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The Father of St. Kilda
Chapter VI - Fort York to the Red River of the North


Not one of the new recruits had the smallest idea in what part of the vast territory his lot was to be cast. I waited patiently, finding enough to interest me in the enormous piles of goods that lay on the river-bank, ready for transference to the inland boats—sufficient witness to the commercial importance of Fort York, the brain and heart of the whole territory. At last the die was cast, and my destination fixed, nine hundred miles away, southward happily, on the Red River. This was the most civilised part of the territory, and friends and foes alike pronounced me lucky. I myself was not specially enthusiastic, being conscious of a preference for savagery over civilisation, a preference supported by distinguished authority, since Rousseau held that the cultivation of the arts and sciences had not contributed to the purification of morals. What weighed most heavily on my mind was the long distance from the sea.

Born on the verge of the Atlantic, the son of a race of sea-people, I had a strong love for the salt ocean, and as no time was fixed for my return, I felt that the Greek kalends might arrive, nay the next glacial period be upon us, before I again tasted its briny flavour.

Be that as it might, however, I soon found myself -'n the stern of a boat, hoisting the lug sail before a strong and cold north-east wind and a stronger tide, running eight miles an hour into the thorax of the Hayes River. My crew were truly a promiscuous lot—Metis, mongrels, and Indians. They were seven in number, three great and four small. Two Metis and an Indian were of extraordinary size, sons of Anak, where the balance were mongrels of the tiniest stature possible. All alike seemed in a state of torpor, suffering from fatigue after heavy tippling. Resolved either to increase or decrease the symptoms, I handed over to them my whole allowance of grog for the nine hundred miles. Their appreciation was amusing in its volubility. Indian and English tongues were mingled indiscriminately in praise of the gift and the giver.

Cape Tatnam was the last I saw of the sea coast. The boat sailed up river on the bosom of the tide, and when its force was no longer felt we put ashore for the night. As the tide turned and the sea returned to its bed, I had a sense of losing a friend. I said farewell to it sadly, and asked myself when I should see it again. My first night at the camp-fire under the canopy of heaven was truly a strange one, a mixture of hope and of fear, of joy and of doubt. But I had learned well the lessons of home, and God was my mainstay. My companions betook themselves early and with enthusiasm to the grog gift. Nay, they “broachcd the admiral ” too, which made up fully two-thirds of our cargo, in their eagerness to replenish the virtues of my gift and keep up the bout. They fought each other like tigers, tearing their clothes to rags, and dragging handfuls of hair from thick-grown heads that never had known a comb. It goes without saying that they anathematised each other in a babel of tongues. Then their mood changed, and I could hear the half-muttering of the native “Auld Lang Syne,” with its rousing “wullywachts” and fraternal grasping of hands. By morning light it was all over, and our guide called out in a species of hawking voice, with power of sorts like the blast of Roderick Dhu’s horn, “Win-ish-kaa! win-ish-kaa! Ash a keeish ee-gaw”—“Wake! wake! Already daylight.” The conquest of one language by another is always an interesting study, and one in which I was to be absorbed henceforth. The difficulties promised to be great, chiefly that of distinguishing what was really germane to the tongue I was studying and what foreign. But I could only persevere. Every passing breath is said to add something to the stability of a coral reef. Why should not it be so with me? Every phrase overheard by chance might add something to my knowledge.

After a hurried repast of half-baked bread and raw pemmican, four of the most motley specimens of humanity ever seen jumped ashore to tow us up stream. They wore leather straps around their shoulders, to which were attached five hundred feet of tracking line. The other end of the line was made fast to the foreshoulder of our boat. Our cra ft was of five tons burden, and was heading a current of six miles an hour on the average, so that our mongrel friends’ work was no sinecure. They walked by the water’s edge, one after the other, with heads bent in an attitude suggestive of deep sorrow, with long necks stretched out gooselike and bent backs, thus putting forth every particle of strength that Nature had bestowed upon them. Indeed, to do them justice, they needed no urging, being every one more eager than another to finish the task and get back home again. Thus we proceeded up stream day by day, with no change in the programme, except here and there where the current got slack, and the amber water trickled drowsily over the exquisite pebbles. The physical aspect of the country improved as we advanced. Instead of the dwarf shrub brush growing, or trying to grow, on the low coast lands, we found good-sized trees of poplar, birch, and pine. The sun now set among the foliage of trees. In these high latitudes he appears to the careless eye to be still moving royal in the heavens as if in the summer solstice, although he is nearly on the equator. On the night of 12th September the harvest moon was full, although where I was there was no harvest to gather in. I fell asleep by its light. There was no dressing or undressing, nor had my bedroom any roof but the canopy of God’s dwelling-place. After the sweet sound sleep of my age and race, I awoke to a scene of unearthly beauty. It was four o’clock. The great moon, ;n her splendid maturity, rode royally in the far west. Mercury sparkled, and Venus shone soft and clear.

