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The Frontier Fort

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Frontier Fort; Stirring Times in the North-West Territory of BritishAmerica, by W H G Kingston.


  Another well-written yarn by Kingston, with a background of Indianterritory in the Red River area of North America. Plenty of action,ambushes, shootings, fast rides on horseback, and other incidentsapparently typical of the life of those days and in such a place.




  A party of travellers were wending their way across a wide-spreadingprairie in the north-west territory of America. As far as the eye couldreach, the ground was covered with waving tufts of dark-green grass,interspersed with flowers of varied hue, among which could bedistinguished the yellow marigold and lilac bergamot, with bluebells,harebells, and asters, innumerable; while here and there rose-bushes,covered with gorgeous bloom, appeared above the particoloured carpetspread over the country. On the north side the prairie was bounded bysoftly rounded knolls, between which tiny lakelets were visible, shiningin the bright rays of the glowing sun. To the northward a silverystream could be seen meandering, bordered by willows, aspens, osiers,and other trees of considerable height, breaking the line of thehorizon.

  "I am delighted with your country, Burnett; I had no idea such lovelyscenery and so much rich soil existed on this side of the RockyMountains," said one of the travellers, addressing another, who rodealongside him.

  "I hope, before many years are over, to see this fair region coveredwith populous towns and villages, and flourishing farms."

  "That time is far distant, I suspect," answered Mr Burnett, a headclerk of the Hudson's Bay Company, in charge of the party; "and I canonly say that I hope so, for when it comes, our vocation will bewell-nigh gone, as the Company will have to shut up shop--"

  "And retire on well-won fortunes," laughingly added the first speaker,Reginald Loraine. He was a young Englishman of good fortune and family,who had lately come out to make a tour in Canada; but having heardconflicting reports of the north-west territory, he had been induced tocontinue his journey westward, intending to proceed as far as the footof the Rocky Mountains, and to return, before the termination of thesummer, from Fort Edmonton, down the Saskatchewan, and through LakeWinnipeg to the Red River.

  His intelligence, high spirits, and good humour made him an agreeablecompanion. He was never put out by any mishaps or inconveniences. Hispersonal appearance was also much in his favour; while he was a goodrider, and possessed of activity and endurance, equal, if not superior,to any of the rest of the party, long accustomed though they were to themode of life they were leading.

  From the sentiments he uttered, and the expression of his handsomecountenance, it might have been surmised that he possessed many otherqualities of a higher character. Young Hector Mackintosh, who had comewith him from Toronto, declared, indeed, that he never wished to have astauncher fellow at his back in a skirmish with Redskins, or in a fightwith a grizzly, and that he was as high-minded and generous as he wasbrave.

  Hector, who was now curvetting over the prairie on a tough littlemustang, had been at school at Toronto, whence he was returning torejoin his father, Captain Mackintosh, now a chief officer, or factor,in charge of Fort Duncan, a Company's post to the south-west, situatedon the borders of the Blackfeet territory. It was a somewhat dangerousposition, which only a man of courage and resolution would willinglyhave occupied.

  Following at some little distance those who have been mentioned, camethree other horsemen, whose shouts of laughter, interspersedoccasionally with snatches of songs, could be heard far across theprairie. The centre of the three was a short, portly gentleman, with asomewhat rubicund countenance--Doctor McCrab, just appointed surgeon toone of the forts in the west. On either side of him rode two youngclerks. One of them was Dan Maloney, a light-hearted Irishman, withwhom the jolly Doctor amused himself by exchanging jokes, cappingverses, and singing duets which set all the laws of harmony at defiance.

  The other was Allan Keith, who, from similarity of taste and mentalqualities, had won the regard of Reginald Loraine; indeed, except inpoint of wealth, the two young men greatly resembled each other.

  Some way behind the gentlemen came a long team of Red River woodencarts, escorted by several persons on horseback, under charge of JacquesLeblanc, a French half-breed, who, from his reputed knowledge of thecountry in all directions, had been selected to act as guide to thewhole party.

