Winning A POST in FUR LAND
YOU'RE asking for Spirit Lake Post?"
Duncan Macneil began the question with a shout but ended it with a groan as the three broken ribs jabbed the flesh of his rage-distended chest.
“Yes, sir,” answered Johnnie Upham meekly as he stood at the foot of the district
Meekness was so foreign to Johnnie that Macneil hesitated an instant and looked at the young man wearily.
“Why?” he asked.
“I’ve been m the service four years and haven’t had a post.”
“And in those four years you haven’t shown yourself capable of taking a trading outfit on a toboggan and going after the fur of the poorest hunter in the district.”
“I don’t believe, sir, that I’ve had an opportunity to show what I can do.”
Johnnie wás still as meek as in making his request, but Macneil’s anger was rising again and he plunged on :
“You’ve just spent a year as clerk at Spirit Lake Post and Campbell’s reports certainly are not flattering.”
“Neither you nor I expected that they would be when you sent me there last summer,” answered Johnnie. “You know, sir, that Mr. Campbell shares your— your antipathy for English clerks.”
JOHNNIE had often suspected that there might be something more than aversion for Englishmen in Macneil’s attitude toward him. Although the Governor and Company of Gentlemen Adventurers Trading into Hudson’s Bay is an English concern, the perseverance and loyal canniness of the Scotch have made for it its best traders. The great company knows this and in the selection of its apprentice clerks the »preference is always given to the boys from Scotland. For an unknown English youth whose family had no connection with the company to be selected over the heads of Scotch applicants meant that the leverage of personal influence had been used.
Duncan Macneil realized this and resented it with all the force of his loyalty to things Scotch. Johnnie had been the first English apprentice clerk sent to the old district manager’s office and the young fellow’s manner as well as his nationality had aroused not only resentment but dislike.
That Johnnie had not left in the face of this opposition had been due solely to a romantic conception of the Hudson’s Bay Company that would not down in the face of a naked reality. Since boyhood he had been imbued with a desire to become a servant of this greatest of traders. It was a very real thing, the company of his dreams, and he w"as still able to look at his surroundings through tinted glasses.
As for Macneil’s attitude, Johnnie had converted it into a source of amusement, not only for himself but for the entire district. Baiting the district manager, cleverly, safely, was his pastime. Even now the strength
of his desire for Spirit Lake Post had not restrained him from touching upon Macneil’s sore spot. Never had a reference to this aversion to things English failed in its effect, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before Macneil, despite his broken ribs, had raised himself in bed.
“You want a post!” he shouted. “All right! Take Pickwitush ! There’s a post for you, Upham ! And you won’t go as a clerk. You’ll be in charge.”
Johnnie, his face pale, retreated toward the door. “But I can’t!” he exclaimed. “I can’t go to P»ickwitush. It’s—it’s impossible there!”
“Impossible! You, an apprentice clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company, telling me, your superior officer, that a post is impossible! Young man, for four years I’ve stood your insolence. You came in here with the effrontery to ask me for the best post in my district. I give you better than you deserve, and you tell me it’s impossible. Next week you return »with the Spirit Lake brigade and proceed at once to Pickwitush.”
AJACNEIL turned away his head as if the matter were dismissed. Johnnie stood near the door, his hat in his hands. He knew Pickwitush by reputation, the dreariest, most insignificant outpost in the district, a little trading station which apprentice clerks believed Macneil kept open solely for disciplinary purposes. He turned away, for he knew the old manager.
And then as if from a sudden impulse he wheeled toward the bed.
“But I can’t go there, sir!” he cried. “It’s no fit place for her!”
Macneil jerked upward so suddenly he groaned aloud from the quick stab of pain.
“So that’s it?” he demanded. “Let me tell you, young man, that, even if the company would stand for one of its servants living with an Indian woman, Pickwitush is plenty good enough for any squaw in Canada.”
Johnnie Upham reached the foot of the feed with one leap. He grasped it with both hands and shook it until Macneil winced with the pain.
