betray his passage. Five minutes passed before the first was discovered. Then it was only because Dick's keen eye had detected a faintly stirring grass-blade ten feet away, and because Dick's quick muscles had brought him like a tiger to the spot. He held up his victim by the neck.
"Good enough," growled Sam.
And although they had seen nine ducks go into the grass plot, which was not more than fifty feet across, they succeeded in finding but three. However, they were satisfied.
In spite of the deliberation of their journeying, the Indians did not overtake them until nearly dark. It was just above the junction of the Abitibi. The river was without current, the atmosphere without the suspicion of a breeze. Down to the very water's edge grew the forest, so velvet-dark that one could not have guessed where the shadow left off and the reflection began. Not a ripple disturbed the peace of the water, nor a harsh sound the twilight peace of the air. Sam and Dick had paddled for some time close to one bank, and now had paused to enjoy their pipes and the cool of the evening. Suddenly against the reflected sky at the lower bend a canoe loomed into sight, and crept smoothly and noiselessly under the forest shadow of the opposite bank. Another followed, then another, and another and still another in regular interval. Not a sound could be heard. In the distance their occupants gave the illusion of cowled figures,—the Indian women close wrapped in their shawls, dropping their heads modestly or turning them aside as their customs commanded them to do on encountering strangers. Against the evening glow of the reflected sky for a single instant they stood out in the bright yellow of the new birch-bark, the glow of warm colour on the women's dress. Then instantaneously, in the darkness of the opposite bank, they faded wraith-like and tenuous. Like phantoms of the past they glided by, a river's width away; then vanished around the upper bend. A moment later the river was empty.
"Th' squaws goin' ahead to start camp," commented Sam Bolton, indifferently; "we'll have th' bucks along pretty quick."
They drove their paddles strongly, and drifted to the middle of the river.
Soon became audible shouts, cries, and laughter, the click of canoe poles. The business of the day was over. Until nearly sundown the men's canoes had led, silent, circumspect, seeking game at every bend of the river. Now the squaws had gone on to make camp. No more game was to be expected. The band relaxed, joking, skylarking, glad to be relieved for a little while of the strain of attention.
In a moment the canoes appeared, a long, unbroken string, led by Haukemah. In the bow sat the chief's son, a lad of nine, wielding his little paddle skilfully, already intelligent to twist the prow sharply away from submerged rocks, learning to be a canoe-man so that in the time to come he might go on the Long Trail.
Each canoe contained, besides its two occupants, a variety of household goods, and a dog or two coiled and motionless, his sharp nose resting between his outstretched forepaws. The tame crow occupied an ingenious cage of twisted osiers.
Haukemah greeted the two white men cordially, and stopped paddling to light his pipe. One by one the other canoes joined them. A faint haze of tobacco rose from the drifting group.
"My brothers have made a long sun," observed old Haukemah. "We, too, have hastened. Now we have met, and it is well. Down past the white rock it became the fortune of Two-fingers to slay a caribou that stood by the little water. Also had we whitefish the evening before. Past the Island of the Three Trees were signs of moose." He was telling them the news, as one who passed the time of day.
[Footnote 3: A spring.]
"We have killed but neenee-sheeb, the duck," replied Dick, holding up one of the victims by the neck, "nor have we seen the trail of game."
"Ah hah," replied Haukemah, politely.
He picked up his paddle. It was the signal to start.
"Drop in astern," said Dick to his companion in English, "it's the light of the evening, and I'm going to troll for a pickerel."
One by one the canoes fell into line. Now, late in the day, the travel was most leisurely. A single strong stroke of the paddle was always succeeded by a pause of contemplation. Nevertheless the light craft skimmed on with almost extraordinary buoyancy, and in silent regularity the wooded points of the river succeeded one another.
Sam busied himself with the trolling-spoon, but as soon as the last canoe was well beyond hearing he burst out:
"Dick, did you notice the Chippewa?"
"He understands English."
"How do you know?"
"He was right behind us when you told me you were goin' to try the fishing, and he moved out th' way before we'd raised our paddles."
"Might have been an accident."
"Perhaps, but I don't believe it. He looked too almighty innocent. Another thing, did you notice he was alone in his canoe?"
"What of it?"
"Shows he ain't noways popular with th' rest. Generally they pair off. There's mostly something shady about these renegades."
"Oh, nothing. Only we got to be careful."
Camp was made among the trees of an elevated bank above a small brook.
Already the Indian women had pitched the shelters, spreading squares of canvas, strips of birch-bark or tanned skins over roughly improvised lean-to poles. A half dozen tiny fires, too, they had built, over which some were at the moment engaged in hanging as many kettles. Several of the younger women were cleaning fish and threading them on switches. Others brought in the small twigs for fuel. Among them could be seen May-may-gwan, the young Ojibway girl, gliding here and there, eyes downcast, inexpressibly graceful in contrast with the Crees.
At once on landing the men took up their share of the work. Like the birds of the air and the beasts of the wood their first thoughts turned to the assurance of food. Two young fellows stretched a gill-net across the mouth of the creek. Others scattered in search of favourable spots in which to set the musk-rat traps, to hang snares for rabbits and grouse.
Soon the camp took on the air of age, of long establishment, that is so suddenly to be won in the forest. The kettles began to bubble; the impaled fish to turn brown. A delicious odour of open-air cooking permeated the air. Men filled pipes and smoked in contemplation; children warmed themselves as near the tiny fires as they dared. Out of the dense blackness of the forest from time to time staggered what at first looked to be an uncouth and misshapen monster, but which presently resolved itself into an Indian leaning under a burden of spruce-boughs, so smoothly laid along the haft of a long forked stick that the bearer of the burden could sling it across his shoulder like a bale of hay. As he threw it to the ground, a delicate spice-like aroma disengaged itself to mingle with the smell of cooking. Just at the edge of camp sat the wolf-dogs, their yellow eyes gleaming, waiting in patience for their tardy share.
