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

  • Near the centre of the colony of Red River, the stream from which th_ettlement 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’_rading-post, Fort Garry. It is a massive square building of stone. Four hig_nd thick walls enclose a space of ground on which are built six or eigh_ooden houses, some of which are used as dwellings for the servants of th_udson’s Bay Company, and others as stores, wherein are contained the furs, the provisions which are sent annually to various parts of the country, an_he goods (such as cloth, guns, powder and shot, blankets, twine, axes, knives, etcetera, etcetera,) with which the fur-trade is carried on. Althoug_ed River is a peaceful colony, and not at all likely to be assaulted by th_oor Indians, it was, nevertheless, deemed prudent by the traders to make som_how of power; and so at the corners of the fort four round bastions of a ver_mposing appearance were built, from the embrasures of which several larg_lack-muzzled guns protruded. No one ever conceived the idea of firing thes_ngines of war; and, indeed, it is highly probable that such an attempt woul_ave been attended with consequences much more dreadful to those _behind_ tha_o those who might chance to be in front of the guns. Nevertheless they wer_mposing, and harmonised well with the flagstaff, which was the only othe_ilitary symptom about the place. This latter was used on particula_ccasions, such as the arrival or departure of a brigade of boats, for th_urpose 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 th_pposite side of which the land was somewhat wooded, though not heavily, wit_ak, maple, poplar, aspens, and willows; while at the back of the fort th_reat prairie rolled out like a green sea to the horizon, and far beyond tha_gain 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 ha_hreatened rebellion, when a tall elderly man might have been seen standing a_he back gate of Fort Garry, gazing wistfully out into the prairie in th_irection of the lower part of the settlement. He was watching a small spec_hich 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 w_resume so, for there was no one else within earshot to whom he could hav_aid it, except the door-post, which every one knows is proverbially a dea_ubject). “No man in the settlement drives so furiously. I shouldn’t wonder i_e 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 th_orner of the new fence, where the road took a rather abrupt turn, in a styl_hat ensured a capsize. In another second the spirited horse turned shar_ound, the sleigh turned sharp over, and the occupant was pitched out at ful_ength, while a black object, that might have been mistaken for his hat, ros_rom his side like a rocket, and, flying over him, landed on the snow severa_ards beyond. A faint shout was heard to float on the breeze as thi_atastrophe occurred, and the driver was seen to jump up and readjust himsel_n the cariole; while the other black object proved itself not to be a hat b_etting hastily up on a pair of legs, and scrambling back to the seat fro_hich it had been so unceremoniously ejected.
  • In a few minutes more the cheerful tinkling of the merry sleigh-bells wa_eard, and Frank Kennedy, accompanied by his hopeful son Charles, dashed up t_he gate, and pulled up with a jerk.
  • “Ha! Grant, my fine fellow, how are you?” exclaimed Mr Kennedy, senior, as h_isengaged himself from the heavy folds of the buffalo robe and shook the sno_rom his greatcoat. “Why on earth, man, don’t you put up a sign-post and _oard to warn travellers that you’ve been running out new fences and changin_he road, eh?”
  • “Why, my good friend,” said Mr Grant, smiling, “the fence and the road are o_hemselves 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 t_he stable, and don’t drive her too fast. Mind, now, no going off upon th_rong road for the sake of a drive, you understand.”
  • “All right, father,” exclaimed the boy, while a bright smile lit up hi_eatures and displayed two rows of white teeth: “I’ll be particularl_areful,” and he sprang into the light vehicle, seized the reins, and with _harp 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 h_sn’t thrashing the mare as if she were made of leather.” The old man’s ir_as rising rapidly as he heard the whip crack every now and then, and saw th_are bound madly over the snow. “And see!” he continued, “I declare he _has_aken the wrong turn after all.”
  • “True,” said Mr Grant: “he’ll never reach the stable by that road; he’s muc_ore likely to visit the White-horse Plains. But come, friend, it’s of no us_retting. Charley will soon tire of his ride; so come with me to my room an_ave a pipe before dinner.”
  • Old Mr Kennedy gave a short groan of despair, shook his fist at the form o_is retreating son, and accompanied his friend to the house.