  The carts, which had only two wheels, were built entirely of wood, andeach was dragged by a single horse. Some carried the travellers' tents,cooking utensils, a tool-chest, and additional axletrees, their arms andammunition, together with their clothes, spare blankets, andwaterproofs. The other carts were laden with stores of all sorts forthe forts to the westward.

  Accompanying the carts was a drove of loose horses--the animals nowrearing and kicking and biting at each other--now moving along steadily,under the management of a single driver, Francois Chabot, also a Frenchhalf-breed. He had seldom to use his long whip to keep them in order;and even the most restless showed no inclination to leave theircompanions. They were intended to supply the travellers with a changeof steeds once or twice in the day; for in making long journeys, whenday after day forty or fifty miles have to be got over between sunriseand sunset, one horse seldom possesses sufficient strength and enduranceto carry his rider the whole distance.

  When a horse shows signs of fatigue, his saddle is removed to the backof another, and he contentedly runs on with the herd. The horses weremostly small, and many of them sorry-looking steeds; but they had,notwithstanding, carried their riders without showing signs of fatigue,or growing thinner. Their only food was the grass they could pick upwhile the party were encamped at night, or during their noon-day halt,neither beans nor corn being given them.

  Reginald Loraine and the Doctor had provided themselves with Englishsaddles; the rest of the party bestrode those of native manufacture,which were merely large pads of dressed leather, stuffed with hair orgrass, and having a broad and fringed crupper. Several of them weretrimmed and handsomely adorned with quills, the talent of themanufacturer being especially exerted in ornamenting the saddle-cloths.The stirrups were formed of curved pieces of wood, hanging by leatherthongs to the primitive saddle. The bridles might more properly becalled halters. They consisted of a thong of raw hide, thirty feet inlength, called an _atscacha_. One end was tied round the animal's lowerjaw, and the other, after being brought over the neck to the rider'shand, was allowed to drag on the ground some fifteen feet behind. Itrequires care, particularly by those in the rear, not to tread on thethongs trailing behind. By so doing, the mouth of the horse receives ajerk which seldom fails to make it rear and curvet from side to side.

  The object of this long thong is to enable the rider, when he dismounts,to hold his horse while he fires at a foe; or, should he be thrown bythe animal stumbling in a rabbit-burrow, to prevent it running off. Thelong thong serves also as a halter, ever ready to tie it up, or to catchit when at liberty. Even the gentlemen who used English bridles foundit convenient to have these halters secured to their horses' heads.

  Day after day the travellers had been making their way along the FertileBelt, the name given to a broad tract of country extending between theRed River and the base of the Rocky Mountains, bordered on the north byforests, lakes, and rivers, and on the south by that sandy and desertregion which extends along the whole frontier of the United States.

  The party rode steadily on, ever
y man carrying his rifle at his back;for although the natives were generally friendly, it was considered wiseto be prepared, lest so rich a booty as the carts would afford mighttempt them. At night, too, a constant watch was kept on the horses, asthe Crees roaming over that part of the country are notorioushorse-stealers, and would have considered it a creditable feat to havecarried off as many of the travellers' steeds as they could catch.

  They had proceeded some distance, when, shading his eyes with his hand,Mr Burnett looked out eagerly ahead.

  "What is it you see?" asked Loraine, imitating his example.

  "A party of horsemen, whom I at first thought might be Blackfeet on thewar-path, but I am satisfied they are Red River men, on a buffalo hunt,"answered Burnett. "We shall soon know. See, Leblanc has gone forwardto ascertain who they are."

  The guide in a short time returned, saying that the strangers were RedRiver hunters; that they had just sighted buffalo, and would be glad ifany of the gentlemen of the party would join them.

