When the boatmen went over the top--that is to say, crossed over the Long Portage--they passed into the inner edge of the MacKenzie River basin, where they were re-formed into a brigade on the Clear Water River, and thence borne down-stream to their respective destinations on an ever increasing volume of water, the first appreciable increase being when they reached the confluence of the Clear Water and Athabasca Rivers, where on the bold intervening point stands Fort McMurray. The banks of the Athabasca River in this vicinity are very high--possibly one thousand feet--and are composed of a mixture of earth, sand and tar, which it is believed will be of great service at some future day for road making and other purposes. Tar in an unmixed state is also found in abundance, furnishing the Company with all that it needs in the North for boat-tightening purposes. There is also another place where the Company's voyageurs are wont to imbibe freely of the waters of a strongly flavoured sulphur spring; while at still another place natural gas has been known to be freely and continuously escaping for a long period, all of which, it is believed, goes to show that, given sufficient time for development, there are sure to be discoveries made in these regions which will not merely arouse wide-spread interest, but be of great benefit to the country.
It was not necessary to stop at nights while travelling down the Athabasca River, except for the purpose of "boiling the kettle," for before darkness set in the boats were lashed together, and thus united, the entire brigade safely and quietly floated onward while the boatmen lay contentedly on their backs and followed with their gaze the incense ascending from many pipes towards the star-spangled canopy above, till the pipes one by one went out and were set aside, while their owners dropped off to sleep and dreamed that portages and kindred trials were mostly behind, and that now they were being quickly borne towards "Home Sweet Home."
To those of them whose home was at Fort Chipewyan the dream was speedily fulfilled, for in two days the brigade covered the one hundred and seventy-five miles between Fort McMurray and the Athabasca Lake, and the wind being favourable, the boats proceeded under sail, making the ten miles to Fort Chipewyan in about one hour. This Fort is delightfully situated on the shore of the south-west end of the lake. The houses are neatly built and whitewashed and stand at the foot of the lofty hills which rise gradually to the north and are covered in most places with a rich growth of spruce and jack pine.
Chief Factor Churchill and his excellent lady were noted far and wide for their hospitality, and on this occasion they regaled the travellers with a meal from which they were not sorry to find flap-jack and pork excluded, and in their place such substitutes as fish and venison served with potatoes, cabbage and green peas, luxuries for which some of them were by this time extremely hungry.
The passengers in Mr. Stait's boat had now reached the parting of the ways. Mr. Stait went up the Peace River, Mr. Thomson remained at Fort Chipewyan, and Mr. Snow, Mr. Findlay and Mr. Kidd continued northward with the MacKenzie River brigade. This brigade now commenced the descent of the Great Slave River, which is the name given to that portion of the MacKenzie River through which the Athabasca Lake is emptied into Great Slave Lake. In the descent of this section of the MacKenzie about half a dozen portages and as many rapids were successfully passed; and in a few days the brigade camped at Fort Resolution, which stands at the entrance of the river into Great Slave Lake.
On the morning of the following day a gale was blowing from the north, but late in the forenoon, after a lengthy consultation between Mr. Bayard and the guide, Sherboneau, it was decided that the wind had so far subsided that it would be safe to proceed, so after an early dinner the guide shouted the order to embark.
The course taken was south-west, in which direction lay Hay River post, seventy-five miles distant, with Pine Point about thirty miles on the way, the nearest place where it was practicable to make a landing on account of the sea that was on.
Whatever the voyageurs may have felt at the prospect of a thirty mile sail over such a sea, it was only a little of what they felt when they came to try it, for time and again when a white-crested wave would strike upon a low-lying starboard gunwale, it would break over the boat and sprinkle the occupants. But once in the open there was nothing for it but to keep straight ahead, with no other relief than that of easing off to larboard when a particularly huge wave was seen to be advancing.
By the time the first of the boats had reached shelter, the last one had fallen far to the rear and gave the onlookers on shore some minutes of anxiety as they watched its reelings to and fro. Some blamed the boat, some the steersman, and once an inexperienced and nervous party gave a loud gasp of horror, believing that it had taken its last plunge; but it had not. On it came again like some live creature threatened with death, but determined to live--slowly, surely and bravely fighting its way to the place of safety, and when at length it rounded the point that was to give it shelter, there went up a hearty cheer from those on land, to which those on board as heartily responded.