After the meal the women drew apart. Dick's eyes roved in vain, seeking a glimpse of the Ojibway girl. He was too familiar with Indian etiquette to make an advance, and in fact his interest was but languidly aroused.
The men sat about the larger fire smoking. It was the hour of relaxation. In the blaze their handsome or strong-lined brown faces lighted good-humouredly. They talked and laughed in low tones, the long syllables of their language lisping and hissing in strange analogy to the noises of the fire or the forest or the rapids or some other natural thing. Their speech was of the chances of the woods and the approaching visit to their Ojibway brothers in the south. For this they had brought their grand ceremonial robes of deerskin, now stowed securely in bags. The white men were silent. In a little while the pipes were finished. The camp was asleep. Through the ashes and the embers prowled the wolf-dogs, but half-fed, seeking scraps. Soon they took to the beach in search of cast-up fish. There they wandered all night long under the moon voicing their immemorial wrongs to the silenced forest.
Almost at first streak of dawn the women were abroad. Shortly after, the men visited their traps and lifted the nets. In this land and season of plenty the catch had been good. The snares had strangled three hares; the steel traps had caught five muskrats, which are very good eating in spite of their appearance; the net had intercepted a number of pickerel, suckers, and river whitefish. This, with the meat of the caribou, shot by Three Fingers the day before, and the supplies brought from the Post, made ample provision.
Nevertheless, when the camp had been struck and the canoes loaded, the order of march was reversed. Now the men took the lead by a good margin, and the women and children followed. For in the wooded country game drinks early.
Before setting out, however, old Haukemah blazed a fair clean place on a fir-tree, and with hard charcoal from the fire marked on it these characters:
"Can you read Injun writin'?" asked Dick. "I can't."
"Yes," replied Sam, "learned her when I was snowed up one winter with Scar-Face down by the Burwash Lake country." He squinted his eyes, reading the syllables slowly.
"'Abichi-ka-menot Moosamik-ka-ja yank. Missowa edookan owasi sek negi—' Why, it's Ojibway, not Cree," he exclaimed. "They're just leaving a record. 'Good journey from Moose Factory. Big game has been seen.' Funny how plumb curious an Injun is. They ain't one could come along here and see th' signs of this camp and rest easy 'till he'd figgered out how many they were, and where they were going, and what they were doing, and all about it. These records are a kind-hearted try to save other Injuns that come along a whole lot of trouble. That's why old Haukemah wrote it in Ojibway 'stead of Cree: this is by rights Ojibway country."
"We'd better pike out, if we don't want to get back with th' squaws," suggested Dick.
About two hours before noon, while the men's squadron was paddling slowly along a flat bank overgrown with grass and bushes, Dick and Sam perceived a sudden excitement in the leading canoes. Haukemah stopped, then cautiously backed until well behind the screen of the point. The other canoes followed his example. In a moment they were all headed down stream, creeping along noiselessly without lifting their paddles from the water.
"They've seen some game beyant the point," whispered Dick. "Wonder what it is?"
But instead of pausing when out of earshot for the purpose of uncasing the guns or landing a stalking party, the Indians crept, gradually from the shore, caught the current, and shot away down stream in the direction from which they had come.
"It's a bear," said Sam, quietly. "They've gone to get their war-paint on."
The men rested the bow of their canoe lightly against the shore, and waited. In a short time the Indian canoes reappeared.
"Say, they've surely got th' dry goods!" commented Dick, amused.
In the short interval that had elapsed, the Indians had intercepted their women, unpacked their baggage, and arrayed themselves in their finest dress of ceremony. Buckskin elaborately embroidered with beads and silks in the flower pattern, ornaments of brass and silver, sacred skins of the beaver, broad dashes of ochre and vermilion on the naked skin, twisted streamers of coloured wool—all added to the barbaric gorgeousness of the old-time savage in his native state. Each bowsman carried a long brass-bound forty-five "trade-gun," warranted to kill up to ten yards.
"It's surely a nifty outfit!" commented Sam, half admiringly.
A half dozen of the younger men were landed. At once they disappeared in the underbrush. Although the two white men strained their keen senses they were unable to distinguish by sight or sound the progress of the party through the bushes.
"I guess they're hunters, all right," conceded Dick.
The other men waited like bronze statues. After a long interval a pine-warbler uttered its lisping note. Immediately the paddles dipped in the silent deer-stalker's stroke, and the cavalcade crept forward around the point.
Dick swept the shore with his eye, but saw nothing. Then all heard plainly a half-smothered grunt of satisfaction, followed by a deep drawn breath. Phantom-like, without apparently the slightest directing motion, the bows of the canoes swung like wind-vanes to point toward a little heap of driftlogs under the shadow of an elder bush. The bear was wallowing in the cool, wet sand, and evidently enjoying it. A moment later he stuck his head over the pile of driftwood, and indulged in a leisurely survey of the river.
His eye was introspective, vacant, his mouth was half open, and his tongue lolled out so comically that Dick almost laughed aloud. No one moved by so much as a hand's breadth. The bear dropped back to his cooling sand with a sigh of voluptuous pleasure. The canoes drew a little nearer.
Now old Haukemah rose to his height in the bow of his canoe, and began to speak rapidly in a low voice. Immediately the animal bobbed into sight again, his wicked little eyes snapping with intelligence. It took him some moments to determine what these motionless, bright-coloured objects might be. Then he turned toward the land, but stopped short as his awakened senses brought him the reek of the young men who had hemmed in his shoreward escape. He was not yet thoroughly alarmed, so stood there swaying uneasily back and forth, after the manner of bears, while Haukemah spoke swiftly in the soft Cree tongue.