  Loraine and Hector were delighted to accept the invitation, and AllanKeith and Maloney were anxious to try their skill as hunters. Whilethey galloped on to join the half-breeds, Burnett and his men movedtowards the spot which had been fixed on for camping at night.

  The buffalo hunt need not be described, except to say that the youngEnglishmen won the admiration of their new friends by their courage anddexterity, each having brought a couple of the shaggy monsters to theground.

  The travellers spent the evening with their new friends, the hunters,who, as soon as the buffalo they had last killed had been turned intopemmican, intended to return to the Red River. Next morning theycontinued their journey westward, pushing on at greater speed thanusual, to make up for lost time, Burnett being very anxious to reach thefort by the day he was expected.

  The country was generally lovely, being well wooded, with numerouslakelets, now rising into softly rounded knolls, and occasionallyopening out into a wide, fair landscape. The soil was of rich loam, andthe vegetation luxuriant, sprinkled with flowers of many tints.

  They had been moving on for a couple of hours or more, when Loraine,looking to the southward, observed a remarkable appearance in thehorizon, which wore an unearthly ashen hue. Pointing it out to Burnett,he asked--

  "Can that be produced by a prairie fire?"

  "No; but if I mistake not, we shall have, before long, a flight oflocusts passing over our heads. That peculiar look of the sky isproduced by the light reflected from their transparent wings."

  As he spoke, the whole sky appeared to be changing from blue to silverywhite, then to ashy grey and lead colour; while, opposite to the sun,the prevailing hue was a silver white--perceptibly flashing, the airseeming as if rilled with flakes of snow.

  "The insects are flying from five hundred to a thousand feet above ourheads; and I hope we may get clear of them before we camp, or they willplay mischief with everything made of leather, which is left exposed,"observed Burnett.

  He was, however, disappointed; for, in a short time, the locustsdescended--the whole air became filled with them, until they reached theground, where they clung to the blades of grass in countless multitudes.

  During the remainder of the day the creatures continued coming on; andwhen the party at length stopped at night, they had to clear away theground to form their camp.

  The voracity of the insects was proved by the way they attacked anddestroyed several articles of clothing, which had carelessly been lefton the grass. The travellers found, indeed, that the only way toprotect their property was to pile it up in the carts out of reach. DanMaloney appeared with a melancholy countenance, exhibiting a leather bagand a pair of woollen trousers, which he had thrown down outside thetent, eaten through and through in all directions. At night theinsects, fortunately, did not move. Early in the morning they werefound busily feeding; but as soon as the sun had evaporated the dew,they began taking short flights, and then cloud after cloud rose, andpursued their way to the northward.

  Burnett assured his companions that he had never seen so large a flightbefore; and, as far as he could ascertain, many years had passed withoutthe country receiving a similar visitation.

  Scarcely had the locusts disappeared, than what looked like a thick,black fog-bank was seen rising from the direction whence they had come.It approached nearer and nearer. Leblanc, riding forward, pointed itout to Burnett.

  "The prairie is on fire," he remarked.

  "I know it is; I saw it from the first. But I don't think it will comenear us."

  "I am not quite so sure of that. It comes on fast, and the grass hereis very long," said the guide.

  "Then we'll make our way to yonder knoll, where it is shorter," saidBurnett, who was not to be put out by Indians, locusts, or prairiefires.

  The word was given to drag the carts towards the spot Burnett hadindicated.

  "A fire on the prairie is a serious matter, is it not?" observedLoraine, in a tone of inquiry.

  "I do not much fear it, notwithstanding," answered Burnett. "We shallhave a storm before long, I suspect, and that will fight the flames."

  "I should have thought that a storm would be more likely to fan theminto greater fury," remarked Loraine, who considered that Burnett wasnot sufficiently alive to the dangers they might have to encounter fromthe fire.

  "Not if it rains as I expect it will," observed Burnett. "Look at thatcloud ahead. It contains a torrent sufficient to extinguish thefiercest flames."

