the FuR MASTERS
In which romance wrestles with a feud and a heroic tale of the Old North reaches a smashing climax
NEIL WINCED at the grim face and craggy indomitable brows on which was printed a great weariness. His father had aged. Deep lines were carved where no lines had shown in the lodge of Gheezis; the dour fighting spirit still burned in Angus, but his beard was shot with grey; the big frame showed all the signs of an arduous life, and the sudden perception woke a long-sleeping chord in the young man’s breast. This father of his had made others suffer, but himself had not escaped. And were they not both in the hands of fate?
“Well,” said Angus again, “what do you here?”
“There is much to be said, but little time for it now.” “We have till sunrise and nought else to do.”
“And at sunrise?”
“That is for your leader, the rebel murderer, to say.” Neil shook his head. “Think what you will of me, but listen. I have had word with Grant, and there is left to him no choice in this affair. For himself he would not have you shot, but the Métis swear that for Bouché’s life they will have yours, or else ...”
“Or else what?”
“Every prisoner in this fort, man, woman and child, may be put to the death,” said Neil.
“Aye,” Angus nodded slowly. “I thought it might be like that. Since when have you consorted with these butchers of the plains?”
“Ask me that another time. Now are you ready to leave?”
Angus gave a start, then stood very still with a look of amazement in his eyes that presently hardened to profound contempt.
“Are you in your senses?”
“I am, but surely not you if you stay here.” Striding to the door, Neil took a sharp glance round the square, which was now quiet with the embers glowing a dull red. A light burned in the governor’s house, showing that Cuthbert Grant still sat pondering the outcome of the day and what his next move must be. The settlers and engagés were invisible, and only the cry of a frightened child broke the stillness. Neil waited for one tense moment, then turned and beckoned.
“For the first and last time, will you put yourself in my hands and come quickly?”
Angus shook his massive head. “I am no coward; you misread your own blood.”
“I know that Cuthbert Grant does not desire your death,” said Neil, flushing hotly, “and that is why I am here. The rest lies only with us two.”
“And failing my death, many others may perish?” “That,” replied Neil gravely, “is in the hands of God. Come.”
“None but a Bois Brûlé would deem that God had any part in this affair,” countered Angus coldly. “You are my son and there is no love between you and me, but I had believed you knew me better than to urge this thing.”
Neil gazed despairingly at the resolute face, and a flood of pity, remorse and admiration swept, over him. for in that moment of strife, enmity and danger his hardness melted and something burst suddenly into vivid life. Here stood his father! Yielding to a great wave of emotion, the heart of the young man was torn, and he knew that he loved him; he felt ready to die himself instead. There drifted back old visions of earlier days when, a child, he waited at a bothy
door for a big man to come down from the hills with a red deer over his shoulders, heard his great laugh and played with his thick brown beard.
But now his father stood watching him with eyes like flints, and he knew that no feeling of softness could alter that resolve. Angus had settled the question for himself. Better that one die than many perish.
“Is it a Campbell that talks thus to a Campbell?” sneered Angus. “Truly your blood must have changed when you mixed it brown.”
Neil trembled. For one instant he paused irresolute, then with all his power drove a great hard fist into his father’s face. It landed on the temple, bone on bone, with a dull crash. Angus gave his arms an odd twitch, his head jerked back ; he dropped, a dead weight, and lay still.
A MOMENT later Neil crossed the empty yard, bending under the weight of a slack body on his back. At the gate the Métis guard laughed at the sight of his burden, then withdrew the big oaken sliding bar and waved him on, for this was Cuthbert Grant’s chief lieutenant who doubtless had good reason for what he was doing. At any rate there was one less of the English to be dealt with. Neil did not speak but moved quickly on to the river a few hundred yards below the fort with his senseless burden, and in the moonlight he saw Julie.
She sprang up with a cry, “Who is that?”
“The man who killed your father,” said Neil quietly. “Now push the canoe out a little and hold it steady while I put him in. There!”
“He is not dead?”
“No, but unwilling to do what I
She stared bewildered at the big form lying slack in the bottom of the canoe. “But. Neil, why did you bring him here?”
“Tonight I cannot explain. Perhaps some day you will understand. You are ready?”
“Ready for what?”
“I do not know, I cannot tell you, but get in now and paddle. Paddle hard and do not talk. It will be sunrise before long and we must be far from here.”
The Red River, swollen with discharge from a thousand gullies, ran swiftly not far below the top of its level banks, and with the stream they travelled fast, making no sound but the sprinkling drip, drip, as their blades swung forward. At each stroke the canoe leaped under Neil's powerful thrust, and Julie, kneeling in the bows, welcomed the familiar feel of the shaft in her hands. Now they had the prairie to themselves. The stockade of Fort Douglas had vanished round a bend, the dead Highianders, scattered about their dead governor, withdrew farther and farther, and were it not for the unconscious man behind her. the tragedy of the past day would have seemed to Julie like a dream. Tall grass lipped the river bank, the moon swam white and clear, bubbles murmured at the canoe's sharp front. Neil's broad shoulders heaved forward as he put weight into the stroke, and the girl traversed in wondering silence a land that was new to her.
But tonight Neil's spirit was weary. He felt that for a while he had seen enough of hardship and fighting. He wanted to rest; he wanted to marry Julie and settle down. He had promised her that, and fell to wondering how far one must travel to find a priest.
