Chapter 14 The Indian camp—The new outpost—Charley sent on a mission to th_ndians.
In the councils of the fur-traders, on the spring previous to that about whic_e are now writing, it had been decided to extend their operations a little i_he lands that lie in central America to the north of the Saskatchewan River; and in furtherance of that object, it had been intimated to the chief trade_n charge of the district that an expedition should be set on foot, having fo_ts object the examination of a territory into which they had not ye_enetrated, and the establishment of an outpost therein. It was, furthermore, ordered that operations should be commenced at once, and that the choice o_en to carry out the end in view was graciously left to the chief trader’_ell-known sagacity.
Upon receiving this communication, the chief trader selected a gentleman name_r Whyte to lead the party; gave him a clerk and five men; provided him with _oat and a large supply of goods necessary for trade, implements requisite fo_uilding an establishment, and sent him off with a hearty shake of the han_nd a recommendation to “go and prosper.”
Charles Kennedy spent part of the previous year at Rocky Mountain House, wher_e had shown so much energy in conducting the trade, especially what he calle_he “rough and tumble” part of it, that he was selected as the clerk t_ccompany Mr Whyte to his new ground. After proceeding up many rivers, whos_aters had seldom borne the craft of white men, and across innumerable lakes, the party reached a spot that presented so inviting an aspect that it wa_esolved to pitch their tent there for a time, and, if things in the way o_rade and provision looked favourable, establish themselves altogether. Th_lace was situated on the margin of a large lake, whose shores were covere_ith the most luxuriant verdure, and whose waters teemed with the finest fish, while the air was alive with wild-fowl, and the woods swarming with game. Her_r Whyte rested awhile; and having found everything to his satisfaction, h_ook his axe, selected a green lawn that commanded an extensive view of th_ake, and going up to a tall larch, struck the steel into it, and thus put th_irst touch to an establishment which afterwards went by the name of Stone_reek.
A solitary Indian, whom they had met with on the way to their new home, ha_nformed them that a large band of Knisteneux had lately migrated to a rive_bout four days’ journey beyond the lake, at which they halted; and when th_ew fort was just beginning to spring up, our friend Charley and th_nterpreter, Jacques Caradoc, were ordered by Mr Whyte to make a canoe, an_hen, embarking in it, to proceed to the Indian camp, to inform the natives o_heir rare good luck in having a band of white men come to settle near thei_ands to trade with them. The interpreter and Charley soon found birch bark, pine roots for sewing it, and gum for plastering the seams, wherewith the_onstructed the light machine whose progress we have partly traced in the las_hapter, and which, on the following day at sunset, carried them to thei_ourney’s end.
From some remarks made by the Indian who gave them information of the camp, Charley gathered that it was the tribe to which Redfeather belonged, an_urthermore that Redfeather himself was there at that time; so that it wa_ith feelings of no little interest that he saw the tops of the yellow tent_mbedded among the green trees, and soon afterwards beheld them and thei_icturesque owners reflected in the clear river, on whose banks the native_rowded to witness the arrival of the white men.
Upon the greensward, and under the umbrageous shade of the forest trees, th_ents were pitched to the number of perhaps eighteen or twenty, and the whol_opulation, of whom very few were absent on the present occasion, might numbe_ hundred—men, women, and children. They were dressed in habiliments forme_hiefly of materials procured by themselves in the chase, but ornamented wit_loth, beads, and silk thread, which showed that they had had intercourse wit_he fur-traders before now. The men wore leggings of deerskin, which reache_ore than half-way up the thigh, and were fastened to a leathern girdl_trapped round the waist. A loose tunic or hunting-shirt of the same materia_overed the figure from the shoulders almost to the knees, and was confine_ound the middle by a belt—in some cases of worsted, in others of leathe_aily ornamented with quills. Caps of various indescribable shapes, and mad_hiefly of skin, with the animal’s tail left on by way of ornament, covere_heir heads, and moccasins for the feet completed their costume. These las_ay be simply described as leather mittens for the feet, without fingers, o_ather toes. They were gaudily ornamented, as was almost every portion o_ostume, with porcupines’ quills dyed with brilliant colours, and worked int_anciful and in many cases extremely elegant figures and designs; for Nort_merican Indians oftentimes display an amount of taste in the harmoniou_rrangement of colour that would astonish those who fancy that _education_ i_bsolutely necessary to the just appreciation of the beautiful.
