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Title: Connie Morgan in the Fur Country
Author: Hendryx, James B. (James Beardsley), 1880-1963
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Connie Morgan

in the

Fur Country

[Illustration]

_By_ James B. Hendryx

· ILLUSTRATED ·


  _By James B. Hendryx_

  The Promise

  The Gun Brand

  The Texan

  The Gold Girl

  Prairie Flowers

  Connie Morgan in Alaska

  Connie Morgan with the Mounted

  Connie Morgan in the Lumber Camps

  Connie Morgan in the Fur Country

[Illustration: "For there, standing close beside the fire, his head and
huge shoulders thrust into the doorway, his eyes gleaming like live
coals, stood the great grey leader of the wolf pack."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

  CONNIE MORGAN
  IN THE
  FUR COUNTRY


  BY
  JAMES B. HENDRYX
  AUTHOR OF "CONNIE MORGAN IN ALASKA," ETC.


  [Illustration]


  _ILLUSTRATED_


  G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS
  NEW YORK AND LONDON
  The Knickerbocker Press
  1921



Copyright, 1921

by

James B. Hendryx

Made in the United States of America


[Illustration]



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                        PAGE

  I.--DOG, OR WOLF?      1

  II.--'MERICAN JOE      17

  III.--NERVE      32

  IV.--BRASS      49

  V.--THE PLAGUE FLAG IN THE SKY      76

  VI.--AT THE END OF RENÉ'S TRAIL      95

  VII.--AT FORT NORMAN      111

  VIII.--BAIT--AND A BEAR      123

  IX.--OUT ON THE TRAP LINE      138

  X.--THE TRAIL OF THE _CARCAJO_      149

  XI.--THE CARIBOU HUNT      168

  XII.--THE TRAIL IN THE SNOW      184

  XIII.--AT THE CAMP OF THE _HOOCH_-RUNNERS      200

  XIV.--THE PASSING OF BLACK MORAN      216

  XV.--SETTING THE FOX TRAPS      238

  XVI.--THE VOICE FROM THE HILL      254

  XVII.--THE-LAKE-OF-THE-FOX-THAT-YELLS      269

  XVIII.--THE MAN IN THE CAVE      290



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                             PAGE

  "FOR THERE, STANDING CLOSE BESIDE THE FIRE,
  HIS HEAD AND HUGE SHOULDERS THRUST
  INTO THE DOORWAY, HIS EYES GLEAMING
  LIKE LIVE COALS, STOOD THE GREAT GREY
  LEADER OF THE WOLF PACK"      _Frontispiece_

  "IN THE WHIRLING BLIZZARD, WITHOUT PROTECTION
  OF TIMBER, ONE PLACE WAS AS GOOD
  AS ANOTHER TO CAMP, AND WHILE THE INDIAN
  BUSIED HIMSELF WITH THE DOGS, CONNIE
  PROCEEDED TO DIG A TRENCH IN THE SNOW"      54

  "THE THIRD DAY DAWNED COLD AND CLEAR,
  AND DAYLIGHT FOUND THE OUTFIT ON THE
  MOVE"      70

  "IT WAS A TERRIBLE THING TO LOOK UPON TO
  THOSE TWO WHO KNEW ITS SIGNIFICANCE--THAT
  FLAG GLOWING LIKE A SPLOTCH OF
  BLOOD THERE IN THE BRAZEN SKY"      80

  "THE SNARE WAS SET ONLY A FOOT OR TWO
  FROM THE STUFFED RABBIT SKIN AND
  STICKS AND BRUSH SO ARRANGED THAT IN
  ORDER TO REACH THE RABBIT THE LYNX
  MUST LEAP STRAIGHT INTO THE SNARE"      130

  "'MERICAN JOE CLIMBED THE TREE AND A FEW
  MINUTES LATER CONNIE HEARD THE BLOWS
  OF HIS BELT AX AS HE HACKED AT THE
  LIMB THAT HELD THE CLOG"      156

  "AS DARKNESS SETTLED OVER THE NORTH
  COUNTRY, A LITTLE FIRE TWINKLED IN THE
  BUSH, AND THE ODOUR OF SIZZLING BACON
  AND FRYING LIVER PERMEATED THE COZY
  CAMP"      182

  "AS HE STEPPED THROUGH THE DOORWAY HE
  WAS SEIZED VIOLENTLY FROM BEHIND"      218



Connie Morgan in the Fur Country



CHAPTER I

DOG, OR WOLF?


In the little cabin on Ten Bow Waseche Bill laid his week-old newspaper
aside, knocked the ashes from his pipe against the edge of the woodbox,
and listened to the roar of the wind. After a few moments he rose and
opened the door, only to slam it immediately as an icy blast, freighted
with a million whirling flakes of snow, swept the room. Resuming his
seat, he proceeded very deliberately to refill his pipe. This
accomplished to his satisfaction, he lighted it, crammed some wood into
the little air-tight stove, and tilted his chair back against the log
wall.

"Well, son, what is it?" he asked, after a few moments of silence
during which he had watched his young partner, Connie Morgan, draw rag
after rag through the barrel of his rifle.

"What's what?" asked the boy, without looking up.

"What's on yo' mind? The last five patches yo've drug through that gun
was as clean when they come out as when they went in. Yo' ain't cleanin'
no rifle--yo' studyin' 'bout somethin'."

Connie rested the rifle upon his knees and smiled across the little
oilcloth-covered table: "Looks like winter has come in earnest," he
said. "Listen to her trying to tear the roof off. I've been wishing it
would snow for a week."

"Snow fer a week?"

"No. Wishing for a week."

"Well, now it's come, what yo' goin' to do with it?"

"I'm going out and get that Big Ruff."

"Big Ruff! Yo' mean kill him?"

Connie shook his head: "No. I'm going to catch him. I want him."

Waseche laughed: "What in thunder do yo' want of him, even pervidin'
he's a dog, which the chances is he ain't nothin' but a wolf. An' yo'
don't even know they's any such brute rompin' the hills, nohow. Stories
gits goin' that-a-way. Someone, mebbe, seen a dog or a wolf runnin' the
ridge of Spur Mountain late in the evenin' so he looked 'bout half agin
the size he was, an' they come along an' told it. Then someone else sees
him, er another one, an' he recollects that he heard tell of a monstr'us
big wolf er dog, he cain't recollect which, so he splits the difference
an' makes him half-dog an' half-wolf, an' he adds a big ruff onto his
neck fer good measure, an' tells it 'round. After that yo' kin bet that
every tin-horn that gits within twenty mile of Spur Mountain will see
him, an' each time he gits bigger, an' his ruff gits bigger. It's like a
stampede. Yo' let someone pan out mebbe half a dozen ounces of dust on
some crick an' by the time the news has spread a hundred mile, he's took
out a fortune, an' it's in chunks as big as a pigeon's aig--they ain't
nary one of them ever saw a pigeon's aig--but that's always what them
chunks is as big as--an' directly the whole crick is staked an' a lot of
men goes broke, an' some is killed, an' chances is, the only ones that
comes out ahead is the ones that's staked an' sold out."

"But there are real wolf-dogs--I've seen plenty of 'em, and so have you.
And there are real strikes--look at Ten Bow!"

"Yeh, look at it--but I made that strike myself. The boys down to
Hesitation know'd that if I said they was colour heah it was heah. They
didn't come a kihootin' up heah on the say-so of no tin-horn."

"Yes, and there's a big wolf-dog been over on Spur Mountain for a week,
too. I didn't pay any attention when I first heard it. But, Dutch Henry
saw him yesterday, and today when Black Jack Demeree came up with the
mail he saw him, too."

Waseche appeared interested: "An' did they say he was as big as a cabin
an' a ruff on him like the mainsail of a whaler?"

"No, but they said he was the biggest dog they ever saw, and he has got
the big ruff, all right--and he was running with two or three wolves,
and he was bigger than any of them."

"Well, if Dutch Henry an' Black Jack seen him," agreed Waseche with
conviction, "he's there. But, what in time do yo' want of him? If he
was runnin' with wolves he's buildin' him up a pack. He's a bad actor.
You take them renegade dogs, an' they're worse than wolves an' worse
than dogs--an' they're smarter'n most folks."

"That's why I want him. I want to make a leader out of him."

"You can't catch him--an' if you could, you couldn't handle him."

"I'll tell you more about that after I've had a try at him," grinned the
boy.

"Who's going along?"

"No one. I don't want to divide him up with anyone, and anyone I could
hire wouldn't be worth taking along."

"He'll eat you up."

"I hope he tries it! If he ever gets that close to me--he's mine!"

"Or yo'll be his'n," drawled Waseche Bill. "Howeveh, if I was bettin'
I'd take yo' end of it, at that."

Connie rose, laid the rifle upon the table, and began to overhaul his
gear. Waseche watched him for a few moments, and blew a cloud of blue
smoke ceilingward: "Seems like yo' jest nach'lly cain't set by an' take
things easy," he said; "heah's yo', with mo' money than yo' kin eveh
spend, gittin' ready to hike out an' live like a Siwash in the bush when
yo' c'd go outside fer the winteh, an' live in some swell _hotel_ an'
nothin' to do but r'ar back in one of them big leatheh chairs with yo'
feet in the window an' watch the folks go by."

Connie flashed him a grin: "You've got as much as I have--and I don't
notice you sitting around any swell hotels watching the folks go by."

Waseche's eyes twinkled: and he glanced affectionately at the boy: "No,
son. This heah suits me betteh. But, yo' ain't even satisfied to stay
heah in the cabin. When my laig went bad on me an' I had to go outside,
you hit out an' put in the time with the Mounted, then last winteh,
'stead of taking it easy, you hit out fo' Minnesota an' handed that
timbeh thievin' bunch what was comin' to 'em."

"Well, it paid, didn't it?"

"Sho' it paid--an' the work with the Mounted paid--not in money, but in
what yo' learnt. But you don't neveh take things easy. Yo' pa was like
that. I reckon it's bred in the bone."

Connie nodded: "Yes, and this winter I've got a trip planned out that
will make all the others look piking. I'm going over and have a look at
the Coppermine River country--over beyond the Mackenzie."

Waseche Bill stared at the boy in astonishment: "Beyond the Mackenzie!"
he exclaimed, then his voice dropped into a tone softly sarcastic. "Yo'
ought to have a right pleasant trip. It ain't oveh a thousan' miles oah
so, an' only about fifteen er twenty mountain ranges to cross. The trail
ought to be right nice an' smooth an' plain marked. An' when yo' git
theah yo' sho' ought to enjoy yo'self. I caint' think of no place in the
world a man had ought to keep away from worse than right theah. Why,
son, they tell me that beyond the Mackenzie they ain't _nothin'_!"

"There's gold--and copper," defended the boy.

"Did Dutch Henry an' Black Jack Demeree tell yo' that, too?"

Connie laughed: "No, I read about it in a book."

Waseche snorted contemptuously, "Read it in a book! Look a heah, son,
it don't stand to reason that if anyone know'd they was gold an' coppeh
up theah they'd be foolin' away theah time writin' books about it, does
it? No suh, they'd be be right up amongst it scoopin' it out of the
gravel, that's wheah they'd be! Books is redic'lus."

"But the man that wrote the book didn't know where the gold is----"

"You bet he didn't! That's the way with these heah fellows that writes
books. They don't know enough about gold to make 'em a livin' diggin'
it--so they write a book about it. They's mo' ways than one to make a
livin' out of gold--like sellin' fake claims, an' writin' books."

"I'm going to roll in, now, because I want to get an early start. It's
that book up there on the shelf with the green cover. You read it, and
when I come back with Big Ruff, we'll talk it over."

Again Waseche snorted contemptuously, but a few minutes later as he lay
snuggled between his blankets, Connie smiled to himself to see his big
partner take the book from the shelf, light his pipe, and after settling
himself comfortably in his chair, gingerly turn its pages.

Spur Mountain is not really a mountain at all. It is a long sparsely
timbered ridge only about seven hundred feet in height that protrudes
into the valley of the Ten Bow, for all the world like a giant spur. The
creek doubles sharply around the point of the spur which slants upward
to a deep notch or pass in the range that separates the Ten Bow from the
valley of the Tanana.

It was past noon when Connie Morgan swung his dogs from the creek-bed
and headed back along the base of the spur toward the main range. He had
covered the fifteen miles slowly, being forced almost constantly to
break trail ahead of the dogs through the new-fallen snow.

He turned into a patch of timber that slanted obliquely upward to the
crest of the ridge, and working his outfit halfway to the top, pitched
his tent on a narrow ledge or shoulder, protected from every direction
by the ridge itself, and by the thick spruce timber. The early darkness
had settled when he finished making camp and as he ate his supper he
watched the stars appear one by one in the heavens. After replenishing
his fire, he removed his _mukluks_ and mackinaw, and slipped into his
sleeping bag.

Two hours later he opened his eyes and listened. From beyond the
ridge--far down the valley of the Ten Bow, floated the long-drawn howl
of a wolf. A moment of silence followed, and from across the valley
sounded an answering call. Outside the little tent a dog whined softly.
The boy smiled as his eyes rested for a moment upon the glowing coals of
his fire. "What anybody wants to live in a city for when they can lie
out in the timber and listen to that, is more than I know--I love it!"
The next moment he was sitting bolt upright, his hands fighting his
sleeping bag, as the hair of his scalp seemed to rise like the quills of
an enraged porcupine, and a peculiar tickly chill ran down his spine.
The silence of the night was shattered by a sound so terrible that his
blood seemed to chill at the horror of it. It was a wolf cry--but unlike
the cry of any wolf he had ever heard. There was a swift rush of dark
bodies and Connie's four dogs dived into the tent, knocking him over in
their haste, their feet scratching up a shower of snow which caused the
glowing coals of the little fire to sizzle and smoke. The cry of the
wolves had floated--but this new cry seemed to hurl itself through the
night--a terrifying crescendo of noise that sounded at once a challenge
and wail. For a full minute after the sound ceased the boy sat tense
and motionless, staring wide-eyed beyond the fire, while behind him, in
the farthest corner of the tent the _malamutes_ huddled and whined. Then
he shook himself and laughed. "Some howl!" he muttered, "I bet they
heard that in Ten Bow. That's the Big Ruff, all right--and he ain't far
away."

Hastily wriggling from his sleeping bag the boy drew on his _mukluks_
and mackinaw and stepped from the tent. Overhead the stars glittered
brilliantly, and he noted with satisfaction that objects were visible at
a distance of several hundred yards against the background of new-fallen
snow. Drawing a heavy parka over his mackinaw, he fastened on his
snowshoes, caught up his rifle, and headed upward for the crest of the
ridge. "Maybe I can get a look at him anyway," he thought. "He'll gather
his wolves and the chances are that sometime before morning they'll run
the ridge."

A half-hour later the boy slipped into a tangle of brush that marked the
upper end of his patch of timber. The bare summit of the ridge stretched
away in the half-light to merge in a mysterious blur with the
indistinct valley of the Ten Bow. The wind was blowing gently from the
ridge and the boy figured that if the wolf pack followed the summit as
he hoped, they must pass within twenty yards of him. "If it don't go and
cloud up before they get here I can see 'em plain as day," he thought,
as he settled himself comfortably for his long wait. An hour passed and
the boy was thankful he had thought to bring his parka. Mushing a hard
trail, a man can dispense with his parka at twenty degrees below zero,
but sitting still, even at zero, the heavy moosehide garment is
indispensable. For another hour Connie divided his attention between
watching the fantastic changes of pale aurora and scanning the distant
reach of the ridge. He shifted his weight to his other hip to stretch a
cramped leg; and suddenly became motionless as a stone. Far down the
ridge his trained eye had caught a blur of motion. His fists clenched in
anticipation as he stared into the dim distance. Yes, there it was
again--something moving, like a swift shadow along the bald surface of
the snow. Again the silent shadow shape vanished and again it
appeared--nearer, now--near enough so that the boy could distinguish
not one, but many shapes. In fascination he watched that silent run of
the wolf pack. Nearer they swept, running easily and swiftly along the
wind-swept ridge. Instinctively Connie reached for his rifle but
withdrew his arm before his hand touched the weapon.

There were ten or twelve wolves in all, but his attention was riveted
upon the leader. Never in his life had he seen such an animal. In the
starlight his coat gleamed like molten silver in contrast with the dark
tawny coats of the pack that ran at his heels. They reached a point
nearly opposite to the boy's hiding place, and distant not more than
fifty yards, when suddenly the huge leader halted in his tracks. So
sudden was his action that the wolves running behind him were unable to
stop until they had carried six or eight yards beyond. One or two
jostled the leader in passing and were rewarded with swift, silent
slashes of his great jaws. Luckily for themselves, the culprits escaped
death by inches, and leaping swiftly aside, mingled with their
companions, while the great grey leader stood squarely upon his feet
sniffing the air.

Connie's heart raced wildly as he stared at the magnificent animal. It
seemed incredible that the brute had caught his scent against the wind,
and yet, if not, why had he halted so suddenly? And why did he stand
there sniffing the air? The wolves settled upon their haunches with
tongues a-loll and eyed their leader, or moved nervously back and forth
in the background sniffing inquisitively. During this interval the boy
took in every detail of the great brute he had set out to capture. More
conspicuous even than his great size was the enormous ruff of long hair
that covered the animal's neck and shoulders--a feature that accentuated
immeasurably the ferocious appearance of the pointed wolfish muzzle and
gleaming eyes. Every detail of coat, of muzzle, of eyes, of ears, or of
legs bespoke the wolf breed--but there were other details--and the heart
of the boy leaped as he noted them. The deep, massive chest, the
peculiar poise of the head, and the over-curl of the huge brush of the
tail showed unmistakably the breed of the dog. "I wonder what his heart
is?" thought Connie. "Is it wolf, or dog, or part wolf and a part dog?"
As these thoughts flashed through his mind the boy saw the great grey
shape turn abruptly and trot toward the opposite side of the ridge at a
right angle to his former course. The wolves followed at a respectful
distance and as they disappeared over the crest Connie wriggled from his
place of concealment and crawling to the top, peered down the slope.

The wolves had vanished completely. Nothing was in sight except the long
white sweep of snow, with here and there a black patch of bushes and
scrub. He was about to return to his camp when, from one of the patches
of scrub burst a scattering of tawny shapes. Singly, and in groups of
two or three, crowding each other in their mad haste, they fled into the
open and ranging themselves in a semicircle, waited expectantly.
Presently another wolf emerged from the thicket, dragging himself on his
belly, ploughing the snow. As Connie watched curiously he noticed that
the wide, flat trail left by the slowly crawling wolf showed broad, dark
streaks and blotches. The waiting wolves knew the meaning of that
darkened trail and the next moment they were upon him. Connie shifted
his position for a better view of this midnight tragedy of the wild,
when his foot caught under a root concealed by the snow and he pitched
heavily forward. To save himself he grasped the dead branch of a stunted
tree. The branch snapped with a report that rang through the silence of
the night like an explosion and the boy pitched headforemost into the
snow. The great grey leader shot from the scrub, and with the pack at
his heels disappeared in the thicker timber at the base of the ridge.



CHAPTER II

'MERICAN JOE


When Connie regained his feet Spur Mountain was silent as the tomb, and
for several moments he stood motionless gazing at the tawny shape that
lay still at the end of the stained trail, and at the patch of scrub
from which the shape had emerged. What was in that dark patch of brush?
Why had the wolves burst from it in terror? Why had the great leader
stayed until the snapping of the limb had frightened him away? And what
had happened to the wolf that lay dead in the snow? Slowly the boy
returned to his hiding place, picked up his rifle, and descended the
slope toward the patch of scrub. He stooped to examine the body of the
wolf. As he rolled it over his thoughts leaped to the great grey leader.
"Maybe his heart's all wolf," he muttered thoughtfully, as he stared at
the long slash that extended from the bottom of the flank upward almost
to the backbone--a slash as clean as if executed with a sharp knife,
and through which the animal's entrails had protruded and his life blood
had gushed to discolour the snow. "What did he do it for?" wondered
Connie as he turned from the carcass and proceeded cautiously into the
scrub.

