Panawis and his wife had been to the fort for the New Year festivities, and the pleasant recollections thereof were still fresh in their minds. Somehow, too, when going through the lively steps and turns of the Red River Jig, they had risen a notch in their self esteem, so that even the Company's officers themselves were not too awfully above them, and these visits of theirs coming so soon after was another social uplift. Of course, with their socialistic upbringing and unsophisticated ideas, the absence of a partition in their lodge did not interfere with their ability to entertain Mr. Kidd and his companion, and if, in doing so, they were obliged for the time being to renounce the privacy of their home, a certain modesty coupled with ingenuity enabled them to do so without inflicting undue discomfort or inconvenience on themselves or their guests.
Mr. Findlay had arranged for Mr. Kidd's visit, so that the hunter and his wife were not taken unawares. The tent was fresh carpeted throughout with spruce brush. Preparations for a hearty meal were set going the minute they entered, and the very best they had and plenty of it was set before the hungry travellers. After doing full justice to the meal set before them, Mr. Kidd presented to their host and hostess some tea, sugar, chocolate and flour, in all about five pounds. It was evident that they were highly delighted and very thankful, and well might Panawis, who was a regular voyageur, enjoy his share of such things, as he had helped bring them thousands of miles, carrying some of them part of the way on his back.
Next morning it was still quite dark when Panawis roused up his visitors and invited them to the breakfast which his wife had prepared, and the first streak of dawn was scarcely yet discernible when the three sportsmen left camp, Panawis taking the lead on his five-foot snowshoes and the others following on snowshoes of the ordinary size.
Panawis had discovered the fresh tracks of two moose on the previous day, and taking into account the direction of the wind, the character of the country and the habits of the moose, he now made a bee-line for a point where he was pretty certain he would run across their tracks again. He was not far astray, and it was still early in the forenoon when they crossed their path once more. Feeling carefully around their foot-prints, he was able to tell with certainty that they had passed there some time the day before. He then travelled to leeward in a curved line, and had not gone more than a mile when he came to their tracks once more, and this time pronounced them quite fresh. In subdued tones he pointed to a small birch with its twigs eaten off, and then to some recent droppings, with the remark, "Mitooni keespoowuk" (they are quite full). Knowing from the time of day and the telltale marks he saw about him, that the moose were likely even now lying down somewhere nearby--knowing also the wonderful cunning shown by these animals in selecting their bed, which they unfailingly do by circling back and selecting a spot close to where they had passed some time before, where they can to the best advantage employ the three senses, hearing, seeing and smelling, in detecting the approach of an enemy, and especially one who may be following their tracks--Panawis, pitting his intellect against the instincts of the moose, figured out approximately where they would be resting. They moved forward--again Panawis studied the situation--again they moved forward--for the last time they pause--the tension is getting too much for poor Godfrey--in desperation he is beginning to whisper to Mr. Kidd and had got as far as "Please G--" when Sh-h-h came from the Cree, who had crouched to the snow and was pointing to a certain spot. Almost at the same instant two moose were on their feet; but not for long, for two shots fired in quick succession brought them back to the snow whence they had risen. The first shot, according to previous arrangement, was by Godfrey, who took the animal to the right, and the second was by Mr. Kidd. The Indian laughed with pleasure, and turning towards his companions said, "Kinihta machinawao," You hunt well. It turned out that Mr. Godfrey had hit his animal in the head, inflicting a wound which was not immediately fatal, and as he approached it, it suddenly sprang to its feet, and being in a dazed condition, made a rush straight ahead, which unfortunately was in a line for Mr. Godfrey, who, being completely taken by surprise, evidently decided to give the moose the right of way, but in his haste to do so he stumbled, and falling on his back as the moose staggered past, he threw up his snowshoed feet and while kicking the air, let out a fearful roar. Scrambling hastily to his feet he was in the act of raising his gun when the staggering moose fell over for good. The first shot had done its work.
