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   Chapter 6 'TIS HARD TO FORGET

If Any Man Sin By H. A. Cody Characters: 18248

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The following weeks were busy ones for Martin. Winter was fast closing in and he had many things to attend to. First of all it was necessary to lay in a sufficient supply of food to last them until spring. Of fish he had plenty, and these were accordingly cached high up between three large trees, safe from prowling dogs or other animals.

He next turned his attention to the hills and forest. It was an exciting and memorable day when he brought down his first moose. He was a big fellow, with great branching antlers. Martin, in company with an Indian, had come upon him as he was quietly browsing in a wild meadow, several miles back from the lake. To Martin it seemed a most contemptible thing to creep up and shoot the unsuspecting creature. But such a feeling had to be overcome if he and Nance were to live through the winter.

At the first shot the moose gave a tremendous leap into the air, and dropped upon his knees. In his excitement Martin rushed from cover, and exposed himself to view. The wounded animal saw him, and in its dying rage charged suddenly upon his assailant. His antlers were but a few yards away and in another instant they would have hurled Martin to the earth. But again the rifle spoke, and the monarch of the forest went down with a thundering crash, never to rise again.

Skinning the moose, cutting it up, and packing it down to the lake was a task of considerable magnitude, and several days passed before all was completed.

Martin was now thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the chase, and he spent much of his time in the woods. Instructed and assisted by his Indian friends, he built a long circular line of traps, consisting chiefly of snares and dead-falls. He soon came to know the ways of the shy denizens of the forest, and took much pride in matching his skill against their cunning. At first meagre success rewarded his labours. The lynx, fox, martin, wolverine, and other animals for a time gave a wide berth to his carefully laid traps. But after a while a change took place, and each day he was able to bear home several furry prizes. These were promptly skinned, and placed upon stretchers, which the Indians had taught him how to make.

During Martin's absence from his cabin Quabee, the young Indian woman, stayed with Nance, and they thus became firm friends. But the child would always watch most anxiously for the return of her daddy, as she now called him, and never once did she forget to ask him if he had found her mamma and her "real daddy."

Through the evenings, which were now very long, Martin worked upon the interior of his house. With considerable difficulty he fashioned a table, and a wonderful easy-chair. He also constructed a couch to the left of the fire-place. Upon this he placed a liberal supply of fir boughs, over which he spread a large well-dressed moose skin which he had obtained from the natives. The cabin was thus made fairly comfortable, and when lighted by the blazing fire it presented a most cosy appearance.

Martin was not satisfied, however. He longed for more cooking utensils, as well as some pictures to adorn the bare walls. He needed, too, different food for Nance. Her principal diet consisted of meat and fish, and much of this was not good for a white child. Dried berries, and bulbous roots, supplied by the Indians, afforded a pleasing change. These had been procured during the summer, and through native skill had been dried and compressed into cakes. Such delicacies had to be doled out very sparingly, although the women gave what they could to the little pale-face maid of whom they were becoming very fond.

Every night Nance played upon the floor by Martin's side with a funny doll he had made for her. She was delighted with it, and could never have it out of her sight for any length of time. The wilderness life agreed with her, and living so much in the open her face was well browned, and her cheeks like twin roses. Martin was very particular about her appearance, and as he could not always attend to Nance himself he had instructed Quabee in the art of caring for a white child. At first the Indian woman was much puzzled, but through patience she at length learned what was desired of her. Cleanliness Martin insisted upon, and this was something that Quabee could not at first understand.

With much labour Martin had hewn a fair-sized bathtub out of the butt of a large pine tree. It had taken him days to perform this, but when it was finished he was quite proud of his accomplishment. This was accordingly installed in the cabin, and Quabee soon learned what it was for. In this she gave Nance her bath every morning near the fire.

Other Indians came at times to the cabin, but Quabee and her husband were there every day. The Indian woman was quick, intelligent, and most anxious to learn the ways of the white people. Having no children of her own, she placed her affection upon Nance, and the idea of receiving pay for her services never once entered her mind. She was a superior woman in many ways, tall, straight, and comely in appearance. She was never so happy as when with Nance. She would play with her, and the child soon began to learn a number of Indian words, while Quabee added daily to her knowledge of the English language. The Indian woman also made neat little dresses of the finest of dressed deer-skin for the white child, trimming the borders with beads, and coloured fringes. Little moccasins she made as well, and when Nance was fully attired in this native costume Martin thought he had never seen a more beautiful sight.

This constant association with Nance and the instruction she received from Martin ere long exerted an influence upon the Indian woman. She became somewhat neater in appearance, and she daily endeavoured to act more like the white people. She and her husband were greatly pleased with the log cabin, and they decided to have one just like it.

