NORTHERN LIGHTS - VOLUME 4.
NORTHERN LIGHTS - VOLUME 4.
A MAN A FAMINE AND A HEATHEN BOY
THE HEALING SPRINGS AND THE PIONEERS
THE LITTLE WIDOW OF JANSEN
WATCHING THE RISE OF ORION
A MAN A FAMINE AND A HEATHEN BOY
Athabasca in the Far North is the scene of this story--Athabasca one of
the most beautiful countries in the world in summer but a cold bare
land in winter. Yet even in winter it is not so bleak and bitter as the
districts south-west of it for the Chinook winds steal through from the
Pacific and temper the fierceness of the frozen Rockies. Yet forty and
fifty degrees below zero is cold after all and July strawberries in this
wild North land are hardly compensation for seven months of ice and snow
no matter how clear and blue the sky how sweet the sun during its short
journey in the day. Some days too the sun may not be seen even when
there is no storm because of the fine white powdered frost in the air.
A day like this is called a poudre day; and woe to the man who tempts it
unthinkingly because the light makes the delicate mist of frost shine
like silver. For that powder bites the skin white in short order and
sometimes reckless men lose ears or noses or hands under its sharp
caress. But when it really storms in that Far North then neither man
nor beast should be abroad--not even the Eskimo dogs; though times and
seasons can scarcely be chosen when travelling in Athabasca for a storm
comes unawares. Upon the plains you will see a cloud arising not in the
sky but from the ground--a billowy surf of drifting snow; then another
white billow from the sky will sweep down and meet it and you are caught
He who went to Athabasca to live a generation ago had to ask himself if
the long winter spent chiefly indoors with maybe a little trading
with the Indians meagre sport and scant sun savages and half-breeds
the only companions and out of all touch with the outside world letters
coming but once a year; with frozen fish and meat always the same as
the staple items in a primitive fare; with danger from starvation and
marauding tribes; with endless monotony in which men sometimes go mad--
he had to ask himself if these were to be cheerfully endured because in
the short summer the air is heavenly the rivers and lakes are full of
fish the flotilla of canoes of the fur-hunters is pouring down and all
is gaiety and pleasant turmoil; because there is good shooting in the
autumn and the smell of the land is like a garden and hardy fruits and
flowers are at hand.
That is a question which was asked William Rufus Holly once upon a time.
William Rufus Holly often called "Averdoopoy" sometimes "Sleeping
Beauty" always Billy Rufus had had a good education. He had been to
high school and to college and he had taken one or two prizes en route
to graduation; but no fame travelled with him save that he was the
laziest man of any college year for a decade. He loved his little
porringer which is to say that he ate a good deal; and he loved to read
books which is not to say that he loved study; he hated getting out of
bed and he was constantly gated for morning chapel. More than once he
had sweetly gone to sleep over his examination papers. This is not to
say that he failed at his examinations--on the contrary he always
succeeded; but he only did enough to pass and no more; and he did not
wish to do more than pass. His going to sleep at examinations was
evidence that he was either indifferent or self-indulgent and it
certainly showed that he was without nervousness. He invariably roused
himself or his professor roused him a half-hour before the papers
should be handed in and as it were by a mathematical calculation
he had always done just enough to prevent him being plucked.
He slept at lectures he slept in hall he slept as he waited his turn
to go to the wicket in a cricket match and he invariably went to sleep
afterwards. He even did so on the day he had made the biggest score
in the biggest game ever played between his college and the pick of the
country; but he first gorged himself with cake and tea. The day he took
his degree he had to be dragged from a huge grandfather's chair and
forced along in his ragged gown--"ten holes and twelve tatters"--to the
function in the convocation hall. He looked so fat and shiny so balmy
and sleepy when he took his degree and was handed his prize for a poem on
Sir John Franklin that the public laughed and the college men in the
gallery began singing:
"Bye O my baby
Father will come to you soo-oon!"