  Loraine had hitherto been admiring the beautiful appearance of the sky.To the south it was of that bright blue such as is seldom seen in theBritish Isles. To the west it was bordered with vast, billowy clouds ofthe softest, snowy white. Beneath the black cloud, which was everyinstant extending, were grey masses whirling on at a terrific rate;while, suddenly, to the north and east the expanse of heaven assumed adun-coloured hue, vivid with lightning, where rain appeared to bedescending in torrents. The whole atmosphere was charged withelectricity. The lightning rushed towards the earth, in straight andzig-zag currents, the thunder varying from the sharp rattle of musketryto the roar of artillery. Still no rain had fallen from overhead, whilescarcely a breath of air was blowing.

  Meantime, however, the fire came rushing on across the prairie, theflames, as they caught the tall grass, growing brighter and brighter,every now and then rising and expanding, as they seized on shrubs andtrees in their onward course.

  Burnett at last seemed to think that matters were growing serious, andmade a signal to the drivers of the carts to push forward. There was nonecessity, as they were doing their utmost to urge on their steeds byuttering strange oaths and by the liberal use of their whips.

  "We must try and get to the other side of the knoll, and camp; for we asyet have only seen the beginning of the storm," remarked Burnett.

  Scarcely had he said this, than, with the suddenness of a tornado, thewind came rushing down upon them; at first, without a drop of rain, butso fiercely that the horses were forced from the track. Again and againit seemed hopeless to drive against it. The lightning flashed morevividly than before; the thunder roared; while the fire advanced acrossthe prairie like a fiery host bent on their destruction.

  "I say, I don't see why we should lose our lives, even though Burnettthinks it is his duty to stick by the carts," said Hector, riding up toLoraine. "We can gallop ahead, in spite of the wind; it will be betterthan being turned into Guy Fawkeses."

  Loraine was much inclined to follow his young friend's advice; indeed,he suspected the rest of the party would soon leave the carts to theirfates, and try to save themselves by flight from the fiery sea, whichwas tossing and heaving not a quarter of a mile away from them. Hewould not go, however, without first urging Burnett, the other clerks,and the Doctor to try and save themselves.

  He had turned his horse for the purpose, when the rain came down thickand furious, with even greater suddenness than the wind had arisen.They saw that it almost immediately produced an effect on the f
ire. Itwas a struggle between the two elements. At first it seemed doubtful,however, which would prove victorious; but water, they trusted, hadgained the day; for, mingled with the rain came hail, not only ordinaryhail, but mixed with lumps half an inch to an inch across.

  "Och! I'd as soon have a whack from an honest shillaly as be pelted bythim threacherous lumps," cried Dan Maloney.

  The travellers in vain raised their hands to protect their heads fromthe hail. The long line of horses and carts was broken. Some of thepoor creatures clung to the road, struggling desperately. Others weredriven on to the prairie, and turning their backs to the storm, stoodstill or moved sideways, with cowering heads, their manes and tailsfloating wildly, like those of Highland shelties.

  Hector declared that he could hear the hissing of the rain as it fell onthe hitherto victorious fire, effectually, however, quenching it. A fewminutes after the storm had broken, the whole ground to the left was ablackened expanse. The danger was passed, and they hastened on to thefoot of the knoll, where a lakelet, fringed by aspens and poplars,afforded them good camping ground. With astonishing speed thearrangements for the night were made; every man exerted himself. Thehorses were unharnessed, the erratic ones hobbled, the tents pitched,and the travellers assembled round the blazing fires which were quicklylighted to dry their saturated clothing.

  Almost before these arrangements were made, the storm passed away. Thesetting sun burst forth again until not a blot was left in the sky, savefragments of mist to the south and south-east. It was too late to thinkof moving on again, and Leblanc was glad of the opportunity of haltingto repair some of the carts with the ever serviceable "Shaganappi," alarge supply of which was carried for the purpose, as also to mend theharness and other gear which had been broken by the restive movements ofthe horses during the storm.

