I CONFESS to knowledge of a large book bearing the above title,—a title which is no less appropriate for this brief, disrupted biographical memorandum. That I have a right to act as I have done, in adopting it, will presently appear,—as well as that the honored name thus appropriated by me refers neither to the dictionary nor the filibustero, both of which articles appear to have been superseded by newer and better things.
At the first flush, Fur would seem to be rather a sultry subject to open either a store or a story with, in these glowing days of a justly incensed thermometer.
And yet there is a fine bracing mountain-air to be drawn from the material, as with a spigot, if you will only favor your mind with a digression from the tangible article to the wild-rose associations in which it is enveloped.
Think of the high, wind-swept ridges, among the clefts of which are the only homesteads of the hardy pioneers by whose agency alone one kind of luxury is kept up to the standard demand for it in the great cities. It might not be so likely a place to get fancy drinks in as Broome Street, certainly, we must admit, as we picture to ourselves some brushy ravine in which the trapper has his irons cunningly set out for the betrayal of the stone-marten and the glossy-backed fisher-cat,”— but the breeze in it is quite as wholesome as a brandy-smash. The whirr of the sage-hen’s wing, as she rises from the fragrant thicket, brings a flavor with it fresher far than that of the mint-julep. It is cheaper than the latter compound, too, and much more conducive to health.
Continuing to indulge our fancy in cool images connected with fur and its finders, we shall see what contrasts will arise. The blue shadow of a cottonwood-tree stretching over a mountain-spring. By the edge of the sparkling water sits, embroidering buckskin, a red-legged squaw, keeper of the wigwam to the ragged mountain-man who set the traps that caught the martens which furnished the tails that mark so gracefully the number of skins of which the rich banker’s wife’s fichu-russe is composed. Here, is a striking contrast, in which extremes meet,— not the martens’ tails, but the two men’s wives, the banker’s and the trapper’s, brought into antithetical relation by the simple circumstance of a fichu-russe, the material of which was worn in some ravine of the wilderness, mayhap not a twelvemonth since, by a creature faster even than a banker’s wife. Great is the hereafter of the marten-cat, whose skin may be looked upon as the soul by which the animal is destined to attain a sort of modified immortality in the Elysian abodes of Wealth and Fashion,— the place where good martens go !
The men through whose intervention eventual felicity is thus secured to the fur-creature are as much a race in themselves as the Gypsies. No genuine type of them ever approaches nearer to the confines of civilization than a frontier settlement beckons him. Old Adams, the bear-tutor, might have been of this type once, but he is adulterated with sawdust and gas-light now, with city cookery and spurious groceries. Many men of French Canadian origin are to be found trading and trapping in the Far West; although, taken in the aggregate, there are no people less given to stirring enterprise than these colonial descendants of the Gaul. The only direction, almost, in which they exhibit any expansive tendency is in the border trade and general adventure business, in which figure the names of many of them conspicuously and with honor. The Chouteaus are of that stock; and of that stock came the late Major Aubry, renowned among the guides and trappers of the southwestern wilderness; and if J. C. Fremont is not a French Canadian by birth, the strong efforts made about the time of the last Presidential election to establish him as one had at least the effect of determining his Canadian descent.
Pierre La Marche was a Franco-Canadian of the spread-eagle kind referred to. Departing widely from the conservative prejudices of his race, his wandering propensities took him away, at an early age, from the primitive colonial village in which he first saw the light of day. He was but fourteen years old when he left his peaceful and thoroughly whitewashed home on the banks of the St. Francois, in company with a knot of Canadian coyageurs, whose principles tended towards the Red River of the North. Leaving this convoy at Fond-du-Lac, he pushed his way on to the Mississippi, alone and friendless, and, falling in with a party of trappers at St. Louis, accompanied them when they returned to the mountain “ gulches ” in which their business lay.
After six years of trapper and trader life, but little trace of the simple young Canadian habitant was left in Pierre La Marche, He spoke mountain English and French patois with equal fluency. There was a decision of character about him that commanded the respect of his comrades. When the other trappers went to St. Louis, they used to drink and gamble away their hard-won dollars, few of these men caring for anything beyond the indulgence of immediate fancies. But Pierre was ambitious, and thought that money might be made subservient to his aspirations in a better way than speculating with it upon “ bluff” or squandering it upon deteriorating drinks.