Now of a sudden he became aware that Angus' eyes were open.
It had been a strange awakening; a soft gurgle of water creeping across a blind sea of unconsciousness, a feeling of motion and cool air, the gradual solidification of a hazy figure that seemed to swim toward him, at first unfamiliar but slowly taking recognizable proportions. Then came a rush of memory.
He had been lying quite still for some time watching the moon that shone into his eyes just over his son's head, so that Neil seemed to be recrowned at every stroke with a sort of milky coronet. Neil's face was set, his big body worked rhythmically, and the canoe trembled a little as he used his strength. Where, wondered Angus, was Neil taking him—and why? Presently he spoke in a low tone, and the girl, half turning, rested her paddle across the thwarts and looked back and down at him. He was aware of this. But Neil paddled on.
“Where do we go?" creaked Angus,
“Down the river."
“Why did you strike me?”
“1 had no desire to see you shot, and there was no other way.”
There came a silence after this, then: “But those others?”
“We can leave that to Grant. He is not responsible for
your escape, and the Métis will realize it. They will be given liquor, and will ask for nothing else but plunder.”
ANGUS THOUGHT that over. No, there could have been no other way, and perhaps he ought to feel grateful, but no gratitude moved in him, and he would rather owe nothing to this son of his, not even his life. The son had taken his own forceful way but left his father in an
unenviable light, and the breach between them yawned even wider.
"And you, what do you do now?”
“My business,” said Neil tersely.
Such was the answer he would have given himself, and a twisted smile curved on Angus’ lips.
“Aye, your business, but what do you do with me?”
This sounded so like surrender that Neil, too, gave a grim smile.
“It is for you to say what you will do with yourself. But you are not safe if you fall in with the Bois Brûlés, and the same roof cannot cover us both. At sunrise I will leave you. If you travel west you will come to Brandon House which is under the flag of the English, or you can wait till the next English brigade passes this way to Norway House. It is for you to say.”
Angus nodded slowly. Now he was beginning to be rather glad to be alive; he would be glad to reach either house, give the tale of Fort Douglas and help to organize revenge. Something else occurred to him that would be even more in line with his duty, but that he kept very much to himself. The old love of conflict revived strongly in him; there were still left a few more years in which to fight, but he hoped his son would not make the mistake of deeming him at all grateful for his own preservation.
"Aye,” he said calmly, “either will serve.”
That was all; while Julie, marvelling, held her peace, then took up her paddle, thinking how much alike were these two, how mutually hard and stern and unforgiving. It was not in her to perceive that they shared something that each had rather die than reveal. No one with French blood was anything like that. She herself could feel nothing but hatred for the man stretched out behind her. Again she saw Bouché lying with that red stain on his breast; the whole w'orld seemed dark with bitterness and murder. But she said not a word.
Dawn burned on the horizon heralding a
hot day when Neil turned in to shore at the mouth of a gully. The canoe touched land, and when Angus stepped out none of them spoke. Birds were already chattering, warmth was creeping into the air. the cicada’s shrill thin note already greeted the sun. There was no cloud in the vast blue arch that overstretched the prairie. Now’ Neil put out Julie’s rifle, a flint and steel and small sack of pemmican, whereat Angus made a curt sign of acknowledgment. It seemed that he had not expected this and was vaguely surprised. Then a pause while the grey eyes that had so far avoided each other met in a straight relentless stare, for the moment had come and each faced it in exactly the same fashion.
“I’m not thanking you for my life,” said Angus with dry asperity. “I didn’t want it, so make no mistake about that.”
“It was not done for thanks”—the voice matched his own in hardness “but we shall doubtless meet again.” “Aye, doubtless, so long as murderers ride free over the plains. 1 bid you good day.”
Angus slung the sack over his back, shouldered the rifle, and vanished in the waves of grass.
WEEKS LATER, D>rd Selkirk, having spent the winter in Montreal where he arranged his appointment as a Justice of the Peace, was traversing the north shore of Lake Superior on his way to the West with a brigade com|>osed of a hundred Swiss mercenary soldiers that had recently been disbanded. For five years lie had been in control of the Hudson’s Bay Company years when disorder, ambush and assault harassed the pays d'en haul and now he decided that the time had come to restore order at whatever cost. As yet he knew nothing of the fate of Fort Douglas, and it was his intention to visit that establishment, to strengthen his garrison and give ample protection to the settlers. 'Phis expedition had been quickly arranged, and the Canadian partners at Fort William knew nothing of it.
The young nobleman was in a sort of daydream, when suddenly his bowman pointed ahead. “M’sieu, look, another brigade comes this way.”
Selkirk shaded his eyes from the setting sun and saw in the distance a diamond glint that flashed intermittently.
“There are three canots du maître—no. four -and not voyageurs. That, m’sieu, is not the stroke of the mangeurs du lard.”
They drew nearer till Selkirk could clearly distinguish four great thirty-foot canoes all heavily laden. The paddles rose and dipped in haphazard fashionnot the voyageur's stroke. Still nearer he could see the bow-men who were certainly French, while in the bodies of the light craft were men and women, and the bare heads of children hung over the gunwales as they trailed small red hands in the ice-cold water. Selkirk’s heart gave a quick beat.