"Oh, makwa, our little brother," he said, "we come to you not in anger, nor in disrespect. We come to do you a kindness. Here is hunger and cold and enemies. In the Afterland is only happiness. So if we shoot you, oh makwa, our little brother, be not angry with us."
He raised his trade-gun and pulled the trigger. A scattering volley broke from the other canoes and from the young men concealed in the bushes.
Now a trade-gun is a gun meant to trade. It is a section of what looks to be gas-pipe, bound by brass bands to a long, clumsy, wooden stick that extends within an inch of the end of the barrel. It is supposed to shoot ball or shot. As a matter of fact the marksman's success depends more on his luck than his skill. Were it not for the Woods-Indian's extraordinary powers of still-hunting so that he can generally approach very near to his game, his success would be small indeed.
With the shock of a dozen little bullets the bear went down, snarling and biting and scattering the sand, but was immediately afoot again. A black bear is not a particularly dangerous beast in ordinary circumstances—but occasionally he contributes quite a surprise to the experience of those who encounter him. This bear was badly wounded and cruelly frightened. His keen sense of smell informed him that the bushes contained enemies—how many he did not know, but they were concealed, unknown, and therefore dreadful. In front of him was something definite. Before the astonished Indians could back water, he had dashed into the shallows, and planted his paws on the bow of old Haukemah's canoe.
A simultaneous cry of alarm burst from the other Indians. Some began frantically to recharge their muzzle-loading trade-guns; others dashed toward the spot as rapidly as paddle or moccasin could bring them. Haukemah himself roused valiantly to the defence, but was promptly upset and pounced upon by the enraged animal. A smother of spray enveloped the scene. Dick Herron rose suddenly to his feet and shot. The bear collapsed into the muddied water, his head doubled under, a thin stream of arterial blood stringing away down the current. Haukemah and his steersman rose dripping. A short pause of silence ensued.
"Well, you are a wonder!" ejaculated Sam Bolton at last. "How in thunder did you do that? I couldn't make nothing out of that tangle—at least nothing clear enough to shoot at!"
"Luck," replied Dick, briefly. "I took a snap shot, and happened to make it."
"You ran mighty big chances of winning old Haukemah," objected Sam.
"Sure! But I didn't," answered Dick, conclusively.
The Indians gathered to examine in respectful admiration. Dick's bullet had passed from ear to ear. To them it was wonderful shooting, as indeed it would have been had it indicated anything but the most reckless luck. Haukemah was somewhat disgusted at the wetting of his finery, but the bear is a sacred animal, and even ceremonial dress and an explanation of the motives that demanded his death might not be sufficient to appease his divinity. The women's squadron appeared about the bend, and added their cries of rejoicing to those of their husbands and brothers.
The beautiful buckskin garments were hastily exchanged for ordinary apparel. By dint of much wading, tugging, and rolling the carcass was teased to the dry beach. There the body was securely anchored by the paws to small trees, and the work of skinning and butchering began.
Not a shred was wasted. Whatever flesh would not be consumed within a few days they cut into very thin strips and hung across poles to dry. Scraps went to the dogs, who were for once well fed. Three of the older squaws went to work with bone scrapers to tan the hide. In this season, while the fur was not as long as it would be later, it was fine and new. The other squaws pitched camp. No right-minded Indian would dream of travelling further with such a feast in prospect.
While these things were preparing, the older men cleaned and washed the bear's skull very carefully. Then they cut a tall pole, on the end of which they fastened the skull, and finished by planting the whole affair securely near the running water. When the skull should have remained there for the space of twelve moons, the sacred spirit of the departed beast would be appeased. For that reason Haukemah would not here leave his customary hieroglyphic record when he should break camp. If an enemy should happen along, he could do harm to Haukemah simply by overturning the trophy, whereas an unidentified skull might belong to a friend, and so would be let alone on the chance. For that reason, too, when they broke camp the following day, the expert trailers took pains to obliterate the more characteristic indications of their stay.
Now abruptly the weather changed. The sky became overcast with low, gray clouds hurrying from the northwest. It grew cold. After a few hours of indecision it began to rain, dashing the chill water in savage gusts. Amidships in each canoe the household goods were protected carefully by means of the wigwam covers, but the people themselves sat patiently, exposed to the force of the storm. Water streamed from their hair, over their high cheeks, to drip upon their already sodden clothing. The buckskin of their moccasins sucked water like so many sponges. They stepped indifferently in and out of the river,—for as to their legs, necessarily much exposed, they could get no wetter—and it was very cold. Whenever they landed the grass and bushes completed the soaking. By night each and every member of the band, including the two white men, were as wet as though they had plunged over-head in the stream. Only there was this difference: river-water could have been warmed gradually by the contact of woolen clothes with the body, but the chill of rain-water was constantly renewed.
Nor was there much comfort in the prospect when, weary and cold, they finally drew their canoes ashore for the evening's camp. The forest was dripping, the ground soggy, each separate twig and branch cold and slippery to the hand. The accumulated water of a day showered down at the slightest movement. A damp wind seemed to rise from the earth itself.
Half measures or timid shrinkings would not do. Every one had to plunge boldly into the woods, had to seize and drag forth, at whatever cost of shower-bath the wilderness might levy, all the dead wood he could find. Then the value of the birch-bark envelope about the powdery touch-wood became evident. The fire, at first small and steamy, grew each instant. Soon a dozen little blazes sprang up, only to be extinguished as soon as they had partially dried the site of wigwams. Hot tea was swallowed gratefully, duffel hung before the flames. Nobody dried completely, but everybody steamed, and even in the pouring rain this little warmth was comfort by force of contrast. The sleeping blankets were damp, the clothes were damp, the ground was damp, the air was damp; but, after all, discomfort is a little thing and a temporary, and can be borne. In the retrospect it is nothing at all. Such is the indian's philosophy, and that is why in a rain he generally travels instead of lying in camp.
