A few days after the event just recorded, Mr. Bernie was much cheered by one of a very different kind. The "ever rolling stream" which bears so many friends away, showed that it was amenable to the law of compensation by bringing him some people who made him happy and became his very good friends.
One evening in the last days of July, after working an hour in the garden, he was about to enter the house to prepare his evening meal, when he heard voices below the bank, and on looking over the edge he saw a raft from which a man had evidently just landed, while a woman and two girls were in the act of following.
Mr. Bernie quickly descended to their level and told them that though they were strangers, he was none the less pleased to have them tie up opposite his abode. Asking the common question of the North, "Do you come from far?" the man of the party informed him that they had floated down on the raft from Fort St. John's, and that they had reached that point overland from the country of the Nahannis. That information, supported by the complexion of the ladies of the party, brought to mind the story of the aged Postmaster at Fort Simpson, respecting an Englishman who had mysteriously disappeared from Fort Liard, and by way of a plunge, Mr. Bernie said, "So then, you are the Mr. Dan Hardy who about ten years ago put in for a few days at Fort Liard, and then went on down-stream to prospect for gold along the Nahanni River, and who having failed to return to that or any other Hudson's Bay post, caused considerable speculation as to his possible fate?"
"I am that Dan Hardy," said the gentleman addressed, "and as you may see, nothing very serious has befallen me; on the contrary I have been successful in my prospecting. Let me introduce you to my wife and daughters."
"I am very happy to make the acquaintance of you all, and hope you intend to camp with me for the night."
"I thankfully accept your invitation. We have come to you to secure the benefit of your services as a clergyman; but I shall tell you all about that after we have pitched our tent."
"I wish I could save you that trouble, but the only bed in the Mission house is the one occupied by myself. I would, however, enjoy your company at tea, so while you are pitching your tent I shall go in and prepare tea for five."
Dan Hardy was a man of striking appearance. He was tall, erect, vigorous, moving as if on springs, had a red and flowing beard, and with it all had that air of refinement which no amount of "roughing it" can ever wholly obliterate, because he who is a gentleman in blood and fibre can never be anything else.
Mr. Bernie had not more than started his preparations for tea when the little Hardy girls entered, each carrying a present. The older handed Mr. Bernie a piece of meat, and in perfect English said, "Father sends his compliments and asks you to accept this piece of moose venison"; and the younger one, speaking equally good English, handed him a birch bark rogan full of berries, saying, "Mother sends her compliments and asks you to accept these raspberries from her and ourselves."
It is no fiction to say that the tea at the Mission was a very pleasant affair, and that it was so mainly because the host and his visitors felt drawn towards each other from the very start, and that their company manners and those of every day were identical.
It seemed almost incredible that the lady sitting at his table, expressing herself in better English than that of the average woman in England, was a pure-blooded Indian woman--a Nahanni who had received her education in the bush and whose only teacher was her husband. Allow that she may have been exceptionally intelligent for a native, she was a striking example of what may be done with the natives if their improvement is undertaken in earnest. To put it bluntly, here was an example of a squaw converted into a lady through the enterprise of an Englishman. And you are not asked to approve the method or to go and do likewise; but only to "rouse to some work of high and holy love," throwing into "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do" the same degree of heart and soul.
Mrs. Hardy had a glorious crop of hair, which she kept neatly braided according to the male and female ideas prevailing in her generation. She was well-formed, well-featured, and her words, her countenance and voice showed a right interest in what was going on around her, and as the observant missionary looked approvingly on Mr. and Mrs. Hardy and their two charming little daughters, he said to himself, "The alliance between the English and the Nahanni having worked out well so far, I can see no reason why, given a similar chance, it should not do so to the end."
When Mr. Bernie looked at the little girls sitting at his table he could not disassociate his mind from the thought of their being wood-nymphs. They both favoured their father in the golden colour of their hair; but the older, named Erma, had her mother's features, and divided evenly between her parents as regards complexion; the younger one, however, named Winnie, favoured her father to a really comical extent, not even so much as overlooking his springy movements.