“Etrangers, m’sieu. and what do they here? Mon dieu! Regardez les pauvres petits.”
They came abreast, halted, floating alongside at paddlelength distance, the canoes like great upturned yellow leaves on the pale green flood; and a broad-shouldered, bearded man, freckled-faced, his sandy hair patched with grey, looked hard at the young nobleman. His skin was peeling and blistered.
“Who might you be, sir?”
Selkirk, grasping at the truth, told him.
“Well, sir,” went on the man gravely, “I am Angus Campbell from your settlement on the Red River. Here they all are.”
“Go on,” said Selkirk shakily.
“Here is all that is left of your crofters except only a few that made for Norway House, and those that set out last year for Lake Ontario. Fort Douglas is captured by the half-breeds, the governor and Captain Rogers and some twenty of your men killed—I had not time to count them—”
“Semple killed !”
“Aye, sir, it’s as I tell you. I was with him and a few others. But,” he added firmly, “I killed the one that shot him.”
“And the fort?” breathed Selkirk incredulously.
“ ’Twas being looted, sir, when I left with these }x>or souls, and likely to be burned long before this. When we got away, the Métis were going through it like a pack of wolves, taking what they would except the fur, and Cuthbert Grant, who was at the head of them, swore that would go to Fort William. Then these poor souls were bid to start for their friends at Norway House did they not wish to die where they stood.”
“How got you here?”
“I’ll tell you, sir. You’ll understand that I did not run away, but after the fort was captured I escaped and hid myself not far off, awaiting what was likely to happen. On the next day I saw these crofters of yours coming, distraught, down the river, not knowing where to go, so because I was acquainted with the country I joined them and took command. You see, sir, I was chief clerk at Fort Douglas. Then we came on by Lake Winnipeg and Lac des Pluies to Fort William, where there were some of the Canadian partners. So content were they to get the news of Fort Douglas that they did us no harm but gave us bigger canoes and food enough to take us to Lake Ontario. I’ll say that for them. It seems they thought their victory cheap at the price.”
SELKIRK nodded slowly. Here he was floating on the surface of Lake Superior beside crofters from Argyle whom he had never seen before but had sent by way of the Great Bay to the Red River. It was hard to imagine, still harder to accept, and the curious eyes of these dependents of his were watching him with profound attention. More now than ever before did their future lie in his hands, so what would he say or do?
“You tell me that Captain Rogers was killed with the governor?” he asked after a strained pause.
“Aye. and fell beside him. They were all killed like cattle, sir. In the daytime the crows plucked out their eyes, while at night the prairie wolves fought over what was left. You see, sir, the Métis didn’t care and there were no others to bury them. If the governor had been content to stay inside the fort we had had a fair chance to beat them off, but Mr. Semple was all for going out. Well, we went.”
“He had ordered the half-breeds out of that country?” said Selkirk, shivering.
“He had, but what of it? Cuthbert Grant obeys the Canadians and no others, and the Métis follow him.”
Now it was borne on Selkirk that here, w'ith these anxious eyes fixed on him, he must make a great decision. The fat was in the fire. So much time, thought and money, so much heart-searching and fine human ambition had gone into his plan that he could not retreat. He foresaw days to come when no more fur would be taken along the waters of the Red, and cabins o pioneers would cluster where now were only the lodges of the beaver, but so long as the Canadians killed and plundered that dawn must wait.
“Campbell,” he asked harshly, “who is at Fort 'William now?”
“Some of the partners who do not wdnter in the strong w-oods, sir. Mr. Fraser will be there and Mr. Kenneth Mackenzie, and the one they call Dr. McLaughlin. The brigades for the Peace and Athabasca Rivers were preparing to set off when we came through, taking the wintering partners with them, but these three gentlemen were not for the interior. And,” he added, “the fort is stuffed with fur.” “Ah! Any others of importance?”
“Not many, sir, but”—here Angus’ lips tightened—“there are one or two that had a part in the attack on Fort Douglas. They brought the first word south and have been at Fort William ever since.”
“Y'ou would know these men; you could point them out?”
“One of them I could,” answered Angus in a dry tone.
Selkirk looked at him fixedly, marking the rugged strength of the man’s face, his dogged determination, the flinty eyes that seemed to convey a life of bitter experience.
“Campbell, how long have you been with the Hudson’s Bay?”
“Over twenty-five years now, sir. I began under Mr. Tomison at Cumberland House.”
“You mean to remain with us?”
“Aye, I’ll stick to my job. Mr. Fraser talked to me at Fort William offering service under him, but I wouldna’ think of it.”
“Campbell,” said the young earl, nodding toward the waiting canoes, “we cannot talk further here, so these friends of mine will camp with my brigade tonight. There is something urgent I desire to discuss with you.”
THREE OF THE Nor’wester partnersSimon Fraser, Kenneth Mackenzie and John McLaughlin—sat in the great hall at Fort William, pleasantly occupied in calculating the season’s take of fur. The westbound brigades, after one long satisfying orgy at the canline salope, had departed laden with goods, the wintering partners had said good-by till next June, clerks and
The towei'-bells are tricksy lobs
That fling upon the gales
Wild, crashing chords, gay triple bobs,
And merry, madcap scales;
But out of all the surge of sound,
Serene, and soft and slow,
Tonight comes creeping to the ground
In Dulce Jubilo.