About this time of his life, Pierre began to think that the fact of his being “only a French Canadian” was likely to be a bar to his advancement, He despised himself greatly for one thing, indeed,—that his name was La Marche, and not Walker,—which patronymic he made out to be the nearest Anglo-Saxon equivalent for his French one. He adopted it,—calling himself Peter Walker,— and had an adventure out of it, to begin with.
While trading furs at St. Louis, on one occasion, he offered a remnant of his stock to a dealer with whom he was not acquainted. They had an argument as to prices. The dealer, a man of hasty temper, asked him his name.
“ Walker,” was the reply.
When La Marche arose from the distant corner into which he was projected in company with the bundle of furs levelled at his head, revenge was his natural sentiment. Drawing his heavy knife from its sheath, he flung it away: the temptation to use it might have been too much for him. Small in stature, but remarkable for muscular strength, and for inventive resource in the “ rough-andtumble” fight, La Marche clenched with the burly store-keeper, who was getting the worst of it, when some of his employés interfered. This led to a general engagement. Several of La Marche's companions now rushed in, and in five minutes their opponents gave out, succumbent to superior wind and sinew.
Next morning, when the trappers took their way out of St. Louis, La Marche was a leader among them for life. But the reason of the store-keeper's rage was for many years a mystery to him. He knew not the enormity of “ Walker,” as an exponent of disparagement; he simply thought it a nicer name than La Marche, while it fully embodied the sentiment of that name. He adopted it, then, as I said before, and went on towards posterity as Peter Walker.
I heard many strange anecdotes of Peter Walker at the residence of a retired voyageur, who used to sing him Homerically to his chosen friends. These voyageurs are professional canoe-men; adventurers extending, sparsely, from the waters of French Canada to those of Oregon,— and sometimes back. Honest old Quatreaux.! I mentioned his “ residence ” just now, and the term is truly grandiloquent in its application. The residence of old Quatreaux was a log cabane, about twenty feet square. Planks, laid loosely upon the cross-ties of the rafters, formed the up-stairs of the building: up-ladder would be a term more in accordance with facts; for it was by an appliance of that kind that the younger and more active of the sixteen members composing the old voyageur’s family removed themselves from view when they retired for the night. A partition, extending half-way across the ground-floor, screened off the state or principal bed from outside gaze; at least, it was exposed to view only from points rendered rather inaccessible by tubs, with which these Canadian families are generally provided to excess. This apartment was strictly assigned to me, as a visitor; and although I firmly declined the honor, — chiefly with reference to certain large and very hard fleas I knew of in its dormitory arrangements, — it was kept religiously vacant, in case my heart should relent towards it, and the family in general slept huddled together on the outer floor, without manifest classification : the two old people ; son and wife ; daughter and husband ; children ; the extraordinary little hunch-backed and one-eyed girl, whom nobody would marry, but everybody liked ; dogs. I used to stretch myself on a buffalo-robe before the woodfire, in company with a faithful spaniel, who was as wakeful on these occasions as if he suspected that the low-bred curs of the establishment might pick his pockets.
Quatreaux’s cabane was situated on the edge of an extensive tract of marsh, — lagoon would be a more descriptive word for it, perhaps,—a splashy, ditchdivided district, extending along the borders of a lake for miles. Snipe-shooting was my motive there ; and dull work it was in those dark, Novembry, October days, with “ the low rain falling” half the time, and the yellow leaves all the time, and no snipe. But whether we poled our log canoe up to some stunted old willowtree that sat low down in the horizontal marsh, and took shelter under it to smoke our pipes, or whether we mollified the privation of snipe in the cabane at night with mellow rum and tobacco brought by me, still was Walker the old voyageur’s favorite theme.
Old Quatreaux spoke English perfectly well, although his conservatism as a Canadian induced him to prefer his mother tongue as a vehicle for general conversation. But I remarked that his anecdotes of Walker were always related in English, and on these occasions, therefore, for my benefit alone : for but little of the Anglo-Saxon tongue appeared to be known to, or at least used by, any member of his numerous family. Indeed, I can recall but two words of that language which I could positively aver to have heard in colloquial use among them,— poodare and schotte. And why should the old voyageur have thus reserved his experiences from those who were near and dear to him? Simply because most of his adventures with Walker were not of the strictly mild character becoming a family-man. But it was all the same to these good people ; and when I laughed, they all took up the idea and laughed their best,—the little hunch-backed girl generally going off info a kind of epilepsy by herself, over in the darkest corner of the room, among the tubs.
