ACKNOWLEDGMENT. TheauthordesirestoexpressthankstopioneersandfurtradersoftheWestfor information, details and anecdotes bearing on the old life, which are herein embodied; and would also acknowledge the assistance of the history of the North-WestCompanyandmanuscriptsoftheBourgeois,compiledbySenatorL. R. Masson; and the value of such early works as those of Dr. George Bryce, Gunn,Hargraves,Rossandothers.
THETRAPPER'SDEFIANCE. "The adventurous spirits, who haunted the forest and plain, grew fond of their wildlifeandaffectedagreatcontemptforcivilization." Youboxed-up,mewed-upartificials, Pentinyourpilesofmortarandstone, Huggingyourfinelyspunjudicials, Adorningexternals,externalsalone, Vauntinginpridefulostentation OftheJuggernautcar,calledCivilization— WhatknowyeoffreedomandlifeandGod? Monkeys,thatfollowashowman'sstring,
INTRODUCTION. I, Rufus Gillespie, trader and clerk for the North-West Company, which ruled over an empire broader than Europe in the beginning of this century, and with IndianalliesanditsownriotousBois-Brulés,carriedwarintotheveryheartof the vast territory claimed by its rivals, the Honorable Hudson's Bay Company, have briefly related a few stirring events of those boisterous days. Should the account here set down be questioned, I appeal for confirmation to that missionary among northern tribes, the famous priest, who is the son of the illfated girl stolen by the wandering Iroquois. Lord Selkirk's narration of lawless conflict with the Nor'-Westers and the verbal testimony of Red River settlers, whoarestillliving,willalsosubstantiatewhatIhavestated;thoughallowance mustbemadefortheviolentpartisanleaningofwitnesses,andfromthat,I—asa Nor'-Wester—donotclaimtobefree. Onthechargesandcounter-chargesofcrueltybandiedbetweenwhitemenand red,Ihavenothingtosay.Rememberinghowwhitesoldiersfromeasterncities tooktheskinofanativechiefforatrophyofvictory,andrecallingthefiendish glee of Mandanes over a victim, I can only conclude that neither race may blamelesslypointthefingerofreproachattheother. Any variations in detail from actual occurrences as seen by my own eyes are solelyforthepurposeofscreeninglivingdescendantsofthosewhoselivesare hereportrayedfrompryingcuriosity;but,intruth,manyexperiencesduringthe thrilling days of the fur companies were far too harrowing for recital. I would fainhavetemperedsomeoftheincidentshereinrelatedtosuitthesentimentsof amilk-and-waterage;butthatcouldbedoneonlyatthecostoftruth. ThereisnoFrenchstraininmyblood,soIhavenotthatpassionatedevotionto the wild daring of l'ancien régime, in which many of my rugged companions underLesBourgeoisdelaCompagnieduNord-Ouestgloried;buthewouldbe verysluggish,indeed,whocouldnotlookbackwithsomedegreeofenthusiasm to the days of gentlemen adventurers in no-man's-land, in a word, to the workings of the great fur trading companies. Theirs were the trappers and runners, the Coureurs des Bois and Bois-Brulés, who traversed the immense solitudes of the pathless west; theirs, the brigades of gay voyageurs chanting hilarious refrains in unison with the rhythmic sweep of paddle blades and
