The Young Fur Traders - Robert Michael Ballantyne - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1856

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Robert Michael Ballantyne

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Opis ebooka The Young Fur Traders - Robert Michael Ballantyne

Follows the adventures of a young man called Charles Kennedy. Loosely autobiographical account of Ballantyne's own time with the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. Its success prompted a series of excellent stories of adventure for the young with which this prolific Scottish author's name is popularly associated. In the very center of the great continent of North America, far removed from the abodes of civilized men, and about twenty miles to the south of Lake Winnipeg, exists a colony composed of Indians, Scotsmen, and French-Canadians, which is known by the name of Red River Settlement. Although far removed from the civilized world, and containing within its precincts much that is savage and very little that is refined, Red River is quite a populous paradise, as compared with the desolate, solitary establishments of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company.

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Fragment ebooka The Young Fur Traders - Robert Michael Ballantyne

About
Preface
Chapter 1 - Plunges the reader into the middle of an Arctic winter; conveys him into the heart of the wildernesses of North America; and introduces him to some of the principal personages of our tale.
Chapter 2 - The old fur-trader endeavours to “fix” his son’s “flint,” and finds the thing more difficult to do than he expected.
Chapter 3 - The counting-room.

About Ballantyne:

R. M. Ballantyne (April 24, 1825 – February 8, 1894) was a Scottish juvenile fiction writer. Born Robert Michael Ballantyne in Edinburgh, he was part of a famous family of printers and publishers. At the age of 16 he went to Canada and was six years in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. He returned to Scotland in 1847, and published his first book the following year, Hudson's Bay: or, Life in the Wilds of North America. For some time he was employed by Messrs Constable, the publishers, but in 1856 he gave up business for the profession of literature, and began the series of adventure stories for the young with which his name is popularly associated. (Wikipedia)

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Preface

In writing this book my desire has been to draw an exact copy of the picture which is indelibly stamped on my own memory. I have carefully avoided exaggeration in everything of importance. All the chief and most of the minor incidents are facts. In regard to unimportant matters, I have taken the liberty of a novelist—not to colour too highly, or to invent improbabilities, but—to transpose time, place, and circumstance at pleasure; while, at the same time, I have endeavoured to convey to the reader’s mind a truthful impression of the general effect—to use a painter’s language—of the life and country of the Fur-Trader.

R.M. Ballantyne.

Edinburgh, 1856.


Chapter 1 Plunges the reader into the middle of an Arctic winter; conveys him into the heart of the wildernesses of North America; and introduces him to some of the principal personages of our tale.

Snowflakes and sunbeams, heat and cold, winter and summer, alternated with their wonted regularity for fifteen years in the wild regions of the Far North. During this space of time the hero of our tale sprouted from babyhood to boyhood, passed through the usual amount of accidents, ailments, and vicissitudes incidental to those periods of life, and finally entered upon that ambiguous condition that precedes early manhood.

It was a clear, cold winter’s day. The sunbeams of summer were long past, and snowflakes had fallen thickly on the banks of Red River. Charley sat on a lump of blue ice, his head drooping and his eyes bent on the snow at his feet with an expression of deep disconsolation.

Kate reclined at Charley’s side, looking wistfully up in his expressive face, as if to read the thoughts that were chasing each other through his mind, like the ever-varying clouds that floated in the winter sky above. It was quite evident to the most careless observer that, whatever might be the usual temperaments of the boy and girl, their present state of mind was not joyous, but, on the contrary, very sad.

“It won’t do, sister Kate,” said Charley. “I’ve tried him over and over again—I’ve implored, begged, and entreated him to let me go; but he won’t, and I’m determined to run away, so there’s an end of it!”

As Charley gave utterance to this unalterable resolution, he rose from the bit of blue ice, and taking Kate by the hand, led her over the frozen river, climbed up the bank on the opposite side—an operation of some difficulty, owing to the snow, which had been drifted so deeply during a late storm that the usual track was almost obliterated—and turning into a path that lost itself among the willows, they speedily disappeared.

As it is possible our reader may desire to know who Charley and Kate are, and the part of the world in which they dwell, we will interrupt the thread of our narrative to explain.

In the very centre of the great continent of North America, far removed from the abodes of civilised men, and about twenty miles to the south of Lake Winnipeg, exists a colony composed of Indians, Scotsmen, and French-Canadians, which is known by the name of Red River Settlement. Red River differs from most colonies in more respects than one—the chief differences being, that whereas other colonies cluster on the sea-coast, this one lies many hundreds of miles in the interior of the country, and is surrounded by a wilderness; and while other colonies, acting on the Golden Rule, export their produce in return for goods imported, this of Red River imports a large quantity and exports nothing, or next to nothing. Not but that it might export, if it only had an outlet or a market; but being eight hundred miles removed from the sea, and five hundred miles from the nearest market, with a series of rivers, lakes, rapids, and cataracts separating from the one, and a wide sweep of treeless prairie dividing from the other, the settlers have long since come to the conclusion that they were born to consume their own produce, and so regulate the extent of their farming operations by the strength of their appetites. Of course, there are many of the necessaries, or at least the luxuries, of life which the colonists cannot grow—such as tea, coffee, sugar, coats, trousers, and shirts—and which, consequently, they procure from England, by means of the Hudson’s Bay Fur Company’s ships, which sail once a year from Gravesend, laden with supplies for the trade carried on with the Indians. And the bales containing these articles are conveyed in boats up the rivers, carried past the waterfalls and rapids overland on the shoulders of stalwart voyageurs, and finally landed at Red River, after a rough trip of many weeks’ duration. The colony was founded in 1811, by the Earl of Selkirk, previously to which it had been a trading-post of the Fur Company. At the time of which we write, it contained about five thousand souls, and extended upwards of fifty miles along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, which streams supplied the settlers with a variety of excellent fish. The banks were clothed with fine trees; and immediately behind the settlement lay the great prairies, which extend in undulating waves—almost entirely devoid of shrub or tree—to the base of the Rocky Mountains.

