In one of those numerous narrow ravines
of the Rocky Mountains which open out into the rolling
prairies of the Saskatchewan there stood some years
ago a log hut, or block-house, such as the roving hunters
of the Far West sometimes erected as temporary homes
during the inclement winter of those regions.
With a view to render the hut a castle
of refuge as well as a home, its builder had perched
it close to the edge of a nearly inaccessible cliff
overhanging one of those brawling torrents which carry
the melting snows of the great rocky range into one
of the tributaries of the Saskatchewan river.
On what may be called the land side of the hut there
was a slight breastwork of logs. It seemed a
weak defence truly, yet a resolute man with several
guns and ammunition might have easily held it against
a considerable band of savages.
One fine morning about the time when
the leaves of the forest were beginning to put on
their gorgeous autumnal tints, a woman might have
been seen ascending the zigzag path that led to the
hut or fortress.
She was young, well formed, and pretty,
and wore the Indian costume, yet there was something
in her air and carriage, as well as the nut-brown
colour of her hair, which told that either her father
or her mother had been what the red men term a “pale-face.”
With a light, bounding step, very
different from that of the ordinary Indian squaw,
she sprang from rock to rock as if in haste, and, climbing
over the breastwork before mentioned, entered the hut.
The interior of the little fortress
was naturally characteristic of its owner. A
leathern capote and leggings hung from a nail in one
corner; in another lay a pile of buffalo robes.
The rough walls were adorned with antlers of the
moose and other deer, from the various branches of
which hung several powder-horns, fire-bags, and bullet-pouches.
Near the rude fireplace, the chimney of which was
plastered outside and in with mud, was a range of
six guns, of various patterns and ages, all of which,
being well polished and oiled, were evidently quite
ready for instant service. Beside them hung
an old cavalry sabre. Neither table nor chairs
graced the simple mansion; but a large chest at one
side served for the former, and doubtless contained
the owner’s treasures, whatever these might
be, while three rough stools, with only nine legs
among them, did service for the latter.
The action of the young woman on entering
was somewhat suggestive of the cause of her haste.
Without a moment’s delay, she seized a powder-horn
and bullet-pouch, and began to charge the guns, some
with ball, others with slugs, as fast as she could.
There was a cool, quiet celerity in her proceedings
which proved that she was accustomed to the handling
of such weapons.
No one looking upon the scene would
have guessed that Softswan, as she was poetically
named, was a bride, at that time in the midst of the
Yet such was the case. Her husband
being the kindliest, stoutest and handsomest fellow
in all that region had won her heart and hand, had
obtained her parents’ consent, had been married
in the nearest settlement by a travelling missionary,
and had carried off his pretty bride to spend the
honeymoon in his mountain fortress. We can scarcely
call it his home, however, for it was only, as we have
said, a temporary residence-the Rocky Mountains,
from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Circle, being
While the Indian bride was engaged
in charging the firearms, a rifle-shot was heard to
echo among the surrounding cliffs. It was followed
by a cry, as if some one had been wounded, and then
there arose that terrible war-whoop of the red men
which, once heard, can never be forgotten, and which
inspires even the bravest with feelings of at least
That Softswan was not free from alarm
was pretty evident from the peculiar curl of her pretty
eyebrows, but that the sounds did not unnerve her
was also obvious from the quiet though prompt way in
which she gathered up all the loaded firearms, and
bore them swiftly to the breastwork in front of the
cabin. Arranging the guns in a row at her side,
so as to be handy, the girl selected one, laid it on
the parapet, and carefully examined the priming.
Having satisfied herself that it was all right, she
cocked the piece, and quietly awaited the issue of
The weapon that Softswan had selected
was not picked up at haphazard. It was deliberately
chosen as being less deadly than the others, the charge
being a few slugs or clippings of lead, which were
not so apt to kill as rifle bullets; for Softswan,
as her name might suggest was gentle of spirit, and
was influenced by none of that thirst for blood and
revenge which characterised some of her Indian relatives.
After a time the poor girl’s
anxiety increased, for well she knew that a whoop
and a cry such as she had heard were the sure precursors
of something worse. Besides, she had seen the
footprints of Blackfoot Indians in the valley below,
and she knew from their appearance that those who
had made them were on the war-path, in which circumstances
savages usually dismiss any small amount of tender
mercies with which they may have been naturally endowed.
“Oh why, why you’s not
come home, Big Tim?” she exclaimed at last, in
It may be well to explain at once
that Big Tim, who was the only son of Little Tim,
had such a decided preference for the tongue of his
white father, that he had taught it to his bride,
and refused to converse with her in any other, though
he understood the language of his mother Brighteyes
quite as well as English.
If Big Tim had heard the pathetic
question, he would have flown to the rescue more speedily
than any other hunter of the Rocky Mountains, for
he was the swiftest runner of them all; but unfortunately
he was too far off at that moment to hear; not too
far off, however, to hear the shot and cry which had
alarmed his bride.
From the position which Softswan occupied
she could see and command every portion of the zigzag
approach to the hut so that no one could reach her
without being completely exposed to her fire if she
were disposed to dispute the passage. As we
have said, the hut stood on a cliff which overhung
the torrent that brawled through the gorge, so that
she was secure from attack in rear.