When divested of the strange Western expletives and imprecations with which the old man used to spice his reminiscences, some of them are presentable enough. 1 remember one, telling how Peter Walker “ raised the wind ” on a particular occasion, when he got short of money on his way to some distant trading-post, in a district strange to him. It is before me, in short-hand, on the pages of an old, old pocket-book, and I will tell it with some slight improvements on the narrator’s style, such as suppressing his unnecessary combinations of the curse.
Mounted on a two-hundred-dollar buffalo-horse, for which he would not have taken double that amount, Peter Walker found himself, one afternoon, near the end of a long day’s ride. He had but little baggage with him, that little consisting entirely of a bowie-knife and holster-pistols,— for the revolver was a scarce piece of furniture then and there. Of money he was entirely destitute, having expended his last dollar upon the purchase of his noble steed, and of the festive suit of clothes with which he calculated upon astonishing people who resided outside the limits of civilization. The pantaloon division of that suit was particularly superb, consisting principally of a stripe by which the outer seam of each leg was made conducive to harmony of outline. He was about three days’journey from the trading-post to which he was bound. The country was a frontier one, sparsely provided with inns.
The sun was Framed in a low notch of the horizon, as he approached a borderhostelry, on the gable of which “ Cat’s Bluff Hotel” was painted in letters quite disproportioned in size to the city of Cat’s Bluff, which consisted of the house in question, neither more nor less. In that house Peter Walker decided upon sojourning luxuriously for that night, at least, if he had to draw a check upon his holsters for it.
Having stabled his horse, then, and seen him supplied with such provender as the place afforded, he looked about the hotel, which he found to be an institution of very considerable pretensions. It seemed to have a good deal of its own way, in fact, being the only house of entertainment for many miles upon a great southwestern thoroughfare, from which branched off the trail to be taken by him tomorrow,—a trail which led only to the trading-post or fort already mentioned.
The deportment of the landlord was gracious, as he went about whistling “ Wait for the wagon,” and jingling with gold chains and heavy jewelry. Still more exhilarating was the prosperous confidence of the bar-keeper, who took in, while Walker was determining a drink, not less than a dozen quarter-dollars, from, blue-shirted, bearded, thirsty men with rifles, who came along in a large covered wagon of western tendency, in which they immediately departed with haste, late as it was, as if bound to drive into the sun before he went down behind the far-off edge. Walker used to say, jocularly, that lie supposed this must have been the wagon for which the landlord whistled, and which came to his call.
Everything denoted that there was abundance of money in that favored place. Even small boys who came in and called for cigars and drinks made a reckless display of coin as they paid for them, and then drove off in their wagons, —for they all had wagons, and were all intent upon driving rapidly in them toward the west.
But, as night fell, travel went down with the declining day ; and Walker felt himself alone in the world, — a man without a dollar. Nevertheless, he called for good cheer, which was placed before him on a liberal scale : for landlords thereabouts were accustomed to provide for appetites acquired on the plains, and their supply was obliged to be both large and ready for the chance comers who were always dropping in, and upon whom their custom depended. So he ate and drank; and having appeased hunger and thirst, he went into the bar, and opened conversation with the landlord by offering him one of his own cigars, a bunch of which he got from the bar-keeper, whom he particularly requested not to forget to include them in his bill, when the time for his departure brought with it the disagreeable necessity of being served with that document.
Western landlords, in general, are not remarkable for the reserve with which they treat their guests. This particular landlord was less so than most others, He was especially inquisitive with regard to Walker’s exquisite pantaloons, the like of which had never been seen in that part of the country before. His happiness was evidently incomplete in the privation of a similar pair.
“Them pants all wool, now ? ” asked he, as he viewed them with various inclinations of head, like a connoisseur examining a picture.
“ All except the stripes,” replied Walker;—“ stripes is wool and cotton mixed ; gives ’em a finer grain, you see, and catches the eye.”
