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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter XV
Snake Skin Meets With a Rival

WINTER is on and the cold is steady, but the snow is not here; and if the era of skating had come to the far west, many a long stretch of clean bare ice over river and lake could have been quickly made by our young travellers. But at this time they did not know about skates. The iron and steel age had not reached them. However, in the ardor of love and affection, they made good time, and after a few days were crossing the bays and winding down the shores of the waters tributary and part of the big Saskatchewan. Days and nights passed in succession, and as yet there were no fresh signs of humanity. They had lived on rabbits and partridges and chicken and muskrat, and incidentally killed a blacktail and cached some of its meat, and rushed on in their quest for the north people. Niska said, "if we do not find some one on this side of the big rapid, we will surely find them there." But they came to the big rapids, and the roar and rush of many waters, and the swish and swing of the winds among the forest trees were all the sounds they heard. No smoke from lodge or camp fire. No barking or howling of clogs. The people were not here. Indeed, the signs thus far were old. And Snake Skin said:

"The seer has told the truth, and the north people are far." But they faltered not, and mending their moccassins, and hunting their way, pushed on into the wild forest land which soon was altogether new to Snake Skin, and at times puzzling to Niska. But now, the welcome snow fell upon them, and thenceforth their commissariat would be surer, and the signs of humanity when found, fresh. And singing their travelling hymns and songs of thanksgiving, and Snake Skin ever and anon varying these with his own improvisations of love music, all of which circled and centred about the Little Star, and at times caused Niska lots of fun at his comrade's expense, thus they journeyed with the forests growing denser, and the muskegs bigger; and they forever looking and longing for the signs of humanity. One day they came upon a herd of caribou and killed two, and cached as well as they could the meat and hides of these for possible use in the future. Snake Skin said he might have to come back this way.

However, the first moon of the winter waxed and waned and the second one came and was some nights old before they found some Indians who knew the North Wind Maker, but said they had not seen nor yet heard of him for some time. Niska thought this strange, and presently discovered that there was method in their ignorance, for the principal hunter in this camp was an ardent suitor for the Little Star, and he and his people, when they saw Snake Skin with Niska, felt certain that he, like White Buffalo, had come to win one of the handsomest and best of their northern girls. So they feigned ignorance and were also slow to welcome the plainsman in their lodges.

'Let him be satisfied with the women of his own country,' was their thought. They wanted their young hunter to have the Little Star if possible. This rival of Snake Skill went by the name of Amiskosis, the Young Beaver, and so far as hunting ability and general standing went, the Beaver was no mean rival. But of all this Snake Skin was altogether unconscious. The first night after our travellers left this camp, Niska said to Snake Skin:

"We will not sleep tonight." "Why, what is the matter?" was Snake Skin's quick answer.

"Well," said Niska, "the Beaver does not want you to find where the Little Star lives. He wants her for himself."

And Snake Skin was all aflame at once. "But if she prefers me, and I think she will, what can he do?"

"Why," said Niska, "he might try to prevent you reaching where she lives. He might now be on our trail, looking for a chance to kill you."

And Snake Skin laid his weapons handy, and humming a warrior song, thought of the Little Star, and said to himself:

"I will fight for her if need be, but I must live and win her."

And while Niska busied himself preparing the evening meal, Snake Skin packed in dry timber for the big camp fire, which they must keep up during the hours of the long winter's night, and when they had supped, keenly watching, forever listening, presently Snake Skin said:

"You will remain in camp, and I will watch the back trail, in case what you have spoken about and feared might come to pass, and this man try to steal on our camp and do me harm. I do not want to hurt him, but if it must be between his life and mine, I love the Little Star, and I will fight for her if I have to. So, my friend Niska, you fix my robe and things as if I am sitting iii the camp, and you keep up a big blaze, and I will go back."

Accordingly, he detoured and went back in the direction they had come from, carefully scouting as he went. The flood was nearly full, and even in the shade of the pities and spruces there was a measure of light, and in the larger openings of the muskegs it was almost like day. Snake Skin had not gone very far, always keeping aside from the trail he and Niska had made, when, in one of the pauses, which he made for acute listening, he detected the approach of someone.

"Ah," thought he, "Niska was right; this must he the Young Beaver. Foolish man to act in this way. He has not been trained as I have been on the warpath. He has lived in this northern peaceful country. Myself and my fellow young men have been more carefully taught in steps that are light and in ways that are cunning. The only difference between this man and myself is I am armed with bow and quiver, and scalping knife. He has one of those shooting irons with powder and ball. and hunting knife also. Let me watch him."

And sure enough, in the shade of the forest trees, where the shadows were the thickest, carefully and stealthily there approached a man, and when he was near enough Snake Skin made him out to he the Young Beaver. And in his own mind he was discussing the question, "Shall I kill this man, or shall I merely capture him? If I can capture him and disarm him, perhaps that will be sufficient."