“Who mentioned a squaw?” cried the clerk in a passion. “That’s one thing you can’t hold against me, Macneil! That’s one thing you can’t throw up to me now. And I’ll have an apology before I leave tbit room.”
Johnnie’s rage was too great to permit him to see the quick gleam his words had brought to the eyes of the district manager.
“So that’s it!” exclaimed Macneil. “Miss Morrison, eh? And you first laid eyes on her only two weeks
He turned his head away and looked out of the window, while Johnnie, his anger dissolved by the older man’s divination, stood waiting.
“So you’re going to marry Miss Morrison,” continued Macneil with a smile.
“Yes, sir. That’s why I can’t think of Pickwitush. It wouldn’t be a fit place for her.”
“No, you’re right, and she won’t go there. But have you read the rules and regulations of the Hudson’s Bay Company, young man?”
“And you remember that it is expressly stated that an apprentice clerk shall not marry without the consent of the district manager?”
“But you wouldn’t enforce such a rule against me when I have only one more year of my apprenticeship !” “Wouldn’t?” and Macneil’s face hardened. “That’s exactly what I am going to do. Right now I forbid you to marry while serving your apprenticeship in the company’s service. And, moreover, you go to Pickwitush next week.”
JOHNNIE looked straight into the eyes of the old ‘'fur trader, the last of the chief factors, the man who had devoted his life to the company’s service, and he found nothing to give him hope. He knew Macneil, knew his reputation, understood thoroughly what Macneil thought of him, and he knew argument or protest was useless.
“In any event,” he said at last, “My apprenticeship expires next May. Mary will wait until then.”
“She’ll not wait!” snapped Macneil. “She was sent over a year ago as governess for the children of the post manager here at Savant House. She came on a one-year contract, which expired three days ago. She’ll catch the ship at York Factory next month.”
“But you can’t send her out of the country if she doesn’t want to go!” exclaimed Johnnie.
“I can’t send her, perhaps, but I can make it impossible for her to stay, and go she will.”
“But -Johnnie began.
“Not another word!” shouted Macneil angrily. “You go to Pickwitush next week. Miss Morrison goes out to York Factory to take the ship. It is settled.”
jpOR Mary’s sake, for the sake of their happiness, Johnnie would have been willing to make his first
plea for mercy, to have admitted defeat in his long feud with the old Scotchman. But he knew the futility of such a course. Macneil had made his decision and the matter was ended. He turned at once and left the room. Five minutes later Mary Morrison was in possession of the facts.
“It’s my fault,” Johnnie concluded despondently. “Macneil has been waiting for this chance for four years. I hadn’t been here a month before he wrote to London that I might be the first English clerk in his district but that I would also be the last. The two Scotch boys who came over with me have had posts for a year now. But the first three years he kept me right here, and last year he sent me out as clerk at Spirit Lake, where Campbell never gave me a show. Macneil doesn’t intend to let me get anywhere in the service.”
“I’ve been told how you baited him,” said Mary, “It
was the first thing I heard about you last fall. But he wouldn't have kept you on if he didn’t think something of you, didn’t have faith in you.”
“I made life miserable for him from the start,” explained Johnnie. “It was dull around here and he drove me to it with his sneering comments on Englishmen. He’s kept me at Savant House just to watch me squirm when he got his big chance to turn down the screws. The chance has come, and there’s no changing his decision.”
“I can’t help but think you’re wrong there,” protested Mary. “He may be Scotch, and he may dislike the English, but the company comes first with him always. If you can prove your ability you can make him accept you.”
“You don’t know Macneil. I’ve been in his office three of my four years in the country and I know I haven’t a show. There’s only one thing to do, Mary, and that’s to leave the service and go back to England.” “Never!” exclaimed the girl with such feeling that Johnnie stared at her in amazement. “You’ve given four years to it. It’s the work you like, the work you were meant to do. You have it in you to succeed. You must stay, and when the ship comes back next summer I’ll be on it, and we’ll be married. Macneil can’t interfere then, and he’ll have to give you a post because you’ll have made yourself valuable.”
