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- Northern Lights, Volume 1. - 3/13 -
As Mitiahwe turned to her, a strange burning light in her eyes, Swift Wing said: "It is good. The white man's Medicine for a white man's wife. But if there were the red man's Medicine too--"
"What is the red man's Medicine?" asked the young wife, as she smoothed her hair, put a string of bright beads around her neck, and wound a red sash round her waist.
The old woman shook her head, a curious half-mystic light in her eyes, her body drawn up to its full height, as though waiting for something. "It is an old Medicine. It is of winters ago as many as the hairs of the head. I have forgotten almost, but it was a great Medicine when there were no white men in the land. And so it was that to every woman's breast there hung a papoose, and every woman had her man, and the red men were like leaves in the forest--but it was a winter of winters ago, and the Medicine Men have forgotten; and thou hast no child! When Long Hand comes, what will Mitiahwe say to him?"
Mitiahwe's eyes were determined, her face was set, she flushed deeply, then the colour fled. "What my mother would say, I will say. Shall the white man's Medicine fail? If I wish it, then it will be so: and I will say so."
"But if the white man's Medicine fail?"--Swift Wing made a gesture toward the door where the horse-shoe hung. "It is Medicine for a white man, will it be Medicine for an Indian?"
"Am I not a white man's wife?"
"But if there were the Sun Medicine also, the Medicine of the days long ago?"
"Tell me. If you remember--Kai! but you do remember--I see it in your face. Tell me, and I will make that Medicine also, my mother."
"To-morrow, if I remember it--I will think, and if I remember it, to-morrow I will tell you, my heart's blood. Maybe my dream will come to me and tell me. Then, even after all these years, a papoose--"
"But the boat will go at dawn to-morrow, and if he go also--"
"Mitiahwe is young, her body is warm, her eyes are bright, the songs she sings, her tongue--if these keep him not, and the Voice calls him still to go, then still Mitiahwe shall whisper, and tell him--"
"Hai-yo-hush," said the girl, and trembled a little, and put both hands on her mother's mouth.
For a moment she stood so, then with an exclamation suddenly turned and ran through the doorway, and sped toward the river, and into the path which would take her to the post, where her man traded with the Indians and had made much money during the past six years, so that he could have had a thousand horses and ten lodges like that she had just left. The distance between the lodge and the post was no more than a mile, but Mitiahwe made a detour, and approached it from behind, where she could not be seen. Darkness was gathering now, and she could see the glimmer of the light of lamps through the windows, and as the doors opened and shut. No one had seen her approach, and she stole through a door which was open at the rear of the warehousing room, and went quickly to another door leading into the shop. There was a crack through which she could see, and she could hear all that was said. As she came she had seen Indians gliding through the woods with their purchases, and now the shop was clearing fast, in response to the urging of Dingan and his partner, a Scotch half-breed. It was evident that Dingan was at once abstracted and excited.
Presently only two visitors were left, a French halfbreed call Lablache, a swaggering, vicious fellow, and the captain of the steamer, Ste. Anne, which was to make its last trip south in the morning--even now it would have to break its way through the young ice. Dingan's partner dropped a bar across the door of the shop, and the four men gathered about the fire. For a time no one spoke. At last the captain of the Ste. Anne said: "It's a great chance, Dingan. You'll be in civilisation again, and in a rising town of white people--Groise 'll be a city in five years, and you can grow up and grow rich with the place. The Company asked me to lay it all before you, and Lablache here will buy out your share of the business, at whatever your partner and you prove its worth. You're young; you've got everything before you. You've made a name out here for being the best trader west of the Great Lakes, and now's your time. It's none of my affair, of course, but I like to carry through what I'm set to do, and the Company said, 'You bring Dingan back with you. The place is waiting for him, and it can't wait longer than the last boat down.' You're ready to step in when he steps out, ain't you, Lablache?"
Lablache shook back his long hair, and rolled about in his pride. "I give him cash for his share to-night someone is behin' me, share, yes! It is worth so much, I pay and step in--I take the place over. I take half the business here, and I work with Dingan's partner. I take your horses, Dingan, I take you lodge, I take all in your lodge--everyt'ing."
His eyes glistened, and a red spot came to each cheek as he leaned forward. At his last word Dingan, who had been standing abstractedly listening, as it were, swung round on him with a muttered oath, and the skin of his face appeared to tighten. Watching through the crack of the door, Mitiahwe saw the look she knew well, though it had never been turned on her, and her heart beat faster. It was a look that came into Dingan's face whenever Breaking Rock crossed his path, or when one or two other names were mentioned in his presence, for they were names of men who had spoken of Mitiahwe lightly, and had attempted to be jocular about her.
