Gilbert Parker.

Northern Lights, Volume 1 online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryGilbert ParkerNorthern Lights, Volume 1 → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

This eBook was produced by David Widger

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]


By Gilbert Parker

Volume 1.


Volume 1.

Volume 2.

Volume 3.

Volume 4.

Volume 5.


This book, Northern Lights, belongs to an epoch which is a generation
later than that in which Pierre and His People moved. The conditions
under which Pierre and Shon McGann lived practically ended with the
advent of the railway. From that time forwards, with the rise of towns
and cities accompanied by an amazing growth of emigration, the whole life
lost much of that character of isolation and pathetic loneliness which
marked the days of Pierre. When, in 1905, I visited the Far West again
after many years, and saw the strange new life with its modern episode,
energy, and push, and realised that even the characteristics which marked
the period just before the advent, and just after the advent, of the
railway were disappearing, I determined to write a series of stories
which would catch the fleeting characteristics and hold something of the
old life, so adventurous, vigorous, and individual, before it passed
entirely and was forgotten. Therefore, from 1905 to 1909, I kept drawing
upon all those experiences of others, from the true tales that had been
told me, upon the reminiscences of Hudson's Bay trappers and hunters, for
those incidents natural to the West which imagination could make true.
Something of the old atmosphere had gone, and there was a stir and a
murmur in all the West which broke that grim yet fascinating loneliness
of the time of Pierre.

Thus it is that Northern Lights is written in a wholly different style
from that of Pierre and His People, though here and there, as for
instance in A Lodge in the Wilderness, Once at Red Man's River, The
Stroke of the Hour, Qu'appelle, and Marcile, the old note sounds, and
something of the poignant mystery, solitude, and big primitive incident
of the earlier stories appears. I believe I did well - at any rate for
myself and my purposes - in writing this book, and thus making the human
narrative of the Far West and North continuous from the time of the
sixties onwards. So have I assured myself of the rightness of my
intention, that I shall publish a novel presently which will carry on
this human narrative of the West into still another stage-that of the
present, when railways are intersecting each other, when mills and
factories are being added to the great grain elevators in the West, and
when hundreds and thousands of people every year are moving across the
plains where, within my own living time, the buffalo ranged in their
millions, and the red men, uncontrolled, set up their tepees.


The tales in this book belong to two different epochs in the life of the
Far West. The first five are reminiscent of "border days and deeds" -
of days before the great railway was built which changed a waste into a
fertile field of civilisation. The remaining stories cover the period
passed since the Royal North-West Mounted Police and the Pullman car
first startled the early pioneer, and sent him into the land of the
farther North, or drew him into the quiet circle of civic routine and
humdrum occupation.

G. P.

Volume 1.



"Hai - Yai, so bright a day, so clear!" said Mitiahwe as she entered the
big lodge and laid upon a wide, low couch, covered with soft skins, the
fur of a grizzly which had fallen to her man's rifle. "Hai-yai, I wish
it would last for ever - so sweet!" she added, smoothing the fur
lingeringly, and showing her teeth in a smile.

"There will come a great storm, Mitiahwe. See, the birds go south so
soon," responded a deep voice from a corner by the doorway.

The young Indian wife turned quickly, and, in a defiant fantastic mood
- or was it the inward cry against an impending fate, the tragic future
of those who will not see, because to see is to suffer? - she made some
quaint, odd motions of the body which belonged to a mysterious dance of
her tribe, and, with flashing eyes, challenged the comely old woman
seated on a pile of deer-skins.

"It is morning, and the day will last for ever," she said nonchalantly,
but her eyes suddenly took on a faraway look, half apprehensive, half
wondering. The birds were indeed going south very soon, yet had there
ever been so exquisite an autumn as this, had her man ever had so
wonderful a trade - her man with the brown hair, blue eyes, and fair,
strong face?

"The birds go south, but the hunters and buffalo still go north,"
Mitiahwe urged searchingly, looking hard at her mother - Oanita, the Swift

"My dream said that the winter will be dark and lonely, that the ice will
be thick, the snow deep, and that many hearts will be sick because of the
black days and the hunger that sickens the heart," answered Swift Wing.