He seemed not to care but yawned in his hand as he put his prize book
under his arm through one of the holes in his gown and in two minutes
was back in his room and in another five was fast asleep.
It was the general opinion that William Rufus Holly fat yellow-haired
and twenty-four years old was doomed to failure in life in spite of the
fact that he had a little income of a thousand dollars a year and had
made a century in an important game of cricket. Great therefore was
the surprise of the college and afterward of the Province when at the
farewell dinner of the graduates Sleeping Beauty announced between his
little open-eyed naps that he was going Far North as a missionary.
At first it was thought he was joking but when at last in his calm and
dreamy look they saw he meant what he said they rose and carried him
round the room on a chair making impromptu songs as they travelled.
They toasted Billy Rufus again and again some of them laughing till they
cried at the thought of Averdoopoy going to the Arctic regions. But an
uneasy seriousness fell upon these "beautiful bountiful brilliant
boys" as Holly called them later when in a simple honest but indolent
speech he said he had applied for ordination.
Six months later William Rufus Holly a deacon in holy orders journeyed
to Athabasca in the Far North. On his long journey there was plenty of
time to think. He was embarked on a career which must for ever keep him
in the wilds; for very seldom indeed does a missionary of the North ever
return to the crowded cities or take a permanent part in civilised life.
What the loneliness of it would be he began to feel as for hours and
hours he saw no human being on the plains; in the thrilling stillness of
the night; in fierce storms in the woods when his half-breed guides bent
their heads to meet the wind and rain and did not speak for hours; in
the long adventurous journey on the river by day in the cry of the
plaintive loon at night; in the scant food for every meal. Yet what the
pleasure would be he felt in the joyous air the exquisite sunshine the
flocks of wild-fowl flying North honking on their course; in the song of
the half-breeds as they ran the rapids. Of course he did not think
these things quite as they are written here--all at once and all
together; but in little pieces from time to time feeling them rather
than saying them to himself.
At least he did understand how serious a thing it was his going as a
missionary into the Far North. Why did he do it? Was it a whim or the
excited imagination of youth or that prompting which the young often
have to make the world better? Or was it a fine spirit of adventure with
a good heart behind it? Perhaps it was a little of all these; but there
was also something more and it was to his credit.
Lazy as William Rufus Holly had been at school and college he had still
thought a good deal even when he seemed only sleeping; perhaps he
thought more because he slept so much because he studied little and read
a great deal. He always knew what everybody thought--that he would never
do anything but play cricket till he got too heavy to run and then would
sink into a slothful fat and useless middle and old age; that his life
would be a failure. And he knew that they were right; that if he stayed
where he could live an easy life a fat and easy life he would lead; that
in a few years he would be good for nothing except to eat and sleep--no
more. One day waking suddenly from a bad dream of himself so fat as to
be drawn about on a dray by monstrous fat oxen with rings through their
noses led by monkeys he began to wonder what he should do--the hardest
thing to do; for only the hardest life could possibly save him from
failure and in spite of all he really did want to make something of
his life. He had been reading the story of Sir John Franklin's Arctic
expedition and all at once it came home to him that the only thing for
him to do was to go to the Far North and stay there coming back about
once every ten years to tell the people in the cities what was being done
in the wilds. Then there came the inspiration to write his poem on Sir
John Franklin and he had done so winning the college prize for poetry.
But no one had seen any change in him in those months; and indeed there
had been little or no change for he had an equable and practical though
imaginative disposition despite his avoirdupois and his new purpose
did not stir him yet from his comfortable sloth.
And in all the journey West and North he had not been stirred greatly
from his ease of body for the journey was not much harder than playing
cricket every day and there were only the thrill of the beautiful air
the new people and the new scenes to rouse him. As yet there was no
great responsibility. He scarcely realised what his life must be until
one particular day. Then Sleeping Beauty waked wide up and from that
day lost the name. Till then he had looked and borne himself like any
other traveller unrecognised as a parson or "mikonaree." He had not had
prayers in camp en route he had not preached he had held no meetings.