  In the mean time, while Francois, another Canadian, who acted as cook,was preparing the evening meal, Loraine and Hector took their guns toshoot some ducks which were seen on the other side of the lakelet.Having knocked over several birds, before returning they took arefreshing plunge in the water, which was sufficiently deep for thepurpose.

  The twilight had faded away into darkness before the whole party wereseated round the camp-fires, discussing their suppers with suchappetites as few fail to obtain while travelling in that region. Supperwas over; and "early to bed, and early to rise" being a standing order,those of the party who enjoyed the luxury of tents retired within, whilethe rest lay down, wrapped in their blankets, beneath the cartsarranged, as usual, in a circle to serve as a defence against anyattacks of hostile Indians. Although Burnett did not expect anyannoyance of the sort, he considered it his duty to take the precautionswhich no traveller at that period omitted to make. Two or three menwere also stationed as sentries to keep watch, especially on the horses.

  Loraine had seen Hector, who shared his tent, fall fast asleep; but notbeing inclined to close his own eyes, he stepped out of his tent to takea look at the stars which shone from the heavens, undimmed by a singlecloud. Happening to turn his eyes towards the summit of the knoll, hewas somewhat surprised to see what he felt sure was a human figure, theoutline being distinctly marked against the sky. The man was evidentlytaking a survey of the camp. Loraine, thinking it possible that hemight be a scout sent out by a party of Blackfeet, made his way to thenearest sentry to tell him to be on the watch, and to ask his opinion onthe subject. By the time he had reached the sentry, however, the figurehad disappeared. The sentry thought he might have been mistaken; butwhen Loraine made him understand what he had seen, he went round to theother men on watch, and urged them to be on the alert and to keep thehorses well together. Loraine was just going back to his tent, when heheard a shout. It was answered by the sentry on the south side of thecamp; and a conversation in a language he could not understand tookplace. On going up to them, he could dimly distinguish an Indian ofsomewhat diminutive size and of deformed figure.

  "What does he want?" inquired Loraine.

  "He says, as far as I can make out, that his chief, who will be heredirectly, sent him to find out who we are; for he thought at first, whenhe saw our camp-fire, that we might be Crees, or a party of Blackfeet,for such he knows are at present out on the war-path," answered thesentry.

  "Tell him that we shall be glad to see his chief, whoever he is, if hecomes as a friend," said Loraine. "Until I know his business, I willnot arouse Mr Burnett, who requires a good rest; and I dare say it willkeep until to-morrow morning."

  The sentry spoke to the hump-backed Indian, who quickly disappeared inthe gloom; and Loraine walked up and down, waiting for his return.

  "You must not be thrown off your guard, Pierre, lest some trick shouldbe intended," he remarked, recollecting the numberless tales of Indiantreachery he had heard.

  "I know the coquins (rogues) too well for that," answered Pierre.

  In a short time, Loraine saw through the gloom two persons on horseback,with a couple of led horses, approaching. They rode fearlessly up tothe camp. The first, from the white hair hanging down under his furcap, and his snowy beard, and wrinkled, weather-beaten features, thoughhe sat upright and firmly in his saddle, was apparently an old man. Hiscostume, consisting of a leathern coat and leggings, fringed in theusual fashion, and the rifle slung at his back, showed that he was oneof the free white hunters, or trappers, who have been wont for many ayear to roam amid the prairies and forests in the north-west in searchof peltries. The other person, leading the two pack horses, Lorainerecognised as the hump-backed Indian who had just before come to thecamp.

  "I am glad to have fallen in with you, friends," said the old man,dismounting. "You keep early hours and a careful watch. I expected tohave seen you carousing, and quaffing the accursed fire-water, as somany of you travellers from the Far East are wont to do. To say thetruth, when I first caught sight of your camp-fires, I was uncertainwhether they were those of Crees or Blackfeet; and as I had no fancy tofall in with the one or the other, I sent on my lad Greensnake to learnthe state of the case."