One cold night, three weeks before Christmas, Martin was sitting before the fire lost in deep thought. Nance was playing quietly by his side with her much-worn doll. On the floor at his left was a pile of furs, consisting principally of fox, lynx, wolverine, and beaver. He had counted them over several times, and had them all marked down upon a piece of bark of the birch tree. His only pencil was a small sharpened stick, which he blackened from a dead coal lying upon the table.

Martin had never lost track of the days and months, for one of the few things he had brought with him into the wilderness was a tiny calendar. He had carefully observed Sunday, and abstained from all unnecessary work on this day. He told himself that it was not only for his bodily welfare that he should do so, but it was the divine command. It had nothing to do with the Church, so he reasoned, and although he had been separated from the latter, he still believed that the Great God was his Father, and that His Son had died for mankind. He was by no means an unbeliever, except in his attitude toward the Church. In fact he had always been most careful about Nance repeating her little prayer every night at his knee, although he himself had abandoned the practice since he had become an outcast.

With much care he traced with his rude pencil the things he needed to make the cabin more comfortable, as well as the food and clothing necessary for Nance. Indian hunters were to start in the morning for the trading post across the mountains, and they would take his skins, and bring back the articles he required. They were not many to be sure, but the Indians could easily bring them with their dog teams, and they were quite willing to do it for their white brother.

A delighted chuckle from Nance aroused him, causing him to glance quickly in her direction.

"What is it, little one?" he questioned, as the child sprang to her feet and came to his side.

"Look, see!" she cried. "We are playing Santa Claus. Mamma is fixing up a tree for me and dolly, oh, such a pretty tree."

"It is a beauty," and Martin opened his eyes wide, and stared hard at the imaginary tree. "What nice things you have upon it."

"Oh, no, there's nothing on it yet," and the child gave a chuckle of delight. "We're just fixing it up for Santa Claus. He's coming, you know, and will put such lovely things on it."

"Do you think that old Santa will find you here?" Martin inquired.

"He found me last Christmas, all right, and brought me such lovely things-a little woolly dolly, and candy. When will it be Christmas again?" and Nance climbed upon Martin's knee. The imaginary tree was well enough in play, but it could not take the place of the real one.

"Christmas will soon be here, Nance. It won't be long. What would you like Santa Claus to bring you this year?"

"Oh, so many things," and the child clasped her little hands together as she gazed thoughtfully into the fire. "I want a new dolly, that will shut her eyes and go to sleep. I want candy-and something for Quabee, and the little Indian children. And I want--"

"And what?" Martin asked as she hesitated.

"I want my daddy

and my mamma. Oh, why don't they come! Do you think they will come this Christmas?"

"Not this Christmas, Nance. You must wait, and some day you will understand why they cannot come to you now. But we'll fix up a tree, a little one, won't we?" he suggested in order to divert her attention. "We'll find a nice one and put it right by your bed, and we'll play that your daddy and mamma are here."

"Oh, yes," and Nance clapped her hands with delight. "And we'll let the Indian children see it, won't we? Oh, that will be lovely!"

After Nance had been tucked into bed, and was fast asleep, Martin picked up another strip of birch bark, and scrawled a note to the trader at Fort O' Rest. "They may have something suitable for a child," he mused, as he gazed thoughtfully upon what he had written. "Nance will be terribly disappointed if she doesn't get something. They will have sugar, at least, and that will be better than nothing."

As Christmas approached Martin became uneasy. The tree had been found, and was standing at the foot of Nance's cot. Every day he expected the arrival of the Indians from the fort, bringing with them the long-looked-for supplies and presents. They were much later than usual, so Quabee informed him, as it generally took them twelve sleeps to go and return.

The day before Christmas Martin's anxiety increased. Nance talked almost incessantly about what Santa Claus would bring her, and asked all kinds of questions. Martin went often to the door, and looked far off towards the woods whither the trail led, hoping to hear the jingle of bells, the shouts of the Indians, and the joyful yelps of the dogs. But no sound could he hear. The great forest, silent and grim, revealed nothing to the anxious watcher. When night, cold and dreary, shut down Martin's last hope vanished. He now no longer expected the return of the Indians. It was with a heavy heart that he played with Nance, told her several stories about Santa Claus, and the Christmas trees he had when he was a little boy.

"And just think!" the child exclaimed with delight, "when I wake in the morning there will be such nice things upon my tree."

Martin did not reply; how could he? He merely held her close, and stared straight before him into the fire. He pictured her bitter disappointment when she opened her eyes and found the tree as bare as it was the night before. What could he say to her, and how would he be able to soothe her sorrow? When at last she was snugly tucked into her little cot she put her arms around Martin's neck, and gave him a good-night kiss.

"Be sure and call me early in the morning, daddy," she said. "And you'll help me take my presents off the tree, won't you? Oh, I'm so happy!"

