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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 06, No. 36, October, 1860 online

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splashy, ditch-divided 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 willow-tree that
sat low 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 into 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
enough. I 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
border-hostelry, 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 south-western 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 he
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 then 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, while 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
side-pockets, 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 Quatreaux 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 get 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 I
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 _brûlés_," 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
super-natural ferocity.

"That's Rupe Falardeau," continued my 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 lumbering-river - 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 nourished, 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 paddle-box, just behind his head.

"Good for you, Rupe!" 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 half-breeds 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 camping-equipage 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, railing-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.
This 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
English, - "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 sedgy 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 boarding-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."


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 06, No. 36, October, 1860 → online text (page 13 of 21)