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- Owindia - 5/5 -


to the poor body, some action at the heart was perceptible, and the dark eyes opened and sought--the Mother!

That evening the three men and their small burden reached Fort Simpson, where the news of Michel's crime and the dispersion of the Indians was already known. There was no doubt now as to whose the rescued child might be, and it was touching to see how one and another of the Indian mothers came forward and offered to adopt it as her own. Yet it is no light charge for an Indian to undertake to rear a child not her own, at so tender an age; and it is especially hard in a country where milk is not to be procured, and where fish or rabbit soup is the only substitute for an infant's natural food. Minneha tried it, however, for a few weeks. She was cousin to poor Accomba, and spent whole nights in wailing and lamenting, saying, "My sister! my sister! why might I not die instead of you? Oh, my sister, who shall mother your little ones? Who shall work for them? Who shall hunt for them, and bring them the young sayoni skin (sheep skin) from the mountains? Who shall bring them meat when they are hungry--the fine fat ribs, the moose nose, or beaver tail, and the fine bladders of grease, which we cook with the flour from the white man's country? You were proud of your 'tezone' my sister. She had your eyes, dark as the berries of the sassiketoum, and they flashed fire like the aurora of winter nights. Your laugh was pleasant. Oh, my sister! like the waters dancing over the stones, it fell: it was good to listen to your words when we were partners in the days of our childhood. Our mothers dwelt together; they loved each other with sisters' love; they dwelt together among their own people. Etcha-Ottine were they, the finest of all Tinne-Zua (Indian men)! You laughed and sang, my sister, when we played in the woods together; when we cut the birch trees to make sirop in the spring time; when we sewed the rogans of the birch bark, or plaited the quills of the porcupine into belts, and made our father's gun-cases, or our own leather dresses for the Fall. Many a time we went out in the canoe together; we paddled among the islands when the berries were ripe; we spent the night in gathering the sweet ripe fruit--moose-berry and moss-berry, the little eye-berry, and the sassiketoum. In the summer we went to the Forts, and pitched our camps near the white man's house. We sold our furs to the 'big master,' and he gave us blankets and dress pieces, and beads to make us fine leggings; and tobacco, and tea, and shot, and ammunition. Then we went to the Praying man's house, and he kept school for us every day, and made us read in the big books; and told us of Niotsi N Dethe (Great God), and the poor, silly wife who listened to the bad Spirit, and stole the big berry, which God told her not to steal; and of the blessed Saviour, who was so good and came down from Heaven to save us, because He saw we were so helpless; and He loved the poor Indian as well as the white man, and, told the praying men to come and seek after us, and pour water on us, and say good words for us. Those were good days, my sister! Why did they not last? Why did bad Michel come and take you away in his canoe? So many wanted you; they wanted you much, and they would have been kind and good to you. Tene Sla asked the big master for you, and I think he would have got you, but for your mother, who said he was not a good hunter; and Nagaja wanted you, and Jemmy, the Loucheux boy; but your father was dead, and your mother said you must take a man who would hunt for her, and bring her meat; and so bad Michel came and took you away to the Praying man and to Yazete Koa (the church), and you became his wife. For a time he was kind and good to you, my sister, and be loved his children, and was a fine hunter. Many bears did he track in the woods: he had a hunter's eye, and could see them from far, and a hunter's ear to catch the faintest sound of their feet. He would bring you deer's meat, killed by the first shot. No one could say that Michel gave his children meat that had run long, and was heated and bad for food. He would bring rats in the spring time. When the water spread upon the ice, by the water side, he would track them: fleet-footed are they, and glide swiftly into their hole; but Michel was swifter than they. When Michel sank hooks in the lake, the fish came, fine trout from Bear Lake you have eaten; it was hard for you to lift it, my sister; its head was a meal for the little ones; the best for your tezone, the best for your tezone. But, ah! my sister, you have left it now. Oh! cruel Michel has made his children motherless! The baby looks pitiful--it looks pitiful: it stretches out its hands for its mother's breast; it longs to taste the sweet draughts of milk. Ah! Accomba, my sister, my partner, why did cruel Michel come and take you from my side?"