Although far removed from the civilised world, and containing within its precincts much that is savage and very little that is refined, Red River is quite a populous paradise as compared with the desolate, solitary establishments of the Hudson’s Bay Fur Company. These lonely dwellings of the trader are scattered far and wide over the whole continent—north, south, east, and west. Their population generally amounts to eight or ten men—seldom to thirty. They are planted in the thick of an uninhabited desert—their next neighbours being from two to five hundred miles off; their occasional visitors, bands of wandering Indians; and the sole object of their existence being to trade the furry hides of foxes, martens, beavers, badgers, bears, buffaloes, and wolves. It will not, then, be deemed a matter of wonder that the gentlemen who have charge of these establishments, and who, perchance, may have spent ten or twenty years in them, should look upon the colony of Red River as a species of Elysium—a sort of haven of rest, in which they may lay their weary heads, and spend the remainder of their days in peaceful felicity, free from the cares of a residence among wild beasts and wild men. Many of the retiring traders prefer casting their lot in Canada; but not a few of them smoke out the remainder of their existence in this colony—especially those who, having left home as boys fifty or sixty years before, cannot reasonably expect to find the friends of their childhood where they left them, and cannot hope to remodel tastes and habits long nurtured in the backwoods so as to relish the manners and customs of civilised society.

Such an one was old Frank Kennedy, who, sixty years before the date of our story, ran away from school in Scotland; got a severe thrashing from his father for so doing; and having no mother in whose sympathising bosom he could weep out his sorrow, ran away from home, went to sea, ran away from his ship while she lay at anchor in the harbour of New York, and after leading a wandering, unsettled life for several years, during which he had been alternately a clerk, a day-labourer, a store-keeper, and a village schoolmaster, he wound up by entering the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, in which he obtained an insight into savage life, a comfortable fortune, besides a half-breed wife and a large family.

Being a man of great energy and courage, and moreover possessed of a large, powerful frame, he was sent to one of the most distant posts on the Mackenzie River, as being admirably suited for the display of his powers both mental and physical. Here the smallpox broke out among the natives, and besides carrying off hundreds of these poor creatures, robbed Mr Kennedy of all his children save two, Charles and Kate, whom we have already introduced to the reader.

About the same time the council which is annually held at Red River in spring for the purpose of arranging the affairs of the country for the ensuing year thought proper to appoint Mr Kennedy to a still more outlandish part of the country—as near, in fact, to the North Pole as it was possible for mortal man to live—and sent him an order to proceed to his destination without loss of time. On receiving this communication Mr Kennedy upset his chair, stamped his foot, ground his teeth, and vowed, in the hearing of his wife and children, that sooner than obey the mandate he would see the governors and council of Rupert’s Land hanged, quartered, and boiled down into tallow! Ebullitions of this kind were peculiar to Frank Kennedy, and meant nothing. They were simply the safety-valves to his superabundant ire, and, like safety-valves in general, made much noise but did no damage. It was well, however, on such occasions to keep out of the old fur-trader’s way; for he had an irresistible propensity to hit out at whatever stood before him, especially if the object stood on a level with his own eyes and wore whiskers. On second thoughts, however, he sat down before his writing-table, took a sheet of blue ruled foolscap paper, seized a quill which he had mended six months previously, at a time when he happened to be in high good-humour, and wrote as follows:—

To the Governor and Council of Rupert’s Land, Red River Settlement.

Fort Paskisegun, June 15, 18 hundred and something.

Gentlemen,—I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your favour of 26th April last, appointing me to the charge of Peel’s River, and directing me to strike out new channels of trade in that quarter. In reply, I have to state that I shall have the honour to fulfil your instructions by taking my departure in a light canoe as soon as possible. At the same time I beg humbly to submit that the state of my health is such as to render it expedient for me to retire from the service, and I herewith beg to hand in my resignation. I shall hope to be relieved early next spring.—I have the honour to be, gentlemen, your most obedient humble servant, F. Kennedy.

“There!” exclaimed the old gentleman, in a tone that would lead one to suppose he had signed the death-warrant, and so had irrevocably fixed the certain destruction, of the entire council—“there!” said he, rising from his chair, and sticking the quill into the ink-bottle with a dab that split it up to the feather, and so rendered it hors de combat for all time coming.

To this letter the council gave a short reply, accepting his resignation, and appointing a successor. On the following spring old Mr Kennedy embarked his wife and children in a bark canoe, and in process of time landed them safely in Red River Settlement. Here he purchased a house with six acres of land, in which he planted a variety of useful vegetables, and built a summer-house after the fashion of a conservatory, where he was wont to solace himself for hours together with a pipe, or rather with dozens of pipes, of Canada twist tobacco.

