All was in readiness for them, for the factor had been expecting them for a fortnight back; and, when the crackling shots of the braves announced their coming, McElroy gave orders that the three small cannon mounted on a half-moon of narrow breastwork to the south of the main gate, and just before a small opening in the stockade for use in case of attack, should be fired in salute.
These were the quiet and friendly Assiniboines, and the first of the tribes, being the nearest, to reach the factory that year.
De Seviere was early awake and all was astir within its walls, for this was the great time of the four seasons. Eagerly the maids and the younger matrons flocked down to the great gate to peer out at the gathering craft, afloat like the leaves of autumn upon the breast of the little river,—two braves to a canoe, the gallant front of the young men flanking and preceding that which held the leader of the expedition, chief of the tribe, distinguished by its flag fluttering in the morning wind upon a pole at the stern,—at the bedizened figure of the chief himself, and lastly those canoes which held the women, the few children, and even a dog or two.
Thus they came, those simple children of the forest and the lakes, the open ways and the fastnesses, of the untrammelled summers, and the snow-hindered winters, to the doors of the white man, dependent at last upon him for the implements of life,—the gun, the trap, the knife, the kettle, and the blanket.
Presently Edmonton Ridgar, chief trader of Fort de Seviere, came down the main way between the cabins, passing alone between the rows of the populace, and went forward to the lading to receive the guests.
The canoes had by this time swept swiftly and with utmost skill into two half-moons, their points cutting to the landing; and down the reach of water between them, slightly ruffled into little waves and sparkling ripples by the soft wind and the deftly dipping paddles, there came the larger craft of Quamenoka the leader.
“Welcome, my brothers!” called Ridgar, in their own tongue, for this man had been born on the shores of Hudson Bay and knew the speech of every tribe, from the almost extinct Nepisingues, of the Nepigon, to the far-away Ouinebigonnolinis on the sea coast. His hair was thickly silvered from the years he had spent in the service of the H. B. C., and his heart was full of knowledge gathered from the four winds. Therefore, his worth was above price and he hould have been factor of a post of his own, instead of chief trader for young Anders McElroy.
“We greet our brother,” gravely replied Quamenoka as he stepped from his canoe, gathering his blanket around his body with a practised sweep.
Swiftly four headmen disembarked from the first four canoes of the half-moon which closed in with scarce a paddle dip, so deft were the braves with their slender, shining blades of white ash, and stood behind.