Read CHAPTER I - JULYMAN TELLS OF THE “SLEEPER” INDIANS of The Heart of Unaga , free online book, by Ridgwell Cullum, on ReadCentral.com.

Steve Allenwood raked the fire together.  A shower of sparks flew up and cascaded in the still air of the summer night.  A moment later his smiling eyes were peering through the thin veil of smoke at the two dusky figures beyond the fire.  They were Indian figures, huddled down on their haunches, with their moccasined feet in dangerous proximity to the live cinders strewn upon the ground.

“Oh, yes?” he said.  “And you guess they sleep all the time?”

The tone of his voice was incredulous.

“Sure, boss,” one of the Indians returned, quite unaffected by the tone.  The other Indian remained silent.  He was in that happy condition between sleep and waking which is the very essence of enjoyment to his kind.

Inspector Allenwood picked up a live coal in his bare fingers.  He dropped it into the bowl of his pipe.  Then, after a deep inhalation or two, he knocked it out again.

“’Hibernate’ eh?  That’s how we call it,” he said presently.  Then he shook his head.  The smile had passed out of his eyes.  “No.  It’s a dandy notion.  But it’s not true.  They’d starve plumb to death.  You see, Julyman, they’re human folks the same as we are.”

The flat denial of his “boss” was quite without effect upon Julyman.  Oolak, beside him, roused himself sufficiently to turn his head and blink enquiry at him.  He was a silent creature whose admiration for those who could sustain prolonged talk was profound.

“All same, boss, that so,” Julyman protested without emotion.  “Him same like all men.  Him just man, squaw, pappoose.  All same him sleep sleep sleep, when snow comes,” Julyman sucked deeply at his pipe and spoke through a cloud of tobacco smoke.  “Julyman not lie.  Oh, no.  Him all true.  When Julyman young man very young him father tell him of Land of Big Fire.  Him say all Indian man sleeping so.”  He leant over sideways, with his hands pressed together against his cheek to illustrate his meaning.  “Him father say this.  Him say when snow come All Indian sleep.  One week two week.  Then him wake so.”  He stretched himself, giving a great display of a weary half-waking condition.  “Him sit up.  The food there by him, an’ he eat eat plenty much.  Then him drink.  An’ bimeby him drink the spirit stuff again.  Bimeby, too, him roll up in blanket.  Then him sleep some more.  One week two week.  So.  An’ bimeby winter him all gone.  Oh, him very wise man.  Him no work lak hell same lak white man.  No.  Him sleep sleep all him winter.  An’ when him wake it all sun, an’ snow all gone.  All very much good.  Indian man him go out.  Him hunt the caribou.  Him fish plenty good.  Him kill much seal.  Make big trade.  Oh, yes.  Plenty big trade.  So him come plenty old man.  No him die young.  Only very old.  Him much wise man.”

The white man smiled tolerantly.  He shrugged.

“Guess you got a nightmare, Julyman,” he said.  “Best turn over.”

Steve had nothing to add.  He knew his scouts as he knew all other Indians in the wide wilderness of the extreme Canadian north.  These creatures were submerged under a mental cloud of superstition and mystery.  He had no more reason to believe the story of “hibernating” Indians than he had for believing the hundred and one stories of Indian folklore he had listened to in his time.

Julyman, too, considered the subject closed.  He had said all he had to say.  So the spasm of talk was swallowed up by the silence of the summer night.

The fire burned low, and was replenished from the wood pile which stood between the two teepees standing a few yards away in the shadow of the bush which lined the trail.  These men, both white and coloured, had the habit of the trail deeply ingrained in them.  But then, was it not their life, practically the whole of it?  Stephen Allenwood was a police officer who represented the white man’s law in a district as wide as a good-sized European country, and these scouts were his only assistants.

They were at headquarters now enjoying a brief respite from the endless trail which claimed all their life and energies.  And such was the nature of their work, and so absorbing the endless struggle of it, that their focus of holiday-making was little better than sitting over a camp-fire at night smoking, and occasionally talking, and waiting for the call of nature summoning them to their blankets.