Ten yards in he stumbled over a snow-covered object. It was a sledge of
curious design. "That's no Alaska sled," he muttered, as he stared about
him, his eyes seeking to pierce the darker gloom of the scrub. A few
feet from him was a curious white mound. Before the mound were many wolf
tracks, and there it was that the blotched trail began. Moving
cautiously, the boy examined the irregular snow-covered mound. At the
point where the wolf tracks converged he noticed a small triangular
patch of darkness close to the ground. Stooping he examined it closely
and found to his surprise that it was the opening of a shelter tent or
wikiup. Dropping upon his hands and knees he peered inside. In the
darkness he could make out nothing. Throwing off his mittens, he lighted
a match, and as the tiny flame threw its feeble light upon the interior
he made out at the farther side a gruesome looking mound of blankets.
The match burned his finger tips and the miserable shelter was once more
plunged in blackness. Involuntarily Connie shuddered. His first
inclination was to leave that place--to return to his camp and harness
his dogs and hit the back trail for Ten Bow--then, tomorrow--Even with
the thought his jaw stiffened: "If I do it'll be because I'm afraid," he
sneered. "What would my dad have done? What would Waseche do? Or Dan
McKeever? Or any of the boys? The very last thing in the world they
would do would be to run away! And I won't either. The first thing is to
find out who he is and how he comes to be lying dead way up here on Spur
Mountain."

Methodically the boy kicked the snow back from the door of the low
shelter tent, and gathering some dry branches built a fire. Then he
crawled inside, and by the light of the crackling flames proceeded to
examine the interior. One glance told the story. A battered aluminum
kettle, a small frying pan, and a canvas bag which contained nothing but
a small handful of tea, and the blankets he was wrapped in, constituted
the man's whole outfit. There was no grub--no weapon of any kind with
which to procure grub. He laid a hand on the blanket to roll the man
toward the light--and started so violently that he sent the frying pan
rattling against the kettle. For, instead of the rigid corpse of solid
ice he had expected to find, the blanket yielded beneath the pressure of
his hand! Either the man was alive, or had died so recently that his
body had not had time to freeze! Recovering himself instantly, Connie
ran his hand beneath the blanket. Yes, he was alive--there was heat
there--not much--but enough body-warmth to show that he still lived.
Scooping up a kettle of snow the boy set it upon the fire and, as it
melted, without uncovering the man, he fell to beating him with his
fists, to stimulate the lagging circulation. Heating the frying pan he
thrust it into the canvas bag and slipped it under the blankets and went
on with his beating. When the water began to boil, he withdrew the bag
and threw the tea into the kettle. Then he removed the outer blanket and
succeeded in rolling the unconscious form nearer to the fire. When he
uncovered the face he saw that the man was an Indian--a young buck of
twenty-five or thirty, and he wondered the more at his plight. Removing
the kettle from the fire, he set it beside him and succeeded in propping
the Indian's head upon his knees. With a tin cup, he dipped some
scalding tea from the kettle and allowing it to cool a little, dropped a
small quantity between the man's lips. At the third dose, the Indian
shuddered slightly, his lips moved, and he swallowed feebly. The next
time he swallowed as much as a spoonful, and then, double that amount.
After that his recovery was rapid. Before the cup was half empty he had
opened his eyes and blinked foolishly into Connie's face. He gulped
eagerly at the hot liquid, but the boy would allow him only a mouthful
at a time. When the cup was empty Connie refilled it. The Indian's lips
moved. He seemed to be trying to speak.

"Talk English?" encouraged the boy with a smile.

The other nodded: "Yes--_kloshe wawa_--me spik good."

"What's your name--_kahta mika nem_?"

The Indian seemed delighted to find that the boy could speak the jargon.
He smiled: "_Nika nem_ 'Merican Joe." And having imparted the
information, plunged into a rabble of jargon that the boy was at his
wit's end to follow.

He stopped him in the middle of it: "Look here, 'Merican Joe, you talk
English--she best to talk. You know all 'bout English?"

"Yes."

"Well, you talk it then. Listen--I've got a camp over across the ridge.
Plenty grub. I go get grub. You stay here. Half an hour I come back. We
eat big."

The Indian nodded vigorously, and as Connie turned toward the door he
recoiled, and involuntarily drew the knife from his belt. For there,
standing close beside the fire, his head and huge shoulders thrust into
the doorway, his eyes gleaming like live coals, stood the great grey
leader of the wolf pack!

'Merican Joe struggled to his elbow and stretched his hand toward the
superb brute: "Ah, come Leloo! _Nika skookum tkope leloo!_" (My big
white wolf). With a bound the great animal was at the Indian's side,
nuzzling, rooting at him, licking his hands and face with his long red
tongue. Connie sat fascinated at the sight, as the Indian tugged
playfully at the pointed ears and buried his hand in the long
shimmering hair of the enormous ruff. Then the great brute settled down
close against the blanket and, raising his head, eyed Connie
indifferently, and as if to emphasize his indifference he opened his
huge jaws in a prodigious yawn--a yawn that exposed the interior of his
cavernous mouth with its wealth of gleaming fangs.

The Indian thumped the brute on the ribs and pointed to the boy.
"_Skookum tillicum._" Leloo rose, stalked to the boy, deliberately
sniffed him over from top to toe, and resumed his place.

"Is he yours?" asked Connie eagerly. "Where did you get him? Have you
got any more of 'em?"

'Merican Joe laughed: "No--no more! No more lak heem een de worl'. Leloo
you frien', now. You com' een de daytam--een de night--Leloo no hurt."

"I hope you're right," laughed the boy, "I'm going after that grub now."
And throwing some more wood on the fire, he slipped from the scrub. As
he did so, there was a scattering of tawny shapes, and where the carcass
of the dead wolf had been, there were only gnawed fragments of bones.

When he returned Leloo met him at the edge of the scrub, eyed him for a
moment, and turning deliberately, led the way to the shelter tent.

Connie viewed 'Merican Joe's attack on the food with alarm. In vain he
cautioned the Indian to go slow--to eat lightly at first--but his only
answer was a grin, and a renewed attack on the grub. The boy had brought
with him from the camp, three cans of baked beans, a bag of pilot bread,
and several pounds of pemmican, and not until the last vestige of food
was consumed, did 'Merican Joe even pause. Then he licked his fingers
and asked for more. Connie told him that in the morning they would break
camp and hit for Ten Bow. Also, that when they crossed the ridge he
could have all the grub he wanted, and with that the Indian had to
content himself. While 'Merican Joe ate the boy cooked up some fish for
Leloo, who accepted it from his hand and then settled himself beside him
upon the blanket.

"Where did you come from? And where are you are going? And how did you
come to be out of grub?" asked Connie, when 'Merican Joe had lighted a
villainous looking black pipe.

"Me--I'm com' far," he pointed toward the east. "I'm goin' to
Kuskokwim. A'm liv' on Kuskokwim--be'n gon' t'ree year. I'm los' my
outfit w'en de ice brek on Charley River, 'bout ten day 'go."

"And you kept on for the Kuskokwim without any grub, and with no rifle!"

"Yes--I'm lucky I'm hav' my blankets an' kettle on de front of de
sled--de ice no ketch."

"But where did you get the dog--or wolf--or whatever Leloo is?"

"I'm git heem ver' far--" again he paused and pointed to the east.

"Beyond the big mountains?"

"Yes."

"Beyond the big river--the Mackenzie?"

"Yes. I'm desert from de whaler wan year 'go. I com' on de--w'at you
call Innuit. I liv' wit dem long tam. All tam snow. All tam ice. All tam
col'. 'Cross de big water--de sea--" he pointed north. "Cross on ice.
Com' on de lan'--beeg lan', all rock, an' snow an' ice. We hunt de musk
ox. T'ree, four day we mush nort'. _Spose_ bye-m-bye we fin' ol'
_igloo_. Woof! Out jomp de beeg white wolf! Mor' bigger as any wolf I
ever seen. I take my rifle an' shoot heem, an' w'en de shot mak' de
beeg noise, out com' anudder wan. She aint' so beeg--an' she ain' white
lak de beeg wolf. She ron an' smell de dead wolf. She look on us. She
look on our sled dogs. She com' close. Den she run off agin. An' she
mak' all de tam de leetle whine. She ain' no wolf--she dog! Bye-m-bye
she ron back in _igloo_. Ol' Sen-nick him say dat bad medicine--but me,
I ain' care 'bout de Innuit medicine, an' I fol' de dog. I start to
crawl een de _igloo_ an' dat dog she growl lak she gon eat me oop. I
com' back an' mak' de snare an' pull her out, an' I gon' on een, an' I
fin' wan leetle pup. He ees de gran pup. Him look lak de beeg white wolf
an' I ketch um. Een de snow w'ere de roof cave een sticks out som'
seal-skin _mukluks_. Lays a dead man dere. I tak hol' an' try to pull um
out but she too mooch froze. So I quit try an' lef' heem dere."

"Was it a white man?" cried Connie.

'Merican Joe shook his head: "I ain' know--I can't pull heem out. Dat
good plac' to lef' heem anyhow. He frooze lak' de iron. I hont roun' an'
he ain' lef' no grub. Him starve an' freeze, an' hees dogs is all dead
but wan, an' she mate oop wit' de beeg white wolf. I giv' ol' Sen-nick
de dog an' I kep' de pup. See, Leloo ees de pup. Mos' two year ol'--an'
de bes' sled dog een all de worl'!"

As Connie watched 'Merican Joe refill his pipe he thought how near
history had come to repeating itself. The boy studied Leloo as he lay
quiet upon the edge of the blanket. He had heard of the great white
wolves that inhabit the drear lone lands that lie beyond the arctic
coast--larger even than the grey caribou wolves of the barren lands. He
knew, now, that these stories were true.

"You called Leloo a dog," he said, "but he's only half dog, and sometime
he may turn wolf."

'Merican Joe shrugged: and eyed the great wolf-dog sombrely: "No, him
ain' never turn wolf--Leloo. Him half-wolf--half-dog, but de wolf an' de
dog ain' separat', lak de front legs, an' de hin' legs. De wolf an' de
dog is mix', lak de color een de hair. You savvy? Leloo ain' never all
wolf--an' he ain' never all dog. All de tam' he wolf an' dog mix'."

Connie nodded eagerly. "I see!" he answered, and his thoughts flew to
the great brute he had seen only a few hours before running at the head
of the wolf pack. No hint of the dog in that long-drawn wolf-howl that
had brought him tensely erect in his tent and started the hair roots to
prickling along his scalp, and no hint of the dog in the silent slashes
with which he had resented the crowding of the pack. And yet a few
moments later he had defended his helpless master from that same wolf
pack--and in defending him with the devotion of the dog, he had ripped
with the peculiar flank-slash that is the death thrust of the wolf.
Later, in the tent, he had fawned dog-like upon his master--but,
wolf-like, the fawning had been soundless.

"You know Leloo well," he said.

'Merican Joe smiled: "I raised heem from de pup. I learn heem to pull.
He ees de gran' leader. I train heem to hont de caribou--de moose--de
deer. I show you som' tam. He kin fight--kill any dog--any wolf. He ain'
never git tire. He work all day lak de dog--an' all night mebbe-so he
ron wit' de wolf-pack."

"You say you've been over east of the Mackenzie; is there gold over
there?"

"I ain' see no gold."

"I'm going over there."

"W'en you go?"

"Just as soon as I can get an outfit together."

"Me--I'm goin' 'long."

"Going along! Will you go?"

'Merican Joe nodded: "You _skookum tillicum_. 'Merican Joe, she
dead--she starve--she froze--you com' 'long, mak' de fire--give de
grub--I ain' dead no mor'. I go 'long."

"Do you think there's a good chance to prospect over there? What's the
formation?"

"I ain' know mooch 'bout dat, w'at you call, fo'mation. Plent'
riv--plent' crick. Mebbe-so plent' gol'--I ain' know. But, on de barrens
is Injuns. W'en I com' way from de Innuit, I fin' um. Dey got plent'
fur. Eef you got nuff stake for tradin' outfit you mak' de beeg
money--you ain' care eef de gol' aint' dere."

"You meaning trading with the Indians--free trading?"

"Yes--de free traders skin 'em--dey cheat 'em--an' sell de hooch----"

"But--the Hudson's Bay Company! How about them?"

"De H.B.C. all right--but dey ain' go out after de Injun. Dey got de
reg'lar post. De Injun got to mush mebbe-so mor' as hondre mile--two
hondre. _Spose_ de free traders ketch um firs'. De Injun never git to de
post. You got nuff for de stake?"

Connie laughed: "Yes, I've got enough for the stake, all right. But I'm
not so keen for the trading outfit. We can take along some traps,
though, and if there isn't any gold--we'll take out some fur. And,
you'll sure go with me? When can you start?"

The Indian glanced out of the low door. "It daylight--le's go."

"But, how about the Kuskokwim?"

'Merican Joe shrugged. "Kuskokwim kin wait. She ain' no good. Me--I'm
stay 'long wit' you. You pay me wages w'at you want. I good man--me. You
wait--I show you. You good man, too. I seen plent' good man--plent' bad
man--I know--me."

The Indian reached out his hand, and Connie shook it--and thus was the
bargain struck.

"Will you sell Leloo?" asked the boy.

The Indian shook his head: "No!"

"Five hundred dollars?"

"No! Fi' hondre dolla--fi't'ousan' dolla--no!" The Indian crawled out
the door followed by Connie and Leloo. Going to the sled, 'Merican Joe
picked up a loop of _babiche_ line and threw it about Leloo's neck. He
handed the end of the line to Connie. "Leloo heem you dog," he said.

"What!" cried the boy.

"Heem b'long you--I giv' heem----"

"No! No! Let me buy him."

The Indian drew himself erect: "I ain' sell Leloo. You giv' me my
life--I giv' you Leloo. Me--'Merican Joe good man. You good man. Wan
good man wit' anodder. It ees frien's."

So Connie Morgan took the line from the hand of 'Merican Joe and as his
eyes rested upon the superb lines of the great silver brute, his heart
thrilled with the knowledge that he was the possessor of the greatest
wolf-dog in all the North.



CHAPTER III

NERVE


On the morning after Connie Morgan had hit the trail for the avowed
purpose of capturing the huge wolf-dog that had been reported on Spur
Mountain, his big partner, Waseche Bill, lighted his pipe and gazed
thoughtfully through the window of the little log office which was
situated on the bank of Ten Bow Creek, overlooking the workings. His
eyes strayed from the intricate system of pipes and flumes to the cloud
of white vapour that rose from the shaft house where the never-tiring
steam-point drills forced their way slowly down, down, down into the
eternal frost.

"Jest three years ago since me and the kid staked this valley," he
mused. "An' now we're rich--an' I'm an 'office miner' with a game laig,
an' more gold than I could spend if I lived to be as old as Methooslum."

His glance strayed to the modern building across the creek with its
iron roof, and white painted siding. In this building, erected a month
before, were the general offices of the partners, the construction and
hydraulic engineers, the chemist, the purchasing agent, the paymaster,
the bookkeeper, and a score of clerks and stenographers.

There, also, Waseche Bill had had his own office, as general manager of
the mine, but after an uncomfortable four weeks of hardwood floors,
ground glass doors, and polished desk tops, he moved his office into the
one-roomed log cabin across the creek, and upon this, the first day of
his installation in his new quarters, he grinned happily out of the
window as he watched Cain, the construction engineer, wallow through the
new-fallen snow and climb the slippery bank, on his first trip of
consultation. And Waseche's grin widened as he heard the engineer
endeavouring to remove the snow and sticky mud from his boots before
entering.

"Stomp 'em off inside, Cain," he called. "The floor's solider, an'
you'll have better luck."

"Beastly place for an office!" growled the engineer, as he unrolled a
blue print, spread it upon the rough pine desk, and glanced with
disapproval about the room. "Your office in the main building was so
much more convenient."

"Yup," answered Waseche. "That was the trouble. About every five minutes
in would pop one of you birds an' pester me with some question or
'nother. What I hire you-all for is to get results. What do I care
whether you use a double-jointed conniption valve, or a reverse English
injector on the donkey engine, so you get the water into them sluices?
Or what do I care whether the bookkeeper keeps all the accounts
separate, or adds gum-boots, an' cyanide, an' sandpaper, an' wages all
up in one colyumn? Or whether the chemist uses peroxide of magentum, or
sweet spirits of rawhide, so he gits the gold? The way it is now,
you-all's goin' to do a little figgerin' fer yourself before you'll wade
through the water an' mud, or waller through the snow, to git over here.
An' besides I cain't think right without I can rare back with my feet on
the table an' my back ag'in' a good solid log wall."

Cain, who understood and loved his employer, chuckled heartily. A few
minutes later he rolled up the blue print and buttoned his mackinaw. "By
the way, Waseche," he said, with his hand in the door latch, "I'm
sending you over a stenographer----"

"_Me_ one!" cried Waseche Bill in alarm.

"Yes, you need one. Be reasonable, and let me talk for a minute. Here
you are, one of the gold magnates of Alaska, and a lot of the
correspondence that comes in you've got to handle yourself. You know
your spelling and Mr. Webster's don't always agree, and your handwriting
is almost illegible in pencil--and worse in ink----"

"Well, ain't we got a half dozen stenographers now?"

"Yes, but they're all up to their ears in work, and we've been paying
them overtime to transcribe your scrawls into readable English. So I
heard of this fellow in Fairbanks, and sent for him. He came in
yesterday, with Black Jack Demeree's mail team." Cain's eyes twinkled as
he paused and grinned. "He's only been in the country a few weeks--a
rank _chechako_--but try to put up with him, because stenographers are
hard to get and he seems to be a good one. I'll send him over with a
couple of men to carry his outfit. I thought I ought to break the news
to you----"

"An' I ort to break your neck," growled Waseche. "But send him
along--mebbe my spellin' an', as the fellow says, chiropody, aint what
it ort to be--anyway we'll try him."

A few minutes later the door opened and a couple of miners entered with
a chair and a table, upon which they deposited a typewriter. Waseche
glared as the miners withdrew, and a young man of twenty-one or-two
stepped into the room. He was a tall, pale young man with store clothes
and nose glasses. Waseche continued to glare as the newcomer addressed
him:

"Is this Mr. Antrim? I'm the new stenographer. You were expecting me,
sir?"

Waseche eyed him from top to toe, and shook his head in resignation.
"Well--almost, from what Cain said--but not quite. Was you born in
servitude?"

The newcomer shifted his weight to the other foot. "Sir?" he asked,
doubtfully.

Waseche deliberately filled his pipe and, tilting his chair against the
wall, folded his arms. "Yup--that's what I meant--that 'sir,' an' the
'Mister Antrim.' I ain't no Englishman. I'm an American. I ain't no
'sir,' nor likewise 'mister.' My name's Waseche Bill. It's a good
name--good enough to live by, an' to be called by--an' good enough to
write at the bottom of a check. What's yourn?"

"Percival Lafollette."

"Percival Lafollette," repeated Waseche, gravely rolling the name upon
his tongue. "'Was you in the original Floradora Sextette?"

"Why, no, sir----"

"No what?"

"No--no--" stammered Percival, in confusion.

"That's it--no!--just plain _no_! When you've got that said, you're
through with that there partic'lar train of thought."

"No--they were girls--the Floradora Sextette."

"So they was," agreed Waseche, solemnly. "Did you bring the mail over?"

"Yes, s--yes, here it is." He placed a handful of letters on the pine
table that served as Waseche's desk.

"All right, just take off your cloak an' bonnet, an' pry the lid off
that there infernal machine, an' we'll git to work."

A few minutes later the new stenographer stood at attention, notebook in
hand. Waseche Bill, who had been watching him closely, noted that he
shivered slightly, as he removed his overcoat, and that he coughed
violently into a handkerchief. Glancing into the pale face, he asked
abruptly: "Sick--lunger?"