  • It must not be supposed that Frank Kennedy was very deeply offended with hi_on, although he did shower on him a considerable amount of abuse. On th_ontrary, he loved him very much. But it was the old man’s nature to give wa_o little bursts of passion on almost every occasion in which his feeling_ere at all excited. These bursts, however, were like the little puffs tha_ipple the surface of the sea on a calm summer’s day. They were over in _econd, and left his good-humoured, rough, candid countenance in unruffle_erenity. Charley knew this well, and loved his father tenderly, so that hi_onscience frequently smote him for raising his anger so often; and he ove_nd over again promised his sister Kate to do his best to refrain from doin_nything that was likely to annoy the old man in future. But, alas! Charley’_esolves, like those of many other boys, were soon forgotten, and his father’_quanimity was upset generally two or three times a day; but after the gus_as over, the fur-trader would kiss his son, call him a “rascal,” and send hi_ff to fill and fetch his pipe.
  • Mr Grant, who was in charge of Fort Garry, led the way to his smokin_partment, 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, elevatin_is chin, and emitting a long thin stream of white vapour from his lips, through which he gazed at his friend complacently—“well, Kennedy, to wha_ortunate chance am I indebted for this visit? It is not often that we hav_he pleasure of seeing you here.”
  • Mr Kennedy created two large volumes of smoke, which, by means of a vigorou_uff, 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 o_he 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 wildes_olt 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 littl_hite clouds proceeded from his sire’s mouth, there is no doubt that it woul_ave been a “fact” in a very short time, for they rushed from him with th_iolence of a high wind. Long habit had made the old trader and his pipe no_nly inseparable companions, but part and parcel of each other—so intimatel_onnected that a change in the one was sure to produce a sympathetic change i_he other. In the present instance, the little clouds rapidly increased i_ize 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 tam_im, 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 wor_hat 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—a_east so says the schoolmaster; though I must confess that, so far as m_xperience goes, he’s only clever at finding out excuses for not doing what _ant him to. But still I’m told he’s clever, and can use his pen well; and _now for certain that he can use his tongue well. So I want to get him int_he service, and have him placed in a situation where he shall have to stic_o his desk all day. In fact, I want to have him broken in to work; for you’v_o notion, sir, how that boy talks about bears and buffaloes and badgers, an_ife in the woods among the Indians. I do believe,” continued the ol_entleman, 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’_uite incorrigible. But I’ll tame him yet—I will!”
  • Mr Kennedy followed this up with an indignant grunt, and a puff of smoke, s_hick, and propelled with such vigour, that it rolled and curled in fantasti_volutions towards the ceiling, as if it were unable to control itself wit_elight at the absolute certainty of Charley being tamed at last.
  • Mr Grant, however, shook his head, and remained for five minutes in profoun_ilence, during which time the two friends puffed in concert, until they bega_o grow quite indistinct and ghostlike in the thick atmosphere. At last h_roke silence.
  • “My opinion is that you’re wrong, Mr Kennedy. No doubt you know th_isposition of your son better than I do; but even judging of it from what yo_ave said, I’m quite sure that a sedentary life will ruin him.”
  • “Ruin him! Humbug!” said Kennedy, who never failed to express his opinion a_he shortest notice and in the plainest language—a fact so well known by hi_riends 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 brea_im 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 i_oung colts by the score? and don’t I know that the way to fix their flints i_o clap on a good strong curb?”
  • “If you had travelled farther south, friend,” replied Mr Grant, “you woul_ave seen the Spaniards of Mexico break in their wild horses in a ver_ifferent 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 rac_s over, there is no need for a curb.”
  • “What!” exclaimed Kennedy, “and do you mean to argue from that, that I shoul_et Charley run—and _help_ him too? Send him off to the woods with gun an_lanket, canoe and tent, all complete?” The old gentleman puffed a furiou_uff, and broke into a loud, sarcastic laugh.
  • “No, no,” interrupted Mr Grant; “I don’t exactly mean that, but I think tha_ou might give him his way for a year or so. He’s a fine, active, generou_ellow; and after the novelty wore off, he would be in a much better frame o_ind 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 yo_o 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 don_redit 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 t_onvey much; but the tone of the old trader’s voice, the contraction of hi_yebrows, and above all the overwhelming flow of cloudlets that followed, imparted to it a significance that induced the belief that Charley’s takin_is own way would be productive of more terrific consequences than it was i_he power of the most highly imaginative man to conceive.
  • “There’s his sister Kate, now,” continued the old gentleman; “she’s as gentl_nd biddable as a lamb. I’ve only to say a word, and she’s off like a shot t_o my bidding; and she does it with such a sweet smile too.” There was a touc_f pathos in the old trader’s voice as he said this. He was a man of stron_eeling, and as impulsive in his tenderness as in his wrath. “But that rasca_harley,” he continued, “is quite different. He’s obstinate as a mule. To b_ure, he has a good temper; and I must say for him he never goes into th_ulks, which is a comfort, for of all things in the world sulking is the mos_hildish and contemptible. He _generally_ does what I bid him, too. But he’_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 fo_im is to get a place in your counting-room, with the prospect of rapi_romotion in the service. Very odd. I can’t understand it at all;” and M_ennedy heaved a deep sigh.
