“This fox is mine, sir,” he said quietly.
“It is if you killed it !” replied the other in good English, but with a slightly foreign accent.
“Excuse me, sir,” replied Hobson rather sharply, “it is mine in any case.”
The stranger smiled. scornfully at this lofty reply, so exactly what be expected from an agent of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which claims supremacy over all the northern districts, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
“Do you mean to say,” he said at last, gracefully toying with his gun, “that you consider the Hudson’s Bay Company mistress of the whole of North America?”
“Of course I do,” said Hobson; “and if, as I imagine, you belong to an American company—
“To the St Louis Fur Company,” replied the stranger with a bow.
“I think,” added the Lieutenant, “that you will find it difficult to show the grants entitling you to any privileges here.”
“Grants! privileges !” cried the Canadian scornfully, “old world terms which are out of place in America !”
“You are not now on American but on English ground,” replied the Lieutenant proudly.
“This is no time for such a discussion,” said the hunter rather warmly. “We all know the old claims made by the English in general, and the Hudson’s Bay Company in particular, to these hunting grounds; but I expect coming events will soon alter this state of things, and America will be America from the Straits of Magellan to the North Pole !”
“I do not agree with you,” replied Hobson dryly.
“Well, sir, however that may be,” said the Canadian, “let us suffer this international question to remain in abeyance for the present. Whatever rights the Company may arrogate to itself, it is very clear that in the extreme north of the continent, and especially on the coast, the territory belongs to whoever occupies it. You have founded a factory on Cape Bathurst, therefore we will respect your domain, and you on your side will avoid ours, when the St Louis fur-traders have established their projected fort at another point on the northern shore of America.”
The Lieutenant frowned at this speech, for he well knew what complications would arise in the future when the Hudson’s Bay Company would be compelled to struggle for supremacy with powerful rivals, and that quarrelling and even bloodshed would ensue; he could not, however, but acknowledge that this was not the time to begin the discussion, and he was not sorry when the hunter, whose manners, to tell the truth, were very polite, placed the dispute on another footing.
“As for this present matter,” said the Canadian, “it is of minor importance, and we must settle it according to the rules of the chase. Our guns are of different calibre, and our balls can be easily distinguished; let the fox belong to whichever of us really killed it.”
The proposition was a fair one, and the body of the victim was examined accordingly. One ball had entered at the side, the other at the heart; and the latter was from the gun of the Canadian.
“The fox is your property, sir,” said Jaspar Hobson, vainly endeavouring to conceal his chagrin at seeing this valuable spoil fall into the enemy’s hands.
The Canadian took it, but instead of throwing it over his shoulder and carrying it off, he turned to Mrs Barnett, and said “ Ladies are fond of beautiful furs, and although, perhaps, if they knew better what dangers and difficulties have to be surmounted in order to obtain them, they might not care so much about them, they are not likely to refuse to wear them on that account, and I hope, madam, you will favour me by accepting this one in remembrance of our meeting.”
Mrs Barnett hesitated for a moment, but the gift was offered with so much courtesy and kindliness of manner, that it would have seemed churlish to refuse, and she therefore accepted it with many thanks.
This little ceremony over, the stranger again bowed politely, and, followed by his comrades, quickly disappeared behind the rocks, whilst the Lieutenant and his party returned to Fort Good Hope. Hobson was very silent and thoughtful all the way; for he could not but feel that the existence of a rival company would greatly compromise the success of his undertaking, and lead to many future difficulties.