Chapter II
 

At ten o'clock next morning Jaspar Hume presented himself at the chief factor's office. He bore with him the letters he had written the night before.

The factor said: "Well, Hume, I am glad to see you. That woman's letter was on my mind all night. Have you anything to propose? I suppose not," he added despairingly, as he looked closely into the face of the other. "Yes, Mr. Field, I propose that the expedition start at noon to-day."

"Start-at noon-to-day?"

"In two hours."

"Who are the party?"

"Jeff Hyde, Gaspe Toujours, Late Carscallen, and Cloud-in-the-Sky."

"Who leads them, Hume? Who leads?"

"With your permission, I do."

"You? But, man, consider the danger and--your invention!"

"I have considered all. Here are three letters. If we do not come back in three months, you will please send this one, with the box in my room, to the address on the envelope. This is for a solicitor in Montreal, which you will also forward as soon as possible; and this last one is for yourself; but you will not open it until the three months have passed. Have I your permission to lead these men? They would not go without me."

"I know that, I know that, Hume. I can't say no. Go, and good luck go with you."

Here the manly old factor turned away his head. He knew that Hume had done right. He knew the possible sacrifice this man was making of all his hopes, of his very life; and his sound Scotch heart appreciated the act to the full. But he did not know all. He did not know that Jaspar Hume was starting to search for the man who had robbed him of youth and hope and genius and home.

"Here is a letter that the wife has written to her husband on the chance of his getting it. You will take it with you, Hume. And the other she wrote to me--shall I keep it?" He held out his hand.

"No, sir, I will keep it, if you will allow me. It is my commission, you know." The shadow of a smile hovered about Hume's lips.

The factor smiled kindly as he replied: "Ah, yes, your commission-- Captain Jaspar Hume of--of what?" Just then the door opened and there entered the four men who had sat before the sub-factor's fire the night before. They were dressed in white blanket costumes from head to foot, white woollen capotes covering the grey fur caps they wore. Jaspar Hume ran his eye over them and then answered the factor's question: "Of the White Guard, sir."

"Good," was the reply. "Men, you are going on a relief expedition. There will be danger. You need a good leader. You have one in Captain Hume."

Jeff Hyde shook his head at the others with a pleased I-told-you-so expression; Cloud-in-the-Sky grunted his deep approval; and Late Carscallen smacked his lips in a satisfied manner and rubbed his leg with a schoolboy sense of enjoyment. The factor continued: "In the name of the Hudson's Bay Company I will say that if you come back, having done your duty faithfully, you shall be well rewarded. And I believe you will come back, if it is in human power to do so."

Here Jeff Hyde said: "It isn't for reward we're doin' it, Mr. Field, but because Mr. Hume wished it, because we believed he'd lead us; and for the lost fellow's wife. We wouldn't have said we'd do it, if it wasn't for him that's just called us the White Guard."

Under the bronze of the sub-factor's face there spread a glow more red than brown, and he said simply: "Thank you, men"--for they had all nodded assent to Jeff Hyde's words--"come with me to the store. We will start at noon."

At noon the White Guard stood in front of the store on which the British flag was hoisted with another beneath it bearing the magic letters, H.B.C.: magic, because they opened to the world regions that seemed destined never to know the touch of civilisation. The few inhabitants of the fort were gathered at the store; the dogs and loaded sleds were at the door. It wanted but two minutes to twelve when Hume came from his house, dressed also in the white blanket costume, and followed by his dog, Bouche. In a moment more he had placed Bouche at the head of the first team of dogs. They were to have their leader too. Punctually at noon, Hume shook hands with the factor, said a quick good-bye to the rest, called out a friendly "How!" to the Indians standing near, and to the sound of a hearty cheer, heartier perhaps because none had a confident hope that the five would come back, the march of the White Guard began.