  • “Did you ever explain to him the prospects that he would have in the situatio_ou 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 b_emporary, 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 hi_o suppose that, once placed at the desk here, he is a prisoner for life. Bu_ee, there he is,” said Mr Grant, pointing as he spoke towards the subject o_heir conversation, who was passing the window at the moment; “let me cal_im, 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, nea_he door.
  • “Charley, my boy,” began Mr Grant, standing with his back to the fire, hi_eet 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 shoul_nter the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and as you are a clever boy an_ good penman, we think that you would be likely to get on if placed for _ear or so in our office here. I need scarcely point out to you, my boy, tha_n such a position you would be sure to obtain more rapid promotion than i_ou were placed in one of the distant outposts, where you would have ver_ittle to do, and perhaps little to eat, and no one to converse with excep_ne or two men. Of course, we would merely place you here on trial, to see ho_ou suited us; and if you prove steady and diligent, there is no saying ho_ast you might get on. Why, you might even come to fill _my_ place in cours_f time. Come now, Charley, what think you of it?”
  • Charley’s eyes had been cast on the ground while Mr Grant was speaking. He no_aised 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 _weet smile, a peculiarly sweet, candid smile), as if he meant to say that hi_ather had hit the nail quite on the top of the head that time, and n_istake.
  • “But consider,” resumed Mr Grant, “although you might probably be pleased wit_n outpost life at first, you would be sure to grow weary of it after th_ovelty wore off, and then you would wish with all your heart to be back her_gain. Believe me, child, a trader’s life is a very hard and not often a ver_atisfactory one—”
  • “Ay,” broke in the father, desirous, if possible, to help the argument, “an_ou’ll find it a desperately wild, unsettled, roving sort of life, too, let m_ell you! full of dangers both from wild beasts and wild men—”
  • “Hush!” interrupted Mr Grant, observing that the boy’s eye kindled when hi_ather spoke of a wild, roving life and wild beasts.—“Your father does no_ean that life at an outpost is wild and _interesting_ or _exciting_. H_erely means that—a—it—”
  • Mr Grant could not very well explain what it was that Mr Kennedy meant if h_id not mean that, so he turned to him for help.
  • “Exactly so,” said that gentleman, taking a strong pull at the pipe fo_nspiration. “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 an_tarvation constantly staring you in the face—”
  • “Besides,” said Mr Grant, again interrupting the somewhat unfortunate effort_f his friend, who seemed to have a happy facility in sending a brilliant das_f romantic allusion across the dark side of his picture—“besides, you’ll no_ave opportunity to amuse yourself, or to read, as you’ll have no books, an_ou’ll have to work hard with your hands oftentimes, like your men—”
  • “In fact,” broke in the impatient father, resolved, apparently, to carry th_oint 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 _ew post, and had to travel for weeks and weeks through a wild country, wher_one of us had ever been before; where we shot our own meat, caught our ow_ish, and built our own house—and were very near being murdered by th_ndians; though, to be sure, afterwards they became the most civil fellows i_he country, and brought us plenty of skins. Ay, lad, you’ll repent of you_bstinacy when you come to have to hunt your own dinner, as I’ve done many _ay up the Saskatchewan, where I’ve had to fight with red-skins and grizzl_ears, 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 hi_hest heaved with emotion, “that’s the place for me, father!—Do, please, M_rant, 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 hi_loquence with equanimity. His first action was to throw his pipe at the hea_f his enthusiastic boy; without worse effect, however, than smashing it t_toms 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 resul_f their united efforts, “you’ve settled the question now, at all events.”
  • Frank Kennedy said nothing, but filled another pipe, sat doggedly down i_ront of the fire, and speedily enveloped himself, and his friend, and al_hat the room contained, in thick, impenetrable clouds of smoke.
  • Meanwhile his worthy son rushed off in a state of great glee. He had ofte_eard the voyageurs of Red River dilate on the delights of roughing it in th_oods, and his heart had bounded as they spoke of dangers encountered an_vercome among the rapids of the Far North, or with the bears and bison-bull_f the prairie, but never till now had he heard his father corroborate thei_estimony by a recital of his own actual experience; and although the ol_entleman’s intention was undoubtedly to damp the boy’s spirit, his eloquenc_ad exactly the opposite effect—so that it was with a hop and a shout that h_urst into the counting-room, with the occupants of which Charley was _pecial favourite.