speaking, the Lord Wellington was waking to activity. The anchors came up, the sails were set, and caught the breeze. In a few moments the immigrant vessel was following the supply ships towards the mouth of the Hayes River.
The first view of Fort York was as disappointing as the first glimpse of shore. To Elise and Walter a fort meant massive stone walls and towers, rising from some high and commanding position. A stretch of log fencing in a bog was not their idea of fortification. It had the interest of novelty, however, for it was very different from anything they had ever seen before. The logs were set upright and close together, and above this stockade rose the flat, leaded roofs of the buildings. Near the fort stood a cluster of strange dwellings, quite unlike the Eskimo summer huts of stones, sod, and skins, with which the Swiss had become familiar since reaching Arctic waters. These queer skin tents were roughly cone-shaped, and the ends of the framework of poles projected at the peak. They were Cree Indian summer lodges. Up the wide board walk from the dock to the fort gates, men were carrying sacks and boxes. The unloading of the supply ships had begun.
The Perier family were among the last of the immigrants to go ashore. Very much like a homeless wanderer, motherless Elise Perier felt as she stood on the river bank beside her father, with Max clinging to her hand, and their scanty belongings piled around them. It was good to be on land again of course, but this was such a strange land. In spite of cramped quarters, poor food, seasickness, and the other hardships of the voyage, the Lord Wellington seemed almost homelike compared to this wild, barren country. Elise tried bravely to smile at her father and Walter, but she felt as if she must cry instead.
Captain Mai was calling them. “Go right up to the fort, Perier. I want to get you all together.”
Walter picked up as much of the luggage as he could carry. Mr. Perier was looking doubtfully at a heavy wooden chest, when a boyish voice at his shoulder said in French, “Let me help, M’sieu. If you will put that on my back, I will carry it for you.”
Walter dropped his own load, and he and Mr. Perier lifted the chest and placed it so it rested on the portage strap, as the young Canadian directed. Then the latter led the way up the walk. He was a slender, supple lad, not as tall as Walter, but he carried the heavy load with apparent ease. The Swiss boy admired the young fellow’s strength as much as he liked his face, with its bright brown eyes and clean-cut features.
The log stockade proved to be more imposing and fort-like than it had appeared from the river. It was about twenty feet high, with bastions at the corners pierced with openings for cannon. The massive entrance gates stood open, and in front of them was a tall flagstaff, bearing the Company flag with the letters H. B. C. and the curious motto, “Pro pelle cutem,”—“Skin for skin.” Entering the gates and passing within the double row of stockades, their guide led the Perier family among workshops and cabins to an inner court, which was surrounded with substantial log structures where the officers lived and where the merchandise and furs were stored. In this court the Swiss were gathered.
Mr. Perier tried to thank the friendly lad, but he shook his head. “It is nothing, nothing, M’sieu,” he replied, a quick smile displaying his even, white teeth. “I must not linger. There is much to do.” And he was off at a run.
When all of the Swiss were assembled, one of their leaders suggested that it was fitting they should give thanks to God that the dangerous ocean voyage was over and they were safe on land once more. They stood with bowed heads while he led the prayer. The lump in Elise’s throat disappeared and she felt better.
In the meantime, Captain Mai had been arranging with the Chief Factor,—as the Hudson Bay Company officer in charge of the fort was called,—for quarters for the immigrants. There was not room for all in the buildings, so many of the men and boys would have to sleep in tents. A place in one of the houses was found for the Periers, but Walter was assigned to a tent with Mr. Scheidecker and his sons, German Swiss from Berne.
That first night on land was a miserable one for Walter. Fort York stood in a veritable bog or muskeg, firm and hard enough the greater part of the year, when it was frozen, but wet and soft in the short summer season. The ground was damp of course, and Walter’s one blanket did not keep out the chill. To make matters worse, he and his companions were pestered by the bloodthirsty mosquitoes that bred in inconceivable hordes in the swampy lowlands. But the discomfort of the night was quickly forgotten the next day.
A busy and interesting place the Swiss boy found York Factory, as the Hudson Bay men called the fort. It was not a factory in our common meaning of the word,—not a manufactory,—for nothing was manufactured there except boats for river traffic, dog sleds, wooden kegs, and such articles of use and trade as an ordinary carpenter, blacksmith, or tinsmith could make with simple tools. Factory in the fur trade meant a trading post in charge of an officer called a factor, a commercial agent who bought and sold.
For more than a century York Factory had been the principal port of entry for the Hudson Bay Company. There the Company’s ships from England brought the supplies and trade goods destined for all the widely separated posts in the interior. To York Factory, in bark canoes and wooden boats, down rivers and lakes, from all parts of the Company’s great domain, came the bales of costly furs to be sorted and repacked and shipped. A considerable staff was employed at the place, a Chief Factor, a Chief Trader, a surgeon, several clerks and apprentice clerks, a steward, a shipwright, a carpenter, a mason, a cooper, a blacksmith, a tailor, laborers, cooks, and servants. The boatmen or voyageurs who went to and fro into the interior were hired independently for each trip.
Until he sailed for America, Walter had never even heard of the Hudson Bay Company or the fur trade. Everything in the fort was novel and interesting to him. A good-natured apprentice clerk, who spoke French readily, showed him the Indian store, a large room well filled with all sorts of goods used in the Indian trade, from bales of heavy blankets, blue and red woolens, calicos of every color, long-barreled trading guns, kegs of powder, and big iron and copper kettles, to drawers of useful little things, gun flints, fire steels, files, awls, needles, fish hooks, twine, beads of all imaginable tints, and ochre, vermilion, and other dry colors, used by the Indians to adorn both their handiwork and themselves.
“I never saw so many different things in one shop,” Walter commented.
The clerk laughed. “The worst of it is that we have to keep the closest account of it all. We must know what is in every package sent out and what post it goes to. Being a fur trader isn’t all adventure I can tell you. There is a lot of office drudgery, with all the bookkeeping, invoicing, and checking of lists. We can’t afford to make mistakes,” he added soberly. “The very lives of the men in some far-away post may depend on their getting the right supplies. Why, last year——” He broke off suddenly, and switched to English. “I spoke to the Chief Trader about your proposal. He says it can’t be done. It’s not the policy of the Company to send voyageurs out to trade, especially on such long trips.”
Walter had turned to see to whom the clerk