The landlord respected Walker at once. Perhaps he might be an Eastern dry-goods merchant, come along for the purpose of making arrangements to inundate the border-territory with stuffs for exquisite pantaloons, He proceeded with his interrogatories. He laid himself out to extract from Walker all manner of information as to his origin, occupation, and prospects, which gave the latter an excellent opportunity of glorifying himself inferentially, white he affected mystery and reticence with regard to his mission “out West.” At last the landlord set him down for an agent come on to open the sluices for a great tide of foreign emigration into the territory,—an event to which he himself had been looking for a long time, and the prospect of which had guided him to the spot where he had established his hotel, which he now looked upon as the centre from which a great city was destined immediately to radiate. And the landlord retired to his bed to meditate upon immense speculations in town-lots, and, when sleep came upon him, to dream that he had successfully arranged them through the medium of an angel with a speaking-trumpet, whose manifest wardrobe consisted of a pair of fancy pantaloons with stripes on the seams and sidepockets, exactly like Walker’s.
Walker, too, retired to rest, but not to sleep, for his mind was occupied in turning over means whereby to obtain some of the real capital with which people here seemed to be superabundantly provided. He had speculations to carry out, and money was the indispensable element. Had he only been able to read the landlord's thoughts, he might have turned quietly over and slept; for so held was that person’s mind by the idea that his ultimate success was to be achieved through the medium of his unknown guest, that he would without hesitation have lent him double the sum necessary for his financial arrangements.
There was a disturbance some time about the middle of the night. People came along in wagons, as usual, waking up the bar-keeper, whose dreams perpetually ran upon that kind of trouble. Walker, who was wide, awake, gathered from the conversation below that the
travellers had only halted for drinks, and would immediately resume their way westward with all speed. He arose and looked out at the open window, which was about fifteen feet from the ground. Something white loomed up through the darkness : it was the awning of one of the wagons, which stood just under the window, to the sill of which it reached within a few feet. Walker, brought up in the rough-and-ready school, had lain down to rest with his trousers on. A sudden inspiration now seized him : he slipped them rapidly off, and dropped them silently on to the roof of the wagon, which soon after moved on with the others, and disappeared into the night, This done, he opened softly the door of the room, and, leaving it ajar, returned to bed and slept.
Morning was well advanced when Walker arose, and began operations by moving the furniture about in an excited manner, to attract the attention of those in the bar below, and convey an idea of search. Presently he went to the door of the room, and, uttering an Indian howl, by way of securing immediate attendance, cried out,—
“ Hullo, below! where’s my pants? — bar-keeper, fetch along my pants!— landlord, I don’t want to be troublesome, but just take off them pants, if you happen to have mistook ’em for your own, and oblige: the right owner with a look at ’em, will you ? ”
Puzzled at this address, which was couched in much stronger language—according to old Quatreaux’s version of it — than I should like to commit to paper, the landlord and bar-keeper at once proceeded to Walker’s room, where they found him sitting, expectantly, on the side of the bed, with his horse-pistols gathered together beside him. Of course, they denied all knowledge of his pantaloons,— didn’t steal nobody's pants in that house, nor nothin’.
Walker looked sternly at them, and, playing with one of his pistols, exclaimed, with the usual redundants,—
“ You lie ! — you’ve stole my pants between you ; you’ve found out what, they were worth by this time, I guess ; but I'll have ’em back, and that in a hurry, or else my name a’n’t Walker,—Peter Walker.”
He added his Christian name, because a reminiscence of the mystery belonging to his patronymic by itself flashed upon him.
Now the name of Pete Walker was potent along the frontier, because of his influence with the wild mountain-men, who did reckless deeds on his account, unknown to him and otherwise. Another vision than that of last night overcame the landlord,—a vision of Lynch and ashes.
“So you’re Pete Walker, be you?” asked he, in a tone of mingled respect and admiration, slightly tremulous with fear. “ How do you do, Mr. Walker? — how do you find yourself this morning, Sir ? ”
“ I didn’t come here to find myself,” retorted Walker, fiercely. “I found my door open, though, when I woke up,— but I couldn’t find my pants. You must get. ’em, or pay for ’em, and that right away.”
“ Them cusses that passed through here last night!” exclaimed the landlord. “ I guess the pants is gone on the sundown trail, stripes and all.”