After this he put his two children to school. The settlement was at this time fortunate in having a most excellent academy, which was conducted by a very estimable man. Charles and Kate Kennedy, being obedient and clever, made rapid progress under his judicious management, and the only fault that he had to find with the young people was that Kate was a little too quiet and fond of books, while Charley was a little too riotous and fond of fun.

When Charles arrived at the age of fifteen and Kate attained to fourteen years, old Mr Kennedy went into his conservatory, locked the door, sat down on an easy-chair, filled a long clay pipe with his beloved tobacco, smoked vigorously for ten minutes, and fell fast asleep. In this condition he remained until the pipe fell from his lips and broke in fragments on the floor. He then rose, filled another pipe, and sat down to meditate on the subject that had brought him to his smoking apartment. “There’s my wife,” said he, looking at the bowl of his pipe, as if he were addressing himself to it, “she’s getting too old to be looking after everything herself (puff), and Kate’s getting too old to be humbugging any longer with books; besides, she ought to be at home learning to keep house, and help her mother, and cut the baccy (puff), and that young scamp Charley should be entering the service (puff). He’s clever enough now to trade beaver and bears from the red-skins; besides, he’s (puff) a young rascal, and I’ll be bound does nothing but lead the other boys into (puff) mischief, although, to be sure, the master does say he’s the cleverest fellow in the school; but he must be reined up a bit now. I’ll clap on a double curb and martingale. I’ll get him a situation in the counting-room at the fort (puff), where he’ll have his nose held tight to the grindstone. Yes, I’ll fix both their flints to-morrow;” and old Mr Kennedy gave vent to another puff so thick and long that it seemed as if all the previous puffs had concealed themselves up to this moment within his capacious chest, and rushed out at last in one thick and long-continued stream.

By “fixing their flints” Mr Kennedy meant to express the fact that he intended to place his children in an entirely new sphere of action; and with a view to this he ordered out his horse and cariole (A sort of sleigh.) on the following morning, went up to the school, which was about ten miles distant from his abode, and brought his children home with him the same evening. Kate was now formally installed as housekeeper and tobacco-cutter; while Charley was told that his future destiny was to wield the quill in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and that he might take a week to think over it. Quiet, warm-hearted, affectionate Kate was overjoyed at the thought of being a help and comfort to her old father and mother; but reckless, joyous, good-humoured, hare-brained Charley was cast into the depths of despair at the idea of spending the livelong day, and day after day, for years it might be, on the top of a long-legged stool. In fact, poor Charley said that he “would rather become a buffalo than do it.” Now this was very wrong of Charley, for, of course, he didn’t mean it. Indeed, it is too much a habit among little boys, ay, and among grown-up people too, to say what they don’t mean, as no doubt you are aware, dear reader, if you possess half the self-knowledge we give you credit for; and we cannot too strongly remonstrate with ourself and others against the practice—leading, as it does, to all sorts of absurd exaggerations, such as gravely asserting that we are “broiling hot” when we are simply “rather warm,” or more than “half dead” with fatigue when we are merely “very tired.” However, Charley said that he would rather be “a buffalo than do it,” and so we feel bound in honour to record the fact.

Charley and Kate were warmly attached to each other. Moreover, they had been, ever since they could walk, in the habit of mingling their little joys and sorrows in each other’s bosoms; and although, as years flew past, they gradually ceased to sob in each other’s arms at every little mishap, they did not cease to interchange their inmost thoughts, and to mingle their tears when occasion called them forth. They knew the power, the inexpressible sweetness, of sympathy. They understood experimentally the comfort and joy that flow from obedience to that blessed commandment to “rejoice with those that do rejoice, and weep with those that weep.” It was natural, therefore, that on Mr Kennedy announcing his decrees, Charley and Kate should hasten to some retired spot where they could commune in solitude; the effect of which communing was to reduce them to a somewhat calmer and rather happy state of mind. Charley’s sorrow was blunted by sympathy with Kate’s joy, and Kate’s joy was subdued by sympathy with Charley’s sorrow; so that, after the first effervescing burst, they settled down into a calm and comfortable state of flatness, with very red eyes and exceedingly pensive minds. We must, however, do Charley the justice to say that the red eyes applied only to Kate; for although a tear or two could without much coaxing be induced to hop over his sun-burned cheek, he had got beyond that period of life when boys are addicted to (we must give the word, though not pretty, because it is eminently expressive) blubbering.

A week later found Charley and his sister seated on the lump of blue ice where they were first introduced to the reader, and where Charley announced his unalterable resolve to run away, following it up with the statement that that was “the end of it.” He was quite mistaken, however, for that was by no means the end of it. In fact it was only the beginning of it, as we shall see hereafter.


Chapter 2 The old fur-trader endeavours to “fix” his son’s “flint,” and finds the thing more difficult to do than he expected.

Near the centre of the colony of Red River, the stream from which the settlement derives its name is joined by another, called the Assiniboine. About five or six hundred yards from the point where this union takes place, and on the banks of the latter stream, stands the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trading-post, Fort Garry. It is a massive square building of stone. Four high and thick walls enclose a space of ground on which are built six or eight wooden houses, some of which are used as dwellings for the servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others as stores, wherein are contained the furs, the provisions which are sent annually to various parts of the country, and the goods (such as cloth, guns, powder and shot, blankets, twine, axes, knives, etcetera, etcetera,) with which the fur-trade is carried on. Although Red River is a peaceful colony, and not at all likely to be assaulted by the poor Indians, it was, nevertheless, deemed prudent by the traders to make some show of power; and so at the corners of the fort four round bastions of a very imposing appearance were built, from the embrasures of which several large black-muzzled guns protruded. No one ever conceived the idea of firing these engines of war; and, indeed, it is highly probable that such an attempt would have been attended with consequences much more dreadful to those behind than to those who might chance to be in front of the guns. Nevertheless they were imposing, and harmonised well with the flagstaff, which was the only other military symptom about the place. This latter was used on particular occasions, such as the arrival or departure of a brigade of boats, for the purpose of displaying the folds of a red flag on which were the letters H.B.C.