After tea Mr. Bernie produced a large book on natural history in which were many beautifully coloured prints. With the aid of this book, an album, a microscope and a few copies of the Illustrated London News, six months old, a pleasant and profitable hour was spent, after which they all joined in singing several well-known English songs, for which Mr. Bernie played the accompaniment on his violin. After this there followed family prayers, and then in the midst of movements to leave, it was arranged that Mr. Hardy should remain behind for a little while.
The good-nights between the ladies and Mr. Bernie were thoroughly civilized. Mrs. Hardy, holding out her hand said, Good-night Mr. Bernie, and thank you for a very pleasant evening." Erma said, "Good-night, sir, and thank you for such a good time." When it came to Winnie's turn she gave her father an enquiring look which he seemed to understand, for he said, "Yes, my child, perhaps Mr. Bernie would not mind if you said good-night to him in the same way you say it to me." And immediately the sweet unsophisticated little maiden smiled and raised her face towards the missionary, who caught her up and clasped her to his bosom, and then she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him good-night.
When the three had passed through the door and Mr. Bernie had closed it behind them, he turned to Mr. Hardy and said, "Now then, tell me this please. How did you do it?" And that gentleman replied, "We have been quietly rehearsing in the bush for several years and you have just seen something of the results."
Mr. Bernie then informed his visitor of how he had come to hear about him when spending a winter at Fort Simpson some years before. "And now," said he, "you can hardly do anything that will give me so much pleasure as to tell me the wonderful story of how you have come through so splendidly."
Mr. Hardy replied, "Before giving you an outline of my actions after my visit to Fort Liard, I may state that the said visit occurred after I had been five years in the country. I left England shortly after the death of both my parents, who died within a few months of each other. As I was their only son I felt their death very keenly, and meeting with a disappointment in love about the same time, I decided to leave the country. Briefly, this was the disappointment to which I have referred:
"A Miss Lily Blackburn and I had grown up together from early childhood. We had played together, walked together, studied together, and it was the wish of Misa Blackburn's parents and my own that we should some day marry. For my part I was perfectly willing and perhaps took it too much for granted that Miss Blackburn was equally willing.
"About the time of my mother's death, a young gentleman of the neighbourhood, a Mr. Kent, who had lately fallen heir to an estate supposed to be of considerable value, began to pay marked attention to Miss Blackburn, so I decided to speed matters up without incurring the risk of actual rejection, and then I very soon had unmistaken signs that Mr. Kent was the favoured suitor. In disgust I hurriedly settled my affairs in England, and leaving £5,000 securely invested there, I came over to Canada, arriving in Winnipeg with very little money, for I was determined to eschew two things--extravagance and idleness. Since the day I left England I have had no communication with anyone there; nevertheless, while I have studiously secluded myself in the 'Great Lone Land,' I have just as studiously avoided turning either recluse or misanthrope, and no sooner have I arrived at my future and permanent location in the North-West, I shall once more utilize the post office and get into communication with my friends.
"For over a year after reaching Canada I worked with a survey party west of the Rockies. After that I joined two Canadians who had been mining on the Fraser River, and who intended to trap and do a little trading with the Sikannis during winter. For three years we were in frequent contact with these Indians, and we got to speak their language pretty well. Then on our third annual visit to the coast we dissolved partnership. My friends went to Dawson, and I hired three Indians to help me return with a small trading outfit to the country of the Sikannis. According to arrangement the three Indians wintered with me, and we met with good success. In the spring I sent them back to Victoria with furs and gold dust, and a letter to a certain merchant there, informing him of the consignment, an arrangement having been previously made with him to pay the Indians on their return any balance accruing to them, and after deducting his commission, to deposit the balance, if any, in a certain bank, to my credit. As I can fully trust the Indians and the merchant, and Canadian banks are said to be reliable, I am confident that the said balance, with interest added, stands to my credit in the bank today, although I have never heard one word, either from the Indians or the merchant.
