the FUR MASTERS
Romance adds complications to the schemes of powerful white men and crafty Indians
The story: In 1804, at the Hudson's Ray Company post at York Factory, an employee. Big Angus is dispatched on a trading trip. He is a dour man tvho has a family in Scotland with whom he has not communicated for years.
In Montreal, Neil Campbell arrives from Scotland, seeking his father, who is thought to be in the, employ of some furtrading company but has not been heard from for a long time. Neil joins the Canadian fur-trading company known as the. Nor'westers as an apprentice, and is sent to a post called Buffalo Lake, where he will act as clerk.
At this place Neil meets Bouché, who is employed as assistant clerk, interpreter and guide: also Bouché's attractive daughter, Julie.
Macdonald. Neil's superior in charge of the post, has been trying in vain to persuade Julie to live with him without benefit of marriage. He teams Neil: “If I find you crossing the threshold of Bouché’s door, I will break you.’’
M’SIEU,” said Bouché very timidly, “will you not come to my house for an hour and drink tea? My family will be honored.”
Neil Campbell sent him a friendly grin. “That is kind of you, but—”
“But what, m’sieu?”
There was a moment of hesitation. Two days had passed
since Macdonald had given him the autocratic order never to enter the clerk’s house, and the more Neil thought of it the less he liked it. It was unreasonable. It violated every idea of the comradeship he had hoped to find in the pays d'en haul. He had seen Julie several times since then, and again she had sent him that odd glance, at once proud and arresting yet shyly invitational; while as for Bouché himself, the young man was conceiving a sort of respect and had begun to look forward to a companionship that it seemed was not to be found elsewhere on Buffalo Lake. So now Neil looked straight into the honest eyes of the assistant clerk and told him exactly what had happened.
Bouché, to his surprise, seemed in no way disturbed.
“M’sieu should not take the bourgeois too seriously, especially when he is in liquor, because in those times many things come from him which in the next hour he has forgotten. But when sober, which is not now very often, it is well to attend seriously, for he knows of what he speaks. So forget this little affair, m’sieu, and come. You will be mos’ welcome.”
At this Neil felt happier. “I am glad you told me that. Yes, I will come.”
Entering the house, he had an immediate sensation of comfort and his mood relaxed. Bouché was clever with fingers, drawknife and axe; the room reflected both skill
and taste, and what was usually a bare interior had here been redeemed with homelike little touches. There was a bookshelf, a carved gunrack and carved hooks for powder horns; the log walls were barked and oiled, their chinks filled with white clay, the membrane windows neat and tight. Thick warm buffalo robes lay on the hewn floor, the wooden handmade chairs fitted the body, the flame of dry pine roots leaped hotly in a big stone fireplace cemented with clay.
On the floor beside the fire squatted the guide’s wife, a Cree woman of about forty years of age, now a motionless mound with a red shawl drawn tightly over head and shoulders; her copper-colored face immobile but with a suggestion of grave welcome on her lips. Looking up at Neil, she did not rise but bent forward, saying nothing, and when he put out his hand, murmuring one of his few words of Cree, she took it in a dry wiry grip and stared at him hard.
“Julie,” called Bouché, “viens donc.’’'
WITH A KETTLE in her hand, the girl appeared from a little shed which Bouché had built for a summer kitchen. She glanced at the young man, nodding, blushing a little but not speaking, and began setting dishes on the table with a movement graceful and deliberate.
“I am fortunate, m’sieu, in having two cooks in my famille,’’ said Bouché, “and both better than your servant, Goudreau.”
“Goudreau,” smiled Neil, “does his best and I do not complain.”
“But his hands are too heavy for the cuisine,” said Julie. Her voice was low, rather rich, with very little accent either native or French. She was small of stature, with a round finely modelled neck and high firmly molded breasts outlined by a tight cotton blouse. Her wrists were small and square, her hands smooth, well shaped and quite unscarred. She had on a short woollen skirt, no stockings, and moccasins of embroidered moosehide. Neil, watching her with sudden and vivid interest, noted the flexible sensitive mouth, an oval face and olive-brown skin. He thought she looked like a faun.
The guide chattered while they had tea, giving a more vivid picture than he realized of the pays d’en haul in the past twenty years, rejoicing to have a white man to talk to
freely. Neil felt himself under observation and, turning, gazed straight into the girl’s eyes.
She was regarding him with a look at once profound and abstracted; she did not smile, but sat watching him as one might follow a wedge of wild geese far overhead and with just such fixed concentration. Her eyes were like pools shadowed darkly by overhanging trees, still as such pools are still, and like them revealing nothing of what lay beneath their inscrutable surface.
In this strange moment Neil became more urgently aware of her. He had seen her about the post, by the lakeside and slipping from the forest with a gun over her shoulder, but there had passed between them only a few words and not till now had the inner man of him been aroused. Now her long, fixed, speechless look that suggested an infinity of things one could only guess at, set alight in him a sudden glow that was the response of youth to youth, and he experienced something new like a quick sense of hunger. All in a breath, he wanted to take that strong wild body in his arms.
He did not know how long this intoxication lasted, but when he caught Bouché’s eye the guide’s lips carried a little smile as though he were pleased about something.
“M’sieu,” he said, “I took liberty in asking you to my house, but if you are content I hope you will visit again. M’sieu Stuart sometimes did me this honor. But,” he added significantly, “no other man has my permission to come here.”