The ancient tune is new and fair,
The ancient tale is sweet,
The tender “Would that we were there,”
We wistfully repeat;
For, though our lives be stern and grim,
Our passions, dark and wild,
This golden night we bow to Him,
The helpless little Child.
Love is the utmost royalty,
The night-bells softly sing.
Courage and faith and loyalty
The gifts the Wise Men bring.
So, keep me in thy heart, good friend,
Warm in the Christmas glow.
And may the Carol never end,
In Dulce Jubilo.
—J. E. Middleton.
accountant bent their heads over leatherbound ledgers. The schooner Invincible was hauled up on the bank of the KaminisLiquia having her planking recaulked before sailing for Sault Ste. Marie, and there resounded the steady tap-tap of wooden mallets. Some debauched Indian girls in bright cotton frocks paraded past a group of mangeurs du lard who were lounging in the sun, and over this emporium of the Montrealers rested an atmosphere of gorged content. The place suggested a crude and insolent security.
“Well.” said Mackenzie thoughtfully, “as to the fur we may rest content, but that Fort Douglas business is another matter, and I am convinced that it will result unfavorably for ourselves. I am wondering w'hat my lord Selkirk will do when he hears of it.”
“I am wondering, too,” agreed McLaughlin. “And while control of the buffalo plains is absolutely essential to us, it seems that Cuthbert Grant is getting out of hand. God knows there is no satisfaction in the death of Semple and twenty innocent Highlanders.”
“Aye,” nodded Fraser, “and that’s what will get under Selkirk’s skin. It seems they were quite helpless in the matter, and the whole affair may be laid to Semple’s bad judgment. At the moment it is a relief to know that his lordship is in Montreal, and.—”
He was interrupted by a door flung suddenly open, and a voyageur trotted toward him in high excitement.
“M’sieu! M’sieu! A great brigade comes up the river—one hundred, maybe more than one hundred men. They are the soldats Suisse in uniform. They say it is the English with milord Selkirk lui-même. Mon dieu! It is an army.”
They rushed out and stood staring in bewilderment, for down at the lower bend the Kaministiquia’s quiet waters were furrowed by speeding yellow prows, a multitude of paddles swung in unison and Selkirk’s company moved impressively toward the fort. In silence it came. No chansons à l’aviron marked the end of that journey, no full-throated shouts of welcome and salutation were exchanged with the fort engagés who had hurried to the bank and blinked at this unexpected flotilla. The silence was ominous, and whispering groups cast puzzled glances now at the partners, now at the advancing brigade. Normally the great birchen boats had put on speed as they drew in, to finish with a superb and powerful dash, but this time a word ran from man to man, the paddles slowed, and when they came abreast the canots du maître were barely moving. The sun struck bright on de Meuron uniforms and pipeclayed belts, muskets protruded above the springy thwarts, and here was an armament prepared for war.
“By heaven!” said Fraser in a startled tone, “it is Selkirk. But how does h« arrive here now?”
McLaughlin did not answer; he felt too dazed. The British earl was sitting stiffly erect in the leading canoe, sending them not a single glance, his face stern with the ultimate decision to stake all on one last throw. Beside him was Angus, whose evidence he needed in what would shortly take place, and Angus’ eyes roved along the bank till they rested on Neil and Julie. The look he exchanged with the young man was cold as ice. The girl, frightened, clung to Neil’s arm.
At a sign the brigade turned in to the opposite shore, where Selkirk got out and stood talking to his chief lieutenant; and at sight of this man Mackenzie gave an oath.
“But that’s Campbell, Angus Campbell, who came through here convoying the settlers.”
“So father and son meet once more,” nodded Fraser, “and I will be interested to watch it. But,” he added gravely, “until today no uniformed men have set foot in the pays d'en haut, and the presence of these is a portent.” NOW THE unnatural silence grew every minute more threatening. With the de Meurons were some mangeurs du lard from Montreal who had disembarked and ranged themselves loosely, fumbling with their weapons, for they were all armed. They looked stupid, puzzled, with no real desire to fight, and stood making awkward childish gestures across the river to men they knew, men with whom they had voyaged from Lachine in other days. There was something queer about all this, queer and confusing, but did shooting begin they were ready.
Distant about a hundred yards of shining water stood the engagés of the fort with clerks and accountants, some carrying muskets, others with hands empty, all waiting uncertainly. Farther upstream a group of Saulteaux had squatted on the bank, consumed with curiosity, foreseeing trouble between the whites but themselves determined to keep out of it, impassive and voiceless, ready to disappear at the first shot. Later when it was all over they would come back and trade fur just as before, which was all that any white man really wanted. It had always been like that.
Now Selkirk came across with Angus and the de Meurons. They disembarked, and for the first time the young earl set foot in the stronghold of his rivals. At a word the soldiers fell into line, primed muskets at the slope, while Selkirk looked hard at the senior partner and made a formal salute. Not since one night eleven years previously when he drank wine at the Beaver Club, had he and these princes of the fur trade been together.
“Mr. Fraser, I believe?’’
“Yes. This is Mr. Kenneth Mackenzie and Mr. McLaughlin. I would ask why the honor of your presence here?”
Selkirk took a folded parchment from his breast pocket and held it out.