The women attired themselves in leggings and coats differing little from thos_f the men, except that the latter were longer, the sleeves detached from th_ody, and fastened on separately; while on their heads they wore caps, whic_ung down and covered their backs to the waist. These caps were of th_implest construction, being pieces of cloth cut into an oblong shape, an_ewed together at one end. They were, however, richly ornamented with silk- work and beads.
On landing, Charley and Jacques walked up to a tall, good-looking Indian, who_hey judged from him demeanour, and the somewhat deferential regard paid t_im by the others, to be one of the chief men of the little community.
“Ho! what cheer?” said Jacques, taking him by the hand after the manner o_uropeans, and accosting him with the phrase used by the fur-traders to th_atives. The Indian returned the compliment in kind, and led the visitors t_is tent, where he spread a buffalo robe for them on the ground, and begge_hem to be seated. A repast of dried meat and reindeer tongues was the_erved, to which our friends did ample justice; while the women and childre_atisfied their curiosity by peering at them through chinks and holes in th_ent. When they had finished, several of the principal men assembled, and th_hief who had entertained them made a speech, to the effect that he was muc_ratified by the honour done to his people by the visit of his white brothers; that he hoped they would continue long at the camp to enjoy their hospitality; and that he would be glad to know what had brought them so far into th_ountry of the red men.
During the course of this speech the chief made eloquent allusion to all th_ood qualities supposed to belong to white men in general, and (he had n_oubt) to the two white men before him in particular. He also boaste_onsiderably of the prowess and bravery of himself and his tribe, launched _ew sarcastic hits at his enemies, and wound up with a poetical hope that hi_uests might live for ever in these beautiful plains of bliss, where the su_ever sets, and nothing goes wrong anywhere, and everything goes right at al_imes, and where, especially, the deer are outrageously fat, and always com_ut on purpose to be shot! During the course of these remarks his comrade_ignified their hearty concurrence in his sentiments, by giving vent to sundr_ow-toned “hums!” and “hahs!” and “wahs!” and “hohs!” according t_ircumstances. After it was over Jacques rose, and addressing them in thei_wn language, said—
“My Indian brethren are great. They are brave, and their fame has travelle_ar. Their deeds are known even so far as where the Great Salt Lake beats o_he shore where the sun rises. They are not women, and when their enemies hea_he sound of their name they grow pale; their hearts become like those of th_eindeer. My brethren are famous, too, in the use of the snow-shoe, the snare, and the gun. The fur-traders know that they must build large stores when the_ome into their lands. They bring up much goods, because the young men ar_ctive and require much. The silver fox and the marten are no longer safe whe_heir traps and snares are set. Yes, they are good hunters; and we have no_ome to live among you” (Jacques changed his style as he came nearer to th_oint), “to trade with you, and to save you the trouble of making lon_ourneys with your skins. A few days’ distance from your wigwams we hav_itched our tents. Our young men are even now felling the trees to build _ouse. Our nets are set, our hunters are prowling in the woods, our goods ar_eady, and my young master and I have come to smoke the pipe of friendshi_ith you, and to invite you to come to trade with us.”
Having delivered this oration, Jacques sat down amid deep silence. Othe_peeches, of a highly satisfactory character, were then made, after which “th_ouse adjourned,” and the visitors, opening one of their packages, distribute_ variety of presents to the delighted natives.
Several times during the course of these proceedings Charley’s eyes wandere_mong the faces of his entertainers, in the hope of seeing Redfeather amon_hem, but without success; and he began to fear that his friend was not wit_he tribe.
“I say, Jacques,” he said, as they left the tent, “ask whether a chief calle_edfeather is here. I knew him of old, and half expected to find him at thi_lace.”
The Indian to whom Jacques put the question replied that Redfeather was wit_hem, but that he had gone out on a hunting expedition that morning, and migh_e absent a day or two.
“Ah!” exclaimed Charley, “I’m glad he’s here. Come, now, let us take a walk i_he wood; these good people stare at us as if we were ghosts.” And takin_acques’s arm, he led him beyond the circuit of the camp, turned into a pat_hich, winding among the thick underwood, speedily screened them from view, and led them into a sequestered glade, through which a rivulet trickled alon_ts course, almost hid from view by the dense foliage and long grasses tha_verhung it.
“What a delightful place to live in!” said Charley. “Do you ever think o_uilding a hut in such a spot as this, Jacques, and settling down altogether?”
Charley’s thoughts reverted to his sister Kate when he said this.
“Why, no,” replied Jacques, in a pensive tone, as if the question had arouse_ome sorrowful recollections; “I can’t say that I’d like to settle here _now_.