Nèil nodded, trying to talk easily, but his tongue felt stiff. Julie, now smiling, confirmed the invitation, while the crouching woman by the fire turned her gaze toward him. Not a word did she utter, but obviously she understood everything. Neil had a vision of this girl and his bourgeois. Any man would want her.
“Eh, bien!” said Bouché, rising. “I must now go my round and see that the guards are alert—you will excuse me?” Putting on his capote, he disappeared. There was movement from the hearth and the Cree woman, gathering the dishes, took them into the kitchen. She did not return, and Neil’s breath grew faster till a laugh came from the girl.
“M’sieu is not very comfortable?”
“But I am, indeed lam.” He felt the blood climbing to his temples. “This house is much nicer than mine.”
“Then we will make yours just the same, but I hope you will not be like M’sieu Stuart, who hardly spoke to me at all.”
“Why was that?”
“I think perhaps he was afraid of women, and for me had no tongue but always talked to my father about things that did not interest me. Then they would go out and look at the stars for a long time, while he gave them names.”
“Don’t you know any other white men?”
“But yes, for in the summer they all pass Buffalo Lake on the way from New Fort and the English postson the Bay; I have seen as many as fifteen in one year.”
“So many as that?” he asked soberly.
C HE NODDED, put her elbows on the table, cupped lier chin in a pair of smooth brown palms and sent him a straight friendly stare.
“Yes, as many as that, and it is much more easy to talk when we are alone. Next year it may be that my father will take me to New Fort with the fur, and that would be wonderful.”
Neil shook his head, remembering only too well what he had seen of the half-breed women at the great depot; also he admitted that there was another reason.
“I think you are better off here.”
“Safer,” he blurted.
At this her lips wreathed into a smile and she looked oddly wise.
“M’sieu thinks I am but a child and do not know some things. Well, he is wrong. Three times have I been asked by a monsieur to go and live with him as a country wife but not marry. One of them in this post has asked me many times, but I do not like that, and they are all so old. The bourgeois here is much too old, and that is saying nothing of many other things.” Here she paused with an indescribable gesture. “How old are you?”
“I am twenty-one,” stammered Neil.
“And I am nineteen this year.” She ran her fingers through his reddish thatch. “Why is your hair'of that color?”
“I don’t know. Why is yours black?”
“All Crees—you see I am some part Cree—have black hair like my mother. You like me—yes?”
She was venclose to him now, seeming to convey a sort of wild fragrance from the scented cedar boughs on which she slept. His head began to swim.
Something signalled a warning, with a reminder of what Stuart had told him of just where he stood in this matter, while his body and lonely youthful spirit grew clamorous. It was queer, he reflected, that he should think none the less of her for being so direct and unabashed; then he reminded himself that all her days had been spent in contact with savages whose lives were naked and unashamed. This experience had left no mark on her, but rather made her infinitely compelling to a man like himself.
“Of course,” he said a little thickly. “I like you very much.”
“Then you are not afraid of the bourgeois who likes me too much?”
He was about to take her in his arms and show her how little he was afraid when a step sounded outside. She slipped back to her chair, and Neil stiffened.
The door was jerked open; Macdonald stood on the threshold; his brows were lifted and came together in a frown.
“Where is Bouché?” he creaked.
“He has gone to the guerite, m’sieu,” said Julie smoothly. “He is with the watchman. Do you want him?”
Macdonald’s small eyes grew hard. He scanned them each in turn, the color deepening in his cheeks, then there was a moment of silence.
“Mr. Campbell, I desire to see you. Julie, find your father, and tell him to be at my house in a quarter hour.”
“Out, m'sieu, certainly.” She said this lightly, almost gaily; and Neil, feeling the more ruffled, followed his master.
The bourgeois seated himself and pointed to a chair. For a moment he said nothing, seeming to be in the grip of some deep feeling that he controlled with difficulty, but when he began it was in a voice ominously level.
“Mr. Campbell, yesterday I heard by express runner that Mr. Simon McTavish has died suddenly in Montreal.”
“So I learned, sir.”
“Tonight I propose to speak frankly about that and other matters. To begin with, for some years I have known that my efforts at Buffalo Lake are but lightly valued, and my promotion not of any concern to the partners. Is that clear?”
“Quite clear,” said Neil, much puzzled.
“It may be,” continued Macdonald, “that I have enemies in high quarters, but I do not know who they are, so you can well appreciate what I feel. Now as to this late news—first, nothing must be done to antagonize our rivals, the XY. You will show them every courtesy, you will not any longer aim at capturing their trade, and such savages as are in their debt must not get debt from us. Is this also clear?”
Neil nodded, wondering how any man could so completely mask the anger recently hot in his eyes.
“The news means, as well, that between us and the English the situation will be sharpened. You can see why?” “I can, sir.”
“Mr. McTavish will be succeeded as senior partner by Mr. William McGillvray, who is on excellent terms with Sir Alec Mackenzie of the XY, so the affairs should take early shape. With these two gentlemen the English will then have to cope. Little consideration will be shown on either side, our posts will increase in strength while the English remain as they are. and the savages get one third less liquor. It will be war. Mr. Campbell, war as never before, with full recognition to those who are most successful. The English managers will certainly take the same view when the news reaches them.”
Saying this he grasped his glass, took a gulp of liquor and leaned forward with a tense expression.
“Do you begin to see what is in my mind?” he asked with peculiar emphasis.
