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If Any Man Sin By H. A. Cody Characters: 12200

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Of all the sheets of water lying hidden in the great range of mountains sloping to the cold North Pacific Ocean, none was fairer than Lake Klutana. It was one of nature's most beautiful cameos. Tall, dark trees of spruce, fir, and jack-pine shouldered back from the margin and cast irregular silhouettes around the border. Lofty mountain peaks towered beyond and reflected their coronals of snow in the lake which they embosomed. To the north-east stretched a long wooded valley with crouching foot-hills on either side. Down through this opening flowed a small river, called by the Indians the "Quaska." Where this stream joined the lake the land was level, which from time immemorial had afforded an excellent camping ground for the natives of the locality.

In days long past the Tasko tribe had been a large one. Hundreds of them had come regularly to this lake to catch the fine salmon, white, and other fish its water contained. At times mighty warriors had gone forth to make raids upon neighboring tribes, and once a furious battle had taken place among the trees at the mouth of the Quaska. But wars and diseases had thinned the tribe until it numbered barely one hundred souls, men, women, and children in all. The days of warfare were now over, and these natives led a quiet life, subsisting chiefly upon the game which the land produced in abundance. The arrival of the white men beyond the great mountains of the rising sun gave them a market for their furs, which they bartered for clothing, food utensils, and trinkets of the world of civilisation.

To all outward appearance theirs was the ideal life as they gathered around their lodges one evening when summer was slowly merging into fall. Several small fires were sending up wreaths of smoke into the pine-scented air. The women were preparing the evening meal; the men were lying prone upon the ground, while the children played near the shore. It all seemed such a free and easy existence. There was none of the mad rush for wealth, no hard grinding at the wheels of industrial life in office, factory, or store. The dwelling places were of the humblest. All the land for miles around was theirs, with no taxes to pay, and no rents continually coming due. Game was plentiful in forest and stream, with only a moderate effort needed to procure it. Changing fashions were unknown, and with the exception of the clothes obtained from the trading post, they used the dressed-skins of wild animals as did their ancestors for many generations.

The sun of the long northern summer day was swinging low in the west as three men suddenly emerged from the forest, and moved slowly along the shore of the lake toward the Indian encampment several hundred yards away. They bore heavy packs strapped upon their shoulders, while one carried a large bundle in his arms. At length they came to a lodge where a middle-aged woman and a girl of seventeen were seated upon the ground just before the entrance. As the men approached the women rose quickly to their feet, and looked intently upon the man with the burden in his arms. His companions uttered a few words in the guttural native tongue, and at once the girl stepped forward and relieved the man of the bundle. Then a cry of surprise and pleasure came from her lips as she beheld the little white face of a sleeping child peeping out from beneath the blanket with which it was enfolded.

Martin Rutland had greatly changed in appearance since the morning he had caught Nance in his arms and carried her swiftly to the river. His hair and beard were long, his face was worn and haggard, while his clothes were almost in tatters. When he saw that Nance was in good hands he gave a sigh of relief, unstrapped the pack from his back, and sank, much exhausted, upon the ground. A conversation at once ensued between his two companions and the Indian women. Then, while the girl laid Nance upon a bed of furs within the lodge, the other squaw began to broil a fish over the hot coals of the fire-place. Rutland was very hungry, and never did any food taste as good as the piece of salmon which was soon handed to him by the kind-hearted squaw. This fish formed the entire meal, but it satisfied his appetite. When he was through he lighted his pipe, and stretched himself full length upon the ground.

Though he did not understand the language of these people, the two Indian men knew a few words of English. He accordingly learned that these women were their wives. The name of the elder was Naheesh, and that of the younger Quabee. Rutland was too tired to talk much. It was so comfortable lying there, leaning against the butt of a log, watching the smoke curling up from his well-blackened pipe. Other Indians had now gathered around, and a continual buzz of voices fell upon his ears. He surmised that the conversation centered upon himself and the child asleep within the lodge. But this did not trouble him in the least. One thing alone disturbed his mind. He wondered if he would be forced to leave this place as he had to abandon camp after camp during the past weeks. He recalled, as he lay there, how hard it had been to find a band of Indians uninfluenced by the Church. At first he had imagined that such a thing would be very easy. In this, however, he had been mistaken. At the trading post, where he and Nance had left the boats, there was a mission church. That evening, at the ringing of the little bell, the Indians had left whatever they were doing and flocked to service. Rutland, knowing that this was no place for him, had left at once, carrying Nance in his arms. In company with several natives he reached an encampment miles away. Here he believed he could remain. But no, even out in the great open he saw the Indians gather together in a little group ere they laid themselves down to sleep. He watched them with much curiosity, thinking they were about to perform some ancient heathen rite. One native, who seemed to be a leader, spoke a few words, and then all began to sing. Though he did not understand a word of the language, he recognised the tune of