The storm lasted four days. Then the wind shifted to the north, bringing clearing skies.
Up to now the river had been swift in places, but always by dint of tracking or poling the canoes had been forced against the quick water. Early one forenoon, however, Haukemah lifted carefully the bow of his canoe and slid it up the bank.
The portage struck promptly to the right through a tall, leafy woods, swam neck-high in the foliage of small growth, mounted a steep hill, and meandered over a bowlder-strewn, moss-grown plateau, to dip again, a quarter of a mile away, to the banks of the river. But you must not imagine one of your easy portages of Maine or lower Canada. This trail was faint and dim,—here an excoriation on the surface of a fallen and half-rotted tree, there a withered limb hanging, again a mere sense in the forest's growth that others had passed that way. Only an expert could have followed it.
The canoe loads were dumped out on the beach. One after another, even to the little children, the people shouldered their packs. The long sash was knotted into a loop, which was passed around the pack and the bearer's forehead. Some of the stronger men carried thus upward of two hundred pounds.
Unlike a party of white men, the Indians put no system into their work. They rested when they pleased, chatted, shouted, squatted on their heels conversing. Yet somehow the task was accomplished, and quickly. To one on an elevation dominating the scene it would have been most picturesque. Especially noticeable were those who for the moment stood idle, generally on heights, where their muscle-loose attitudes and fluttering draperies added a strangely decorative note to the landscape; while below plodded, bending forward under their enormous loads, an unending procession of patient toilers. In five minutes the portage was alive from one end to the other.
To Dick and Sam Bolton the traverse was a simple matter. Sam, by the aid of his voyager's sash, easily carried the supplies and blankets; Dick fastened the two paddles across the thwarts to form a neck-yoke, and swung off with the canoe. Then they returned to the plateau until their savage friends should have finished the crossing.
Ordinarily white men of this class are welcome enough to travel with the Indian tribes. Their presence is hardly considered extraordinary enough for comment. Sam Bolton, however, knew that in the present instance he and Dick aroused an unusual interest of some sort.
He was not able to place it to his own satisfaction. It might be because of Bolton's reputation as a woodsman; it might be because of Dick Herron's spectacular service to Haukemah in the instance of the bear; it might be that careful talk had not had its due effect in convincing the Indians that the journey looked merely to the establishment of new winter posts; Sam was not disinclined to attribute it to pernicious activity on the part of the Ojibway. It might spring from any one of these. Nor could he quite decide its quality;—whether friendly or inimical. Merely persisted the fact that he and his companion were watched curiously by the men and fearfully by the women; that they brought a certain constraint to the camp fire.
Finally an incident, though it did not decide these points, brought their ambiguity nearer to the surface.
One evening old Haukemah received from the women the bear's robe fully tanned. Its inner surface had been whitened and then painted rudely with a symbolical representation of the hunt. Haukemah spoke as follows, holding the robe in his hand:
"This is the robe of makwa, our little brother. His flesh we all ate of. But you who killed him should have his coat. Therefore my women have painted it because you saved their head man."
He laid the robe at Dick's feet. Dick glanced toward his companion with the strange cast flickering quizzically in his narrow eyes. "Fine thing to carry along on a trip like ours," he said in English. "I don't know what to do with it. They've worked on it mighty near a week. I wish to hell they'd keep their old robe." However, he stooped and touched it in sign of acceptance. "I thank my brother," he said in Cree.
"You'll have to bring it along," Sam answered in English. "We'll have to carry it while we're with them, anyway."
The Indian men were squatted on their heels about the fire, waiting gravely and courteously for this conference, in an unknown tongue, to come to an end. The women, naturally interested in the disposal of their handiwork, had drawn just within the circle of light.
Suddenly Dick, inspired, darted to this group of women, whence he returned presently half dragging, half-coaxing a young girl. She came reluctantly, hanging back a little, dropping her head, or with an embarrassed giggle glancing shyly over her shoulder at her companions. When near the centre of the men's group, Dick dropped her hand.
Promptly she made as though to escape, but stopped at a word from Haukemah. It was May-may-gwan, the Ojibway girl.
Obediently she paused. Her eyes were dancing with the excitement of the adventure, an almost roguish smile curved her mouth and dimpled her cheek, her lower lip was tightly clasped between her teeth as she stood contemplating her heavily beaded little moccasin, awaiting the explanation of this, to her, extraordinary performance.
"What is your name, little sister?" asked Dick in Cree.
She dropped her head lower, but glanced from the corner of her eye at the questioner.
"Answer!" commanded Haukemah.
"May-may-gwan," she replied in a low voice.
"Oh, yes," said Dick, in English. "You're an Ojibway," he went on in Cree.
"That explains why you're such a tearing little beauty," muttered the young man, again in English.
"The old-men," he resumed, in Cree, "have given me this robe. Because I hold it very dear I wish to give it to that people whom I hold dearest. That people is the Crees of Rupert's House. And because you are the fairest, I give you this robe so that there may be peace between your people and me."
Ill-expressed as this little speech was, from the flowery standpoint of Indian etiquette, nevertheless its subtlety gained applause. The Indians grunted deep ejaculations of pleasure. "Good boy!" muttered Sam Bolton, pleased.
Dick lifted the robe and touched it to the girl's hand. She gasped in surprise, then slowly raised her eyes to his.
"Damn if you ain't pretty enough to kiss!" cried Dick.
He stepped across the robe, which had fallen between them, circled the girl's upturned face with the flat of his hands, and kissed her full on the lips.