following unknown streams until they had explored from St. Lawrence to MacKenzieRiver;andtheirs,themerryladsofthenorth,blazingatrackthrough thewildernessandleavingfromAtlantictoPacificlonelystockadedfurposts— footprintsforthe pioneers' guidance.Thewhitewashed palisades ofmanylittle settlements on the rivers and lakes of the far north are poor relics of the fur companies'ancientgrandeur.ThatbroaddomainstretchingfromHudsonBayto the Pacific Ocean, reclaimed from savagery for civilization, is the best monumenttotheunheraldedforerunnersofempire. RUFUSGILLESPIE. WINNIPEG—ONETIMEFORTGARRY FORMERLYREDRIVERSETTLEMENT, 19thJune,18—
CHAPTERI WHEREINALADSEESMAKERSOFHISTORY "HasanyoneseenEricHamilton?"Iasked. For an hour, or more, I had been lounging about the sitting-room of a club in QuebecCity,waitingformyfriend,whohadpromisedtojoinmeatdinnerthat night. I threw aside a news-sheet, which I had exhausted down to minutest advertisements,stretchedmyselfandstrolledacrosstoagroupofoldfur-traders, retired partners of the North-West Company, who were engaged in heated discussionwithsomeofficersfromtheCitadel. "HasanyoneseenEricHamilton?"Irepeated,indifferenttothemeritsoftheir dispute. "That's the tenth time you've asked that question," said my Uncle Jack MacKenzie, looking up sharply, "the tenth time, Sir, by actual count," and he puckeredhisbrowsattheinterruption,justasheusedtowhenIwasalittlelad onhiskneeandchancedtobreakintooneofhishuntingstorieswithaquestion atthewrongplace. "Hangit,"drawledColonelAdderly,asquattymanwithanover-fedlookonhis bulging, red cheeks, "hang it, you don't expect Hamilton? The baby must be teething,"andheaddedmorechaffattheexpenseofmyfriend,whohadbeen thesubjectofgood-naturedbanteramongclubmembersfordevotiontohisfirstborn. IsawAdderly'sobjectwasmoretogetawayfromthetraders'argumentsthanto answerme;andIreturnedtheinsolentchallengeofhisunconcealedyawninthe facesoftheeldermenbydrawingachairuptothecompanyofMcTavishesand Frobishers and McGillivrays and MacKenzies and other retired veterans of the northcountry. "I beg your pardon, gentlemen," said I, "what were you saying to Colonel Adderly?" "Talkofyourmilitaryconquests,Sir,"myunclecontinued,"Why,Sir,ourmen
have transformed a wilderness into an empire. They have blazed a path from Labrador on the Atlantic to that rock on the Pacific, where my esteemed kinsman, Sir Alexander MacKenzie, left his inscription of discovery. Mark my words,Sir,thedaywillcomewhenthenamesofDavidThompsonandSimon Fraser and Sir Alexander MacKenzie will rank higher in English annals than Braddock'sand——" "Egad!"laughedtheofficer,amusedatmyuncle,whohadbeenaleadingspirit intheNorth-WestCompanyandwhoseenthusiasmknewnobounds,"Egad!You gentlemen adventurers wouldn't need to have accomplished much to eclipse Braddock."Andhepausedwithaquestioningsupercilioussmile."SirAlexander wasafirstcousinofyours,washenot?" Myuncleflushedhotly.Thatslightingreferencetogentlemenadventurers,with justaperceptibleemphasisoftheadventurers,wasnottohistaste. "Pardonme,Sir,"saidhestiffly,"youforgetthatbythetermsoftheircharter,the Ancient and Honorable Hudson's Bay Company have the privilege of being known as gentlemen adventurers. And by the Lord, Sir, 'tis a gentleman adventurerandnothingelse,thatstock-jobbingscoundrelofaSelkirkhasproved