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- Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 3/13 -
missionary, paid for out of his private income--the bacon, beans, tea, coffee and flour--had been raided by a band of hostile Indians, and he viewed with deep concern the progress of the severe winter. Although three years of hard, frugal life had made his muscles like iron, they had only mellowed his temper, increased his flesh and rounded his face; nor did he look an hour older than on the day when he had won Wingo for his willing slave and devoted friend.
He never resented the frequent ingratitude of the Indians; he said little when they quarrelled over the small comforts his little income brought them yearly from the South. He had been doctor, lawyer, judge among them, although he interfered little in the larger disputes, and was forced to shut his eyes to intertribal enmities. He had no deep faith that he could quite civilise them; he knew that their conversion was only on the surface, and he fell back on his personal influence with them. By this he could check even the excesses of the worst man in the tribe, his old enemy, Silver Tassel of the bad heart, who yet was ready always to give a tooth for a tooth, and accepted the fact that he owed Oshondonto his life.
When famine crawled across the plains to the doors of the settlement and housed itself at Fort O'Call, Silver Tassel acted badly, however, and sowed fault-finding among the thoughtless of the tribe.
"What manner of Great Spirit is it who lets the food of his chief Oshondonto fall into the hands of the Blackfeet?" he said. "Oshondonto says the Great Spirit hears. What has the Great Spirit to say? Let Oshondonto ask."
Again, when they all were hungrier, he went among them with complaining words. "If the white man's Great Spirit can do all things, let him give Oshondonto and the Athabascas food."
The missionary did not know of Silver Tassel's foolish words, but he saw the downcast face of Knife-in-the-Wind, the sullen looks of the people; and he unpacked the box he had reserved jealously for the darkest days that might come. For meal after meal he divided these delicacies among them--morsels of biscuit, and tinned meats, and dried fruits. But his eyes meanwhile were turned again and again to the storm raging without, as it had raged for this the longest week he had ever spent. If it would but slacken, a boat could go out to the nets set in the lake near by some days before, when the sun of spring had melted the ice. From the hour the nets had been set the storm had raged. On the day when the last morsel of meat and biscuit had been given away the storm had not abated, and he saw with misgiving the gloomy, stolid faces of the Indians round him. One man, two children, and three women had died in a fortnight. He dreaded to think what might happen, his heart ached at the looks of gaunt suffering in the faces of all; he saw, for the first time, how black and bitter Knife-in-the-Wind looked as Silver Tassel whispered to him.
With the colour all gone from his cheeks, he left the post and made his way to the edge of the lake where his canoe was kept. Making it ready for the launch, he came back to the Fort. Assembling the Indians, who had watched his movements closely, he told them that he was going through the storm to the nets on the lake, and asked for a volunteer to go with him.
No one replied. He pleaded-for the sake of the women and children.
Then Knife-in-the-Wind spoke. "Oshondonto will die if he goes. It is a fool's journey--does the wolverine walk into an empty trap?"
Billy Rufus spoke passionately now. His genial spirit fled; he reproached them.
Silver Tassel spoke up loudly. "Let Oshondonto's Great Spirit carry him to the nets alone, and back again with fish for the heathen the Great Chief died to save."
"You have a wicked heart, Silver Tassel. You know well that one man can't handle the boat and the nets also. Is there no one of you--?"
A figure shot forwards from a corner. "I will go with Oshondonto," came the voice of Wingo, the waif of the Crees.
The eye of the mikonaree flashed round in contempt on the tribe. Then suddenly it softened, and he said to the lad: "We will go together, Wingo."
Taking the boy by the hand, he ran with him through the rough wind to the shore, launched the canoe on the tossing lake, and paddled away through the tempest.
The bitter winds of an angry spring, the sleet and wet snow of a belated winter, the floating blocks of ice crushing against the side of the boat, the black water swishing over man and boy, the harsh, inclement world near and far. . . . The passage made at last to the nets; the brave Wingo steadying the canoe--a skilful hand sufficing where the strength of a Samson would not have availed; the nets half full, and the breaking cry of joy from the lips of the waif-a cry that pierced the storm and brought back an answering cry from the crowd of Indians on the far shore. . . The quarter-hour of danger in the tossing canoe; the nets too heavy to be dragged, and fastened to the thwarts instead; the canoe going shoreward jerkily, a cork on the waves with an anchor behind; heavier seas and winds roaring down on them as they slowly near the shore; and at last, in one awful moment, the canoe upset, and the man and the boy in the water. . . . Then both clinging to the upturned canoe as it is driven nearer and nearer shore.... The boy washed off once, twice, and the man with his arm round clinging-clinging, as the shrieking storm answers to the calling of the Athabascas on the shore, and drives craft and fish and man and boy down upon the banks; no savage bold enough to plunge in to their rescue. . . . At last a rope thrown, a drowning man's wrists wound round it, his teeth set in it--and now, at last, a man and a heathen boy, both insensible, being carried to the mikonaree's but and laid upon two beds, one on either side of the small room, as the red sun goes slowly down. . . . The two still bodies on bearskins in the hut, and a hundred superstitious Indians flying from the face of death. . . . The two alone in the light of the flickering fire; the many gone to feast on fish, the price of lives.