Mr. Bayard, looking into the boat, and seeing that the cargo was all there and all right, remarked to the steersman, "You got through, but it was 'atatow'" (Cree word for hardly). And a Scottish greenhorn, catching on to the Cree word, asked Mr. Kidd, "What does that mean?" He replied, "The same as the English 'nip and tuck,' or 'touch and go,' or 'by the skin of the teeth.' And how, may I ask, would a Scotsman say 'atatow' in Gaelic?" The Scotsman told him; and often afterwards, on the remainder of this voyage, these simple-minded voyageurs got very considerable fun from saying "hardly" in three languages and with varying degrees of success.
By the time the boatmen had refreshed themselves for the third time that day with bannock, bacon and tea, the wind had so far subsided that it was deemed safe to resume the journey. The sailing from this point to Hay River Post was a pleasure; but in entering the river for the purpose of landing at the post one of the steersmen missed the channel, and the boat, striking a sand-bar, was in imminent danger of being swamped.
As it turned out, everybody on board had his own theory as to what was the proper thing to do when a fully laden boat sailing over a rough lake suddenly strikes a sand-bar. Some were for jumping in to the lake to lift the boat over; some were starting to lower the sail; another found a pole and pushed on it all he was good for. As for the steersman, he spread himself over the stern-sheets and screamed orders in three languages what not to do, and especially did he implore them not to lower the sail. Perhaps he was right. At any rate, it was his place to know what not to do, except perhaps to scream, and after a second bump, the waves, most likely assisted by the sail, carried the boat over the bar.
As the afternoon was wearing on and the boatmen were anxious to make the most of the favourable wind, the voyage was continued after a half hour's stay at Hay River. The course taken was now north-west in the direction of Big Island, where the shores of the lake gradually grow closer until they form the banks of the MacKenzie River proper.
Night was coming on when the camping place was first discernible in the distance, and gave opportunity for another feat of super-navigation such as that accomplished on Lake Winnipeg, as already described. Again it was a starless night of almost inky blackness, yet Sherboneau confidently told his fellow-steersman that he would go ahead, and on entering the harbour, set birch bark alight on a pole to show them the way in. And he did just as he said, let who will explain how.
Early the next day the brigade reached Fort Providence, which stands at the right bank of the river about forty miles from Big Island. There is a large Roman Catholic Mission at this place, which includes a convent.
From Fort Providence to Fort Simpson, travelling went on night and day precisely as on the Athabasca River. Once only did the travellers stop long enough to do more than prepare for a floating meal, and that was at Rabbitskin River, twenty-three miles from Fort Simpson, where they landed long enough to deliver a few letters to one L------and his family who were keeping a small ranch for the Hudson's Bay Company. The visit was, no doubt, something long to be remembered, and the visitors crowded into them all the news they could think of in the short time at their disposal.
On arriving at Fort Simpson the visitors and residents of the fort enjoyed each other's company for a few days, and then the former began to leave for their respective stations. Mr. Findlay was appointed to fill a vacancy at Fort Liard, due to the officer, Mr. Donald, who had been in charge for years, being absent on furlough. It was not usual with the Hudson's Bay Company thus to give so young a man his first opportunity of actual fur-trading by placing him in charge of so important a post; but then his superiors took his early up-bringing into consideration as well as his character and popularity. They knew him to be a favourite among the Company's employees, and that his knowledge of Indians and his kindly disposition would make it an easy matter for him to adapt himself to the requirements of the fur trade, and they made no mistake; the loyalty with which employees and Indians alike served under him, was wonderful; and the secret of it all was the kindness and consideration with which he treated every one. Mr. Findlay knew Fort Liard rather well by description long before he had seen it, and afterwards learned from actual observation that the upper Liard and upper Peace River countries are strikingly alike in soil, climate and scenery, and also alike noted for a plentiful supply of i moose and such fur-bearing animals as bear and beaver.