“Can’t interfere?” Johnnie fairly snorted. “You don’t know Macneil. He has the power to make or break me, and he’s been waiting all these years to do it in the most painful manner. Why, if you were to come back next year, he’d hear of it and shoot me a thousand miles north or two thousand miles west. I’d have to start before you could get here and you couldn’t follow on such a journey. No, there’s only one thing to do, and that’s to leave the service.”
'T'HEY were sitting in an old York boat on the beach.
The low, flat, monotonous shore stretched away on either side. Before them the lake, gray and sullen, extended to the skyline without even a rocky island to lessen the aspect of desolate vastness. It was across that lake and hundreds of miles beyond that Mary would go to catch the ship. It was along the shore to the right that Johnnie would leave for his prison at Pickwitush.
As the north so often does with those who make it their home, it gripped those two with the choking awe of its vastness and emptiness, with its harshness and inexorableness, and for a moment even the intoxication of young love was powerless. To Mary, new to the north Country, the land itself seemed to rise in grim hostility, to be animate in its enmity. To Johnnie, less fearful of the physical terrors, it seemed rather to personify the vindictiveness of Macneil.
Mary Morrison, however, rose quickly to that most valuable of feminine missions.
“Johnnie!” she exclaimed. “There’s only one way out! You’ve got to convince Macneil.”
“Convince him! Of what?”
“That you’re a valuable man to the company, that the company can’t afford to have your abilities wasted in a place like Pickwitush.”
“That’s impossible,” protested Johnnie. “He’s going to send you to York Factory in a week, and I’ll start sooner for Pickwitush. Nothing can change Macneil in so short a time.”
“Listen, Johnnie,” said the girl as she leaned closer and took his hand. “Don’t quit. Don’t give up this way. You can’t. I can’t have you. You’re big enough and clever enough to beat Macneil.”
“Thanks, Mary. It’s good of you to say that. But there’s no way to do it. There’s nothing to do.”
npHREE days later Johnnie paid his first visit to Macneil’s bedside since his disastrous interview. The district manager, accustomed through a long life to ceaseless activity, had become so irritated by his enforced stay in bed that he fairly barked at the clerk when he saw him in the door.
“What do you want now?” he demanded. “A valet to accompany you to Pickwitush?”
“I want to tell you there’s a lot of trouble stirring,” answered Johnnie, excitedly. “The Indians are gathered outside the stockade and are talking of raiding the
“Indians raiding the store! What nonsense is this?” “Paul Eshquandem just sent word that they’ve held a council and have determined to demand further debt concessions. He says the policy of the company is niggardly and that if each hunter isn’t granted $100 more debt they’ll come into the store and take it.” Macneil simply laid in bed and stared. Gradually
his distrust of the clerk’s statements began to display itself.
“Young man -,” he began.
And then like the sullen bellowing of waves on the beach came the murmur of angry voices through the window.
“Hear that?” demanded Johnnie. “They’re at the gate now. What will I tell them?”
“Tell them? Tell them to clear out. Get the staff together and load all the rifles in the store. Don’t let an Indian inside. More debt? No Indian ever laid such a charge at my door before. They get all anyone could give them. This is some of Eshquandem’s work.” “Perhaps, but that doesn’t meet the situation, nor does your suggestion of armed force. Campbell left for Winnipeg two days ago. McKenzie has gone to the outpost and taken the two clerks with him. The employees are down the lake putting the sleigh dogs on the island for the summer and won’t be back until tomorrow. You and I are the only white men here, Macneil, and you can’t get off your back.”
“But such a demand is preposterous. There has never been a rumor of dissatisfaction: There never
were more loyal Indians than the hunters of this post. There’s some trouble-maker at work. I won’t give in to them.”
“And you want me to fight them alone, one against more than a hundred?”
Johnnie glared at his superior and then turned as if to leave the room.
“See here, Upham,” exclaimed Macneil. “I’m helpless. It’s up to you. We can’t let them override wi like this. They never have done it and we can’t lot them now. You’re the only company man here. Go out and talk with Eshquandem again. Do what you can but don’t give in to them.”