' I 'HIS COLD analysis expressed with entire clarity could not be misread, and the young clerk found himself faced with larger questions than had yet come his way. Also he was in a quandary over Macdonald. The man suspected and hated him—one could not doubt that—yet talked as to one worthy of confidence. The situation was confusing. Neil wished that some clearminded friend like Stuart were here to consult, for Stuart’s last warning had been to trust none at Buffalo Lake except Bouché. Could that include Bouché’s daughter?
“I think I understand, sir.”
“Very good. Now I have a plan to discuss with . . . Ah, Bouché, come in. No, do not stand.” He nodded to a chair.
The guide, surprised at this civility, seated himself on its edge, and regarded his master with bright intelligence.
“M’sieu desires to speak to me?”
“Yes. Owing to the news about Mr. McTavish, it will be necessary that you and Mr. Campbell spend much time this winter in travelling. You will be very little at Buffalo Lake. I desire you to journey among the Crees whom you. Bouché, know very well. At present some of their fur comes to us, but some reaches the English on Lake Athabasca at Fond du Lac, and that must now cease.”
Bouché’s dark brows lifted a trifle.
“You have married a Cree and the means lies with you. so with Mr. Campbell you will move among them, buying their skins at a good price so soon as they are taken. You will make friends with the best of their hunters, using as much liquor as you see fit, and if you use it wisely there will be little fur left worth having when the spring comes. The English may keep that. Also you will travel past the Crees and visit the savages on the Great Slave. I will give Mr. Campbell a letter of authorit y to replenish your goods and liquor from any of our posts on the way, and such fur as you buy you may leave at the nearest to the credit of this one. 11 is of course understood that you visit only such tribes as trade with the English. You will start so soon as the ice is good, returning here in three months or more, depending on what you find.”
“M’sieu desires me to be away for three months?”
“I desire and command.” Macdonald’s voice was suddenly hard. “What are three months?”
“But my family,” stammered the guide. “It isa long time. Can they not travel with me for the first month, then wait on Lake Athabasca with the people of my wife who winter there? That would be two less mouths to feed here, m’sieu, and the supply of pemmican is not very good this year.”
“Your family will be safer here in your own house, and it is not a journey for women; also you will not be welcome in the English districts.”
Bouché, fearing what might happen in his own home, felt in a quandary. Committed to obey his bourgeois, he perceived very clearly what lay behind this commission.
“You will go,” went on Macdonald, “in sharp opposition to the English, not visiting their posts under any circumstances, not giving or taking assistance in that quarter no matter what happens. Also be not too sparing with your liquor, and make what difficulties you can against them among the savages. After today. Bouché, this company wastes no further time in being polite to its rivals.”
The guide, grasping the true significance of this, felt rebellious. Never in his life of stress and adventure had he had any aversion for the English. Time and again he had been glad of assistance never withheld in hours of danger, for were they not all in the wilderness together, a handful of whites among countless natives of unpredictable temper? And how could he leave Julie without protection? He glanced at Neil to make out what the young man was thinking, but the latter’s face was blank.
“Well, Bouché,” concluded Macdonald, “those are your orders, and I would be glad should you also visit the Yellowknives who take fur on the edge of the Barrens. Mr. Campbell, you will be in the first place responsible.”
“When do we go, sir?” asked Neil.
“I will advise you later, and should anything of importance arise during the winter you will communicate by express runner. You and Bouché will make your own arrangements and submit to me a list of what you propose to take. I wish you well, and it should be an opportunity for advancement with this company. That is all for tonight.”
Neil, thus dismissed, was making for his own quarters when Bouché detained him:
“M’sieu, will you not return to my house for a little? I must speak to you of this affair. Pray come, m’sieu. You and 1 are not alone in the matter, and the bourgeoi has already forgotten us until tomorrow.”
HIS TONE was so earnest that Neil yielded. The room, when they reached it, was empty, but as they seated themselves at the fire. Julie appeared silently and sat at her father’s feet, her head against his knee. She looked up at him with wide searching eyes, and he put his hand on the sleek dark hair.
Now came a little silence, while Neil regarded these two with a sudden profound conviction that they were destined to be forever linked with his own life in some manner impossible to anticipate. He had come a long way from Argyle to discover them in this corner of the pays d’en haul, and in some curious but welcome fashion they seemed to offer the link he so badly needed between past and future.
Today he could not imagine himself ever returning to the old life in the bleakness of a Scottish glen. He was happy when with Bouché, absorbing from the guide the hard-won wisdom of the West, and he experienced a throbbing satisfaction when he was near Bouché’s daughter. The girl’s eyes seemed to draw him on to something strange and inviting, and whatever might now lie ahead, he felt assured that he would not have to face it alone.
Presently Bouché began to talk in a tone colored by simple and natural emotion.
“M’sieu, there are but two things in this life that I treasuremy wife and this girl of mine. Let me tell you the story of Louis Bouché, born at Trois Rivières a little more than forty years ago. Twenty years ago I was a young freetrader and travelling on Lake Athabasca with another Frenchman, one Paul Larue from Montreal. It was just before springtime came, and the ice was bad. It is true we should not have made that crossing at all, but trade was good and we were unwilling to turn back. Well, m’sieu, we were in the middle of the lake halfway across when a great rain came and a strong wind rose and the ice broke up all round us. My companion with the dogs was drowned before my eyes, and I myself plunged into the lake, but, grâce à Dieu, I was able to reach the shore and lay there half dead. Then again it became very cold.