Percival nodded, and Waseche motioned him close, and when he stood at
his side reached out and unbuttoned his vest, then his thin shirt, and
took his undershirt between his thumb and finger. Then he snorted in
disgust. "Look a-here, young fellow, you an' me might's well have it
out. I aint' a-goin' to have no lunger workin' fer me!"

At the words, the other turned a shade paler, buttoned his clothing, and
reached for his overcoat.

"Come back here! Where you goin'?"

"Why--I thought----"

"You ain't hired to think. I've got a shanty full of thinkers over
acrost the crick. You're hired to spell. An' after a while you'll learn
that you'll know more about what I'm sayin' if you wait till I git
through. In the first place, fire that there book an' pencil over in the
corner, an' put on your coat an' hat an' hit over to Scotty MacDougall's
store an' tell him to give you a reg'lar man's outfit of clothes. No
wonder you're a lunger; dressin' in them hen-skins! Git plenty of good
thick flannel underwear, wool socks, _mukluks_, a couple of pairs of
good britches, mackinaw, cap, mittens, sheep-lined overcoat--the whole
business, an' charge 'em up to me. You didn't come through from
Fairbanks in them things?"

"Yes, Mr. Demeree----"

"You mean Black Jack?"

"Yes, Black Jack loaned me a parka."

"Well, git now--an' put them new duds on, an' come back here, pausin'
only long enough to stick them hen-skins in the stove--shoes, overcoat,
an' the whole mess. You're in a man's country, now, son," continued
Waseche in a kindly tone. "An' you've got to look like a man--an' act
like a man--an' _be_ a man. You've got a lot to live down--with a name
like that--an' a woman's job--an' a busted lung--an' a servant's
manners. I never seen anyone quite so bad off to start with. What you'll
be in a year from now is up to you--an' me. I guarantee you'll have good
lungs, an' a man's name--the rest is fer you to do. Git, now--an' hurry
back."

The young man opened his lips, but somehow the words would not come,
and Waseche interrupted him. "By the way, did you tell anyone your name
around here?" he asked.

The other shook his head, and as he turned to get his overcoat a
commotion drew both to the window. A dog team was climbing the creek
bank. Connie Morgan was driving, urging the dogs up the deep slope, and
on the sled was an Indian wrapped in blankets. Neither Connie nor the
Indian received more than a passing glance, for in the lead of the team,
sharp pointed muzzle low to the ground and huge shoulders heaving into
the harness, was the great wolf-dog that Connie had found guarding the
unconscious form of his master from the attack of the wolf pack. A cry
escaped the stenographer's lips and even Waseche gasped as he took in
the details of the superb animal.

Percival instinctively drew closer. "It's--it's--the great wolf we saw
on the trail! Black Jack Demeree said he'd never seen his like. Oh, he
can't get in here, can he?"

Waseche shook the speaker roughly by the shoulder. "Yes--he can," he
answered. "He'll be in here in just about a minute--an' here's where
you start bein' a man. Don't you squinch back--if he eats you up! The
next ten minutes will make or break you, for good an' all." And hardly
were the words out of his mouth than the door burst open and Connie
entered the office, closely followed by the Indian and Leloo, the great
ruffed wolf-dog.

"I got him, Waseche!" he cried. "He's mine! I'll tell you all about it
later--this is 'Merican Joe."

The Indian nodded and grinned toward the boy.

"_Skookum tillicum_," he grunted.

"You bet!" assented Waseche, and as Connie led the great dog to him, the
man laid his hand on the huge ruff of silvered hair.

"Some dog, son," he said. "The best I ever seen." He flashed a swift
glance at Percival who stood at his side, and saw that his face was
white as death, that his lips were drawn into a thin, bloodless line,
and that little beads of sweat stood out like dew on the white brow. But
even as he looked, the stenographer stretched out his hand and laid it
on the great dog's head, and he, too, stroked the silvery hair of the
great ruff.

Waseche, noticing that Connie cast an inquiring glance at the newcomer,
introduced him, abruptly: "Son, this here's Roarin' Mike O'Reilly, from
over on the Tanana. He's our new stenographer, an' while he goes an'
gits on his reg'lar clothes, you an' me an' the Injun will knock off fer
noon, an' go over to the cabin."

During the preparation of the midday meal Connie told Waseche of how he
had found 'Merican Joe, starved and unconscious in his little
snow-covered shelter tent, and of how, out of gratitude, the Indian had
presented him with Leloo. Waseche eyed the great ruffed animal sombrely,
as Connie dwelt upon his curiously mixed nature--how he ran the ridges
at night at the head of the wolf pack, and of how, ripping and slashing,
he had defended his helpless master against the fangs of those same
wolves.

"Well, son," he drawled, when the boy had concluded, "he's the finest
brute I ever seen--barrin' none. But keep your eye on him. If he ever
gits his dates mixed--if he ever turns wolf when he'd ort to be
dog--_good-night_!"

"I'll watch him," smiled the boy. "And, Waseche, where do you think
'Merican Joe came from?"

"Well," grinned his big partner, "fetchin' such a lookin' brute-beast as
that along with him--I'd hate to say."

"He came from beyond the Mackenzie! He knows the country."

"That's prob'ly why he come away," answered Waseche, dryly.

"But he's going back--he's going with me. We're going to hit the trail
for Dawson tomorrow, and hit across the mountains by way of Bonnet Plume
Pass, and outfit at Fort Norman on the Mackenzie, and then strike out
for the eastern end of Great Bear Lake, and the barren grounds. We're
going to trap the rest of the winter and next summer we're going to
prospect and figure on starting a trading post. We've got it all worked
out."

"Oh, jest like that, eh? It ort to be right smart of a little ja'nt.
With nothin' between Dawson an' Fort Norman--an' nothin' beyond."

"We might make another strike. And if we don't we can trap."

"Yup, that's a great idee--that trappin'. If you both work like a dog
all winter out in them there barren lands, an' freeze an' starve, an'
have good luck with your traps, you'd ort to clean up as much as two
dollars a day."

"But look at the country we'd see! And the fun we'd have!"

"Ain't they country enough to see here in Alaska? An' as fer fun--some
folks idee of humour gits me! Who ever heard of anyone goin' 'leven
hundred miles into nowheres for to have fun? I tell you, son, I've
know'd stampedes to start on mighty slim information, but never as slim
as what you've got. I read your book, an' all them old parties had to go
on was the stories of some Injuns--an' the whole mess of 'em's be'n dead
most two hundred years! An' I think the book's a fake, anyhow--'cause I
don't believe gold's been invented that long! No, sir, take it from me,
it's the dog-gonedest wild goose chase ever undertook by anyone--but, at
that--if it wasn't for this game laig of mine, I b'lieve I'd go 'long!"

After dinner Connie started to overhaul his trail outfit while Waseche
looked on. After a while the man rose, and put on his mackinaw.

"I've got to go back to the office," he said. "Me an' Roarin' Mike
O'Reilly has got to tackle that mail."

Connie shot his big partner a long, sidewise glance. "He must be some
rough bird to earn a name like that over on the Tanana."

"Rough as pig iron," answered Waseche solemnly. "He eats 'em alive,
Roarin' does."

"What--pancakes?"

"Yup--pancakes, an' grizzlies. Roarin' Mike, he takes 'em as they come.
Didn't you see him lay holt of your wolf-dog?"

"Yes," answered the boy, as solemn as an owl. "And I don't like folks to
be so rough with Leloo."

"He promised he wouldn't hurt your dog when we seen you comin' up the
hill."

"It's a good thing you've got him where you can keep your eye on him. If
he ever gets loose he's liable to run the crew off the works."

"Yup. I'll watch out for that. He's a stenographer. It's claimed he kin
spell--better'n what I kin. An' when he gits a letter wrote down, it kin
be read without a jury."

"I think you've picked a winner, at that, Waseche. I was watching him
when he put out his hand to touch Leloo. He would rather have shoved it
into the fire. There's something to him, even if the names did get mixed
on the package when they shipped him in. I suppose that somewhere over
on the Tanana there's a big, red-eyed, double-fisted roughneck charging
around among the construction camps packing a name like 'Nellie.'"

Waseche grinned. "Percival Lafollette, to be exact. I furnished the
Roarin' Mike O'Reilly part, along with a full an' complete outfit of
men's wearin' apparel. When he gets to where he can live up to the
Roarin' Mike name, he can discard it an' take back his own. Might's well
give the boy a chanct. Cain thought he'd put it over on me, 'count of my
movin' my office where he'd have to waller acrost the crick to it. But
I'll fool him good an' proper. The kid's a lunger, an' the first thing
to do is to git him started in to feelin' like a man. I figured they was
somethin' to him when I first seen him. If they wasn't, how did he get
up here in the middle of Alaska an' winter comin' on--an' nothin'
between him an' freezin' but them hen-skin clothes? An' I was watchin',
too, when he laid his hand on the dog's head. He was so scairt that the
sweat was jest a-bubblin' out of him--an' yet, he retch out an' done
like I done--an' believe me, I wasn't none too anxious to fool with that
brute, myself. I done it to see if he would. I'm goin' to take holt an'
make a reg'lar man out of him. I figger we kin git through the office
work by noon every day. If we don't, them birds over in the thinkers'
shack is in for more overtime. In the afternoons I'm goin' to keep him
out in the air--that's all a lunger needs--plenty air, an' good grub.
We'll tromp around the hills and hunt. We'll be a pair to draw to--him
with his busted lungs, an' me with my game laig. We was all _chechakos_
onct. They's two kinds of _chechakos_--the ones with _nerve_ an' the
ones with _brass_. The ones with the real nerve is the kind that stays
in the big country. But the other kind of _chechakos_--the ones with
brass--the bluff an' bluster--the counterfeit nerve that don't fool no
one but theirself--the luckiest thing that can happen to them is they
should live long enough to git back to the outside where they come
from--an' most of 'em's lucky if they live long enough to starve to
death."

"I guess he's the first kind," opined Connie. "When I come back I
expect he'll be a regular sourdough."

"When you're gone I reckon I'll jest have him move his traps up here. I
won't be so lonesome, an' I can keep cases on him----"

"But--" interrupted Connie.

Waseche divined his thoughts and shook his head. "No, they ain't no
danger. My lungs is made of whang leather, an' besides, he ain't no
floor spitter--I watched him in the office. Even if he was it wouldn't
take mor'n about a minute to break him of that."

By nightfall Connie and 'Merican Joe had the outfit all ready for the
trail, and the following morning they departed at daylight, with half of
Ten Bow waving good-bye, as the great silver wolf-dog swung out onto the
long snow trail at the head of the team.



CHAPTER IV

BRASS


It was high noon, just two weeks from the day Connie Morgan and 'Merican
Joe pulled out of Ten Bow, and the two halted their dogs on the summit
of Bonnet Plume Pass and gazed out over the jumbled mass of peaks and
valleys and ridges that lay to the eastward. The first leg of the long
snow trail, from Ten Bow to Dawson, had been covered over a
well-travelled trail with road houses at convenient intervals. Over this
trail with Connie's team of seven big malamutes, headed by the great
ruffed wolf-dog, they had averaged forty miles a day.

At Dawson they outfitted for the trip to Fort Norman, a distance of
about five hundred miles. Connie was fortunate in being able to purchase
from a prospector eight Mackenzie River dogs which he presented to
'Merican Joe, much to the Indian's surprise and delight. The Alaska
sled was replaced by two toboggans, and 'Merican Joe nodded approval at
Connie's selection of supplies. For from now on there would be no road
houses and, for the most of the way, no trail. And their course would
thread the roughest country on the whole continent. Therefore, the
question of outfitting was a problem to be taken seriously. Too little
grub in the sub-arctic in winter means death--horrible, black-tongued,
sunken-eyed death by starvation and freezing. And too much outfit means
overstrain on the dogs, slower travel, and unless some of it is
discarded or _cached_, it means all kinds of trouble for the trail
mushers.

The surest test of a sourdough is his outfit. Connie figured the trip
should take thirty-five days, which should put them into Fort Norman on
the fifth of November. But Connie had been long enough in the North to
take that word "should" none too literally. He knew that under very
favourable conditions the trip might be made in twenty days, and he knew
also that it might take fifty days. Therefore although the month was
November, a very favourable month for hunting, and the country to be
traversed was good game country, he did not figure his rifle for a
single pound of meat. If meat were killed on the journey, well and good.
But if no meat were killed, and if they lost their way, or encountered
blizzard after howling blizzard, and their journey lengthened to fifteen
or twenty days beyond the estimated time, Connie was determined that it
should also be well and good.

He remembered men who had been found in the spring and
buried--_chechakos_, most of them who had disregarded advice, and whose
outfits had been cut down to a minimum that allowed no margin of safety
for delay. But some of them had been sourdoughs who had taken a chance
and depended on their rifles for food--it had been the same in the end.
In the spring the men who buried them read the whole story of the
wilderness tragedy in visiting their last few camps. Each day the
distance between them shortened, here a dog was killed and eaten, here
another, and another, until at the very last camp, half buried in the
sodden ashes of the last fire, would be found the kettle with its scraps
of moccasins and bits of dog harness shrivelled and dried--moccasin
soup, the very last hopeless expedient of the doomed trail musher. And
generally the grave was dug beside this fire--never far beyond it.

And so Connie added a safety margin to the regular sub-arctic standard
of grub for the trail, and when the outfit pulled out of Dawson the
toboggans carried three and one half pounds of grub apiece for each of
the thirty-five days, which was a full half pound more than was needed,
and this, together with their outfit of sleeping bags, clothing,
utensils, and nine hundred pounds of dog food, totalled thirteen hundred
and fifty pounds--ninety pounds to the dog, which with good dogs is a
comfortable load.

The summit of the Bonnet Plume pass is a bleak place. And dreary and
bleak and indescribably rugged is the country surrounding it. Connie and
'Merican Joe, seated in the lee of their toboggans, boiled a pot of tea
over the little primus stove.

"We've made good time so far," said the boy. "About three hundred miles
more and we'll hit Fort Norman."

'Merican Joe nodded. "Yes, but we got de luck. On dis side we ain' gon'
hav' so mooch luck. Too mooch plenty snow--plenty win'. An' tonight,
mor' comin'." He indicated the sky to the northward, where, beyond the
glittering white peaks, the blue faded to a sullen grey.

"You're right," answered Connie, dropping a chunk of ice into his cup of
scalding tea. "And I'd sure like to make a patch of timber. These high,
bare canyons are rotten places to camp in a blizzard. If you camp in the
middle of 'em you've got to tie yourself down or the wind might hang you
on a rock somewhere, and if you camp out of the wind against a wall, a
snow cornice might bust loose and bury you forty feet deep."

'Merican Joe grinned. "You sourdough--you know. I know you sourdough
w'en I seen you han'le de dogs--an' I know w'en you buy de grub. But
mos' I know w'en you pack de toboggan--you ain' put all de grub on wan
toboggan an' all de odder stuff on de odder toboggan----"

Connie laughed. "Lots of men have made that mistake. And then if they
get separated one dies of starvation, and the other freezes to death, or
if they lose one toboggan they're in the same fix."

'Merican Joe returned the dishes and stove to the pack and glanced at
the sky. "I ain' t'ink we mak' de timber tonight. She git dark queek
now--seven, eight mile mor' we got to camp."

"Yes," assented Connie. "And the days are getting so short that from now
on we'll quit camping at noon. We'll pull once and make a day of
it--anyway till we get a moon."

[Illustration: "In the whirling blizzard, without protection of timber,
one place was as good as another to camp, and while the Indian busied
himself with the dogs, Connie proceeded to dig a trench in the snow."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

To this plan the Indian readily agreed and a moment later struck out
ahead as "forerunner" to break trail for the dogs. Despite the fact that
there was more snow on the eastern slope, the two soon found it
insufficient to check the toboggans upon the series of steep pitches and
long slopes they now encountered. At the end of a mile a halt was made,
Connie's dogs were turned loose to follow, both toboggans were hitched
behind the Mackenzie River dogs, and while 'Merican Joe plodded ahead,
Connie had all he could do at the tail rope. An hour later the wind
suddenly changed and came roaring out of the north. The whole sky became
overcast and stinging particles of flinty snow were driven against their
faces. The storm increased in fury. The stinging particles changed to
dry, powdery snow dust that whirled and eddied about them so thickly
that Connie could not see the dogs from the rear of the toboggans.
Covering their noses and mouths, the two bored on through the white
smother--a slow moving, ghostly procession, with the snow powder matted
thick into the hairy coats of the dogs and the clothing of the mushers.
Not until darkness added to the impenetrability of the storm did
'Merican Joe halt. In the whirling blizzard, without protection of
timber, one place was as good as another to camp, and while the Indian
busied himself with the dogs Connie proceeded to dig a trench in the
snow. This trench was as long as the toboggans, and wide enough to
accommodate the two sleeping bags placed side by side. Three feet down
the boy struck ice. The sleeping bags, primus stove, and part of the
food were dumped into the trench. The loaded toboggans were tipped on
edge, one along either side, and the heavy canvas shelter tarp was
stretched over these and weighted down by doubling its edges under the
toboggans. The open ends were blocked with snow, the dogs fed and left
to make their own beds, and the two crawled into their snug quarters
where by the light of a candle they prepared a good hot meal on the
little stove and devoured it in warmth and comfort while the storm
roared harmlessly over their heads.

For two days they were storm bound, venturing out only to feed the dogs
and from time to time to relieve the tarp roof of its burden of snow.
The third day dawned cold and clear, and daylight found the outfit on
the move. They were following a creek bed, and the depth of the snow,
together with the easing of the slope, permitted the use of both teams.
No halt was made at noon and when they camped at dark they estimated
they had made fifteen miles. Five days of fair cold weather followed and
each night found them from fifteen to eighteen miles from the camp of
the night before. No game had been sighted, but on two of the nights
Leloo had left camp, and once, from some ridge far to the northward,
they had heard his long-drawn howl of the kill.

On the sixth day another storm broke. They were following the
snow-covered bed of a fair-sized river which Connie hoped would prove to
be the head-waters of the Gravel, which empties into the Mackenzie some
forty-five miles above Fort Norman. They had left the highest mountains
behind, and patches of timber appeared at frequent intervals along the
banks of the stream. As the storm thickened they camped, setting up
their tent in the shelter of a thicket, and in the morning they pushed
on despite the storm. It was nearly noon when Connie called to 'Merican
Joe, and when the Indian made his way back, the boy pointed to Leloo.
The great wolf-dog had halted in the traces and stood with nose up
sniffing the air, while the huge ruff seemed to swell to twice its size,
and the hair along its spine bristled menacingly.

They had stopped opposite a patch of timber taller than any they had
passed, the tops of the trees being visible between the gusts of
whirling snow. "Moose or a bear in there," ventured Connie. "Let's go
get him."

'Merican Joe shook his head. "No. Leloo, he ketch de man scent. He ain'
ac' lak dat for moose an' bear."

"Man scent! What would any men be doing up here?"

The Indian shrugged. "Hunt, trap, mebbe-so prospeck. Com' on, le's go.
It ain' no good we go in dere." He paused and pointed to the dog. "Bad
mans in dere--Leloo, he know. Bad mans smells one way--good mans smells
anudder way. Leloo ain' git mad for good mans."

"We can't go away and leave them," Connie answered. "They may be out of
luck--may need help."

Again 'Merican Joe shrugged, but offered no further objection, and
releasing Leloo from his harness the two followed him into the timber. A
short distance back from the edge they came upon a rude log cabin,
glaringly the work of inexperienced builders. No tracks were seen about
the door, and no smoke rose from the stovepipe that served as a chimney.
'Merican Joe pushed open the door.

"It's 'bout time you was comin'--an' me crippled," came a petulant voice
from the bed. "But what do you care--" The voice ceased suddenly, and
'Merican Joe sprang back from the doorway so swiftly that he knocked
Connie into the snow. As the boy picked up himself he again heard the
voice. "Git out of here, you thievin' Injun or I'll blow yer head off!"