The fort stood, as we have said, on the banks of the Assiniboine River, on the opposite side of which the land was somewhat wooded, though not heavily, with oak, maple, poplar, aspens, and willows; while at the back of the fort the great prairie rolled out like a green sea to the horizon, and far beyond that again to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The plains at this time, however, were a sheet of unbroken snow, and the river a mass of solid ice.

It was noon on the day following that on which our friend Charley had threatened rebellion, when a tall elderly man might have been seen standing at the back gate of Fort Garry, gazing wistfully out into the prairie in the direction of the lower part of the settlement. He was watching a small speck which moved rapidly over the snow in the direction of the fort.

“It’s very like our friend Frank Kennedy,” said he to himself (at least we presume so, for there was no one else within earshot to whom he could have said it, except the door-post, which every one knows is proverbially a deaf subject). “No man in the settlement drives so furiously. I shouldn’t wonder if he ran against the corner of the new fence now. Ha! just so—there he goes!”

And truly the reckless driver did “go” just at that moment. He came up to the corner of the new fence, where the road took a rather abrupt turn, in a style that ensured a capsize. In another second the spirited horse turned sharp round, the sleigh turned sharp over, and the occupant was pitched out at full length, while a black object, that might have been mistaken for his hat, rose from his side like a rocket, and, flying over him, landed on the snow several yards beyond. A faint shout was heard to float on the breeze as this catastrophe occurred, and the driver was seen to jump up and readjust himself in the cariole; while the other black object proved itself not to be a hat by getting hastily up on a pair of legs, and scrambling back to the seat from which it had been so unceremoniously ejected.

In a few minutes more the cheerful tinkling of the merry sleigh-bells was heard, and Frank Kennedy, accompanied by his hopeful son Charles, dashed up to the gate, and pulled up with a jerk.

“Ha! Grant, my fine fellow, how are you?” exclaimed Mr Kennedy, senior, as he disengaged himself from the heavy folds of the buffalo robe and shook the snow from his greatcoat. “Why on earth, man, don’t you put up a sign-post and a board to warn travellers that you’ve been running out new fences and changing the road, eh?”

“Why, my good friend,” said Mr Grant, smiling, “the fence and the road are of themselves pretty conclusive proof to most men that the road is changed; and, besides, we don’t often have people driving round corners at full gallop; but—”

“Hollo! Charley, you rascal,” interrupted Mr Kennedy—“here, take the mare to the stable, and don’t drive her too fast. Mind, now, no going off upon the wrong road for the sake of a drive, you understand.”

“All right, father,” exclaimed the boy, while a bright smile lit up his features and displayed two rows of white teeth: “I’ll be particularly careful,” and he sprang into the light vehicle, seized the reins, and with a sharp crack of the whip dashed down the road at a hard gallop.

“He’s a fine fellow that son of yours,” said Mr Grant, “and will make a first-rate fur-trader.”

“Fur-trader!” exclaimed Mr Kennedy. “Just look at him! I’ll be shot if he isn’t thrashing the mare as if she were made of leather.” The old man’s ire was rising rapidly as he heard the whip crack every now and then, and saw the mare bound madly over the snow. “And see!” he continued, “I declare he has taken the wrong turn after all.”

“True,” said Mr Grant: “he’ll never reach the stable by that road; he’s much more likely to visit the White-horse Plains. But come, friend, it’s of no use fretting. Charley will soon tire of his ride; so come with me to my room and have a pipe before dinner.”

Old Mr Kennedy gave a short groan of despair, shook his fist at the form of his retreating son, and accompanied his friend to the house.

It must not be supposed that Frank Kennedy was very deeply offended with his son, although he did shower on him a considerable amount of abuse. On the contrary, he loved him very much. But it was the old man’s nature to give way to little bursts of passion on almost every occasion in which his feelings were at all excited. These bursts, however, were like the little puffs that ripple the surface of the sea on a calm summer’s day. They were over in a second, and left his good-humoured, rough, candid countenance in unruffled serenity. Charley knew this well, and loved his father tenderly, so that his conscience frequently smote him for raising his anger so often; and he over and over again promised his sister Kate to do his best to refrain from doing anything that was likely to annoy the old man in future. But, alas! Charley’s resolves, like those of many other boys, were soon forgotten, and his father’s equanimity was upset generally two or three times a day; but after the gust was over, the fur-trader would kiss his son, call him a “rascal,” and send him off to fill and fetch his pipe.

Mr Grant, who was in charge of Fort Garry, led the way to his smoking apartment, where the two were soon seated in front of a roaring log-fire, emulating each other in the manufacture of smoke.

“Well, Kennedy,” said Mr Grant, throwing himself back in his chair, elevating his chin, and emitting a long thin stream of white vapour from his lips, through which he gazed at his friend complacently—“well, Kennedy, to what fortunate chance am I indebted for this visit? It is not often that we have the pleasure of seeing you here.”