The kiss of ceremony is not unknown to the northern Indians, and even the kiss of affection sometimes to be observed among the more demonstrative, but such a caress as Dick bestowed on May-may-gwan filled them with astonishment. The girl herself, though she cried out, and ran to hide among those of her own sex, was not displeased; she rather liked it, and could not mis-read the admiration that had prompted it. Nor did the other Indians really object. It was a strange thing to do, but perhaps it was a white man's custom. The affair might have blown away like a puff of gunpowder.
But at the moment of Dick's salute, Sam Bolton cried out sharply behind him. The young woodsman instantly whirled to confront the Chippewa.
"He reached for his knife," explained Sam.
The ejaculation had also called the attention of every member of the band to the tableau. There could be absolutely no doubt as to its meaning,—the evident anger of the red, his attitude, his hand on the haft of his knife. The Chippewa was fairly caught.
He realised the fact, but his quick mind instantly turned the situation to his profit. Without attempting to alter the malice of his expression, he nevertheless dropped his hand from his knife-hilt, and straightened his figure to the grandiose attitude of the Indian orator.
"This man speaks crooked words. I know the language of the saganash. He tells my brothers that he gives this robe to May-may-gwan because he holds it the dearest of his possessions, and because his heart is good towards my brother's people. But to the other saganash he said these words: 'It is a little thing, and I do not wish to carry it. What shall I do with it?'"
He folded his arms theatrically. Dick Herron, his narrow eyes blazing, struck him full on the mouth a shoulder blow that sent him sprawling into the ashes by the fire.
The Chippewa was immediately on his feet, his knife in his hand. Instinctively the younger Crees drew near to him. The old race antagonism flashed forth, naturally, without the intervention of reason. A murmur went up from the other bystanders.
Sam Bolton arose quietly to take his place at Dick's elbow. As yet there was no danger of violence, except from the outraged Chippewa. The Crees were startled, but they had not yet taken sides. All depended on an intrepid front. For a moment they stared at one another, the Indians uncertain, the Anglo-Saxons, as always, fiercely dominant in spirit, no matter what the odds against them, as long as they are opposed to what they consider the inferior race.
Then a flying figure glided to the two. May-may-gwan, palpitating with fear, thrust their rifles into the white men's hands, then took her stand behind them.
But Haukemah interfered with all the weight of his authority.
"Stop!" he commanded, sharply. "There is no need that friends should bear weapons. What are you doing, my young men? Do you judge these saganash without hearing what they have to say? Ask of them if what the Chippewa says is true."
"The robe is fine. I gave it for the reason I said," replied Dick.
The Cree young men, shaken from their instinctive opposition, sank back. It was none of their affair, after all, but a question of veracity between Dick and his enemy. And the Chippewa enjoyed none too good a reputation. The swift crisis had passed.
Dick laughed his boyish, reckless laugh.
"Damn if I didn't pick out the old idiot's best girl!" he cried to his companion; but the latter doubtfully shook his head.
When next day the band resumed the journey, it became evident that May-may-gwan was to be punished for her demonstration of the night before. Her place in the bow of old Moose Cow's canoe was taken by a little girl, and she was left to follow as best she might on foot.
The travel ashore was exceedingly difficult. A dense forest growth of cedar and tamarack pushed to the very edge of the water, and the rare open beaches were composed of smooth rocks too small to afford secure footing, and too large to be trodden under. The girl either slipped and stumbled on insecure and ankle-twisting shale, or forced a way through the awful tangle of a swamp. As the canoeing at this point was not at all difficult, her utmost efforts could not keep her abreast of the travellers.
Truth to tell May-may-gwan herself did not appear to consider that she was hardly used. Indeed she let her hair down about her face, took off the brilliant bits of color that had adorned her garments, and assumed the regulation downcast attitude of a penitent. But Dick Herron was indignant.
"Look here, Sam," said he, "this thing ain't right at all. She got into all this trouble on our account, and we're riding canoe here slick as carcajou in a pork cache while she pegs along afoot. Let's take her aboard."
"Won't do," replied Sam, briefly, "can't interfere. Let those Injuns run themselves. They're more or less down on us as it is."
"Oh, you're too slow!" objected Dick. "What the hell do we care for a lot of copper-skins from Rupert's House! We ain't got anything to ask from them but a few pairs of moccasins, and if they don't want to make them for us, they can use their buckskin to tie up their sore heads!"
He thrust his paddle in close to the bow and twisted the canoe towards shore.
"Come on, Sam," said he, "show your spunk!"
The older man said nothing. His steady blue eyes rested on his companion's back not unkindly, although a frown knit the brows above them.
"Come here, little sister," cried Dick to the girl.
She picked her way painfully through the scrub to the edge of the bank.
"Get into the canoe," commanded Dick.
She drew back in deprecation.
"Ka'-ka'win!" she objected, in very real terror. "The old-men have commanded that I take the Long Way, and who am I that I should not obey? It cannot be."
"Get in here," ordered Dick, obstinately.
"My brother is good to me, but I cannot, for the head men have ordered. It would go very hard with me, if I should disobey."
"Oh, hell!" exploded petulant Dick in English, slamming his paddle down against the thwarts.
He leaped ashore, picked the girl up bodily, threw her almost with violence into the canoe, thrust the light craft into the stream, and resumed his efforts, scowling savagely.
The girl dropped her face in her hands. When the white men's craft overtook the main band, she crouched still lower, shuddering under the grim scrutiny of her people. Dick's lofty scorn looked neither to right nor left, but paddled fiercely ahead until the Indians were well astern and hidden by the twists of the river. Sam Bolton proceeded serenely on in his accustomed way.
Only, when the tribesmen had been left behind, he leaned forward and began to talk to the girl in low-voiced Ojibway, comforting her with many assurances, as one would comfort a child. After a time she ceased trembling and looked up. But her glance made no account of the steady, old man who had so gently led her from her slough of despond, but rested on the straight, indignant back of the glorious youth who had cast her into it. And Sam Bolton, knowing the ways of a maid, merely sighed, and resumed his methodical paddling.