“Isn’t that rather a large task for an incompetent English clerk?”
“It’s not too large a task for any competent servant of the Hudson’s Bay Company.”
“Exactly,” retorted Johnnie. “See here, Mr. Macneil. You know that you’ve done your best to keep me from all chances of making good. Now a chance has come and you can’t keep me from it. In fact, you order me to it. I’ll admit it looks hopeless, but I want one thing understood. If I win out you are to place no obstacles in the way of my marriage.”
“You make your duty conditional?” demanded the enraged manager.
“I only make a proper appreciation of my services conditional.”
T'HE two stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then Macneil looked away.
“Very well,” he said. “You win. You can marry
“I said no obstacles. Pickwitush is an obstacle.” Again the old Scotchman lost control of himself and denounced the clerk with all the vehemence of which he was capable. When he had finished, Johnnie spoke quietly :
“Spirit Lake Post is vacant. There are no other vacancies. I can make good and I will. I’m not asking anything that is not fair.”
“Get out of here and see Eshquandem?” commanded Macneil angrily. “You’ll want my job if you stay any longer.”
“And Spirit Lake?” insisted Johnnie.
“Yes, yes! Get out and settle those Indians.
As Johnnie passed through the dwelling house he found Mary trying to quiet the hysterical Mrs. McKenzie, wife of the Savant House manager, and her two children.
“They’re beginning to batter at the gate, Johnnie,” called the girl as he went out of the front door. “Be careful. They’re all armed.”
SAVANT HOUSE had long before replaced the old stockade with a high picket fence, a barricade intended merely to keep the Indians from overrunning the dwelling house, district offices and warehouses. The pickets, while ten feet high, were several inches apart and offered no real protection.
Near the gate more than fifty hunters, each carrying a rifle, were gathered in a noisy, swirling group. At the gate itself, a little in advance of the others, stood Paul Eshquandem. There was something more ominous in his quiet insistence, but Johnnie walked quickly to the gate and began to speak to him.
For some time the conference lasted, and then a slow, threatening movement began in the group behind the chief. Paul gestured more fiercely and finally made a peremptory demand. Johnnie waved his arm scornfully, turned on his heel and walked back to the dwelling house, a chorus of yells, jeers and threats at hia back,
Continued on page 72
Winning a Post
in Fur Land
Continued from page 21
He went immediately to Macneil’s room, but Mrs. McKenzie had preceded him with a report of the result of the conference.
“That’s right, Upham !” cried the old chief factor, the light of battle in his eyes. “Don’t let thorn-bluff you. Stand them off and may he the others will get back in time. Don’t give in to them.” “Under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t,” replied the clerk, “but there are women here, Mr. Macneil, and we must remember them, even before the company.”
“Yes, yes, but keep on bluffing. We mustn’t give in.”
“I’ll try, sir, but I’m afraid it’s useless. They’re determined and I don’t believe they can be held off until tomorrow. They’ve sent out a call for the entire band to gather outside the fence. The sun has set and they’re already building a council fire less than fifty feet from the gate.”
Macneil demanded a recital of the entire conference with Eshquandem, but even his knowledge of Indian nature and his vast experience failed to find a loophole or suggest a counter course. Still his belief that the whole situation was preposterous would not down.
“They won’t dare!” he exclaimed. “They know better! They know they will lose in the end!”
“Remember Fort St. John and Fort Pitt,” Johnnie reminded him.
“That was fifty years ago. It can’t happen now.”
“And Trout Lake. And Fort Chimo cnly three years ago.”
“Johnnie!” cried the old man on the verge of a panic. “Get out there and do something. I can’t let this happen, not after fifty years in the service. Such a thing can’t come to me now.”
Johnnie stopped for a moment in the living-room to reassure the women and then went to the store, where he locked himself in and was not seen again while daylight lasted.