Mr Kennedy created two large volumes of smoke, which, by means of a vigorous puff, he sent rolling over towards his friend, and said, “Charley.”

“And what of Charley?” said Mr Grant, with a smile, for he was well aware of the boy’s propensity to fun, and of the father’s desire to curb it.

“The fact is,” replied Kennedy, “that Charley must be broke. He’s the wildest colt I ever had to tame, but I’ll do it—I will—that’s a fact.”

If Charley’s subjugation had depended on the rapidity with which the little white clouds proceeded from his sire’s mouth, there is no doubt that it would have been a “fact” in a very short time, for they rushed from him with the violence of a high wind. Long habit had made the old trader and his pipe not only inseparable companions, but part and parcel of each other—so intimately connected that a change in the one was sure to produce a sympathetic change in the other. In the present instance, the little clouds rapidly increased in size and number as the old gentleman thought on the obstinacy of his “colt.”

“Yes,” he continued, after a moment’s silence, “I’ve made up my mind to tame him, and I want you, Mr Grant, to help me.”

Mr Grant looked as if he would rather not undertake to lend his aid in a work that was evidently difficult; but being a good-natured man, he said, “And how, friend, can I assist in the operation?”

“Well, you see, Charley’s a good fellow at bottom, and a clever fellow too—at least so says the schoolmaster; though I must confess that, so far as my experience goes, he’s only clever at finding out excuses for not doing what I want him to. But still I’m told he’s clever, and can use his pen well; and I know for certain that he can use his tongue well. So I want to get him into the service, and have him placed in a situation where he shall have to stick to his desk all day. In fact, I want to have him broken in to work; for you’ve no notion, sir, how that boy talks about bears and buffaloes and badgers, and life in the woods among the Indians. I do believe,” continued the old gentleman, waxing warm, “that he would willingly go into the woods to-morrow, if I would let him, and never show his nose in the settlement again. He’s quite incorrigible. But I’ll tame him yet—I will!”

Mr Kennedy followed this up with an indignant grunt, and a puff of smoke, so thick, and propelled with such vigour, that it rolled and curled in fantastic evolutions towards the ceiling, as if it were unable to control itself with delight at the absolute certainty of Charley being tamed at last.

Mr Grant, however, shook his head, and remained for five minutes in profound silence, during which time the two friends puffed in concert, until they began to grow quite indistinct and ghostlike in the thick atmosphere. At last he broke silence.

“My opinion is that you’re wrong, Mr Kennedy. No doubt you know the disposition of your son better than I do; but even judging of it from what you have said, I’m quite sure that a sedentary life will ruin him.”

“Ruin him! Humbug!” said Kennedy, who never failed to express his opinion at the shortest notice and in the plainest language—a fact so well known by his friends that they had got into the habit of taking no notice of it. “Humbug!” he repeated, “perfect humbug! You don’t mean to tell me that the way to break him in is to let him run loose and wild whenever and wherever he pleases?”

“By no means. But you may rest assured that tying him down won’t do it.”

“Nonsense!” said Mr Kennedy testily; “don’t tell me. Have I not broken in young colts by the score? and don’t I know that the way to fix their flints is to clap on a good strong curb?”

“If you had travelled farther south, friend,” replied Mr Grant, “you would have seen the Spaniards of Mexico break in their wild horses in a very different way; for after catching one with a lasso, a fellow gets on his back, and gives it the rein and the whip—ay, and the spur too; and before that race is over, there is no need for a curb.”

“What!” exclaimed Kennedy, “and do you mean to argue from that, that I should let Charley run—and help him too? Send him off to the woods with gun and blanket, canoe and tent, all complete?” The old gentleman puffed a furious puff, and broke into a loud, sarcastic laugh.

“No, no,” interrupted Mr Grant; “I don’t exactly mean that, but I think that you might give him his way for a year or so. He’s a fine, active, generous fellow; and after the novelty wore off, he would be in a much better frame of mind to listen to your proposals. Besides” (and Mr Grant smiled expressively), “Charley is somewhat like his father. He has got a will of his own; and if you do not give him his way, I very much fear that he’ll—”

“What?” inquired Mr Kennedy abruptly.

“Take it,” said Mr Grant.

The puff that burst from Mr Kennedy’s lips on hearing this would have done credit to a thirty-six pounder.

“Take it!” said he; “he’d better not.”

The latter part of this speech was not in itself of a nature calculated to convey much; but the tone of the old trader’s voice, the contraction of his eyebrows, and above all the overwhelming flow of cloudlets that followed, imparted to it a significance that induced the belief that Charley’s taking his own way would be productive of more terrific consequences than it was in the power of the most highly imaginative man to conceive.

“There’s his sister Kate, now,” continued the old gentleman; “she’s as gentle and biddable as a lamb. I’ve only to say a word, and she’s off like a shot to do my bidding; and she does it with such a sweet smile too.” There was a touch of pathos in the old trader’s voice as he said this. He was a man of strong feeling, and as impulsive in his tenderness as in his wrath. “But that rascal Charley,” he continued, “is quite different. He’s obstinate as a mule. To be sure, he has a good temper; and I must say for him he never goes into the sulks, which is a comfort, for of all things in the world sulking is the most childish and contemptible. He generally does what I bid him, too. But he’s always getting into scrapes of one kind or other. And during the last week, notwithstanding all I can say to him, he won’t admit that the best thing for him is to get a place in your counting-room, with the prospect of rapid promotion in the service. Very odd. I can’t understand it at all;” and Mr Kennedy heaved a deep sigh.