So, when his rival had passed him on their trail. Snake Skin slipped in behind, and with greater cunning presently was upon his enemy, and had grabbed the Beaver's gun, and had wrenched it from him, the other having been taken in surprise.

Snake Skin said: "What is my brother wandering so far from his lodge at night for? When we were in your camp yesterday you did not seem so fond of our company. Why are you following us on our journey in this stealthy manner? I do not think that he is my friend who thus tries to creep on to my camp fire. Therefore I must believe that you meant inc evil by your own act. Go on to our camp."

And with the gun pointed at his rival, he sent him ahead of him and walked him into their camp. where Niska was anxiously awaiting the issue of the hour. He knew that the Beaver would attempt to kill Snake Skin, but he also knew that Snake Skin was full of resource, and was brave, for he had been with him in battle and beside him several times where there was great danger.

So now he was not greatly astonished to see the Young Beaver come into their camp, Snake Skin's prisoner.

"Sit you down and rest beside our camp fire," said Snake Skin to his rival. "Let us give our brother food that he may eat."

So Niska set some food before the Young Beaver, and he, boldly accepting the situation, took out his knife, and calmly made his meal. If we had been there, we would not have thought from the man's actions or visage that he was perfectly conscious of the nearness of death. There stood his rival, armed with his own gun, one that he had carefully loaded for the purpose, if he had the opportunity, of killing Snake Skin. But now Snake Skin, doubly armed, was holding him as a prisoner. Moreover, he had won the affection of Niska. So here were two against one. And yet, as he sat and quietly partook of the food set before him, we would have seen no sign of fear in the man. Such was the training of the forest Indian. You might call it fatalism if you please, but when the tables were turned, as they verily were at this time, he would say, "This is fate," and calmly and bravely abide by the conditions.

When the Young Beaver had finished his meal, Snake Skin, who had been watching him all the time, said to him:

"From my friend here I learned tonight that you were my rival. We both want the Little Star. I did not know when I left my southern home that you desired this girl. Her sister, nor yet her brother, never said anything about this. When I came into your camp I came as a friend. My acquaintance with the people of the north had been of the kindest. When I came into this country last winter, with my companion White Buffalo, the hospitality of your people was good; and again, when last autumn we met quite a number of the Northern Crees away south of this, our relations were most friendly, and I was encouraged to come back, and it is on this errand that I now have come to renew acquaintances and also if possible to win the love of the Little Star. Like my friend, White Buffalo, I will leave this matter to her. If she prefers you to me, I will be greatly disappointed, but being a man, and wanting to be brave, I will return to my own people, in sorrow, but nevertheless still in friendship with the Cree peoples of the north. Tonight you sought to do me harm. To attain your end you would kill me. You deserve to die, and some time ago I would have gladly killed you, but I have been in the company of a great and good man, and he has set me many examples, and I feel that I must follow him in his actions. I will let you live now, and you can return to your camp, but this gun, which you came to kill me with, I will keep to remind me of our encounter."

"You can start back at once, and my friend and I will also travel on in our quest tonight." And the Young Beaver rose from where he was sitting, and spoke as follows:

"What you have said is true. I came forth from my camp hating you, and my intention was if I could to kill you, but you are stronger than I am. The spirits favor you more than they do me, and I must submit. You have given me my life. I thank you for it. And now I will tell you, before I start back to my own lodge, where the North Wind Maker and his people were camped some twenty nights since."

He then, turning to Niska, told him where his parents had been during the last moon. And then he stepped forth, and took his journey back from whence he came. And as Snake Skin had said, our travellers at once set out on their journey. When the morning came they were a long way towards the point indicated by Young Beaver. Neither of them questioned his statements.

'Twas the second day after this that they found the signs of a camp in the vicinity, for here were the tracks of a lone hunter, and all they had to do was to follow him back from whence he had come. Reaching this lodge, which was that of a hunter and trapper, they speedily found from him where the North Wind Maker was now encamped. And the next day, to their great joy, they were in sight of the lodges. Here their welcome was profound. The father and mother delighted to have their boy home again, and also glad to meet the friend and confidant of White Buffalo. Many wonderful experiences had Niska to tell the people of this camp. The messages from White Buffalo and Nagos were full of comfort and assurance to them, and Snake Skin was delighted to be in the vicinity of the Little Star once more. He had not been in this northern camp very long when he felt that, while there might be rivals, such as the Young Beaver, yet nevertheless his chance of winning the Little Star was bright. This filled him with joy. The days passed in the life of the people of the time, hunting moose and caribou, and trapping fur- bearing animals, visiting snares, packing in lynx, and in all this Snake Skin adapted himself as he had been learning to in his previous visits into the life of these people.

We will leave him making their acquaintance, and doing his level best to ingratiate himself with the Little Star and her parents.

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