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