“M’sieu, I had no flint, no steel, no tinder, no weapon. My clothing was frozen hard like ice itself, and for three days without food or fire I walked in search of some camp. The sun was now bright, and striking up from the snow it made me blind, so I lay down to die, knowing I should not wake again. A family of Crees found me. They did not know who I was, but put me on a toboggan and took me to their camp and wrapped me in rabbit-skin blankets, and the daughter of that family laid down with me in the blankets, giving me the heat of her body so that I lived. She is now my wife. We were married four years afterward by a priest on Pine Lake, and Julie was then three years old.”
“I remember that priest very well,” smiled the girl, nodding at Neil. “He had a long grey beard and long black cloak, and hair coming out of his ears and a small gold cross on his breast.”
“You are right,” smiled Bouché. “It was Père Disette himself, all the way from Quebec and a brave man; he died a few years afterward when among the Mandans on the Missouri River. For myself, I think they killed him, since one of them got a gallon of rum for the gold cross. Alors, m’sieu, since then I have worked for the XY and this company, and now my Julie is a woman. Life has no secrets from her— too often has she seen it given and taken— but she is still a virgin and I have sworn that she shall not become the country wife of any man who, desiring only her body, will presently leave her here in the pays d’en haut with his children when he returns to Montreal or perhaps across the sea to his own people. M’sicu has been to New Fort and will understand the reason why I have never taken Julie there or to Grand Portage, for she might not return as she went. But, naturellementhe added caressingly, “she thinks I am hard on a young girl who desires to see the world.”
“J’ai un papa formidable, eh, m’sieu?” She crumpled her red lips and played with his brown fingers. “He calls me a young woman, yet treats me as a child. Papa, when will you learn that I am well able to
Continued on page 32
The Fur Masters
Continued from page 22—Starts on page 20
take care of myself? And next year I am going to New Fort, if not with you then with my mother in our own canoe; it is quite easy, that journey, and with but one trip over the portages we shall arrive first. Then I shall say, ‘My father, Louis Bouché, the guide from Buffalo Lake, is on his way, but, being an old man, travels slowly and I did not wait.’ Eh, papa, how you like that?”
SIIE RALLIED him, but her eyes had turned to Neil. They were very provocative, the eyes of a graceful creature as completely at home in this forest setting as a tawny deer, yet at the same time she seemed as modern and assured a woman as the young man had ever spoken to, and he responded to an art that he was far from understanding. She appeared in a way wiser than her father; having no fear she was much more confident.
Bouché, if he detected this, gave no sign. His expression was grave.
‘‘M’sieu, it is with a purpose that I have spoken before Julie, for tonight there are two thoughts in the mind of our bourgeois. One he explained-and only one. He desires to advertise himself with the company, but by our efforts. For what we may do of service, he will take the credit; but for failure or disaster the blame will be ours. He speaks smoothly because I am married with a Cree, and for that reason the trade with her relations on the Athabasca comes much of it to Buffalo Lake, but if I went from here to the XY or the English that trade would go with me. For the rest of it, he desires Julie as a country wife but does not wish to make an enemy of me, so it is all very plain. But what does one do in such a case? Should I refuse to go on this journey I am dismissed and lose my pay, much of which I have not drawn; while if I do go, what of Julie?” “Ah, la pauvre Julie,” exclaimed the girl teasingly, “et son pauvre papa! She is so frightened of le vieux bourgeois: she has no defense, she cannot shoot. When you are far from here he will come probably in the night, when she will beg to escape, and cry, then yield and be made the country wife of this old man, and le pauvre papa will return desolate, and by-and-by have to feed many small children when the bourgeois goes back to Canada. And yet it is all very simple.”
“But it is not simple,” protested Bouché, both vexed and smiling.
“But it is, papa. My mother and I will go with you.”
He shook his head. “I had thought of that, at any rate so far as the Athabasca, where you two could await our return, but the bourgeois would not hear of it, and said that this was no journey for women. Myself, I think perhaps he was right. Remember, my child, that for years you have lived in such a house as this, and said good-by to the lodges of the Crees. No, those days are over for you.”
He spoke with authority, rubbed a shaving of Spencer’s Twist in his hard palm, slowly filled his pipe, lighted it with a brand from the fire and sat emitting volcanic little puffs at clocklike intervals.
But Julie only smiled. It was evident that she had her own plan in this affair, expected it to be unchanged, and the picture of travelling with her through the North Country filled Neil with warm anticipation so that his thoughts were secret, sweet and intoxicating; and these, because they were so new, gave him a sense of living as never before.
In the past he had felt but little, there being so little to experience in that small grey stone Highland cabin with its black slate roof, and outside the ceaseless chuckle of a stream, and all round the naked mountains pushing back the rest of the world with their streaming flanks. He had been lonely there, but this new coun-
try had a taste in it. Its ever-broadening dimensions invited him on and on, his warm blood responded to the girl’s nearness, and he sent her a glance no less frank than her own, signalling that he felt as she did and their time would come soon.
This seemed to satisfy her. Presently giving Bouché’s brown cheek an approving pat, she slipped away. For a moment the guide did not stir, till, in the manner of one whose thoughts are deep, he pressed down the hot ash in his pipe.
“M’sieu will observe that I am not a man to ask questions when they are not desired.”
