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- Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 2/13 -


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 messenger?"

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 the second.

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 surface.

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 effort.

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 derision.

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


Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 2/13

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