Ignoring the protest of 'Merican Joe, Connie thrust his head in at the
doorway. "What's the matter with you?" he asked, sharply. "Are you
crazy?"

The man in the bed stared a moment and with seeming reluctance lowered
his rifle. "Who're you?" he asked, sullenly. "If you want grub y're out
of luck. We ain't got none to spare--an' I got a rifle here that says
you don't git none of it." Involuntarily, Connie's glance swept the
supplies piled along the walls and upon the shelves, and estimated a
four-man outfit.

"How many of you are there?" he asked. "And why haven't you got a fire?"

"They's two of us, an' I ain't got no fire 'cause my partner ain't
showed up to build none. I'm crippled--sunk an ax in my foot a couple
days back."

"Where is your partner?"

"I dunno. He went to look at the traps yesterday an' he ain't got back
yet." He noticed the snow clinging to Connie's garments. "Is it
snowin'?" he asked, in sudden alarm.

"Snowing!" exclaimed the boy. "Of course it's snowing--it's been snowing
since yesterday noon."

The man's voice dropped into a whine. "The winders is frosted so you
can't see out. I bet he's lost. Go find him, can't you? What're you
standin' there fer?"

Righteous indignation succeeded the flash of disgust engendered by the
man's first words. And Connie stepped closer. "Look here, who do you
think you're talking to? I don't know who you are, and I don't want to.
What I can't figure is how you ever got this far. If nobody else had
bothered to knock some common sense and decency into you it's a wonder
your partner hasn't. But I guess he don't know the difference between
you and a man or he wouldn't be your partner." Connie turned on his heel
and started for the door.

"Hey, where you goin'?" wailed the man on the bunk.

"I'm going out and tend to my dogs," answered the boy.

"Build a fire first, an' cook me some grub! I ain't had nothin' since
yesterday."

"After the dogs," said Connie as he banged the door behind him.

"Le's mush," said 'Merican Joe, when they returned to the dogs.

Connie grinned. "No, we can't do that. I've seen some pretty raw
_chechakos_, but never one like him. If we pulled out they'd probably
both die."

'Merican Joe gave an expressive shrug. "_S'pose_ we ain't got no grub.
He ain' care _we_ die."

"No, but we're men, and he----"

"He ain' so good lak Injun dog," interrupted 'Merican Joe.

"Just about--but we can't go off and leave him, at that."

Twenty minutes later Connie and the Indian entered the cabin.

"You took yer time about it," complained the man. "Hustle around now an'
cook me up a meal of vittles."

"Where's your firewood?" asked the boy, smothering his wrath.

"Go out an' cut it, same as we do."

"Don't you keep any ahead, nor any kindlings?"

"Naw, it's bad enough to cut a little at a time."

Connie's glance sought the room. "Where's the ax?"

"Out in the brush, I guess. My partner cut the wood last. I don't know
where he left it."

"Well, it's under about two feet of snow now," answered the boy dryly,
as 'Merican Joe departed to get their own ax and cut some wood.

By the time the cabin was warmed and the man fed, the storm had ceased.
"Let me have a look at your foot," said Connie. "I expect it had better
be tended to." The man assented, and the boy turned back the covers and,
despite much groaning and whining complaint, removed the bandage and
replaced it with a clean one.

"Pretty bad gash," opined Connie. "How did it happen?"

"Cuttin' firewood--holdin' the stick with my foot an' the ax struck a
knot."

"You've got to learn a lot, haven't you?"

"What d'you mean--learn? How you goin' to cut firewood without you hold
it with yer foot?"

"Nex' tam dat better you hol' de chunk wit' you neck," advised 'Merican
Joe.

"Is that so! Well, believe me, I ain't takin' no advise offen no Siwash,
nor no kid, neither!"

Connie pulled his cap down over his ears and drew on his mackinaw and
mittens. "We're wasting time here, the days are short and if we're going
to find your partner we've got to get at it. How long is your trap
line, and where does it run?"

"We got about twenty-five martin traps out. They're acrost the river up
the first crick--strung along about three or four mile."

"Twenty-fi' trap! Three or four mile!" exclaimed 'Merican Joe. "How long
you be'n here?"

"Just a month. What's the matter with that? We've got eight martin an' a
wolverine an' a link!"

The Indian gave a snort of contempt. "Me--if I ain' set mor' trap as dat
every day I ain' t'ink I done nuttin'." He followed Connie to the door.

"You might's well move yer junk in here if you got your own grub. You
kin keep the fire goin' nights in case Tom don't show up, an' besides I
ain't had no one to talk to fer goin' on two months except Tom, an' we
don't git on none too good."

"Thanks," said Connie. "But we'll put up the tent when we come
back--we're a little particular, ourselves."

"They ain't no use of both of you goin' out to hunt him. One of you stay
here and tend the fire, an' cook supper in case the other one don't git
back in time."

Connie glared at the man for a moment, and burst out laughing. "If you
had a little more nerve and a whole lot less _brass_, there might be
some hope for you yet," he opined. "Did your partner have any dogs with
him?"

"Naw, we had six when we come in, but they was worked down skin pore
when we got here, an' some of 'em died, an' the rest run off. They
wasn't no good, nohow."

Connie banged the door in disgust and, taking Leloo with them, the two
struck across the river. They found the creek without difficulty and had
proceeded scarcely a mile when Leloo halted in his tracks and began
sniffing the air. This time the hair of his neck and spine did not
bristle, and the two watched him as he stood, facing a spruce-covered
hill, his head moving slightly from side to side, as his delicate
pointed nostrils quivered as if to pick up some elusive scent. "Go on,
Leloo. Go git um!" urged 'Merican Joe, and the wolf-dog trotted into the
spruce, followed by Connie and the Indian. Halfway up the slope the dog
quickened his pace, and coming suddenly upon a mound in the new-fallen
snow circled it several times and squatted upon his haunches. It took
Connie and the Indian but a few moments to scrape away the snow and
disclose the skinned carcass of a moose.

'Merican Joe pointed to the carcass. "It be'n snowin' quite a w'ile w'en
he skin de moose. He ain' goin' carry dat hide far. She heavy. He ain'
know nuttin' 'bout skinnin', an' lef' lot of meat stick to de hide. He
start hom' an' git los'."

"Lost!" exclaimed Connie. "Surely he wouldn't get lost within a mile of
his cabin!"

'Merican Joe nodded. "Him _chechako_--git los' anywheres. Git los'
somtam w'en she snowin' bad, hondre steps from cabin. Me--I know. One
git los' an' froze dead, wan tam, he go for water not so far you kin
t'row de stone."

"Well, he's probably home by this time. If he was lost he'd camp, and
he's had plenty of time since it stopped snowing."

The Indian was not so hopeful. "No, I'm t'ink he ain' got sense 'nough
to camp. He walk an' git scare, an' den he mebbe-so run till he fall
down."

"He won't do much running with that hide," grinned Connie. "Let's
separate and hunt for him. Come, Leloo--go find him!"

The two continued to the top of the timbered slope. "I don't see how
anyone could possibly get lost here. Surely he would know enough to go
down hill to the creek, and follow it to the river, wouldn't he?"

"No, w'en dey git scairt dey don't know up an' down an' crossways."

As the two were about to separate both suddenly paused to listen.
Faintly upon the air, seemingly from miles away, came the call of a
human voice. Leloo heard it too, and with ears stiffly erect stood
looking far out over the ridges. Raising his rifle, Connie fired into
the air, and almost immediately the sound of the shot was answered by
the faint call for help.

"That's funny," cried the boy. "Sound don't travel very fast. How could
he possibly have answered as soon as that?"

Placing his hands to his mouth, 'Merican Joe launched a yell that seemed
fairly to tear through the spaces, echoing and re-echoing across, the
valley.

Again came the answering call, faintly, as from a great distance.
Locating the direction of the sound which seemed to come from somewhere
near the head of a parallel valley, they plunged straight down the
opposite slope. At the bottom they paused again, and again the Indian
sent his peculiar penetrating yell hurtling through the air. Again it
was answered, but this time it came from up the slope. Faintly it
reached their ears, seemingly farther away than before. The sound was
repeated as the two stood looking at each other in bewilderment.

'Merican Joe's eyes seemed bulging from his head. "_Tamahnawus_," he
whispered. "W'at you call, de ghos'. He git froze, an' hees ghos' run
'roun' de hills an' yell 'bout dat! Me--I'm gon'!" Abruptly the Indian
turned and started as fast as his webs would let him in the direction of
the river.

"Come back here!" cried Connie. "Don't be a fool! There ain't any
_tamahnawuses_--and if there are, I've got the medicine that will lick
'em! I brought one in once that had run a whole tribe of Injuns off
their hunting ground."

'Merican Joe, who had halted at the boy's command, looked dubious. "I
ain' huntin' no _tamahnawus_--I ain' los' none!"

"You come with me," laughed the boy, "and I'll show you your
_tamahnawus_. I've got a hunch that fellow has dropped into a cave or
something and can't get out. And he can't be so very far off either."

With Connie in the lead they ascended the slope in the direction of the
sound which came now from a point upstream from where they had
descended. Once more Leloo paused and sniffed, the hair of his back
bristling. Whatever the object of his attention, it seemed to lie
beneath the outspreading branches of a large spruce. Connie peered
beneath the branches where an oblong of snow appeared to have been
disturbed from under the surface. Even as he looked the sound of a
voice, plain enough now to distinguish the words, reached his ears.

"Git me out of here! Ain't you never comin'? Or be you goin' to leave me
here 'cause I burnt them pancakes?"

"Come on out," called Connie. "What's the matter with you?"

"Come on out! How kin I? Who be you?"

Connie reached the man's side and proceeded to scrape away the snow,
while 'Merican Joe stood at a respectful distance, his rifle at full
cock. "Come on Joe!" the boy called, at length. "Here's your
_tamahnawus_--and it's going to take two of us to get him out."

When the snow had been removed both Connie and the Indian stared in
surprise. There lay the man closely wrapped in his moose skin, fur side
in, and the heavy hide frozen to the hardness of iron!

"I'm all cramped up," wailed the man. "I can't move."

The man was wrapped, head and all, in the frozen hide. Fortunately, he
had left an air space but this had nearly sealed shut by the continued
freezing of his breath about its edges.

Rolling him over the two grasped the edge of the heavy hide and
endeavoured to unroll it, but they might as well have tried to unroll
the iron sheathing of a boiler.

"We've got to build a fire and thaw him out," said Connie.

"Tak' um to de cabin," suggested the Indian. "Kin drag um all same
toboggan."

The plan looked reasonable but they had no rope for a trace line. Connie
overcame the difficulty by making a hole with his hand ax in a flap of
the hide near the man's feet, and cutting a light spruce sapling which
he hooked by means of a limb stub into the hole.

By using the sapling in the manner of a wagon tongue, they started for
the cabin, keeping to the top of the ridge where the snow was shallow
and wind-packed.

All went well until they reached the end of the ridge. A mile back,
where they had ascended the slope, the pitch had not been great, but as
they neared the river the sides grew steeper, until they were confronted
by a three hundred foot slope with an extremely steep pitch. This slope
was sparsely timbered, and great rocks protruded from the snow. Connie
was for retracing the ridge to a point where the ascent was not so
steep, but 'Merican Joe demurred.

[Illustration: "The third day dawned cold and clear, and daylight found
the outfit on the move."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

"It git dark queek, now. We git um down all right. Turn um roun' an'
mak de pole lak de tail rope on de toboggan--we hol' um back easy." The
early darkness was blurring distant outlines and the descent at that
point meant the saving of an hour, so Connie agreed and for the first
twenty yards all went well. Then suddenly the human toboggan struck the
ice of a hillside spring and shot forward. The pole slipped from the
snowy mittens of the two and, enveloped in a cloud of flying snow, the
man in the frozen moose hide went shooting down the slope! Connie and
'Merican Joe barely saved themselves from following him, and, squatting
low on their webs they watched in a fascination of horror as the flying
body struck a tree trunk, shot sidewise, ploughed through the snow,
struck a rock, bounded high into the air, struck another rock and,
gaining momentum with every foot, shot diagonally downward--rolling,
whirling, sliding--straight for the brink of a rock ledge with a sheer
drop of twenty-five or thirty feet. Over the edge it shot and landed
with a loud thud among the broken rock fragments of the valley floor.

"We ought to have gone back!" shuddered the boy. "He's dead by this
time."

'Merican Joe shrugged. "Anyhow, dat com' queek. Dat better as if he lay
back onder de tree an' froze an' starve, an' git choke to deat' w'en his
air hole git froze shut. He got good strong coffin anyhow."

Relieved of their burden it was but the work of a few moments to gain
the floor of the valley and hasten to the form wedged tightly between
two upstanding boulders, where they were greeted by the voice of the
man raised in whining complaint.

"Are you hurt?" eagerly asked Connie, kneeling at the man's side and
looking at him closely.

"Naw, I ain't hurt but can't you pick out no smoother trail? I'm all
jiggled up!" In his relief at finding the man unharmed, Connie
laughingly promised a smoother trail, and as he and the Indian pried him
from between the rocks with a young tree, the boy noted that the frozen
moose hide had scarcely been dented by its contact with the trees and
rocks.

In the cabin the stove was crammed with wood and the man laid upon the
floor close beside it, but it was nearly daylight the following morning
before the hide had thawed sufficiently for the combined efforts of
Connie and the Indian to unroll it. All night the two tended the fire
and listened to the petty bickering and quarrelling of the two helpless
partners, the man in the bunk taunting the other with being a fool for
wrapping up in a green moose hide, and being in turn called a fool for
chopping his own foot. It was disgusting in the extreme to Connie but at
last the humour of the situation got the better of his disgust, and he
roared with laughter, all of which served to bring down the combined
reviling of both men upon his head.

When at last the man was extricated from his prison and found to be
little the worse for his adventure, he uttered no word of thanks to his
rescuers. Indeed, his first words were in the nature of an indirect
accusation of theft.

"Whur's my marten?" he asked, eying them with suspicion.

"What marten? We didn't see any marten," answered the boy.

"Well, I hed one. Tuk it out of a trap just before I seen the moose.
It's funny you didn't see it." Connie answered nothing, and as the man
devoured a huge breakfast without asking his rescuers to join him, he
continued to mutter and growl about his lost marten. Daylight was
breaking and Connie, bottling his wrath behind tight-pressed lips, rose
abruptly, and prepared to depart.

"Whur you goin'?" asked the man, his cheeks distended with food. "You
lay around here soakin' up heat all night; looks like you could anyways
cut a little wood an' help worsh these dishes! An', say, don't you want
to buy some moose meat? I'll sell you all you want fer two-bits a
pound, an' cut it yerself."

For a moment Connie saw red. His fists clenched and he swallowed hard
but once more his sense of humour asserted itself, and looking the man
squarely in the eye he burst into a roar of laughter, while 'Merican
Joe, who possessed neither Connie's self-restraint nor his sense of
humour, launched into an unflattering tirade of jumbled Indian, English,
and jargon, that, could a single word of it have been understood, would
have goaded even the craven _chechakos_ to warfare.

Two hours later, as they sat in their cozy tent, pitched five miles down
the river, and devoured their breakfast, Connie grinned at his
companion.

"Big difference in men--even in _chechakos_, ain't there, Joe?"

"Humph," grunted the Indian.

"No one else within two hundred miles of here--his partner crippled so
he never could have found him if he tried, and he never would have
tried--a few more hours and he would have been dead--we come along and
find him--and he not only don't offer us a meal, but accuses us of
stealing his marten--and offers to _sell_ us moose meat--at two-bits a
pound! I wish some of the men I know could have the handling of those
birds for about a month!"

"Humph! If mos' w'ite men I know got to han'le um dey ain' goin' live no
mont'--you bet!"

"Anyway," laughed the boy, "we've sure learned the difference between
_nerve_ and _brass_!"



CHAPTER V

THE PLAGUE FLAG IN THE SKY


It was nearly noon of the day following the departure of Connie Morgan
and 'Merican Joe from the camp of the two _chechakos_.

The mountains had been left behind, and even the foothills had flattened
to low, rolling ridges which protruded irregularly into snow-covered
marshes among which the bed of the frozen river looped interminably. No
breath of air stirred the scrub willows along the bank, upon whose naked
branches a few dried and shrivelled leaves still clung.

'Merican Joe was travelling ahead breaking trail for his dogs and the
boy saw him raise a mittened hand and brush at his cheek. A few minutes
later the Indian thrashed his arms several times across his chest as
though to restore circulation of the blood against extreme cold. But it
was not cold. A moment later the boy brushed at his own cheek which
stung disagreeably as though nipped by the frost. He glanced at the tiny
thermometer that he kept lashed to the front of his toboggan. It
registered zero, a temperature that should have rendered trailing even
without the heavy parkas uncomfortably warm. Connie glanced backward
toward the distant mountains that should have stood out clean-cut and
distinct in the clear atmosphere, but they had disappeared from view
although the sun shone dazzlingly bright from a cloudless sky. A dog
whimpered uneasily, and Connie cracked his whip above the animal's head
and noted that instead of the sharp snap that should have accompanied
the motion, the sound reached his ears in a dull pop--noted, too, that
the dogs paid no slightest heed to the sound, but plodded on
methodically--slowly, as though they were tired. Connie was conscious of
a growing lassitude--a strange heaviness that hardly amounted to
weariness but which necessitated a distinct effort of brain to complete
each muscle move.

Suddenly 'Merican Joe halted and, removing his mitten, drew his bare
hand across his eyes. Connie noticed that the air seemed heavy and dead,
and that he could hear his own breathing and the breathing of the dogs
which had crouched with their bellies in the snow whimpering uneasily.
Wild-eyed, the Indian pointed aloft and Connie glanced upward. There was
no hint of blue in the cloudless sky. The whole dome of the heavens
glared with a garish, brassy sheen from which the sun blazed out with an
unwholesome, metallic light that gleamed in glints of gold from millions
of floating frost spicules. Even as the two stood gazing upward new suns
formed in the burnished sky--false suns that blazed and danced and
leaped together and re-formed.

With a cry of abject terror 'Merican Joe buried his face in his arms and
stood trembling and moaning, "_Hyas skookum kultus tamahnawus--mesahchee
tamahnawus!_" (a very strong bad spirit--we are bewitched). The words
puled haltingly from lips stiff with fright. The next moment the boy was
beside him, thumping him on the back and choking him roughly:

"_Tamahnawus_ nothing!" he cried. "Buck up! Don't be a fool! I've seen
it before. Three years ago--in the Lillimuit, it was. It's the white
death. Waseche and I hid in an ice cave. Tonight will come the strong
cold."

The boy's voice sounded strangely toneless and flat, and when he
finished speaking he coughed. 'Merican Joe's hands had dropped to his
side and he stood dumbly watching as Connie loosened the heavy woollen
muffler from his waist and wound it about the lower half of his face.
"Cover your mouth and don't talk," the boy commanded. "Breathe through
your muffler. We can still travel, but it will be hard. We will be very
tired but we must find shelter--a cave--a cabin--a patch of timber--or
tonight we will freeze--Look! Look!" he cried suddenly, pointing to the
northward, "a mirage!"

Both stared awe-struck as the picture formed rapidly before their eyes
and hung inverted in the brassy sky just above the horizon foreshortened
by the sweep of a low, snow-buried ridge. Both had seen mirages
before--mirages that, like a faulty glass, distorted shapes and
outlines, and mirages that brought real and recognizable places into
view like the one they were staring at in spell-bound fascination. So
perfect in detail, and so close it hung in the heavy, dead air that it
seemed as though they could reach out and touch it--a perfect inverted
picture of what appeared to be a two or three mile sweep of valley, one
side sparsely wooded, and the other sloping gently upward into the same
low-rolling ridge that formed their own northern horizon. Each stunted
tree showed distinctly, and in the edge of the timber stood a cabin,
with the smoke rising sluggishly from the chimney. They could see the
pile of split firewood at its corner and even the waterhole chopped in
the ice of the creek, with its path leading to the door. But it was not
the waterhole, or the firewood, or the cabin itself that held them
fascinated. It was the little square of scarlet cloth that hung limp and
motionless and dejected from a stick thrust beneath the eave of the tiny
cabin. It was a horrible thing to look upon for those two who knew its
significance--that flag glowing like a splotch of blood there in the
brazen sky with the false suns dancing above it.