“Did you ever explain to him the prospects that he would have in the situation you propose for him?” inquired Mr Grant.

“Can’t say I ever did.”

“Did you ever point out the probable end of a life spent in the woods?”

“No.”

“Nor suggest to him that the appointment to the office here would only be temporary, and to see how he got on in it?”

“Certainly not.”

“Then, my dear sir, I’m not surprised that Charley rebels. You have left him to suppose that, once placed at the desk here, he is a prisoner for life. But see, there he is,” said Mr Grant, pointing as he spoke towards the subject of their conversation, who was passing the window at the moment; “let me call him, and I feel certain that he will listen to reason in a few minutes.”

“Humph!” ejaculated Mr Kennedy, “you may try.”

In another minute Charley had been summoned, and was seated, cap in hand, near the door.

“Charley, my boy,” began Mr Grant, standing with his back to the fire, his feet pretty wide apart, and his coat-tails under his arms—“Charley, my boy, your father has just been speaking of you. He is very anxious that you should enter the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and as you are a clever boy and a good penman, we think that you would be likely to get on if placed for a year or so in our office here. I need scarcely point out to you, my boy, that in such a position you would be sure to obtain more rapid promotion than if you were placed in one of the distant outposts, where you would have very little to do, and perhaps little to eat, and no one to converse with except one or two men. Of course, we would merely place you here on trial, to see how you suited us; and if you prove steady and diligent, there is no saying how fast you might get on. Why, you might even come to fill my place in course of time. Come now, Charley, what think you of it?”

Charley’s eyes had been cast on the ground while Mr Grant was speaking. He now raised them, looked at his father, then at his interrogator, and said—

“It is very kind of you both to be so anxious about my prospects. I thank you, indeed, very much; but I—a—”

“Don’t like the desk?” said his father, in an angry tone. “Is that it, eh?”

Charley made no reply, but cast down his eyes again and smiled (Charley had a sweet smile, a peculiarly sweet, candid smile), as if he meant to say that his father had hit the nail quite on the top of the head that time, and no mistake.

“But consider,” resumed Mr Grant, “although you might probably be pleased with an outpost life at first, you would be sure to grow weary of it after the novelty wore off, and then you would wish with all your heart to be back here again. Believe me, child, a trader’s life is a very hard and not often a very satisfactory one—”

“Ay,” broke in the father, desirous, if possible, to help the argument, “and you’ll find it a desperately wild, unsettled, roving sort of life, too, let me tell you! full of dangers both from wild beasts and wild men—”

“Hush!” interrupted Mr Grant, observing that the boy’s eye kindled when his father spoke of a wild, roving life and wild beasts.—“Your father does not mean that life at an outpost is wild and interesting or exciting. He merely means that—a—it—”

Mr Grant could not very well explain what it was that Mr Kennedy meant if he did not mean that, so he turned to him for help.

“Exactly so,” said that gentleman, taking a strong pull at the pipe for inspiration. “It’s no ways interesting or exciting at all. It’s slow, dull, and flat; a miserable sort of Robinson Crusoe life, with red Indians and starvation constantly staring you in the face—”

“Besides,” said Mr Grant, again interrupting the somewhat unfortunate efforts of his friend, who seemed to have a happy facility in sending a brilliant dash of romantic allusion across the dark side of his picture—“besides, you’ll not have opportunity to amuse yourself, or to read, as you’ll have no books, and you’ll have to work hard with your hands oftentimes, like your men—”

“In fact,” broke in the impatient father, resolved, apparently, to carry the point with a grand coup—“in fact, you’ll have to rough it, as I did, when I went up the Mackenzie River district, where I was sent to establish a new post, and had to travel for weeks and weeks through a wild country, where none of us had ever been before; where we shot our own meat, caught our own fish, and built our own house—and were very near being murdered by the Indians; though, to be sure, afterwards they became the most civil fellows in the country, and brought us plenty of skins. Ay, lad, you’ll repent of your obstinacy when you come to have to hunt your own dinner, as I’ve done many a day up the Saskatchewan, where I’ve had to fight with red-skins and grizzly bears, and to chase the buffaloes over miles and miles of prairie on rough-going nags till my bones ached and I scarce knew whether I sat on—”

“Oh” exclaimed Charley, starting to his feet, while his eyes flashed and his chest heaved with emotion, “that’s the place for me, father!—Do, please, Mr Grant, send me there, and I’ll work for you with all my might!”

Frank Kennedy was not a man to stand this unexpected miscarriage of his eloquence with equanimity. His first action was to throw his pipe at the head of his enthusiastic boy; without worse effect, however, than smashing it to atoms on the opposite wall. He then started up and rushed towards his son, who, being near the door, retreated precipitately and vanished.

“So,” said Mr Grant, not very sure whether to laugh or be angry at the result of their united efforts, “you’ve settled the question now, at all events.”

Frank Kennedy said nothing, but filled another pipe, sat doggedly down in front of the fire, and speedily enveloped himself, and his friend, and all that the room contained, in thick, impenetrable clouds of smoke.

Meanwhile his worthy son rushed off in a state of great glee. He had often heard the voyageurs of Red River dilate on the delights of roughing it in the woods, and his heart had bounded as they spoke of dangers encountered and overcome among the rapids of the Far North, or with the bears and bison-bulls of the prairie, but never till now had he heard his father corroborate their testimony by a recital of his own actual experience; and although the old gentleman’s intention was undoubtedly to damp the boy’s spirit, his eloquence had exactly the opposite effect—so that it was with a hop and a shout that he burst into the counting-room, with the occupants of which Charley was a special favourite.