He was as yet William Rufus Holly the cricketer the laziest dreamer of
a college decade. His religion was simple and practical; he had never
had any morbid ideas; he had lived a healthy natural and honourable
life until he went for a mikonaree and if he had no cant he had not a
clear idea of how many-sided how responsible his life must be--until
that one particular day. This is what happened then.
From Fort O'Call an abandoned post of the Hudson's Bay Company on the
Peace River nearly the whole tribe of the Athabasca Indians in
possession of the post now had come up the river with their chief
Knife-in-the-Wind to meet the mikonaree. Factors of the Hudson's Bay
Company coureurs de bois and voyageurs had come among them at times
and once the renowned Father Lacombe the Jesuit priest had stayed with
them three months; but never to this day had they seen a Protestant
mikonaree though once a factor noted for his furious temper his powers
of running and his generosity had preached to them. These men
however were both over fifty years old. The Athabascas did not hunger
for the Christian religion but a courier from Edmonton had brought them
word that a mikonaree was coming to their country to stay and they put
off their stoical manner and allowed themselves the luxury of curiosity.
That was why even the squaws and papooses came up the river with the
braves all wondering if the stranger had brought gifts with him all
eager for their shares; for it had been said by the courier of the tribe
that "Oshondonto" their name for the newcomer was bringing mysterious
loads of well-wrapped bales and skins. Upon a point below the first
rapids of the Little Manitou they waited with their camp-fires burning
and their pipe of peace.
When the canoes bearing Oshondonto and his voyageurs shot the rapids to
the song of the river
"En roulant ma boule roulant
En roulant ma boule!"
with the shrill voices of the boatmen rising to meet the cry of the
startled water-fowl the Athabascas crowded to the high banks. They
grunted "How!" in greeting as the foremost canoe made for the shore.
But if surprise could have changed the countenances of Indians these
Athabascas would not have known one another when the missionary stepped
out upon the shore. They had looked to see a grey-bearded man like the
chief factor who quarrelled and prayed; but they found instead a round-
faced clean-shaven youth with big good-natured eyes yellow hair and
a roundness of body like that of a month-old bear's cub. They expected
to find a man who like the factor could speak their language and they
found a cherub sort of youth who talked only English French and
Chinook--that common language of the North--and a few words of their own
language which he had learned on the way.
Besides Oshondonto was so absent-minded at the moment so absorbed in
admiration of the garish scene before him that he addressed the chief in
French of which Knife-in-the-Wind knew but the one word cache which all
the North knows.
But presently William Rufus Holly recovered himself and in stumbling
Chinook made himself understood. Opening a bale he brought out beads
and tobacco and some bright red flannel and two hundred Indians sat
round him and grunted "How!" and received his gifts with little comment.
Then the pipe of peace went round and Oshondonto smoked it becomingly.
But he saw that the Indians despised him for his youth his fatness his
yellow hair as soft as a girl's his cherub face browned though it was
by the sun and weather.
As he handed the pipe to Knife-in-the-Wind an Indian called Silver
Tassel with a cruel face said grimly:
"Why does Oshondonto travel to us?"
William Rufus Holly's eyes steadied on those of the Indian as he replied
in Chinook: "To teach the way to Manitou the Mighty to tell the
Athabascas of the Great Chief who died to save the world."
"The story is told in many ways; which is right? There was the factor
Word of Thunder. There is the song they sing at Edmonton--I have heard."
"The Great Chief is the same Chief" answered the missionary. "If you
tell of Fort O'Call and Knife-in-the-Wind tells of Fort O'Call he and
you will speak different words and one will put in one thing and one
will leave out another; men's tongues are different. But Fort O'Call is
the-same and the Great Chief is the same."
"It was a long time ago" said Knife-in-the-Wind sourly "many thousand
moons as the pebbles in the river the years."
"It is the same world and it is the same Chief and it was to save us"
answered William Rufus Holly smiling yet with a fluttering heart for
the first test of his life had come.