In a few minutes another rifle-shot
was heard, and the war-whoop was repeated, this time
much nearer than before.
With compressed lips and heightened
colour, the solitary girl prepared to defend her castle.
Presently she heard footsteps among the thick bushes
below, as if of some one running in hot haste.
Softswan laid her finger on the trigger, but carefully,
for the advancing runner might be her husband.
Oh why did he not shout to warn her? The poor
girl trembled a little, despite her self-restraint,
as she thought of the danger and the necessity for
Suddenly the bushes on her left moved,
and a man, pushing them aside, peeped from among them.
He was a savage, in the war-paint and panoply of
a Blackfoot brave. The spot to which he had crept
was indeed the nearest to the hut that could be reached
in that direction, but Softswan knew well that an
impassable chasm separated her from the intruder, so
she kept well concealed behind the breastwork, and
continued to watch him through one of the peep-holes
made in it for that purpose. She might have
easily shot him, for he was within range, but her nature
revolted from doing so, for he seemed to think that
the hut was untenanted, and, instead of looking towards
her place of concealment, leaned over the cliff so
as to get a good view of the lower end of the zigzag
track where it entered the woods.
Could he be a foe to the approaching
Indians, or one of them? thought the poor girl, rendered
almost desperate by doubt and indecision.
Just then a man burst out of the woods
below with a defiant shout, and sprang up the narrow
track. It was Big Tim. The savage on the
cliff pointed his rifle at him. Indecision,
doubt, mercy were instantly swept away, and with the
speed of the lightning flash the girl sent her charge
of slugs into the savage. He collapsed, rolled
over the cliff, and went crashing into the bushes
underneath, but instantly sprang up, as if unhurt,
and disappeared, just as a dozen of his comrades burst
upon the scene from the woods below.
The echoing report of the gun and
the fall of their companion evidently disconcerted
the aim of the savages, for their scattering fire left
the bounding Tim untouched. Before they could
reload, Softswan sent them a present of another charge
of slugs, which, the distance being great, so scattered
itself as to embrace nearly the whole party, who thereupon
went wounded and howling back into the forest.
“Well done, my soft one!”
exclaimed Big Tim, as he took a flying leap over the
low breastwork, and caught his bride in his arms, for
even in that moment of danger he could not help expressing
his joy and thankfulness at finding her safe and well,
when he had half expected to find her dead and scalped,
if he found her at all.
Another moment, and he was kneeling
at the breastwork, examining the firearms and ready
“Fetch the sabre, my soft one,”
said Big Tim, addressing his bride by the title which
he had bestowed on her on his wedding-day.
The tone in which he said this struck
the girl as being unusually light and joyous, not
quite in keeping with the circumstance of being attacked
by overwhelming odds; but she was becoming accustomed
to the eccentricities of her bold and stalwart husband,
and had perfect confidence in him. Without,
therefore, expressing surprise by word or look, she
obeyed the order.
Unsheathing the weapon, the hunter
felt its edge with his thumb, and a slight smile played
on his features as he said-
“I have good news for the soft one to-day.”
The soft one looked, but did not say, “Indeed,
what is it?”
“Yes,” continued the youth,
sheathing the sabre; “the man with the kind
heart and the snowy pinion has come back to the mountains.
He will be here before the shadows of the trees grow
Softswan, with a gleam of pleasure in her bright black
“Just so. The prairie
chief has come back to us, and is now a preacher.”
“Has the pale-face preacher
com’ vis him?” asked the bride, with a
slightly troubled look, for she did not yet feel quite
at home in her broken English, and feared that her
husband might laugh at her mistakes, though nothing
was further from the mind of the stout hunter than
to laugh at his pretty bride. He did indeed
sometimes indulge the propensity in that strange conventional
region “his sleeve,” but no owl of the
desert was more solemn in countenance than Big Tim
when Softswan perpetrated her lingual blunders.
“I know not,” he replied,
as he renewed the priming of one of the guns.
“Hist! did you see something move under the willow
The girl shook her head.
“A rabbit, no doubt,”
said the hunter, lowering the rifle which he had raised,
and resuming his easy unconcerned attitude, yet keeping
his keen eye on the spot with a steadiness that showed
his indifference was assumed.
“I know not whether the pale-face
preacher is with him,” he continued. “Those
who told me about him could only say that a white man
dressed like the crows was travelling a short distance
in advance of Whitewing, but whether he was one of
his party or not, they could not tell. Indeed
it is said that Whitewing has no party with him, that
he travels alone. If he does, he is more reckless
than ever, seeing that his enemies the Blackfeet are
on the war-path just now; but you never know what a
half-mad redskin will do, and Whitewing is a queer
Big Tim’s style of speech was
in accordance with his half-caste nature-
sometimes flowing in channels of slightly poetic imagery,
like that of his Indian mother; at other times dropping
into the very matter-of-fact style of his white sire.
“Leetil Tim vill be glad,” said Softswan.
“Ay, daddy will be pleased.
By the way, I wonder what keeps him out so long?