“My appointment as Justice of the Peace. Do you care to verify it?”
“I do not, my lord, nor do I question it. My congratulations.”
“They are somewhat premature,” said Selkirk frigidly. “Gentlemen, I am here on grave business. I have learned that your Bois Brûlés, acting under your orders, have sacked Fort Douglas, dispersed my settlers, killed two of my officers and twenty men. Do you deny it?”
Fraser for once in his life was nonplussed. The preposterous, incredible thing had happened. McLaughlin stood fuming, equally at sea, and Mackenzie looked reckless.
“We admit nothing,” he said.
“Then I will save you the trouble. Campbell?”
“You saw the affair?”
“I did, sir.”
“On the nineteenth day of June, this day two months past.”
“The attack was unprovoked?”
“Aye, in a manner of speaking,” said Angus with a dour glance at Neil. “The Métis were trespassing an’ the governor went out to warn them off.”
“Is there here any man that was in their party?”
A NGUS stretched a brown hand toward -**-his son. “That one; but,” he added gruffly, “he took no part in the killing.” “Is this true?” Selkirk wheeled sharply on Neil.
“Aye; part of it.”
“I was with Cuthbert Grant coming down the Assiniboine. Not wishing to pass under the fort, we left the river five miles up and, not taking the travelled road, crossed the prairie two miles to the north, making for the Frog Plain with carts of pemmican. Grant had no desire for conflict, and so he told me afterward. The fort was behind us when Mr. Semple came out with an armed force and made after us, so we stopped and turned. There was talk of trespass by the governor, the first shot fired by one of your men, and then it began. That is the truth; all of it.”
“You took part in the looting?”
“I got away before it started. There was a reason.”
“What reason? Your story does not hold together; I do not believe it.”
Neil’s eyes turned to Angus and he felt Julie’s fingers gripping his arm like steel claws. But she would not speak unless he wished it, and the face of Angus was like stone.
“Mr. Fraser,” announced Selkirk in a high-pitched nervous voice, “I arrest you gentlemen with this other person on the charge of inciting to murder. Also you will now surrender this fort with all it contains.” Then with a sharp gesture to the de Meurons. “To your arms and cover these men !”
There was a rattle, a click of long-eared hammers, the four-foot barrels jerked up and stayed level while blue Swiss eyes squinted over the sights, and Fraser with his friends stood motionless, wondering if it were not all a dream. A hush spread from bank to bank. The mangeurs du tard began to finger their triggers for seemingly they might have to fight, and the gaping Saulteaux gathered themselves for flight.
Now it was forced on Fraser that here lay no ill-planned actions such as they had learned to expect from the English. Selkirk might be mad, but his type of madness had an edge to it, and Fort William, with what it held, represented not less than eighty thousand pounds value. Apart from the fur it contained records of years, lacking which the partners must suffer grievously. But when this crazy performance was referred, as ultimately it must be, to Montreal for adjudication, the Canadians could rely on their influence. In the meantime the law had made a dramatic landing in the pays d’en haut, and there was left no alternative.
So Fraser only nodded.
“I arrest you, gentlemen, and this man,” repeated Selkirk in his high broken voice. “Campbell, you know this place, so conduct these three to their own quarters, posting a sentry day and night. At any attempt at flight they will be fired on. Confine this young man in the guardroom. Mr. Fraser, you will instruct your accountant to put all books of the company at my disposal with your inventories of fur, and later I will inform you of my further decision. Is there anything you desire to say?”
Fraser looked the young earl straight in the face and shrugged.
“My lord, the cards are with you, but only for the moment.”
A DECLINING sun was gilding the smooth ribbon of the river when the partners sat in grave contemplation of the events of the day, with a Swiss sentry pacing stiffly outside. The mangeurs du lard had crossed the stream, their campfires dotted the northerly bank, and between them and the employees of Fort William rose a babble of excited talk. Selkirk as a precaution had closed the cantine salope, so there would be no drinking that night, and he himself, alone in the long hall, the scene of so much feasting and shrewd conference, was considering the next move. He had entered the den of lions and subdued its inmates. Now what should he do with them?
The fate of Fort Douglas had outraged his nature. When setting out from Montreal his intention had not been militant; he desired only to protect his settlers, to establish once and for all the rights that he truly believed he possessed, and make such a show of force that the Canadians would harass him no longer. He had not dreamed that, in acquiring control of the ancient company, he had made himself heritor of so merciless a contest.
Today he had gone as far as he dared. For the moment he was master of the magazine of his rivals, the spout through which passed all the wealth they drew from the pays d'en haut and all the goods that flowed back into it. ’Twas the jugular vein of the Nor’westers, but he could not hope to hold it long.
A pile of ledgers had been placed before him, and, turning the stiff parchment leaves of the one most recent, he saw an entry.
“Athabasca Dist. 160 packs.” On the margin a cynical note, “H.B. 5 packs.” There was no comment, the figures leered at him—£16,000 for the Canadians, £500 for himself!
A wave of apathy burdened his spirit, and his eyes turned to Thompson’s great map, pride of the Nor’westers, for there lay the story from the Great Bay to the Columbia. Fraser, Stuart, the four Mackenzies, McTavish, Hendry, Macdonald of Garth—such names came to him, they had left their record on that map, and what men of his own could he match against them? At this he began to feel lonely and disillusioned and went out on the balcony fronting the long hall, perceiving that he wanted some confidant in this difficult hour, but there was none. Presently, while he was pacing the square of the fort, shoulders bowed under the burden of success, he came upon Angus, and the sight of that dour silent Scot conveyed a sort of comfort.