"The plague flag!" cried Connie.

And almost in the same breath 'Merican Joe muttered:

"De red death!"

[Illustration: "It was a terrible thing to look upon to those two who
knew its significance--that flag glowing like a splotch of blood there
in the brazen sky."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

Even as they spoke the cabin door opened and a man stepped out. His
features were indistinguishable, but both could see that he was a large
man, for his bulk had filled the doorway. He swung a heavy pack to a
toboggan which stood waiting before the door with the dogs in harness.
The next moment the form of a woman appeared in the doorway. She
evidently called to the man, for he halted abruptly and faced about,
shook his fist at her and, turning, resumed his course, while with an
appealing gesture the woman stretched out her arms toward him.

Then rapidly as it had formed, the picture faded and the two awe-struck
watchers stood gazing at the frost spicules that glittered brassily in
the unwholesome light of the false suns.

Once more the Indian buried his face in his arms and muffled, moaning
words fell from his lips: "De red death--de white death! It is
_mesahchee tamahnawus_! We die! We die!"

Again Connie shook him roughly, and meeting with no response, beat his
arms from his face with the loaded butt of his dog whip.

"You're a crazy fool!" cried the boy, with his lips close to the
Indian's ear. "We're _not_ going to die--anyway, not till we've had a
run for our money! We're going to mush! Do you hear? _Mush!_ And we're
going to keep on mushing till we find that cabin! And if you hang back
or quit, I'm going to wind this walrus hide whip around you till I cut
you in strips--do you get it?" And, without another word, the boy
turned, whipped the dogs to their feet, and leaving the river abruptly,
led off straight into the north across the low, snow-covered ridge.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the two brothers Bossuet, Victor, the elder, was loved in the North;
and René was hated. And the reason for this lay in the men themselves.
Both were rivermen--good rivermen--and both laboured each year during
the long days of the summer months, together with many other rivermen,
in working the Hudson's Bay brigade of scows down the three great
connecting rivers to the frozen sea. For between Athabasca Landing and
Fort McPherson lie two thousand miles of wilderness--a wilderness whose
needs are primitive but imperative, having to do with life and death.
And the supplies for this vast wilderness must go in without fail each
year by the three rivers, the Athabasca, the Slave, and the Mackenzie.
These are not gentle rivers flowing smoothly between their banks, but
are great torrents of turbulent waters that rush wildly into the North
in miles upon miles of foaming white water, in sheer cascades, and in
boiling, rock-ribbed rapids. So that the work of the rivermen is man's
work requiring skill and iron nerve, and requiring also mighty muscles
for the gruelling portages where cargoes must be carried piece by piece
over rough foot trails, and in places even the heavy scows themselves
must be man-hauled around cascades.

Seeing the two brothers together, the undiscriminating would
unhesitatingly have picked René, with his picturesque, gaudy attire, his
loud, ever-ready laughter, his boisterous, bull-throated _chansons_, and
his self-confident air, as the typical man of the North. For beside him
Victor, with faded overalls, his sockless feet thrust into worn shoes,
his torn shirt, and his old black felt hat, cut a sorry figure.

But those who know recall the time that old Angus Forgan, the drunken
trader of Big Stone, fell out of a scow at the head of the Rapids of the
Drowned. They will tell you that of the twenty rivermen who witnessed
the accident only two dared to attempt a rescue, and those two were René
and Victor Bossuet. And that René, being the stronger, reached the
struggling man first and, twisting his fingers into his collar, struck
out for a flat shelf of rock that edged the first suck of the rapids.
They will tell you how he reached the rock and, throwing an arm upon its
flat surface, endeavoured to pull himself up; but the grip of the
current upon the two bodies was strong and after two or three attempts
René released his grip on the drowning man's collar and clambered to
safety. Then they will tell you how Victor, who had managed to gain
shore when he saw René reach the rock, plunged in again, straight into
the roaring chute, of how he reached Forgan in the nick of time, of how
the two bodies disappeared completely from view in the foaming white
water, and of how a quarter of a mile below, by means of Herculean
effort and a bit of luck, Victor managed to gain the eddy of a side
channel where he and his unconscious burden whirled round and round
until the rivermen running along the bank managed to throw a rope and
haul them both to safety.

Also, they will tell you of Gaspard Petrie, a great hulking bully of a
man, who called himself "The Grizzly of the Athabasca," whose delight it
was to pick fights and to beat his opponents into unconsciousness with
his fists. And of how the mighty Petrie whose ill fame had spread the
length of the three rivers, joined the brigade once at Fort McMurry and
of how the boisterous René became the bright and shining mark of his
attentions, and of the fight that sent René to the brush before he was
"licked," after which René stood the taunts and insults of "The Grizzly
of the Athabasca" for many days like the craven he was, before the eyes
of all men, until one day Petrie used words that brought insult upon the
mother of René--who was also the mother of Victor. René paid them no
heed but Victor rose from his place beside the fire and slowly removed
his mackinaw and his torn felt hat and, walking over to Petrie, demanded
that he retract the words. "The Grizzly of the Athabasca" eyed him in
astonishment, for Victor had been a figure in the brigade so
insignificant as to have entirely escaped his attention. The ramping one
threw out his huge chest and roared with laughter. "See!" he taunted,
"the weasel defies the bear!" And with that he reached out and with his
thumb and forefinger grasped Victor by the nose and jerked him roughly
toward him.

The next instant the air rushed from his throat in a grunt of agonized
surprise for the violent jerk on his nose seemed to release steel
springs in Victor's body and before Petrie could release his grip both
of Victor's fists and the heel of one shoe had been driven with all the
force of mighty muscles directly into the bully's stomach. The
unexpected onslaught staggered the huge bully, and then began the fight
that ridded the rivers of Gaspard Petrie. In and out flashed the lighter
man, landing a blow here and a kick there--round and round, and in and
out. "The Grizzly of the Athabasca" roared with rage, and struck mighty
blows that, had they landed, would have annihilated his opponent on the
spot but they did not land. Victor seemed tireless and his blows rained
faster and faster as his opponent's defence became slower and slower. At
last, from sheer exhaustion, the heavy arms could no longer guard the
writhing face and instantly Victor began to rain blow after blow upon
eyes and nose and mouth until a few minutes later "The Grizzly of the
Athabasca" collapsed entirely, and whimpering and puling, he retracted
his words, and then amid the frenzied jeers of the rivermen, he made up
his pack and slunk away into the bush--and the fame of Victor Bossuet
travelled the length of the three rivers. Thus it was that Victor became
known as the better man of the two. But it was in the winning of Hélène
Lacompte that he gained his final triumph. René had boasted upon the
rivers that he would marry her,--boastings that reached the ears of the
girl in her father's little cabin on Salt River and caused her to smile.
But as she smiled her thoughts were not of René and his gaudy clothing,
his famous blue _capote_, his crimson scarf, and his long tasselled cap
of white wool--but of Victor--who spoke seldom, but saved his money each
year and refrained from joining in the roistering drinking bouts of the
rivermen.

Then one day at Fort Norman in the hearing of all the rivermen René
boldly told her that he was coming to take her when the scows returned,
and she laughingly replied that when she changed her name from Lacompte,
she would take the name of Bossuet. Whereat René drank deeper, bragged
the more boisterously, and to the envy of all men flaunted his good
fortune before the eyes of the North. But Victor said nothing. He quit
the brigade upon a pretext and when the scows returned Hélène bore the
name of Bossuet. For she and Victor had been married by the priest at
the little mission and had gone to build their cabin upon a little
unnamed river well back from the Mackenzie. For during the long winter
months Victor worked hard at his trap lines, while René drank and
gambled and squandered his summer wages among the towns of the
provinces.

When René heard of the marriage he swore vengeance, for this thing had
been a sore blow to his pride. All along the three rivers men talked of
it, nor did they hesitate to taunt and make sport of René to his face.
He sought to make up in swashbuckling and boasting what he lacked in
courage. So men came to hate him and it became harder and harder for him
to obtain work. At last, in great anger, he quit the brigade altogether
and for two summers he had been seen upon the rivers in a York boat of
his own. The first winter after he left the brigade he spent money in
the towns as usual, so the following summer the source of his income
became a matter of interest to the Mounted Police. Certain of their
findings made it inadvisable for René to appear again in the towns, and
that autumn he spent in the outlands, avoiding the posts, stopping a
day here--a week there, in the cabins of obscure trappers and camping
the nights between, for he dared not show his face at any post. Then it
was he bethought himself of his brother's cabin as a refuge and, for the
time being laying aside thoughts of vengeance, he journeyed there.

He was welcomed by Victor and Hélène and by the very small Victor who
was now nearly a year old. Victor and Hélène had heard of the threats of
vengeance, but knowing René, they had smiled. Was not René a great
boaster? And the very young Victor, who knew nothing of the threats,
thought his big uncle a very brave figure in his blue _capote_, his red
muffler, and his white stocking cap of wool.

René worked willingly enough side by side with Victor upon the trap
line, and with the passing of the days the envy of his brother's lot
grew, and in his heart smouldered a sullen rage. Here was Victor, a man
at whom nobody would look twice in passing, happy and contented with his
little family, untroubled by any haunting fear of the hand of the law,
enjoying the respect of all men, and a veritable hero the length of the
three rivers. And beside him, of his own flesh and blood, was himself,
a bold figure of a man, a roisterer and a poser, who had sought to gain
the admiration and respect of the men of the rivers without earning it,
and who had failed--and failed most miserably. The sullen rage grew in
his heart, and he plotted vengeance by the hour--but his hand was stayed
by fear--fear of Victor and fear of the law.

And so a month passed, and one day as the two brothers finished their
lunch and lighted their pipes upon a log beside a tiny fire, Victor
spoke that which for several days had been passing in his mind: "It has
been good to have you with us, my brother," he began, being a man of
indirect speech.

"The joy has been all mine, I assure you," replied René, wondering what
would come next.

"But three people eat more than two, and I laid in supplies for two to
last until the holiday trading."

"I have no money, but I will leave the pay for my keep at Fort Norman
next summer."

A swift flush of anger reddened the cheek of Victor. "Pay! Who talks of
pay? Think you I would accept pay from my own brother?"

"What then?"

"Only this, you must make the trip to Fort Norman for food. I will give
you a note to McTavish, and the stuff will be charged to me. It is three
days travelling light, and four on the return. You can take my dogs.
They know the trail."

There was a long pause before the younger man spoke. "I cannot go to
Fort Norman. I cannot be seen on the river."

Victor glanced up in surprise. "Why?"

René shifted uneasily. "The police," he answered. "They think I have
broken their law."

"Have you?" The older man's eyes were upon him, and René groped in his
mind for words. "What if I have?" he blurted. "What was I to do? I
cannot work with the brigade. They will not have me. Because I am a
better man than the rest of them, they are jealous and refuse to work
beside me." René rose from the log and began to strut up and down in the
snow, swinging his arms wide and pausing before his brother to tap
himself upon the chest, thrown out so the blue _capote_ swelled like the
breast of a pouter pigeon. "Behold before you one whose excellence in
all things has wrought his ruin. Julius Cæsar was such a man, and the
great Napoleon, and I, René Bossuet, am the third. All men fear me, and
because of my great skill and prodigious strength, all men hate me. They
refuse to work beside me lest their puny efforts will appear as the work
of children. I am the undisputed king of the rivers. Beside me none----"

Victor interrupted with a wave of his hand. "Beside you none will work
because of your bragging!" he exclaimed, impatiently. "You are a good
enough riverman when you mind your business, but there are plenty as
good--and some better. What law have you broken?"

"I have traded _hooch_ upon the rivers."

"And when you found that the men of the Mounted were upon your trail you
came here," continued the older man. "You thought you would be safe here
because the police, knowing of your loud-bawled threats against me,
would think we were mortal enemies."

"You knew of that--of my threats?" gasped René in surprise, "and you
allowed me to stay!"

Victor laughed shortly. "Of course I knew. But what are threats between
brothers? I knew they were but the idle boastings of a braggart. You
would not dare harm me, or mine. You are a great coward, René, and it is
to laugh and not to fear. You strut about like a cock partridge in the
springtime, you clothe yourself with the feathers of the bluejay, and
speak with the tongue of the great grey wolf but your heart is the heart
of the rabbit. But talk gets us nowhere. We will go to the cabin, now.
In the morning I will start for Fort Norman, and you will remain to look
after Hélène and the little Victor." The older man rose and faced his
brother. "And if harm comes to either of them while I am gone _may the
wolves gnaw your bones upon the crust of the snow_. That little cabin
holds all that I love in the world. I never boast, and I never
threaten--nor do I ever repent the work of my hands." He paused and
looked squarely into his brother's eyes, and when he spoke again the
words fell slowly from his lips--one by one, with a tiny silence
between--"_You have heard it, maybe--scarcely disturbing the silence of
the night--that sound of the crunching of bones on the snow._" A hand of
ice seemed to reach beneath René's blue _capote_ and fasten upon his
heart, there came a strange prickling at the roots of his hair, and
little chills shot along his spine. Somewhere back in the forest a tree
exploded with the frost, and René jumped, nervously. Then, side by side,
the brothers made their way to the cabin in silence.



CHAPTER VI

AT THE END OF RENÉ'S TRAIL


The ridge up which Connie Morgan laboured at the head of his dogs was a
sparsely timbered slope which terminated in a rounded crest a mile away.
To the boy that smoothly rolling sky line looked ten miles ahead of him.
No breath of wind stirred the stinging dead air. His snowshoes became
great weights upon his feet which sought to drag him down, down into
immeasurable depths of soft warm snow. The slope which in reality was a
very easy grade assumed the steepness of a mountain side. He wanted
above all things to sleep. He glanced backward. 'Merican Joe's team had
stopped, and the Indian was fumbling listlessly with his pack. Halting
his own dogs, the boy hastened back. The effort taxed his strength to
the limit. His heavy whiplash swished through the air, and 'Merican Joe
straightened up with a howl of pain.

"Come on!" cried Connie, as he prepared to strike again. "That cabin's
only just over the ridge, and if you stop here you'll freeze!"

"No use," mumbled the Indian. "De red death--de white death. We goin'
die annyhow. Me--I'm lak I'm sleep."

"You mush!" ordered the boy. "Get up there and take my dogs and I'll
take yours. No more laying down on the job or I'll lay on this whip in
earnest. If we mush we'll be there in an hour--_Skookum_ Injun! Where's
your nerve?"

'Merican Joe smiled. "_Skookum tillicum_," he muttered gravely, pointing
his mittened hand toward the boy. "Me I'm go 'long wit' you till I die.
We mak' her, now. We speet on de _kultus tamahnawus_ in hees face!"

"You bet we will!" cried the boy. "Get up there now, and keep those dogs
moving. I'll follow along with yours."

A half hour later the two stood side by side upon the crest of the ridge
and looked down into the valley. Both were breathing heavily. Each had
fallen time out of number, but each time had scrambled to his feet and
urged on his dogs. As they stood now with the false suns dancing above
them, the cold seemed to press upon them like a thing of weight. Connie
glanced at his thermometer. It had dropped forty degrees! Across a half
mile of snow they could see the little cabin in the edge of the timber.
Only, now the smoke did not rise from the chimney but poured from its
mouth and fell heavily to the roof where it rolled slowly to the ground.
Motioning with his arm, 'Merican Joe led off down the slope and Connie
followed, holding weakly to the tail rope of his toboggan. The going was
easier than the ascent had been, but the "strong cold" seemed to strike
to the very bone. After what seemed hours, the boy found himself before
the door of the cabin. Beside him 'Merican Joe was bending over
unharnessing the dogs. Connie stooped to look at the thermometer.
"Seventy-two below!" he muttered, "and she only goes to seventy-six!"

Frantically the boy worked helping 'Merican Joe to unharness the dogs
and when the last one was freed he opened the door and, closely followed
by the Indian, stumbled into the cabin.

The next thing Connie knew he was lying on a bunk and a woman was seated
beside him holding a spoon to his lips while she supported his head on
her arm. The boy swallowed and a spoonful of hot liquid trickled down
his throat. He felt warm, and comfortable, and drowsy--so drowsy that it
was with an effort that he managed to swallow other spoonfuls of the hot
liquid. Slowly he opened his eyes and then struggled to a sitting
posture. 'Merican Joe sat upon the floor with his back against the log
wall. He became conscious of a stinging sensation in his face and he
prodded his cheek with an inquisitive finger.

The woman noticed the action. "It is not bad," she explained. "Your nose
and your cheeks they were frozen but I thawed them out with the snow."
Suddenly her expression changed and a look of fear haunted her eyes. She
pointed toward the door. "But--what is it--out there? The sky is all
wrong. There are no clouds, yet it is not blue, and there are many suns
that move and jump about. It is a time of great evil. Did you not see
the plague flag? And my man is away. Maybe it is the end of all things.
I am afraid. Why are there many suns?"

"It is the white death," answered the boy. "You needn't fear. Only stay
in the house and don't breathe the outside air. I have seen it once
before. Tonight will come the northern lights and they will hiss and pop
and snap. And they will be so bright it will look like the whole world
is on fire. Then the wind will come, and tomorrow it will be gone, and
everything will be the same as before."

"I have heard of the white death," said the woman. "My father and some
of the old men have seen it--beyond Bear Lake. My father and some of the
others crawled under their blankets and lay for more than a day but some
of the old men died."

The thin wail of an infant sounded from a pole crib at the other end of
the room, and the woman rose quickly and crossed to its side. Connie saw
her stoop over the crib and mutter soft, crooning words, as she patted
the tiny bed clothing with her hand. The wailing ceased, and the woman
tiptoed back to his side. "It is the little Victor," she explained, and
Connie noticed that her eyes were wet with tears. Suddenly she broke
down and covered her face with her hands while her body swayed to and
fro. "Oh, my little man! My little soft baby! He must die--or be
terribly scarred by the hand of the red death! So beautiful--so little,
and so good, and so beautiful! And I have nothing to feed him, for René
has taken the milk. René is a devil! I would have killed him but he took
the gun." The woman stopped speaking, and the silence of the little
cabin was punctuated by the sound of her muffled sobs.

Connie felt a strange lump rising in his throat. He swallowed and
attempted to speak, but the result was a funny noise way back in his
throat. He swallowed several times and when he finally spoke his voice
sounded hard and gruff. "Quit crying, mam, and help me get this
straight. I don't believe your little kid's got the smallpox." He paused
and glanced about the room. "This ain't the kind of a place he'd get
it--it's too clean. Who told you it was the red death?"

"Oh, no one told me! Who is there to tell? René is a liar, and my man
has gone to Fort Norman. But," she leaped to her feet and regarded
Connie with a tense, eager look, "can it be that you are a doctor?" The
next instant she turned away. "No--you are but a boy!"

"No," repeated Connie, "I am not a doctor. But I used to be in the
Mounted and I learned all there was in the manual about smallpox and
I've seen a good deal of it. What makes you think it's smallpox?"

"I have seen, on his little chest--the red blotches. What else could it
be?"

"How long has he been sick?"

"Since day before yesterday."

"Did he have any fits? Did he vomit? Did he run up a high fever?"

"No--none of these things. But he has not wanted much to eat--and on his
chest are the blotches."

"Let's look at 'em."

