Meantime, in the northern latitude the seasons were changing.
By mid-September the leaves of the birch trees had completely faded to tints of yellow and yellow chrome, and many had fallen. Summer birds had gone south, and their notes and cheep-ings were gone from the woods which held but the chatter of an odd red squirrel or the whistle of a friendly jay. Evening crept down earlier than hitherto. Night after night Northern Lights be-ribboned the sky as they fleeted across the zone from west to north-east (" The dance of the spirits," the Indians call this beautiful phenomenon) ; and always, now, when the wind veered to the north it had the bitter chill of snow in it.
On September 16 there were snow showers ; on the 24th snow, and wind, and rain.
At the end of the month all leaves had fallen, and I walked in a land of mourning, half-thinking to step light-footed lest I disturbed the dead in a vast, deserted hall where even the evergreen spruce and pine frowned down on me darkly.
Those were days of brooding grey skies-days of frost and biting wind: days of repentance and thaw.
With October came freeze-up and snow, while Snow Buntings were about the wood-bottoms and lake-shores, and passing on south in migration. On October 2 the thermometer dropped sharply and all the following day a snowstorm raged. . . . Winter had come.
Thereafter for many days land and water were binding in iron ice-grip. Night after night the unspeakable silence of the great snowland was broken by the awesome, re-echoing sound of rending ice as frozen surfaces strained and contracted relentlessly, and split from end to end in the all-powerful grip of zero weather. Repeatedly, nightly, the eerie sound broke on the near shores to disturb a lone man's slumbers, and passed, with rise and fall of key, boom-boom -booming, away into the level distance of the outer lake, to die in desolate cryings.
By the end of October the land was in the grasp of deep winter, which would rule for five to six months unremittingly.
But winter had been late in coming, for the Indians at Fort Du Brochet say this was the most open Fall they had experienced in the past eight years. Be that as it may-and I had come to be dubious of all Indian records of time- winter had come, and with it the Caribou.
On November 4, late in the evening, an excited Indian brought news that Caribou had been seen. They had been encountered, north of Fort Du Brochet, coming from the east, and crossing the Cochrane River. He told me, " Plenty deer ; to-morrow we kill, and have plenty meat." " Would I go ? " he asked, to my astonishment, while he drank strong tea with me and smoked a pipe.
Now in my experience the Indians (I mean the unspoiled Indians of the Far North) test a white man in their own peculiar way before they accept or reject his friendship as good or bad, though they do it so delicately that you may be unaware of their intentions. Observant at all times, they are extraordinarily keen-sighted in reading any mute sign of any phase of nature; and quickly read character in the face, and in actions. I had come among those reticent Indians a stranger, but ultimately I found that mine was a case that had extreme advantages. Primarily I knew something of Wild Life after their own manner, and could talk to them in their own way ; which was generally to illustrate a sentiment or a description through the medium of an object, or a living animal, bird, plant, or element with which they were very familiar. Indians are intensely reflective, and they have strange names for wise members of their tribes which go to show this. I give a translation of two of the best I have heard. " The silent snows are falling, forming signs" . . . " He listens to the unseen Rapids" Secondarily, I was not trapping fur, not, therefore, encroaching on the rights to territory which were the red man's by heritage. The research work I did was full of interest to them. For hours I have had Indians squat and watch me skin birds-a proceeding they had never witnessed before- or skin an animal for remounting : which meant cutting the skin so differently from that of a fur pelt, and the preservation of the limb-bones and skull. Finally, but not the least noteworthy, if you have a mind to humour Indians, on rare occasions I played a few 'pipe-marches on a Chanter, which astonished and delighted a people who are passionately fond of music in any form.
How far those little incidents had gone toward making up the approval and goodwill of the Indians I had had no inkling, nor had I given the subject a thought until this day of Caribou arrival. But now I had been asked to join them on the morrow, and go with them to this secret place the Caribou were passing. I may be forgiven if I was pleased at this certain sign of friendliness on the part of this once-wonderful, fast-declining race of hunters, who speak mostly by actions and rarely by words. Having a great admiration for the intelligence and skill of the good old-world type of Indian-and they still exist in the Far North-I confess I was glad to think that I was to be one of such a party in their hunting ; though I, later, was to learn that the morrow held for me yet another Indian test- the last they ever asked of me.
Thus it came about that in the small hours of the following morning (3 a.m.) a guttural voice hailed me from outside my cabin door and I drowsily extricated myself from out my fur sleeping-bag to open the door and admit icy blast; and not one Indian, but the whole hunting party-a total of seven. They had left the Post half an hour ago and were on their way to the hunting-ground. .. I was to hurry, and come with them.
By necessity in the northland one sleeps in most of one's clothing for warmth, for one had long left behind the land of wardrobes, and blankets, and beds-and so in no time I was ready to join the others ; fur clad, as all the Indians were, in outer garment of Eskimo kind-a pull-over, shirtlike, hooded upper garment, and trousers reaching below the knee-all native-tanned Caribou hide with the long thick hair outside. On our feet moccasins-that finest of light footwear for fast travelling and stealthy hunting.