It was a wonderful night, still and calm, and with a radiance of starlight overhead.  There was the busy hum of insect life from the adjacent woods, a deep murmur from the sluggish tide of the great Caribou River which drained the country for miles around.  The occasional sigh that floated upon the air spoke of lofty pine crests bending under a light top breeze which refrained from disturbing the lower air.  The night left the impression of unbreakable peace, of human content, and a world where elemental storms were unknown.

But the impression was misleading, as are all such impressions in nature’s wild, and where the human heart beats strongly.  There was no content in the grey eyes of the white man as he sat gazing into the heart of the fire.  Then, too, not one of them but knew the cruel moods of the great Northland.

A wonderful companionship existed between these men.  It was something more than the companionship of the long trail.  They had fought the battle of life together for eight long years, enduring perils and hardships which had brought them an understanding and mutual regard which no difference in colour, or education could lessen.  For all the distinction of the police officer’s rank and his white man’s learning, for all the Indians were dark-skinned, uncultured products of the great white outlands, they were three friends held by bonds which only the hearts of real men could weld.

The territory over which Steve Allenwood exercised his police control was well-nigh limitless from a “one-man” point of view.  From his headquarters, which lay within the confines of the Allowa Indian Reserve on the Caribou River, it reached away to the north as far as the Arctic Circle.  To the west, only the barrier of the great McKenzie River marked its limits.  To the south, there was nothing beyond the Reserve claiming his official capacity, except the newly grown township of Deadwater, two miles away.  Eastwards?  Well, East was East.  So far as Inspector Allenwood knew his district had no limits in that direction, unless it were the rugged coast line of the Hudson’s Bay itself.

His task left Steve Allenwood without complaint.  It was never his way to complain.  Doubtless there were moments in his life when he realized the overwhelming nature of it all.  But he no more yielded to it than he would yield to the overwhelming nature of a winter storm.  That was the man.  Patient; alive with invincible courage and dispassionate determination.  Square, calm, strong, like the professional gambler he always seemed to have a winning card to play at the right moment.  And none knew better than his scouts how often that card had meant the difference between a pipe over the warm camp-fire and the cold comfort of an icy grave.

Julyman was troubled at the unease he observed in the white man’s eyes.  It had been there on and off for some days now.  It had been there more markedly earlier in the evening when the white man had helped his girl wife into the rig in which Hervey Garstaing, the Indian Agent, was driving Dr. and Mrs. Ross, and their two daughters, to the dance which was being given down at the township by the bachelors of Deadwater.  Since then the look had deepened, and Julyman, in spite of his best efforts, had failed to dispel it.  Even his story of a race of “hibernating” Indians had been without effect.

But Julyman did not accept defeat easily.  And presently he removed the foul pipe from his thin lips, and spat with great accuracy into the heart of the fire.

“Bimeby she come,” he said, in his low, even tones, while his black, luminous eyes were definitely raised to the white man’s face.  “Oh, yes.  Bimeby she come.  An’ boss then him laff lak hell.  Julyman know.  Julyman have much squaw.  Plenty.”

Steve started.  For a moment he stared.  Then his easy smile crept into his steady eyes again and he nodded.

“Sure,” he said.  “Bimeby she come.  Then I laff like hell.”

Julyman’s sympathy warmed.  He felt he had struck the right note.  His wide Indian face lit with an unusual smile.

“Missis, him young.  Very much young,” he observed profoundly.  “Him lak dance plenty heap.  It good.  Very good.  Bimeby winter him come.  Cold lak hell.  Missis no laff.  Missis not go out.  Boss him by the long trail.  So.  Missis him sit.  Oh yes.  Him sit with little pappoose.  No dance.  No nothin’.  Only snow an’ cold lak hell.”

This time the man’s effort elicited a different response.  Perhaps he had over-reached.  Certainly the white man’s eyes had lost the look that had inspired the Indian.  They were frowning.  It was the cold frown of displeasure.  Julyman knew the look.  He understood it well.  So he went no further.  Instead he spat again into the fire and gave himself up to a luxurious hate of Hervey Garstaing, the Indian Agent, whom all Indians hated.

