THERE were now many open spaces in the forest, ever
widening as the work of clearing and burning went on. New families came
into our section and built their cabins and set about the task of making
land. Roads grew up where narrow Indian trails had been, fortified in
low boggy places by huge logs, so that the oxen in teaming might have
solid footing. These roads were called corduroys.
A log store stood at the Jades cross-roads; there were
three blacksmith shops in the Settlement now, and a public house known
as the “Bee Hive” made its appearance at what was known as Walnut Curve,
to offer hospitality to man and beast. Beneath a huge, badly-painted
bee-hive, these words stood out to catch the eye of the traveller:
“Within our hive we’re all alive;
Good whiskey makes us funny;
If you are dry, come in and try
The flavor of our honey.”
It was at this inn that I first met a man named Jake
Hood, a trapper and hunter, who, having heard of the wealth of pelts to
be had for the garnering in our district, had with his family moved up
from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and built a cabin on the pine-forested
point of land which separated Lake Erie from Round Water Bay.
I had always been fond of hunting, and thinking that I
might make a few dollars during the Winter seasons, trapping, and hoping
this man Hood might be ’willing to give me advice in the matter, on
learning that he came every Saturday afternoon to the Bee Hive, I
accordingly made it my business to go to that place and meet him.
Bob McDonald was to have accompanied me, but at the last
minute decided otherwise, so I set off alone through the Spring dusk, my
old flint-lock under my arm, and Snarl—a quarter wolf dog, given me by
Chief Sturgeon of the Indian tribe who made the Point their home—at my
It was a dark night and raining, and the trail I followed
was a lonely on? enough to suit even a lover of loneliness, but,
although I was fond of the deep forest and spent every spare moment I
could find in probing its mysteries, I had learned the unwisdom of
venturing into it at any length at night. Wolves were plentiful and,
when in packs, often dangerous. But I had heard that this trapper Hood
possesed a new kind of gun called a rifle, which fired a single ball
instead of the leaden pellets, known as shot, used in our old
flint-locks, and I was anxious to see and handle it. Besides, there were
the questions bearing on trap-setting which I desired to ask this man.
It was dark when I arrived at the inn. The yellow
candlelight glowed through the oiled deer-skin tacked across the
windows, and the smell of savoury venison stew was wafted through the
rain-laden air to greet me.
I opened the door and stepped inside.
At a crude table sat a big, black-bearded man dressed in
flannel shirt, buckskin coat and trousers of heavy material, which were
tucked into boots reaching well above his knees. He was pouring liquor
from a black bottle into a tin cup, and paused in his act to throw me a
quick, suspicious look.
I suppose my great size must have astounded him, for as
he gazed at me, the cup tipped and the liquor splashed to the floor.
“You must be John Wallace,” he said, setting bottle and
cup down on the table, and I fancied I discerned a cunning look come
into his eyes. He stood up, swaying a little, for he was partly drunk.
“And you,” I returned, coming forward, “are Jake Hood,
the trapper, I came over, hoping to see you to-night.”
“And what could John Wallace, whose strength, I am told,
equals that of an ox, and whose brain, I have no doubt, does also, want
of me?” he asked, swaggering, and winking at Tom Bandy, the inn-keeper,
who stood just inside the tap-room.
“Courtesy, for one thing, my friend,” I replied, “and
answers to a civil question or two bearing on trapping, if you so will.”
“Why, if that be all,” he answered, after a moment’s
frowning consideration, and I thought with something of relief in his
tones, “I have no objection to answering civil questions, even
although,” he added, “they come from an over-grown lout of a farmer.”
I laughed good-naturedly, and sat down opposite him at
table. And it was then I saw for the first time, seated beside the grate
with her face to the flames, a young woman dressed in buckskin shirt and
jerkin. As I stared, I fear somewhat rudely, she turned and I saw a
piquant face lit by starry eyes of brown; and when she smiled, as she
did upon discerning my confusion, I suppose, behind red lips I saw the
flash of even, salt-white teeth.