Mr. Kidd and Panawis came up to him, and with great difficulty keeping serious, congratulated him on his escape. The former remarked to Godfrey, "You were hardly spared that time," to which the latter replied, "I would not have been spared at all if I had not been smart enough to clear out of the way somehow," and again each looked at the other and wondered if what he heard was intended for a joke. Afterwards, when each heard the story repeated, he discovered the joke in the version of the other, and Mr. Godfrey learned to show that if he was the subject of a joke he was not an unsuspecting one, for when he listened to what Mr. Kidd had to say about his being spared, or about his quick foot-work when he escaped from the horns of the buck, he condescendingly stroked his beard and joined in the laughter which followed.
It did not take the hunters long to skin the moose and cache away the meat so that it would be safe from wolves and wolverines for the night. Then, after a drink of hot tea and a light lunch, they lit their pipes and started for the camp. It had taken them five hours to overtake the moose in daylight; it took them an hour and a half to get back to camp in the darkness, showing how slowly a good hunter travels when going after moose, especially when he is with companions, and how directly and quickly he can get home in the night after he has finished his day's work.
Next morning Mr. Kidd hired Panawis and his dog-train to assist the Company's man in hauling the meat of the two moose into the fort.
It took most of the day to get back to camp, and during that time the responsibility of entertaining Messrs. Kidd and Godfrey devolved upon Mrs. Panawis. The lodge was very quiet and she took occasion to remark that such was always the case where there were no children. This was opening enough to the innocent Mr. Godfrey to ask if she had never had any. With a solemn shake of her head she answered, "No, that is one of the good things which Kise Manitoo, God, has never given me and my partner."
"Some wives," said Godfrey, "get so many children that they don't know what to do, and some want just one, some two and others none at all."
"Namawiya Kwaiusk, not right," said the squaw. "No," said Godfrey, and so ended the discussion on this extremely delicate question, for Mr. Kidd just then said to his companion, "I think, Mr. Godfrey, you will do Mrs. Panawis more good if you will borrow her axe and take her place in procuring the day's supply of fuel, and I don't mind carrying home a pole or two myself."
After their evening meal, arrangements were settled regarding the return journey to the fort, and it was decided that on account of their loads and the depth of the snow, it would be necessary to camp once on the way. Mr. Kidd asked Mrs. Panawis if she would be afraid to stay alone for three days. "Not afraid," she replied, "but I do not like it." So he proposed to the hunter that he should take his wife along, and to this proposal they both readily agreed, and everyone forthwith said nice things about having a woman in the party. Mr. Godfrey remarked, "Forty miles there and back! Pretty good stretch that for an ookimaskwao," lady, at which everyone laughed, especially the lady herself. And Mr. Kidd said, "Pretty good joke, that, Godfrey," and that gentleman stroked his beard, while the expression on his face might have been taken to imply that he did not think that there was anything the matter with the place the joke had come from.
When travelling in the North during the short wintry days, the mid-day meal is always a very hasty affair, and therefore the selection of a place and preparation for it are not always treated as important; but for the night's encampment the finest natural shelter that can be found is desirable, as well as a good supply of fuel at a convenient distance. Our party of five selected such a place for their encampment on their way to the fort, and there, like the experienced and industrious travellers that they were, they spared no pains to make themselves as comfortable a resting-place for the night as circumstances would permit.
Everyone worked like a man, including the woman. In a remarkably short time a space twelve feet across was cleared under the spreading branches of some lofty pines, snowshoes being used for the purpose somewhat after the manner of shovels. Simultaneously with this two axes were going, and dry fuel consisting of spruce, aspen, alder and willow, cut in eight-foot lengths, was piled up beside the clearing. Next one started a fire, another packed the kettles full of snow, while the others went after some spruce brush and laid it down--a carpet sweet-smelling and six inches thick--by way of shakedowns. Then by way of a barricade against drafts, small pickets were planted in the snow, heaped up behind, and then these pickets slanting towards the fire were temporarily covered with part of their bedding so as to deflect the warmth down on themselves. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Panawis and the fort dog-driver were preparing flesh for all mouths--thirteen in number--only thawing it for the dogs; but subjecting the portions intended for their superiors to the further process of roasting on "spits." Tea was made by melting snow in the kettles, care being taken to pack it down as it melted to prevent it being smoked. Into the water thus procured the tea was placed while the water was yet cold. The kettles were then tightly covered and again placed on the fire, and immediately the boiling point was reached, were removed. This way of making tea is excellent, and, no doubt, has been the approved method used by travellers in the North for many generations.
