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The March of the White Guard   By: (1862-1932)

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By Gilbert Parker


"Ask Mr. Hume to come here for a moment, Gosse," said Field, the chief factor, as he turned from the frosty window of his office at Fort Providence, one of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts. The servant, or more properly, Orderly Sergeant Gosse, late of the Scots Guards, departed on his errand, glancing curiously at his master's face as he did so. The chief factor, as he turned round, unclasped his hands from behind him, took a few steps forward, then standing still in the centre of the room, read carefully through a letter which he had held in the fingers of his right hand for the last ten minutes as he scanned the wastes of snow stretching away beyond Great Slave Lake to the arctic circle. He meditated a moment, went back to the window, looked out again, shook his head negatively, and with a sigh, walked over to the huge fireplace. He stood thoughtfully considering the floor until the door opened and sub factor Jaspar Hume entered.

The factor looked up and said: "Hume, I've something here that's been worrying me a bit. This letter came in the monthly batch this morning. It is from a woman. The company sends another commending the cause of the woman and urging us to do all that is possible to meet her wishes. It seems that her husband is a civil engineer of considerable fame. He had a commission to explore the Coppermine region and a portion of the Barren Grounds. He was to be gone six months. He has been gone a year. He left Fort Good Hope, skirted Great Bear Lake, and reached the Coppermine River. Then he sent back all of the Indians who accompanied him but two, they bearing the message that he would make the Great Fish River and come down by Great Slave Lake to Fort Providence. That was nine months ago. He has not come here, nor to any other of the forts, so far as is known, nor has any word been received from him. His wife, backed by the H.B.C., urges that a relief party be sent to look for him. They and she forget that this is the arctic region, and that the task is a well nigh hopeless one. He ought to have been here six months ago. Now how can we do anything? Our fort is small, and there is always danger of trouble with the Indians. We can't force men to join a relief party like this, and who will volunteer? Who would lead such a party and who will make up the party to be led?"

The brown face of Jaspar Hume was not mobile. It changed in expression but seldom; it preserved a steady and satisfying character of intelligence and force. The eyes, however, were of an inquiring, debating kind, that moved from one thing to another as if to get a sense of balance before opinion or judgment was expressed. The face had remained impassive, but the eyes had kindled a little as the factor talked. To the factor's despairing question there was not an immediate reply. The eyes were debating. But they suddenly steadied and Jaspar Hume said sententiously: "A relief party should go."

"Yes, yes, but who is to lead them?"

Again the eyes debated.

"Read her letter," said the factor, handing it over. Jaspar Hume took it and mechanically scanned it. The factor had moved towards the table for his pipe or he would have seen the other start, and his nostrils slightly quiver, as his eyes grew conscious of what they were seeing. Turning quickly, Hume walked towards the window as though for more light, and with his back to the factor he read the letter. Then he turned and said: "I think this thing should be done."

The factor shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Well, as to that, I think so too, but thinking and doing are two different things, Hume."

"Will you leave the matter in my hands until the morning?"

"Yes, of course, and glad to do so. You are the only man who can arrange the affair, if it is to be done at all. But I tell you, as you know, that everything will depend upon a leader, even if you secure the men.... So you had better keep the letter for to night. It may help you to get the men together... Continue reading book >>

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