himself!Andhe,sir,wasneitherNor'-Wester,norCanadian,butanEnglishman, likethecommanderoftheCitadel."Myunclepuffedouttheselastwordsinthe nature of a defiance to the English officer, whose cheeks took on a deeper purplishshade;buthereturnedthechargegood-humoredlyenough. "Nonsense,MacKenzie,mygoodfriend,"laughedhepatronizingly,"iftheRight Honorable,theEarlofSelkirk,weresuchanadventurer,whythedeucedidthe Beaver Club down at Montreal receive him with open mouths and open arms and——" "Andopenhearts,Sir,youmaysay,"interruptedmyUncleMacKenzie."AndI'd thankyounotto'good-friend'me,"headdedtartly. Now, the Beaver Club was an organization at Nor'-Westers renowned for its hospitality.Foundedin1785,originallycomposedofbutnineteenmembersand afterwardsextendedonlytomenwhohadservedinthePaysd'EnHaut,itsoon acquired a reputation for entertaining in regal style. Why the vertebrae of colonial gentlemen should sometimes lose the independent, upright rigidity of self-respectoncontactwitholdworldnobility,Iknownot.Butinstantly,Colonel Adderly'sreferencetoLordSelkirkandtheBeaverClubcalledupthepictureof a banquet in Montreal, when I was a lad of seven, or thereabouts. I had been
trickedoutinsomeHighlandcostumeespeciallypleasingtotheEarl—cap,kilts, dirkandall—andwastakenbymyUncleJackMacKenzietotheBeaverClub. Here, in a room, that glittered with lights, was a table steaming with things, which caught and held my boyish eyes; and all about were crowds of guests, gentlemen,whohadbeeninvitedinthequaintlanguageoftheclub,"Todiscuss the merits of bear, beaver and venison." The great Sir Alexander MacKenzie, withhistitlefreshfromtheking,andhisfeatofexploringtherivernowknown by his name and pushing through the mountain fastnesses to the Pacific on all men's lips—was to my Uncle Jack's right. Simon Fraser and David Thompson andotherfamousexplorers,whowereheroestomyimagination,weretheretoo. In these men and what they said of their wonderful voyages I was far more interestedthanintheyoung,keen-facedmanwithatie,thatcameupinrufflesto hisears, and with an imperial decoration on his breast, which told me he was LordSelkirk. Irememberwhenthehugesalversandplatterswereclearedaway,Iwasplaced onthetabletoexecutethesworddance.Imusthaveacquittedmyselfwithsome credit; for the gentlemen set up a prodigious clapping, though I recall nothing butasnappingofmyfingers,awaveofmycapandawhirloflightsandfaces aroundmydizzyhead.Thenmyuncletookmebetweenhisknees,promisingto letmesituptotheendifIweregood,andmorewinewaspassed. "That'senoughforyou,youyoungcub,"saysmykinsman,promptlyinverting thewine-glassbeforeme. "OUncleMacKenzie,"saidIwithawryface,"doyoumeasureyourownwine so?" Whereat,thenobleEarlshouted,"Bravo!here'sforyou,Mr.MacKenzie." And all the gentlemen set up a laugh and my uncle smiled and called to the butler,"Here,Johnson,toddyforone,glassofhotwater,pure,forother." ButwhenJohnsonbroughtbacktheglasses,IobservedUncleMacKenziekept thetoddy."There,myboy,there'sAdam'saleforyou,"saidhe,andintotheglass ofhotwaterhepoppedapeppermintlozenge. "Fie!"laughedSirAlexandertomyuncle'sright,"Fietocheatthelittleman!" "His is the best wine of the cellar," vowed His Lordship; and I drank my peppermintwithasmuchgustoandself-importanceasanymanofthem.