Julyman was only a shade removed from his original savagery.  There were times when he was not removed from savagery at all.  This was such a moment.  For he abandoned himself to the silent contemplation of a vision of the heart of the Indian Agent roasting over the fire before him.  It was stuck on the cleaning-rod of his own rifle like a piece of bread to be toasted.  Furthermore his was the hand holding the cleaning-rod.  He would willingly throw the foul heart to the camp dogs when it was properly cooked.

His vision was suddenly swept away by a sound which came from somewhere along the trail in the direction of Deadwater.  There was a faint, indistinct blur of voices.  There was also the rattle of wheels, and the sharp clip of horses’ hoofs upon the hard-beaten road.  He instinctively turned his head in the direction.  And as he did so Steve Allenwood stood up.  Just for a moment the white man stood gazing down the shadowed trail.  Then he moved off in the direction of his four-roomed log house.

Left alone the Indians remained at the fireside; Oolak the silent indifferent to everything about him except the pleasant warmth of the fire; Julyman, on the contrary, angrily alert.  He was listening to the sounds which grew momentarily louder and more distinct.  And with vicious relish he had already distinguished Hervey Garstaing’s voice amongst the rest.  It was loud and harsh.  How he hated it.  How its tones set the dark blood in his veins surging to his head.

“Why sure,” he heard him say, “the boys did it good.  They’re bright boys.”

In his crude fashion the scout understood that the Agent was referring to the evening’s entertainment.  It was the soft voice of Mrs. Ross which replied, and Julyman welcomed the sound.  All Indians loved the “med’cine woman,” as they affectionately called the doctor’s wife.

“It was the best party we’ve had in a year,” she cried enthusiastically.  “You wouldn’t have known old Abe’s saloon from a city hall at Christmas time, with its decorations and its “cuddle-corners” all picked out with Turkey red and evergreens.  And you girls!  My! you had a real swell time.  There were boys enough and to spare for you all.  And they weren’t the sort to lose much time either.  The lunch was real elegant, too, with the oysters and the claret cup.  My! it certainly was a swell party.”

The wagon had drawn considerably nearer.  The quick ears of the Indian had no difficulty with the language of the white folk.  His main source of interest was the identity of those who were speaking.  And, in particular, he was listening for one voice which he had not as yet been able to distinguish.  Hervey Garstaing seemed to do most of the talking.  And how he hated the sound of that voice.

“Why, say, Dora,” he heard him exclaim in good-natured protest, as the outline of the team loomed up out of the distance.  “I don’t guess Mrs. Allenwood and I sat out but two dances.  Ain’t that so, Nita?”

Julyman’s ears suddenly pricked.  He may have been an uncultured savage, but he was a man, and very human.  And the subtle inflection, as the Agent addressed himself to Steve Allenwood’s wife, was by no means lost upon him.

“Three!”

The answer came in chorus from the two daughters of the doctor.  And it came with a giggle.

“Oh, if you’re going to count a supper ‘extra,’ why Anyway what’s three out of twenty-seven.  There’s no kick coming to that.  Guess a feller would be all sorts of a fool ”

“If he didn’t take all that’s coming his way at a dance,” broke in the doctor’s genial voice, with a laugh.

The wagon was abreast of him, and Julyman’s eyes were studiously concerned with the glowing heart of the fire.  But nothing escaped them.  Nothing ever did escape them.  He closely scanned the occupants of the wagon.  Dr. and Mrs. Ross were in the back seat, and their two daughters were facing them.  Hervey Garstaing was driving, and Nita Allenwood was sitting beside him.  It was all just as it had been earlier in the evening when he had seen them set out for Deadwater.

Oh, yes.  It was all the same with just a shade of difference.  Nita was sitting close very close to the teamster.  She was sitting much closer than when Steve, earlier in the evening had tucked the rug about her to keep the chill summer evening air from penetrating the light dancing frock she was wearing.  They were both tucked under one great buffalo robe now.  It was a robe he knew to be Hervey Garstaing’s.

As the vehicle passed the fire Dr. Ross flung a genial greeting at the two Indians.  Julyman responded with a swift raising of his eyes, and one of his broad, unfrequent smiles.  Then, as the wagon passed, his eyes dropped again to the fire.