As Mitiahwe looked at him, now unknown to himself, she was conscious of what that last word of Lablache's meant. Everyt'ing meant herself. Lablache--who had neither the good qualities of the white man nor the Indian, but who had the brains of the one and the subtilty of the other, and whose only virtue was that he was a successful trader, though he looked like a mere woodsman, with rings in his ears, gaily decorated buckskin coat and moccasins, and a furtive smile always on his lips! Everyt'ing!--Her blood ran cold at the thought of dropping the lodge- curtain upon this man and herself alone. For no other man than Dingan had her blood run faster, and he had made her life blossom. She had seen in many a half-breed's and in many an Indian's face the look which was now in that of Lablache, and her fingers gripped softly the thing in her belt that had flashed out on Breaking Rock such a short while ago. As she looked, it seemed for a moment as though Dingan would open the door and throw Lablache out, for in quick reflection his eyes ran from the man to the wooden bar across the door.
"You'll talk of the shop, and the shop only, Lablache," Dingan said grimly. "I'm not huckstering my home, and I'd choose the buyer if I was selling. My lodge ain't to be bought, nor anything in it--not even the broom to keep it clean of any half-breeds that'd enter it without leave."
There was malice in the words, but there was greater malice in the tone, and Lablache, who was bent on getting the business, swallowed his ugly wrath, and determined that, if he got the business, he would get the lodge also in due time; for Dingan, if he went, would not take the lodge- or the woman with him; and Dingan was not fool enough to stay when he could go to Groise to a sure fortune.
The captain of the Ste. Anne again spoke. "There's another thing the Company said, Dingan. You needn't go to Groise, not at once. You can take a month and visit your folks down East, and lay in a stock of home- feelings before you settle down at Groise for good. They was fair when I put it to them that you'd mebbe want to do that. 'You tell Dingan,' they said, 'that he can have the month glad and grateful, and a free ticket on the railway back and forth. He can have it at once,' they said."
Watching, Mitiahwe could see her man's face brighten, and take on a look of longing at this suggestion; and it seemed to her that the bird she heard in the night was calling in his ears now. Her eyes went blind a moment.
"The game is with you, Dingan. All the cards are in your hands; you'll never get such another chance again; and you're only thirty," said the captain.
"I wish they'd ask me," said Dingan's partner with a sigh, as he looked at Lablache. "I want my chance bad, though we've done well here--good gosh, yes, all through Dingan."
"The winters, they go queeck in Groise," said Lablache. "It is life all the time, trade all the time, plenty to do and see--and a bon fortune to make, bagosh!"
"Your old home was in Nove Scotia, wasn't it, Dingan?" asked the captain in a low voice. "I kem from Connecticut, and I was East to my village las' year. It was good seein' all my old friends again; but I kem back content, I kem back full of home-feelin's and content. You'll like the trip, Dingan. It'll do you good." Dingan drew himself up with a start. "All right. I guess I'll do it. Let's figure up again," he said to his partner with a reckless air.
With a smothered cry Mitiahwe turned and fled into the darkness, and back to the lodge. The lodge was empty. She threw herself upon the great couch in an agony of despair.
A half-hour went by. Then she rose, and began to prepare supper. Her face was aflame, her manner was determined, and once or twice her hand went to her belt, as though to assure herself of something.
Never had the lodge looked so bright and cheerful; never had she prepared so appetising a supper; never had the great couch seemed so soft and rich with furs, so homelike and so inviting after a long day's work. Never had Mitiahwe seemed so good to look at, so graceful and alert and refined--suffering does its work even in the wild woods, with "wild people." Never had the lodge such an air of welcome and peace and home as to-night; and so Dingan thought as he drew aside the wide curtains of deerskin and entered.
Mitiahwe was bending over the fire and appeared not to hear him. "Mitiahwe," he said gently.
She was singing to herself to an Indian air the words of a song Dingan had taught her:
"Open the door: cold is the night, and my feet are heavy, Heap up the fire, scatter upon it the cones and the scented leaves; Spread the soft robe on the couch for the chief that returns, Bring forth the cup of remembrance--"
It was like a low recitative, and it had a plaintive cadence, as of a dove that mourned.
"Mitiahwe," he said in a louder voice, but with a break in it too; for it all rushed upon him, all that she had been to him--all that had made the great West glow with life, made the air sweeter, the grass greener, the trees more companionable and human: who it was that had given the waste places a voice. Yet--yet, there were his own people in the East, there was another life waiting for him, there was the life of ambition and
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