Chapter 3 The counting-room.

Every one knows the general appearance of a counting-room. There are one or two peculiar features about such apartments that are quite unmistakable and very characteristic; and the counting-room at Fort Garry, although many hundred miles distant from other specimens of its race, and, from the peculiar circumstances of its position, not therefore likely to bear them much resemblance, possessed one or two features of similarity, in the shape of two large desks and several very tall stools, besides sundry ink-bottles, rulers, books, and sheets of blotting-paper. But there were other implements there, savouring strongly of the backwoods and savage life, which merit more particular notice.

The room itself was small, and lighted by two little windows, which opened into the courtyard. The entire apartment was made of wood. The floor was of unpainted fir boards. The walls were of the same material, painted blue from the floor upwards to about three feet, where the blue was unceremoniously stopped short by a stripe of bright red, above which the somewhat fanciful decorator had laid on a coat of pale yellow; and the ceiling, by way of variety, was of a deep ochre. As the occupants of Red River office were, however, addicted to the use of tobacco and tallow candies, the original colour of the ceiling had vanished entirely, and that of the walls had considerably changed.

There were three doors in the room (besides the door of entrance), each opening into another apartment, where the three clerks were wont to court the favour of Morpheus after the labours of the day. No carpets graced the floors of any of these rooms, and with the exception of the paint aforementioned, no ornament whatever broke the pleasing uniformity of the scene. This was compensated, however, to some extent by several scarlet sashes, bright-coloured shot-belts, and gay portions of winter costume, peculiar to the country, which depended from sundry nails in the bedroom walls; and as the three doors always stood open, these objects, together with one or two fowling-pieces and canoe-paddles, formed quite a brilliant and highly suggestive background to the otherwise sombre picture. A large open fireplace stood in one corner of the room, devoid of a grate, and so constructed that large logs of wood might be piled up on end to any extent. And really the fires made in this manner, and in this individual fireplace, were exquisite beyond description. A wood-fire is a particularly cheerful thing. Those who have never seen one can form but a faint idea of its splendour; especially on a sharp winter night in the arctic regions, where the thermometer falls to forty degrees below zero, without inducing the inhabitants to suppose that the world has reached its conclusion. The billets are usually piled up on end, so that the flames rise and twine round them with a fierce intensity that causes them to crack and sputter cheerfully, sending innumerable sparks of fire into the room, and throwing out a rich glow of brilliant light that warms a man even to look at it, and renders candles quite unnecessary.

The clerks who inhabited this counting-room were, like itself, peculiar. There were three—corresponding to the bedrooms. The senior was a tall, broad-shouldered, muscular man—a Scotchman—very good-humoured, yet a man whose under-lip met the upper with that peculiar degree of precision that indicated the presence of other qualities besides that of good-humour. He was book-keeper and accountant, and managed the affairs entrusted to his care with the same dogged perseverance with which he would have led an expedition of discovery to the North Pole. He was thirty or thereabouts.

The second was a small man—also a Scotchman. It is curious to note how numerous Scotchmen are in the wilds of North America. This specimen was diminutive and sharp. Moreover, he played the flute—an accomplishment of which he was so proud that he ordered out from England a flute of ebony, so elaborately enriched with silver keys that one’s fingers ached to behold it. This beautiful instrument, like most other instruments of a delicate nature, found the climate too much for its constitution, and, soon after the winter began, split from top to bottom. Peter Mactavish, however, was a genius by nature, and a mechanical genius by tendency; so that, instead of giving way to despair, he laboriously bound the flute together with waxed thread, which, although it could not restore it to its pristine elegance, enabled him to play with great effect sundry doleful airs, whose influence, when performed at night, usually sent his companions to sleep, or, failing this, drove them to distraction.

The third inhabitant of the office was a ruddy, smooth-chinned youth of about fourteen, who had left home seven months before, in the hope of gratifying a desire to lead a wild life, which he had entertained ever since he read “Jack the Giant Killer,” and found himself most unexpectedly fastened, during the greater part of each day, to a stool. His name was Harry Somerville, and a fine, cheerful little fellow he was, full of spirits, and curiously addicted to poking and arranging the fire at least every ten minutes—a propensity which tested the forbearance of the senior clerk rather severely, and would have surprised any one not aware of poor Harry’s incurable antipathy to the desk, and the yearning desire with which he longed for physical action.

Harry was busily engaged with the refractory fire when Charley, as stated at the conclusion of the last chapter, burst into the room.

“Hollo!” he exclaimed, suspending his operations for a moment, “what’s up?”

“Nothing,” said Charley, “but father’s temper, that’s all. He gave me a splendid description of his life in the woods, and then threw his pipe at me because I admired it too much.”

“Ho!” exclaimed Harry, making a vigorous thrust at the fire, “then you’ve no chance now.”

“No chance! what do you mean?”

“Only that we are to have a wolf-hunt in the plains tomorrow; and if you’ve aggravated your father, he’ll be taking you home to-night, that’s all.”

“Oh! no fear of that,” said Charley, with a look that seemed to imply that there was very great fear of “that,”—much more, in fact, than he was willing to admit even to himself. “My dear old father never keeps his anger long. I’m sure that he’ll be all right again in half an hour.”