I half expected to find him here when I arrived.
Indeed, I made sure it was him that tumbled yon Blackfoot
off the cliff so smartly. You see, I didn’t
know you were such a plucky little woman, my soft one,
though I might have guessed it, seeing that you possess
all the good qualities under the sun; but a man hardly
expects his squaw to be great on the war-path, d’ye
Softswan neither smiled nor looked
pleased at the compliment intended in these words.
“Me loves not to draw bloods,”
she said gravely, with a pensive look on the ground.
“Don’t let that disturb
you, soft one,” said her husband, with a quiet
laugh. “By the way he jumped after it I
guess he has got no more harm than if you’d
gin him an overdose o’ physic. But them
reptiles bein’ in these parts makes me raither
anxious about daddy. Did he say where he meant
to hunt when he went off this morning?”
“Yes; Leetil Tim says hims go
for hunt near Lipstock Hill.”
“Just so; Lopstick Hill,”
returned Tim, correcting her with offhand gravity.
“But me hears a shote an’
a cry,” said the girl, with a suddenly anxious
“That was from one o’
the redskins, whose thigh I barked for sendin’
an arrow raither close to my head,” said the
“But,” continued his bride,
with increasing anxiety, “the shote an’
the cry was long before you comes home. Pr’aps
it bees Leetil Tim.”
“Impossible,” said Big
Tim quickly; “father must have bin miles away
at that time, for Lopsuck Hill is good three hours’
walk from here as the crow flies, an’ the Blackfeet
came from the opposite airt o’ the compass.”
The young hunter’s prolonged
silence after this, as well as the expression of his
face, showed that he was not quite as easy in his mind
as his words implied.
“Did the cry seem to be far
off?” he asked at last quickly.
“Not far,” returned his wife.
Without speaking, Big Tim began to
buckle on the cavalry sabre, not in the loosely-swinging
cavalry fashion, but closely and firmly to his side,
with his broad waistbelt, so that it might not impede
his movements. He then selected from the arms
a short double-barrelled gun, and, slinging a powder-horn
and shot-pouch over his shoulders, prepared to depart.
“Now listen, my soft one,”
he said, on completing his arrangements. “I
feel a’most sartin sure that the cry ye heard
was not daddy’s; nevertheless, the bare
possibility o’ such a thing makes it my dooty
to go an’ see if it was the old man. I
think the Blackfeet have drawed off to have a palaver,
an’ won’t be back for a bit, so I’ll
jist slip down the precipice by our secret path; an’
if they do come back when I’m away, pepper them
well wi’ slugs. I’ll hear the shots,
an’ be back to you afore they can git up the
hill. But if they should make a determined rush,
don’t you make too bold a stand agin ’em.
Just let fly with the big-bore when they’re
half-way up the track, an’ then slip into the
cave. I’ll soon meet ye there, an we’ll
give the reptiles a surprise. Now, you’ll
be careful, soft one?”
Soft one promised to be careful, and
Big Tim, entering the hut, passed out at a back door,
and descended the cliff to the torrent below by a
concealed path which even a climbing monkey might have
shuddered to attempt.
Meanwhile Softswan, re-arranging and
re-examining her firearm, sat down behind the breastwork
to guard the fort.
The sun was still high in the heavens,
illuming a magnificent prospect of hill and dale and
virgin forest, and glittering in the lakelets, pools,
and rivers, which brightened the scene as far as the
distant horizon, where the snow-clad peaks of the
Rocky Mountains rose grandly into the azure sky.
The girl sat there almost motionless
for a long time, exhibiting in her face and figure
at once the keen watchfulness of the savage and the
endurance of the pale-face.
Unlike many girls of her class, she
had at one period been brought for a short time under
the influence of men who loved the Lord Jesus Christ
and esteemed it equally a duty and a privilege to urge
others to flee from the wrath to come and accept the
Gospel offer of salvation-men who themselves
had long before been influenced by the pale-face preacher
to whom Softswan had already referred. The seed
had, in her case, fallen into good ground, and had
brought forth the fruit of an earnest desire to show
good-will to all with whom she had to do. It
had also aroused in her a hungering and thirsting
for more knowledge of God and His ways.
It was natural, therefore, as she
gazed on the splendid scene spread out before her,
that the thoughts of this child of the backwoods should
rise to contemplation of the Creator, and become less
attentive to inferior matters than circumstances required.
She was recalled suddenly to the danger
of her position by the appearance of a dark object,
which seemed to crawl out of the bushes below, just
where the zigzag track entered them. At the first
glance it seemed to resemble a bear; a second and
more attentive look suggested that it might be a man.
Whether bear or man, however, it was equally a foe,
at least so thought Softswan, and she raised one of
the guns to her shoulder with a promptitude that would
have done credit to Big Tim himself.
But she did not fire. The natural
disinclination to shed blood restrained her-fortunately,
as it turned out,-for the crawling object,
on reaching the open ground, rose with apparent difficulty
and staggered forward a few paces in what seemed to
be the form of a drunken man. After one or two
ineffectual efforts to ascend the track, the unfortunate
being fell and remained a motionless heap upon the