“My daughter Nance,” spoke Hood proudly. “Come here,
She arose obediently and, coming over stood at the end of
“Here,” cried Hood, rising and pushing her down on his
stool, “John Wallace would try his hand at trapping, it seems, and would
ask certain information concerning the setting of traps, and where. She
will answer your questions, John Wallace,” he did, turning to me. “Nance
is a more skilful trapper than I am even. My tongue is too thick at
present to be forced into doing duty; besides, I desire a word or two
with weasel, Bandy yonder, whose eyes are red and weak—like his grog.”
He lurched across the floor and drew the inn-keeper into
a room beyond the bar.
The girl looked at me and now that she was closer, under
the yellow glut of the candles I could discern a certain hardness in her
eyes and a recklessness in her face. She was attractive, no doubt of
that, and I felt a little ill at ease before her direct gaze.
“I have seen you before, John Wallace,” she said. “Once
when you were hunting on the hardwood ridge that follows the bay, you
passed me so close that I could have reached out and touched you. With
you was another; a tall youth, much handsomer than you. He carried a
wild turkey and whistled a strange tune as he followed you. This was the
tune.” And puckering her red lips, she warbled, soft as a nest-building
blackbird, a bar or two of the old song, “Bonny Dundee.”
“That was Bob McDonald,” I cried, “and the song you have
whistled is the one his father best loves to play on the pipes.”
“Bah!” she shivered, “I hate 'the sound of those
screeching bag-pipes. Give me the fiddle, or soft notes of a guitar,
She looked at me quickly, the smile gone from her face.
“Do you know Gypsy Dan?” she asked, her eyes searching my
I shook my head. “I have seen him,” I answered.
“Aye,” she nodded, “and if report is true, you have more
than seen him. Is it so, I wonder—as my father says—that all men are
fools, and the greater and stronger they are—the greater fools?”
“Why, as to that,” I laughed, “I daresay they are.”
“Why,” she asked, “did you shame Gypsy Dan before his
followers? Surely, John Wallace, that was the act of a fool.” “To have
allowed him to do what he thought of doing, would have been the act of a
coward,” I answered.
She leaned back and laughed softly at my words. “Oho,”
she sneered, “the kisses of Flora McDonald are not for Gypsy Dan, it
would seem. Then who will claim them? You?”
I was silent.
She glanced over her shoulder to make sure we were alone;
then she placed her hand on my arm.
“John Wallace,” she said earnestly, “Gypsy Dan intends to
do you harm; beware of him. He is bad, lawless; and he has cut-throats
in his band who would not stop at murder.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked, for her words gave
me some concern.
“No matter how I know,” she answered, with a toss of her
dark head. “I make it my business to know everything.”
“Well,” I answered, “be that as it may, I will have to
take my chances. Let’s forget Gypsy Dan and talk about trapping.” She
caught her breath, and the arched brows above her eyes met in a frown.
“John Wallace,” she spoke, as though to herself, “you are either very
brave or very stupid.”
“I know I am stupid,” I confessed, “and I greatly doubt
if I am brave; but I do not believe in crossing my bridges until I come
to them. If I am to have trouble with this Gypsy Dan .... ”
Just here there sounded the scuffle of feet and sound of
voices outside. The door burst open and into the room trooped a number
of men. At their head was Gypsy Dan.
His black eyes swept the dimly illumined space, lighting
as they fell on Nance Hood, then on to where I sat watching him.
Immediately his thin lips lost their smile and the nares of his nose
rose and fell like a pointer dog’s on stand.
“Why, John the Ox,” he sneered, bowing low, “this is
indeed a pleasure.”
“One I cannot say I share,” I returned, kicking back my
stool and standing up.