“Well, Campbell, is all quiet?”
“Aye, sir; not a squeak out of any of them.”
“I have decided about the prisoners. This entire matter must now come before the courts, so they will go to Montreal for trial.”
“When, sir?” The grey eyes opened a shade wider.
“While the weather holds good it is best to act quickly.”
“You’ll be sending all four?”
“I am, and your evidence will be necessary to convict them, so it is best that you conduct the party to see that they have proper treatment on the way. The gentlemen will take their personal servants. On arrival at Montreal you will report to the chief magistrate, deliver your charge and take orders from him. Also you will have a document from me. Is that understood?” “But do you not come, sir?”
“I follow soon afterward, but take the de Meurons first to Red River and reestablish Fort Douglas. The end of this business is not yet.”
“About yon man in the guardhouse?” asked Angus dubiously.
“Well, what of him?”
“What he said, sir, was right; he had no hand in the killing. I saw it all and will answer for that.”
“Hand or no hand.” snapped Selkirk, “he was with Grant, and I think he lied to me. So you will tell them my decision; tell them all.”
"LTE PASSED on, leaving Angus staring after him, gnawing a bearded lip. Montreal—with Neil as a prisoner! So that was to be the end of it. At this something long buried seemed to stir in his breast and he gave a strange smile that was a little sad, for neither he nor Neil had lied about anything. They could fight but not lie; and at that he felt a queer warmth of satisfaction. Was the whole world gone mad over fur? Now he had a vision of years ago—Neil’s small face, and how it shone when someone came down the glen with a red deer over his shoulder.
Shaking a puzzled head, he went first to the guardhouse—the gentlemen could afford to wait—and found Julie sitting outside. She had been there for hours. He halted, frowning down at her, while she gave him a look both pleading and defiant. “M’sieu, may I not see him?”
“Aye, later, but I would speak to him first.”
“What is to be done?”
“I will tell him that.”
“But—but he did nothing! Why is he in there?”
“For keeping bad company; so he goes to Montreal.”
“Oh!” she put her hand to her heart. “Montreal! I have long desired to go there.”
“But he leaves as a prisoner and without you.”
At this her heart seemed to stop. “For— for doing nothing?”
“That is as the court may decide,” said Angus coldly.
“M’sieu,” she faltered, “why do you hate him so? Why are you so hard? Will you also hate his son when he is born?” Angus stiffened. “Eh. what’s that?” “When we are married I hope we shall have a son, and nearly all white, but you will never see him.”
Angus made a queer sound in his throat, stared down at the slack figure and went on into the guardhouse. Neil, sitting on a bench beneath a small heavily-barred wfindow, lifted his flaxen head, and his eyes had a glint that might have been humor when he saw his visitor. For a moment neither spoke.
“I have just seen his lordship,” said Angus formally, “and there is news for you.”
“I could do with news, it is quiet in here.”
“You and the gentlemen go to Montreal for trial”—Angus cleared his throat—“in my charge.”
Neil, nodding, stroked a square bristling chin. “When?” “Likely the morn’s morn.”
“His lordship said no word of her, so she’ll stay here.”
“She was set on Montreal,” said the young man gravely. “I would we might be married first, but there’s no priest in the fort.”
“Aye, she told me.” Angus hesitated a little. “Also that she was set on Montreal, but I have no say in the matter. His lordship deems you a liar, and when I said it was not so, he did not believe me either.” “Selkirk’s a Southron,” answered Neil with a shrug, “and does not understand folk like us.”
At this came a sort of interlude when they avoided each other’s glance, but their stark spirits seemed to move a little closer. Neil sat twisting his strong fingers till the joints cracked, and Angus pinched the fringe of his beard. Again the young man noted how grey it was becoming, and how deep were the channelled lines in the granite featureslike little watercourses in a dry season, he thought.
“It will be a long time now since you left Argyle,” he said vaguely.
“A long long time: it is a far cry from here.”
“My mother—you never knew?”
Slowly Angus shook his big head. “No, nor of the pain in her breast; she never wrote of that.”
“But you never wrote back.”
“Aye; I was wrong there, lad.” It came out with a burst, a sort of explosion that tore through long-crusted surfaces, the most human thing he had said for years; then he looked ashamed: “Y’see. I was busy, always busy travelling here and there, so I lost the habit. And that matter of BouchéI speak of that now. He killed the governor, so there was nothing else for me to do.” He lowered his voice, pointing to the door. “But that’s past her to understand, so tell her, lad, when the time comes; tell her in your own way. And there’s one thing more. I mind well what happened on the Red River between you and me. but there’ll be none of that here, so you needn’t expect that I'll do what Cuthbert Grant winked his eye at at F'ort Douglas.”
“Who’s asking for escape?” flashed Neil hotly. “Was there ever a Nor’wester that feared the Hudson’s Bay?”
ANGUS GAVE him a wintry smile. “I canna say as to that, but there’s some that’ll be doing hard thinking before long.” He paused and his expression changed. “As to that girl of yours and our little business in the interior; when I met her on yon river— ’twas the Mudjatick—I did not tell her all I should, but I had left you with food enough and in no danger.”