Mitiahwe looked into Swift Wing's dark eyes, and an anger came upon her.
"The hearts of cowards will freeze," she rejoined, "and to those that
will not see the sun the world will be dark," she added. Then suddenly
she remembered to whom she was speaking, and a flood of feeling ran
through her; for Swift Wing had cherished her like a fledgeling in the
nest till her young white man came from "down East." Her heart had leapt
up at sight of him, and she had turned to him from all the young men of
her tribe, waiting in a kind of mist till he, at last, had spoken to her
mother, and then one evening, her shawl over her head, she had come along
to his lodge.

A thousand times as the four years passed by she had thought how good it
was that she had become his wife - the young white man's wife, rather than
the wife of Breaking Rock, son of White Buffalo, the chief, who had four
hundred horses, and a face that would have made winter and sour days for
her. Now and then Breaking Rock came and stood before the lodge, a
distance off, and stayed there hour after hour, and once or twice he came
when her man was with her; but nothing could be done, for earth and air
and space were common to them all, and there was no offence in Breaking
Rock gazing at the lodge where Mitiahwe lived. Yet it seemed as though
Breaking Rock was waiting - waiting and hoping. That was the impression
made upon all who saw him, and even old White Buffalo, the chief, shook
his head gloomily when he saw Breaking Rock, his son, staring at the big
lodge which was so full of happiness, and so full also of many luxuries
never before seen at a trading post on the Koonce River. The father of
Mitiahwe had been chief, but because his three sons had been killed in
battle the chieftainship had come to White Buffalo, who was of the same
blood and family. There were those who said that Mitiahwe should have
been chieftainess; but neither she nor her mother would ever listen to
this, and so White Buffalo, and the tribe loved Mitiahwe because of her
modesty and goodness. She was even more to White Buffalo than Breaking
Rock, and he had been glad that Dingan the white man - Long Hand he was
called - had taken Mitiahwe for his woman. Yet behind this gladness of
White Buffalo, and that of Swift Wing, and behind the silent watchfulness
of Breaking Rock, there was a thought which must ever come when a white
man mates with an Indian maid, without priest or preacher, or writing, or
book, or bond.

Yet four years had gone; and all the tribe, and all who came and went,
half-breeds, traders, and other tribes, remarked how happy was the white
man with his Indian wife. They never saw anything but light in the eyes
of Mitiahwe, nor did the old women of the tribe who scanned her face as
she came and went, and watched and waited too for what never came - not
even after four years.

Mitiahwe had been so happy that she had not really missed what never
came; though the desire to have something in her arms which was part of
them both had flushed up in her veins at times, and made her restless
till her man had come home again. Then she had forgotten the unseen for
the seen, and was happy that they two were alone together - that was the
joy of it all, so much alone together; for Swift Wing did not live with
them, and, like Breaking Rock, she watched her daughter's life, standing
afar off, since it was the unwritten law of the tribe that the wife's
mother must not cross the path or enter the home of her daughter's
husband. But at last Dingan had broken through this custom, and insisted
that Swift Wing should be with her daughter when he was away from home,
as now on this wonderful autumn morning, when Mitiahwe had been singing
to the Sun, to which she prayed for her man and for everlasting days with

She had spoken angrily but now, because her soul sharply resented the
challenge to her happiness which her mother had been making. It was her
own eyes that refused to see the cloud, which the sage and bereaved woman
had seen and conveyed in images and figures of speech natural to the
Indian mind.

