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- Owindia - 3/5 -

themselves of every vestige of clothing, to lie there without food or drink, singing and invoking the wonder-worker until the revelation of some secret root was made known, by which their design for good or evil might be accomplished!

A Cree Indian, a man of sound education, related once the following story:--"I was suffering in the year 18----from great distress of body, and after seeing a doctor and feeling no better, I began to think I must be the victim of some medicine-man. I thought over my adventures of the last year or two, to discover if there were any who had reason to wish me evil. Yes, there was one man, a Swampy Indian. I had quarrelled with him, and then we had had words; and I spoke, well, I spoke bitterly (which I ought not to have done, for he was the injured man) and he vowed to revenge himself upon me. This was some years since, however, and I had never given him a thought since the time of our quarrel, but now I was certain a spell was over me, and he must have wrought it,--I knew of no other enemy, and I was determined to overcome it or die. So I saddled my horse and rode across country for thirty miles till I reached the dwelling of the Swampy. The man was outside, and started when he saw me, which convinced me more than ever that I was on the right scent. I put up my horse and followed my man into the house whither he had retreated; and wasting no time, came to the point at once. Drawing my revolver and pointing it to his heart, 'Villain,' I exclaimed, 'you have made medicine on me: tell me your secret or I shall shoot you dead.' I never saw a more cowed and more wretched-looking being than my man became. I expected at least some resistance to my command; but he offered none; for without attempting to stir or even look me in the face, he smiled a ghastly smile, and muttered, 'It has done its work then--well, I am glad! Look in your horse-saddle, and never provoke me more.' I hesitated for a moment whether to loosen my hold upon the man, and to believe so improbable a story; but on the whole I deemed it better to do so. He had fulfilled his threat of revenge, and had caused me months of suffering in body and mind; he knew me well enough to be sure that I was in earnest when I told him that his life would be forfeited if the spell were not removed. So I released my hold and quitted the house. On cutting open my saddle I discovered that the whole original lining had been removed and replaced by an immense number of baneful roots and herbs, which I burnt on the spot. How this evil deed had been effected I could not even surmise, but so it was, and from that hour I was a different man--my mind recovered its equilibrium, I was no longer affected by pain and distress of body, or haunted by nightly visions. Those who smile at the medicine- man, and are sceptical as to his power, may keep to their own opinions; I believe that the Almighty has imbued many of His creatures, both animate and inanimate, with a subtle power for good or evil, and that it is given to some men to evoke that power and to bring about results which it is impossible for the uninitiated to foresee or to avert!"

But we have wandered too far from Accomba and her sad history. We must now transport the reader to that portion of the shores of the Mackenzie which was described at the opening of our story. The scene indeed should be laid a few miles lower down the river than that at first described, but the aspect and condition of things is but little altered. A number of camps are there, pitched within some ten, twenty, and thirty yards of each other. The dark brown, smoke-tinted leather tents or lodges, have a certain air of comfort and peacefulness about them, which is in no wise diminished, by the smoke curling up from the aperture at the top, or the voices of children running in and out from the tent door. These are the tents of Mackenzie River Indians, speaking the Slave tongue, and mostly known by name to the Company's officers at the neighbouring forts or trading posts, known also to the Bishop and Clergy at the Mission stations, who have often visited these Indians and held services for them at their camps, or at the little English churches at Fort Simpson, Fort Norman, etc. etc., and those little dark-eyed children are, with but few exceptions, baptized Christians. Many of them have attended the Mission Schools for the few weeks in Spring or Fall, when their parents congregate round the forts; they can con over portions of their Syllabic Prayer-books, and find their place in the little Hymn books, for "O come, all ye faithful," "Alleluia! sing to Jesus;" and "Glory to thee, my God, this night," while such anthems as "I will arise," and others are as familiar to the Slave Indians as to our English children. Yes, it is a Christian community we are looking at; and yet, sad to say, it is in one of those homes that the dark deed was committed which left five little ones motherless, and spread terror and confusion among the whole camp.

It was a lovely morning in May, 1880. The ice upon the Mackenzie River had but lately given way, having broken up with one tremendous crash. Huge blocks were first hurled some distance down the river, then piled up one above another until they reached the summit of the bank fifty or sixty feet high, and being deposited there in huge unsightly masses, were left to thaw away drop by drop, a process which it would take some five or six weeks to accomplish. Some of the men had lately returned from a bear hunt, being, however, disappointed of their prey--a matter of less consideration than usual, for Bruin, being but lately roused from his long winter sleep, was in a less prime condition than he would be a few weeks later. Michel, the hunter, had one of his "ugly fits" upon him;--this was known throughout the camps. The women only shrugged their shoulders, and kept clear of his lodge. The men paid him but little attention, even when he skulked in for awhile after dark to smoke his pipe by their camp fire. But on this morning neither Michel nor his wife had been seen outside their camp; only one or two of the children had turned out at a late hour and looked wistfully about, as if longing for someone to give them food and other attention.