Holding fast to her queer battered doll, she was soon in slumber deep. Martin stood watching her sweet chubby face lying on the rough pillow, and in spite of himself tears came into his eyes. He threw himself upon the chair before the fire. If anyone had told him one year ago that a mere child could so capture his heart and weave such a wonderful spell about him he would have scorned the idea. But now that little being lying there was far dearer to him than life, and to think that such a sorrow should come to her in the morning!

Time and time again he replenished the fire from a liberal supply of wood in the corner. He felt that it would be useless to go to bed, for he knew that he could not sleep. How long he sat thus he could not tell, but he was at length aroused by the faint jingle of bells, and a noise outside. He sprang to his feet and listened eagerly. Yes, it must be the Indians! Hurrying to the door, he threw it open, and peered forth. There before him were the forms of men and dogs. The former were busily unfastening something from their sleds. His greetings to the natives were answered by several grunts. They were too anxious to get to their own lodges to waste any time in talk just now. Presently several parcels were handed to him, and Martin was much surprised at their number. He placed them upon the floor, and when the Indians had departed he closed the door, and carried the bundles over to the fire.

With much satisfaction Martin now examined each parcel. Yes, there was everything he had ordered-rice, sugar, beans, tea, tobacco, pencils, paper, and several other things. Then his face grew grave, for he could not find the presents he had ordered for Nance. With a sinking heart he placed the goods against the wall, and was standing looking down upon them when a noise was heard at the door. It opened, and an Indian stepped into the room. He was carrying a parcel in his hands.

"Injun no savvey," he quietly remarked. "Injun all sam' lose 'um." Saying which he held forth the bundle, and, turning, left the building.

Martin seized the parcel, and hastily tore off the paper wrapping. Then he gave vent to an exclamation of joy, for lying before him were the presents for Nance. He did not touch them at first, but crossing the room stood for a while gazing upon the sleeping child. A new feeling now possessed his heart, and he was anxious for morning to come that he might watch the joy in her sparkling eyes.

Going back to the presents, he examined them, and was greatly surprised at the number. He had no idea before that they kept so many things at the trading-post. There were several picture-books as well, and such a pretty little dress, and candy in coloured bags, all neatly made.

As he turned the various things over a piece of paper caught his eye. Picking it up, he read the words written thereon. As he did so his face grew dark, and the light of joy died out of his eyes. It was from the trader at Fort O' Rest. He did not keep toys, so he wrote, but a mission post had been established there the previous summer, and he had shown the missionary and his wife the birch-bark letter. They accordingly became much interested in the little girl away in the wilderness, and had made up the parcel of presents for her.

This was the substance of the letter, and every word burnt itself into Martin's soul. He sank into his chair, holding the paper in his hand, which trembled from the vehemence of his emotion. So these presents were the gift of the Church. He knew very well that they had been sent in a bale to the mission by some society of the Church to which he had once belonged. The words of his old bishop flashed into his mind: "Do you imagine that you can cut yourself off from the influence of the Church of your childhood? I tell you that you are mistaken, for such a thing is utterly impossible. The Church and her influence will follow you to the grave no matter to what part of the world you go." Martin groaned as he realised how true were these words. He had laughed at them when first spoken, fool that he was. How little he knew and understood the power of the Church.

He rose abruptly to his feet. He seized several of the presents in his hands and carried them to the fire. He would not take them from the Church, no, not for the sake of the child he loved. He could endure her sorrow rather than the bitter remorse which was sure to follow him.

As he stood there, hesitating for an instant, Nance stirred in her sleep. "Daddy, Santa Claus," she murmured. That was all, but it was enough to cause Martin to draw back. The perspiration stood in beads upon his forehead, not caused by the fire alone. He paced rapidly up and down the room, pausing at times to look upon the child. It was a stern battle he was fighting. How could he accept those presents from the Church? And yet how could he disappoint Nance? He wavered to and fro. It was his own battle, and there was no one to help him. He went to the door, and looked out. He knew that it was past midnight by the position of the stars. All was still and cold. The sharp air cooled his hot face, and somewhat calmed his excited mind. He closed the door and sat down. It was Christmas morning, the day which had always brought such a peace into his soul until his fall. He thought of it now and of the days of youth when he had gone with his parents to the little parish church. He saw the choir singing the familiar words of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," and "O Come, All Ye Faithful." He knew that in a few hours they would be singing them again in the same parish from which he had been driven out. Try as he might he could not banish the vision of the past which came to him this night. A spirit of peace seemed suddenly to surround him, while the old feeling of bitterness and animosity was for a time forgotten. He could not explain it, neither did he try to do so.

How long he remained there he could not tell. Whether he fell asleep and dreamed all the things he saw he did not know. But when he at length aroused himself the fire was burning low, and the dawn of a new Christmas day was stealing over the land. He threw several sticks upon the fire, and then, picking up the presents, he hung them all upon the tree. The strife for the present was over. Nance would be happy when she awoke, and that was all-sufficient.

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