When next day the band resumed the
journey, it became evident that May-may-gwan was to
be punished for her demonstration of the night before.
Her place in the bow of old Moose Cow’s canoe
was taken by a little girl, and she was left to follow
as best she might on foot.
The travel ashore was exceedingly
difficult. A dense forest growth of cedar and
tamarack pushed to the very edge of the water, and
the rare open beaches were composed of smooth rocks
too small to afford secure footing, and too large
to be trodden under. The girl either slipped and
stumbled on insecure and ankle-twisting shale, or forced
a way through the awful tangle of a swamp. As
the canoeing at this point was not at all difficult,
her utmost efforts could not keep her abreast of the
Truth to tell May-may-gwan herself
did not appear to consider that she was hardly used.
Indeed she let her hair down about her face, took off
the brilliant bits of color that had adorned her garments,
and assumed the regulation downcast attitude of a
penitent. But Dick Herron was indignant.
“Look here, Sam,” said
he, “this thing ain’t right at all.
She got into all this trouble on our account, and
we’re riding canoe here slick as carcajou in
a pork cache while she pegs along afoot. Let’s
take her aboard.”
“Won’t do,” replied
Sam, briefly, “can’t interfere. Let
those Injuns run themselves. They’re more
or less down on us as it is.”
“Oh, you’re too slow!”
objected Dick. “What the hell do we care
for a lot of copper-skins from Rupert’s House!
We ain’t got anything to ask from them but a
few pairs of moccasins, and if they don’t want
to make them for us, they can use their buckskin to
tie up their sore heads!”
He thrust his paddle in close to the
bow and twisted the canoe towards shore.
“Come on, Sam,” said he, “show your
The older man said nothing. His
steady blue eyes rested on his companion’s back
not unkindly, although a frown knit the brows above
“Come here, little sister,” cried Dick
to the girl.
She picked her way painfully through the scrub to
the edge of the bank.
“Get into the canoe,” commanded Dick.
She drew back in deprecation.
she objected, in very real terror. “The
old-men have commanded that I take the Long Way, and
who am I that I should not obey? It cannot be.”
“Get in here,” ordered Dick, obstinately.
“My brother is good to me, but
I cannot, for the head men have ordered. It would
go very hard with me, if I should disobey.”
“Oh, hell!” exploded petulant
Dick in English, slamming his paddle down against
He leaped ashore, picked the girl
up bodily, threw her almost with violence into the
canoe, thrust the light craft into the stream, and
resumed his efforts, scowling savagely.
The girl dropped her face in her hands.
When the white men’s craft overtook the main
band, she crouched still lower, shuddering under the
grim scrutiny of her people. Dick’s lofty
scorn looked neither to right nor left, but paddled
fiercely ahead until the Indians were well astern
and hidden by the twists of the river. Sam Bolton
proceeded serenely on in his accustomed way.
Only, when the tribesmen had been
left behind, he leaned forward and began to talk to
the girl in low-voiced Ojibway, comforting her with
many assurances, as one would comfort a child.
After a time she ceased trembling and looked up.
But her glance made no account of the steady, old
man who had so gently led her from her slough of despond,
but rested on the straight, indignant back of the
glorious youth who had cast her into it. And
Sam Bolton, knowing the ways of a maid, merely sighed,
and resumed his methodical paddling.
At the noon stop and on portage it
was impossible to gauge the feeling of the savages
in regard to the matter, but at night the sentiment
was strongly enough marked. May-may-gwan herself,
much to her surprise, was no further censured, and
was permitted to escape with merely the slights and
sneers the women were able to inflict on her.
Perhaps her masters, possessed of an accurate sense
of justice, realised that the latter affair had not
been her fault. Or, what is more likely, their
race antagonism, always ready in these fierce men
of the Silent Places, seized instinctively on this
excuse to burst into a definite unfriendliness.
The younger men drew frankly apart. The older
made it a point to sit by the white men’s fire,
but they conversed formally and with many pauses.
Day by day the feeling intensified. A strong wind
had followed from the north for nearly a week, and
so, of course, they had seen no big game, for the
wary animals scented them long before they came in
sight. Meat began to run low. So large a
community could not subsist on the nightly spoils
of the net and traps. The continued ill-luck
was attributed to the visitors. Finally camp was
made for a day while Crooked Nose, the best trailer
and hunter of them all, went out to get a caribou.
Dick, hoping thus to win a little good will, lent his
Winchester for the occasion.
The Indian walked very carefully through
the mossy woods until he came upon a caribou trail
still comparatively fresh. Nobody but Crooked
Nose could have followed the faint indications, but
he did so, at first rapidly, then more warily, finally
at a very snail’s pace. His progress was
noiseless. Such a difficult result was accomplished
primarily by his quickness of eye in selecting the
spots on which to place his feet, and also to a great
extent by the fact that he held his muscles so pliantly
tense that the weight of his body came down not all
at once, but in increasing pressure until the whole
was supported ready for the next step. He flowed
through the woods.
When the trail became fresh he often
paused to scrutinise closely, to smell, even to taste
the herbage broken by the animal’s hoofs.
Once he startled a jay, but froze into immobility
before that watchman of the woods had sprung his alarm.
For full ten minutes the savage poised motionless.
Then the bird flitted away, and he resumed his careful
It was already nearly noon. The
caribou had been feeding slowly forward. Now
he would lie down. And Crooked Nose knew very
well that the animal would make a little detour to
right or left so as to be able to watch his back track.
Crooked Nose redoubled his scrutiny
of the broken herbage. Soon he left the trail,
moving like a spirit, noiselessly, steadily, but so
slowly that it would have required a somewhat extended
observation to convince you that he moved at all.