Jupiter blazed on the meridian, Mars and Saturn in attendance; and remote Uranus stood n the constellation of the Bull. The whole camp lay in dead sleep. By-and-by red and white streaks began to spread themselves across the eastern sky, and soon I saw our good guide standing on the river bank, stretching his neck not unlike our cockerel at home, and in another minute the strident voice was again shouting its hoarse “Win-ish-kaa! ” to the camp. The streaks of light in the east grew brighter, heralding the rising of the sun, and the natives were already in harness. We were travelling just then through a deep rocky gorge, running due east and west, and the moon’s soft light played in the depths with strange, fantastic effect. I shall always remember that morning, the golden sun coming up behind me, the silver moon going down in front, both so serene, so majestic, so far away, and between and beneath them four human mongrels in harness, holding on their course with the tenacity of grim death, hauling a iive-ton cargo boat against a particularly strong and trying current.

I had begun to understand my companions much better by this time, although our conversation was carried on through an interpreter in broken Indian and sorely abused and badly fractured English. I must admit that as yet two-thirds of my Indian vocabulary were exhausted in “No ” and “Yes.”

The mosquitoes and their second cousins the sand Hies were simply intolerable in their eager thirst for the white man’s blood. When I lay down at night I fancied that the oblivion of sleep would deliver me from the torment of their designing songs and sharp stings. But no, they attacked me with a voracity that made me believe I was the first tit-bit that had come their way since the hour of their insect birth. The natives did not seem to mind the plague at all. Whether they, through custom, are less sensitive than we are, whether their blood is not so sweet, or whether the creatures have pity on their countrymen, I know not, but the fact remains, they are not so vicious by half when there are no white men about.

Day by day I was more overcome by the mystery of our loneliness. We passed by no mansions, no castles, no ancient monasteries, no towns, no ruins. We were alone, alone.

Speaking of this country, it has been said, “The most travelled of those who behold the extent and variety of its scenic magnificence, and whose souls are open to such appeals of Nature, will readily admit that they have never seen the like of It, and that nothing they ever saw impressed them so deeply. They will be struck first with the vastness and unknown character of the region traversed. Imagine six hundred thousand square miles of wilderness, of which probably less than a twentieth part has as yet been trodden by human beings. Thu merest specks of white and aboriginal settlements exist on the shores and river banks, aggregating a few thousands in population. Hundreds of miles of shore line are passed without discovering any sign of life but the waterfowl and the numerous bald-headed eagles perching on tree-tops. The contemplation of the solemn solitude of this great primeval realm is truly awe-inspiring.”

I was constantly reminded of the hummocky ice-field in the straits, only on a larger scale, in the tumbled masses of rocks upon rocks. Much mineral wealth might be hidden there, but no science could ever develop any agricultural capability.

From night to night the stars shone with greater and greater brilliancy. A blush of lovely light, in shape like an outspread fan, stretched upwards from the horizon, and made a pathway through the stars. That light borders the sun’s path for millions of miles.

1 watched in vain for it in the early part of the night, possibly because during the coming months the sun’s track would be low down near the horizon. This beautiful northern sky, with its sparkling millions of stars, was to me the one great joy of my journey. I fancied them alive and looking at me with radiant glances, as if inviting me to join them in their unknown realms.

Beneath these stars we passed now and again a lonely family, under birch-bark covered tent. With them, in a primitive way, was “ the sacred mother of humanity.” They were, indeed, sinless, uncontaminated by fraud and deceit, moving free and unconscious in the royalty of nature. Surely these souls that sail thus before a fair wind across the ocean of life must needs be happy. But my Scottish love of the “abstract” is threatening me again, I leave the perilous precincts of ethnology, and return to my tale.