“Hope so, but doubt it I do,” said Harry, making another deadly poke at the fire, and returning, with a deep sigh, to his stool.

“Would you like to go with us, Charley?” said the senior clerk, laying down his pen and turning round on his chair (the senior clerk never sat on a stool) with a benign smile.

“Oh, very, very much indeed,” cried Charley; “but even should father agree to stay all night at the fort, I have no horse, and I’m sure he would not let me have the mare after what I did to-day.”

“Do you think he’s not open to persuasion?” said the senior clerk.

“No, I’m sure he’s not.”

“Well, well, it don’t much signify; perhaps we can mount you.” (Charley’s face brightened.) “Go,” he continued, addressing Harry Somerville—“go, tell Tom Whyte I wish to speak to him.”

Harry sprang from his stool with a suddenness and vigour that might have justified the belief that he had been fixed to it by means of a powerful spring, which had been set free with a sharp recoil, and shot him out at the door, for he disappeared in a trice. In a few minutes he returned, followed by the groom Tom Whyte.

“Tom,” said the senior clerk, “do you think we could manage to mount Charley to-morrow?”

“Why, sir, I don’t think as how we could. There ain’t an ’oss in the stable except them wot’s required and them wot’s badly.”

“Couldn’t he have the brown pony?” suggested the senior clerk.

Tom Whyte was a cockney and an old soldier, and stood so bolt upright that it seemed quite a marvel how the words ever managed to climb up the steep ascent of his throat, and turn the corner so as to get out at his mouth. Perhaps this was the cause of his speaking on all occasions with great deliberation and slowness.

“Why, you see, sir,” he replied, “the brown pony’s got cut under the fetlock of the right hind leg; and I ’ad ’im down to L’Esperance the smith’s, sir, to look at ’im, sir; and he says to me, says he, ‘That don’t look well, that ’oss don’t,’—and he’s a knowing feller, sir, is L’Esperance, though he is an ’alf-breed—”

“Never mind what he said, Tom,” interrupted the senior clerk; “is the pony fit for use? that’s the question.”

“No, sir, ’e hain’t.”

“And the black mare, can he not have that?”

“No, sir; Mr Grant is to ride ’er to-morrow.”

“That’s unfortunate,” said the senior clerk.—“I fear, Charley, that you’ll need to ride behind Harry on his gray pony. It wouldn’t improve his speed, to be sure, having two on his back; but then he’s so like a pig in his movements at any rate, I don’t think it would spoil his pace much.”

“Could he not try the new horse?” he continued, turning to the groom.

“The noo ’oss, sir! he might as well try to ride a mad buffalo bull, sir. He’s quite a young colt, sir, only ’alf broke—kicks like a windmill, sir, and’s got an ’ead like a steam-engine; ’e couldn’t ’old ’im in no’ow, sir. I ’ad ’im down to the smith t’other day, sir, an’ says ’e to me, says ’e, ‘That’s a screamer, that is.’ ‘Yes,’ says I, ‘that his a fact.’ ‘Well,’ says ’e—”

“Hang the smith!” cried the senior clerk, losing all patience; “can’t you answer me without so much talk? Is the horse too wild to ride?”

“Yes, sir, ’e is,” said the groom, with a look of slightly offended dignity, and drawing himself up—if we may use such an expression to one who was always drawn up to such an extent that he seemed to be just balanced on his heels, and required only a gentle push to lay him flat on his back.

“Oh, I have it!” cried Peter Mactavish, who had been standing during the conversation with his back to the fire, and a short pipe in his mouth: “John Fowler, the miller, has just purchased a new pony. I’m told it’s an old buffalo-runner, and I’m certain he would lend it to Charley at once.”

“The very thing,” said the senior clerk.—“Run, Tom; give the miller my compliments, and beg the loan of his horse for Charley Kennedy.—I think he knows you, Charley?”

The dinner-bell rang as the groom departed, and the clerks prepared for their mid-day meal.

The senior clerk’s order to “run” was a mere form of speech, intended to indicate that haste was desirable. No man imagined for a moment that Tom Whyte could by any possibility run. He hadn’t run since he was dismissed from the army, twenty years before, for incurable drunkenness; and most of Tom’s friends entertained the belief that if he ever attempted to run he would crack all over, and go to pieces like a disentombed Egyptian mummy. Tom therefore walked off to the row of buildings inhabited by the men, where he sat down on a bench in front of his bed, and proceeded leisurely to fill his pipe.

The room in which he sat was a fair specimen of the dwellings devoted to the employés of the Hudson’s Bay Company throughout the country. It was large, and low in the roof, built entirely of wood, which was unpainted; a matter, however, of no consequence, as, from long exposure to dust and tobacco-smoke, the floor, walls, and ceiling had become one deep, uniform brown. The men’s berths were constructed after the fashion of berths on board ship, being wooden boxes ranged in tiers round the room. Several tables and benches were strewn miscellaneously about the floor, in the centre of which stood a large double iron stove, with the word “Carron” stamped on it. This served at once for cooking, and warming the place. Numerous guns, axes, and canoe-paddles hung round the walls or were piled in corners, and the rafters sustained a miscellaneous mass of materials, the more conspicuous among which were snow-shoes, dog-sledges, axe handles, and nets.

Having filled and lighted his pipe, Tom Whyte thrust his hands into his deerskin mittens, and sauntered off to perform his errand.