In keeping with conditions, two tables were set, Panawis and his wife being on one side of the fire and the three men on the other. Clean sacks served as table cloths. Both sides had sugar, salt, pepper, venison and tea; but in addition each had its special luxury: the Panawis's had some large and beautifully dried saskatoon berries and well refined marrow grease; on the men's side there were slices of plum pudding. When all was in readiness for an onslaught on the viands, Mr. Godfrey was heard to clear his throat twice, and he thus addressed the head of the party, "Mr. Kidd, don't you think that at such a feast as this we might have grace?"
"You are perfectly right," that gentleman replied, "and I shall ask you to say it, as you are the oldest here, and I know it will come naturally to you." Mr. Godfrey was perfectly prepared for the request, and clearing his throat once more, he devoutly folded his hands and said: "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful." Then all the good things not accessible to everybody were made so by an interchange of civilities, Mr. Kidd passing over two slices of pudding to the other side, and the other side returning the compliment with a plateful of berries and grease. Thus did these five hungry souls address themselves to the putting away of their well-earned food, the four men sitting cross-legged (the lady otherwise), while the expressions of all either verbal or facial were indicative of great satisfaction and enjoyment.
The meal being over, the fire was replenished, causing the heated pine brush to give forth a sweet scent; and when all had their pipes going, the men lay back in contentment, and with their hard-worked limbs stretched towards the fire, they watched the sparks fly upwards and disappear among the spreading branches overhead, while mingling with the crackling of their fire there sounds the pistol-like reports of the freezing trees, varied with the barking of a fox or the hooting of an owl.
When they had smoked for a few minutes in silence and contentment, Mr. Kidd said to Panawis, "I have been told that your father was one of the bravest hunters of his day, and that you sometimes accompanied him on his bear hunts. Would you mind telling us of one of your most exciting hunts?"
Thus encouraged, Panawis sat up, crossed his legs comfortably, took a look at his pipe, pressed its contents down with his thumb-nail, and after a few good pulls, delivered himself of the following story:
"My family have long been noted as bear hunters. My grandfather and father each killed about two hundred bears, and I, too, expect to reach my two hundred. My grandfather would have been killed by a bear only for my father, and my father himself, on a certain occasion, would have been killed had I not been there to help him. I killed several bears before I was a man, and after that my father often got me to go with him. When I go bear-hunting I have no son to take with me, and perhaps for that reason I try harder than either my father or grandfather to take bears at the right time and place and in the right way."
"It was on a day in autumn that the things of which I am going to tell you happened. On the morning of that day my mother and another woman went out berrying, and were followed by one of our dogs called Clina, who was very fond of my mother. Not far from camp they came to where saskatoons were numerous, and were busily engaged in filling their birch bark rogans when they heard the dog bark, and looking in that direction they saw a huge black bear standing on its hind legs and looking at them. Usually a bear will flee at sight of human beings; but should it happen to have young close by, as it turned out this one had, it easily becomes excited and is then most dangerous. In this particular case it was the dog that started all the trouble. He excited the bear by barking at it, and when it ran towards him he ran towards the berry-pickers, who immediately fled for their lives towards the camp. My mother was the older woman, and not as swift as the other, and the bear was nearly upon her when Clina managed to get a nip at his hind leg. At this the bear wheeled round, and with a sweep of its paw tore the dog's side badly. When poor Clina howled with pain the bear seemed satisfied and went no farther.
"When my mother reached camp and had sufficiently recovered her breath to be able to tell what had happened, father turned to me and said, Tanawis, you and I have got to get that bear.' My mother hearing him say this did her best to dissuade him; but he soothed her, saying, "Remember noo tookeo, old woman, how many bears I compelled to give up their grease to make your beautiful long hair shine, and why should it be different this time?' 'I don't know,' said mother; 'but it was an awful big one, and just see what it did to poor Clina.'