His bead-like black eyes roved here and there.
He did not look for a caribou no such fool
he but for a splotch of brown, a deepening
of shadow, a contour of surface which long experience
had taught him could not be due to the forest’s
ordinary play of light and shade. After a moment
his gaze centred. In the lucent, cool, green
shadow of a thick clump of moose maples he felt rather
than discerned a certain warmth of tone. You
and I would probably have missed the entire shadow.
But Crooked Nose knew that the warmth of tone meant
the brown of his quarry’s summer coat.
He cocked his rifle.
But a caribou is a large animal, and
only a few spots are fatal. Crooked Nose knew
better than to shoot at random. He whistled.
The dark colour dissolved. There
were no abrupt movements, no noises, but suddenly
the caribou seemed to develop from the green shadow
mist, to stand, his ears pricked forward, his lustrous
eyes wide, his nostrils quivering toward the unknown
something that had uttered the sound. It was
like magic. An animal was now where, a moment
before, none had been.
Crooked Nose raised the rifle, sighted
steadily at the shoulder, low down, and pulled the
trigger. A sharp click alone answered his
intention. Accustomed only to the old trade-gun,
he had neglected to throw down and back the lever
which should lift the cartridge from the magazine.
Instantly the caribou snorted aloud
and crashed noisily away. A dozen lurking Canada
jays jumped to the tops of spruces and began to scream.
Red squirrels, in all directions, alternately whirred
their rattles and chattered in an ecstasy of rage.
The forest was alarmed.
Crooked Nose glanced at the westering
sun, and set out swiftly in a direct line for the
camp of his companions. Arrived there he marched
theatrically to the white men, cast the borrowed rifle
at their feet, and returned to the side of the fire,
where he squatted impassively on his heels. The
hunt had failed.
All the rest of the afternoon the
men talked sullenly together. There could be
no doubt that trouble was afoot. Toward night
some of the younger members grew so bold as to cast
fierce looks in the direction of the white visitors.
Finally late in the evening old Haukemah
came to them. For some time he sat silent and
grave, smoking his pipe, and staring solemnly into
“Little Father,” said
he at last, “you and I are old men. Our
blood is cool. We do not act quickly. But
other men are young. Their blood is hot and swift,
and it is quick to bring them spirit-thoughts.
They say you have made the wind, kee-way-din, the
north wind, to blow so that we can have no game.
They say you conjured Crooked Nose so that he brought
back no caribou, although he came very near it.
They say, too, that you seek a red man to do him a
harm, and their hearts are evil toward you on that
account. They say you have made the power of the
old-men as nothing, for what they commanded you denied
when you brought our little sister in your canoe.
I know nothing of these things, except the last, which
was foolishness in the doing,” the old man glanced
sharply at Dick, puffed on his nearly extinguished
pipe until it was well alight, and went on. “My
brothers say they are looking places for winter posts;
I believe them. They say their hearts are kind
toward my people; I believe them. Kee-way-din,
the north wind, has many times before blown up the
river, and Crooked Nose is a fool. My heart is
good toward you, but it is not the heart of my young
men. They murmur and threaten. Here our
trails fork. My brothers must go now their own
“Good,” replied Sam, after
a moment. “I am glad my brother’s
heart is good toward me, and I know what young men
are. We will go. Tell your young men.”
An expression of relief overspread
Haukemah’s face. Evidently the crisis had
been more grave than he had acknowledged. He thrust
his hand inside his loose capote and brought forth
a small bundle.
“Moccasins,” said he.
Sam looked them over. They were
serviceable, strong deerskin, with high tops of white
linen cloth procured at the Factory, without decoration
save for a slender line of silk about the tongue.
Something approaching a smile flickered over old Haukemah’s
countenance as he fished out of his side pocket another
“For Eagle-eye,” he said,
handing them to Dick. The young man had gained
the sobriquet, not because of any remarkable clarity
of vision, but from the peculiar aquiline effect of
his narrow gaze.
The body of the moccasins were made
of buckskin as soft as silk, smoked to a rich umber.
The tops were of fawnskin, tanned to milky white.
Where the two parts joined, the edges had been allowed
to fall half over the foot in an exaggerated welt,
lined brilliantly with scarlet silk. The ornamentation
was heavy and elaborate. Such moccasins often
consume, in the fashioning, the idle hours of months.
The Indian girl carries them with her everywhere,
as her more civilised sister carries an embroidery
frame. On dress occasions in the Far North a man’s
standing with his womenkind can be accurately gauged
by the magnificence of his foot-gear.
“The gift of May-may-gwan,” explained
“Well, I’ll be damned!” said Dick,
“Will my brother be paid in tea or in tobacco?”
inquired Sam Bolton.
“Let these remind you always
that my heart is good,” said he. “I
may tell my young men that you go?”
“Yes. We are grateful for these.”
“Old fellow’s a pretty
decent sort,” remarked Dick, after Haukemah had
“There couldn’t anything
have happened better for us!” cried Sam.
“Here I was wondering how we could get away.
It wouldn’t do to travel with them much longer,
and it wouldn’t do to quit them without a good
reason. I’m mighty relieved to get shut
of them. The best way over into the Kabinakagam
is by way of a little creek the Injuns call the Mattawishguia,
and that ought to be a few hours ahead of us now.”
He might have added that all these annoyances, which
he was so carefully discounting, had sprung from Dick’s
thoughtlessness; but he was silent, sure of the young
man’s value when the field of his usefulness
should be reached.