  "Then he was the person I saw at the top of the hillock out there,"observed Loraine.

  "Not he; he would not have exposed himself in that fashion," said theold man.

  "Then my eyes must have deceived me, after all," said Loraine. "I'msure Mr Burnett, the leader of our party, will welcome you to the camp;but he is asleep at present, and I should be sorry to disturb himunnecessarily. I will, however, call up one of the men to get readysome supper for you and your attendant."

  "I shall be glad of some food, for I have not fired a shot for the lastthree days, and my stock of provisions has run short," replied the oldman.

  He now called up Greensnake, took off the saddles from the led horses,and unloaded the baggage animals, placing the packs inside the circle ofcarts.

  Meantime, Loraine found out where Francois was sleeping, and, arousinghim, told him to get some food ready for their unexpected guests.

  Francois at first eyed the strangers askance. Satisfied, however, atlength, that he was a white man, and perhaps a person of more importancethan his costume might betoken, he set diligently to work to boil thekettle and fry some buffalo meat; the old hunter, who had taken a seaton a pile of wood near the fire, looking complacently on.

  Loraine having assisted Francois in preparing the supper, prompted bygood feeling, and perhaps slightly by curiosity, took a seat by the sideof the stranger, that he might attend to his wants. Immediatelyafterwards, the lad who has been introduced as Greensnake glidednoiselessly up in a fashion appropriate to his name, and squatted downclose to his master, waiting patiently until Loraine handed him a shareof the food. Having no cause to conceal the object of their journey,Loraine explained that he and his companions were bound for FortEdmonton, and were pushing on as fast as they could travel, without therisk of knocking up their horses.

  "I wish that you were directing your course rather to Fort Duncan, for Isuspect that Captain Mackintosh and his small garrison are gre
atly inwant of assistance. From some information brought me by Greensnake, Isuspect that the Blackfeet have formed a plot to take it. Hearing thatthe Captain holds the Indians cheaply, and is not likely to be warned bywhat I might tell him, I am on my way to Fort Edmonton to advise that heshould be put on his guard, and that assistance may be sent him withoutdelay."

  Loraine was struck by the old man's mode of expressing himself--sodifferent to the slang language used in general by the rough trappersand traders of the Far West.

  "This is important information, indeed!" he said, feeling anxious aboutthe safety of his young friend's family, and especially of that youngfriend's two sisters; for although he had never seen them, Hector hadshown him their portraits, one of which, called Sybil, possessed a faceof rare loveliness. Effie, the younger, was very attractive; but Hectordeclared that there never was, or never could be, anybody like Sybil.Hector had told him that the portrait, not being his own, he could notgive it to him, but that he was welcome to look at it as often as heliked--a privilege of which, it must be confessed, Reginald frequentlytook advantage; and he had resolved, if possible, to pay a visit to theresidence of the fair original. Even had this not been the case, hischivalry would have made him eager to set off to the assistance ofHector's relatives. He felt that the matter was of so much importancethat he should be justified in calling up Mr Burnett to discuss whatmeasures should be taken. He, of course, knew that Hector would be asanxious to go as he was; he, therefore, let him sleep on. Burnett, whodid not appear very well satisfied at being aroused from his slumbers,came and sat down to hear the old man's account. He questioned himnarrowly, apparently not altogether crediting his statements.

  "You may think what you will, Mr Burnett; but people are not apt ingeneral to doubt the word of Isaac Sass," said the old man at length, inan offended tone.

  "Are you Isaac Sass?" exclaimed Burnett. "I have often heard of you.Then, I say, I don't doubt your word. But why are you so sure that thefort will be attacked?"

  "For a strong reason, which, as I don't wish to keep you longer fromyour rest, I will give in the morning."