At the noon stop and on portage it was impossible to gauge the feeling of the savages in regard to the matter, but at night the sentiment was strongly enough marked. May-may-gwan herself, much to her surprise, was no further censured, and was permitted to escape with merely the slights and sneers the women were able to inflict on her. Perhaps her masters, possessed of an accurate sense of justice, realised that the latter affair had not been her fault. Or, what is more likely, their race antagonism, always ready in these fierce men of the Silent Places, seized instinctively on this excuse to burst into a definite unfriendliness. The younger men drew frankly apart. The older made it a point to sit by the white men's fire, but they conversed formally and with many pauses. Day by day the feeling intensified. A strong wind had followed from the north for nearly a week, and so, of course, they had seen no big game, for the wary animals scented them long before they came in sight. Meat began to run low. So large a community could not subsist on the nightly spoils of the net and traps. The continued ill-luck was attributed to the visitors. Finally camp was made for a day while Crooked Nose, the best trailer and hunter of them all, went out to get a caribou. Dick, hoping thus to win a little good will, lent his Winchester for the occasion.
The Indian walked very carefully through the mossy woods until he came upon a caribou trail still comparatively fresh. Nobody but Crooked Nose could have followed the faint indications, but he did so, at first rapidly, then more warily, finally at a very snail's pace. His progress was noiseless. Such a difficult result was accomplished primarily by his quickness of eye in selecting the spots on which to place his feet, and also to a great extent by the fact that he held his muscles so pliantly tense that the weight of his body came down not all at once, but in increasing pressure until the whole was supported ready for the next step. He flowed through the woods.
When the trail became fresh he often paused to scrutinise closely, to smell, even to taste the herbage broken by the animal's hoofs. Once he startled a jay, but froze into immobility before that watchman of the woods had sprung his alarm. For full ten minutes the savage poised motionless. Then the bird flitted away, and he resumed his careful stalk.
It was already nearly noon. The caribou had been feeding slowly forward. Now he would lie down. And Crooked Nose knew very well that the animal would make a little detour to right or left so as to be able to watch his back track.
Crooked Nose redoubled his scrutiny of the broken herbage. Soon he left the trail, moving like a spirit, noiselessly, steadily, but so slowly that it would have required a somewhat extended observation to convince you that he moved at all. His bead-like black eyes roved here and there. He did not look for a caribou—no such fool he—but for a splotch of brown, a deepening of shadow, a contour of surface which long experience had taught him could not be due to the forest's ordinary play of light and shade. After a moment his gaze centred. In the lucent, cool, green shadow of a thick clump of moose maples he felt rather than discerned a certain warmth of tone. You and I would probably have missed the entire shadow. But Crooked Nose knew that the warmth of tone meant the brown of his quarry's summer coat. He cocked his rifle.
But a caribou is a large animal, and only a few spots are fatal. Crooked Nose knew better than to shoot at random. He whistled.
The dark colour dissolved. There were no abrupt movements, no noises, but suddenly the caribou seemed to develop from the green shadow mist, to stand, his ears pricked forward, his lustrous eyes wide, his nostrils quivering toward the unknown something that had uttered the sound. It was like magic. An animal was now where, a moment before, none had been.
Crooked Nose raised the rifle, sighted steadily at the shoulder, low down, and pulled the trigger. A sharp click alone answered his intention. Accustomed only to the old trade-gun, he had neglected to throw down and back the lever which should lift the cartridge from the magazine.
Instantly the caribou snorted aloud and crashed noisily away. A dozen lurking Canada jays jumped to the tops of spruces and began to scream. Red squirrels, in all directions, alternately whirred their rattles and chattered in an ecstasy of rage. The forest was alarmed.
Crooked Nose glanced at the westering sun, and set out swiftly in a direct line for the camp of his companions. Arrived there he marched theatrically to the white men, cast the borrowed rifle at their feet, and returned to the side of the fire, where he squatted impassively on his heels. The hunt had failed.
All the rest of the afternoon the men talked sullenly together. There could be no doubt that trouble was afoot. Toward night some of the younger members grew so bold as to cast fierce looks in the direction of the white visitors.
Finally late in the evening old Haukemah came to them. For some time he sat silent and grave, smoking his pipe, and staring solemnly into the coals.
"Little Father," said he at last, "you and I are old men. Our blood is cool. We do not act quickly. But other men are young. Their blood is hot and swift, and it is quick to bring them spirit-thoughts. They say you have made the wind, kee-way-din, the north wind, to blow so that we can have no game. They say you conjured Crooked Nose so that he brought back no caribou, although he came very near it. They say, too, that you seek a red man to do him a harm, and their hearts are evil toward you on that account. They say you have made the power of the old-men as nothing, for what they commanded you denied when you brought our little sister in your canoe. I know nothing of these things, except the last, which was foolishness in the doing," the old man glanced sharply at Dick, puffed on his nearly extinguished pipe until it was well alight, and went on. "My brothers say they are looking places for winter posts; I believe them. They say their hearts are kind toward my people; I believe them. Kee-way-din, the north wind, has many times before blown up the river, and Crooked Nose is a fool. My heart is good toward you, but it is not the heart of my young men. They murmur and threaten. Here our trails fork. My brothers must go now their own way."
[Footnote 4: Fancies.]
"Good," replied Sam, after a moment. "I am glad my brother's heart is good toward me, and I know what young men are. We will go. Tell your young men."
An expression of relief overspread Haukemah's face. Evidently the crisis had been more grave than he had acknowledged. He thrust his hand inside his loose capote and brought forth a small bundle.
"Moccasins," said he.