"When she saw that my father was determined to go, she said, 'Well, if you must, eat before you go,' and she prepared us some food.
"After we had seen to our guns and were ready to start, mother embraced father, saying, 'Ni-na-pem' (my husband, 'take good care of our son'; then embracing me, she said, 'Ni-koo-sis' (my son) 'take good care of your father.'
"When we had tracked the bear a little way we found that it was a she bear with two cubs. Then my father said, 'On account of the poor little cubs, I would spare the mother; but if she is going to stay round here, she might do us some more mischief.'
"When we had gone about as far again as where the bear was first seen, we were sure that it was very near, and as we moved along very cautiously in the direction of some fallen trees, the bear suddenly appeared behind one of them, standing up with its fore paws against the tree. My father at once raised his gun and sent a ball into its chest. It then disappeared, but when we went around the tree to find out what had happened, it sprang up and rushed at us with such great speed that the muzzle of father's gun was nearly touching its head when he fired his second shot. Unfortunately the ball glanced and the next instant the bear had my father on the ground. Stepping up so that the muzzle of my single barrel gun nearly touched the bear, I sent a ball into its heart; but a bear once excited is an awful creature, and even then it continued worrying my father, so I drew my knife and plunged it into its back. Fortunately at that moment its strength gave out and it rolled over, dead. Then it was that I noticed an almost unbelievable thing--my father's knife was sticking into the bear's belly right up to the handle, showing that however quick the bear had been with her hands, she had been no quicker than my father, who, the instant he fell, drew his knife from its sheath and plunged it into the bear.
"Though bleeding badly from face and shoulder, he was able to sit up and tell me what to do for his wounds. First he pointed to some colt's-foot leaves. Then he told me to tear up a part of his shirt for bandages, but I used mine instead. He then reached for a little medicine bag he always carried attached to his belt when he went hunting. Selecting a powder, he asked me to press the edges of his wound together and then to sprinkle them freely with the powder, and after laying on small strips of colt's-foot, to bandage the whole securely as I could.
"My father was a strong man, and we reached camp without resting once on the way. My mother was very much put out when she saw what we looked like. As she was dressing father's wounds and putting on some more of the wonderful powder, she said, 'I told you it was a bad bear.' To this father said, 'It was a good bear; it fought for its children just as you would for yours, and had it not been for that Clina of yours she might have left us alone.'
"Next day I went after the meat of the bear, taking two dogs to help me carry it. I found the cubs near the body of their mother. The dogs chased them up a tree and I left them there.
"In the course of two months my father was well as ever; but the left side of his face was always slightly disfigured. Mother, however, comforted him by telling him that she would always look upon the good side, and that way he would remain to her as good as the day he had first become her man."
Mr. Kidd said, "That was a well-told story of a brave hunt, and your father must have been not only brave but fair-minded, since, even while smarting under the wounds that musqua (the bear) had given him, he did not fail to do her justice. But about your mother; did she ever blame her dog for the trouble he had started?"
"No, indeed. She treated him more kindly, and in fact, all dogs, ever after that. When he got back to camp the time he was hurt, and she examined the great gash across his side, she put her hand on his head, and looking into his eyes with tears in her own, she said, 'Poor Clina! You were willing to give your life to save mine, and I am never going to forget it.' "
A short pause occurred here, during which Mr. Godfrey several times cleared his throat, a regular habit of his when about to speak, and intended, perhaps, to convey the impression that he was about to say something worth while. On this occasion the throat-clearing process was followed by the remark, "I am no bear-hunter; but all the same I have killed one bear in my life."
"Tell us about it," said Panawis, "and the others also expressed a wish to hear the story, hoping perhaps that it would be something like that of his moose-hunt of two days before. The sum and substance of this second bear story was, however, only this, (1) that Mr. Godfrey ten years previously in the Red River Settlement had gone bear-hunting with three large dogs, (2) that the three large dogs had found and treed a bear (very large of course), (3) that Mr. Godfrey took aim at the bear, sent a ball into its brain and brought it down to earth.