/'"AN A DAY in late September when the rivers were cold and shrunken, Mamanouska, The Fish, conjurer of a band of Chipewyans, sat deep in thought. A man of emaciated countenance and uncommunicative eyes, he was regarded by his fellows as a person of mysterious authority, and in virtue of his calling they believed him to hold converse with the powers that ruled their lives. A familiar of the spirits of wind, sky and storm, he could summon them for advice when he chose. He had no women or children and lived by himself. Where Mamanouska abode, no other might enter uninvited.
Sitting at the open door of his teepee, his eyes roved to other lodges from which rose a thin trail of pearl-grey smoke. A pack of gaunt dogs patrolled the shore in search of dead fish; a group of halfnaked children had snared a partridge alive and were pulling off its legs and wings with screams of laughter, licking their blood-stained fingers. The ruddy carcass of a moose lay on a wooden platform ten feet above ground, while chattering women had stretched its hide on a great frame and now scraped it with sharp-edged stones. Strings of drying fish were suspended tail up from a skeleton of horizontal poles. All this he saw and much else that was familiar, but it suggested nothing to his wandering thoughts.
To him now came Petaun, The Otter, chief of the band, a warrior of prowess against the Assiniboines and Piegans. Petaun was a great hunter, tall and straight as a young poplar. The snows of sixty winters had not dimmed the dark fire of his commanding eyes, and a large hooked nose projected dominantly from his strong, deeply-lined face. Like the conjurer, he was dressed in skins, and had a robe of buffalo hide cured to whiteness flung over his shoulder. He seated himself beside the older man on the bank of the dwindled stream, and for some time neither spoke.
“The season moves quickly, Mamanouska, the snows are not far off, and it is in my mind that we start soon for Buffalo Lake. My young men are growing restless for the taste of strong waters. There is little fur to trade, but we can make debt, and if they say no we shall try the English. Is it well?”
Mamanouska inclined a grizzled head. He gave no sign of pleasure at being consulted in this fashion, but privately was glad of it. Up to recent years his position had stood unquestioned, nor might any matter of importance be settled till his approval was announced after consultation with the upper powers. But of late, and since the white men had established themselves in the Athabasca country and southward where the great plains were dark with buffalo, he had been less secure.
White magic, he now felt convinced, was stronger than his own. The days must be at hand when he would no longer be approached in this manner. So it was only left to him to be politic, to appear to guide his people without undue risk of opposing what he saw to be inevitable, just as this move was inevitable, and by his conduct fortify his status as much as possible. Now
hä turned his mesmeric eyes on the chief.
“If there be made for me that which I need and of which you know, I will tell you,” said he in a thin, reedy voice.
Petaun, who perhaps also perceived that his authority was on the wane, summoned his young men, gave an order. Instantly they became busy, darting into the woods, where there rose the sound of many axes, and whence they began to carry on their shoulders stout straight posts, some nine feet long, which .hey sharpened at one end. Digging a circular trench six feet in diameter, they inserted the posts, sloping iiward, then refilled and pounded the earth so that the wooden wrall now stood solid, making a stiff blunt enclosure six feet high that yielded not to the pressure of the strongest man. There was left a small opening through which one might pass, over it was laid a skin for a door-flap, and enclosing the top was stretched a buffalo hide laced tight. Here was the Medicine House, the source of many wonders.
This took some time, during which Mamanouska had retired to his own teepee. Now he returned, his face hidden in a frightful mask, his hair freshly greased. He wore the ceremonial robes of a conjurer, worked with their strange insignia, and carried a small drum with a medicine bag decorated by the scalps of fallen enemies. Entering the cage, he drew the flap and was alone with the spirits.
THE TRIBE waited breathless.
Children were dragged into lodges and silenced, a hush fell over the village. Only the sough of autumnal wind was audible in the poplar tops, till presently they heard as from a distance a thin chant, slow at first, sounding above the muted voice of the drum. It mingled with the soft wash of the river, with the rustle of innumerable dry leaves among the poplars.
What Mamanouska chanted they did not know; it was in no familiar tongue, but not yet had his hold on his people so loosened that they did not yield to mysterious fears. Thus for centuries past had the will of the spirits been made clear to the wild children of the West, and their fearful hearts still responded to the unknown.
The drum-beat swelled and quickened, the voice rose with it, the note gradually sharpening to a violent crescendo. Mamanouska was far from them now, conversing with beings that none but himself might meet and live. He argued, pleaded, cajoled and commanded; he was a man possessed. Something was liberated within that bluntedged cage, and with terrified eyes they saw its strong walls tremble, though none among them could have made it quiver. The tight skin roof was throbbing like the exposed heart of a dying beast when the blood pumps through; power was there such as had always stirred and filled the tribes with awe. Truly this conjurer was a great man.
Now the chant slowed, the drum-beat softened to a hollow rumble like distant muttering thunder, then it died altogether, and the tribe waited breathless.
The door-flap lifted. Mamanouska * came out and stood before them all in the full light of the sun, a man weak and shaken from spiritual encounter. He had taken off the mask ; his eyes, large and full of wonder, looked through and not at them; his face glistened with sweat and he made a sign to Petaun.
“I am told,” he said in a voice of great ‘ weariness, “that you will make trade at Buffalo Lake, but there are some who go that will not return.” :
“What men are those?” asked Petaun \ dubiously.