“That is as it may be. Go on.”
“Did it happen that you saw anything of that big Cree of mine called Keego with a scar on his cheek? I missed him soon afterward. He went off. leaving no word.” “Nor were there any words to be said. He lay with a bullet through his brain.” “God’s mercy ! How’s that?”
“My woman’s bullet. Shall she tell you?”
Angus was shaken at this. He opened the door and beckoned. With a sharp cry Julie ran to Neil, flinging her arms round him, while Angus watched these two, eyes narrowing, his throat a little dry.
“Julie,” said Neil, “you and I will talk afterward, but first of that time north of the Mudjatick River after you had met my—my father. You camped before you found us, but what happened that night? Tell him all, and atout us.”
She gave it slowly, carefully, counting her words and searching these two faces, while Angus sat motionless, pulling down his thick brows.
“And your hunters did not return?” he asked presently.
“No,” said Neil. “I met one of them later at Ile à la Crosse and he told me why, but that was none of your doing. Now if there is nothing else you would say, I desire to talk to Julie.”
Angus went out, closing the door softly.
He stood still for a moment of uncertainty, then moved toward the house that Selkirk now occupied, wagging his big head in a sort of confusion. At the door he hesitated for some time, then knocked.
“What is it now?” Selkirk had pulled off his long boots and was stretched at ease.
“There is another matter, sir; a matter that”Angus fumbled his speech—“that I must speak of. It concerns yon man in the guardhouse.”
“We have disposed of it.”
“In a manner of speaking it’s disposed of, hut I hope not. He’s my son.”
“What!” Selkirk sat up straight.
“Aye; my only son, Neil.”
“But why did you not tell me this before?” demanded Selkirk, blinking.
“Well, sir, the right moment didna just come. Now it’s here.”
“Go on, Campbell.”
“It’s a long story, sir.”
“Perhaps I need a story tonight. Let us have it.”
A NGUS took a deep breath and began to talk in a jerky fashion as though it hurt. His rugged countenance softened a little as the tale went on, while the young earl, forgetful for a moment of the burden he had that day assumed, became absorbed in this grim story of clashing loyalties.
“You understand,” continued the low gruff voice, “that it could not be otherwise. We pledged our faith each of us, and signed a book, and the fur lay between us. Yon time I speak of north of the English River I got the fur, it being ours by right, and the man Bouché, the girl’s father, tried to shoot me but wasna quick enough. Two months ago on the Red River I shot him, as I told you the day we met in Coulais Bay. You’ll mind that?”
“I remember. Goon.”
“He was father to the girl my son aims to marry.”
“The one who came here with him from Fort Douglas?”
“Aye, Julie Bouché.”
“That’s hard, Campbell, and you but did your duty.”
“I did, but ’tis too much to ask any woman to see that, and she desires to bear him a child. I am thinking it will be a man-child, sir, a Scots quarterbreed, sir, and there’s none better.”
“So that’s it, eh?”
“It’s like that; and Neil, sir, is not feared of you or any man, but doesna like being put down a liar. Now you’ve got the reason he cleared away from Fort Douglas so quick; ’twas because he saved my life from the Métis. But did he put that forward, you might think he asks mercy from you. He asks none from any man, sir, and that’s the truth for his hands are clean of blood.”
“But why did you not tell me all this before?” asked Selkirk more and more astonished.
“It wasna entirely my business. Neil wouldna have it, and what has passed \ between him and me is our affair. For the ¡ rest of it, sir, the blame lies with the fur.” “Fur !”
“Aye, sir, just fur. There’s a wall of it : between us, and over that we come to grips. ’Tis that that brings us among the j savages, and keeps us there till the rest of ! the world is wiped out and we see nothing [ hut the cursed pelts themselves.
“There’s small room now,” he went on with intense earnestness, “for decency, forbve anything else, between those on opposite sides of that wall unless—” “Unless what, Campbell?”
“I’m thinking you know better than I do. Sir, that’s the story, hut there’s one question I’d like to put.”
“What is it?”
“Over in Argyle the Justice of the Peace can join two persons in legal matrimony. Does that hold here?”
Selkirk sent him a very human smile. “I believe it is within my authority if the two persons—”
With a swiftness remarkable in one so big, Angus had gone like the wind, and the young earl waited, feeling a little thankful for this unexpected interlude. No trader was he, no merchant prince or thrusting adventurer, but a man approaching his prime, animated with an ambition that had already cost him dear. Not till now had he quite realized what the fight for the fur had cost others. Earnestly he desired to end this interminable struggle, and equally he felt assured that any mere compromise or truce would spell the ruin of his dream. Were there on his side more men like his prisoners, his heart had been lighter.
He was thinking moodily in this strain when Angus reappeared, head up.
“They’re here, sir, at your service, and I have said nothing.”
SELKIRK regarded the two with interest. Julie’s dark eyes were bright with interest, and she clutched Neil’s hand. The young man’s jaw was set. Clearly he now expected grave news, but no fear showed in him and he stood like a young pine tree whose roots had gripped the solid rock. The master of the Hudson’s Bay had a throb of admiration and envy, for here was the stuff of which a young nation was best built.