Thenfollowedtoasts,suchalistoftoastsasonlymeninuredtotestsofstrength couldtake.IronicaltoaststotheNorth-WestPassage,whosemythSirAlexander had dispelled; toasts to the discoverer of the MacKenzie River, which brought storms of applause that shook the house; toasts to "our distinguished guest," whosesuaveresponsedisarmedallsuspicion;toaststothe"Northernwinterers," poordevils,whowereservingthecausebyundergoingalife-longtermofArctic exile; toasts to "the merry lads of the north," who only served in the ranks withoutattainingtothehonorofpartnership;toastsenough,inallconscience,to drownthememoryofeverymanpresent.ThankstomyUncleJackMacKenzie, all my toasts were taken in peppermint, and the picture in my mind of that banquetisasclearto-dayasitwaswhenIsatatthetable.WhatwouldInotgive tobebackattheBeaverClub,livingitalloveragainandhearingSirAlexander MacKenzie with his flashing hero-eyes and quick, passionate gestures, recounting that wonderful voyage of his with a sulky crew into a region of hostiles; telling of those long interminable winters of Arctic night, when the greatexplorersoundedthedepthsofutterdespairinserviceforthecompanyand knew not whether he faced madness or starvation; and thrilling the whole assembly with a description of his first glimpse of the Pacific! Perhaps it was whatI heard that night—who can tell—that drew me to the wild life of after years.ButIwastooyoung,then,torecognizefullythegreatnessofthosemen. Indeed, my country was then and is yet too young; for if their greatness be recognized,itisforgottenandunhonored. I think I must have fallen asleep on my uncle's knee; for I next remember sleepilylookingaboutandnoticingthatmanyofthegentlemenhadsliddownin theirchairsandwithclosedeyeswerebreathingheavily.Othershadslippedto thefloorandweresoundasleep.ThisshockedmeandIwasatoncewideawake. Myunclewassittingveryerectandhisarmaroundmywaisthadthetightgrasp thatusuallyprecededsomesharprebuke.Ilookedupandfoundhisfacegrown suddenlysohardandstern,Iwasallaffrightlestmysleepinghadoffendedhim. His eyes were fastened on Lord Selkirk with a piercing, angry gaze. His Lordshipwasnotnodding,notabitofit.Howbrilliantheseemedtomychildish fancy! He was leaning forward, questioning those Nor'-Westers, who had receivedhimwithopenarms,andopenhearts.Andthewinehadmountedtothe head of the good Nor'-Westers and they were now also receiving the strange noblemanwithopenmouths,pouringouttohimafullaccountoftheirprofits, the extent of the vast, unknown game preserve, and how their methods so far surpassedthoseoftheHudson'sBay,theirrival'sstockhadfalleninvaluefrom 250to50percent.
The more information they gave, the more His Lordship plied them with questions. "I must say," whispered Uncle Jack to Sir Alexander MacKenzie, "if any Hudson's Bay man asked such pointed questions on North-West business, I'd givemyselfthepleasureofejectinghimfromthisroom." Then,IknewhisangerwasagainstLordSelkirkandnotagainstmeforsleeping. "Nonsense," retorted Sir Alexander, who had cut active connection with the Nor'-Westers some years before, "there's no ground for suspicion." But he seemeduneasyattheturnthingshadtaken. "Has your Lordship some colonization scheme that you ask such pointed questions?" demanded my uncle, addressing the Earl. The nobleman turned quickly to him and said something about the Highlanders and Prince Edward's Island, which I did not understand. The rest of that evening fades from my thoughts;forIwascarriedhomeinMr.JackMacKenzie'sarms. And all these things happened some ten or twelve years before that wordy sword-play between this same uncle of mine and the English colonel from the Citadel. "We erred, Sir, through too great hospitality," my uncle was saying to the colonel."HowcouldweknowthatSelkirkwouldpurchasecontrollinginterestin Hudson'sBay stock?Howcould weknowhe'dsecurealandgrantinthevery heartofourdomain?" "I don't object to his land, nor to his colonists, nor to his dower of ponies and muskets and bayonets to every mother's son of them," broke in another of the retired traders, "but I do object to his drilling those same colonists, to his importingafieldbatteryandbringingoutthatlittleramofaMcDonellfromthe Army to egg the settlers on! It's bad enough to pillage our fort; but this proclamation to expel Nor'-Westers from what is claimed as Hudson's Bay Territory——" "Just listen to this," cries my uncle pulling out a copy of the obnoxious proclamation and reading aloud an order for the expulsion of all rivals to the Hudson'sBayCompanyfromthenorthernterritory. "WherecanHamiltonbe?"saidI,losinginterestinthetraders'quarrelassoonas theywentintodetails.