“I was not told any more; I have spoken.” ;
Petaun felt a little troubled over this. 1 Secretly he did not desire to believe it, but ;■ the mystic legacy of the past could not be entirely obliterated; then he decided that since there were forty adult warriors in his village it seemed unlikely that he \ himself would be in danger. What he did f not reveal to Mamanouska was that he as t
well as the young men desired the taste of drink.
Many precious things had the whites brought, but of all their stores nothing else was so craved by the Indians as the potent stuff in those small iron-bound casks. It ran through their veins like fire, it roused in them passions beyond any measure, it made them dream dreams, feel like their own gods and act like devils unchained.
As to any other profit to be gained by this journey, Petaun had his doubts. Fur taken in full summer, with the exception of beaver, was worth little in trade, and the Englishmen at any rate were against its being trapped, so the warm months were occupied in fishing, hunting, building canoes and voyaging the surrounding network of waters to select favorable spots for winter encampment; also the summer was the best season for tribal wars, since one left no tracks on a river.
But with the exception of a few young women stolen by his warriors from the Yellowknives in the north, Petaun had of late been inactive in this respect. He was a man of solitary nature, entertaining no love for any human being save one, his younger brother, Pinne, The Partridge.
At his word the village was dismantled by the women, the warriors disdaining all such manual work. Rolls of bark and skin were stripped from the lodge poles, leaving greasy blackened patches under the naked frames that all through the pays d'en haut marked where these wandering tribes had once rested; and here the gaunt dogs snuffed and searched.
Canoes were turned over by the men and repatched with strips of fresh bark, and gum melted by blowing through two hot brands held close to the paper-thin fabric. The fur of mink and marten, pulled inside out over the small warm carcasses as a man might strip his shirt, had been dried by drawing it tightly over forms of thin wood like small paddle-blades shaped for the purpose, fur side still inside. Beaver and bear pelts—these had been stretched on stout frames—crackled as they were rolled up.
In the centre of each canoe were children, babies packed tight in moss-filled bags and lashed to wooden frames; pots, kettles, axes and nets, bundles of pelts, rolls of bark, lumps of moose meat. Kneeling in the bows the mother; in the stern, gun ready within reach, the master of the lodge.
From the women during this moving came a constant shrill chatter, while the men stood stolidly idle with eyes that missed nothing, for should knife, axe or powder horn be now forgotten it would shortly be buried for the next seven months.
When all was ready Petaun stepped into his canoe, paddles dipped and the flotilla moved off in complete silence. The Indian had no chanson à l’aviron. He was too occupied to sing; his trained sight roved the lonely shores along which the dogs now leaped from rock to rock or flitted phantomlike between slender trunks in the naked bush. This voiceless never-ceasing scrutiny revealed countless things that the white man of equally clear vision would have missed, for instinct here was at work. A stroke or two of the paddle till again it trailed in the brown water, and again a photographic stare of the forest that registered all it covered.
Their passage had no formation, no order; it was casual. Time did not exist for these nomads of the strong woods; where they might rest, there was home, and like floating leaves the patched fragile craf spread out over darkling waters. Thus had they ever journeyed.
Travelling by intricate channels known only to themselves, they made camp a week later a quarter mile from the palisade at Buffalo Lake.
MACDONALD regarded the visitation with scant approval. He knew its purpose, also that there could be but little fur of real value at this time of year. But the tribe had come to him rather than to
the English post not far distant, and this was no time to be capricious.
Petaun, as was the custom, first made his official and unaccompanied visit to the bourgeois. When received by Macdonald, he was conducted to the store and its stuffed shelves yielded what the childish heart of this son of the forest greatly desired.
There was a blue coat of rough cloth lined with bright red baize, its flapping tails trimmed with coarse orris lace and with regimental cuffs on the awkward sleeves; there was a brass-buttoned waistcoat and baize breeches, with a shirt of white calico carrying large black spots, the shirt being the Manitou of the smallpox, their sure protection against the dreaded scourge that had wiped out thousands in the days of their fathers. His long, straight sharp-boned shanks were encased, one in a blue stocking and one in a red, with worsted garters twisted tightly below the knee. About his neck was folded a large red handkerchief; and, crowning the long greasy scalplock, a three-cornered hat from which sprang a triple plume of ostrich feather in gay and varied colors. Finally, about his middle a wide woven woollen sash.
Thus bedizened and the first formality discharged, Petaun stalked back, filled with pride, to the new camp, where the women had already lit the fires and erected a semi-circle of pointed lodges. In the midst stood his own, largest of all, its floors strewn with cedar branches; and here seated, his flaunting plumage outrivalling that of a tropic bird and flouting the nakedness of its setting, he waited in silence.
It was for Macdonald, who so far had not left the stockade, to complete the ritual.
“Mr. Campbell,” he said when the lodges were up, “you will take two gallons of high wine, adding eight of water, and go without arms to the head man with Bouché and give him the liquor as testimony of our good will. Impress on him that our goods are of better quality and cheaper than those of the English. Petaun speaks no English, but you will say it first, when Bouché will repeat it in Chipewyan. You will then be asked to smoke and will touch the calumet to your lips, taking one draw but no more and passing it on. You will make no enquiry about fur or display any interest in anything you may see, then return here.”