"Hai-yai," she said now, with a strange touching sigh breathing in the
words, "you are right, my mother, and a dream is a dream; also, if it be
dreamt three times, then is it to be followed, and it is true. You have
lived long, and your dreams are of the Sun and the Spirit." She shook a
little as she laid her hand on a buckskin coat of her man hanging by the
lodge-door; then she steadied herself again, and gazed earnestly into her
mother's eyes. "Have all your dreams come true, my mother?" she asked
with a hungering heart. "There was the dream that came out of the dark
five times, when your father went against the Crees, and was wounded, and
crawled away into the hills, and all our warriors fled - they were but a
handful, and the Crees like a young forest in number! I went with my
dream, and found him after many days, and it was after that you were
born, my youngest and my last. There was also" - her eyes almost closed,
and the needle and thread she held lay still in her lap - "when two of
your brothers were killed in the drive of the buffalo. Did I not see it
all in my dream, and follow after them to take them to my heart? And
when your sister was carried off, was it not my dream which saw the
trail, so that we brought her back again to die in peace, her eyes seeing
the Lodge whither she was going, open to her, and the Sun, the Father,
giving her light and promise - for she had wounded herself to die that the
thief who stole her should leave her to herself. Behold, my daughter,
these dreams have I had, and others; and I have lived long and have seen
the bright day break into storm, and the herds flee into the far hills
where none could follow, and hunger come, and - "

"Hai-yo, see, the birds flying south," said the girl with a gesture
towards the cloudless sky. "Never since I lived have they gone south so
soon." Again she shuddered slightly, then she spoke slowly: "I also have
dreamed, and I will follow my dream. I dreamed" - she knelt down beside
her mother, and rested her hands in her mother's lap - "I dreamed that
there was a wall of hills dark and heavy and far away, and that whenever
my eyes looked at them they burned with tears; and yet I looked and
looked, till my heart was like lead in my breast; and I turned from them
to the rivers and the plains that I loved. But a voice kept calling to
me, 'Come, come! Beyond the hills is a happy land. The trail is hard,
and your feet will bleed, but beyond is the happy land.' And I would not
go for the voice that spoke, and at last there came an old man in my
dream and spoke to me kindly, and said, 'Come with me, and I will show
thee the way over the hills to the Lodge where thou shalt find what thou
hast lost.' And I said to him, 'I have lost nothing;' and I would not
go. Twice I dreamed this dream, and twice the old man came, and three
times I dreamed it; and then I spoke angrily to him, as but now I did to
thee; and behold he changed before my eyes, and I saw that he was now
become - "she stopped short, and buried her face in her hands for a
moment, then recovered herself - "Breaking Rock it was, I saw before me,
and I cried out and fled. Then I waked with a cry, but my man was beside
me, and his arm was round my neck; and this dream, is it not a foolish
dream, my mother?"

The old woman sat silent, clasping the hands of her daughter firmly, and
looking out of the wide doorway towards the trees that fringed the river;
and presently, as she looked, her face changed and grew pinched all at
once, and Mitiahwe, looking at her, turned a startled face towards the
river also.

"Breaking Rock!" she said in alarm, and got to her feet quickly.

Breaking Rock stood for a moment looking towards the lodge, then came
slowly forward to them. Never in all the four years had he approached
this lodge of Mitiahwe, who, the daughter of a chief, should have married
himself, the son of a chief! Slowly but with long slouching stride
Breaking Rock came nearer. The two women watched him without speaking.
Instinctively they knew that he brought news, that something had
happened; yet Mitiahwe felt at her belt for what no Indian girl would be
without; and this one was a gift from her man, on the anniversary of the
day she first came to his lodge.

Breaking Rock was at the door now, his beady eyes fixed on Mitiahwe's,
his figure jerked to its full height, which made him, even then, two
inches less than Long Hand. He spoke in a loud voice:

"The last boat this year goes down the river tomorrow. Long Hand, your
man, is going to his people. He will not come back. He has had enough
of the Blackfoot woman. You will see him no more." He waved a hand to
the sky. "The birds are going south. A hard winter is coming quick.
You will be alone. Breaking Rock is rich. He has five hundred horses.
Your man is going to his own people. Let him go. He is no man. It is
four years, and still there are but two in your lodge. How!"

He swung on his heel with a chuckle in his throat, for he thought he had
said a good thing, and that in truth he was worth twenty white men. His
quick ear caught a movement behind him, however, and he saw the girl
spring from the lodge door, something flashing from her belt. But now
the mother's arms were round her, with cries of protest, and Breaking
Rock, with another laugh, slipped away swiftly toward the river.

"That is good," he muttered. "She will kill him perhaps, when she goes
to him. She will go, but he will not stay. I have heard."

