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- Northern Lights, Volume 1. - 1/13 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Gilbert Parker
Volume 1. A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS ONCE AT RED MAN'S RIVER THE STROKE OF THE HOUR BUCKMASTER'S BOY
Volume 2. TO-MORROW QU'APPELLE THE STAKE AND THE PLUMB-LINE
Volume 3. WHEN THE SWALLOWS HOMEWARD FLY GEORGE'S WIFE MARCILE
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
Volume 5. THE ERROR OF THE DAY THE WHISPERER AS DEEP AS THE SEA
This book, Northern Lights, belongs to an epoch which is a generation later than that in which Pierre and His People moved. The conditions under which Pierre and Shon McGann lived practically ended with the advent of the railway. From that time forwards, with the rise of towns and cities accompanied by an amazing growth of emigration, the whole life lost much of that character of isolation and pathetic loneliness which marked the days of Pierre. When, in 1905, I visited the Far West again after many years, and saw the strange new life with its modern episode, energy, and push, and realised that even the characteristics which marked the period just before the advent, and just after the advent, of the railway were disappearing, I determined to write a series of stories which would catch the fleeting characteristics and hold something of the old life, so adventurous, vigorous, and individual, before it passed entirely and was forgotten. Therefore, from 1905 to 1909, I kept drawing upon all those experiences of others, from the true tales that had been told me, upon the reminiscences of Hudson's Bay trappers and hunters, for those incidents natural to the West which imagination could make true. Something of the old atmosphere had gone, and there was a stir and a murmur in all the West which broke that grim yet fascinating loneliness of the time of Pierre.
Thus it is that Northern Lights is written in a wholly different style from that of Pierre and His People, though here and there, as for instance in A Lodge in the Wilderness, Once at Red Man's River, The Stroke of the Hour, Qu'appelle, and Marcile, the old note sounds, and something of the poignant mystery, solitude, and big primitive incident of the earlier stories appears. I believe I did well--at any rate for myself and my purposes--in writing this book, and thus making the human narrative of the Far West and North continuous from the time of the sixties onwards. So have I assured myself of the rightness of my intention, that I shall publish a novel presently which will carry on this human narrative of the West into still another stage-that of the present, when railways are intersecting each other, when mills and factories are being added to the great grain elevators in the West, and when hundreds and thousands of people every year are moving across the plains where, within my own living time, the buffalo ranged in their millions, and the red men, uncontrolled, set up their tepees.
The tales in this book belong to two different epochs in the life of the Far West. The first five are reminiscent of "border days and deeds"-- of days before the great railway was built which changed a waste into a fertile field of civilisation. The remaining stories cover the period passed since the Royal North-West Mounted Police and the Pullman car first startled the early pioneer, and sent him into the land of the farther North, or drew him into the quiet circle of civic routine and humdrum occupation.
A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS ONCE AT RED MAN'S RIVER THE STROKE OF THE HOUR BUCKMASTER'S BOY
A LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS
"Hai--Yai, so bright a day, so clear!" said Mitiahwe as she entered the big lodge and laid upon a wide, low couch, covered with soft skins, the fur of a grizzly which had fallen to her man's rifle. "Hai-yai, I wish it would last for ever--so sweet!" she added, smoothing the fur lingeringly, and showing her teeth in a smile.
"There will come a great storm, Mitiahwe. See, the birds go south so soon," responded a deep voice from a corner by the doorway.
The young Indian wife turned quickly, and, in a defiant fantastic mood --or was it the inward cry against an impending fate, the tragic future of those who will not see, because to see is to suffer?--she made some quaint, odd motions of the body which belonged to a mysterious dance of her tribe, and, with flashing eyes, challenged the comely old woman seated on a pile of deer-skins.
"It is morning, and the day will last for ever," she said nonchalantly, but her eyes suddenly took on a faraway look, half apprehensive, half wondering. The birds were indeed going south very soon, yet had there ever been so exquisite an autumn as this, had her man ever had so wonderful a trade--her man with the brown hair, blue eyes, and fair, strong face?
"The birds go south, but the hunters and buffalo still go north," Mitiahwe urged searchingly, looking hard at her mother--Oanita, the Swift Wing.
"My dream said that the winter will be dark and lonely, that the ice will be thick, the snow deep, and that many hearts will be sick because of the black days and the hunger that sickens the heart," answered Swift Wing.
Mitiahwe looked into Swift Wing's dark eyes, and an anger came upon her. "The hearts of cowards will freeze," she rejoined, "and to those that will not see the sun the world will be dark," she added. Then suddenly she remembered to whom she was speaking, and a flood of feeling ran through her; for Swift Wing had cherished her like a fledgeling in the nest till her young white man came from "down East." Her heart had leapt up at sight of him, and she had turned to him from all the young men of her tribe, waiting in a kind of mist till he, at last, had spoken to her mother, and then one evening, her shawl over her head, she had come along to his lodge.
A thousand times as the four years passed by she had thought how good it was that she had become his wife--the young white man's wife, rather than the wife of Breaking Rock, son of White Buffalo, the chief, who had four hundred horses, and a face that would have made winter and sour days for her. Now and then Breaking Rock came and stood before the lodge, a distance off, and stayed there hour after hour, and once or twice he came when her man was with her; but nothing could be done, for earth and air and space were common to them all, and there was no offence in Breaking Rock gazing at the lodge where Mitiahwe lived. Yet it seemed as though Breaking Rock was waiting--waiting and hoping. That was the impression made upon all who saw him, and even old White Buffalo, the chief, shook his head gloomily when he saw Breaking Rock, his son, staring at the big lodge which was so full of happiness, and so full also of many luxuries never before seen at a trading post on the Koonce River. The father of Mitiahwe had been chief, but because his three sons had been killed in battle the chieftainship had come to White Buffalo, who was of the same blood and family. There were those who said that Mitiahwe should have been chieftainess; but neither she nor her mother would ever listen to this, and so White Buffalo, and the tribe loved Mitiahwe because of her modesty and goodness. She was even more to White Buffalo than Breaking Rock, and he had been glad that Dingan the white man--Long Hand he was called--had taken Mitiahwe for his woman. Yet behind this gladness of White Buffalo, and that of Swift Wing, and behind the silent watchfulness of Breaking Rock, there was a thought which must ever come when a white man mates with an Indian maid, without priest or preacher, or writing, or book, or bond.
Yet four years had gone; and all the tribe, and all who came and went, half-breeds, traders, and other tribes, remarked how happy was the white man with his Indian wife. They never saw anything but light in the eyes of Mitiahwe, nor did the old women of the tribe who scanned her face as she came and went, and watched and waited too for what never came--not even after four years.
Mitiahwe had been so happy that she had not really missed what never came; though the desire to have something in her arms which was part of them both had flushed up in her veins at times, and made her restless till her man had come home again. Then she had forgotten the unseen for
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