In anger Knife-in-the-Wind thrust an arrow into the ground and said:
"How can the white man who died thousands of moons ago in a far country
save the red man to-day?"
"A strong man should bear so weak a tale" broke in Silver Tassel
ruthlessly. "Are we children that the Great Chief sends a child as
For a moment Billy Rufus did not know how to reply and in the pause
Knife-in-the-Wind broke in two pieces the arrow he had thrust in the
ground in token of displeasure.
Suddenly as Oshondonto was about to speak Silver Tassel sprang to his
feet seized in his arms a lad of twelve who was standing near and
running to the bank dropped him into the swift current.
"If Oshondonto be not a child let him save the lad" said Silver Tassel
standing on the brink.
Instantly William Rufus Holly was on his feet. His coat was off before
Silver Tassel's words were out of his mouth and crying "In the name of
the Great White Chief!" he jumped into the rushing current. "In the
name of your Manitou come on Silver Tassel!" he called up from the
water and struck out for the lad.
Not pausing an instant Silver Tassel sprang into the flood into the
whirling eddies and dangerous current below the first rapids and above
Then came the struggle for Wingo of the Cree tribe a waif among the
Athabascas whose father had been slain as they travelled by a wandering
tribe of Blackfeet. Never was there a braver rivalry although the odds
were with the Indian-in lightness in brutal strength. With the
mikonaree however were skill and that sort of strength which the world
calls "moral" the strength of a good and desperate purpose. Oshondonto
knew that on the issue of this shameless business--this cruel sport of
Silver Tassel--would depend his future on the Peace River. As he shot
forward with strong strokes in the whirling torrent after the helpless
lad who only able to keep himself afloat was being swept down towards
the rapids below he glanced up to the bank along which the Athabascas
were running. He saw the garish colours of their dresses; he saw the
ignorant medicine man with his mysterious bag making incantations; he
saw the tepee of the chief with its barbarous pennant above; he saw the
idle naked children tearing at the entrails of a calf; and he realised
that this was a deadly tournament between civilisation and barbarism.
Silver Tassel was gaining on him they were both overhauling the boy; it
was now to see which should reach Wingo first which should take him to
shore. That is if both were not carried under before they reached him;
that is if having reached him they and he would ever get to shore;
for lower down before it reached the rapids the current ran horribly
smooth and strong and here and there were jagged rocks just beneath the
Still Silver Tassel gained on him as they both gained on the boy.
Oshondonto swam strong and hard but he swam with his eye on the struggle
for the shore also; he was not putting forth his utmost strength for he
knew it would be bitterly needed perhaps to save his own life by a last
Silver Tassel passed him when they were about fifty feet from the boy.
Shooting by on his side with a long stroke and the plunge of his body
like a projectile the dark face with the long black hair plastering it
turned towards his own in fierce triumph Silver Tassel cried "How!" in
Billy Rufus set his teeth and lay down to his work like a sportsman. His
face had lost its roses and it was set and determined but there was no
look of fear upon it nor did his heart sink when a cry of triumph went
up from the crowd on the banks. The white man knew by old experience in
the cricket-field and in many a boat-race that it is well not to halloo
till you are out of the woods. His mettle was up he was not the
Reverend William Rufus Holly missionary but Billy Rufus the champion
cricketer the sportsman playing a long game.
Silver Tassel reached the boy who was bruised and bleeding and at his
last gasp and throwing an arm round him struck out for the shore. The
current was very strong and he battled fiercely as Billy Rufus not far
above moved down toward them at an angle. For a few yards Silver Tassel
was going strong then his pace slackened he seemed to sink lower in the
water and his stroke became splashing and irregular. Suddenly he struck
a rock which bruised him badly and swerving from his course he lost
his stroke and let go the boy.
By this time the mikonaree had swept beyond them and he caught the boy
by his long hair as he was being swept below. Striking out for the
shore he swam with bold strong strokes his judgment guiding him well
past rocks beneath the surface. Ten feet from shore he heard a cry of
alarm from above. It concerned Silver Tassel he knew but he could not
look round yet.