Another cry of sorrow was heard from Sarcelle, the brother of Accomba, that same night, and on the day following. The poor fellow was half distracted at the loss of his sister, more especially as she seemed to have anticipated her fate, and to have prepared her friends for it. Sarcelle's first impulse was to seize his gun and launch his canoe, and to sally forth in pursuit of Michel; but he was a Christian Indian, having been baptized at the little English Church at Fort Simpson, and further instructed at the Mission School. The conflict going on in his own mind between the desire to avenge his sister's death, and the higher impulses which his Christian faith suggested, were very touching. It ended in his throwing down his gun, and bowing his head on his hands while he sobbed aloud, "My sister, my sister, I would fight for you; I would avenge your cruel death, but the Praying man says we must forgive as God forgives us. I throw down my gun; I listen to the Good Spirit speaking to my heart; but oh, it is hard, it is hard, my sister, I can see no light in this; I feel unmanly to let _him_ go free, who shot my sister to the heart, who made her shed tears, and did not comfort her; who made her the mother of his children, and left them all so pitiful, with the little one lying helpless upon the river side, and only the dogs to guard her. I feel unmanly, unworthy of a 'Tene Jua,' but 'Niotsi N Dethe' make it plain to me; oh, make me see how I can be a _true man_, and yet forgive!"

* * * * *

It was but a few weeks after Minneha had received the rescued infant, and promised to be a mother to it, that she discovered that she had undertaken more than she was able to fulfil. It required no very searching eye to perceive that the little one was not thriving; in truth, she was dwindling away day by day, and those who were in the habit of visiting the Camp gazed sadly at the little pinched face and shrivelled limbs, and foreboded that it would not be long before Michel's child rejoined its mother in the 'silent land.' "Owindia" was the name given by the Indians to their deceased sister's child; and in truth, Owindia, "weeping one," was well suited to the frail creature who since that terrible night was continually uttering a feeble moan unlike an ordinary infant's cry, but which appealed to all hearts by its thrilling tones.

One day a little bundle was brought to the English Mission House at Fort Simpson, by Sinclia, daughter of Minneha. The following message accompanied the bundle, which was none other than the poor little Owindia, smaller and more fragile-looking than ever: "I am sick; I cannot work for the child; _you_ take her." And so it happened, that after all his horror of the white man, and his shrinking from intercourse with any of his kind, Michel should be destined by his own act, to have his child received into the white man's house, and to find there in all loving care and tender offices the home of which he had deprived her.

Owindia still lives, and is become a strong and active child, full of spirit and intelligence, with all the marvellous powers of observation which mark the Indian. She was baptized by the Bishop "Lucy May," but her name "Owindia" still clings to her, a fitting memorial of the sad episode in her infant life, and of those long seventeen hours [Footnote: The Indians have a wonderful knack of measuring time by the sun and moon--"In two moons and when the sun is _there_" (indicating a certain point in the heavens), would be an Indian's version of "two months hence at three o'clock p.m."] when, forsaken by all her earthly friends, God sent His blessed angels to keep watch and ward around her, to guard her from perishing from the cold and hunger, from the attack of wild beasts, from falling down the steep river bank, or any other danger which threatened the little fragile life. Surely by His Providence was the timely succour brought out of its wonted course, and the relief administered which one half-hour later would in all probability have come too late!

Of the unhappy father of Owindia but little remains to be told. He wandered about the woods for some time after his merciless deed; having neither gun, nor ax, nor fish-net, he was utterly unable to provide himself food. When reduced to the very last extremity of weakness and starvation, he yet contrived to fasten a few boards together and make himself a raft: on this he paddled across the Mackenzie, and appeared one morning at Fort Simpson, such a miserable object that some of the Indians fled at the sight of him. He was put under arrest by the Hudson's Bay Company's officer in charge, who is also a magistrate; and an indictment was made out against him. He was committed for trial and sent out by the Hudson's Bay Company's fur boat in the course of the summer to Prince Albert, some 1800 miles distant, where the nearest Courts of Justice are held.

But the whole business of Michel's committal was a farce. The Indians are as yet too ignorant and uncivilized to understand the nature of an oath, and even if they did so, there is not one man among them now living who could be brought to bear witness against one of his own race and tribe. When last Michel was heard of, he was under nominal restraint, but conducting himself with propriety, and professing utter unconsciousness of the wild acts of his past life.

C. S. B.


Owindia - 5/5

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