When he arrived at Fort Liard he found about fifty Indian families camped there, who were wont to assemble thus every autumn, as did the Indians of other northern tribes at their respective trading posts, in order to have a social time together and also to secure their winter supplies of clothing and ammunition, and the three commodities--tobacco, tea and sugar, which, like people of other shades and colours, they seem to regard as both necessities and luxuries.
As might be expected when the Hudson's Bay Company came to do business with the Indians, it would adapt itself to some extent to their intelligence and methods, and for that reason the credit system and Indian present figured largely in its dealings with them. After all, when one gets down to the root of the matter, there is not such a difference as may appear on the surface between the uncultured Indian's notion of business and those of his white brother, and the Hudson's Bay Company soon found that out and harmonized the two to their mutual satisfaction. Everything was done with a view of encouraging the Indians to hunt, and when they did, they expected to make two ends meet, which they usually did. If, however, through sickness or other misfortune they failed, they could, on the strength of a good record, find grace in the sight of the officer in charge. In all good business there is a scope for the practice of benevolence, for though money makes the mare go, it takes benevolence to make it go cheerfully. It may go well at eight per cent; it will go better at one per saint, always better than a ten per cent rebate which may be only a camouflage. In this cold and practical world it seems necessary to put a premium on imagination and a rebate of five or even ten per cent M a polite concession to our imaginary independence.
The Hudson's Bay Company's neat little motto, "pro pelle cutem," may be regarded as a manly appeal to a manly love of independence and a declaration of its purpose "to be true and just in all its dealings," yet it has been insinuated that the motto also gave out a hint of what was liable to befall the hairy scalp of possible enemies; but, of course, reference is therein made to a much less ferocious animal than he whose tongue has never been tamed, viz., to the beaver which was selected by the Company as the standard of value, always provided that it was a made beaver, it being evidently assumed that however high a beaver might carry its head as it swam its native waters, or however loudly it might slap those waters with its powerful tail as it disappeared beneath them, it remained an unmade creature until such time as somebody laid it out, and next laid it on its back and drew a sharp knife down its belly from its chin to its tail as the preliminary to the removal of its skin, which being stretched tightly over a frame and dried, became then a made beaver. This was the literal thing or standard meant by the Company's officials when in their book-keeping they wrote M. B.
In Mr. Findlay's time the skin and M. B. were synonymous terms as regards value. To an outsider who might purchase from the Company's store by the M. B. but make payment in cash, the M. B. worked out at about fifty cents. In later years, in consequence of keen competition, the made beaver doubled its price and the name became paradoxical, and pro pelle cutem as applied in practice meant two skins for a skin. Later still, when the spread was further widened by reduction in the price of goods, the purchasing power of the pelt, which was the original standard of value, was more than quadrupled. Yet the Indians became decidedly poorer, because the greater inducements to hunt acted adversely on the supply of fur-bearing animals.
The Hudson's Bay Company's method of doing business with the Indians was no doubt well thought out as well as tactfully carried out, so that the Indians, as a rule, learned to place absolute confidence in the word of a Hudson's Bay official or master as they were wont to call him; indeed it would be a good thing for the world if the educated portions of the human family placed as much confidence in the Bible as the Indians of the North did in the absolute dependableness of whatever went into the books of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Need it be said it was the policy of the Company to help the Indians verify, as far as they were capable of doing, the correctness of their accounts.
In this connection it may be said that a beneficent Creator would seem to have designed or approved of the decimal system of reckoning, when He provided His rational creatures with ten fingers; and in their calculating the Indians certainly made good use of these ready reckoners, and they were allowed by the Company to supplement them on shopping days by means of artificial counters.