He knew.  Oh, yes, he knew.  Had he not sat with many squaws who seemed desirable in his eyes?  Yes, he had sat just so.  Close.  Oh, very close.  Yes, he was glad his boss had taken himself off.  Maybe he was looking down into the depths of the basket which held the little white pappoose back there in his home.  It was good to look at the little pappoose when there was trouble at the back of a father’s eyes.  It made the trouble much better.  How he hated the white man, Hervey Garstaing.

For once Julyman’s instincts were at fault.  He had read the meaning of Steve Allenwood’s sudden departure in the light of his own interpretation of the trouble he had seen in the man’s grey eyes.  He was entirely wrong.

Steve had heard the approaching wagon, and he knew that his wife and the other folk were returning from the dance.  But almost at the same instant he had detected the sound of horses’ hoofs in an opposite direction.  It was in the direction of his home.  Julyman had missed the latter in his absorbed interest in the return of these folk from Deadwater.

Steve reached the log home in the bluff at the same moment as a horseman reined up at his door.  The man in the saddle leant over, peering into the face of the Inspector.  The darkness left him uncertain.

“Deadwater post?” he demanded abruptly.

Steve had recognized the man’s outfit.  The brown tunic and side-arms, the prairie hat, and the glimpse of a broad yellow stripe on the side of the riding breeches just where the man’s leather chapps terminated on his hips.  These things were all sufficient.

“Sure.”

“Inspector Allenwood, sir?”

The man’s abrupt tone had changed to respectful inquiry.

“I’m your man, Corporal.”

The Corporal flung out of the saddle.

“Sorry I didn’t rec’nize you, sir,” he said saluting quickly.  “It’s pretty dark.  It’s a letter from the Superintendent urgent.”  He drew a long, blue envelope from his saddle wallets and passed it to his superior.  “Maybe you can direct me to the Indian Agent, Major Garstaing, sir.  I got a letter for him.”

Steve Allenwood glanced up from the envelope he had just received.

“Sure.  Best cut through the bluff.  There’s a trail straight through brings you to his house.  It’s mostly a mile and a half.  Say, you’ll need supper.  Get right along back when you’ve finished with him.  When did you start out?”

“Yesterday morning, sir.”

The Inspector whistled.

“Fifty miles a day.  You travelled some.”

The Corporal patted his steaming horse’s neck.

“He’s pretty tough, is old Nigger, sir,” he said, with quiet pride.  “Mr. McDowell wanted me to pick up a horse at Beaufort last night, but I wouldn’t have done any better.  Nigger can play the game a week without a worry.  Guess I’ll get on, sir, and make back after awhile.  That the barn, sir?” he went on, pointing at a second log building a few yards from the house, as he swung himself into the saddle again.  “I won’t need supper.  I had that ten miles back on the trail.  I off-saddled at an Indian lodge where they lent me fire to boil my tea.”

Steve nodded.

“Very well, Corporal.  There’s blankets here in the office when you come back.  This room, here,” he added, throwing open the door.  “I’ll set a lamp for you.  There’s feed and litter for your plug at the barn.  Rub him down good.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The man turned his horse and headed away for the trail through the bluff, and Steve watched him go.  Nor could he help a feeling of admiration for the easy, debonair disregard of difficulties and hardship which these men of his own force displayed in the execution of their work.  In his utter unself-consciousness he was quite unaware that wherever the police were known his own name was a household word for these very things which he admired in another.

He passed into his office and lit the lamp.  Then he seated himself at the simple desk where his official reports were made out.  It was a plain, whitewood table, and his office chair was of the hard Windsor type.

He tore open his letter and glanced at its contents.  It was from his own immediate superior, Superintendent McDowell, and dated at Fort Reindeer.  It was quite brief and unilluminating.  It was a simple official order to place himself entirely at the disposal of Major Hervey Garstaing, the Indian Agent of the Allowa Indian Reserve who was receiving full instructions from the Indian Commissioner at Ottawa on a matter which came under his department.

He read the letter through twice.  He was about to read it for a third time, but laid it aside.  Instead he rose from the table and moved towards the door as the wagon from Deadwater drew up outside.