In the week that followed the waters of the Assiniboine grew black with myriads of canoes. Like the leaves in fall, truly, they came drifting out of the forest, long slim craft, made with a wondrous cunning of birchbark peeled from the tree in one piece, fitted to frames of ash fragile as cockleshell and strong as steel under the practised hand, and smeared in every crinkle and crease and crevasse with the resinous gum of the pine tree. By scores and hundreds and battalions, it seemed to the traders at De Seviere, they poured out of the wilderness, choking the river with their numbers, spilling their contents on the slope under the bastioned walls until a camp was made so vast that it stretched into the forest on each side the clearing of the post and even extended to the marsh at the south.
Half-naked braves stalked in countless numbers among the tepees that went rapidly up, tall fellows, mighty of build and fearless of carriage and of eagle eye, aloof, suspicious, watching the fort, guarding the rich piles of peltry and exchanging a word with none.
These were the great Nakonkirhirinons from that limitless region of the Pays Ten d’en Haut.
If McElroy’s heart had not been so full of his own trouble he would have exulted mightily in their coming, for did it not prove one failure for that reckless Nor’wester on the Saskatchewan? They had come, past all his blandishments of trade, to Fort de Seviere, and their coming spelled a number of furs this season far in advance of any other for that small post. If he wondered at first how they had held out against De Courtenay it was all made plain when among the strangers he espied many Assiniboines and saw in the great canoe of the chief Negansahima, old Quamenoka, who had boasted of the coming of this tribe to De Seviere as his work.
He had spoken truly and had evidently made his word good by meeting the approaching columns and returning with them.
To him alone was due the failure of De Courtenay, McElroy felt at once, and determined in his mind on that present which he had promised for this zeal.
With the coming of the strangers Fort de Seviere was put under military rule. The half-moon to the right of thegate, with its small cannon, received a quota of menwho strayed carelessly all day within reach of the low rampart; a guard lounged in the great gate, ready at a moment’s notice to clang it shut, and seemingly matter-of-course precautions were taken throughout, for these Indians were as uncertain as the flickering north lights crackling in a frosty sky.
There was a scene not to be likened to any other outside the region of the Hudson Bay country, where strange relations existed between white trader and savage, when Edmonton Ridgar met the canoe of the chief at the landing.
Savage delight overspread the eagle features of Negansahima as he beheld the white man.
Towering mightily in the prow of his canoe, the sweeping head-dress of feathers crowning him with a certain majesty, he fixed his keen glance on Ridgar and came gliding toward him across the rippled water.