My diary, kept a secret from all, now became a real difficulty. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. On the day we entered the straits, when we were so severely bombarded by an ice-pack, an exceptionally vigorous bump threw me forcibly down on the dock, my hand under me. It got rather badly hurt, and was now beginning to tester. The excruciaiing pain added considerably to the pessimism of my mood, full of fear for the future and longings after what was left behind. One day, while the usual midday meal was being prepared at the bottom of a high hill, I was told that from its top the waters ol Hudson’s Bay could be seen clearly. The word was enough. Dinntrless and maimed, I set out to ha\e a last look at the sea. The ascent was tedious, steep, and long, but I reached the summit at last, only, alas! to be disappointed. Suddenly, however, I came upon something that takes me back to paleolithic man and the eras before the Deluge: running into the mossy rocky hill a long cave, out of which black smoke was eddying, but not a human face was to be seen. Probably the story was an Indian legend. Still the view was grand. Far as the eye could reach hills and valleys rose and fell in endless, irregular sequence. To see such an extent of land unbordered by the sea was a new experience to me—an islander. The descent was accomplished with many slips and scrambles, many alarms and anxieties. I reached my starting-point with a well-developed appetite, to find neither dinner nor boat awaiting my return,

I sat on a stone at the water’s edge in wondering, disconsolate amazement, ending at last in hopeless discouragement and tears. My stock of hot, wet grief seemed Inexhaustible. Fear fastened upon me like a Ieach. I was in despair. How small I felt in this vast wilderness, alone. How longingly I thought of my motley crew of companions ; how I would have welcomed them now, formidableeas they had hitherto appeared to me. It was beginning to snow, too. Cold and hunger were seizing on my shivering frame, no fire, no food, no night-wraps to keep life in for even twenty-four hours. I thought of my immortal countryman Alexander Selkirk, and found my case worse than his. He at least was in the tropics, not frozen in the cold regions of the Arctic. This was my third misadventure since I entered the service, and seemed likely to be the last—first the escapade on the mast, then the flight over the ice and adventure with the bear, and now the loss of my boat and, as appeared likely, death from cold and starvation. While these gloomy forebodings filled my mind, and my body shuddered with pain, I found it difficult to collect sufficient presence of mind to consider the position practically. But as I turned I observed a board standing upright. The side next the river was crossed and recrossed by black streaks of charcoal. This was done recently, and must surely mean something. But what ? Suddenly a boat glided into view, coming steadily up stream. It made straight for the isolated spot where I stood trembling. In a few moments all was well, and it was explained to me that it was a very usual thing on these river journeys to leave a man ashore to make an oar or mast, or for some similar purpose, trusting to his being picked up by the following boat, whose crew recognised the charcoal-marked board as a signal to stop.

Soon after this we left the Hayes and Hill Rivers behind us and emerged into Knee Lake. Here at last the poor fellows had a rest, as the lug-sail was well filled by a fine north wind, which drove us through the water at a great rate. This lake lies on a plateau, moderately elevated above the sea, and around its shores are isolated hills and ridges of no great height. At night I slept on the ground upon a bed made of the tips of boughs of the balsam fir laid in regular order like slates on a roof, the stem ends sloping downwards—a springy and fragrant couch, which might soothe even a festering hand to sleep.

Our journey now assumed a new phase.

Our progress up stream was checked by falls and rapids, most of which consisted of a series of short chutes, having a descent of from fifteen to sixty feet, with intervals of smooth water between. The passage between these and the nearest bays of two neighbouring lakes was made by the “ portages,” or trails, .which have existed from time immemorial. The cargoes were carried on the backs of voyageurs. Except the spirit puncheons, everything was in the form of handy packages, so that the transfer was quickly made. The ordinary portage load for a man was two hundred pounds, and it was held in place upon his back by means of a pack strap or sling, the loop of which was placed round the forehead. With such loads they ran at full speed from water to water, no matter what the distance. It amused me to see them each with his two hundred pounds on his back running like Tam o’ Shanter’s mare pursued by the devil.

Here I had my first chance of examining the Indian canoe. Certainly the white man has invented nothing to equal it for the purpose for which it is made. It is light and. I have been told, durable. It is still constructed just as in the prehistoric days 'before the white man came. It is made of the rind of the canoe-birch tree, which when mature s tough and lasting, and very much resembles tanned leather. The inner side is turned out to form the bottom, and the different sheets are sewn together by long split roots of the spruce, which are also used to sew the bark to the gunwale. All is lined inside by long strips of cedar, split very thin, placed lengthwise, and held in position by eight semicircular ribs ol cedar set closely together, their ends being cleverly caught between the inner side of the bark and the gunwale. Seams are carefully made tight by the gum of any coniferous tree. A canoe is from ten to twenty feet long, and so equipped, with a flintlock gun and powder and shot, an Indian can traverse the continent from ocean to ocean without other aid.