"Homewithhiswifie,"half sneeredtheofficer inanaggingway,thatirritated me,thoughtheremarkwas,doubtless,true."Homewithhiswifie,"herepeated inasing-song,payingnoattentiontotheelucidationofasubjecthehadraised. "Goodoldman,Hamilton,butsincemarriage,utterlygonetothebad!" "To the what?" I queried, taking him up short. This officer, with the pudding cheeksandpatronizinginsolence,hadaprovokingtrickofalwayskeepingjust insidetheboundsofwhatonemightresent."Tothewhat,didyousayHamilton hadgone?" "Tothedomestics,"sayshelaughing,thentotheothers,asifhehadlistenedto every word of the explanations, "and if His Little Excellency, Governor MacDonell, by the grace of Lord Selkirk, ruler over gentlemen adventurers in no-man's-land,expelsthegoodNor'-Westersfromnowheretosomewhereelse, whatdothegoodNor'-WestersintenddoingtotheLittleTyrant?" "CharlestheFirsthim,"respondsawagoftheclub. "Where'syourCromwell?"laughsthecolonel. "OurCromwell'saCameron,temperofaLucifer,oathsbeforeaction,"answers thewag. "Tuts!"exclaimsUncleJacktestily."We'llsettleHisLordship'slittlemartinetof theplains.Warrantforhisarrest!Fetchhimout!" "Warrant43rdKingGeorgeIII.willdoit,"addedoneofthepartnerswhohad lookedthematterup. "43rd King George III. doesn't give jurisdiction for trial in Lower Canada, if offensebecommittedelsewhere,"interjectsalawyerwithshowofimportance. "ADanielcometojudgment,"laughsthecolonel,winkingasmyuncle'swrath rose. "Pah!"saysMr.JackMacKenzieindisgust,stampingonthefloorwithbothfeet. "You lawyers needn't think you'll have your pickings when fur companies quarrel.We'llshiphimout,that'sall.Neitherofthecompanieswantstoadvertise itsprofits—" "Oritsmethods—ahem!"interjectsthecolonel. "Anditsprivatebusiness,"addsmyuncle,lookingdaggersatAdderly,"bygoing
tocourt." Thentheyallrosetogotothedining-room;andasIsteppedouttohavealook down the street for Hamilton, I heard Colonel Adderly's last fling—"Pretty rascals,yougentlemenadventurersare,soshyandcoyaboutlawcourts." Itwasadarknight,withafewlonelystarsinmid-heaven,asicklemooncutting the horizon cloud-rim and a noisy March wind that boded snow from The Labrador,orsleetfromtheGulf. WhenEricHamiltonlefttheHudson'sBayCompany'sserviceatYorkFactory onHudsonBayandcametoliveinQuebec,IwasbutastudentatLaval.Itwas atmyUncleMacKenzie'sthatImetthetall,dark,sinewy,taciturnman,whose influencewastoplaysuchastrangepartinmylife;andwhenthesetwotalked oftheiradventuresinthefar,lonelandofthenorth,Icouldnomoreconcealmy awe-struckadmirationthanagirlcouldonfirstdiscoveringherowncharmsina looking-glass. I think he must have noticed my boyish reverence, for once he condescended to ask about the velvet cap and green sash and long blue coat which made up the Laval costume, and in a moment I was talking to him as volublyasifheweretheboyandI,thegreatHudson'sBaytrader. "Itmakesmefeelquitelikeaboyagain,"hehadsaidonresumingconversation withMr.MacKenzie."ByJove!Sir,IcanhardlyrealizeIwentintothatcountry aladoffifteen,likeyournephew,andhereIam,outofit,anoldman." "Pah,Ericman,"saysmyuncle,"you'llbefindingawifeoneofthesedaysand renewingyouryouth." "Uncle,"IbrokeoutwhentheHudson'sBaymanhadgonehome,"howoldis Mr.Hamilton?" "Fifteenyearsolderthanyouare,boy,andIprayHeavenyoumayhavehalfas much of the man in you at thirty as he has," returns my uncle mentally