There _was_ a time when I thought nothin’ could be better than to squat in th_oods with one or two jolly comrades, and—” (Jacques sighed); “but times i_hanged now, master, and so is my mind. My chums are most of them dead o_one, one way or other. No; I shouldn’t care to squat alone.”
Charley thought of the hut _without_ Kate, and it seemed so desolate an_reary a dwelling, notwithstanding its beautiful situation, that he agree_ith his companion that to “squat” _alone_ would never do at all.
“No, man was not made to live alone,” continued Jacques, pursuing the subject; “even the Injins draw together. I never knew but one as didn’t like hi_ellows, and he’s gone now, poor fellow. He cut his foot with an axe one day, while fellin’ a tree. It was a bad cut; and havin’ nobody to look after him, he half bled and half starved to death.”
“By the way, Jacques,” said Charley, stepping over the clear brook, an_ollowing the track which led up the opposite bank, “what did you say to thes_edskins? You made them a most eloquent speech apparently.”
“Why, as to that, I can’t boast much of its eloquence, but I think it wa_lear enough. I told them that they were a great nation—for you see, M_harles, the red men are just like the white in their fondness for butter; s_ gave them some to begin with, though, for the matter o’ that, I’m not overl_ond o’ givin’ butter to any man, red or white. But I holds that it’s as wel_lways to fall in with the ways and customs o’ the people a man happens to b_mong, so long as them ways and customs a’n’t contrary to what’s right. I_akes them feel more kindly to you, an’ don’t raise any on-necessary ill-will.
However, the Knisteneux _are_ a brave race; and when I told them that th_earts of their enemies trembled when they heard of them, I told nothing bu_he truth; for the Chipewyans are a miserable set, and not much given t_ighting.”
“Your principles on that point won’t stand much sifting, I fear,” replie_harley: “according to your own showing, you would fall into the Chipewyans’ way of glorifying themselves on account of their bravery, if you chanced to b_welling among them, and yet you say they are not brave. That would not b_ticking to truth, Jacques, would it?”
“Well,” replied Jacques, with a smile, “perhaps not exactly; but I’m sur_here could be small harm in helping the miserable objects to boast sometimes, for they’ve little else than boasting to comfort them.”
“And yet, Jacques, I cannot help feeling that truth is a grand, a gloriou_hing, that should not be trifled with even in small matters.”
Jacques opened his eyes a little. “Then do you think, master, that a ma_hould _never_ tell a lie, no matter what fix he may be in?”
“I think not, Jacques.”
The hunter paused a few minutes, and looked as if an unusual train of idea_ad been raised in his mind by the turn their conversation had taken. Jacque_as a man of no religion, and little morality, beyond what flowed from _aturally kind, candid disposition, and entertained the belief that the _end_ , if a good one, always justifies the _means_ —a doctrine which, had it bee_learly exposed to him in all its bearings and results, would have bee_purned by his straightforward nature with the indignant contempt that i_erits.
“Mr Charles,” he said at length, “I once travelled across the plains to th_ead waters of the Missouri with a party of six trappers. One night we came t_ part of the plains which was very much broken up with wood here and there, and bein’ a good place for water we camped. While the other lads were gettin’ ready the supper, I started off to look for a deer, as we had been unluck_hat day—we had shot nothin’. Well, about three miles from the camp I cam_pon a band o’ somewhere about thirty Sioux (ill-looking, sneaking dogs the_re, too!) and before I could whistle they rushed upon me, took away my rifl_nd hunting-knife, and were dancing round me like so many devils. At last _ig, black-lookin’ thief stepped forward, and said in the Cree language, ‘White men seldom travel through this country alone; where are your comrades?’ Now, thought I, here’s a nice fix! If I pretend not to understand, they’l_end out parties in all directions, and as sure as fate they’ll find m_ompanions in half an hour, and butcher them in cold blood (for, you see, w_id not expect to find Sioux, or indeed any Injins, in them parts); so I mad_elieve to be very narvous, and tried to tremble all over and look pale. Di_ou ever try to look pale and frightened, Mr Charles?”
“I can’t say that I ever did,” said Charley, laughing.
“You can’t think how troublesome it is,” continued Jacques, with a look o_arnest simplicity. “I shook and trembled pretty well, but the more I tried t_row pale, the more I grew red in the face; and when I thought of the si_road-shouldered, raw-boned lads in the camp, and how easy they would hav_ade these jumping villains fly like chaff, if they only knew the fix I wa_n, I gave a frown that had well-nigh showed I was shamming. Hows’ever, wha_ith shakin’ a little more and givin’ one or two most awful groans, I manage_o deceive them. Then I said I was hunter to a party of white men that wer_ravellin’ from Red River to St. Louis, with all their goods, and wives, an_hildren, and that they were away in the plains about a league off.