HTHAT EVENING Neil opened his 4career as a trader. The lodge of Petaun was crowded with warriors, the strong effluvium of their bodies assailed his nostrils, their beady eyes did not swerve from two ironbound wooden casks that lay as yet untouched. The lodge door had been folded open, a ring of motionless men squatted outside, and the sun’s slanting rays gilded the bronze of their deeply-carved faces.
Petaun lit the calumet of peace, a thin rectangular bowl of dark green soapstone, the thick wooden stem of which was carved with symbols and stained with herbal juices, and blew a whiff of smoke toward each cardinal point to signify the completeness of friendship; then he handed the pipe to his visitors, who in turn repeated the ceremony and passed it on to the circle of warriors.
When the sacred thing returned. Petaun gave it back to Mamanouska in whose keeping it remained, inclined his fine head that seemed no less imposing with its outrageous topping, and began to speak. He had the gift of oratory; his tones, deep and melodious, blended with the voice of the surrounding forest. His grave gestures needed no interpretation.
“You told me last year to bring my people here, and I have come a long way with them to trade. You are rich, but we are poor. Last winter was hard and many of us are hungry, therefore take pity on us now. We want good tobacco wherein are no small worms, and guns that will not freeze in the winter or blow out our eyes.
Give us good powder for our hunters, and flints that make the spark every time, and cloth for our women. Do this, and we will not trade with the English whose house is not far from here. I have spoken.”
It was the old time-honored speech heard for many a year by Bouché but now for the first occasion by Neil, who regarded Petaun with interest while the guide made his glib reply. He remembered what young Harmon had said at New Fort, and was moved with pity for this wild popinjay in such clownish garb.
There, reflected the young man, sat the representative of a doomed race, doomed by the white man’s weapons in their hands, his liquor in their blood, his diseases in their veins. Throughout the pays d'en haul its first inhabitants were exterminating each other. The Crees of the north, armed first by the Hudson’s Bay and the Canadians, were pressing down from the bush country to wipe out old scores with the Indians of the great prairies, who, mounted on Mexican horses from the South, had held the mastery till gunpowder brought the warring tribes level.
The river of trade had run red with blood, wars were not yet over, and the hunters fell like autumn leaves. Crees and Assiniboines fought with Piegans and Black feet, to whom the traders looked for pemmican, staple food of the West, each lashing their prisoners to stakes that the women might inflict nameless tortures, prolonging agony to the utmost ere welcome death arrived. Still rang the war whoop through the strong woods and where buffalo darkened the Western plain; in recurrent cycles smallpox took its dreadful toll, and even to Neil’s eyes the days of plenty were numbered and presently there would be left only an emasculated remnant over whom the bearded traders would quarrel for their furry spoil.
'Y\7‘ITH THE acrid taste of the calumet ^* on his lips, the young clerk thought of himself and what might lie ahead for him in this strange country. Was his life to be spent in taking advantage of savages?
That seemed to have been the point in Harmon’s mind, while in other talks at New Fort it became clear that Harmon devoutly believed in God and was deeply troubled because his duties so often clashed with what he took to be the laws of God. God’s rules, he had argued, did not coincide with those of a successful trader. And where, wondered Neil, was Harmon now?
Since those remembered days on Lake Superior, and excepting the all too short hours spent with Stuart, to whom he had taken so great a fancy, Bouché was the only man Neil had really talked with; and it did not take long to take the measure of that brave, simple-hearted Frenchman, to whom it seemed the present was enough without probing too deeply into the future. Bouché had the buoyant optimism of his race. As for the bourgeois, Macdonald was not a man with whom one could ever be happy.
And that left only Julie.
Now Bouché was finishing his reply with a manner of great good will. He told Petaun that the Canadians were the only real friends of the Indians, the only traders that really understood them; their goods were the best and cheapest; this liquor, given in token of amity and affection, much the strongest. Petaun, for his own sake, would be wise not to trust the English since they were all liars who took much and gave little. In conclusion, he indicated the two casks of watered high wine; there, he said, was something to make glad the hearts of Petaun and his hunters.
Petaun nodded slowly. He was not impressed by what he heard, having been told precisely the opposite by the English factor when last he visited the post on Lake Athabasca; also he was shrewd enough to realize that thus oscillating between two rival establishments gave him some hold on both, and already he had
decided to trade elsewhere than at Buffalo Lake as soon as more fur had been trapped. So, eyeing the kegs with mounting anticipation, he made a sign to indicate that the interview was now closed.
Halfway to the fort Bouché halted. “M’sieu does not look happy.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Neil.
“I can see that he is lonely and can understand why he is like this. In other forts of the company the bourgeois will share his table with the clerks and be friendly; in the evening they will play écarté or chess or piquette, and read the papers of six months ago. But ours is not like that. It was the same while M’sieu Stuart remained here, but he was too busy making observations of the moon and stars to care. There is something, however, that m’sieu might do for himself.”
“What is that?”
“To learn French and Cree would be of much use in making trade.”
“Ay, ’twould be of use, but who would teach me?”
“Julie speaks both tongues, and for her too the evenings are long. She has told me that she will be very glad.”
Neil pictured himself sitting by Bouché’s fire with the girl beside him, no longer lonely; his blood stirred at the thought, and his hunger deepened for one of his own years to share his youth. Prudence whispered that such a meeting would have but one end, but that, he now argued, was part of a future that might well take care of itself.
“Bouché, what would have happened if you had saved money enough to return to Trois Rivières?”
“Such things do not happen to me,” smiled the guide.
“But if they did?”