Sometimes as a preliminary to the outfitting of the Indians, the officer in charge would have them meet him in the large hall on the evening of a convenient day, when the number of M. B. to be allowed each hunter would be settled. In doing this the consideration was given in the first place to the man's record as a hunter, and in the second place to the size of his family; and if, in the latter respect, there was a disparity between two men who were equal in the other respect, precedence was given to the man with the larger family. Only one hunter or a hunter and his wife were allowed to enter the saleshop at the same time. Then supposing the number of M. B. arranged for was one hundred, that number of counters in the form of large feathers, small sticks or lead discs would be passed over to the hunter, who would arrange them on the counter in ten piles of ten each. Then purchasing started, probably with an order for tea. If the purchase was five pounds, one of the little piles was passed over. If he next ordered ten pounds of sugar, another of the little piles disappeared, and so it went on until all were gone. Then most likely the hunter and his wife would jog each other's memories, and remember something else which was much to be desired, and the master would just as likely be quite prepared for this and consent to a trifling additional advance, and possibly finish off with a much valued present of a few raisins or a pound or so of chocolate or something equally tasty.
Among the purchases there was sure to be a four-point blanket or a large shawl, and into this the squaw would carefully place their purchases, and knotting the corners securely together, would pass them over her shoulders, and if her husband could in any sense have been said to be burdened with her support, she certainly relieved him of the heavier end of that burden when she meekly bowed her head to carry the huge bundle of newly acquired wealth, and then followed him, as with head erect he led the way to their lodge--both probably as nearly in a state of ecstasy as was possible for them, simply because the master had trusted them, and in their bundle was as much sugar as would sweeten their cup for a whole moon, and tobacco enough to provide them smokes for a few moons longer, and--after that! Well! Just after that--?
By the end of November the last of the Indians had left for their hunting grounds, and by that date also, the men of the establishment had put their houses in first-class condition for resisting the usual siege of winter.
Mr. Kidd, who was given the supervision of this work, told the men that they were to be as wise as the bear and provide themselves with a comfortable nest before it became too cold. After this had been done Mr. Findlay informed them that they were not to follow the example of the bear any further, by starting to lick their paws in a semi-dormant condition, and he now gave them a general outline of what they were to do, by starting each man to his work. This was done systematically but without trying to secure service according to cast-iron rule, for with his talent for leading, Mr. Findlay had no occasion to attempt driving. Our aim, he was wont to say confidentially to Mr. Kidd, should be to deprive ourselves and them of all excuses for idleness, for that man, is not yet born who can live in constant idleness without getting himself or others into mischief.
With respect to his own time there were many days during that winter when his official duties, all told, did not occupy over an hour, so he had to do some planning in order that the other twenty-three might be spent pleasantly, harmlessly or usefully. On an average he spent two hours daily taking physical exercise in the bracing wintry air, either in visiting his string of traps or in taking a drive by dog-train. In addition to this he took some more physical exercise within doors over a carpenter's bench, making some neat chairs and other household furniture, for which Mrs. Donald sent him her hearty thanks as soon as she saw them on her return from her visit to the south. With equal satisfaction he spent some hours every day in reading the books which he had taken up with him from the splendid circulating library at Fort Simpson, and also in solving all manner of mathematical problems, of which, no doubt, a goodly number were only negatively useful. Lastly he devoted some time to brightening the lives of the Company's employees, and by these various means escaped the perils of idleness to which his good mother had referred at parting, when she said to him with tears in her eyes: "Ah, my boy, it's those long spells with nothing to do which try one so in the North." To which remark he had replied with a laugh: "Never fear, mother, there will be no long spells, for I am going to run opposition to his Satanic majesty by keeping myself and everybody about me busy."
The Company's establishment at Fort Liard consisted of eight unmarried men and four married couples, twenty souls in all. Among the married men was one William Godfrey, who seemed to be of use to the Company chiefly because he was so insinuatingly good-natured and easy going that he helped to make the established order of things work out smoothly. He always took a brotherly interest in what his neighbours were doing or might do, and gave them credit for being equally interested in his undertakings and good intentions, with which he was always ready to make them acquainted, acknowledging at the same time his dependence upon Providence, by prefacing his remarks with the expression, "please God to spare me."
Perhaps to a married man in a Hudson's Bay out-post there could be no softer billet than the one which would come his way should his wife happen to be engaged as cook in the big house, and that was the pleasant lot which fell to Mr. Godfrey, largely, no doubt, on account of his insinuating good-nature, as well as because his wife was known to have mastered the three arts of boiling, frying and roasting.