Sam looked them over. They were serviceable, strong deerskin, with high tops of white linen cloth procured at the Factory, without decoration save for a slender line of silk about the tongue. Something approaching a smile flickered over old Haukemah's countenance as he fished out of his side pocket another pair.
"For Eagle-eye," he said, handing them to Dick. The young man had gained the sobriquet, not because of any remarkable clarity of vision, but from the peculiar aquiline effect of his narrow gaze.
The body of the moccasins were made of buckskin as soft as silk, smoked to a rich umber. The tops were of fawnskin, tanned to milky white. Where the two parts joined, the edges had been allowed to fall half over the foot in an exaggerated welt, lined brilliantly with scarlet silk. The ornamentation was heavy and elaborate. Such moccasins often consume, in the fashioning, the idle hours of months. The Indian girl carries them with her everywhere, as her more civilised sister carries an embroidery frame. On dress occasions in the Far North a man's standing with his womenkind can be accurately gauged by the magnificence of his foot-gear.
"The gift of May-may-gwan," explained Haukemah.
"Well, I'll be damned!" said Dick, in English.
"Will my brother be paid in tea or in tobacco?" inquired Sam Bolton.
"Let these remind you always that my heart is good," said he. "I may tell my young men that you go?"
"Yes. We are grateful for these."
"Old fellow's a pretty decent sort," remarked Dick, after Haukemah had stalked away.
"There couldn't anything have happened better for us!" cried Sam. "Here I was wondering how we could get away. It wouldn't do to travel with them much longer, and it wouldn't do to quit them without a good reason. I'm mighty relieved to get shut of them. The best way over into the Kabinakagam is by way of a little creek the Injuns call the Mattawishguia, and that ought to be a few hours ahead of us now." He might have added that all these annoyances, which he was so carefully discounting, had sprung from Dick's thoughtlessness; but he was silent, sure of the young man's value when the field of his usefulness should be reached.
Dick Herron and Sam Bolton sat on the trunk of a fallen tree. It was dim morning. Through the haze that shrouded the river figures moved. Occasionally a sharp sound eddied the motionless silence—a paddle dropped, the prow of a canoe splashed as it was lifted to the water, the tame crow uttered a squawk. Little by little the groups dwindled. Invisible canoes were setting out, beyond the limits of vision. Soon there remained but a few scattered, cowled figures, the last women hastily loading their craft that they might not be left behind. Now these, too, thrust through the gray curtain of fog. The white men were alone.
With the passing of the multitude once again the North came close. Spying on the deserted camp an hundred smaller woods creatures fearfully approached, bright-eyed, alert, ready to retreat, but eager to investigate for scraps of food that might have been left. Squirrels poised in spruce-trees, leaped boldly through space, or hurried across little open stretches of ground. Meat-hawks, their fluffy plumage smoothed to alertness, swooped here and there. Momentary and hasty scurryings in the dead leaves attested the presence of other animals, faint chirpings and rustlings the presence of other birds, following these their most courageous foragers. In a day the Indian camp would have taken on the character of the forest; in a month, an ancient ruin, it would have fitted as accurately with its surroundings as an acorn in the cup.
Now the twisted vapours drained from among the tree-trunks into the river bed, where it lay, not more than five feet deep, accurately marking the course of the stream. The sun struck across the tops of the trees. A chickadee, upside down in bright-eyed contemplation, uttered two flute-notes. Instantly a winter-wren, as though at a signal, went into ecstatic ravings. The North was up and about her daily business.
Sam Bolton and Dick finally got under way. After an hour they arrived opposite the mouth of a tributary stream. This Sam announced as the Mattawishguia. Immediately they turned to it.
The Mattawishguia would be variously described; in California as a river, in New England as a brook, in Superior country as a trout stream. It is an hundred feet wide, full of rapids, almost all fast water, and, except in a few still pools, from a foot to two feet deep. The bottom is of round stones.
Travel by canoe in such a stream is a farce. The water is too fast to pole against successfully more than half the time; the banks are too overgrown for tracking with the tow-line. About the only system is to get there in the best way possible. Usually this meant that Dick waded at the bow and Sam at the stern, leaning strongly against the current. Bowlders of all sorts harassed the free passage, stones rolled under the feet, holes of striking unexpectedness lay in wait, and the water was icy cold. Once in a while they were able to paddle a few hundred feet. Then both usually sat astride the ends of the canoe, their legs hanging in the water in order that the drippings might not fall inside. As this was the early summer, they occasionally kicked against trees to drive enough of the numbness from their legs so that they could feel the bottom.
It was hard work and cold work and wearing, for it demanded its exact toll for each mile, and was as insistent for the effort at weary night as at fresh morning.
Dick, in the vigour of his young strength, seemed to like it. The leisure of travel with the Indians had barely stretched his muscles. Here was something against which he could exert his utmost force. He rejoiced in it, taking great lungfuls of air, bending his shoulders, breaking through these outer defences of the North with wanton exuberance, blind to everything, deaf to everything, oblivious of all other mental and physical sensations except the delight of applying his skill and strength to the subduing of the stream.
But Sam, patient, uncomplaining, enduring, retained still the broader outlook. He, too, fought the water and the cold, adequately and strongly, but it was with the unconsciousness of long habit. His mind recognised the Forest as well as the Stream. The great physical thrill over the poise between perfect health and the opposing of difficulties he had left behind him with his youth; as indeed he had, in a lesser sense, gained with his age an indifference to discomfort. He was cognisant of the stillness of the woods, the presence of the birds and beasts, the thousand subtleties that make up the personality of the great forest.