A S darkness came more than one hun** dred Indians had gathered around the big fire outside the gate. Every one was armed with a rifle and an ax, For a time they circled and shrieked about the blaze, working themselves into a frenzy. Several times the swirling group swept away from the fire and toward the gate, while the women, watching from the darkened windows of' the dwelling house, retreated into the hall that led to Macneil’s room. Somehow they felt ultimate safety lay in the presence of the old man whose life had been spent in gaining an influence over the Indian equalled by that of less tfian half a dozen white men in the history of America.
“Where’s Upham?” demanded Macneil when the shrieks rosa to an alarming pitch and Mrs. McKenzie cried out that she had seen the gates pushed over. “He’s gone, run away!” declared the ost manager’s wife. “We haven’t seen im since darkness came.”
“I knew it!” wailed the district manager impotently. “I knew he didn’t have it in him.”
Mary’s protest was cut short by a sudden silence. The shrieking and yelling ceased as if by magic and the two women rushed out to the front windows.
“What is it?” Macneil shouted after them.'
“They’re holding a council right outside the gate,” reported Mrs. McKenzie excitedly. “Eshquandem is speaking to them. The end will come soon now.” “Find Upham and have him tell them they can have what they want,” commanded the district manager. “I’d stick it out, but I can’t have you women murdered by those devils.”
AS she hurried from the room the wild shrieking began again. But it lacked completely its old note of defiance. Instead it became a cry of sheer terror, and Mrs. McKenzie reached a front window just in time to see, stalking across the enclosure from behind a warehouse and straight toward the gate, a strange figure of fire.
Fifteen feet high it swayed, with a head of brilliant light and arms and trunk of glowing coals. Straight toward the gate it went, undulating, awkward in its movements, but never hesitating. In a few seconds it had reached tte high fence, tottered, lurched, and then was among the Indians about the fire.
Yelling in panic, running in every direction and pursued by the strange, supernatural being, they sought shelter so quickly that in less than a minute after the appearance of the monster there was not an Indian in sight. For a while the lighted figure lurched around the fire and then disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
AT noon the next day, McKenzie and his staff returned to obtain from the overjoyed Macneil an elaborate account of how Johnnie Upham, with a pair of stilts and a Japanese lantern of nis own construction, had routed more than one hundred Indians single handed and had put an end to a situation which threatened disaster to Savant House. That evening the church of
England missionary arrived on his annual visit and, with Macneil giving the bride away in his own room, Johnnie and Mary were married.
The district manager never flor a moment seemed to regret his promise or to hold its exaction against Johnnie. The second day after the wedding he got out of bed and accompanied the couple to the gate as they were about to take canoes to Spirit Lake.
“We wipe the slate clean, Johnnie,” he declared as he supported himself with one arm around the young man’s shoulder. “You’ve got what a fur trader needs, resourcefulness, wit, ingenuity. It isn’t force that counts in the fur business but brains, cleverness. You’ll need them at Spirit Lake and good luck with the opposition there. You’ll get them. Cook up a scheme like you did here and the post is yours.”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Johnnie as he shook hands.
Then he turned to Mary.
“Will you go down to the canoes, please?" he asked. “I want to speak to Mr. Macneil.”
“Not another promise?” grinned the district manager. -
“But it is; I want you to promise me not to be too hard on Eshquandem.”
“Not at all. Not at all. I’ll hang him up by the thumbs for a week. Leave it to me.”
“No, no!” protested Johnnie. “You mustn’t say a word. You see-.”
He stammered and then turned away hesitatingly.
“What do you mean?” demanded Macneil.
“Well, sir, Paul wasn’t exactly responsible for that uprising. You see, I gave him a suit of clothes and there were two plugs of tobacco for every other Indian in it. On the whole, I think they acted the part very well, sir.”
Macneil’s face turned black beneath his white hair. He clenched both fists and shook them under Johnnie’s nose. He seemed to be trying to speak, but somehow the words would not come. Then the tense muscles relaxed and a grin spread across his face.
“Begone, you young devil!” he exclaimed. “It’s quits if you turn your tricks against the Spirit Lake opposition. Knock them out and the post is yours so long as I have the say of it.”