As Mr. George Kidd had now been raised to the rank of clerk, he occupied a place in the officers' quarters, and now with Mr. Godfrey quartered in the kitchen with his wife, it could be said that Mr. Findlay had with him under the same roof two lieutenants who by natural disposition were all fitted to aid him in making the winter at Fort Liard pleasant and profitable to the residents of the fort.
Of a chance Company's officer it might be said that he preserved his dignity at the cost of his popularity; but, whether in doing so he advanced the interests of the Company or the better promoted his own happiness is extremely doubtful. As to Mr. Findlay he knew from the example of his father and other good men in the service, that the officer who respects himself in all his dealings with others can safely go a long way side by side with those others, without forfeiting either their respect or their affection. Mr. Findlay, therefore, felt safe in following the common practice of the Company's officers of occupying the hall of the big house for an hour or so every evening after tea, where in winter time they sat before the cheerful open fire and smoked a friendly pipe together on the level, discussing the news of the day if there were any, or such other subjects as might be felt to have some bearing on the affairs of their own little world. Generally when the men were thus engaged, the lour women of the fort were also taking care of each other by getting together in one or other of their houses.
On the Sunday morning following the departure of the Indians for their hunting grounds, Mr. Findlay and Mr. Kidd, while seated at breakfast, discussed the usual manner in which Sunday was observed at the Company's out-posts. The conversation commenced by Mr. Findlay remarking to his companion, "I suppose you are aware, George, that there is a rule on the Company's books to the effect that in any of their trading posts where there are Protestants, the Anglican Church service shall be read for their benefit by the officer in charge at least once a Sunday?"
"Yes, I know that Mr.------observes the rule regarding Sunday; but you should just hear him on Monday when he gets mad with one of his Indians."
"Oh, well, any man who has to deal with Chipewyans should have some allowance made for him if occasionally 'the head flies off the handle.' As to the placing of such a rule on their books as the one we are speaking of, I do think it is a credit to the Company; but, of course, it was not intended to be compulsory, for to attempt to constrain men by rule to a course in which their sympathies are not enlisted, is to ensure the frustration of the purpose intended, for the rule will fall into contempt and be treated as a farce.
"My father and some of his contemporaries observed the rule; and speaking from personal knowledge I can say that it was productive of much good. Now, however, because there are a few more missionaries in the country, we Hudson's Bay officials appear to excuse ourselves from anything so serious as conducting a religious service.
"The situation presents itself to me in this light. I cannot roll the burden of the twenty souls residing in this Fort Liard upon the shoulders of the nearest missionary who happens to be hundreds of miles from here. Therefore, in a moral sense these twenty souls face me, and say, 'Well, Mr. Ookimao (master), what can you do for us? You are educated. You can tell us things which will help to drive away Kuskeyihten, and make us brave and strong to do right.' And what can I say? With the utter absence of the public ordinances of religion I feel that I am placed under moral obligation to give them such a service as will at least revive sacred memories of religious privileges which they enjoyed in other places, bringing some cheer into their lonely lives and enabling them to brace up and go forward, 'steadfast in faith and joyful through hope.'"
Said Mr. Kidd to Mr. Findlay, "You just start this thing, and count on me to stand by you through thick and thin, for apart from the good it would do me and others, I know of two good women--my mother and Miss Linden--who would laugh for very joy, because well do they know, as well as we, that though religion does not in every case make a man good, it gives him a better fighting chance in that direction than anything else on earth that we know of."
Mr. Findlay and Mr. Kidd agreed that if there were any kind of religious service to which all might be induced to come regularly, it would be a service of song, so it was decided to start one at seven o'clock that very evening in the hall.
About an hour after this had been settled, they adjourned to the hall, where they were joined by Mr. Godfrey, who simultaneously entered from the kitchen to enjoy a smoke with them according to his sociable nature.