“Then I should go with much pleasure.” “Not alone?”
“Mais non, but with Julie.”
“And her mother—you do not mind if I ask this?”
Bouché shook his head. “M’sieu does not understand. She would not be happy outside the pays d'en haut. Her blood is not tame, and—I tell you this in private—• she still has the desire for liquor. I would leave her with her own people, having made sure she would never hunger, for you cannot take a wild thing of the woods and plant it again in Trois Rivières.”
“That, as one can see for himself, is different.”
They were now reaching the fort and by mutual consent halted, there being more to be said as man to man, so they mounted the timbered guerite that looked out over Buffalo Lake and toward the camp of Petaun. The night had advanced to a clear luminous darkness that held a sort of transparency and began to be overhung by a sprinkled canopy of lonely stars. No wind stirred, and while the two waited, exchanging many thoughts, there began to sound in the clustered lodging of the Chipewyans a clamorous confusion; it increased as they stood listening.
“Petaun is following the road of friendship,” said Neil bitterly. “Listen to that.”
"DOUCHE’S broad shoulders went up in U' a characteristic shrug, but he did not answer, and through the dusk one could see the pin-pointed flames of red campfires leaping up when fresh fuel was cast on, while round them were now reeling processions of wild swaying figures of men and women in a rocking crazy dance.
From the guerite they looked small, like terrible and strangely-garbed children in a savage play, and at times this delirium was stabbed by the scream of a woman or electrified by that most horrible sound of all, the thrice repeated war whoop with its piercing note, a sound that chilled the blood all through the pays d'en haut. Its counterpart was the pack call of th grey wolf.
This frenzy, fearsome as it was, seemed in a formidable way to be unauthentic and unreal, coming as it did from the breasts of those who so lately had been men of
austere dignity, till it appeared that Petaun and his warriors, with their ancient pride dissolved by the poison of the whites, had wandered across the boundary of some demoniac hinterland close by, their essential nature violated and undone.
The transformation sickened Neil’s heart, banishing all other reflections, and he made a gesture of revolt. But Bouché remained unmoved.
“M’sieu,’’ he said quietly, “it is true that we keep the devil in those casks of ours and set him loose when it suits our purpose, but all over the pays d'en haut you will find this, and I am told that in Afrique and other foreign countries where white men do trade, it is the same, so we are no better or worse than other people elsewhere. The liquor will not last long, and by tomorrow this will be done with.”
“Perhaps, but it is a fearful way to treat honest folk,” countered Neil. “I have heard how honest they are.”
“Yes, I have seen a man and his wife on Lac des Pluies, trusted with three pieces of goods, a fortune to the savage, and ordered to deliver them at the Fort Ile à la Crosse. That, m’sieu, as you remember, is six weeks journey. Alors, they will start by themselves in a small canoe, they will travel and be seen perhaps by none that know them foi that time it will be easy for them to disappear to some other part of the interior—but in six weeks those pieces will be carried in at the great gate of the fort, for which will be paid, it may be. five skins in trade.”
“And these, Bouché, are the people we debauch.”
“Yes, m’sieu, these are the people, but let me tell you more. We may think we are at any rate safe from them, but we are never safe and nothing that walks is safe. The Jesuit pères died in pain and torture at the stake, and I myself have seen a living man without eyes, without fingers, and on his belly a map. The eyes had been plucked out, the fingers cut off joint after joint, and the map was drawn on his flesh with a gun-barrel heated to whiteness.”
Neil, struck to silence, was fumbling for a reply, when a yell, a shriek and a bubbling cry charged the air with horror. He made for the guerile ladder with an exclamation:
“In the name of God, let us stop it!
Murder is afoot there ! We must stop it !” “No. no!" Bouché’s powerful grip took him by the shoulder. “That is no place for us; we stay inside with the gates shut. Yes, perhaps someone is killed; but tomorrow no drink will be left, so in hope of more they come to trade. M’sieu must not leave the fort tonight.”
“And you—you like this life?” demanded the young man chokily.
"I left Canada when I was no longer than a paddle, and for one such as myself it is as good as any other. Who shall choose his own life?”
“But Julie? Is it the one for her?” “M’sieu knows what I desire for Julie.” “Then, Bouché, let me be candid with you. These lessons that you and she offer -—I would not do her harm, but I have my natural passion, so what if I should learn more than languages, and she, too? I ask this now that you may be prepared. Don’t you see. Bouché? I desire her and can’t help it.”
He blurted this out, face reddening, but the guide only gave a lighthearted laugh.
“M’sieu is not the first. In my own youth I did not ask the advice of those with more age than myself, and now that my years are advancing I do not give it. But I will say thisbetween French and Indian, between l’Ecossais and Indian, the blood mixes well; while between English and Indian it does not mix. And the rest—bien let us leave that to Julie.” In a way this was welcome, but tonight Neil’s whole nature felt deranged, his instincts of decency violated, so he sent the guide an odd smile and made for his own house. On the way he was stopped by Goudreau, and the man looked nervous.
“M’sieu,” he stammered, “our bourgeois has made one big mistake this time.”
“He has given them too much liquor. Listen; they have gone mad !”
In the darkness, the wild chorus now seemed that of unhumanized maniacs, and Neil’s very spirit revolted.
“But has it not happened before?” he said dully.
“Not yet have I heard it like this. M’sieu. they have begun to shed their own blood, but they will not remain content with that.”
To be Continued