"This brings me to that period in my history of which you heard from the Company's aged officer, whose acquaintance I made at Fort Liard after I had crossed the Rocky Mountains. With respect to that lone crossing, I would say that one such performance is enough for me. It is doubtful if I would ever have got through, had I not had a map made for me by an intelligent Sikanni, showing the route to the crest of the Rockies, beyond which his own knowledge did not extend. When finally I did get through after three weeks of nerve-trying experience, I felt such a longing to behold a human being, that when I saw an old Indian standing on the bank of the Liard, although his once snow-white cap and leggings had become very dirty, I could almost have embraced him; as it was, when I approached him with the usual Beaver salutation--'Ni-la-oo-shoo-di' (give me your hand), I unconsciously squeezed it with a fervour that made him wince.
"I shall now pick up the thread of my narrative at that point where I was correctly reported to have been seen by an Indian after leaving Fort Liard. After exchanging compliments and good advice with this friendly Indian and his family, I continued to ascend the Nahanni River. Sometimes I ascended tributaries, and on reaching the limit of navigation for a dug-out, I would either turn back at once or tie up my dug-out and hunt or prospect afoot. Thus passed the regular summer and also an ideal Indian summer. Strange to say, after the one instance already mentioned, I saw no more Indians till late in autumn, although several times I came across camps which had not long been vacated.
"When the weather began to turn cool, I decided that as the Indians had not found me, I had better set to work and find them, so as to learn what their attitude towards me was going to be, as I intended, if it could be arranged, to hunt in company with some Indians during the winter. The quick and easy manner of my finding a camp after deciding to look for one furnished me one of the experiences in my life which keeps alive the beautiful idea of heavenly aid vouchsafed instrumentally through a guardian angel.
"No one was home in the camp I found; but there was cached away on a stage--that spider-like storehouse of the Indians--the traps, snowshoes, and sundries which they to whom they belonged would be very soon coming after. So I decided that here, or close to here, I would spend the winter unless the owner of this cache turned out to be too objectionable. Instead of that, however, he turned out to be one of the finest Indians I had ever met. He was a Nahanni and his name was Too-nih-ke. He had been to Fort Liard for his winter supplies, and the camp where we met was to be his camp for the winter. I had by this time killed two fat moose and their meat was hanging from a stage near his cache, and to partly ingratiate myself with him and at the same time find out the nature of his soul, I pointed to the stage and said, 'My brother, I expect that meat was taken on your hunting ground, so I turn it over to you. It is yours.' His reply showed that I had made the acquaintance of one of nature's noblemen. He said, 'My White brother must be a great hunter and must have a good heart; but Toonihke can hunt a little, too, and he is not mean. Na-gha Tgha (our Father) has given us this meat. Let his children share it alike. Let my White brother keep one for himself and I shall be very pleased to have the other one for my wife and children.'
"When later I told Toonihke what I would like for the winter he fell in readily with my wishes and it was arranged that I would help in keeping the family in venison, and that in return they would keep me in snowshoes and moccasins. As to trapping, he would let me have half of what was regarded as his hunting grounds and each would own his own catch.
"I don't expect ever to have a happier time than that first winter I spent with Toonihke and his family. He had five children. The eldest was a young woman named Sun, the Beaver for star. The others were much younger. When I remarked upon this I was informed that Sun was a child by a first wife, who had died when she was two years of age. I had my own tent but spent most of my evenings with my partner and his family. I taught them games and puzzles, also songs and hymns, using the English words and teaching their meaning. Seemingly, without intent on their part or mine, I found myself gradually becoming their chaplain or missionary. In all my travels I have carried this pocket compass with me." (Here Mr. Hardy took from his pocket a strongly bound little book, and handed it to Mr. Bernie, who read aloud its title--"The Book of Common Prayer.") "That," continued Mr. Hardy, "was a present from my mother, and it has been a valuable pocket compass to me, and, I believe, to others also. Every evening before leaving Toonihke's lodge for my own, we sang a hymn together, then I read a portion of Scripture from the Prayer Book and explained its meaning in Nahanni, after which we knelt and repeated together two or three collects and the Lord's Prayer.
"When I had been about four months the companion of these simple children of the forest, I gradually became conscious that I was entertaining sentiments towards Miss Sun Toonihke which a vigorous young man is very liable to feel towards a beautiful and sprightly maiden."
"Ah!" interjected the missionary, doubt."