measuring me with that stern eye of his. At that information, my heart gave a curious, jubilant thud. Henceforth, I no longer looked upon Mr. Hamilton with thesameawethatachoirboyentertainsforabishop.Somethingofcomradeship sprang up between us, and before that year had passed we were as boon companionsasmanandboycouldbe.ButHamiltonpresentlyspoileditallby fulfillingmyuncle'spredictionandfindingawife,abeautiful,fair-haired,frail slip of a girl, near enough the twenties to patronize me and too much of the youngladytofindpleasureinanawkwardlad.Thatmeantanendtoourrides
andwalksandsailsdowntheSt.Lawrenceandlongeveningtalks;butItookmy revengebyassumingtheairsofamanofforty,atwhichHamiltonquizzedme notalittleandhiswife,Miriam,laughed.WhenIsurprisedthemallbyjumping suddenly from boyhood to manhood—"like a tadpole into a mosquito," as my UncleJackfacetiouslyremarked.Meanwhile,asonandheircametomyfriend's homeandIhadtobethankfulforahumblethirdplace. AndsoitcamethatIwaswaitingforEric'sarrivalattheQuebecClubthatnight, peeringfromtheporchforsightofhimandcalculatinghowlongitwouldtake to ride from the Chateau Bigot above Charlesbourg, where he was staying. Steppingoutside,Iwassurprisedtoseetheformofahorsebeneaththelantern of the arched gateway; and my surprise increased on nearer inspection. As I walked up, the creature gave a whinny and I recognized Hamilton's horse, lathered with sweat, unblanketed and shivering. The possibility of an accident hardlysuggesteditselfbeforeIobservedthebridle-reinhadbeenslungoverthe hitching-postandheardstepshurryingtothesidedooroftheclub-house. "Isthatyou,Eric?"Icalled. Therewasnoanswer;soIledthehorsetothestableboyandhurriedbacktosee ifHamiltonwereinside.Thesittingroomwasdeserted;butEric'swell-known, tallfigurewasenteringthedining-room.Andacuriousfigurehepresentedtothe questioninglooksoftheclubmen.Inonehandwashisridingwhip,intheother, his gloves. He wore the buckskin coat of a trapper and in the belt were two pistols.Onesleevewastornfromwristtoelbowandhisbootswerescratchedas if they had been combed by an iron rake. His broad-brimmed hat was still on, sloucheddownoverhiseyeslikethatofascout. "Gad! Hamilton," exclaimed Uncle Jack MacKenzie, who was facing Eric as I cameupbehind,"haveyoubeeninaraceorafight?"andhegavehimthelook ofsuspiciononemightgiveanintoxicatedman. "Is it a cold night?" asked the colonel punctiliously, gazing hard at the stillstrappedhat. NotawordcamefromHamilton. "How's the cold in your head?" continued Adderly, pompously trying to stare Hamilton'shatoff. "Here I am, old man! What's kept you?" and I rushed forward but quickly
checked myself; for Hamilton turned slowly towards me and instead of erect bearing,clearglance,firmmouth,Isawaheadthatwasbowed,eyesthatburned likefire,andparched,parted,wordlesslips. Ifthecolonelhadnotbeenstuffinghimselfliketheturkeyguzzlerthathewas, hewouldhaveseensomethingunspeakablyterriblewrittenonHamilton'ssilent face. "Didthelittlewifielethimoffforanight'splay?"sneeredAdderly. Barelywerethewordsout,whenHamilton'steethclenchedbehindtheopenlips, givinghimanugly,furiousexpression,strangetohisface.Hetookaquickstride towardstheofficer,raisedhiswhipandbroughtitdownwiththefullstrengthof hisshoulderinonecuttingblowacrossthebaggy,purplishcheeksoftheinsolent speaker.