“You are Neil Campbell?”
“Aye, that’s my name.”
“And this is Julie Bouché?”
“Oui, m’sieu, c’est moi but—”
“Well, Campbell, I am now better informed about yourself and I release you from confinement,” said Selkirk quietly. “You will go to Montreal but as a free man, and there make your statement concerning Fort Douglas. I shall not proceed against you.”
At this Neil choked a little; he met Selkirk’s frank gaze and turned to Julie.
“Chérie, do you hear that?”
“M’sieu, m’sieu, how can I thank you enough?”
“I ask no thanks. Campbell.” he went on with a sudden warm friendly look, “you and this woman desire to be married?” “But, m’sieu, how' do you know that?” cried Julie. “Yes, for so long a time have we wanted this, but there w'as no priest. Eh, Neil, is that not so? Is there a priest here?”
“No, but a Justice of the Peace: now put your hand in his—so! Campbell, have you a ring?”
Neil turned a dull red, licked his lips and made a vague gesture. This must be a dream. He glanced into Angus’ eyes, found there something that made him feel strangely young, then shook his big head in confusion, a great, helpless, childish giant.
“I never had a ring, sir,” he stammered. “Then use this.” Selkirk took from his finger a signet that carried the arms of Daer cut in a blood-red stone. “No, on the other finger; yes—that. With this man Angus Campbell for witness I pronounce you man and wife. I wish you well, and will see you both”—he lingered a little on the w'ord both—“in Montreal. Now you may go.”
Again he was alone and sat musing, curiously helped and softened by this occasion, till inevitably his thoughts turned to the three partners. In his more relaxed and natural mood it seemed that there was something he had left undone, so, pulling on his long boots, he w'ent over to the house where the Canadians w'ere under guard, waved aside a saluting sentry, and knocked.
“Who is there?”
“The Earl of Selkirk; may he come in?” The three rose as he entered, he bowed and the salutation was distantly returned.
“Gentlemen,” he said with formality, “your pardon for this intrusion. I trust that your wants are being attended to.” “Our wants,” replied Mr. Fraser frigidly, “will not be attended to this side of Montreal, but we are in a position to wait.” “I am glad to hear it. Has any message reached you from me?”
“Then I shall deliver it myself. I inform you that you will be conveyed to Montreal
without delay, travelling, shall we say, under a certain supervision but not without your customary comforts. It is imperative that our differences and my charges be finally disposed of by the highest authority in the land.”
“We have no fear as to the result, my lord.”
“Nor have I. so it seems we are both content. I welcome that, and regret any inconvenience you may have suffered, but circumstances left no alternative. Your l>ersonal servants will accompany you and are at your disposal here.”
Mr. Fraser bowed again.
“Also might I have your parole that till then no attempt is made at escape, or my sentry will be under the unfortunate necessity of firing. Your word is sufficient.” “You have it.” exploded Mackenzie. “And I speak for my friends; we are as anxious to reach Montreal as yourself.” “In that case.” rejoined Selkirk with a gesture of engaging sincerity, “will you gentlemen pay me the honor of dining with me tonight? I cannot hope to offer you the amenities of the Beaver Club, but will do my best.”
ON A DAY in May, six years later, four persons sat on the bank of the St. Lawrence River—an elderly greybearded man. a younger one very like him but clean-shaven, a brown-faced woman in her prime, and a boy five years old. They were watching the brigade preparing to depart for the North, but were equally interested in a tartan piper who strutted near by, carrying an instrument the wail of which is said to arouse the true Scot to such homicidal fury that he has no fear of death.
“Neil,” said the woman, “what is that thing he wears instead of clothes?”
“It is called a kilt.”
“Will he wear it in the pays d'en haul?’’ “No doubt.”
“But les mouches—the mosquitoes I am sorry for him.”
“No doubt of that either,” smiled Neil, “but ’tis the governor’s orders.”
“C’est drôle, eh? How far do you go this time?” she added wistfully.
“To the Western mountains.”
“Then you pass by Buffalo Lake?”
He nodded. They were alone for a moment, the older man had taken the boy to inspect the piper whom he found to be from the Grampians with a home in Glengarry, so at once they were deep in the Gaelic.
“It is all so strange,” murmured Julie, her eyes on her son.
Neil took her small hand in his big one. “Aye, new and strange. Julie, you are now content?”
“But yes. Sometimes of course one remembers. for there is so much to remember. And you, mort âme?’’
“All’s well with me,” he said quietly. “What do you remember most?”
“What I would most like to forget.” “That will pass. Tell me, you are happy with my father?”
“Yes, quite happy now. He looks at me sometimes with sad eyes as though he, too, were remembering, then smiles if I look at him. And sometimes I think it cannot all be true—all that has happened.”
They glanced at each other with understanding and she felt the strong pressure of his hand. Six winters had come and gone since the Bois Brûlés of Cuthbert Grant laid waste Fort Douglas, and now that stretch of the Red River wore a different aspect. Enlarging fields lay green, men plowed the dark soil in peace and days of tribulation were over. Down the Red River came singing brigades heavy with pelts from the Mackenzie and Athabasca, while no ambush harassed their passage, no rifles spat from clustered thickets. The Lords of the Lakes and Forests had buried the hatchet, smoked the calumet with the men from the Bay, and the fight for the fur was over.