But the price was not yet paid, for the man waked from insensibility-- waked to see himself with the body of the boy beside him in the red light of the fires.
For a moment his heart stopped beating, he turned sick and faint. Deserted by those for whom he risked his life! . . . How long had he lain there? What time was it? When was it that he had fought his way to the nets and back again-hours maybe? And the dead boy there, Wingo, who had risked his life, also dead--how long? His heart leaped--ah! not hours, only minutes maybe. It was sundown as unconsciousness came on him--Indians would not stay with the dead after sundown. Maybe it was only ten minutes-five minutes--one minute ago since they left him!. . .
His watch! Shaking fingers drew it out, wild eyes scanned it. It was not stopped. Then it could have only been minutes ago. Trembling to his feet, he staggered over to Wingo, he felt the body, he held a mirror to the lips. Yes, surely there was light moisture on the glass.
Then began another fight with death--William Rufus Holly struggling to bring to life again Wingo, the waif of the Crees.
The blood came back to his own heart with a rush as the mad desire to save this life came on him. He talked to the dumb face, he prayed in a kind of delirium, as he moved the arms up and down, as he tilted the body, as he rubbed, chafed and strove. He forgot he was a missionary, he almost cursed himself. "For them--for cowards, I risked his life, the brave lad with no home. Oh, God! give him back to me!" he sobbed. "What right had I to risk his life for theirs? I should have shot the first man that refused to go.... Wingo, speak! Wake up! Come back!"
The sweat poured from him in his desperation and weakness. He said to himself that he had put this young life into the hazard without cause. Had he, then, saved the lad from the rapids and Silver Tassel's brutality only to have him drag fish out of the jaws of death for Silver Tassel's meal?
It seemed to him that he had been working for hours, though it was in fact only a short time, when the eyes of the lad slowly opened and closed again, and he began to breathe spasmodically. A cry of joy came from the lips of the missionary, and he worked harder still. At last the eyes opened wide, stayed open, saw the figure bent over him, and the lips whispered, "Oshondonto--my master," as a cup of brandy was held to his lips.
He had conquered the Athabascas for ever. Even Silver Tassel acknowledged his power, and he as industriously spread abroad the report that the mikonaree had raised Wingo from the dead, as he had sown dissension during the famine. But the result was that the missionary had power in the land, and the belief in him was so great, that, when Knife- in-the-Wind died, the tribe came to ask him to raise their chief from the dead. They never quite believed that he could not--not even Silver Tassel, who now rules the Athabascas and is ruled by William Rufus Holly: which is a very good thing for the Athabascas.
Billy Rufus the cricketer had won the game, and somehow the Reverend William Rufus Holly the missionary never repented the strong language he used against the Athabascas, as he was bringing Wingo back to life, though it was not what is called "strictly canonical."
THE HEALING SPRINGS AND THE PIONEERS
He came out of the mysterious South one summer day, driving before him a few sheep, a cow, and a long-eared mule which carried his tent and other necessaries, and camped outside the town on a knoll, at the base of which was a thicket of close shrub. During the first day no one in Jansen thought anything of it, for it was a land of pilgrimage, and hundreds came and went on their journeys in search of free homesteads and good water and pasturage. But when, after three days, he was still there, Nicolle Terasse, who had little to do, and an insatiable curiosity, went out to see him. He found a new sensation for Jansen. This is what he said when he came back:
"You want know 'bout him, bagosh! Dat is somet'ing to see, dat man-- Ingles is his name. Sooch hair--mooch long an' brown, and a leetla beard not so brown, an' a leather sole onto his feet, and a grey coat to his anklesyes, so like dat. An' his voice--voila, it is like water in a cave. He is a great man--I dunno not; but he spik at me like dis, 'Is dere sick, and cripple, and stay in-bed people here dat can't get up?' he say. An' I say, 'Not plenty, but some-bagosh! Dere is dat Miss Greet, an' ole Ma'am Drouchy, an' dat young Pete Hayes--an' so on.' 'Well, if they have faith I will heal them,' he spik at me. 'From de Healing Springs dey shall rise to walk,' he say. Bagosh, you not t'ink dat true? Den you go see."
So Jansen turned out to see, and besides the man they found a curious thing. At the foot of the knoll, in a space which he had cleared, was a
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