And with the strange sixth sense of the accustomed woodsman Sam felt, as they travelled, that something was wrong. The impression did not come to him through any of the accustomed channels. In fact, it hardly reached his intellect as yet. Through long years his intuitions had adapted themselves to their environment. The subtle influences the forest always disengaged found in the delicately attuned fibres of his being that which vibrated in unison with them. Now this adjustment was in some way disturbed. To Sam Bolton the forest was different, and this made him uneasy without his knowing why. From time to time he stopped suddenly, every nerve quivering, his nostrils wide, like some wild thing alert for danger. And always the other five senses, on which his mind depended, denied the sixth. Nothing stirred but the creatures of the wilderness.
Yet always the impression persisted. It was easily put to flight, and yet it always returned. Twice, while Dick rested in the comfort of tobacco, Sam made long detours back through the woods, looking for something, he knew not what; uneasy, he knew not why. Always he found the forest empty. Everything, well ordered, was in its accustomed place. He returned to the canoe, shaking his head, unable to rid himself of the sensation of something foreign to the established order of things.
At noon the men drew ashore on a little point of rock. There they boiled tea over a small fire, and ate the last of their pilot's bread, together with bacon and the cold meat of partridges. By now the sun was high and the air warm. Tepid odours breathed from the forest, and the songs of familiar homely birds. Little heated breezes puffed against the travellers' cheeks. In the sun's rays their garments steamed and their muscles limbered.
Yet even here Sam Bolton was unable to share the relaxation of mind and body his companion so absolutely enjoyed. Twice he paused, food suspended, his mouth open, to listen intently for a moment, then to finish carrying his hand to his mouth with the groping of vague perplexity. Once he arose to another of his purposeless circles through the woods. Dick paid no attention to these things. In the face of danger his faculties would be as keenly on the stretch as his comrade's; but now, the question one merely of difficult travel, the responsibility delegated to another, he bothered his head not at all, but like a good lieutenant left everything to his captain, half closed his eyes, and watched the smoke curl from his brier pipe.
When evening fell the little fish-net was stretched below a chute of water, the traps set, snares laid. As long as these means sufficed for a food supply, the ammunition would be saved. Wet clothes were hung at a respectful distance from the blaze.
Sam was up and down all night, uncomfortable, indefinitely groping for the influence that unsettled his peace of mind. The ghost shadows in the pines; the pattering of mysterious feet; the cries, loud and distant, or faint and near; the whisperings, whistlings, sighings, or crashes; all the thousand ethereal essences of day-time noises that go to make up the Night and her silences—these he knew. What he did not know, could not understand, was within himself. What he sought was that thing in Nature which should correspond.
The next day at noon he returned to Dick after a more than usually long excursion, carrying some object. He laid it before his companion. The object proved to be a flat stone; and on the flat stone was the wet print of a moccasin.
"We're followed," he said, briefly.
Dick seized the stone and examined it closely.
"It's too blurred," he said, at last; "I can't make it out. But th' man who made that track wasn't far off. Couldn't you make trail of him? He must have been between you an' me when you found this rock."
"No," Sam demurred, "he wasn't. This moccasin was pointed down stream. He heard me, and went right on down with th' current. He's sticking to the water all the way so as to leave no trail."
"No use trying to follow an Injun who knows you're after him," agreed Dick.
"It's that Chippewa, of course," proffered Sam. "I always was doubtful of him. Now he's followin' us to see what we're up to. Then, he ain't any too friendly to you, Dick, 'count of that scrap and th' girl. But I don't think that's what he's up to—not yet, at least. I believe he's some sort of friend or kin of that Jingoss, an' he wants to make sure that we're after him."
"Why don't he just ambush us, then, an' be done with it?" asked Dick.
"Two to one," surmised Bolton, laconically. "He's only got a trade-gun—one shot. But more likely he thinks it ain't going to do him much good to lay us out. More men would be sent. If th' Company's really after Jingoss, the only safe thing for him is a warning. But his friend don't want to get him out of th' country on a false alarm."
"That's so," said Dick.
They talked over the situation, and what was best to be done.
"He don't know yet that we've discovered him," submitted Sam. "My scouting around looked like huntin', and he couldn't a seen me pick up that stone. We better not try to catch him till we can make sure. He's got to camp somewheres. We'll wait till night. Of course he'll get away from th' stream, and he'll cover his trail. Still, they's a moon. I don't believe anybody could do it but you, Dick. If you don't make her, why there ain't nothing lost. We'll just have to camp down here an' go to trapping until he gets sick of hanging around."
So it was agreed. Dick, under stress of danger, was now a changed man. What he lacked in experience and the power to synthesise, he more than made up in the perfection of his senses and a certain natural instinct of the woods. He was a better trailer than Sam, his eyesight was keener, his hearing more acute, his sense of smell finer, his every nerve alive and tingling in vibrant unison with the life about him. Where Sam laboriously arrived by the aid of his forty years' knowledge, the younger man leaped by the swift indirection of an Indian—or a woman. Had he only possessed, as did Bolton, a keen brain as well as keen higher instincts, he would have been marvellous.
The old man sat near the camp-fire after dark that night sure that Herron was even then conducting the affair better than he could have done himself. He had confidence. No faintest indication,—even in the uncertainty of moonlight through the trees,—that a man had left the river would escape the young man's minute inspection. And in the search no twig would snap under those soft-moccasined feet; no betraying motion of brush or brake warn the man he sought. Dick's woodcraft of that sort was absolute; just as Sam Bolton's woodcraft also was absolute—of its sort. It might be long, but the result was certain,—unless the Indian himself suspected.
Dick had taken his rifle.
"You know," Sam reminded him, significantly, "we don't really need that Injun."
"I know," Dick had replied, grimly.
Now Sam Bolton sat near the fire waiting for the sound of a shot. From time to time he spread his gnarled, carved-mahogany hands to the blaze. Under his narrow hat his kindly gray-blue eyes, wrinkled at the corners with speculation and good humour, gazed unblinking into the light. As always he smoked.