Thus warm hand-shakes, which had nothing of conventionality about them, sent me on my way, while a parting volley of rifle shots followed from the shore as we mushed the dogs and sped out over the frozen lake on the trail into the South.
As we drew away I looked back on that diminutive settlement of cabins, husbanded together and wholly human in that vastly desolate land, and loving the strange wild North and its freedom, and its people, was disposed to repeat: " I've bade 'em good-bye-but I can't."
Gewgewsh and Napisis, who had also harnessed their dogs, ran with us till we camped at our first " fire," breaking the trail thus far, and making the going for our sleds easier ; a final act of good-fellowship arranged by the people at the Fort. Gewgewsh had trailed with me to the edge of the Barren Grounds and had taken upon himself this delicate manner of showing friendship which is typical of the refinement and chivalry of the best of the Indians, who are sometimes, at heart, true men.
With a purpose I have dwelt at some length on the friendship of natives, for I believe that anyone who wishes to enjoy travel or sport far afield in any land should always try to accept the native as a well-meaning character, no matter how strange their lives and manners may be in contrast to our own ; they are, after all, but children of circumstance, with colour, character, environment, irrevocably inherited. Their seeming stupidity, or sullen nonchalance, especially if confused by overbearing command or reproach, does often, it seems to me, come about through lack of full understanding, particularly in language, for one may not be able, in their native tongue, to say explicitly that which one means, and they, on their part, may not be capable of phrasing their own language to convey to the stranger addressed the full significance of their reply.
In any case, if early contact with natives prove difficult and trying, it is well not to be disheartened and suspicious of them, but to persevere while accepting them as strange, rude people. In the end, if this is done, there will result at least a measure of mutual understanding, and the stranger will find in the native many good points to counterbalance the bad. And much really good service can thereby be gained, to further the enjoyment and results of any undertaking, for undoubtedly the natives can give one valuable information of their country, which is open as a book to them, if they are anxious to be friendly, and to serve.
I have on rare occasions heard impatient people express the opinion that natives are fools; and in such cases I have been prompted to think that they have taken the natives, for the most part, in the wrong way; and that such an opinion can seldom be altogether justified. It is surely much more fair to begin with the idea that they are not fools, but just simple and untutored people, and I feel sure that if that is done in the right spirit the result in the end will bring its reward, and at the same time full appreciation be gained from the native of the standard the true white man upholds of fair play; which is also the standard he will attribute to our country.
Furthermore, dealing now with native ability, as far as the North American Indian is concerned, few white men, unless they are bred on the edge of civilisation or long accustomed to life beyond the frontiers, in my humble opinion, can compare with the red man in travelling great tracts of unmapped territory when they enter country they themselves have not known before. The speed at which they can cover rough country, and their instinctive sense of true direction, are incomparable and little short of miraculous; and often leave the white man's prowess far in rear. Nor is this logically to be wondered at, for the nomad primitive Indian is born and brought up to bush travel; it is to him second nature, while to our more gently cultured race it often carries the experience of an unexpected robust education.
Creatures of the wild, and akin to animals in their adaptability to their surroundings, Indians have from their beginning been a race of able hunters and wanderers ; lithe of sinew, sound of lung-enduring, and, most highly developed characteristic of all, endowed with peculiar, unerring, intuitive scent for trail or direction.
One could not wish for better henchmen on the trail, but, at the same time, it is difficult to enlist their service, particularly if the journey proposed is to be a long one. There are two prominent reasons why the red man, on most occasions, hesitates to accompany a white stranger on a long trail. Firstly, it is seldom the red man's custom to leave his lodge of women and children for any lengthy period, for they are largely dependent on him for food and management of camp life; while, at the same time, the man's presence is to his women-folk a safeguard against danger of any kind. Secondly, they are dubious that the white man may possess strange ideas in his pursuit of his objective, and that he may not foresee the dangers and hardships ahead as clearly as they do in their fuller experience; which prompts the fear that the white man might lead them into a tight corner and needless dangers, against which they, when by themselves, would accurately forecast and avoid. All of which is of course reasonable from the Indian's point of view, and should be understood and considered if one meets with rebuffs when setting out to look for guides. They are, however, individually open to the persuasion of a stranger, and it is nearly always possible to find the right man in the end. And once this initial step is accomplished toward mutual understanding, and the stranger becomes known and trusted on a territory, his difficulties in that direction largely cease. . . .
And now, to return from this brief digression to the south-bound sleds that had left Fort Du Brochet, we were soon far out on Reindeer Lake beyond all sight of dwelling or fellow-mortal; we might have entered a land of the dead, so soon had all vestige of that tiny, closely infested settlement been overwhelmed by vast surroundings.