The woman led the way to the crib and lifting the baby from it, bared
his chest. Connie examined the red marks minutely. He felt of them with
his fingers, and carefully examined the forehead along the roots of the
hair. Then he turned to the woman with a smile. "Put him back," he said
quietly. "He's a buster of a kid, all right--and he ain't got smallpox.
He'll be well as ever in three or four days. He's got chicken pox--"

The woman clutched at his arm and her breath came fast. "Are you sure?"
she cried, a great hope dawning in her eyes. "How can you tell?"

"It's all in the manual. Smallpox pimples feel hard, like shot, and
they come first on the face and forehead, and there is always high fever
and vomiting, and the pimples are always round. This is chicken pox, and
it ain't dangerous, and I told you I used to be with the Mounted, and
the Mounted is always sure. Now, what about this Rainy person that stole
the little kid's milk?" But the woman was paying no attention. She was
pacing up and down the floor with the baby hugged to her
breast--laughing, crying, talking to the little one all in the same
breath, holding him out at arm's length and then cuddling him close and
smothering him with kisses. Then, suddenly, she laid the baby in his
crib and turned to Connie who, in view of what he had seen, backed away
in alarm until he stood against the door.

"Ah, you are the grand boy!" the woman exclaimed. "You have saved the
life of my little Victor! You are my friend. In four days comes my
man--the little one's papa, and he will tell you better than I of our
thanks. He is your friend for life. He is Victor Bossuet, and on the
rivers is none like him. I will tell him all--how the little one is
dying with the red death, and you come out of the strong cold with the
frost in the nose and the cheeks, and you look on the little Victor who
is dying, and say '_non_,' and pouf! the red death is gone, and the
little baby has got only what you call chickiepok! See! Even now he is
laughing!"

"He's all right," smiled Connie. "But you're way off about my curing
him. He'd have been well as ever in a few days anyhow and you'd have had
your scare for nothing."

The woman's voluble protest was interrupted by a wail from the infant,
and again her mood changed and she began to pace the floor wringing her
hands. "See, now he is hungry and there is nothing to feed him! René is
a devil! He has taken the milk."

"Hold on!" interrupted Connie. "Was it canned milk? 'Cause if it was you
don't need to worry. I've got about a dozen cans out there on the
toboggan. Wait and I'll get it." He turned to the Indian who had been a
silent onlooker. "Come on, Joe, crawl into your outfit. While I get the
grub and blankets off the toboggans, you rustle the wood and water--and
go kind of heavy on the wood, 'cause, believe me, there ain't any
thermometer going to tell us how cold it will get tonight."

A quarter of an hour later Connie dragged in a heavy canvas sack and
two rolls of blankets just as 'Merican Joe stacked his last armful of
wood high against the wall. "I fed the dogs," said the boy as he
rummaged in the bag and handed the cans of milk one by one to the woman,
"and I could tell your husband is an old-timer by the looks of his dog
shelter--warm and comfortable, and plenty of room for two teams. I can
find out all I want to know about a man by the way he uses his dogs."

"He is the best man on the rivers," repeated the woman, her eyes
shining, as she opened a can of milk, carefully measured an amount,
added water, and stirred it as it heated on the stove. Connie watched
with interest as she fed it to the baby from a spoon. "Again you have
saved his life," she said, as the last spoonful disappeared between the
little lips.

"Aw, forget that!" exclaimed the boy, fidgeting uncomfortably. "What I
want is the dope on this Rainy--how did he come to swipe the kid's milk?
And where is he heading for? I'm in something of a hurry to get to Fort
Norman, but I've got a hunch I'm due for a little side trip. He ain't
going to be far ahead of me tomorrow. If he holes up today and tonight
I'll catch up with him along about noon--and if he don't hole up--the
white death will save me quite a bit of trouble."

"Ah, that René!" exclaimed the woman, her face darkling with passion,
"he is Victor's brother, and he is no good. He drinks and gambles and
makes the big noise with his mouth. Bou, wou, wou! I am the big man! I
can do this! I can do that! I am the best man in the world! Always he
has lived in the towns in the winter and spent his money but this winter
he came and lived with us because his money was gone. That is all right
he is the brother of my husband. He is welcome. But one does not have to
like him. But when my husband tells him to go to Fort Norman for food
because we did not know there would be three, he made excuse, and my
husband went and René stayed. Then the next day the little Victor was
sick, and I saw the hand of the red death upon him and I told René that
he should run fast after Victor and tell him. But he would not! He swore
and cursed at his own ill luck and he ran from the house into the woods.
I made the plague flag and hung it out so that no traveller should come
in and be in danger of the red death.

"By and by René came in from the woods in a terrible rage. He began to
pack his outfit for the trail and I stayed close by the side of my
little one for fear René would do him harm in his anger. At last he was
ready and I was glad to see him go. I looked then and saw that he had
taken all the food! Even the baby's milk he had taken! I rushed upon him
then, but I am a woman and no match for a big man like René, and he
laughed and pushed me away. I begged him to leave me some food, and he
laughed the more--and on my knees I implored him to leave the baby's
milk. But he would not. He said he had sworn vengeance upon Victor, and
now he would take vengeance. He said, 'The brat will not need the milk
for he will die anyway, and you will die, and Victor will follow me, and
I will lead him to a place I know, and then he will die also.' It was
then I rushed for the gun, but René had placed it in his pack. And I
told him he must not go from a plague house, for he would spread the
terrible red death in all the North. But he laughed and said he would
show the North that he, René Bossuet, was a god who could spread death
along the rivers. He would cause it to sweep like a flame among the
rivermen who hated him, and among the men of the Mounted."

The woman paused and Connie saw that a look of wonderful contentment had
come into her eyes.

"The good God did not listen to the curses of René," she said, simply,
"for as I lay on the floor I prayed to Him and He sent you to me,
straight out of the frozen places where in the winter no men are. Tell
me, did not the good God tell you to come to me--to save the little
baby's life?" There was a look of awed wonder in the woman's eyes, and
suddenly Connie remembered the mirage with the blazing plague flag in
the sky.

"Yes," he answered, reverently, "I guess maybe He did."

That night the wind came, the aurora flashed and hissed in the heavens,
and early in the morning when Connie opened the door the air was alive
with the keen tang of the North. Hastily he made up his pack for the
trail. Most of the grub he left behind, and when the woman protested he
laughed, and lied nobly, in that he told her that they had far too much
grub for their needs. While 'Merican Joe looked solemnly on and said
nothing.

With the blessing of the woman ringing in their ears they started on the
trail of René Bossuet. When they were out of sight of the cabin, the
Indian halted and looked straight into the boy's eyes.

"We have one day's grub, for a three-day's trail if we hit straight for
Fort Norman," he announced. "Why then do we follow this man's trail? He
has done nothing to us! Why do you always take upon yourself the
troubles of others?"

"Where would _you_ have been if I didn't?" flashed the boy angrily. "And
where would the trapper have been and that woman and little baby? When I
first struck Alaska I was just a little kid with torn clothes and only
eight dollars and I thought I didn't have a friend in the world. And
then, at Anvik, I found that every one of the big men of the North was
my friend! And ever since that time I have been trying to pay back the
debt I owe the men of the North--and I'll keep on trying till I die!"

With a shrug 'Merican Joe started his dogs and took up the trail. Two
hours later Connie took the lead, and pointed to the tracks in the snow.
"He's slowing up," he exclaimed. "If we don't strike his camp within a
half an hour, we'll strike--something else!"

A few minutes later both halted abruptly. Before them was a wide place
in the snow that had been trampled by many feet--the soft padded feet of
the wolf pack. A toboggan, with its pack still securely lashed, stood at
the end of René Bossuet's trail. Small scraps of leather showed where
the dogs had been torn from the harness. Connie closed his eyes and
pictured to himself what had happened there, in the night, in the sound
of the roaring wind, and in the changing lights of the brilliantly
flashing aurora. Then he opened his eyes and stepped out into the
trampled space and gazed thoughtfully down upon the few scattered bits
that lay strewn about upon the snow--a grinning skull, deeply gored here
and there with fang marks, the gnawed ends of bones, and here and there
ravellings and tiny patches of vivid blue cloth. And as he fastened the
toboggan behind his own and swung the dogs onto the back-trail, he
paused once more and smiled grimly:

"He had always lived in the North," he said, "but he didn't know the
North. He ran like the coward he was from the red death when there was
no danger. And not only that, but he stole the food from a woman and a
sick baby. He thought he could get away with it--'way up here. But
there's something in the silent places that men don't understand--and
never will understand. I've heard men speak of it. And now I have seen
it--the working of the justice of the North!"



CHAPTER VII

AT FORT NORMAN


No trading post in all the North is more beautifully situated than Fort
Norman. The snug buildings of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northern
Trading Company are located upon a high bank, at the foot of which the
mighty Mackenzie rushes northward to the frozen sea. On a clear day the
Rocky Mountains are plainly visible, and a half mile below the post,
Bear River, the swift running outlet to Great Bear Lake, flows into the
Mackenzie. It is to Fort Norman that the Indians from up and down the
great river, from the mountains to the westward, and from Great Bear
Lake, and a thousand other lakes and rivers, named and unnamed, to the
eastward, come each year to trade their furs. And it was there that
Connie Morgan and 'Merican Joe arrived just thirty-seven days after they
pulled out of Dawson.

Except at the time of the holiday trading, winter visitors are few at
the isolated post, and the two were heartily welcomed by the agents of
the rival trading companies, and by the two priests of the little Roman
Catholic Mission.

Connie learned from the representatives of both companies that from all
indications fur would be plentiful that year, but both expressed doubt
that Fort Norman would get its share of the trading.

"It's this way," explained McTavish, a huge, bearded Scot, as they sat
about the fur trader's roaring stove upon the evening of their arrival.
"The mountain Indians--the moose eaters, from the westward--are trading
on the Yukon. They claim they get better prices over there an' maybe
they do. The Yukon traders get the goods into the country cheaper, an'
they could sell them cheaper, an' I ain't blamin' the Indians for
tradin' where they can do best. But, now comes reports of a free trader
that has trailed up the Coppermine from the coast to trade amongst the
caribou eaters to the eastward. If that's so--an' he gets 'em to trade
with him--God help those Indians along towards spring."

The man relapsed into silence and Connie grinned to himself. "They've
had it all their way up here for so long it makes them mad if anybody
else comes in for a share of their profits," thought the boy. Aloud, he
asked innocently:

"What's the matter with the free traders?"

McTavish frowned, and Berl Hansen, the Dane who managed the affairs of
the Northern Trading Company's post, laughed harshly.

"Go down along the railroads, boy," he said, "if you want to see the
handiwork of the free traders, an' look at the Indians that has dealt
with 'em. You can see 'em hanging around them railroad towns, that was
once posts where they handled good clean furs. Them Injuns an' their
fathers before 'em was good trappers--an' look at 'em now!"

"Yes," interrupted Connie, "but they are the victims of the bootleggers
and the whiskey runners! How about the free trader that won't handle
liquor?"

"There ain't no such a free trader!" exclaimed Hansen, angrily. "They're
a pack of lying, thievin'----"

"There, there, Berl, lad!" rumbled McTavish, checking the irate Dane,
who had fairly launched upon his favourite theme. "Ye're right, in the
main--but the lad's question was a fair one an' deserves a fair answer.
I'm an older man, an' I've be'n thirty years in the service of the
Company. Let me talk a bit, for there are a few traders that for aught I
know are honest men an' no rum peddlers. But, there's reasons why they
don't last long." The old Scotchman paused, whittled deliberately at his
plug tobacco, and filled his pipe. "It's this way," he began. "We'll
suppose this trader over on the Coppermine is a legitimate trader. We
will handle his case fairly, an' to do that we must consider first the
Hudson's Bay Company. For two hundred an' fifty years we have been
traders of the North--we know the needs of the North--an' we supply
them. The Indian's interests are our interests, and we trade nothing but
the best goods. For two centuries an' a half we have studied the North
and we have dealt fairly. And may I say here," with a glance toward
Hansen, "that there are several other companies with sound financial
backing and established posts that have profited by our experience and
also supply only the best of goods, and deal fairly. With them we have
no quarrel--honest competition, of course, we have--but no quarrel.
Comes now the free trader. He is a man of small capital. His goods are
cheap, they are of inferior quality. He cannot give 'debt,' as the
credit of the North is called. He cannot carry a large number of Indians
for six months or a year as we do. If he attempts it, his creditors
press him and he goes to the wall--or the Indians find out before time
for payment comes that the goods are inferior, and they repudiate their
debt. It is bad all around--bad for the Indians, bad for the free
traders, and bad for us----"

"I should think it would be good for you," interrupted Connie.

The factor shook his head: "I told you the Indians' interests are our
interests. I will show you. Take it at this very post. We will suppose
that the beaver are becoming scarce around here; what do we do? We say
to the Indians, 'Do not kill any beaver this year and next year.' And
they obey us--why? Because we will not buy any beaver here during that
time. They will not kill what they cannot sell. Then, when the beavers
have become numerous again, we resume trade in them. Were it not for
this policy, many fur-bearing animals that once were numerous would now
be extinct.

"But--suppose there are free traders in the country--we will pay nothing
for beavers, so they begin to buy them cheap--they can name their own
price, and the Indians will keep on killing them. The Indian says: 'It
is better that I should sell this beaver now at six skins than that my
neighbour should sell him in two years at twelve skins.' Then, soon,
there are no more beavers left in that part of the country. Another
thing, in the fur posts our word is law. We tell the Indians when they
can begin to take fur, and when they must stop. The result is we handle
only clean, prime pelts with the flesh side white as paper. With the
free trader a pelt is a pelt, prime or unprime, it makes no difference.
So the killing goes merrily on where the free traders are--and soon all
the fur-bearing animals are exterminated from that section. What does
the free trader care? He loads his fly-by-night outfit into canoes or a
York boat, and passes on to lay waste another section, leaving the poor
Indians to face the rigours of the coming winter with ruined credit,
cheap, inadequate clothing, cheap food, and worthless trinkets, and
their hunting grounds barren of game."

"But," objected Connie, "suppose a free trader dealt in goods as good as
yours----"

McTavish laughed. "I have yet to see that trader in thirty years'
experience. Admit that his goods did measure up to our standard. What
would he have to charge for them? We buy in vast quantities--in some
cases we take the entire output of factories, and we have an established
system of transportation to get it into the wilds. No free trader can
compete with us--cost plus freight would ruin him, especially as he must
allow the Indians a debt."

"How much debt do they get?"

"That depends upon several things. First of all upon the Indian--his
reputation for honesty, and his reputation as a hunter. It also depends
upon the size of his family, the distance of his hunting ground from the
post, and his general prospects for the season. It varies from one
hundred to five or six hundred, and in exceptional cases even to a
thousand skins."

"What do you mean by a skin?"

"A skin," explained McTavish, "is our unit of trade. Instead of saying
a certain thing is worth so many dollars, we say it is worth so many
'skins' or 'made beaver.'. At this post the value of the made beaver is
a half-dollar." The factor opened a drawer and drew forth a handful of
brass tokens which he handed to Connie for inspection. "These are skins,
or made beaver. We offer an Indian so many skins for his pack of furs.
He has little idea of what we mean when we tell him he has five hundred
skins' worth of fur, so we count out five hundred of these made
beaver--he can see them, can feel them--the value of his catch is
immediately reduced to something concrete--something he can
understand--then we take away the amount of his debt, and if there are
still some made beaver remaining, he knows he has something left over to
spend for finery and frippery. Rarely does he use these extra skins for
the purchase of food or necessary clothing--he contracts a new debt for
that. But, wait till spring when the Indians come in, and you will
witness the trading for yourself. It is then you will see why it is that
the free trader has small chance of doing business at a profit north of
sixty."

"But, why wouldn't it be just as easy to figure it in dollars?" asked
the boy.

McTavish laughed. "There were several reasons, although, with the
government paying treaty in cash nowadays, the Indians are beginning to
know something of money. But the main reason is that when the made
beaver was first invented, no one seems to know just when or where or by
whom, there was no money in the country--everything was traded or
bartered for some other thing. And because the skin, and particularly
the beaver skin, was the thing most bartered by Indians, the unit of
value came to be known as a 'skin' or 'made beaver.' Another reason why
money has never been popular with us is because of its destructibility.
Take this post, for instance. Suppose we were compelled to ship silver
dollars back and forth between here and Edmonton? Ten thousand of them
would weigh close to six hundred pounds! Six hundred pounds would mean,
on scows, six pieces--and mighty valuable pieces too, to be loaded and
unloaded a dozen times, carried over portages, shot through dangerous
rapids, carried up and down slippery river banks and across slippery
planks to the scows. Suppose one of these pieces were dropped overboard
by one of the none too careful half-breed rivermen? The Company would
lose just so many dollars. Or, suppose the riverman very conveniently
dropped the piece into the water where he could recover it again? A
dollar is a dollar--it can be spent anywhere. But suppose that the piece
contained only a supply of these brass 'made beaver'--the whole ten
thousand would only make one piece--and if it dropped into the river the
Company would lose only so much brass. Then if the riverman afterward
recovered it, instead of finding himself possessed of dollars which he
could spend anywhere, he would only have a hundred pounds or so of brass
tokens whose value had been cancelled. And, again, the expense of
transportation, even granted the consignment arrived safely at its
destination, would be against the dollar. One hundred pounds, where
freight costs sixteen cents a pound to move, is much cheaper to move
than six hundred pounds."

"Yes," agreed Connie, "but how about using paper money?"

"Worse, and more of it!" exclaimed McTavish. "In the first place the
piece, or package, would be lighter and of greater value--therefore
much easier to make away with. Some lone bandit, or gang of bandits,
might find it well worth their while to hold up the scow brigade and
make off with that little piece. And, besides, until very recently, the
Indians have had no sense of the value of paper money. An Indian cannot
see why one piece of paper should be worth five dollars, and another
exactly like it in size and colour should be worth ten, or twenty, or
fifty--and another piece of paper be worth nothing at all. I am sure no
one at the posts would welcome the carrying on of business upon a cash
basis--I know I should not. The Canadian North is the cleanest land in
the world, in so far as robbery is concerned, thanks to the Mounted. But
with its vast wilderness for hiding places and its lack of quick
transportation and facility for spreading news, I am afraid it would not
long remain so, if it became known that every trading post possessed its
cash vault. As it is, the goods of the North, in a great measure,
protect themselves from theft by their very bulk. A man could hardly
expect to get out of this country, for instance, with even a very few
packs of stolen fur. The Mounted would have him before he could get
half way to the railroad."

"It seems funny," grinned Connie, "to find an outfit that doesn't like
to do business for cash!"

"Funny enough, till you know the reason--then, the most natural thing in
the world. And, there is yet one more reason--take the treaty money. The
Indians bring the treaty money to us and buy goods with it. We make the
profit on the goods--but if they had bought those same goods for fur--we
would have made the profit on the fur, also--and primarily, we are a fur
company--although every year we are becoming more and more of a trading
company and a land company. I am glad I shall not live to see the last
of the fur trade--I love the fur--it speaks a language I know."

A short time later the company broke up, Berl Hansen returned to his own
quarters, and Connie and 'Merican Joe were given the spare room in the
factor's house where for the first time since leaving Dawson they slept
under a roof.



CHAPTER VIII

BAIT--AND A BEAR


The business of outfitting for the balance of the winter occupied two
whole days and when it was finished down to the last item Connie viewed
the result with a frown. "It's going to take two trips to pack all that
stuff. And by the time we make two trips and build a cabin besides, we
won't have much time left for trapping."

"Where you headin' for?" queried McTavish.

"Somewhere over on the Coppermine," answered the boy. "I don't know just
where--and I guess it don't make much difference."

The big Scotchman laughed. "No, lad, it won't make no great difference.
What put it in your head to trap on the Coppermine?"

"Why, the truth is, it isn't so much the trapping I'm interested in. I
want to try my hand at prospecting over there."

"Gold?"

"Yes--mainly."

McTavish shook his head forebodingly.

Connie smiled. "You don't believe there's any gold there?" he asked.
"'Gold's where you find it,' you know."

