Read CHAPTER SEVEN - SOLITUDE of Fort Desolation Red Indians and Fur Traders of Rupert's Land , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

On the day of his encounter with the bear, Jack Robinson sent Rollo up to the fort to fetch down all the men except O’Donel, in order that the fishery might be carried on with vigour.

Of course it is unnecessary to inform the reader that Jack speedily recovered from the effects of his adventure.  It would be absurd to suppose that anything of an ordinary nature could kill or even do much damage to our hero.  Beyond five deep punctures on his back and five on his breast, besides a bite in the shoulder, Jack had received no damage, and was able to return on foot to Fort Desolation a few days after the event.

On arriving, he found his man, Teddy O’Donel, sitting over the kitchen fire in the last stage of an attack of deep depression and home sickness.  Jack’s sudden appearance wrought an instantaneous cure.

“Ah!” said he, grasping his master’s hand and wringing it warmly; “it’s a blessed sight for sore eyes!  Sure I’ve bin all but dead, sur, since ye wint away.”

“You’ve not been ill, have you?” said Jack, looking somewhat earnestly in the man’s face.

“Ill?  No, not i’ the body, if that’s what ye mane, but I’ve been awful bad i’ the mind.  It’s the intellect as kills men more nor the body.  The sowl is what does it all.” (Here Teddy passed his hand across his forehead and looked haggard.) “Ah!  Mr Robinson, it’s myself as’ll niver do to live alone.  I do belave that all the ghosts as iver lived have come and took up there abode in this kitchen.”

“Nonsense!” said Jack, sitting down on a stool beside the fire and filling his pipe; “you’re too superstitious.”

“Supperstitious, is it?” exclaimed the man, with a look of intense gravity.  “Faix, if ye seed them ye’d change yer tune.  It’s the noses of ’em as is wüst.  Of all the noses for length and redness and for blowin’ like trumpets I ever did see ­well, well, it’s no use conjicturin’, but I do wonder sometimes what guv the ghosts sitch noses.”

“I suppose they knows that best themselves,” observed Jack.

“P’r’aps they does,” replied Teddy with a meditative gaze at the fire.

“But I rather suspect,” continued Jack, “that as your own nose is somewhat long and red, and as you’ve got a habit of squinting, not to mention snoring, Teddy, we may be justified in accounting for the ­”

“Ah! it’s no use jokin’,” interrupted O’Donel; “ye’ll niver joke me out o’ my belaif in ghosts.  It’s no longer agone than last night, after tay, I laid me down on the floor beside the fire in sitch a state o’ moloncholly weakness, that I really tried to die.  It’s true for ye; and I belave I’d have done it, too, av I hadn’t wint off to slape by mistake, an’ whin I awoke, I was so cowld and hungry that I thought I’d pusspone dyin’ till after supper.  I got better after supper, but, och! it’s a hard thing to live all be yer lone like this.”

“Have no Indians been here since I left?”

“Not wan, sur.”

“Well, Teddy, I will keep you company now.  We shall be alone here together for a few weeks, as I mean to leave all our lads at the fishery.  Meanwhile, bestir yourself and let me have supper.”

During the next few weeks Jack Robinson was very busy.  Being an extremely active man, he soon did every conceivable thing that had to be done about the fort, and conceived, as well as did, a good many things that did not require to be done.  While rummaging in the stores, he discovered a hand-net, with which he waded into the sea and caught large quantities of small fish, about four inches in length, resembling herrings.  These he salted and dried in the sun, and thus improved his fare, ­for, having only salt pork and fresh salmon, he felt the need of a little variety.  Indeed, he had already begun to get tired of salmon, insomuch that he greatly preferred salt pork.

After that, he scraped together a sufficient number of old planks, and built therewith a flat-bottomed boat ­a vessel much wanted at the place.  But, do what he would, time hung very heavy on his hands, even although he made as much of a companion of Teddy O’Donel, as was consistent with his dignity.  The season for wild fowl had not arrived, and he soon got tired of going out with his gun, with the certainty of returning empty-handed.

At last there was a brief break in the monotony of the daily life at Fort Desolation.  A band of Indians came with a good supply of furs.  They were not a very high type of human beings, had little to say, and did not seem disposed to say it.  But they wanted goods from Jack, and Jack wanted furs from them; so their presence during the two days and nights they stayed shed a glow of moral sunshine over the fort that made its inhabitants as light-hearted and joyful as though some unwonted piece of good fortune had befallen them.

When the Indians went away, however, the gloom was proportionally deeper, Jack and his man sounded lower depths of despair than they had ever before fathomed, and the latter began to make frequent allusions to the possibility of making away with himself.  Indeed, he did one evening, while he and Jack stood silently on the shore together, propose that they should go into the bush behind the fort, cover themselves over with leaves, and perish “at wance, like the babes in the wood.”

Things were in this gloomy condition, when an event occurred, which, although not of great importance in itself, made such a deep impression on the dwellers at Fort Desolation, that it is worthy of a chapter to itself.