Every one knows the general appearance of a counting-room. There are one o_wo peculiar features about such apartments that are quite unmistakable an_ery characteristic; and the counting-room at Fort Garry, although man_undred miles distant from other specimens of its race, and, from the peculia_ircumstances of its position, not therefore likely to bear them muc_esemblance, possessed one or two features of similarity, in the shape of tw_arge 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 mor_articular notice.
The room itself was small, and lighted by two little windows, which opene_nto the courtyard. The entire apartment was made of wood. The floor was o_npainted fir boards. The walls were of the same material, painted blue fro_he floor upwards to about three feet, where the blue was unceremoniousl_topped short by a stripe of bright red, above which the somewhat fancifu_ecorator had laid on a coat of pale yellow; and the ceiling, by way o_ariety, was of a deep ochre. As the occupants of Red River office were,
however, addicted to the use of tobacco and tallow candies, the origina_olour of the ceiling had vanished entirely, and that of the walls ha_onsiderably changed.
There were three doors in the room (besides the door of entrance), eac_pening into another apartment, where the three clerks were wont to court th_avour of Morpheus after the labours of the day. No carpets graced the floor_f any of these rooms, and with the exception of the paint aforementioned, n_rnament whatever broke the pleasing uniformity of the scene. This wa_ompensated, however, to some extent by several scarlet sashes, bright-
coloured shot-belts, and gay portions of winter costume, peculiar to th_ountry, which depended from sundry nails in the bedroom walls; and as th_hree doors always stood open, these objects, together with one or tw_owling-pieces and canoe-paddles, formed quite a brilliant and highl_uggestive background to the otherwise sombre picture. A large open fireplac_tood in one corner of the room, devoid of a grate, and so constructed tha_arge logs of wood might be piled up on end to any extent. And really th_ires made in this manner, and in this individual fireplace, were exquisit_eyond description. A wood-fire is a particularly cheerful thing. Those wh_ave never seen one can form but a faint idea of its splendour; especially o_ sharp winter night in the arctic regions, where the thermometer falls t_orty degrees below zero, without inducing the inhabitants to suppose that th_orld has reached its conclusion. The billets are usually piled up on end, s_hat the flames rise and twine round them with a fierce intensity that cause_hem to crack and sputter cheerfully, sending innumerable sparks of fire int_he room, and throwing out a rich glow of brilliant light that warms a ma_ven to look at it, and renders candles quite unnecessary.
The clerks who inhabited this counting-room were, like itself, peculiar. Ther_ere three—corresponding to the bedrooms. The senior was a tall, broad-
shouldered, muscular man—a Scotchman—very good-humoured, yet a man whos_nder-lip met the upper with that peculiar degree of precision that indicate_he presence of other qualities besides that of good-humour. He was book-
keeper and accountant, and managed the affairs entrusted to his care with th_ame dogged perseverance with which he would have led an expedition o_iscovery to the North Pole. He was thirty or thereabouts.
The second was a small man—also a Scotchman. It is curious to note ho_umerous Scotchmen are in the wilds of North America. This specimen wa_iminutive and sharp. Moreover, he played the flute—an accomplishment of whic_e was so proud that he ordered out from England a flute of ebony, s_laborately 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 winte_egan, split from top to bottom. Peter Mactavish, however, was a genius b_ature, and a mechanical genius by tendency; so that, instead of giving way t_espair, he laboriously bound the flute together with waxed thread, which,
although it could not restore it to its pristine elegance, enabled him to pla_ith great effect sundry doleful airs, whose influence, when performed a_ight, usually sent his companions to sleep, or, failing this, drove them t_istraction.
The third inhabitant of the office was a ruddy, smooth-chinned youth of abou_ourteen, who had left home seven months before, in the hope of gratifying _esire to lead a wild life, which he had entertained ever since he read “Jac_he Giant Killer,” and found himself most unexpectedly fastened, during th_reater part of each day, to a stool. His name was Harry Somerville, and _ine, cheerful little fellow he was, full of spirits, and curiously addicte_o poking and arranging the fire at least every ten minutes—a propensity whic_ested the forbearance of the senior clerk rather severely, and would hav_urprised 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 a_he 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 _plendid description of his life in the woods, and then threw his pipe at m_ecause I admired it too much.”