"There must be lots of it there, then. Nobody's ever found it. But, it's
a bad time of year to be hittin' for the Coppermine country. It's bleak,
an' barren, an' storm ridden. An' as for trappin' you'll find nothin'
there to trap but foxes this time of year, an' you won't be able to do
any prospectin' till summer. You might better trap in closer to the post
this winter, an' when the lake opens you can take a York boat an' a
canoe an' cover most of the distance by water."

Connie frowned. "I started out for the Coppermine," he began, but the
factor interrupted him with a gesture.

"Sure you did--an' you'll get there, too. It's this way, lad. You're a
sourdough, all right, I knew that the minute I saw you. An' bein' a
sourdough, that way, you ain't goin' to do nothin' that it ain't in
reason to do. There's a deal of difference between a determination to
stick to a thing an' see it through in the face of all odds when the
thing you're stickin' to is worth doin'; an' stickin' to a thing that
ain't worth doin' out of sheer stubbornness. The first is a fine thing
an' the second is a foolish thing to do."

"I guess that's right," agreed Connie, after a moment of silence.

"Of course it's right!" interrupted McTavish. "You ought to find a good
trappin' ground down along the south shore, somewheres between the
Blackwater and Lake Ste. Therese. Ought to be plenty of caribou in there
too, an' what with droppin' a few nets through the ice, an' what you can
bring in with your rifles you won't need to draw in your belts none."

"How far is it from here?" asked the boy.

"Not over a hundred an' fifty miles at the outside, an' if you'll wait
around a couple of days, there'll be some of the Bear Lake Indians in
with some fish from the Fisheries. They're due now. You can hire them
for guides. They'll be bringin' down a couple of tons of fish, so
they'll have plenty sled room so you can make it in one trip."

And so it was decided that Connie and 'Merican Joe should winter
somewhere on the south shore of Great Bear Lake, and for a certain band
of Indians that had established their camp upon the river that flows
from Lake Ste. Therese into the extreme point of McVicker Bay, it was
well they did.

The Bear Lake Indians appeared the following day, delivered their fish
at the post, and Connie employed two of them with their dog teams to
make the trip. The journey was uneventful enough, with only one storm to
break the monotony of steady trailing with the thermometer at forty and
even fifty below--for the strong cold had settled upon the Northland in
earnest.

Upon the sixth day 'Merican Joe halted the outfit upon the shore of a
little lake which lay some five miles from the south shore of Keith Bay.
"Build camp here," he said, indicating a low knoll covered with a dense
growth of spruce. Connie paid off the guides with an order on the
Hudson's Bay Company, and hardly had they disappeared before he and
'Merican Joe were busy clearing away the snow and setting up the tent
that was to serve as temporary quarters until the tiny cabin that would
be their winter home could be completed.

The extra sled provided by the Indians, and the fact that they were to
go only a comparatively short distance from the post, had induced Connie
to add to his outfit a few conveniences that would have been entirely
out of the question had he insisted in pushing on to the Coppermine.
There was a real sheet iron stove with several lengths of pipe, a double
window--small to be sure, but provided with panes of glass--and enough
planking for a small sized door and door frame. Although the snow all
about them showed innumerable tracks of the fur bearers, the two paid no
attention to them until the cabin stood finished in its tiny clearing.
And a snug little cabin it was, with its walls banked high with snow,
its chinks all sealed with water-soaked snow that froze hard the moment
it was in place, and its roof of small logs completely covered with a
thick layer of the same wind-proof covering.

On the morning following the completion of the cabin Connie and 'Merican
Joe ate their breakfast by candlelight. Connie glanced toward the pile
of steel traps of assorted sizes that lay in the corner. "We'll be
setting them today, Joe. The fox tracks are thick all along the lake,
and yesterday I saw where a big lynx had prowled along the edge of that
windfall across the coulee."

'Merican Joe smiled. "Firs' we got to git de bait. Dat ain' no good we
set de trap wit'out no bait."

"What kind of bait? And where do we get it?" asked the boy.

"Mos' any kin'--rabbit, bird, caribou, moose. Today we set 'bout wan
hondre snare for de rabbit. We tak' de leetle gun 'long, mebbe-so we git
de shot at de ptarmigan."

"Why can't we take a few fox traps with us? We could bait 'em with
bacon, or a piece of fish."

"No, dat ain' no good for ketch de fox. Dat leetle fox she too mooch
smart. She hard to trap. She ain' goin' fool wit' bacon an' fish. She
stick out de nose an' smell de man-smell on de bacon an' she laugh an'
run away. Same lak de fish--she say: 'De fish b'long in de wataire. How
he git t'rough de ice an' sit on de snow, eh?' An' den she run 'way an'
laugh som' mor'. We ain' goin' trap no fox yet annyhow. Novembaire, she
mos' gon'. Decembaire we trap de marten an' de _loup cervier_. In
Janueer de marten curl up in de stump an' sleep. Den we trap de fox. She
ain' so smart den--she too mooch hongre."

At daylight the two started, 'Merican Joe leading the way to a dense
swamp that stretched from the lake shore far inland. Once in the thicket
the Indian showed Connie how to set snares along the innumerable
runways, or well-beaten paths of the rabbits, and how to secure each
snare to the end of a bent sapling, or tossing pole, which, when
released by the struggles of the rabbit from the notch that held it
down, would spring upright and jerk the little animal high out of reach
of the forest prowlers. During the forenoon Connie succeeded in shooting
four of the big white snowshoe rabbits, and at the noon camp 'Merican
Joe skinned these, being careful to leave the head attached to the skin.

"I didn't know rabbit skins were worth saving," said Connie, as the
Indian placed them together with the carcasses in the pack.

"You wait--by-m-by I show you somet'ing," answered the Indian. And it
was not long after the snare setting had been resumed that Connie
learned the value of the rabbit skins. As they worked deeper into the
swamp, lynx, or _loup cervier_ tracks became more numerous. Near one of
the runways 'Merican Joe paused, drew a skin from his pack, and
proceeded to stuff it with brush. When it had gained something the shape
of the rabbit, he placed it in a natural position beneath the
low-hanging branches of a young spruce and proceeded to set a heavier
snare with a larger loop. The setting of this snare was slightly
different from the setting of the rabbit snares, for instead of a
tossing pole the snare was secured to the middle of a clog, or stout
stick about two inches in diameter and four feet long. The ends of this
clog were then supported upon two forked sticks in such manner that the
snare hung downward where it was secured in position by tying the loop
to a light switch thrust into the snow at either side. The snare was set
only a foot or two from the stuffed rabbit skin and sticks and brush so
arranged that in order to reach the rabbit the lynx must leap straight
into the snare. The remaining rabbit skins were similarly used during
the afternoon, as were the skins of two ptarmigan that Connie managed to
bring down.

"Use de skin for bait de _loup cervier_, an' de meat for bait de
marten--dat de bes' way," explained 'Merican Joe, as they worked their
way toward the edge of the swamp after the last snare had been set.

[Illustration: "The snare was set only a foot or two from the stuffed
rabbit skin and sticks and brush so arranged that in order to reach the
rabbit the lynx must leap straight into the snare."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

The early darkness was already beginning to fall when Connie stopped
suddenly and stared down at the snow at the base of a huge mass of earth
and moss that had been thrown upward by the roots of a fallen tree. The
thing that caught the boy's attention was a round hole in the snow--a
hole hardly larger in diameter than a silver quarter, and edged with a
lacy filigree of frost spicules. The boy called to 'Merican Joe who had
paused to refasten the thongs of his rackets. At the first glance the
Indian's eyes lighted:

"Bear in dere!" he exclaimed. "We dig um out. We git plenty meat--plenty
bait--an' de good skin besides."

"Hadn't we better wait till tomorrow and bring the heavy rifle?" Connie
asked. "We can't kill a bear with this dinky little twenty-two."

"We ain' need no gun. Me--I cut de good stout club, an' you tak' de ax.
De bear she too mooch sleepy to do no fightin'. Den we git de toboggan
an' haul um in. We only 'bout wan half-mile from camp. Tomor' we got
plenty bait, we set de marten trap. We skin de bear tonight we save wan
whole day." As he talked, the Indian felled a small birch and trimmed
about five feet of its trunk which measured about two inches and a half
in thickness. "Dat fix um good, an' den we cut de t'roat," he explained,
brandishing the club in the air.

"I don't know," replied Connie, dubiously. "Waseche and I have killed
several bears, and there was a time or two when a couple of good
thirty-forty's came near not being big enough."

'Merican Joe grinned. "Dat was grizzlies. I ain' t'ink de grizzly com'
so far from de montaine. Dis leetle black bear, she ain' lak to fight
mooch."

"I hope you're right," grinned the boy, as he fell to work helping the
Indian to trample the snow into good solid footing for a space of ten
feet or more about the airhole. This done, they removed snowshoes and
coats and with ax and pole attacked the snow that covered their quarry.

"I feel um!" cried the Indian, as he thrust his pole deep into the snow
after five minutes of hard work. "We wake um up firs', an' when he stick
out de head we bang um good." 'Merican Joe continued to ram his pole
into the snow where he had felt the yielding mass of the bear's body,
all the time haranguing the bear in jargon, addressing him as "cousin,"
and inviting him to come out and be killed, and in the same breath
apologizing for the necessity of taking his life.

Then--very suddenly--"cousin" came out! There was a mighty upheaval of
snow, a whistling snort, and a mountain of brown fur projected itself
into the rapidly gathering dusk. 'Merican Joe struck valiantly with his
club at the monstrous head that in the half-light seemed to Connie to
measure two feet between the ears. The boy heard the sharp crack of the
weapon as it struck the skull, and the next instant he heard the club
crashing through the limbs of a small spruce. The infuriated bear had
caught it fairly with a sweep of his giant paw. Then Connie struck with
his ax, just as 'Merican Joe, with the bear almost upon him, scrambled
into the branches of a tree. The boy's blow fell upon the bear's hip,
and with a roar the great brute whirled to meet the new attack as Connie
gathered himself to strike again.

Then, a very fortunate thing happened. When 'Merican Joe had removed his
snowshoes he had stuck them upright in the snow and hung his coat over
them. The figure thus formed caught the bear's attention, and with a
lurch he was upon it. There was a crackling of ash bows as the
snowshoes were crushed in the ponderous embrace. And, seeing his chance,
Connie darted forward, for the momentum of the bear's lurch had carried
him on to all fours in the soft snow at the edge of the trampled space.
As the huge animal struggled, belly deep, the boy brought the bit of his
ax down with all his force upon the middle of the brute's spine. The
feel of the blow was good as the keen blade sank to the helve. The next
instant the ax was jerked from his hands and the boy turned to collide
with 'Merican Joe, who had recovered his club and was rushing in to
renew the attack. Both went sprawling upon the trodden snow, and before
they could recover their feet the bear was almost upon them. They sprang
clear, the Indian waiting with upraised club, but the bear advanced
slowly, ripping and tearing at the snow with his huge forepaws with
their claws as long as a man's fingers. Down came the Indian's club upon
the broad skull, but there was no rearing upward to ward off the blow,
and then it was that both saw that the animal was dragging its useless
hinder part. Connie's ax had severed the animal's backbone, and so long
as they kept out of reach of those terrible forepaws they were safe.
While the Indian continued to belabour the bear's head, Connie managed
to slip around behind the animal and recover his ax, after which it was
but the work of a few moments to dispatch the huge bear with a few
well-directed blows.

It was almost dark when the two stood looking down upon the carcass of
the great barren ground grizzly.

"So that's your little black bear that don't like to fight much!"
grinned Connie.

'Merican Joe returned the grin. "All de tam kin learn somet'ing new.
Nex' tam we dig out de den bear we bring de big gun 'long. Annyhow, we
git mor' bait an' dog feed, an' de good meat, an' de bigger skin, an' we
git mor', w'at you call, excite!" He placed his foot upon the head of
the dead bear. "Dat too bad we got to kill you, cousin. But Injun an'
white boy got to git de meat to eat, an' de bait to ketch de leetle
marten. We mooch oblig' you ain' kill us."

'Merican Joe's crushed snowshoes and his coat were dug out of the snow,
and together the two managed to work the carcass on to its back. The
Indian proceeded to build a fire by the light of which he could skin
the bear while Connie fastened on his own rackets and hit out for the
cabin to procure the toboggan and dogs, and an extra pair of snowshoes.
An hour later he returned, just as 'Merican Joe was stripping the hide
from the hind legs. While Connie folded it into a convenient pack, the
Indian took the ax and chopped off the bear's head which he proceeded to
tie to the branches of a small spruce at the foot of which the animal
had been killed.

"What in thunder are you doing?" asked the boy.

'Merican Joe regarded him gravely. "Mus' hang up de skull right where he
git kill," he answered.

"Why?"

"Cause _Sah-ha-lee Tyee_, w'at you call, de Great Spirit, he com' 'long
an' count de bears in de springtime. He count de Injun, too, an' de
moose, an' de beaver' an' all de big people. _S'pose_ he ain' fin' dat
bear. He ain' know dat bear git kill. He t'ink dat bear ain' wake up
yet, or else he hide in de den. If de skull ain' hang up she git cover
up wit' leaves, or sink in de swamp, an' _Sah-ha-lee Tyee_ no kin fin'.
But, w'en he see skull hang up, he say: 'De Injun kill de bear an' git
meat. Dat good. I sen' um nodder bear.' So de bear always plenty in de
Injun country. De white men com' 'long an' kill de bear. Dey ain' hang
up de skull--an' by-m-by, w'ere de white man live de bears is all gon'."

The duty performed to 'Merican Joe's satisfaction, the carcass and skin
were loaded on to the toboggan and by the thin light of the little stars
they started the dogs and wended their way across the narrow lake to the
little cabin in the spruce grove, well satisfied with their first day of
trapping.



CHAPTER IX

OUT ON THE TRAP LINE


Connie Morgan was anxious to be off on the trap line early in the
morning following the adventure with the bear. But 'Merican Joe shook
his head and pointed to the carcass of the bear that for want of a
better place had been deposited upon the floor of the cabin. "First we
got to build de _cache_. We ain' got no room in de cabin--an' besides,
she too warm for keep de meat good. De dog, an' de wolf, an' de _loup
cervier_, an' de _carcajo_, w'at you call 'Injun devil,' dey all hongre
an' hunt de meat. We got to build de _cache_ high up."

The first thing, of course, was to locate the site. This was quickly
done by selecting four spruce trees about three inches in diameter and
ten feet apart, and so situated as to form the corner posts of a rude
square. Taking his ax, the Indian ascended one of these trees, lopping
off the limbs as he went, but leaving the stubs for foot and hand
holds. About twelve feet from the ground he cut off the trunk just above
the place where a good stout limb stub formed a convenient crotch. The
other three trees were similarly treated. Four strong poles were cut and
placed from one crotch to another to form the frame of the _cache_.
These poles were cut long enough to extend about four feet beyond the
corner posts. Upon this frame-work lighter poles were laid side by side
to form the platform of the _cache_--a platform that protruded beyond
the corner posts so far that no animal which might succeed in climbing
one of the posts could possibly manage to scramble over the edge. The
corner posts were trimmed smooth, and a rude ladder, which consisted
simply of a young spruce with the limb stubs left on for the rungs was
made. The last step in the completion of the _cache_ was to cut down all
trees whose limbs over-hung in such manner that a _carcajo_ could crawl
out and drop down upon the platform, and also those trees whose
proximity might tempt a lynx to try a flying leap to the _cache_.

When the carcass of the bear had been quartered and deposited upon the
platform, the brush and limbs cleared away, and the ladder removed, the
two trappers gazed in satisfaction at their handiwork. The stout
_cache_, capable of protecting several tons of meat from the inroads of
the forest prowlers, had been constructed without the use of a single
nail, or bit of rope, or thong, and with no tool except an ax!

It was noon when the task was completed, and after a hasty lunch of tea,
bear's liver, and bannock, 'Merican Joe selected fifteen small steel
traps which he placed in his pack sack. He also carried a light belt ax,
while Connie shouldered the larger ax and reached for the 30-40 rifle.
'Merican Joe shook his head.

"Dat ain' no good to tak' de big gun. Tak' de leetle wan an' mebbe-so
you git som' mor' bait."

"Yes, and what if we run on to another one of your little black bears
that don't like to fight? And what if we should see a caribou? And
suppose we found a lynx in one of those snares?"

"We ain' goin' hunt no caribou. We goin' set marten traps, an' if we
com' on de bear den we wait an' com' back som' odder time."

"But suppose there is a lynx in one of those snares?" persisted the boy.

"Let um be in de snare. We ain' goin' to de swamp. Dat ain' no good to
go 'long de trap line too mooch. Let um be for week--mebbe-so ten day.
We go runnin' t'rough de woods every day same place, we scare everyt'ing
off. Anyhow, we ain' need de big gun for de _loup cervier_. De leetle
gun better, he don' mak' so big hole in de skin. An' if de _loup
cervier_ is in de snare, we ain' need no gun at all. She choke dead."

A half mile from camp, 'Merican Joe set his first trap. The place
selected for the set was the trunk of a large spruce that had been
uprooted by the wind, and leaned against another tree at an angle of
forty-five degrees. Two blows of the light belt ax made a notch into
which the small steel trap fitted perfectly. The bait was placed upon
the tree trunk just above the trap and a small barrier of bark was
constructed close below the trap in such a manner that the marten in
clambering over the barrier must almost to a certainty plant at least
one fore foot upon the pan of the trap. The trap chain was secured to
the tree so that when the marten was caught he would leap from the trunk
and hang suspended in the air, which would give him no chance to free
himself by gnawing his leg off above the jaws of the trap. This leaning
tree set was 'Merican Joe's favourite with the steel traps.

A particularly ingenious set was made upon the trunk of a standing tree
whose bark showed tiny scars and scratches that indicated to the
practised eyes of the Indian that it was frequently ascended by martens.
In this case two short sticks were sharpened and driven into the tree
trunk to form a tiny platform for the trap. Some slabs were then cut
from a nearby dead spruce and these also were sharpened and driven into
the trunk on either side of the trap. Then a piece of bark was laid over
the top for a roof, and the bait placed in the back of the little house
thus formed. The marten must enter from the bottom and in order to reach
the bait, the only possible spot for him to place his feet would be upon
the pan of the trap.

Several sets were also made on the ground in places where the sign
showed right. These ground sets were made generally at the base of a
tree or a stump and consisted of little houses made of bark, with the
bait in the back and the trap placed between the door and the bait. In
the case of these sets, instead of securing the chain to the tree or
stump, it was made fast to a clog, care being taken to fasten the chain
to the middle of the stick.

Three or four sets were made for mink, also. These sets were very
simple, and yet the Indian made them with elaborate care. They consisted
in placing the trap just within the mouth of a hole that showed evidence
of occupation, after first scooping out a depression in the snow. The
trap was placed in the bottom of the depression and carefully covered
with light, dry leaves that had been previously collected. 'Merican Joe
took great care to so arrange these leaves that while the jaws, pan, and
spring were covered, no leaves would be caught in the angle of the jaws
and thus prevent their closing about the leg of the mink. The leaves
were now covered with snow, and the chain carried outward, buried in the
snow, and secured to a tossing pole.

The short sub-arctic day had drawn to a close even before the last set
was made, and in the darkness the two swung wide of their trap line, and
headed for the cabin.

"Fifteen sets isn't so bad for an afternoon's work," opined Connie,
"especially when you had to do all the work. Tomorrow I can help, and we
ought to be able to get out all the rest of the marten traps. There are
only fifty all told."

"Fifty steel traps--we git dem set first. We gon 'bout t'ree, four mile
today. We use up de steel trap in 'bout fifteen mile. Dat good--dey too
mooch heavy to carry. Den we begin to set de deadfall."

"Deadfalls!" cried Connie. "How many traps are we going to put out?"

"Oh, couple hondre marten an' mink trap. We git de trap line 'bout fifty
mile long. Den we set lot more _loup cervier_ snare."