At last we arrived at the first of the inland posts, Oxford House. The lake of that name, upon which it stood, abounded in fish: white-fish, sturgeon, pike, pickerel, gold-eyes, ling-sucker, and chub. The last-named were called awaadoosie, “stone-carriers,” by the Indians, from their habit of collecting stones and gravel, weighing from an ounce to over a pound, and depovisiting these in a heap at the bottom of a river as a suitable place for laying and hatching their eggs. The stones are of course much lighter under water, and the fish are thus able to carry them in their mouths in accordance with Nature’s curious arrangement. Fur-bearing animals were abundant in the neighbourhood: the moose and cariboo deer, and also the black bear, beaver, musk-rat, porcupine, lynx, wolverine, otter, skunk, fisher, marten, mink-fox, and wolf. Birds of passage were likewise numerous, many species of ducks, geese, swans, and cranes being summer visitors in countless numbers to these northern regions, and the natives laid in a large supply (their harvest home) for winter and spring consumption. With them hunting was, indeed, reduced to a fine art. Like Solomon of old, they might be said to speak the language of birds and beasts. The effect of their imitative cries was simply magical. I have seen flocks flying southward wheel round at the sound and light upon their heads only to be fired at. Nor did they learn by experience, but returned again and again when the cry was repeated, an easy prey. The native has many curious arts, mysterious to us, but useful to himself. Who else could build a campfire as he does ? lie arranges it high in a semicircle, and when it Is lighted there is heat enough not merely to keep one comfortable, but to roast an ox.

Beyond Oxford House our route lay by rivers, reservoirs, and creeks in a bewildering series of ugly steep gradients and sharp curves. Out and in among the hills the road wound like a great snake. Soon we came to a wonderful specimen of Nature’s engineering, the most magnificent bit of wild scenery I had as yet looked upon in my adopted country. The place was called “Hell’s Gate,” and did, indeed, suggest demonic craft. I cannot speak of the waterfalls. The mere recollection of them silences me ; the sight of them appalled me. I saw in what I can only describe as a great glen between mountain ranges a group of hills and hillocks. Far away on one side a range of hills formed one rampart, and the highlands on the other side formed the other. Miles of distance separated the two. Between them other kills arose, some wooded, some rocky and precipitous, all picturesque enough to delight a painter’s eye. In the deep centre of the glen was cut the perpendicular gorge. I looked over the edge into the foaming cauldron below with awe. I could mark the mad whirl of the waters and stand in the very vortex of its vapoury columns, half stupefied by its deafening roar. At its verge the waters were heaving and eddying and fretting as ii reluctant to make the dreadful plunge, and up from beneath rushed the dense vapour. As I stood amazed a half-breed approached me and said; “Boy, what are you looking at? Don’t you think this to be the last piece of the world that God created?” “No, friend,” I said; “I think it to be the first, for, truly, it is rough enough to be the work of an apprentice.” He laughed himself into an ecstasy.

We continued our way. The famous march over the Little St. Bernard was nothing to this. Hannibal and his hosts would scarcely have conquered it. To me it seemed the very abomination of desolation upon the earth.

Streams, not one, but many, had to be traversed. Portages became legion, their names unpronounceable by human lips. Our voyageurs were still with us, and we were surrounded by an atmosphere of supplications not altogether gloomy, because pierced by persistent rays of hope, but still foggy enough, for the natives, consumed by home-sickness, kept pleading and craving for admission to the upper country lakes. With all their strength they used to toil and struggle and persevere to attain this end and have their task finished before there was a risk of being “frozen in,” as often enough happened. Instinct I found to be their chief guide and strongevst trait. Arguments led nowhere in native affairs, but all were active and alert in fleeing from Kee-way-tin, the north wind. They had all the Arctic legends by heart. They could tell you where the great volcano blazed that would burn the whole earth quick, where there was an open sea of incongruous temperature, and where might be discovered the great race of giants, twenty feet high. They greatly feared this race, who dwelt in silence at the top of the earth, and whose breath was Kee-way-tin, the north wind. They had strange ideas lost in unintelligible metaphor, but they were mostly honest, inoffensive people, with many kindly and polite instincts that might put to shame many more civilised.