As he disappeared among the trees Mitiahwe disengaged herself from her
mother's arms, went slowly back into the lodge, and sat down on the great
couch where, for so many moons, she had lain with her man beside her.

Her mother watched her closely, though she moved about doing little
things. She was trying to think what she would have done if such a thing
had happened to her, if her man had been going to leave her. She assumed
that Dingan would leave Mitiahwe, for he would hear the voices of his
people calling far away, even as the red man who went East into the great
cities heard the prairies and the mountains and the rivers and his own
people calling, and came back, and put off the clothes of civilisation,
and donned his buckskins again, and sat in the Medicine Man's tent, and
heard the spirits speak to him through the mist and smoke of the sacred
fire. When Swift Wing first gave her daughter to the white man she
foresaw the danger now at hand, but this was the tribute of the lower
race to the higher, and - who could tell! White men had left their Indian
wives, but had come back again, and for ever renounced the life of their
own nations, and become great chiefs, teaching useful things to their
adopted people, bringing up their children as tribesmen - bringing up
their children! There it was, the thing which called them back, the
bright-eyed children with the colour of the brown prairie in their faces,
and their brains so sharp and strong. But here was no child to call
Dingan back, only the eloquent, brave, sweet face of Mitiahwe. . . .
If he went! Would he go? Was he going? And now that Mitiahwe had been
told that he would go, what would she do? In her belt was - but, no, that
would be worse than all, and she would lose Mitiahwe, her last child, as
she had lost so many others. What would she herself do if she were in
Mitiahwe's place? Ah, she would make him stay somehow - by truth or by
falsehood; by the whispered story in the long night, by her head upon his
knee before the lodge-fire, and her eyes fixed on his, luring him, as the
Dream lures the dreamer into the far trail, to find the Sun's hunting-
ground where the plains are filled with the deer and the buffalo and the
wild horse; by the smell of the cooking-pot and the favourite spiced
drink in the morning; by the child that ran to him with his bow and
arrows and the cry of the hunter - but there was no child; she had
forgotten. She was always recalling her own happy early life with her
man, and the clean-faced papooses that crowded round his knee - one wife
and many children, and the old Harvester of the Years reaping them so
fast, till the children stood up as tall as their father and chief. That
was long ago, and she had had her share - twenty-five years of happiness;
but Mitiahwe had had only four. She looked at Mitiahwe, standing still
for a moment like one rapt, then suddenly she gave a little cry.
Something had come into her mind, some solution of the problem,
and she ran and stooped over the girl and put both hands on her head.

"Mitiahwe, heart's blood of mine," she said, "the birds go south, but
they return. What matter if they go so soon, if they return soon. If
the Sun wills that the winter be dark, and he sends the Coldmaker to
close the rivers and drive the wild ones far from the arrow and the gun,
yet he may be sorry, and send a second summer - has it not been so, and
Coldmaker has hurried away - away! The birds go south, but they will
return, Mitiahwe."

"I heard a cry in the night while my man slept," Mitiahwe answered,
looking straight before her, "and it was like the cry of a bird-calling,
calling, calling."

"But he did not hear - he was asleep beside Mitiahwe. If he did not wake,
surely it was good luck. Thy breath upon his face kept him sleeping.
Surely it was good luck to Mitiahwe that he did not hear."

She was smiling a little now, for she had thought of a thing which would,
perhaps, keep the man here in this lodge in the wilderness; but the time
to speak of it was not yet. She must wait and see.

Suddenly Mitiahwe got to her feet with a spring, and a light in her eyes.
"Hai-yai!" she said with plaintive smiling, ran to a corner of the
lodge, and from a leather bag drew forth a horse-shoe and looked at it,
murmuring to herself.