“Tut, tul” he cried, removing his hat and shaking it free
of water drops, for by now it was raining steadily outside. “Tut, tut,
my brave John. Surely it is not in your ox’s heart to pluck me up and
hurl me into oblivion this night, as you did so cunningly before. Nay,
John, if you must exert your strength, pick up yon cask of ale and set
it on the table, so that we may all gather about and drink a toast to
Gypsy Dan and his merry men.”
A loud laugh from his fellows followed his sally; and as
on that night when he had offered insult to Flora McDonald, I felt the
strange pricking of the skin and a tightening of the muscles at this
man’s sneering words.
“As to that, Gypsy Dan,” I said, taking a step forward,
“I am of a mind to oblige you either way you prefer. It will cost me no
more effort to throw you through yonder window than it will to place
this barrel on the table. I am willing to serve.”
“I very much doubt if you are capable of doing either,”
he shrugged, “but I am willing to concede, providing you can lift the
cask of ale to the table, that—barring accidents—you might hurl me
through yonder window.”
At this I laid hold of the barrel and, tipping it so as
to get one hand beneath its bottom, I lifted it to the table, which
groaned and swayed beneath its weight.
“Well doije, Big John!” cried Gypsy Dan. “I could have
sworn you were not man enough to stir that cask. What ho!” he shouted,
pounding the table with his fist, “landlord, where are you? Bring
glasses and a spigot. A farm ox would drink to the health of the red
deer of the green wood!”
From the inner room crept the inn-keeper, blinking his
red-rimmed eyes like a smoke-molested owl. Even to one as stupid as
myself, it was apparent that he and Gypsy Dan had met before. I saw a
look of understanding pass between them.
Close on Bandy’s heels came Jake Hood. His
drink-befuddled mind seemed to sense only that a band of strangers had
entered and that ale was to be served all round; but as Gypsy Dan spoke
again, I saw him start and, with a little shiver, draw himself erect. He
stood staring .at the captain of the motley crew; then, striding across
to where his daughter sat at the table, he seized her arm, and picking
up his gun, which stood in a corner near the door, led her out into the
Two of the men made as though to follow, but Gypsy Dan
called them back. There was a dark scowl on his face as he stepped close
and, without a word, felled each of them with a blow of his clenched
“Now,” he said, sweeping the others of his band with
flashing eyes, “let it be understood once more that what I desire done,
I will order done.”
He swung about and faced me. “John Wallace,” he asked
quietly, “are you willing to forget the unpleasantness between us? Will
you drink with me and my men?”
Now, let me say here, it was never my nature to hold
anger or ill-feeling toward any man. I could not bring myself to like
this man; I could not trust him; and yet he made me a simple and manly
request, and it occurred to me that if I consented to meet him on common
ground, as he proposed, he might be less inclined to carry on his
depredations against the farmers of our Settlement.
“Will you drink a mug of ale with us, John Wallace?” he
“Gladly,” I answered.
Immediately, with hoarse shouts and laughter the gang
gathered about the table. I took the cup which Bandy filled with the
amber fluid and lifted it high.
“A toast!” I cried. “Here’s to the man who fights
bravely, be he gypsy or land-maker.”
A cheer went up and we drank.
“Another toast!” cried Gypsy Dan, and the mugs were
He raised the foaming cup, and a deep silence fell upon
Then in a voice I would never have guessed was his, so
gentle and tender were the tones, he said:
“To the sweetest and fairest creature of the hardwoods,
There was the crash of splintering pottery as
unconsciously my grip tightened on the mug in my hand. I peered through
the smoky light at Gypsy Dan. And I think had I glimpsed a sneer on his
face, I would have killed him with my bare hands. But there was no sneer
there; only a rapt expression of one who sees a vision. And I hated him
at that moment, for in his eyes was the light of a power which ever from
the world’s beginning has drawn the souls of women out of themselves,
and I knew that even my great strength would not be sufficient to hold
sweet Flora McDonald from him.
Bandy had placed another cup in my hand. And now I raised
it, and like one who faces a steep cliff yet has no other track to
follow, I drank, and snatching up my gun and cap, went out into the