CHAPTERII ASTRONGMANISBOWED Thewholethingwassounexpectedthatforonemomentnotamanintheroom drew breath. Then the colonel sprang up with the bellow of an enraged bull, overturning the table in his rush, and a dozen club members were pulling him backfromEric. "EricHamilton,areyoumad?"Icried."Whatdoyoumean?" But Hamilton stood motionless as if he saw none of us. Except that his breath was labored, he wore precisely the same strange, distracted air he had on enteringtheclub. "Holdback!"Iimplored;forAdderlywasstrikingrightandlefttogetfreefrom themen."Holdback!There'samistake!Something'swrong!" "Reptile!"roaredthecolonel."Cowardlyreptile,youshallpayforthis!" "There'samistake,"Ishouted,abovetheclamorofexclamations. "Glad the mistake landed where it did, all the same," whispered Uncle Jack MacKenzieinmyear,"butgethimoutofthis.Drunk—orascandal,"saysmy uncle,whoalwaysexpressedhimselfinexplosiveswhenexcited."Sideroom— here—leadhimin—drunk—byJove—drunk!" "Never,"Ireturnedpassionately.IknewbothHamiltonandhiswifetoowellto tolerateeitherinsinuation.Butweledhimlikeadazedbeingintoasideoffice, whereMr.JackMacKenziepromptlyturnedthekeyandtookupaposturewith hisbackagainstthedoor. "Now,Sir,"hebrokeoutsternly,"ifit'sneitherdrink,norascandal——"There, hestopped;forHamilton,utterlyunconsciousofus,moved,ratherthanwalked, automaticallyacrosstheroom.Throwinghishatdown,hebowedhisheadover botharmsabovethemantel-piece. MyuncleandIlookedfromthesilentmantoeachother.Raisinghisbrowsin question,Mr.JackMacKenzietouchedhisforeheadandwhisperedacrosstome
—"Mad?" Atthat,thoughthewordwasspokenbarelyaboveabreath,Ericturnedslowly round and faced us with blood-shot, gleaming eyes. He made as though he would speak, sank into the armchair before the grate and pressed both hands againsthisforehead. "Mad,"herepeatedinavoicelowasamoan,framinghiswordsslowlyandwith greateffort."ByJove,men,youshouldknowmebetterthantomouthsuchrot underyourbreath.To-night,I'dsellmysoul,sellmysoultobemad,reallymad, toknowthatallIthinkhashappened,hadn'thappenedatall—"andhisspeech wasbrokenbyasharpintakeofbreath. "Out with it,man, forthe Lord'ssake," shoutedmyuncle,nowconvincedthat Eric was not drunk and jumping to conclusions—as he was wont to do when excited—regardingapossiblescandal. "Outwithit,man!We'llstandbyyou!Hasthatblastedred-facedturkey——" "Pray, spare your histrionics, for the present," Eric cut in with the icy selfpossession bred by a lifetime's danger, dispelling my uncle's second suspicion withaquietscornthatrevealednothing. "Whatthe——"beganmykinsman,"whatdidyoustrikehimfor?" "DidIstrikesomebody?"askedHamiltonabsently. Againmyuncleflashedaquestioninglookatme,butthistimehisfaceshowed hisconvictionsoplainlynowordwasneeded. "DidIstrikesomebody?Wishyou'dapologize——" "Apologize!"thunderedmyuncle."I'lldonothingofthekind.Servedhimright. 'Twasaprettyway,aprettyway,indeed,tospeakofanyman'swife——"But the word "wife" had not been uttered before Eric threw out his hands in an imploringgesture. "Don't!"hecriedoutsharplyinthesufferingtoneofamanundertheoperating knife."Don't!Itallcomesback!Itistrue!Itistrue!Ican'tgetawayfromit!Itis nonightmare.MyGod,men,howcanItellyou?There'snowayofsayingit!It isimpossible—preposterous—somemonstrousjoke—it'squiteimpossibleItell you—itcouldn'thavehappened—suchthingsdon'thappen—couldn'thappen—