Suddenly, from within the lodge a shot was heard, and a terrible muffled sound, which none heard without a shudder. Then came the shrieks of the terrified children, who ran out of the lodge towards their neighbours. By this time all the Indians were aware that something horrible had occurred in Michel's camp, and from every lodge, far and near, they hurried out with looks of dread and inquiry. The farthest lodge was not more than sixty yards from that of Michel, and the nearest was hardly a dozen yards removed, although a little further back from the edge of the bank. When the first man entered the lodge it could not have been more than a few seconds after the firing of the fatal shot, for Michel was still standing, gun in hand, and his poor wife sighing forth the last few breathings of her sad and troubled life. She had kept her word, and met her death without one cry or expostulation! It might have been heard from far, that groan of horror and dismay which sprung spontaneous from the one first witnessing the ghastly scene, and then from the whole of the assembled Indians.

"Se tue! Se tue!" "My sister, my sister!" cried the women, as one by one they gazed upon the face of the departed; then kneeling down, they took hold of the poor still warm hand, or raised the head to see if life were indeed extinct; then as they found that it was truly so, there arose within that lodge the loud, heart-piercing Indian wail, which, once heard, can never be forgotten. Far, far through the tangled wood it spread, and across the swift river; there is nothing like that wail for pathos, for strange succession of unusual tones, for expression of deep need--of the heart-sorrow of suffering humanity!

In the meantime the chief actor in that sad tragedy had let the instrument of his cruelty fall from his hand; it was immediately seized by one of the Indians and flung into the river. Michel made no resistance to this, albeit even at that moment it might have occurred to him that being deprived of his gun, he was shorn of well nigh his only means of subsistence. He turned to leave his tent, and with a scared, wild look, slowly raised the blanket which hung at its entrance; but he was not suffered to escape so easily: the men of the surrounding camps were gathered close outside, and as with one consent, they laid hold of the miserable culprit and pinned him to the spot; then ensued a fierce Babel of tongues, each one urging his own opinion as to the course of treatment befitting the occasion. The din of these many voices, mingled with the sad wail of the women in the tent, made an uproar and confusion which it would be hard to describe. It ended, however, by one of the Indians producing a long coil of babiche, and to this another added some pieces of rope, and with these they proceeded to bind their prisoner hand and foot, and then again to bind him to one of the nearest trees. Having succeeded in doing this effectually, but one thought seemed to seize the whole community,--to flee from the spot. But one other duty remained to be performed, and this they now prepared to carry out.

The funeral rites of the North American Indian, it need hardly be remarked, are of the very simplest description; indeed, it is only of late years, and since Christianity has spread among them, that they have been persuaded to adopt the rites and ceremonies of Christian burial. Formerly, in many instances, the body of the deceased would be wrapped in its blanket, and then hoisted up on a wooden stage erected for the purpose; after which the friends of the departed would make off with the utmost speed imaginable. Sometimes even this tribute to a lost friend would not be forthcoming; the Indian has an unspeakable dread of death, and of the dead; from the moment that the heart of his best beloved has ceased to beat, he turns from the lifeless form, nor cares to look upon it again. The new blanket which, perhaps, was only worn a day or two by the departed, will now, with scrupulous care, be wrapped around his dead body; for although he were blanketless himself, no Indian could be persuaded to use that which had once been a dead man's property. Then, it may be, the corpse would be left lying in the leather lodge or tent, which would afterwards be closely fastened up; and it has sometimes devolved upon the Missionaries to spend the night outside, watching the camp and keeping a fire burning in order to ward off dogs or wolves, which would otherwise undoubtedly have broken into the tent and made short work of the lifeless body deserted by all its friends and neighbours and dearest connexions.

In the case of the wife of Michel, however, there arose a feeling among her people in the camp, which appeared to be unanimous, not to leave her poor mangled body deserted in the lodge, but at once to commit it to the earth. Accordingly the women ceased their wailing, there was a call for action, and each one bestirred himself with as much earnestness and self-restraint as possible. Two or three of the men started off to dig the grave (a work of no small labour at that time when, be it remembered, the frost was hardly out of the ground), others gathered round the women who were wrapping the deceased in her blanket, with her shawl and handkerchief, her beaded leggings, and moccasins, which were hunted out, one by one, and put on her with loving, albeit trembling hands. Then the poor lifeless form was lifted out of the tent, and carried a few yards further back from the river, to where the grave was being made ready. Here all was soon prepared; silently, reverently the body was lowered into its shallow resting place; the earth was thrown over it, then a young fir-tree was cut down, shorn of its bark, and driven upright in the ground, and a few streamers of coloured rag or ribbon, furnished by the women, tied on to the top of the pole. The task was ended, and the young mother of twenty-eight years, who awoke that morning in the full bloom of health and vigour, was left to slumber on in that long sleep, which shall be broken only on the morning of the Resurrection!

And now, indeed, there was nothing more to be done, they must flee from that desecrated spot as soon as possible. With one accord, every tent and lodge was taken down, bundles were packed, canoes were

Owindia - 3/5

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