Walker thought it was quite probable that they had ; but they were stolen from that house, and the house must pay for them.
Lynch and ashes again blazed before the landlord’s eyes.
“How much might the pants be worth, now, at cost price?” asked he. “All wool, you say, only the stripes; but, as they was nearly all stripes, you needn’t holler much about the wool, I reckon. How much, now ? ”
“ Two hundred and ten dollars,” replied Walker, with impressive exactness.
“Thunder!” exclaimed the landlord. “ I thought they might be fancy-priced, sure-ly, but that’s awful! ”
“ Ten dollars, cash price, for the pants.” proceeded Walker, “ and two hundred for that exact amount in gold stitched up in the waistband of’em.”
“ The Devil has got ’em, anyhow ! " said the landlord, — “ for I saw a queer critter, in my sleep, flying about with ’em on. Wings looks kinder awful along o’ pants with stripes. There’ll be no luck round till they’re paid for, I guess. Couldn't you take my best checkers for ’em, now, with fifty dollars quilted into the waistband.— s-a-ay ? ”
“My name’s Walker, — Peter Walker,” was the reply.
The landlord was no match for that name, so disagreeably redolent of Lynch and ashes. Thorough search was made upon the premises, and to some distance around, in the wild hope that the missing trousers might have walked off spontaneously, and lain down somewhere to sleep ; but, of course, nothing came of the investigation, although Walker assisted at it with his usual energy. All compromise was rejected by him, and it was not yet noon when he rode proudly away from the lone hostelry, in the landlord’s best checkers, for which he kindly allowed him five dollars, receiving from him the balance, two hundred and five dollars, in gold.
I forget now what Walker did with that money, although Qnatreaux knew exactly, and told me all about it. Suffice it to say that he made a grand coup with it, in the purchase of a mill-privilege, or claim, or something of the kind. Less than a year after the events narrated, he again rode up to the lone hostelry, which was not so lonely now, however; for houses were growing up around it, and it took boarders and rang a dinner-bell, and maintained a landlady as well as a landlord, besides. The landlord was astonished when Walker counted out to him two hundred and five dollars in gold,— surprised when to that was added a round sum for interest, — ecstatic, on being presented with a brand-new pair of pantaloons, of the same pattern as the expensive ones formerly so admired by him. But his features collapsed, and for some time wore an expression of imbecility, when he learned the details of the adventure, and found out that “some things” —landlords, for example—“can be done as well as others.”
It was with little reminiscences like the one just narrated that old Quatreaux used to wile away the time, as we threaded the intricate ditches of the marsh in his canoe, so hedged in by the tall reeds that our horizon was within paddle’s length of us. With that presumptive clairvoyance which appears to be an essential property of the French raconteur, he did not confine himself to external fact in his narratives, but always professed to report minutely the thoughts that flashed through the mind of such and such a person, on the particular occasion referred to. He was a master of dialects,—Yankee, Pennsylvanian Dutch, and Irish.
“ Where did you got your English, old man ? ” I asked him, as we scudded across the lake in our canoe, with a small sail up, one red October evening.
“In Pennsylvania,” replied he. “ I went there on my own hook, when f was about twelve year old, and worked in an oil-mill for four year.”
“ In an oil-mill ? Perhaps that accounts for the glibness with which language slips off your tongue.”
“ ‘Guess it do,” said the old voyageur, with ready assent.
We nearly got foul of a raft coming down the lake, manned with a rugged set of half-breeds, who had a cask of whiskey on board, and were very drunk and boisterous.
“Ugly customers to deal with, those brutes” remarked I, when we had got clear away from them.
“ Some on ’em is,” replied the old voyageur. “Did you notice the one with the queer eye, — him in the Scotch cap and shupac moccasons ?”
I had noticed him, and an ill-looking thief he was. One of his eyes, either from natural deformity or the effect of hostile operation, was dragged down from its proper parallel, and planted in a remote socket near the corner of his mouth, whence it glared and winked with supernatural ferocity.
“ That’s Rupe Falardeau,” continued mv companion. “ His father, old Rupe, got his eye taken down in a deck-fight with a Mississippi boatman; and this boy was born with the same mark,— only the eye ‘s lower down still. If that s to go on in the family, I guess there'll be a Falardeau with his eye in his knee, some time.”