“Ho!” exclaimed Harry, making a vigorous thrust at the fire, “then you’ve n_hance now.”
“No chance! what do you mean?”
“Only that we are to have a wolf-hunt in the plains tomorrow; and if you’v_ggravated 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 tha_here was very great fear of “that,”—much more, in fact, than he was willin_o admit even to himself. “My dear old father never keeps his anger long. I’_ure 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 th_ire, and returning, with a deep sigh, to his stool.
“Would you like to go with us, Charley?” said the senior clerk, laying dow_is 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 t_tay all night at the fort, I have no horse, and I’m sure he would not let m_ave 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 fac_rightened.) “Go,” he continued, addressing Harry Somerville—“go, tell To_hyte I wish to speak to him.”
Harry sprang from his stool with a suddenness and vigour that might hav_ustified the belief that he had been fixed to it by means of a powerfu_pring, which had been set free with a sharp recoil, and shot him out at th_oor, for he disappeared in a trice. In a few minutes he returned, followed b_he groom Tom Whyte.
“Tom,” said the senior clerk, “do you think we could manage to mount Charle_o-morrow?”
“Why, sir, I don’t think as how we could. There ain’t an ’oss in the stabl_xcept 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 i_eemed quite a marvel how the words ever managed to climb up the steep ascen_f his throat, and turn the corner so as to get out at his mouth. Perhaps thi_as the cause of his speaking on all occasions with great deliberation an_lowness.
“Why, you see, sir,” he replied, “the brown pony’s got cut under the fetloc_f the right hind leg; and I ’ad ’im down to L’Esperance the smith’s, sir, t_ook at ’im, sir; and he says to me, says he, ‘That don’t look well, that ’os_on’t,’—and he’s a knowing feller, sir, is L’Esperance, though he _is_ an
“Never mind what he said, Tom,” interrupted the senior clerk; “is the pony fi_or 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’l_eed to ride behind Harry on his gray pony. It wouldn’t improve his speed, t_e sure, having two on his back; but then he’s so like a pig in his movement_t 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’_uite a young colt, sir, only ’alf broke—kicks like a windmill, sir, and’s go_n ’ead like a steam-engine; ’e couldn’t ’old ’im in no’ow, sir. I ’ad ’i_own to the smith t’other day, sir, an’ says ’e to me, says ’e, ‘That’s _creamer, that is.’ ‘Yes,’ says I, ‘that his a fact.’ ‘Well,’ says ’e—”
“Hang the smith!” cried the senior clerk, losing all patience; “can’t yo_nswer 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 alway_rawn 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 th_onversation with his back to the fire, and a short pipe in his mouth: “Joh_owler, the miller, has just purchased a new pony. I’m told it’s an ol_uffalo-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 m_ompliments, and beg the loan of his horse for Charley Kennedy.—I think h_nows you, Charley?”
The dinner-bell rang as the groom departed, and the clerks prepared for thei_id-day meal.
The senior clerk’s order to “ _run_ ” was a mere form of speech, intended t_ndicate that haste was desirable. No man imagined for a moment that Tom Whyt_ould by any possibility _run_. He hadn’t run since he was dismissed from th_rmy, twenty years before, for incurable drunkenness; and most of Tom’_riends entertained the belief that if he ever attempted to run he would crac_ll over, and go to pieces like a disentombed Egyptian mummy. Tom therefor_alked off to the row of buildings inhabited by the men, where he sat down o_ 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 th_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’_erths were constructed after the fashion of berths on board ship, bein_ooden boxes ranged in tiers round the room. Several tables and benches wer_trewn miscellaneously about the floor, in the centre of which stood a larg_ouble iron stove, with the word “ _Carron_ ” stamped on it. This served a_nce for cooking, and warming the place. Numerous guns, axes, and canoe-
paddles hung round the walls or were piled in corners, and the rafter_ustained a miscellaneous mass of materials, the more conspicuous among whic_ere snow-shoes, dog-sledges, axe handles, and nets.
Having filled and lighted his pipe, Tom Whyte thrust his hands into hi_eerskin mittens, and sauntered off to perform his errand.