Of the rest of our portages I shall say nothing. The only grudge I nurse against them is their association with a nightly and distressing rendering of Indian songs, wordless and tuneless, but wailing continuously on five treble notes. I never knew whether it was a song of joy or of lamentation, but there is no chant, be it ever so dolorous, that could have so effectually expressed, as it seemed to me, the depths of misery.

We entered the Echamowash, so called by the natives from its still waters and smuoth, canal-like course. Yet even there we were not free from troubles, barriers having been built across it by many a colony of beavers, seeking to protect their homes. These elicited many oaths from their rate countrymen. It seemed intolerable to have progress retarded by these pigmies, which, like our fairies at home, though with much more reality, slept all day and worked mischief all night. Beavers’ houses and villages are the most wonderful contrivances. I know of no more marvellous example of instinct than they afford. They fell a tree as quickly as a man could do it, and cut it with their teeth into billets, which they carry under water and fix to the bottom of the river, plastering them down with mud till they dam the water up to a depth which will obviate the risk of freezing. They divide the house into rooms, and prepare hard by, at the bottom of the river, a supply of food exactly sufficient for the period that the river will be under ice and snow. Truly a wonderful race, on whose accomplishments I have no space here to dwell.

We were now, after five hundred miles of the most wonderful waterway in the world, on a level plateau, the first terrace of any noticeable elevation above the Bay. It offers little opportunity for cultivation, being not only rocky, broken, and uneven, but hampered with climatic disadvantages which can never be wholly obviated. These are not the consequence of high latitude, that being only from 40 13' to 59° 3', but of its central and isolated position, far from the mellowing influences of the ocean. The Bay, itself scarcely ever free from ice, which floats in upon :t continually by Fisher’s Strait and Rowe’s Welcome from Fox Channel, has little help to offer in softening the atmosphere. The Labrador peninsula shuts it out from the beneficial influence of the Atlantic, and the Alaska Territory acts as a check to the balmy breezes of the Pacific, which might have softened the hearts of the stony hummocks.

Taking as centre the important inland post which we had now reached, Norway House, on the north-cast end of Lake Winnipeg, the northern headquarters of my Company and a spot almost exactly half-way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, I should like to offer my younger readers some account of the different tribes that roam over this vast territory, east, west, north, and south. The aborigines of this region undoubtedly belong to the Northern Cree branch of the wide-spread Ojibway or Cree stock. This txibe, divided into twenty-five branches under as many different names, extended, at the time of which I write, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. On the west side of Hudson’s Bay the Chippewayan tribe intervened, who also came in contact with the Eskimos of the Arctic. But all, except the last-named, were descendants of the original Cree stock, which was the largest of the Lenni-Lennappe family in North America, the Chippeway, Floridean, and Iroquois being next. The Cree was also a plain Indian, and as such very superior to his brethren in the North, who were designated “Wood Crees,” and who spread themselves from sea to sea in various tribes, speaking strange dialects, called collectively the Quesnes or Montagnais. Besides these there were the Yellow Knives, Dog Ribs, Slaveys, Hares, Cariboo-Eaters, and the Loucheux, on the Mackenzie River, with sharp features and almond-shaped black eyes, these the most intelligent of all, and possessing a more distinct and characteristic language. Missionaries had reached nearly all the tribes, using as centres my Company’s various posts, which were scattered throughout the length and breadth of its limitless territories. Their efforts, happily, had been rewarded by at least the outward acceptance of their doctrine by a very large number of the aborigines who came into ihe posts to trade. The followers of good John Wesley had penetrated thus far in their search for souls. He it was who, with indefatigable zeal, preached the gospel three years in America to native tribes, and who boldly told his bishop that henceforth the world was his parish. The Church Missionary Society, of which I have already spoken, had many missions in the land, and the Oblate Fathers, before either of these, had worked their way in quest of souls from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the far-off Rocky Mountains, and the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers. On the whole, it may be said that sixty per cent, of the converts were Roman Catholics, the other forty Protestants. The most tangible evidence of their work and influence so far was the suppression of polygamy and incest. The Indians themselves had no form of defined worship—if they had any religion it was only one of fear. They were ever propitiating the evil spiiits, the demons of their dreams, the imaginary enemies of the woods, rivers, and lakes. Evidence of this came before me on the coast, in the medicinemen, who burned old shoes, leggings, broken snow-shoes, which had been hung up as peace S.K, h sacrifices, in order to avert bad luck in hunting, or head winds in voyages. I never failed to note the predominant note of avarice—human nature all over — stronger even than the superstition, as was shown by the worthless character of the offerings. By tradition they were inclined to an inferior species of totemism, although no religious ceremony was ever attached to its acceptance. Thus any animal or bird dreamed of was taken as the dreamer’s token. These old superstitions and Inborn notions of fatalism are long of dying. They were very willing—on receiving a trille —to conform to the ceremonies of the new religion, but little true Christianity seemed to have been developed. Their change, as far as I could judge, was one of method rather than of heart, and, indeed, in this one is tempted to ask whether civilisation can cast a stone at them. But they had little relish for civilisation, and if they were induced to take a step forward they were very ready to back out of it. Female children were killed at birth by some parents. Others allowed them to live simply to become beasts of burden. Old people were frequently strangled when no longer able to seek their own living, or left behind to starve when the family moved to another spot.