In the deck-fight in which old Rupe got his ugly mark Pete Walker had a hand; and the part he took in it, as related to me by old Quatreaux, who was also present, affords a good example of the tact and coolness which gave him such mastery over the wild spirits among whom he worked out his destiny.
Walker was coming down a lumberingriver—I forget the name of it—on board a small tug-steamboat, in which he had an interest. He had gone into other speculations beside furs, by this time, and had contracts in two or three places for supplying remote stations with salt pork, tea, and other staple provisions of the lumbering-craft.
Stopping to wood at the mouth of a creek, a gang of raftsmen came on board, —half-breed Canadians of fierce and demoralized aspect,—men of great muscular strength, and armed heavily with axes and butcher-knives. The gang was led by Rupe Falardeau, a dangerous man, whether drunk or sober, and one whose antecedents were recorded in blood. These men had been drinking, and were very noisy and intrusive, and presently a row arose between them and some, of the boat-hands. Fisticuffs and kicks were first exchanged, but without any great loss of blood. Knives were then drawn and flourished, and matters were beginning to assume a serious aspect, when Walker made his appearance forward of the paddle-box, pointing a heavy pistol right at the head of the ringleader.
“ Rupe !” shouted he, in a voice that attracted immediate attention, “drop that knife, or else I shoot ! ”
The crowd parted for a moment, and Rupe, standing alone near the bows, wheeled round with a yell, and glared fiercely at the speaker.
“ Drop that knife !” repeated Walker. — “One, two, three !—I'll give you a last chance, and when I say three again, I shoot, by thunder!”
The last word had not rolled away, when the gleaming knife flashed from the hand of Rupe, glanced close by Walker’s ear, and sped quivering into the paddlebox, just behind his head.
“ Good for you, llupe!” exclaimed Walker, lowering his pistol, with a pleasant smile,—“ good for you !—but, sacré bapteme! how dead I’d have shot you, if you hadn’t dropped that knife!”
The forbearance of Walker put an end to the row. Rupe, disarmed at once by the loss of his knife and the coolness of Walker, was seized by a couple of the deck-hands, and might have been secured without injury to his beauty, had not, a Mississippi boatman, who owed him an old grudge, struck him on the face with a heavy iron hook, lacerating and disfiguring him hideously for life.
“But why didn’t Walker shoot Falardeau, old man ? ” asked I of the voyageur, wishing to learn something of the etiquette of life and death among these peculiar people, who appear to be so reckless of the former and fearless of the latter.
“ Ah ! ” replied he, “ Rupe was too valuable to be shot down for missing a man with a knife. Such a canoe-steersman as Rupe never was known before or since: he knew every rock in every rapid from the Ottawa to the Columbia.”
Some time after this I again fell in with young Rupe, under circumstances indicating that his life was not considered quite so valuable as that of the old gentleman from whom he inherited his frightful aspect.
In company with a friend, one day, I was beating about for wild-fowl in a marshy river, down which small rafts or “cribs” of timber were worked by halfbreeds and Canadians.
About dark we came to a small, flat island in the marsh, where we found an Iroquois camp, in which we proposed to pass the night, as we had no campingequipage in our skiff. The men were absent, hunting, and there was nobody in charge of the wigwam but an ugly, undersized squaw, with her two ugly, undersized children.
We were much fatigued, and agreed to sleep by watches, knowing the sort of people we had to deal with. It was my watch, when voices were heard as of men landing and pulling up a canoe or boat. Presently three men came into the wigwam, rafting-men, dressed in gray Canada homespun and heavy Scotch bonnets. The light of the fire outside flashed on their faces, as they stooped to enter the elm-bark tent, and in the foremost I recognized the hideous Rupe Falardeau, Junior. Tins man carried in his hand a small tin pail full of whiskey. He was very drunk and dangerous, and greatly disgusted at the absence of the Iroquois men, with whom he had evidently laid himself out for a roaring debauch.
I woke up my companion, and a judicious display of our double-barrelled guns kept the three scoundrels in check. They insisted on our tasting some of their barbarous liquor, however, and horrible stuff it was,—distiller’s “ high-wines,” strongly dashed with vitriol or something worse. No wonder that men become fiends incarnate on such “fire-water” as that!
