The Shanty Sled - Hulbert Footner - ebook

The Shanty Sled ebook

Hulbert Footner

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Opis

This story is something vital, but very tragic. The main character decides to travel from New York to northwestern Canada to see her mother, who sent her to New York twenty years ago. She falls in love with a local catcher, and then an evil fur trader tries to intervene.

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Liczba stron: 313

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Contents

I. AT BEAR COULÈE

II. SUPPER AT THE OLD WOMAN'S

III. AT THE LANDING

IV. IN NEW YORK

V. NORTHWARD

VI. THE MEETING

VII. THE FIGHT

VIII. THE START

IX. OVER THE ICE

X. INTIMATIONS OF DANGER

XI. THE ATTACK

XII. THE LONG PORTAGE

XIII. THE MOTHER

XIV. A LONG DEFERRED MEETING

XV. THE HAND OF MACCUBBIN

XVI. PUTTING ON THE SCREWS

XVII. INCREASING PRESSURE

XVIII. THE CHINOOK

XIX. THE DECISION

XX. MARRIAGE BY CONTRACT

XXI. AND LAST

I

At Bear Coulèe

It was September at Bear Coulèe, and the poplar bluffs were painted with splashes of crude yellow ochre on the chocolate-coloured hills. In the little hollows of the hills rose-scrub burned like fire. Every night for weeks past there had been a frost, and the weather showed signs of breaking; it would not be long before the first snow. Old Woman Rambert came to the door of her shack and looked up at the beautifully dying vegetation with an inexpressible pain in her eyes. It was like seeing one’s dearest friend pass. She thought of the coming snow with a shudder. Six unbroken months of it to face! It was like the hand of death at her heart.

She shook her head like a terrier and trotted back to her work. She had six loaves of bread in the oven, and that was only the first of several batches that had to be baked that day. Three of the boys were starting next morning on the four-hundred mile journey outside. Throughout the whole country the men of Bear Coulèe bragged of their old woman’s home-made bread. A fat lot of good that did the baker, she thought with a wry smile. They were good fellows, all of them, but what did they know, what did they care about the sore heart of the lonely old woman who went to bed every night with a gnawing pain in her side and got up with it? Sometimes in the night panic gripped her. “What will I do?... What will I do when It comes?” she asked herself, stuffing the sheet into her mouth. “And never a white woman near!”

She was only forty-eight years old, but for many a year now she had been the Old Woman. She ran the “kitchen” at Bear Coulèe; that is to say, she fed the gang, which consisted of Maccubbin, the trader, and the half-dozen or so of farmers, all bachelors. There was a fiction current that she was putting by enough to retire presently and live with her daughter outside. Only she and Maccubbin knew that that prospect yearly grew more remote. She was an odd-looking little old woman, with her scanty white hair screwed into a hard knot at the back of her head, and a bright red flannel dress. Year by year the style of it never changed. When she needed a new one she simply cut another piece from the bolt of red flannel which Maccubbin kept for her in the store. She had dark eyes full of a gloomy fire, and her mouth was surrounded by hundreds of tiny wrinkles, due to her continual pursing and twisting of it. In all her movements she was as quick as a squirrel.

Bear Coulèe was at the end of the waggon-trail in that direction. Their nearest white neighbours were at Spirit River Crossing, one hundred miles south. Maccubbin was a “free” trader. The settlement at Bear Coulèe was his idea and his own making, and he enjoyed whatever profit there was in it. These particulars are related in order to explain the isolation of the place. In the most remote of “company” posts there are at least the visits of the doctor, the inspector, and the missionaries to look forward to. Maccubbin made no provision for missionaries. Hence there was no occasion for any white person ever to visit Bear Coulèe, and none ever did.

Hearing footsteps outside, the Old Woman drew a mask over her face. None of the men ever saw her without that mask; the mask of a gallant fighter who conceals his wounds. She was never the one to take refuge behind her sex. As she would have said, she always tried to keep her end up. Maccubbin came in, a handsome, strong, dark man in the prime of life, with another sort of mask over his face. He was better dressed than you would expect to find a man at the back of the backwoods; strathcona boots, whipcord breeches, tweed coat, and the inevitable Stetson. This outfit was the insignia of his office; he was the boss.

“You want to see me?” he said, frowning.

“I sure do,” she answered brusquely.

“What’s the idea?” he asked, running up his eyebrows.

The Old Woman knew exactly why he had assumed this high and mighty air, and she was not in the least intimidated. “In the store the clerk is always about. I wanted to see you by yourself.”

“What about?”

“You know perfectly well.”

Maccubbin sat down, frowning still. The Old Woman looked at him with that look of long-tried exasperation that women are so often obliged to bend on men. She was looking at his hat. In her twenty years in the country she had not been able to overcome her resentment at the fact that they did not take off their hats when they came into her kitchen. It stuck in her crop at the beginning, and it was still sticking there–but she no longer spoke about it. She drew a long breath for patience, and began:

“The boys are starting out to-morrow, and I shall send my letter to my daughter by them. I want a draft from you to enclose in it.”

“Oh, of course,” said the trader, as if he had not known it all along. “I don’t remember the exact figures, but there’s a little over a hundred dollars due you.”

“A hundred dollars nothing!” said the Old Woman energetically. “The child can’t get through the winter on less than four hundred.”

“That’s not my fault,” said Maccubbin.

“Nor mine either.

“Four hundred dollars!” cried Maccubbin, with a cold hard stare.

“That’s what I said!” she returned, squarely meeting his cold eyes with her hot ones.

“That’s ridiculous!”

The Old Woman waggled her head and pursed up her lips, and said nothing.

“You can’t have it.”

“Then I’ll go out with the boys,” she said promptly. “And you can cook for yourself.”

“That’s ridiculous too,” he said coolly. “You know you can’t go.”

“And why can’t I?”

“Because I won’t allow it.”

This was what she was waiting for. “And are you the Lord God Almighty?” she cried, brandishing her hands above her head. “Have you the power of life and death over us?”

“Don’t be silly, Old Woman. You’ll bring on a fit of coughing if you screech so. This is merely a matter of business, and you understand it as well as I do... You owe me over a thousand dollars. Out of consideration for you I have funded it, and I never say anything about it as long as you pay me the trifle of interest yearly...”

“Oh, you can always make the figures come out on your side...”

”... The team that takes the men out to-morrow is my team...”

“Everything hereabouts is yours!”

”... And I’m certainly not going to let my team carry my thousand dollars out of my reach.”

“Then I’ll walk!”

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