Nor was the custom extinct for men openly to exchange wives for longer or shorter periods. In consequence, the number of virtuous girls was small; and wise was indeed that son who knew his father in this vale of unconventionality. Chastity was regarded as a virtue to be honoured in the breach rather than in the observance. Fidelity by no means seemed essential to the happiness of wedded life, and he was happiest who escaped the trap altogether. The dead, in many tribes, were still seen swinging in trees, where the cold winds of heaven rocked them in their eternal sleep ; others threw them into shallow graves, with gun, ammunition, tea and tobacco, for the mysterious journey, and there the voracious wolverine guarded them by day, to feed on them by night. A traditional notion of a future life they had, somewhat after this fashion:— Two men die, one honest, one unscrupulous. Each soul enters a canoe and sails into a large lake, full of islands where evergreen plants and delicious fruits grow. The former obtains a landing, and feeds on the fruit for ever and ever. The latter’s canoe glides off, and is carried into a river of interminable course, full of falls and rapids over which the scul tumbles and tumbles to all eternity.

Well, we are all idealists—and materialists. We live in an invisible world here, and construct for ourselves an imagined future of material and moral conditions fairer than mortal eye can see for our hereafter. How came we by this master faculty, possessed, as anthropological inquiry has shown, by the very lowest races on our planet? Where, in the untracked waste of ages, lay the birthday, for lowest as for highest, of man’s conscious soul?

Education has been tried among these native tribes, but as soon as childhood is past they relapse into their inherited ways. Take from them the tin-kettle, scalplng-knife and flintlock gun—their insignia of civilisation—and hand them again the birch-bark “rogan," moose-bone, beaver teeth, flint-stone knife and bow and arrow, and at once they are just where they were when first my Company brought these common trinkets of the civilised world to them. Native industries I found to be nil, and the climate made soil cultivation impossible. Sentiment they had none, except a sense of soporific bliss induced by much gorging of pemmican. There were in their language no words to express maternal affection; none to convey the tender solicitude of courtship; there was no term of ordinary politeness, except in the Loucheux tongue, where it was possible to express thanks. By gifts of shoes, however, an indication of tender thought was conveyed, a sentiment no doubt relative. The men married because they must have some one to make shoes for them ; the girls, because, poor souls, they had no say in the matter—and, because, after all, it seemed as well to be the slave of one man as the drudge of a family. The greatest blessing that could befall them was that they should die young. These are not my own statements, though I closely observed the life and habits of the Indians I came among, but information which I derived from an intelligent native, and which of course applies only to his own country.

These, with Scotch, English, Irish, French, Germans, and Chinese—planted further south on British territory—form a medley fantastic and incongruous when huddled in a paragraph, but which, when “strung out” along a base line that runs from rise to set of sun, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Newfoundland to Vancouver, resolves its elements readily and auspiciously to the man who has eyes to see and ears to hear, and the heart to understand.

I was now on the Nelson River, which carries down to the Bay all the surplus waters of Lake Winnipeg—an area of 10,000 to 13,000 square miles—and drains a country larger than Europe. We hoisted our lug-sails while native clerks diligently—or idly—paced the wood platform, consuming time and food, and, sailing through Play Green Lake, by the Old Fort, Montreal Point, Berens River, Dog’s Head, Bull’s Head, Grind Stone Point, Grassy Narrows and Sandy Bar, reached at last, on 13th October, 1859, the Mecca of my journey, Lower Fort Garry on the Red River of the North. Boyish and brave thoughts surged in my brain as I reached it—recollections, perhaps, of Julius Caesar and his Veni, Vidi, Vici, and behind these, sweeter recollections lightening my fears.

“Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on,
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on.”


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