By-and-by they slept,—two of them outside, by the fire,—Falardeau inside the wigwam, the repose of which was broken by the hollow rattle of his drunken breath.
In the dead of the night something clutched me by the arm. It was the ugly squaw, who forced a greasy butcher-knife into my hand, pointing towards where the raftsman lay, and whispering to me in Knglish,— “ Stick heem! stick heem !— nobody never know. He kill my brother long time ago with this old knife. Kill heem ! kill heem now !”
I did not avail myself of the opportunity thus afforded me for the improvement of river society: nay, worse, I connived at the further career of the redoubtable Rupert Falardeau, Junior; for, on leaving in the morning, I roused him with repeated kicks, thus saving him for that time, probably, from the Damoclesian blade of the vengeresse.
L'été de Saint Martin !—how blue and yellow it is in the marshes in those days! It is the name given by the French Canadians to the Indian Summer.—the Summer of St. Martin, whose anniversary-day falls upon the eleventh of November; though the brief latter-day tranquillity called after him arrives, generally, some two or three weeks earlier. Looking lakeward from the sedgv nook in which we are waiting for the coming of the wood-ducks, the low line of water, blue and calm, is broken at intervals by the rise of the distant masquallongé, as he plays for a moment on the surface. But the channels that separate the flat, alluvial islets are yellow, their sluggish waters being bedded heavily down with the broad leaves of the wintering basswood-trees, which, in some places, touch branch-tips across the narrow straits. The muskrat's hut is thatched with the wet, dead leaves, — no thanks to him ; and there is a mat of them before his door, — a heavy, yellow mat, on which are scattered the azure shells of the fresh-water clams to be found so often upon the premises of this builder. Does he sup on them, or are they only the cups and saucers of his vegeto-aquarian ménage ? Blue and yellow all,—the sky and the sedge-rows, the calm lake and the canoe, the plashing basswood-leaves and the oval, azure shells.
Also Marance, the voyageur's buxom young daughter, who came with us, today, commissioned to cull herbs of wondrous properties among the vine-tangled thickets of the islands. Blue and yellow. Eyes blue as the azure shells; hair flashing out golden gleams, like that of Pyrrha, when she braided hers so featly for the coming of some ambrosial boy.
“ I must marry you, Marance,” said I, jocularly, to the damsel, as I jumped her out of the canoe,—“I shall marry you when we get back.”
It is good to live in a marsh. No fast hoarding-house women there, lurking for the unwary; no breaches of promise; “no nothing” in the old-man-trap line. Abjure fast boarding-houses, you silly old bachelors, and go to grass in a marsh !
Marance laughed merrily, as she tripped away; then, turning, she said,—
“ But what if I never get back ? I may lose myself in these lonely places, and never be heard of again.”
“ Oh, in that case,” replied I, hard driven for a compliment, “ in that case, I must wait until Gilette”—a younger sister—“grows up. She will be exactly like you : I must only wait for Gilette.”
“ You remind me of Pete "Walker,” said the old man, as we shot away up the channel, our canoe ripping up the matted surface like the. cue of a novice, when he runs a fatal reef along the sere and yellow cloth of some billiardtable erewhile in verdure clad. “ You are as bad as Pete Walker, who thought one sister must be as good as another, because they looked so much alike.”
And then, as we loitered about in the bays, the old man told me the story of Walker's honeymoon, which was a sad and a short one. This is the story.
Near that wild rapid of the Columbia River known as the “ Dalles,” there, was, years ago, a Jesuit mission, established in a small fort, built, like that at NezPerces, of mud. The labors of the holy men composing the mission involved no inconsiderable amount of danger, devoted as they were to the hopeless task of reforming such sinners as the Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Gros-Ventres, the FlatHeads, the Assiniboines, the Nez-Percés, and a few other such.
Some of these missionaries had sojourned for a long time with a branch of the Blackfoot tribe, among whom they found two young white girls, remarkable for their exact resemblance to each other, and therefore supposed to be twins. I say supposed, because of their origin there was no trace. All that was known about them was, that they were the sole survivors of a train of emigrants, attacked and murdered by the Nez-Percés, who, actuated by one of those whims characteristic of the red men, spared the lives of the two children, and adopted them into the tribe. Subsequently, in a skirmish with the Blackfeet, they fell into the hands of the latter, among whom they had lived for some time, when they were ransomed by the missionaries, at the price of certain trading-privileges negotiated by the latter for the tribe.
