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The Epaulettes
by [?]

Old Athabasca, chief of the Little Crees, sat at the door of his lodge,
staring down into the valley where Fort Pentecost lay, and Mitawawa
his daughter sat near him, fretfully pulling at the fringe of her fine
buckskin jacket. She had reason to be troubled. Fyles the trader had put
a great indignity upon Athabasca. A factor of twenty years before, in
recognition of the chief’s merits and in reward of his services, had
presented him with a pair of epaulettes, left in the Fort by some
officer in Her Majesty’s service. A good, solid, honest pair of
epaulettes, well fitted to stand the wear and tear of those high feasts
and functions at which the chief paraded them upon his broad shoulders.
They were the admiration of his own tribe, the wonder of others, the
envy of many chiefs. It was said that Athabasca wore them creditably,
and was no more immobile and grand-mannered than became a chief thus
honoured above his kind.

But the years went, and there came a man to Fort Pentecost who knew not
Athabasca. He was young, and tall and strong, had a hot temper, knew
naught of human nature, was possessed by a pride more masterful than
his wisdom, and a courage stronger than his tact. He was ever for
high-handedness, brooked no interference, and treated the Indians more
as Company’s serfs than as Company’s friends and allies. Also, he had
an eye for Mitawawa, and found favour in return, though to what depth it
took a long time to show. The girl sat high in the minds and desires
of the young braves, for she had beauty of a heathen kind, a deft and
dainty finger for embroidered buckskin, a particular fortune with a bow
and arrow, and the fleetest foot. There were mutterings because Fyles
the white man came to sit often in Athabasca’s lodge. He knew of this,
but heeded not at all. At last Konto, a young brave who very accurately
guessed at Fyles’ intentions, stopped him one day on the Grey Horse
Trail, and in a soft, indolent voice begged him to prove his regard in
a fight without weapons, to the death, the survivor to give the other
burial where he fell. Fyles was neither fool nor coward. It would have
been foolish to run the risk of leaving Fort and people masterless
for an Indian’s whim; it would have been cowardly to do nothing. So he
whipped out a revolver, and bade his rival march before him to the Fort;
which Konto very calmly did, begging the favour of a bit of tobacco as
he went.

Fyles demanded of Athabasca that he should sit in judgment, and should
at least banish Konto from his tribe, hinting the while that he might
have to put a bullet into Konto’s refractory head if the thing were not
done. He said large things in the name of the H.B.C., and was surprised
that Athabasca let them pass unmoved. But that chief, after long
consideration, during which he drank Company’s coffee and ate Company’s
pemmican, declared that he could do nothing: for Konto had made a fine
offer, and a grand chance of a great fight had been missed. This was in
the presence of several petty officers and Indians and woodsmen at the
Fort. Fyles had vanity and a nasty temper. He swore a little, and with
words of bluster went over and ripped the epaulettes from the chief’s
shoulders as a punishment, a mark of degradation. The chief said
nothing. He got up, and reached out his hands as if to ask them back;
and when Fyles refused, he went away, drawing his blanket high over
his shoulders. It was wont before to lie loosely about him, to show his
badges of captaincy and alliance.