"Yes sir," laughed Mr. Hardy. "It struck me so at the time; but I did not wilt, and have not done so yet, although the rays of that self-same sun have been focused upon me for the past ten years. Mr. Bernie, you no doubt understand Indians as well as I do, although you have not come in quite such close contact with them as I have."
"Not quite," said the parson.
"Quite so," said the other, whereupon they both laughed in perfect understanding and good nature.
"What I wanted to say was this," Mr. Hardy continued, "that there is as much variety among Indians as there is among Whites, a fact of which we soon become aware once we begin to examine the qualities of mind and heart which lie beneath the surface. And after my experience with the Indians, I was satisfied that the Toonihke family possessed the moral qualities which are esteemed by people of every shade and colour, and that in Miss Toonihke God had made a woman good enough for any man, and at any rate, one that suited me very well. She was at that time a sprightly maiden of eighteen, attractive in appearance and beloved in her home; but what impressed me as her most beautiful characteristic was her consideration for her father's comfort.
"Before making any advance towards her with a view to marriage, I gave the matter long and serious consideration, and while not shifting one iota from my former opinion, to which I still adhere--that intermarriages between White and Red races should not be encouraged, I felt that under the circumstances there was going to be an exception in the case of 'Dan and Sun.'"
"Quite so, quite so," laughingly spoke the missionary.
"I therefore decided," resumed Mr. Hardy, "to give the prospective firm of Dan and Sun an opportunity to eventuate by allowing the objection of racial disparity to go by the board.
"After I had thought out this question I invited Toonihke to my lodge, and after he had drunk two cups of well-sweetened tea and had his pipe going nicely, I informed him that I desired to make Sun my wife. In the course of his sensible answer he paid me as high a compliment as I have ever had. He said, 'My son, the worst harm that has come to the Indians through the Whites, has been due to the too great readiness of silly Indian women to accept the attentions of bad White men; but I am sure your heart is like my daughter's--white, although your hair and skin are not the same colour as hers. You only call yourself an A-ka-yas (Englishman), but from what I have seen of you, I am sure you are a Ma-o-ti na-chai oochu (a good big-master), and I know you would be kind to my daughter; but, of course, I can give her to you only after I find out whether she is willing to have you. In this country it is the man who runs after the woman and not the other way.'
"I told him I was very much pleased, and that in my country also we worked it out that way; but that sometimes a woman found it necessary to work it out the other way.
"I presume Toonihke gave his family a hint of what had happened when we had been drinking tea and smoking together, for Sun looked rather excited when I next called at the tent, and contrived to keep me waiting two or three days before giving me a chance to speak to her alone. She informed me then that next day she was going after raspberries with one of her sisters, and I proposed that she should take me instead of the little sister, and she gave me an understanding look and said it would be all right if her father and mother were willing.
"I smiled and said, 'If it looks fine in the morning I'll come over for you and we shall put in a nice day together on the beautiful prairie with the two hills.'
"Next morning she was waiting for me when I called, and was evidently looking forward to the day's outing with pleasure. A walk of thirty minutes brought us to the beautiful prairie, where in an aspen grove through which fire had passed a few years before, we found raspberries by the bushel, and in about an hour's time our birch bark rogans were full. We then went to a little stream from whose sweet, sparkling waters we slaked our thirst, after which we sat down in the shade and ate our lunch of moose tongue and choice dried venison. Then I had to answer a great many questions about the doings of the wonderful A-ka-ya-si-wok (English people). We then had another drink from the stream, after which we took off our moccasins and waded about in the water, laughing like two happy children.
"After we had put on our moccasins and were seated on a fallen tree beside our berries, I told Sun of how I had grown to love her, and wished to make her my wife, that is, if she loved me enough to be willing to accept me as her husband.
"Looking into my face with an expression which clearly showed both gladness and surprise, she said, 'Sin-ih-ti-ke, nwas-tyeh, o-tyeh nwas-tyeh (I am pleased. I love you very much; but I can hardly believe even now that I am not going to lose you, for often when I have thought that some day you would be sure to go away and never come back again, I have gone away alone and cried.')