In another moment the boy was dragged up the bank by strong hands and
Billy Rufus swung round in the water towards Silver Tassel who in his
confused energy had struck another rock and exhausted now was being
swept towards the rapids. Silver Tassel's shoulder scarcely showed his
strength was gone. In a flash Billy Rufus saw there was but one thing to
do. He must run the rapids with Silver Tassel-there was no other way.
It would be a fight through the jaws of death; but no Indian's eyes had
a better sense for river-life than William Rufus Holly's.
How he reached Silver Tassel and drew the Indian's arm over his own
shoulder; how they drove down into the boiling flood; how Billy Rufus's
fat body was battered and torn and ran red with blood from twenty flesh
wounds; but how by luck beyond the telling he brought Silver Tassel
through safely into the quiet water a quarter of a mile below the rapids
and was hauled out both more dead than alive is a tale still told by
the Athabascas around their camp-fire. The rapids are known to-day as
the Mikonaree Rapids.
The end of this beginning of the young man's career was that Silver
Tassel gave him the word of eternal friendship Knife-in-the-Wind took
him into the tribe and the boy Wingo became his very own to share his
home and his travels no longer a waif among the Athabascas.
After three days' feasting at the end of which the missionary held his
first service and preached his first sermon to the accompaniment of
grunts of satisfaction from the whole tribe of Athabascas William Rufus
Holly began his work in the Far North.
The journey to Fort O'Call was a procession of triumph for as it was
summer there was plenty of food the missionary had been a success and
he had distributed many gifts of beads and flannel.
All went well for many moons although converts were uncertain and
baptisms few and the work was hard and the loneliness at times terrible.
But at last came dark days.
One summer and autumn there had been poor fishing and shooting the
caches of meat were fewer on the plains and almost nothing had come up
to Fort O'Call from Edmonton far below. The yearly supplies for the
missionary paid for out of his private income--the bacon beans tea
coffee and flour--had been raided by a band of hostile Indians and he
viewed with deep concern the progress of the severe winter. Although
three years of hard frugal life had made his muscles like iron they had
only mellowed his temper increased his flesh and rounded his face; nor
did he look an hour older than on the day when he had won Wingo for his
willing slave and devoted friend.
He never resented the frequent ingratitude of the Indians; he said little
when they quarrelled over the small comforts his little income brought
them yearly from the South. He had been doctor lawyer judge among
them although he interfered little in the larger disputes and was
forced to shut his eyes to intertribal enmities. He had no deep faith
that he could quite civilise them; he knew that their conversion was only
on the surface and he fell back on his personal influence with them. By
this he could check even the excesses of the worst man in the tribe his
old enemy Silver Tassel of the bad heart who yet was ready always to
give a tooth for a tooth and accepted the fact that he owed Oshondonto
When famine crawled across the plains to the doors of the settlement and
housed itself at Fort O'Call Silver Tassel acted badly however and
sowed fault-finding among the thoughtless of the tribe.
"What manner of Great Spirit is it who lets the food of his chief
Oshondonto fall into the hands of the Blackfeet?" he said. "Oshondonto
says the Great Spirit hears. What has the Great Spirit to say? Let
Again when they all were hungrier he went among them with complaining
words. "If the white man's Great Spirit can do all things let him give
Oshondonto and the Athabascas food."
The missionary did not know of Silver Tassel's foolish words but he saw
the downcast face of Knife-in-the-Wind the sullen looks of the people;
and he unpacked the box he had reserved jealously for the darkest days
that might come. For meal after meal he divided these delicacies among
them--morsels of biscuit and tinned meats and dried fruits. But his
eyes meanwhile were turned again and again to the storm raging without
as it had raged for this the longest week he had ever spent. If it would
but slacken a boat could go out to the nets set in the lake near by some
days before when the sun of spring had melted the ice. From the hour
the nets had been set the storm had raged. On the day when the last
morsel of meat and biscuit had been given away the storm had not abated