When informed by Mr. Findlay of the service of song to be held in the hall every Sunday evening, he clasped his hands and looking up devoutly said: "Splendid, sir! Splendid! And won't it take our thoughts back to the many happy hours spent that way in good Red River Settlement. When I first came out to the North, sir, I did very much miss the Sunday services; but a man gets used to anything, sir, and I soon got to be like the rest at breaking Sunday; but one Sunday morning, sir, I got a lesson that cured me for the rest of my life, sir. You see that old wound, sir?" As hp spoke he held up his left hand, upon the thumb of which a slight scar was discernible after very close scrutiny.
"Let us have the story," said Mr. Findlay.
"Well it was this way, sir, and this happened at Great Slave Lake when I had been three years in the Company's service under Mr. Blackburn. I don't know, sir, if the devil has anything to do with the fowls of the air, but anyhow, that spring the wavies arrived on a Sunday and there were tens of thousands of them. Flock after flock I noticed them make for a favourite feeding place of theirs--a point about a mile from the fort. Taking my double barrel I made for that point, keeping under cover of the bush until I knew I was opposite the flock from the noise they were making. Then I made straight for them and easily got within good shooting distance. There they were, sir, digging in the gravel like so many pigs, and more flocks coming and the most awful noise going on all the time, 'cao, cao, cao, cao, ga-ga-ga-ga,' you know, sir. Now for it, says I to myself. And I rose to my feet and as they rose pulled the left trigger, and I never got a chance to pull the other, for that first shot had blown the barrel of my gun to smithers and my right shoulder was aching, my left ear ringing and my left thumb bleeding; and from that day to the present I have not fired another shot on Sunday, for I believe the man who breaks Sunday come to grief sooner or later."
"Mr. Godfrey," said Mr. Kidd, "you and Sir Mathew Hale, I notice, are of the same opinion on that last point; but he does not express himself in quite the same words. He puts it this way:
'A sabbath profaned,
Whate'er may be gained,
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow.'
Possibly he had heard of your accident."
Then the two last speakers looked at each other without giving themselves away--Mr. Kidd quite displeased that he could not be quite sure whether Mr. Godfrey knew that he was only joking, while the latter was sufficiently cunning not to let on that he didn't know for certain whether he was.
Were it only those deeds which are performed from purely disinterested motives that are to meet with a Divine reward, no doubt the bounty of heaven would not be very severely taxed; but heaven knows how necessary it is to pronounce those men and women disinterested and unselfish who become so intent on each other's good, that each forgets to reserve a soft place for himself or herself, and when it is said that the service of song carried on at Fort Liard was begun and continued on through the winter from purely disinterested motives, that is the sense in which the words are to be understood. It was a success because all realized its need, and also realized that the more thoroughly they were united in its attainment the greater the good to them individually, and considering the nature of their quest, let us believe that they had suppressed all selfish promptings in a manner most creditable to earthly mortals. It has to be admitted, however, that the personality of the leader in this service had something to do with its success, for who does not know that there are empty pews in many a church which are to be attributed to a lack in the personality of the minister?
Perhaps the fact of Mr. Findlay not being a minister was not entirely to his disadvantage in his humble religious undertaking, for one of the married couples, Mr. and Mrs. Beauchamin, were Roman Catholics, and when Mr. Kidd went to invite them to the service of song he made the most of Mr. Findlay being just a layman. Perhaps he need not have done that, for these two, like the others, were devoted to the master, and although at first Mrs. Beauchamin had acted bashfully, a common trouble with the younger women of the North on meeting strangers, she soon forgot that, and at Mr. Findlay's brief visits, on his entrance and departure, would unite with her husband in a hearty, "Bonjour, Monsieur."
Co-incident with the first of these social evenings in the hall there were diligent preparations for the Christmas festivities, especially on the part of the women, who vied with each other in displaying their skill with the needle, and elegant moccasins, leggings, fire-bags and the like were being made ready against the great New Year's dance. Then there were preparations for the dispatch of the regular mid-winter packet, an event which was especially interesting to Mr. Findlay and Mr. Kidd, both from an official and private standpoint.