an old familiar hymn. He remembered how impressively they had sung it, and what fine voices they had. When they finished they all knelt down, and the leader prayed. A feeling of admiration swept over Rutland as he watched them. Then his own heart began to rebuke him for the first time since he left the Ministry. Here were these natives, children of the wild, putting him, who had taken such solemn vows upon himself, to utter shame. Had they only known the life-story of the white man in their midst, what would they have thought of the Christian religion? He had looked into their sincere faces, and for the first time in years felt humbled. It was impossible for him to remain here. How could he, whose life was a failure and a disgrace, endure the presence of such trusting people? Their simple faith stabbed him to the heart and brought back memories he was striving so hard to forget.

He accordingly fled to other encampments, but everywhere it was the same. Out on the hills, in forest depth, or by inland lakes, he found that the Church had been ahead of him and had influenced the natives in a most remarkable manner. He learned, too, that these Indians were not the ordinary miserable creatures sometimes seen hanging around stores and railway stations. They were the nobility of the land, and having once embraced the teaching of the Church, they endeavoured to put their belief into practice. More than once the words of his bishop uttered ten years ago came to his mind, and he began to realise that they were truer than he had imagined.

Thus he fled from camp to camp, and almost despaired of ever reaching a band of Indians untouched by the Christian religion. Hearing at length of the far-off Tasko tribe, he set his face toward Lake Klutana with two friendly natives, who were bound thither. The journey was a hard one, for Nance had to be carried every step of the way. Since leaving the boats at the great river he had at times chided himself for his foolishness in bringing the child with him. Why had he not left her at the mission station where she would have been well cared for? He thought of this by day as he struggled over the cruel trail with the little one in his arms, and he upbraided himself at night when she awoke and cried piteously for her father and mother. But as a rule he was glad that he had her with him. She fared better than he did, for at every camp the Indian women vied with one another in caring for the girl, who now no longer feared their dusky faces. Rutland's love for Nance increased as the days passed. The severe task of bearing her over long miles of trail became at last a joy. He was more than repaid by her prattling talk, and her gentle, affectionate ways. She imagined that he was taking her to her parents, and her guardian had not the courage to tell her otherwise.

By the time Rutland reached the Tasko encampment his strength was almost gone. If these natives were Christians he would abide here for a few days and then carry Nance off somewhere into the wilderness, where they would live alone, undisturbed by either Indians or whites. He dreaded the idea, however, of doing this, for he knew that it would mean many hardships for a time at least. So now as he sat quietly smoking, he was anxious to ascertain whether these people would hold a service such as he had witnessed at other places. As the evening wore on he was greatly relieved when the Indians began to move away to their various lodges. He now believed that he was safe, and that these natives were free from all influence of missionary enterprise.

At length he picked up his violin case which was lying by his side and opened it. Through all the hardships of the past weeks he had never relinquished this companion. It had cheered him when most depressed, and by means of it he had been able to entertain and please the Indians who had been so hospitable to him. As he now tuned up the instrument and drew the bow across the strings a movement took place in the camp. Indians came from all sides and gazed with wonder upon the white man, who was producing such marvellous sounds. As Rutland continued to play the natives squatted around him upon the ground. Their only musical instrument was the mournful Indian drum. But this was altogether different. On one occasion several of the men had listened to the sound of a violin at the fur-trading post, and they had never wearied of telling what they had heard to the rest of their tribe. They were naturally musical, these waifs of the wilderness. The sighing of the breeze, the murmur of the stream, and the roar of the tempest in winter, all had their meaning. They were sounds which soothed or roused their wild nature. So as they listened this night their hearts became strangely affected. Something more than ordinary began to stir within them. It was the same old story being repeated here in the northland. It was the beginning of a new life, new longings, and new aspirations. It was, in short, the dawn of Art which once moved the hearts of the uncouth ancestors of the most cultured races and inspired them to higher things. These Tasko Indians knew nothing of the history of civilisation. They felt only a keen pleasure as the white man played, and they gave vent to an occasional "Ah, ah," when something appealed to them more than usual.

It was late ere Rutland ceased and laid his violin aside. The Indians at once dispersed to their lodges, and silence brooded over the encampment. The moon rose big and bright above the mountains and cast its reflection down into the depths of the quiet lake. Rutland sat for a while watching the superb scene. Then he rose to his feet, and went to the lodge where Nance was lying. He saw that she was sleeping comfortably and, bending over her, he kissed her little white cheek. The child moved, and the word "mamma" came sleepily from her lips. Perhaps the mother, all unseen, was watching over her little one-who knows? Rutland crept softly away and, with his single blanket wrapped about his body, was soon fast asleep upon the hard ground.

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