When adopted by the Jesuits, the children bad lost all remembrance of their parentage ; nor had they any names except the Indian ones bestowed upon them by their captors. The good fathers christened them, however, arranging them alphabetically, by the names of Alixe and Bloyse, and confiding them to the especial charge of the wife of a trader connected with the station, who had no family of her own. They were fair-haired children, probably of German or Norwegian origin, and bad grown up to be robust young women of seventeen, when Walker saw them for the first time, as lie stopped at the Dalles on his way from Fort Nez-Perces, about one hundred and twenty-five miles higher up the Columbia.
Walker, whose business detained him for some time at the mission, decided upon marrying one of the fair-haired sisters, —he did not much care which, they were so singularly alike. Alixe happened to be the one, however, to whom he tendered a share in his fortunes, which she accepted in the random manner of one to whom it was of but little consequence whether she said “ Yes ” or “ No.” Bloyse would have followed him, and him only, to the end of all; but he never knew it at the right time, though the women of the fort could have told him.
It was late one afternoon when he was married to Alixe, in the chapel of the mission. That was the night of the massacre. Two hours after the wedding, the Blackfeet, combined with some allied tribe, came down like wolves upon the fort. There was treachery, somewhere, and they got in. In the thick of the fight, and when all seemed hopeless, Walker shot down a tall Indian who was dragging his bride away to where the horses of the tribe were picketed. In a second he had leaped upon a horse, and, holding the young girl before him, galloped away in the direction of a stream running into the Columbia, — a stream of fierce torrents, navigable only at one place, and that by flat-bottomed boats or scows, in which passengers warped themselves across by a grass rope stretched from bank to bank. Once over this river, he could easily reach a friendly camp, where he and his bride would have been in safety.
The moon had risen when he reached the ferry. Turning the horse adrift, he lifted the young woman into the scow, and began to warp rapidly across by the rope with one hand, while he supported his fainting companion close to him with the other. Suddenly, a sharp click sounded from the opposite bank: the rope gave way, and Walker and his companion were precipitated violently into the water, the boat shooting far away from beneath their feet. It ran a strong current there, culminating in a furious rapid not two hundred yards lower down. Retaining his grasp of the young woman, Walker fought bravely against the stream, down which he felt they were sweeping, faster and faster, until a violent concussion deprived him, for a moment, of consciousness. When he came to himself, he was still swimming, but his companion was gone. The current had driven them forcibly against a rock, throwing her from his grasp. The wild rapid was just below them. She was never heard of again ; but Walker managed to reach the shore, where he must have lain long in an exhausted condition, for it was daylight when he awoke to any recollection of what had happened.
The ferry-rope had been cut, as he afterwards discovered, by an Indian, in whose brother’s removal by hanging he hail been instrumental, and who had been watching him, day and night, for the purpose of wreaking a bitter vengeance.
Returning to reconnoitre, with some of his friends, Walker found the mission a heap of ruins,— blackened walls, charred rafters, and unrecognizable human remains.
Long afterwards, he learned that his bride was again living among the Blackfeet;—for it was Bloyse, and not Alixe, with whom he had galloped away to the fatal ferry, in the confusion of that terrible night. It was poor Bloyse who went away from his arms down those crushing rapids. It was Alixe, his bride, who shot back the bolts for the entrance of the Blackfeet. She was secretly betrothed in the tribe, and it was her betrothed whom Walker shot down as he was rushing away in triumph with his supposed fiancée of the pale-faces. She married another Indian of the tribe, however; for she was a savage woman at heart, and could live among savages only.
“ Sisters may be as like as two walnuts, to look at,” said the old voyageur, when he had finished his narration. “ Take any two walnuts from a heap, at random, though, and, like as not, you’ll find one on ’em all heart and the other all hollow.”
“True,” replied I; "but these be wild adventures for one whose boyhood was passed in a peaceful and thoroughly whitewashed home on the banks of the St. Francois,”
“ ’Guess they be,” said the old voyageur.