Mr. Findlay wrote a long letter to Nellie Blain, which he began and ended by representing himself as her very dear friend, fully knowing that she, as a clever young lady, would perfectly understand what he meant, and clearly foresee the climax to which such a style of address must inevitably lead, especially with a little encouragement on her part as well as his own. He gave her a graphic account of his journey out, and of the North country and his doings since his arrival, stating that so far he was not wholly dissatisfied with his success as an Okimasis. Then he went on to say that he did not suppose that she would be very much surprised to hear that he often thought of her, and sometimes had even gone so far as to dream about her. He also told her that he was looking forward to the day next summer when they would meet at Fort Chipewyan, when he and other eligible young officers would doubtless be competing for her smiles, each, of course, hoping to be regarded preferentially.
Mr. Kidd also wrote to Miss Linden, in which he gave a fine description of the country, saying that he was quite pleased with it as well as his own work, only that the country would be better for a few more ladies, and that his work might also be better if he had the aid of just one particular lady. Referring to their last meeting, he said that he was living up to the resolution then unanimously passed; but that he was not struck on amendments. "Don't you try it on yourself. I took you just as you were, and I don't risk any changes. As to when we are to meet again, I think at present we can only go over the old ground: it may be a year. It may be two. Perhaps it will be three. ..."
With the packet off his hands, Mr. Findlay felt that he was not likely to be needed at the fort, so one morning, after talking the matter over with Mr. Kidd, it was decided that the two should each in turn go on a moose hunt under the direction of one of the fort hunters, a Cree named Panawis.
Mr. Findlay took his turn first, and in a few days returned after having killed a fine doe, the meat of which was brought in by one of the men to whom meat hauling was specially assigned, and who, for that reason, was called a meat hauler. As this was the first venison brought to the fort for over two months, and the rations both in quality and quantity were already on a downward scale, everyone felt highly pleased, and that evening, when the men assembled before the open fire for the usual social hour, they became quite enthusiastic over Mr. Findlay's prowess as a hunter.
At this season in the North the residents in many an out-post looked upon the fort hunter as standing between them and starvation, and the joy of Christmas and New Year was sometimes affected by a rather unpromising outlook as to the necessary supply of food for the winter. And no wonder, for every old timer in the Company's service could tell of trying experiences of starvation in one or more of the posts where he had lived, when one meal a day would have to suffice for a week or a month, or three little meals, if one preferred it that way, with plenty of tea and smokes, in any case, worked in between. Fort Liard itself had its tragic story of something which had happened within the recollection of the older inhabitants.
An officer and one other employee were sent to the fort in autumn, and nothing having been heard of them during the entire winter, a party was sent out in spring to see what had happened. The officer was found alone, and was keeping himself alive by snaring rabbits, at that season beginning to have their young. He gave some strange explanation as to the absence of his companion, who has never been heard of unto this day, thereby furnishing occasion for all manner of speculation as to his probable fate.
As the residents of Fort Liard were familiar with this story, they might well be pleased to know that if things came to the worst there were men in the fort who could be relied upon to procure larger game than rabbits.
On comparing notes, it was found that Godfrey was the only country-born man among them who had never killed a moose, and on Mr. Findlay expressing surprise, he said, "Well, sir, I am surprised at it myself; but please God to spare me, I'll kill one yet before I die. And do you know, sir, I think it would help me to go off more easy-like, particularly if the meat were as sweet as that of the one you killed."
"Cheer up! Mr. Godfrey," said Mr. Kidd. "You know the Indians believe in the happy hunting grounds."
"Yes, but I am no heathen."
Mr. Kidd here turned to Mr. Findlay and said, "I suppose, sir, Mr. Godfrey and I could not both be spared from the fort at the same time?"
Mr. Findlay appeared to think the matter over for half a minute, and then replied with a smile, "It will be a most difficult thing to spare Mr, Godfrey; but then the prospect of an extra moose at a time like this is not to be despised, and if it will be a comfort to Mr. Godfrey to have a moose fall by his own hand before his own time is up, by all Weans let him have the chance. We'll get along without him somehow for a little while."
And so it was that in the cold, short days of January, when the sun remained only about four hours above the horizon, Messrs. Kidd and Godfrey set out on their hunt, accompanied by one dog-driver and his team.