The old woman gazed at her wonderingly. "What is it, Mitiahwe?" she

"It is good-luck. So my man has said. It is the way of his people.
It is put over the door, and if a dream come it is a good dream; and if a
bad thing come, it will not enter; and if the heart prays for a thing hid
from all the world, then it brings good-luck. Hai-yai! I will put it
over the door, and then - "All at once her hand dropped to her side, as
though some terrible thought had come to her, and, sinking to the floor,
she rocked her body backward and forward for a time, sobbing. But
presently she got to her feet again, and, going to the door of the lodge,
fastened the horseshoe above it with a great needle and a string of

"Oh great Sun," she prayed, "have pity on me and save me! I cannot live
alone. I am only a Blackfoot wife; I am not blood of his blood. Give,
O great one, blood of his blood, bone of his bone, soul of his soul, that
he will say, This is mine, body of my body, and he will hear the cry and
will stay. O great Sun, pity me!" The old woman's heart beat faster as
she listened. The same thought was in the mind of both. If there were
but a child, bone of his bone, then perhaps he would not go; or, if he
went, then surely he would return, when he heard his papoose calling in
the lodge in the wilderness.

As Mitiahwe turned to her, a strange burning light in her eyes, Swift
Wing said: "It is good. The white man's Medicine for a white man's wife.
But if there were the red man's Medicine too - "

"What is the red man's Medicine?" asked the young wife, as she smoothed
her hair, put a string of bright beads around her neck, and wound a red
sash round her waist.

The old woman shook her head, a curious half-mystic light in her eyes,
her body drawn up to its full height, as though waiting for something.
"It is an old Medicine. It is of winters ago as many as the hairs of the
head. I have forgotten almost, but it was a great Medicine when there
were no white men in the land. And so it was that to every woman's
breast there hung a papoose, and every woman had her man, and the red men
were like leaves in the forest - but it was a winter of winters ago, and
the Medicine Men have forgotten; and thou hast no child! When Long Hand
comes, what will Mitiahwe say to him?"

Mitiahwe's eyes were determined, her face was set, she flushed deeply,
then the colour fled. "What my mother would say, I will say. Shall the
white man's Medicine fail? If I wish it, then it will be so: and I will
say so."

"But if the white man's Medicine fail?" - Swift Wing made a gesture toward
the door where the horse-shoe hung. "It is Medicine for a white man,
will it be Medicine for an Indian?"

"Am I not a white man's wife?"

"But if there were the Sun Medicine also, the Medicine of the days long

"Tell me. If you remember - Kai! but you do remember - I see it in your
face. Tell me, and I will make that Medicine also, my mother."

"To-morrow, if I remember it - I will think, and if I remember it,
to-morrow I will tell you, my heart's blood. Maybe my dream will come
to me and tell me. Then, even after all these years, a papoose - "

"But the boat will go at dawn to-morrow, and if he go also - "

"Mitiahwe is young, her body is warm, her eyes are bright, the songs she
sings, her tongue - if these keep him not, and the Voice calls him still
to go, then still Mitiahwe shall whisper, and tell him - "

"Hai-yo-hush," said the girl, and trembled a little, and put both hands
on her mother's mouth.

For a moment she stood so, then with an exclamation suddenly turned and
ran through the doorway, and sped toward the river, and into the path
which would take her to the post, where her man traded with the Indians
and had made much money during the past six years, so that he could have
had a thousand horses and ten lodges like that she had just left. The
distance between the lodge and the post was no more than a mile, but
Mitiahwe made a detour, and approached it from behind, where she could
not be seen. Darkness was gathering now, and she could see the glimmer
of the light of lamps through the windows, and as the doors opened and
shut. No one had seen her approach, and she stole through a door which
was open at the rear of the warehousing room, and went quickly to another
door leading into the shop. There was a crack through which she could
see, and she could hear all that was said. As she came she had seen
Indians gliding through the woods with their purchases, and now the shop
was clearing fast, in response to the urging of Dingan and his partner,
a Scotch half-breed. It was evident that Dingan was at once abstracted
and excited.

Presently only two visitors were left, a French halfbreed call Lablache,
a swaggering, vicious fellow, and the captain of the steamer, Ste. Anne,
which was to make its last trip south in the morning - even now it would
have to break its way through the young ice. Dingan's partner dropped a
bar across the door of the shop, and the four men gathered about the
fire. For a time no one spoke. At last the captain of the Ste. Anne
said: "It's a great chance, Dingan. You'll be in civilisation again, and

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryGilbert ParkerNorthern Lights, Volume 1 → online text (page 1 of 6)