  "A word for yourself, friend Sass, I ken?" observed Burnett.

  "No, no; I can do without sleep," answered Isaac Sass; "but before I liedown, I wish to know--yes or no--whether you will direct your coursetowards Fort Duncan, instead of going on to Edmonton."

  "I wish that I could do as you suggest," answered Burnett. "If CaptainMackintosh wants help, I should like to give it him; but I must carryout my instructions, at all costs. It would not do to run the risk ofgetting our train plundered, as both stores and ammunition are muchwanted at Edmonton."

  "But will you allow one of your factors to be exposed to the danger ourfriend here has spoken of?" exclaimed Loraine. "I should be unwillingunder any other circumstances to part company; but I feel bound, whetheror not I can get anybody to go with me, to set off with my friend, youngMackintosh, to warn his family, and give them such assistance as wecan."

  "You, of course, are at liberty to go, Mr Loraine; and, as youngMackintosh was committed to your care, to take him with you," answeredBurnett, somewhat stiffly. "But duty is duty. I must obey my orders,and those are, to conduct this train to Edmonton with as little delay aspossible. I have no discretionary power to go out of the way, under anyexcuse whatever."

  "But, surely, you would not object to one of the clerks, and some few ofthe men who could be spared, accompanying me!" exclaimed Loraine. "Evena small addition to the number would be of consequence in the defence ofthe fort, should it be attacked; and that it will be so, our friend hereseems to think there is every probability."

  "I have explained how I am situated in the matter, Mr Loraine," saidMr Burnett, in the same tone as before; "and I think it right to say,that, without a guide and a body of men well-armed, you and youngMackintosh will be unable to accomplish the journey. You will eitherlose yourselves and be starved, or be attacked and cut off by theBlackfeet. The Crees are not to be trusted either; for though they arecivil enough to us, knowing that we have the power to punish them, yetthey would steal our horses if they could; and, looking upon you asstrangers, they would not only take your horses, but your scalps intothe bargain."

  "I shall not be afraid of meeting either them or the Blackfeet,"answered Loraine. "What do you say, friend?" he added, turning to IsaacSass. "Can I, or can I not, get to Fort Duncan, and warn the garrisonof the danger which threatens them?"

  The old hunter looked up at the countenance of the young Englishman,without speaking for a few seconds. He then said, "If pluck and couragewould enable a man to do it, you would; but I cannot say how much youknow about the country and the ways of the Redskins. It would not be aneasy matter for any man, as there are several war parties out--of that Ihave certain knowledge; and I had no small difficulty in keeping clearof them. I wish that I could go with you, but I cannot get along asfast as I used to do, and my beasts are pretty well knocked up. Butthis is what I'll do: I'll send my lad Greensnake with you; whatever Itell him to do, he'll do, and prove as true as steel. People call himan idiot; but he's no more an idiot than I am, if a person knows how toget the sense out of him, and that's what I do."

  Greensnake, on hearing his name mentioned, glanced up with a pleasedlook, and nodded at his master, as a dog often does when spoken about.

  "I gladly accept your offer, and will give him any reward you thinkright for his services," said Loraine. "I should like to set offto-night."

  "That would be impossible, as the lad and your horses want rest,"answered the old trapper. "To-morrow morning he shall be at yourservice, and perhaps by that time Mr Burnett will have thought thematter over, and will send two or three of his men to accompany you. Iwill take the duties of those who go, and he knows I am worthsomething."

  "Well, well, I'll think it over, and to-morrow morning let you know mydecision," said Burnett. "Now, Mr Loraine, I'd advise you to lie downand get some rest, or you won't be fit for the work you propose toundertake."

  Loraine, hoping that Burnett would consent to spare him a few men,followed his advice, and turned into his camp bed, while the old hunter,wrapping himself in his buffalo robe, lay down with his feet to thefire, as did Greensnake in a horse-cloth, which he took from the baggagehe had deposited inside the camp.