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Lost in the Wilds

De Brunier tried to explain the use of his scales


Gaspe

remonstrated, assuring them there was no hurry, all should have their turn.

The chief waved them back, and the last of the group contented themselves with standing in the gateway itself, to prevent it being shut against them.

Gaspe gave up the vain attempt to close it, and resumed his post.

"I am here on the watch," he whispered to Wilfred; "but you are cold and hungry. Go with grandfather into the shop."

"I would rather stay with you," answered Wilfred. "I am getting used to being hungry."

Gaspe answered this by pushing into his hand a big hunch of bread and butter, which he had brought with him from his hurried breakfast.

Meanwhile Gaspe's grandfather had entered the house, taking with him the Blackfoot chief. He invited the others to enter and seat themselves on the floor of the empty room into which Wilfred had already had a peep. He unlocked an inner door, opening into a passage, which divided the great waiting-room from the small shop beyond. This had been carefully prepared for the reception of their wild customers. Only a few of his goods were left upon the shelves, which were arranged with much ingenuity, and seemed to display a great variety of wares, all of them attractive in Indian eyes. The bright-coloured cloths, cut in short lengths, were folded in fantastic

heaps; the blankets were hung in graceful festoons. Beads scattered lightly on trays glittered behind the counter, on which the empty scales were lightly swaying up and down, like miniature swinging-boats.

A high lattice protected the front of the counter. Gaspe's grandfather established himself behind it. Louison took his place as door-keeper. The chief and two of his particular friends were the first to be admitted. Louison locked the door to keep out the others. It was the only way to preserve order. The wild, fierce strangers from the snow-covered plain and the darksome forest drew at once to the stove--a great iron box in the middle of the shop, with its huge black funnel rising through the ceiling. Warmth without smoke was a luxury unknown in the wigwam.

The Indians walked slowly round the shop, examining and considering the contents of the shelves, until their choice was made.

One of the three walked up to the counter and handed his pile of skins to the trader, Mr. De Brunier, through a little door in the lattice, pointing to some bright scarlet cloth and a couple of blankets. The chief was examining the guns. All three wanted shot, and the others inquired earnestly for the Indians' special delight, "tea and suga'." But when they saw the canister opened, and the tea poured into the scale, there was a grunt of dissatisfaction all round.

"What for?" demanded the chief. "Why put tea one side that swing and little bit of iron the other? Who wants little bit of iron? We don't know what that medicine is."

The Indians call everything medicine that seems to them learned and wise.

Mr. De Brunier tried to explain the use of his scales, and took up his steelyard to see if it would find more favour.

"Be fair," pursued the chief; "make one side as big as the other. Try bag of pemmican against your blankets and tea, then when the thing stops swinging you take pemmican, we blankets and tea--that fair!"

His companions echoed their chief's sentiments.

"As you like," smiled the trader. "We only want to make a fair exchange."


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