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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Wolf Hunters - Chapter 2. How Wabigoon Became A White Man
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The Wolf Hunters - Chapter 2. How Wabigoon Became A White Man Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :3294

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The Wolf Hunters - Chapter 2. How Wabigoon Became A White Man

CHAPTER II. HOW WABIGOON BECAME A WHITE MAN

Had the young hunters the power of looking into the future, their camp-fire that night on the frozen Ombabika might have been one of their last, and a few days later would have seen them back on the edges of civilization. Possibly, could they have foreseen the happy culmination of the adventures that lay before them, they would still have gone on, for the love of excitement is strong in the heart of robust youth. But this power of discernment was denied them, and only in after years, with the loved ones of their own firesides close about them, was the whole picture revealed. And in those days, when they would gather with their families about the roaring logs of winter and live over again their early youth, they knew that all the gold in the world would not induce them to part with their memories of the life that had gone before.

A little less than thirty years previous to the time of which we write, a young man named John Newsome left the great city of London for the New World. Fate had played a hard game with young Newsome--had first robbed him of both parents, and then in a single fitful turn of her wheel deprived him of what little property he had inherited. A little later he came to Montreal, and being a youth of good education and considerable ambition, he easily secured a position and worked himself into the confidence of his employers, obtaining an appointment as factor at Wabinosh House, a Post deep in the wilderness of Lake Nipigon.

In the second year of his reign at Wabinosh--a factor is virtually king in his domain--there came to the Post an Indian chief named Wabigoon, and with him his daughter, Minnetaki, in honor of whose beauty and virtue a town was named in after years. Minnetaki was just budding into the early womanhood of her race, and possessed a beauty seldom seen among Indian maidens. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, it sprang into existence the moment John Newsome's eyes fell upon this lovely princess. Thereafter his visits to Wabigoon's village, thirty miles deeper in the wilderness, were of frequent occurrence. From the beginning Minnetaki returned the young factor's affections, but a most potent reason prevented their marriage. For a long time Minnetaki had been ardently wooed by a powerful young chief named Woonga, whom she cordially detested, but upon whose favor and friendship depended the existence of her father's sway over his hunting-grounds.

With the advent of the young factor the bitterest rivalry sprang up between the two suitors, which resulted in two attempts upon Newsome's life, and an ultimatum sent by Woonga to Minnetaki's father. Minnetaki herself replied to this ultimatum. It was a reply that stirred the fires of hatred and revenge to fever heat in Woonga's breast. One dark night, at the head of a score of his tribe, he fell upon Wabigoon's camp, his object being the abduction of the princess. While the attack was successful in a way, its main purpose failed. Wabigoon and a dozen of his tribesmen were slain, but in the end Woonga was driven off.

A swift messenger brought news of the attack and of the old chief's death to Wabinosh House, and with a dozen men Newsome hastened to the assistance of his betrothed and her people. A counter attack was made upon Woonga and he was driven deep into the wilderness with great loss. Three days later Minnetaki became Newsome's wife at the Hudson Bay Post.

From that hour dated one of the most sanguinary feuds in the history of the great trading company; a feud which, as we shall see, was destined to live even unto the second generation.

Woonga and his tribe now became no better than outlaws, and preyed so effectively upon the remnants of the dead Wabigoon's people that the latter were almost exterminated. Those who were left moved to the vicinity of the Post. Hunters from Wabinosh House were ambushed and slain. Indians who came to the Post to trade were regarded as enemies, and the passing of years seemed to make but little difference. The feud still existed. The outlaws came to be spoken of as "Woongas," and a Woonga was regarded as a fair target for any man's rifle.

Meanwhile two children came to bless the happy union of Newsome and his lovely Indian wife. One of these, the eldest, was a boy, and in honor of the old chief he was named Wabigoon, and called Wabi for short. The other was a girl, three years younger, and Newsome insisted that she be called Minnetaki. Curiously enough, the blood of Wabi ran almost pure to his Indian forefathers, while Minnetaki, as she became older, developed less of the wild beauty of her mother and more of the softer loveliness of the white race, her wealth of soft, jet black hair and her great dark eyes contrasting with the lighter skin of her father's blood. Wabi, on the other hand, was an Indian in appearance from his moccasins to the crown of his head, swarthy, sinewy, as agile as a lynx, and with every instinct in him crying for the life of the wild. Yet born in him was a Caucasian shrewdness and intelligence that reached beyond the factor himself.

One of Newsome's chief pleasures in life had been the educating of his woodland bride, and it was the ambition of both that the little Minnetaki and her brother be reared in the ways of white children. Consequently both mother and father began their education at the Post; they were sent to the factor's school and two winters were passed in Port Arthur that they might have the advantage of thoroughly equipped schools. The children proved themselves unusually bright pupils, and by the time Wabi was sixteen and Minnetaki twelve one would not have known from their manner of speech that Indian blood ran in their veins. Yet both, by the common desire of their parents, were familiar with the life of the Indian and could talk fluently the tongue of their mother's people.

