Reading Books on PopNovel APP

The Buffalo Runners: A Tale of the Red River Plains

The Buffalo Runners: A Tale of the Red River Plains

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


A blizzard was blowing wildly over the American prairies one winter day in the earlier part of the present century. Fresh, free and straight, it came from the realms of Jack Frost, and cold--bitterly cold--like the bergs on the Arctic seas, to which it had but recently said farewell....
Show All▼


  A blizzard was blowing wildly over the American prairies one winter dayin the earlier part of the present century.

  Fresh, free and straight, it came from the realms of Jack Frost, andcold--bitterly cold--like the bergs on the Arctic seas, to which it hadbut recently said farewell.

  Snow, fine as dust and sharp as needles, was caught up bodily by thewind in great masses--here in snaky coils, there in whirling eddies,elsewhere in rolling clouds; but these had barely time to assumeindefinite forms when they were furiously scattered and swept away as bythe besom of destruction, while earth and sky commingled in a smother ofwhitey-grey.

  All the demons of the Far North seemed to have taken an outside passageon that blizzard, so tremendous was the roaring and shrieking, while thewrithing of tormented snow-drifts suggested powerfully the madness ofagony.

  Two white and ghostly pillars moved slowly but steadily through all thishurly-burly in a straight line. One of the pillars was short and broad;the other was tall and stately. Both were very solid--agreeably so,when contrasted with surrounding chaos. Suddenly the two pillarsstopped--though the gale did not.

  Said the short pillar to the tall one--

  "Taniel Tavidson, if we will not get to the Settlement this night; itiss my belief that every one o' them will perish."

  "Fergus," replied the tall pillar, sternly, "they shall _not_ perish ifI can help it. At all events, if they do, I shall die in the attempt tosave them. Come on."

  Daniel Davidson became less like a white pillar as he spoke, and morelike a man, by reason of his shaking a good deal of the snow off hisstalwart person. Fergus McKay followed his comrade's example, andrevealed the fact--for a few minutes--that beneath the snow-mask therestood a young man with a beaming countenance of fiery red, the flamingcharacter of which, however, was relieved by an expression of ineffablegood-humour.

  The two men resumed their march over the dreary plain in silence.Indeed, conversation in the circumstances was out of the question. Thebrief remarks that had been made when they paused to recover breath werehowled at each other while they stood face to face.

  The nature of the storm was such that the gale seemed to rush at thetravellers from all quarters at once--including above and below. Men ofless vigour and resolution would have been choked by it; but men whodon't believe in choking, and have thick necks, powerful frames, vastexperience, and indomitable wills are not easily choked!

  "It blows hard--whatever," muttered Fergus to himself, with thatprolonged emphasis on the last syllable of the last word which iseminently suggestive of the Scottish Highlander.

  Davidson may have heard the remark, but he made no reply.

  Day declined, but its exit was not marked by much difference in the veryfeeble light, and the two men held steadily on. The moon came out. Asfar as appearances went she might almost as well have stayed in, fornobody saw her that night. Her mere existence somewhere in the sky,however, rendered the indescribable chaos visible. Hours passed by, butstill the two men held on their way persistently.

  They wore five-feet-long snow-shoes. Progress over the deep snowwithout these would have been impossible. One traveller walked behindthe other to get the benefit of his beaten track, but the benefit wasscarcely appreciable, for the whirling snow filled each footstep upalmost as soon as it was made. Two days and a night had these mentravelled with but an hour or two of rest in the shelter of a copse,without fire, and almost without food, yet they pushed on with theenergy of fresh and well-fed men.

  Nothing but some overpowering necessity could have stimulated them tosuch prolonged and severe exertion. Even self-preservation might havefailed to nerve them to it, for both had well-nigh reached the limit oftheir exceptional powers, but each was animated by a stronger motivethan self. Fergus had left his old father in an almost dying state onthe snow-clad plains, and Davidson had left his affianced bride.

  The buffalo-hunt had failed that year; winter had set in with unwontedseverity and earlier than usual. The hunters, with the women andchildren who followed them in carts to help and to reap the benefit ofthe hunt, were starving. Their horses died or were frozen to death;carts were snowed up; and the starving hunters had been scattered inmaking the best of their way back to the Settlement of Red River fromwhich they had started.

  When old McKay broke down, and his only daughter Elspie had firmlyasserted her determination to remain and die with him, Fergus McKay andDaniel Davidson felt themselves to be put upon their mettle--called onto face a difficulty of the most appalling nature. To remain on thesnow-clad prairie without food or shelter would be death to all, forthere was no living creature there to be shot or trapped. On the otherhand, to travel a hundred miles or so on foot--and without food, seemedan impossibility. Love, however, ignores the impossible! The two youngmen resolved on the attempt. They were pretty well aware of the extentof their physical powers. They would put them fairly to the test foronce--even though for the last time! They prepared for the old man andhis daughter a shelter in the heart of a clump of willows, near to whichspot they had found a group of the hapless hunters already dead andfrozen.

  Here, as far from the frozen group as possible, they made an encampmentby digging down through the snow till the ground was reached. As muchdried wood as could be found was collected, and a fire made. The youngmen left their blankets behind, and, of the small quantity of provisionsthat remained, they took just sufficient to sustain life. Then, withcheery words of encouragement, they said good-bye, and set out on theirjourney to the Settlement for help.

  The object at which they aimed was almost gained at the point when weintroduce them to the reader.

  "Taniel!" said Fergus, coming to a sudden halt.

  "Well?" exclaimed the other.

  "It iss sleepy that I am. Maybe if I wass to lie down--"

  He ceased to speak. Davidson looked anxiously into his face, and sawthat he had already begun to give way to irresistible drowsiness.Without a moment's hesitation he seized the Highlander by the throat,and shook him as if he had been a mere baby.

  "Iss it for fightin' ye are?" said Fergus, whose good-nature was notproof against such rough and unexpected treatment.

  "Yes, my boy, that's just what I am for, and I think you'll get theworst of it too."

  "What iss that you say? Ay, ay! You will hev to bend your back then,Taniel, for it iss not every wan that can give Fergus McKay the worst ofit!"

  Davidson made no reply, but gave his comrade a shake so violent that itput to flight the last vestige of his good-humour and induced him tostruggle so fiercely that in a few minutes the drowsiness was also, andeffectually, driven away.

  "You'll do now," said Davidson, relaxing his grip and panting somewhat.

  "Ay, Taniel, I will be doin' now. An' you're a frund in need whatever,"returned the restored Highlander with a smile of appreciation.

  About an hour later the travellers again stopped. This time it wasDavidson who called a halt.

  "Fergus," he said, "we have been successful so far, thank God. But wemust part here. Half-an-hour will take me to my father's house, and Iwant you to go down to the hut of Francois La Certe; it is nearer thanour house, you know--and get him to help you."

  "Surely, Tan, that will be wasted time," objected the Highlander. "Ofall the lazy useless scamps in Rud Ruver, Francois La Certe iss thelaziest an' most useless."

  "Useful enough for our purpose, however," returned Davidson. "Send himup to Fort Garry with a message, while you lie down and rest. If youdon't rest, you will yourself be useless in a short time. La Certe isnot such a bad fellow as people think him, specially when his feelingsare touched."

  "That may be as you say, Tan. I will try--_whatever_."

  So saying, the two men parted and hurried on their several ways.