"I thought it as well to give matters a humorous turn, and asked her if it was my red hair that she liked, when she answered with the counter-query, 'Is it my red skin that you like?' We both laughed and rose to our feet. Then she said, running and dancing backwards as she spoke, 'If the man with the red hair wants the woman with the red skin for ma-tsi-yua, (his wife), let him catch her first,' and she turned and ran towards the nearest woods, with me following in hot pursuit. When I reached the spot where she had entered the woods she was nowhere in sight; but when I whistled in imitation of a marmot, an answering whistle from near by immediately followed, and glancing in the direction from whence it came, I beheld my beautiful nymph of the forest looking at me through an opening in the foliage and laughing at me. Then I decided to catch her with guile. Starting in pursuit I pretended to stumble, and coming to earth, I gave forth a loud and dismal moan; and in an instant she was bending over me in a state of great concern; and in that self-same instant I caught her by the hand, and springing to my feet I said, 'This is how the man with the red hair catches the woman with the red skin. Now then are you going to be my wife? She gave me a sly look and whispered, 'A-ha,' yes, and as we gave the betrothal kiss, it seemed as if the spirits of our mothers were present, for I thought of mine and the little prayer-book, and at the same instant Sun said, 'I cannot tell this to my own mother; but I would like to tell my father. Let us go home.'
"When we returned to camp I explained in the presence of the whole family that while Sun and I were man and wife according to Nahanni usage, I intended as soon as the opportunity offered to have our union sanctioned by the Church. Then we had our wedding feast under the open skies, on a carpet of fresh-cut prairie grass and flowers, and from a small supply of sugar which I had hoarded away I contributed sufficient for our tea and raspberries. Then when the wedding feast was over and the stars were twinkling in friendly compliment to our star, we dispersed: the children went off to bed, Sun entered the family lodge with her mother, and presently came out again with a leather bag which contained about all her worldly possessions. As became an Englishman, I took the bag, and we walked over to my lodge in civilized style--arm in arm. Arriving there I raised the flap and invited her to enter, and when she had done so, I did likewise--then the curtain dropped.
"I had met many of the Nahanni by this time and found that because of my medicine they were not averse to having me in the country; but I learnt from Toonillke that they were encouraging a suspicion without, of my having come to grief, and I doubted not that they were doing this as a deterrent to further encroachments on their country. After my union with Sun I decided that it would do no harm to stay close to them until I left the country for good, getting my supplies meanwhile through my father-in-law.
"I never intended to stay as long as ten years; but I grew fond of the Indians and their easy manner of living; besides I was doing the Indians some good, and there was also no mean satisfaction in educating my wife and children for a civilized life. Over a year ago Sun's father died, and after the days of mourning were over we took our departure. I have obliged my Nahanni friends by coming out very quietly. Our route was down the Nahanni and Liard Rivers, up the MacKenzie, along the west end of Great Slave Lake, up the Hay River and overland to Fort St. John's, then down-stream to here.
"Before continuing down-stream to Fort Chipewyan and so onward to some point which I have in mind, I wish you to do me the favour of baptizing my wife and children, and Sun and I also desire to be united in the bonds of Holy Matrimony according to the rites of the Church of England and the laws of the Dominion of Canada."
In the afternoon of the next day the wishes of Mr. and Mrs. Hardy were carried out in the church in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Findlay and Mr. and Mrs. Kidd, after which the missionary and his visitors were invited to the Findlay's for tea. They did not seem to suspect who Mr. Hardy was, having perhaps heard and thought little about the lone miner who had called at Fort Liard years after they were there. In the course of conversation Mr. Hardy admitted having lived among the Sikannis, and naturally it would be inferred that Mrs. Hardy was of that branch of the Beaver stock. Mrs. Findlay complimented her and the children on their good English, and Mrs. Hardy smiled, and looking at her husband said, "We had a most excellent teacher," and Mr. Hardy laughed with real pleasure and said that he had to confess to being a little proud of his work.
The lone missionary took such a liking to his visitors that he begged Mr. Hardy to stay one day longer, which he did; and before leaving he promised to write as soon as ever he had located on the spot which was to be his future home.