“The big chap looked very hard into my face when I said this, to see if I wa_elling the truth; and I tried to make my teeth chatter, but it wouldn’t do, so I took to groanin’ very bad instead. But them Sioux are such awful liar_at’rally that they couldn’t understand the signs of truth, even if they sa_hem. ‘Whitefaced coward,’ says he to me, ‘tell me in what direction you_eople are.’ At this I made believe not to understand; but the big cha_lourished his knife before my face, called me a dog, and told me to point ou_he direction. I looked as simple as I could, and said I would rather not. A_his they laughed loudly, and then gave a yell, and said if I didn’t show the_he direction they would roast me alive. So I pointed towards a part of th_lains pretty wide o’ the spot where our camp was. ‘Now, lead us to them,’ said the big chap, givin’ me a shove with the butt of his gun; ‘an’ if yo_ave told lies—’ he gave the handle of his scalpin’-knife a slap, as much a_o say he’d tickle up my liver with it. Well, away we went in silence, m_hinkin’ all the time how I was to get out o’ the scrape. I led them prett_lose past our camp, hopin’ that the lads would hear us. I didn’t dare to yel_ut, as that would have showed them there was somebody within hearin’, an_hey would have made short work of me. Just as we came near the place where m_ompanions lay, a prairie wolf sprang out from under a bush where it had bee_leepin’; so I gave a loud hurrah, and shied my cap at it. Giving a lou_rowl, the big Injin hit me over the head with his fist, and told me to kee_ilence. In a few minutes I heard the low, distant howl of a wolf. _ecognised the voice or one of my comrades, and knew that they had seen us, and would be on our track soon. Watchin’ my opportunity, and walkin’ for _ood bit as if I was awful tired—all but done up—to throw them off thei_uard, I suddenly tripped up the big chap as he was stepping over a smal_rook, and dived in among the bushes. In a moment a dozen bullets tore up th_ark on the trees about me, and an arrow passed through my hair. The clump o_ood into which I had dived was about half a mile long; and as I could ru_ell (I’ve found in my experience that white men are more than a match fo_edskins at their own work), I was almost out of range by the time I wa_orced to quit the cover and take to the plain. When the blackguard got out o_he cover, too, and saw me cuttin’ ahead like a deer, they gave a yell o_isappointment, and sent another shower of arrows and bullets after me, som_f which came nearer than was pleasant. I then headed for our camp with th_hole pack screechin’ at my heels. ‘Yell away, you stupid sinners,’ thought I; ‘some of you shall pay for your music.’ At that moment an arrow grazed m_houlder, and looking over it, I saw that the black fellow I had pitched int_he water was far ahead of the rest, strainin’ after me like mad, and ever_ow and then stopping to try an arrow on me; so I kept a look-out, and when _aw him stop to draw, I stopped too, and dodged, so the arrows passed me, an_hen we took to our heels again. In this way I ran for dear life till I cam_p to the cover. As I came close up I saw our six fellows crouchin’ in th_ushes, and one o’ them takin’ aim almost straight for my face. ‘Your day’_ome at last,’ thought I, looking over my shoulder at the big Injin, who wa_rawing his bow again. Just then there was a sharp crack heard: a bulle_histled past my ear, and the big fellow fell like a stone, while my comrad_tood coolly up to reload his rifle. The Injins, on seein’ this, pulled up i_ moment; and our lads stepping forward, delivered a volley that made thre_ore o’ them bite the dust. There would have been six in that fix, but, somehow or other, three of us pitched upon the same man, who was afterward_ound with a bullet in each eye and one through his heart. They didn’t wai_or more, but turned about and bolted like the wind. Now, Mr Charles, if I ha_old the truth that time, we would have been all killed; and if I had simpl_aid nothin’ to their questions, they would have sent out to scour th_ountry, and have found out the camp for sartin, so that the only way t_scape was by tellin’ them a heap o’ downright lies.”
Charley looked very much perplexed at this.
“You have indeed placed me in a difficulty. I know not what I would have done.
I don’t know even what I _ought to do_ under these circumstances. Difficultie_ay perplex me, and the force of circumstances might tempt me to do what _elieved to be wrong. I am a sinner, Jacques, like other mortals, I know; bu_ne thing I am quite sure of—namely, that when men speak it should _always_ b_ruth and _never_ falsehood.”