At the start the story was extremely monotonous; but Mr. Kidd very soon changed all that, by bringing out the salient points in the story which have already been given, doing so by means of tactful and humorous questions and remarks which caused considerable amusement, in which Mr. Godfrey himself joined, no doubt arguing to himself that even if he did not always see the joke, he at any rate deserved credit for furnishing the material out of which it was made.
After these stories the travellers made their beds and turned in very much as they stood, for the greatest sticklers for hygienics on such occasions are obliged temporarily to give the conge to cleanliness and ventilation theories; and the members of this party, in order to better conserve the warmth of their bodies, lay down spoon-fashion together, three and two together, and contracting themselves end-wise so as to get heads and feet more completely under cover, lay still until morning, when all declared that they had enjoyed the rest.
That evening the hunters arrived at the fort with their welcome loads of fresh venison, bringing also fresh topics of conversation to interest them for many days to come.
The Red River packet arrived at Fort Liard in the middle of February and brought letters for everyone except the children. Mr. Findlay and Mr. Kidd each had among his letters one to which he had looked forward with fond expectation. As may be supposed, the one for Mr. Findlay came from Miss Nellie Blain. All romancing aside, it was a letter which only a person of good ability and loving disposition could have written. It clearly followed the style of love-making which, without any agreement, they had adopted.
Perhaps to these two young people, separated by thousands of miles, and only able to do their courting on paper with ink and pen, it seemed better that they should do so under the guise of friendship, by way of a self-imposed penance for having at one time loved dividedly.
And so, in the letter just referred to, Miss Blain did not tell Mr. Findlay in so many words that she loved him, but she compensated herself for that by declaring her friendship for him in the superlative degree. She began her letter by calling him her "very, very dearest friend" and finished off with the pertinent admission--"as in former days, so now, and for ever and ever, your own very dearest friend."
"Stuff!" did I hear someone say? Well the lone exile at Fort Liard did not put it quite that way. When he read these natural ebullitions of a loving heart, he smiled, rubbed his hands together, and said, "Great stuff, that!"
Miss Blain's letter was lengthy, but every item of news it contained was like "cold water to a thirsty soul." Besides matters private and personal, it contained a clever, off-hand write-up of the current news of the Red River Settlement, and was not confined to social events, but contained information on civil and religious matters as well, all written in a style which caused him to wonder what his mental condition could have been when he turned down such a girl on account of someone else.
In addition to her letter, Miss Blain sent a bundle of newspaper clippings mostly from the pioneer paper of Red River, the "Nor'-Wester." These were assorted into as many parts as would extend over the remainder of the winter ley taking one each day. "In this way," she wrote her lover, "you may, while enjoying your evening pipe, also enjoy your daily paper, which you might name "The Liard Courier." Mr. Findlay called it that when reading it to the men of the fort; but Mr. Kidd called it the "Angelic Device," meaning thereby a device to fool the devil, Kuskeyihten; and it certainly turned out a splendid device for keeping them all in touch with civilization and for spending the evenings pleasantly and profitably.
With the opening of navigation Mr. Findlay returned to Fort Simpson with one of the largest returns in furs that had ever been made from Fort Liard; and Mr. Bayard, who did not forget the years when he had been a struggling clerk, heartily congratulated him upon his early success as a trader, and expressed genuine regret that he was not to remain longer in the MacKenzie River district.
After a few days at Fort Simpson, Mr. Findlay resumed his journey, going southward with the MacKenzie brigade as far as Fort Chipewyan. There he rejoined his old friend and fellow-clerk, Mr. John Thomson, and together they awaited the arrival of the boats from the south, aboard which it was expected Mr. and Mrs. Donald and Miss Blain would arrive. There we shall leave them while we record the doings of the Rev. Charles Snow, who the year before had been their companion and mess-mate from Fort Garry to this point, and remained so associated with Mr. Findlay and Mr. Kidd as far as Fort Simpson, whence these two gentlemen, as related, went up the Liard, while Mr. Snow went down the MacKenzie to fingage in missionary work in the remote North.