toher—ofallwomen!Butshe'sgone—she'sgone——" "See here, Hamilton," cried my uncle, utterly beside himself with excitement, "arewetounderstandyouaretalkingofyourwife,or—orsomeotherwoman?" "Seehere,Hamilton,"Ireiterated,quiteheedlessofthebrutalityofourquestions and with a thousand wild suspicions flashing into my mind. "Is it your wife, Miriam,andyourboy?" Butheheardneitherofus. "Theywerethere—theywavedtomefromthegardenattheedgeofthewoods asIenteredtheforest.Onlythismorning,bothwavingtomeasIrodeaway— and when I returned from the city at noon, they were gone! I looked to the windowasIcameback.ThecurtainmovedandIthoughtmyboywashiding, butitwasonlythewind.We'vesearchedeverynookfromcellartoattic.Histoys werelitteredaboutandIfanciedIheardhisvoiceeverywhere,butno!No—no —andwe'vebeenhuntinghouseandgardenforhours——" "And the forest?" questioned Uncle Jack, the trapper instinct of former days suddenlyre-awakening. "The forest is waist-deep with snow! Besides we beat through the bush everywhere, and there wasn't a track, nor broken twig, where they could have passed."Histornclothesboreevidencetothethoroughnessofthatsearch. "Nonsense," my uncle burst out, beginning to bluster. "They've been driven to townwithoutleavingword!" "NosleighwasatChateauBigotthismorning,"returnedHamilton. "Buttheroad,Eric?"Iquestioned,recallinghowtheoldmanor-housestoodwell back in the center of a cleared plateau in the forest. "Couldn't they have gone downtheroadtothoseIndianencampments?" "Theroadisimpassableforsleighs,letalonewalking,andtheirwinterwrapsare allinthehouse.ForHeaven'ssake,men,suggestsomething!Don'tmaddenme withtheseuselessquestions!" ButinspiteofEric'sentreatymyexcitablekinsmansubjectedthefrenziedman tosuchafireofquestionsasmighthavesublimatedpre-natalknowledge.AndI stoodbacklisteningandpiecedthedistracted,brokenanswersintosomesortof
coherency till the whole tragic scene at the Chateau on that spring day of the year1815,becameineffaceablystampedonmymemory. Causeless, with neither warning nor the slightest premonition of danger, the greatest curse which can befall a man came upon my friend Eric Hamilton. Howeverfondahusbandmaybe,therearethingsworseforhiswifethandeath whichhemaywelldread,anditwasoneofthesetragedieswhichalmostdrove poorHamiltonoutofhisreasonandchangedthewholecourseofmyownlife. In broad daylight, his young wife and infant son disappeared as suddenly and completelyasifblottedoutofexistence. That morning, Eric light-heartedly kissed wife and child good-by and waved themafarewellthatwastobethelast.Herodedownthewindingforestpathto Quebec and they stood where the Chateau garden merged into the forest of Charlesbourg Mountain. At noon, when he returned, for him there existed neither wife nor child. For any trace of them that could be found, both might have been supernaturally spirited away. The great house, that had re-echoed to theboy'sprattle,wasdeathlystill;andneitherwife,norchild,answeredhiscall. The nurse was summoned. She was positive Madame was amusing the boy acrossthehall,andreassuringlybustledofftofindmotherandsoninthenext room,andthenext,andyetthenext;todiscovereachinsuccessionempty. Alarm spread to the Chateau servants. The simple habitant maids were questioned,buttheironlyresponsewaswhite-faced,blankamazement. Madamenotreturned! Madamenotback! MonDieu!Whathadhappened?Andallthesuperstitionofhillsideloreaddedto thefearoneachanxiousface.ShortlyafterMonsieurwenttothecity,Madame had taken her little son out as usual for a morning airing, and had been seen walkingupanddownthepathstrackedthroughthegardensnow.HadMonsieur examinedtheclearingbetweenthehouseandtheforest?Monsieurcouldseefor himself the snow was too deep and crusty among the trees for Madame to go twenty paces into the woods. Besides, foot-marks could be traced from the gardentothebush.Heneednotfearwildanimals.Theywererecedingintothe mountains as spring advanced. Let him take another look about the open; and Hamiltontoreout-doors,followedbythewholehousehold;butfromtheChateau inthecenterofthegladetotheencirclingborderofsnow-ladenevergreensthere wasnotraceofwifeorchild.