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Across The Jumping Sandhills
by [?]

“Here now, Trader; aisy, aisy! Quicksands I’ve seen along the sayshore, and up to me half-ways I’ve been in wan, wid a double-and-twist in the rope to pull me out; but a suckin’ sand in the open plain–aw, Trader, aw! the like o’ that niver a bit saw I.”

So said Macavoy the giant, when the thing was talked of in his presence.

“Well, I tell you it’s true, and they’re not three miles from Fort O’Glory. The Company’s–[Hudson’s Bay Company]–men don’t talk about it–what’s the use! Travellers are few that way, and you can’t get the Indians within miles of them. Pretty Pierre knows all about them–better than anyone else almost. He’ll stand by me in it–eh, Pierre?”

Pierre, the half-breed gambler and adventurer, took no notice, and was silent for a time, intent on his cigarette; and in the pause Mowley the trapper said: “Pierre’s gone back on you, Trader. P’r’aps ye haven’t paid him for the last lie. I go one better, you stand by me–my treat–that’s the game!”

“Aw, the like o’ that,” added Macavoy reproachfully. “Aw, yer tongue to the roof o’ yer mouth, Mowley. Liars all men may be, but that’s wid wimmin or landlords. But, Pierre, aff another man’s bat like that–aw, Mowley, fill your mouth wid the bowl o’ yer pipe.”

Pierre now looked up at the three men, rolling another cigarette as he did so; but he seemed to be thinking of a distant matter. Meeting the three pairs of eyes fixed on him, his own held them for a moment musingly; then he lit his cigarette, and, half reclining on the bench where he sat, he began to speak, talking into the fire as it were.

“I was at Guidon Hill, at the Company’s post there. It was the fall of the year, when you feel that there is nothing so good as life, and the air drinks like wine. You think that sounds like a woman or a priest? Mais, no. The seasons are strange. In the spring I am lazy and sad; in the fall I am gay, I am for the big things to do. This matter was in the fall. I felt that I must move. Yet, what to do? There was the thing. Cards, of course. But that’s only for times, not for all seasons. So I was like a wild dog on a chain. I had a good horse–Tophet, black as a coal, all raw bones and joint, and a reach like a moose. His legs worked like piston-rods. But, as I said, I did not know where to go or what to do. So we used to sit at the Post loafing: in the daytime watching the empty plains all panting for travellers, like a young bride waiting her husband for the first time.”

Macavoy regarded Pierre with delight. He had an unctuous spirit, and his heart was soft for women–so soft that he never had had one on his conscience, though he had brushed gay smiles off the lips of many. But that was an amiable weakness in a strong man. “Aw, Pierre,” he said coaxingly, “kape it down; aisy, aisy. Me heart’s goin’ like a trip-hammer at thought av it; aw yis, aw yis, Pierre.”

“Well, it was like that to me–all sun and a sweet sting in the air. At night to sit and tell tales and such things; and perhaps a little brown brandy, a look at the stars, a half-hour with the cattle–the same old game. Of course, there was the wife of Hilton the factor–fine, always fine to see, but deaf and dumb. We were good friends, Ida and me. I had a hand in her wedding. Holy, I knew her when she was a little girl. We could talk together by signs. She was a good woman; she had never guessed at evil. She was quick, too, like a flash, to read and understand without words. A face was a book to her.