It was at about this time in their lives that the Woongas became especially daring in their depredations. These outlaws no longer pretended to earn their livelihood by honest means, but preyed upon trappers and other Indians without discrimination, robbing and killing whenever safe opportunities offered themselves. The hatred for the people of Wabinosh House became hereditary, and the Woonga children grew up with it in their hearts. The real cause of the feud had been forgotten by many, though not by Woonga himself. At last so daring did he become that the provincial government placed a price upon his head and upon those of a number of his most notorious followers. For a time the outlaws were driven from the country, but the bloodthirsty chief himself could not be captured.

When Wabi was seventeen years of age it was decided that he should be sent to some big school in the States for a year. Against this plan the young Indian--nearly all people regarded him as an Indian, and Wabi was proud of the fact--fought with all of the arguments at his command. He loved the wilds with the passion of his mother's race. His nature revolted at the thoughts of a great city with its crowded streets, its noise, and bustle, and dirt. It was then that Minnetaki pleaded with him, begged him to go for just one year, and to come back and tell her of all he had seen and teach her what he had learned. Wabi loved his beautiful little sister beyond anything else on earth, and it was she more than his parents who finally induced him to go.

For three months Wabi devoted himself faithfully to his studies in Detroit. But each week added to his loneliness and his longings for Minnetaki and his forests. The passing of each day became a painful task to him. To Minnetaki he wrote three times each week, and three times each week the little maiden at Wabinosh House wrote long, cheering letters to her brother--though they came to Wabi only about twice a month, because only so often did the mail-carrier go out from the Post.

It was at this time in his lonely school life that Wabigoon became acquainted with Roderick Drew. Roderick, even as Wabi fancied himself to be just at this time, was a child of misfortune. His father had died before he could remember, and the property he had left had dwindled slowly away during the passing of years. Rod was spending his last week in school when he met Wabigoon. Necessity had become his grim master, and the following week he was going to work. As the boy described the situation to his Indian friend, his mother "had fought to the last ditch to keep him in school, but now his time was up." Wabi seized upon the white youth as an oasis in a vast desert. After a little the two became almost inseparable, and their friendship culminated in Wabi's going to live in the Drew home. Mrs. Drew was a woman of education and refinement, and her interest in Wabigoon was almost that of a mother. In this environment the ragged edges were smoothed away from the Indian boy's deportment, and his letters to Minnetaki were more and more filled with enthusiastic descriptions of his new friends. After a little Mrs. Drew received a grateful letter of thanks from the princess mother at Wabinosh House, and thus a pleasant correspondence sprang up between the two.

There were now few lonely hours for the two boys. During the long winter evenings, when Roderick was through with his day's work and Wabi had completed his studies, they would sit before the fire and the Indian youth would describe the glorious life of the vast northern wilderness; and day by day, and week by week, there steadily developed within Rod's breast a desire to see and live that life. A thousand plans were made, a thousand adventures pictured, and the mother would smile and laugh and plan with them.

But in time the end of it all came, and Wabi went back to the princess mother, to Minnetaki, and to his forests. There were tears in the boys' eyes when they parted, and the mother cried for the Indian boy who was returning to his people. Many of the days that followed were painful to Roderick Drew. Eight months had bred a new nature in him, and when Wabi left it was as if a part of his own life had gone with him. Spring came and passed, and then summer. Every mail from Wabinosh House brought letters for the Drews, and never did an Indian courier drop a pack at the Post that did not carry a bundle of letters for Wabigoon.

Then in the early autumn, when September frosts were turning the leaves of the North to red and gold, there came the long letter from Wabi which brought joy, excitement and misgiving into the little home of the mother and her son. It was accompanied by one from the factor himself, another from the princess mother, and by a tiny note from Minnetaki, who pleaded with the others that Roderick and Mrs. Drew might spend the winter with them at Wabinosh House.

"You need not fear about losing your position." wrote Wabigoon. "We shall make more money up here this winter than you could earn in Detroit in three years. We will hunt wolves. The country is alive with them, and the government gives a bounty of fifteen dollars for every scalp taken. Two winters ago I killed forty and I did not make a business of it at that. I have a tame wolf which we use as a decoy. Don't bother about a gun or anything like that. We have everything here."

For several days Mrs. Drew and her son deliberated upon the situation before a reply was sent to the Newsomes. Roderick pleaded, pictured the glorious times they would have, the health that it would give them, and marshaled in a dozen different ways his arguments in favor of accepting the invitation. On the other hand, his mother was filled with doubt. Their finances were alarmingly low, and Rod would be giving up a sure though small income, which was now supporting them comfortably. His future was bright, and that winter would see him promoted to ten dollars a week in the mercantile house where he was employed. In the end they came to an understanding. Mrs. Drew would not go to Wabinosh House, but she would allow Roderick to spend the winter there--and word to this effect was sent off into the wilderness.

Three weeks later came Wabigoon's reply. On the tenth of October he would meet Rod at Sprucewood, on the Black Sturgeon River. Thence they would travel by canoe up the Sturgeon River to Sturgeon Lake, take portage to Lake Nipigon, and arrive at Wabinosh House before the ice of early winter shut them in. There was little time to lose in making preparations, and the fourth day following the receipt of Wabi's letter found Rod and his mother waiting for the train which was to whirl the boy into his new life. Not until the eleventh did he arrive at Sprucewood. Wabi was there to meet him, accompanied by an Indian from the Post; and that same afternoon the journey up Black Sturgeon River was begun.

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