Jacques looked perplexed too. He was strongly impressed with the necessity o_elling falsehood in the circumstances in which he had been placed, as jus_elated, while at the same time he felt deeply the grandeur and the power o_harley’s last remark.
“I should have been under the sod _now_ ,” said he, “if I had not told a li_then_. Is it better to die than to speak falsehood?”
“Some men have thought so,” replied Charley. “I acknowledge the difficulty o_your_ case, and of all similar cases. I don’t know what should be done; but _ave read of a minister of the gospel whose people were very wicked and woul_ot attend to his instructions, although they could not but respect himself, he was so consistent and Christianlike in his conduct. Persecution arose i_he country where he lived, and men and women were cruelly murdered because o_heir religious belief. For a long time he was left unmolested; but one day _and of soldiers came to his house, and asked him whether he was a Papist or _rotestant (Papist, Jacques, being a man who has sold his liberty in religiou_atters to the Pope, and a Protestant being one who protests against such a_neffably silly and unmanly state of slavery). Well, his people urged the goo_ld man to say he was a Papist, telling him that he would then be spared t_ive among them, and preach the true faith for many years perhaps. Now, i_here was one thing that this old man would have toiled for and _died_ for, i_as that his people should become true Christians—and he told them so; ‘but,’ he added, ‘I will not tell a lie to accomplish that end, my children—no, no_ven to save my life.’ So he told the soldiers that he was a Protestant, an_mmediately they carried him away, and he was soon afterwards burned t_eath.”
“Well,” said Jacques, “ _he_ didn’t gain much by sticking to the truth, _hink.”
“I’m not so sure of _that_. The story goes on to say that he _rejoiced_ tha_e had done so, and wouldn’t draw back even when he was in the flames. But th_oint lies here, Jacques: so deep an impression did the old man’s conduct mak_n his people, that from that day forward they were noted for their Christia_ife and conduct. They brought up their children with a deeper reverence fo_he truth than they would otherwise have done, always bearing in affectionat_emembrance, and holding up to them as an example, the unflinchin_ruthfulness of the good old man who was burned in the year of the terribl_ersecutions; and at last their influence and example had such an effect tha_he Protestant religion spread like wild-fire, far and wide around them, s_hat the very thing was accomplished for which the old pastor said he woul_ave died—accomplished, too, very much in consequence of his death, and in _ay and to an extent that very likely would not have been the case had h_ived and preached among them for a hundred years.”
“I don’t understand it nohow,” said Jacques; “it seems to me right both way_nd wrong both ways, and all upside down everyhow.”
Charley smiled. “Your remark is about as clear as my head on the subject, Jacques; but I still remain convinced that truth is _right_ and that falsehoo_s _wrong_ , and that we should stick to the first through thick and thin.”
“I s’pose,” remarked the hunter, who had walked along in deep cogitation fo_he last five minutes, and had apparently come to some conclusion of profoun_epth and sagacity—“I s’pose that it’s all human natur’; that some men take_o preachin’ as Injins take to huntin’, and that to understand sich thing_equires them to begin young, and risk their lives in it, as I would i_ollowin’ up a grizzly she-bear with cubs.”
“Yonder is an illustration of one part of your remark. They begin _young_nough, anyhow,” said Charley, pointing as he spoke to an opening in th_ushes, where a particularly small Indian boy stood in the act of dischargin_n arrow.
The two men halted to watch his movements. According to a common custom amon_uvenile Indians during the warm months of the year, he was dressed i_nothing_ save a mere rag tied round his waist. His body was very brown, extremely round, fat, and wonderfully diminutive, while his little legs an_rms were disproportionately small. He was so young as to be barely able t_alk, and yet there he stood, his black eyes glittering with excitement, hi_iny bow bent to its utmost, and a blunt-headed arrow about to be discharge_t a squirrel, whose flight had been suddenly arrested by the unexpecte_pparition of Charley and Jacques. As he stood there for a single instant, perfectly motionless, he might have been mistaken for a grotesque statue of a_ndian cupid. Taking advantage of the squirrel’s pause, the child let fly th_rrow, hit it exactly on the point of the nose, and turned it over, dead—_onsummation which he greeted with a rapid succession of frightful yells.
“Cleverly done, my lad; you’re a chip of the old block, I see,” said Jacques, patting the child’s head as he passed, and retraced his steps, with Charley, to the Indian camp.