They swung out on to their little lake about a mile above the camp and
as they mushed along near shore Connie stopped suddenly and pointed to a
great grey shape that was running swiftly across the mouth of a small
bay. The huge animal ran in a smooth, easy lope and in the starlight his
hair gleamed like silver.

"Look!" he whispered to the Indian. "There goes Leloo!" Even as he spoke
there came floating down the wind from the direction of the timber at
the head of the lake, the long-drawn howl of a wolf. Leloo halted in
his tracks and stood ears erect, motionless as a carved statue, until
the sound trailed away into silence. A fox trotted out of the timber
within ten yards of where the two stood watching and, catching sight of
Connie as the boy shifted his twenty-two, turned and dashed along a thin
sand point and straight across the lake, passing in his blind haste so
close to Leloo that his thick brush almost touched the motionless
animal's nose. But the big ruffed wolf-dog never gave so much as a
passing glance.

"That's funny," whispered Connie "Why didn't he grab that fox?"

"Leloo, he ain' fool wit' no fox tonight," answered 'Merican Joe. "He
goin' far off an' run de ridges wit' de big people." And even as the
Indian spoke, Leloo resumed his long, silent lope.

"I sure would like to follow him tonight," breathed the boy, as he
watched the great dog until he disappeared upon the smooth, white
surface of the lake where the aurora borealis was casting its weird,
shifting lights upon the snow.

The weather had moderated to about the zero mark and by the middle of
the following afternoon 'Merican Joe set the last of the remaining
marten traps. Connie proved an apt pupil and not only did he set
fourteen of the thirty-five traps, but each set was minutely examined
and approved by the critical eye of 'Merican Joe. When the last trap was
set, the Indian commenced the construction of deadfalls, and again
Connie became a mere spectator. And a very interested spectator he was
as he watched every movement of 'Merican Joe who, with only such
material as came to hand on the spot, and no tools except his belt ax
and knife, constructed and baited his cunningly devised deadfalls. These
traps were built upon stumps and logs and were of the common
figure-of-four type familiar to every schoolboy. The weight, or fall
log, was of sufficient size to break the back of a marten.

"De steel trap she bes'," explained the Indian. "She easy to set, an'
she ketch mor' marten. Wit' de steel trap if de marten com' 'long an'
smell de bait he mus' got to put de foot in de trap--but in de deadfall
she got to grab de bait an' give de pull to spring de trap. But, de
deadfall don't cost nuttin', an' if you go far de steel trap too mooch
heavy to carry. Dat why I set de steel trap in close, an' de deadfall
far out."

For four days the two continued to set deadfalls. The last two days
they packed their sleeping bags, camping where night overtook them, and
the evening of the fourth day found them with an even two hundred traps
and thirty lynx snares set, and a trap line that was approximately fifty
miles long and so arranged that either end was within a half mile of the
cabin.

"We go over de snare line in de swamp tomor'," said 'Merican Joe, as
they sat that night at their little table beside the roaring sheet-iron
stove, "an' next day we start over de trap line."

"About how many marten do you think we ought to catch?" asked Connie.

The Indian shrugged: "Can't tell 'bout de luck--sometam lot of
um--sometam mebbe-so not none."

"What do you mean by a lot?" persisted the boy.

"Oh, mebbe-so, twenty--twenty five."

"About one marten for every eight or ten traps," figured the boy.

The Indian nodded. "You set seven steel trap an' catch wan marten, dat
good. You set ten deadfall an' ketch wan marten, dat good, too."

"We've got six lynx snares down in the swamp to look at tomorrow. How
many lynx are we going to get?"

'Merican Joe grinned. "Mebbe-so not none--mebbe-so one, two. Dat all tam
bes' we count de skin w'en we git hom'."

"Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, eh?" laughed Connie.

The Indian looked puzzled. "W'at you mean--chicken hatch?" And when the
boy explained to the best of his ability the old saw, 'Merican Joe, who
had never seen a chicken in his life, nodded sagely. "Dat right--an' you
ain' kin count de fur hatch first, nieder."



CHAPTER X

THE TRAIL OF THE _CARCAJO_


At daylight next morning they crossed the narrow lake, travelling light,
that is, each carried only his lunch in his pack sack, and Connie
carried the light rifle, while 'Merican Joe dragged an empty toboggan
upon which to haul home the rabbits and the lynx if they were lucky
enough to get one.

The toboggan was left at the edge of the swamp and the two entered and
plunged into the maze of rabbit paths that crisscrossed the snow in all
directions. The first two snares were undisturbed, the third was pushed
aside and had to be readjusted. Where the fourth and fifth snares had
been a white snowshoe rabbit dangled from each tossing pole, and they
were promptly transferred to the pack sacks and the snares reset.

Numerous new snares were set, the old ones adjusted, and the rabbits
taken from the tossing poles of the lucky ones. One snare was missing
altogether, and 'Merican Joe pointed to the tracks of a large wolf. "He
run 'long an' git de foot or de nose in de snare, but she ain' strong
'nough to hold um," he explained. At noon they camped at the place where
'Merican Joe had skinned the rabbits on the first trip. They had twelve
rabbits in the packs and these they _cached_ to pick up on the return.

It was not long after they resumed operations on the snare line that
Connie, with a whoop of delight, dashed toward the spot where the first
lynx snare had been set. The sparse underbrush had been broken down, and
for a considerable space the snow had been torn up and trampled in a
manner that told of a furious struggle. And right in the middle of the
trampled space lay the body of a huge lynx doubled into a curious ball
and frozen to the hardness of iron. The struggle had evidently been
brief but furious, and terminated with the lynx sealing his own doom.
Finding himself caught and held by the ever tightening noose, he had
first tried to escape by flight, but the clog immediately caught on the
underbrush and held him fast. The infuriated animal had then begun a
ferocious attack upon the clog, which showed the deep scars of teeth
and claws, and had wound up by catching his powerful hind feet upon the
clog, one on either side of the center where the snare was fastened, and
by straining the great muscles of his legs, literally choked himself to
death.

More rabbits were added to the packs, and a short time later another
_cache_ was made. Connie wanted to set some more lynx snares, but they
had shot no rabbits, and it was impossible to skin the frozen ones they
had taken from the snares without wasting time in thawing them out.

"Let's use a whole one," suggested the boy. "We've got lots of 'em, and
a lynx is worth a rabbit, any time."

'Merican Joe objected. "We got plenty rabbit today--mebbe-so nex' tam we
ain' got none. It ain' no good we waste de rabbit. S'pose we leave de
rabbit for bait; de wolf an' de fox he com' long an' he too mooch smart
to git in de snare, but he git de rabbit jes' de sam'. Anyhow, we ain'
kin make de rabbit look lak he sittin' down w'en de hine legs is
stickin' down straight lak de sawbuck. Nex' tam we got plenty rabbit
skin for set de snare--de _loup cervier_ she run all winter, anyhow."

The next four lynx snares were undisturbed, but the sixth and last had
disappeared altogether.

"It held him for a while, though," said Connie, as he gazed in
disappointment at the snow which had been scratched and thrown in all
directions by the big cat.

The Indian laughed aloud at the evident disappointment that showed in
the boy's face.

"I don't see anything so funny about it!" frowned Connie.

"Dat mak' me laugh I see you sorry 'bout lose de _loup cervier_. You
rich. You got plenty money. An' when you lose wan _loup cervier_, you
look lak you los' de gol' mine."

"It isn't the value of the skin!" exclaimed the boy, quickly. "But when
I start to do a thing I like to do it. It don't make any difference what
it is, and it don't make any difference whether the stakes are high or
low. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. And if it's worth
starting, it's worth finishing."

'Merican Joe nodded: "I know. We go finish um _loup cervier_, now."

"What do you mean--finish him?" cried Connie, pointing to the tracks in
the snow that led from the scene of the brief struggle with the
snare--tracks that showed where the lynx had fled in powerful,
fifteen-foot leaps. "That don't look much like we'd finish that fellow,
does it? Believe me, he left here in a hurry! He's probably climbing the
North Pole right now!"

"I ain' know nuttin' 'bout no Nort' Poles. W'ere you t'ink de stick go
w'at we fix on de snare?"

Connie examined the scene of the struggle minutely, kicking the loose
snow about, but failed to find the clog.

"Why, he skipped out, clog and all! That clog wasn't very heavy."

"No, she ain' heavy, but she fasten in de middle, an' she ketch in de
brush an' hol' _loup cervier_ tight, you bet! You ain' see no track
w'ere de stick drag, eh?"

Connie scrutinized the trail of the lynx, but the snow gave no sign of
the clog. He turned a puzzled glance upon the Indian. "That's funny. He
certainly didn't leave it here, and he couldn't have dragged it without
leaving a trail, even if it hadn't caught on the brush."

Again 'Merican Joe laughed. "No, he ain' leave it--an' he ain' drag it.
He ol' man _loup cervier_--he smart. He fin' out he ain' kin break
loose, an' he ain' kin drag de stick, so he pick him up an' carry him in
de mout'. But he ain' so mooch smart lak he t'ink. De firs' t'ing de
_loup cervier_ do w'en you chase um--he climb de tree. He t'ink de snare
chase um--so he climb de tree. Den, by-m-by he git tire to hol' de stick
in de mout' an' he let him go. Den he set on de limb long time an'
growl. Den he t'ink he go som' mor', an' he start to climb down de tree.
An' den de stick ketch on de limb an' he can't git down. He pull an'
fight, but dat ain' no good--so he giv' de big jump--an' den he git
hung--lak de mans do w'en dey kill nodder mans. Com' on--he ain' lak to
go far. He lak to climb de tree. We fin' um queek."

That 'Merican Joe knew what he was talking about was soon demonstrated.
For several hundred yards the tracks led straight through the swamp.
Suddenly the Indian halted at the foot of a spruce that reared high
above its neighbours and pointed to the snow which was littered with
needles and bits of bark. There were no tracks beyond the foot of the
tree, and Connie peered upward, but so thick were the branches that he
could see nothing. Removing his snowshoes and pack, 'Merican Joe climbed
the tree and a few moments later Connie heard the blows of his belt ax
as he hacked at the limb that held the clog. There was a swish of
snow-laden branches, and amid a deluge of fine snow the frozen body of
the lynx struck the ground at the boy's feet.

Loading himself with as much as his pack sack could hold, the Indian
struck off to get the toboggan, leaving Connie to pack the carcass of
the lynx and the remaining rabbits back to the noon-time _cache_. This
necessitated two trips, and when Connie returned with the second load he
found 'Merican Joe waiting. "Thirty-two rabbits and two lynx," counted
Connie as they loaded the toboggan. "And let's beat it and get 'em
skinned so we can start out in the morning on the real trap line."

The rabbits were placed just as they were upon the platform of the
_cache_, to be used as needed, and the evening was spent in thawing and
skinning the two lynx.

"Why don't you rip him up the belly like you did the bear?" asked
Connie, as the Indian started to slit the animal's head.

"No. Skin um, w'at you call, case. De bear an' de beaver skin flat.
Case all de rest. Start on de head lak dis. Den draw de skin down over
de body. You see she com' wrong side out. Den you finish on de tail an'
de hine legs an' you got um done--all de fur inside, and de flesh side
out."

Connie watched with interest while the Indian skillfully drew the pelt
from the carcass and stretched it upon splints prepared with his belt
ax.

"Now you skin nex' wan," smiled the Indian. "I bet you mak' de good job.
You learn queek."

Connie set to work with a will and, in truth, he did a very creditable
job, although it took him three times as long as it had taken the
Indian, and his pelt showed two small knife cuts. "Now what do we do
with 'em?" he asked when he had his skin all stretched.

"Dry um."

Connie started to place them close to the hot stove, but 'Merican Joe
shook his head.

[Illustration: "'Merican Joe climbed the tree and a few minutes later
Connie heard the blows of his belt ax as he hacked at the limb that held
the clog."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

"No! Dat ain' no good!" he exclaimed. "Dat fat she melt an' de heat she
dry de skin too queek, an' she git, w'at you call, grease burnt. Dat why
we nail de bear skin on de outside of de cabin. De skin she got to dry
in de cold. W'en de frost dry um, den we mus' got to scrape all de fat
an' de meat off, an' wash um, and dry um ag'in--den we got de good prime
skin." The Indian fastened a stout piece of line into the nose of each
pelt, and climbing the ladder, secured them to one of the poles of the
_cache_ in such manner that they hung free to the air, and yet out of
reach of any prowling animals. When they returned to the cabin 'Merican
Joe proceeded to cut thick slices from the hams of the two lynx
carcasses.

"Is that good for bait?" asked the boy.

'Merican Joe laughed. "Dat too mooch good for bait!" he exclaimed. "We
goin' have dat meat for de breakfas'."

"For breakfast!" cried Connie. "You don't mean you're going to eat lynx
meat! Why, a lynx is a cat!"

"Mebbe-so cat--mebbe-so ain't. Dat don't mak' no differ' w'at you call
um. You wait, I fry um an' I bet you t'ink dat de bes' meat you ever
eat."

"I don't believe I could tackle a cat," grinned the boy.

"Dat better you forgit dat cat business. If it good, it good. If it ain'
good, it ain' good. W'at you care you call um cat--dog--pig? Plenty
t'ing good to eat w'en you fin' dat out. De owl, she good meat. De
musquash, w'at you call de mushrat--dat don' hurt de meat 'cause you
call um rat! De skunk mak' de fine meat, an' de porkypine, too."

"I guess Injuns ain't so particular what they eat," laughed Connie.

"De Injun know w'at de good meat is," retorted 'Merican Joe. "By golly,
I seen de white mans eat de rotten cheese, an' she stink so bad dat mak'
de Injun sick."

"I guess you win!" laughed the boy. "I've seen 'em too--but you bet I
never ate any of it!"

"You try de _loup cervier_ steak in de mornin'," the Indian urged
earnestly. "If you don' lak him I bet you my dogs to wan chaw tobac'!"

"I don't chew tobacco," Connie grinned, "but seeing you've gone to all
the trouble of slicing the meat up, I'll take a chance."

"How you lak him, eh?" 'Merican Joe grinned across the little table at
Connie next morning, as the boy gingerly mouthed a small piece of lynx
steak. Connie swallowed the morsel, and, without answering, took another
bite. There was nothing gingerly about the action this time, and the
Indian noted that the boy's jaws worked with evident relish.

"Well," answered Connie, when the second morsel had gone the way of the
first, "if the rest of the things you were telling me about are as good
as this, all I've got to say is: Bring 'em along!"

Daylight found them on the trap line with sleeping bags and provisions
in their packs, for it would require at least two days to "fresh up" the
line.

At noon they camped for lunch almost at the end of the line of steel
traps. So far they had been unusually lucky. Only two traps had been
sprung empty, and eight martens and a mink were in the pack sacks. Only
two of the martens, and the mink were alive when found and Connie
quickly learned the Indian method of killing a trapped animal--a method
that is far more humane and very much easier when it comes to skinning
the animal than the white man's method of beating him on the head with
the ax handle. With the latter practice the skull is crushed with the
result that there is a nasty mess which discolours the flesh side of the
pelt and makes very disagreeable work for the skinner.

The first live marten was in one of the "ground set" traps and upon the
approach of the trappers he arched his back and stood at bay, emitting
sharp squalls and growls of anger. 'Merican Joe simply planted his
snowshoe on him, pressing him into the snow, then with one hand he
reached down and secured a firm hold on the animal's neck and gradually
worked the fore part of his body from under the snowshoe, taking care to
keep the hinder part held fast by the web. Snapping the mitten from his
other hand, the Indian felt just behind the lower ribs for the animal's
heart, and grasping it firmly between thumb and fingers he pulled
quickly downward. The heart was thus torn from its position and the
animal died instantly and painlessly. The mink which was suspended by
the tossing pole, and the other marten which had fallen victim to one of
the "tree sets," of course, could not be held by the snowshoe. As both
were caught by the fore leg, a loop of copper wire was slipped about
their hind legs and the animals thus stretched out and dispatched in the
same manner as the first.

As these three animals were not frozen, 'Merican Joe skinned them at the
noon camp, thereby doing away with the weight of the useless carcasses.

"What are we going to do when we finish up this trap line?" asked
Connie. "It won't be time to look at the snares again."

"No. We tak' a day an' res' up, an' skin de martens an' stretch um. Den
we mus' got to git som' dog feed. We put out de fish nets an' hunt de
caribou. Leloo, he be'n killing caribou wit' de wolf pack--he ain'
hongre w'en we feed de dogs."

But the revelation of the next few miles drove all thought of a day of
rest or a caribou hunt from the mind of the Indian, for real trouble
began with the second trap visited in the afternoon. This trap which had
been set upon the trunk of a leaning tree, was found dangling empty by
its chain, and held firmly between its jaws was the frozen leg of a
marten. The keen eyes of 'Merican Joe saw at a glance that the animal
had neither gnawed nor twisted its own way out of the trap but had been
torn from it by violence. The Indian scowled darkly at certain telltale
tracks in the snow, and an exclamation of anger escaped him.

Connie laughed. "Now who's growling about the loss of a skin? One marten
more or less won't make much difference."

'Merican Joe continued to scowl. "No, one marten don't mak' mooch
differ', but we ain' goin' to git no more marten on dis trap line
_s'pose_ we ain' kill dat _carcajo_! He start in here an' he clean out
de whole line. He steal all de marten, an' he bust up de deadfalls. An'
we got to ketch um or we got got to move som' nodder place!" And in all
truth, the Indian's fears were well justified. For of all the animals of
the North, the _carcajo_ is the most hated by the trappers. And he has
fairly earned every bit of hatred he gets because for absolute malicious
fiendishness this thick-bodied brute of many names has no equal.
Scientists, who have no personal quarrel with him, have given him the
dignified Latin name of _gulo luscus_--the last syllable of the last
word being particularly apt. In the dictionaries and encyclopædias he is
listed as the glutton. In the United States he is commonly known as the
wolverine. The lumberjacks call him the Injun devil. While among the
trappers and the Indians themselves he is known as the _carcajo_, or as
bad dog--which is the Indian's idea of absolute cussedness and
degeneracy.

Connie broke the silence that had fallen upon the two as they stared at
the empty trap. "Well, we won't move!" he cried. "There's no measly
_carcajo_ going to run me out of here! We'll get busy, and in two or
three days from now we'll have that scoundrel's hide hanging up on the
_cache_ with the lynx skins!"

The Indian nodded slowly. "Mebbe-so--mebbe-so not. De _carcajo_, she
smart. She hard to ketch."

"So are we smart!" exclaimed the boy. "Come on--let's go!"

"Ain' no good we go 'long de trap line. De trap she all be bust up. We
go back to de cabin an' git som' beaver trap, an' we start out on de
odder end an' back-track 'long de trap line. Mebbe-so de _carcajo_ ain'
had time to git over de whole line yet. Anyhow, we got to set plenty
trap for him."

Hastening back to the cabin, the frozen martens were thawed out and
skinned, and 'Merican Joe made up his pack for the trail. Connie
refrained from asking questions, as the Indian solemnly made up his
queer pack, but the boy resolved to keep his eyes open the following
day, for of all the things the Indian placed in his pack sack, there
was nothing that appeared to be of any use whatever except the six stout
beaver traps.

Daylight next morning found them at the end of the trap line which they
back-trailed for some five or six miles without seeing any signs of the
presence of the _carcajo_. They had four martens in their packs, and
Connie was beginning to believe that the outlook was not so bad after
all, when they suddenly came upon one of the deadfalls literally torn to
pieces. There had been a marten in this trap, but nothing remained of
him except a few hairs that clung to the bark of the fall-log. The bait
was gone, the bait house was broken apart, and the pieces strewn about
in the most savage and wanton manner. The tracks were only a few hours
old, and Connie was for following them and killing the marauder with the
rifle. But 'Merican Joe shook his head: "No, we ain' kin fin' him. He
climb de tree and den git in nodder tree an' keep on goin' an' we lose
time an' don' do no good. He quit here las' night. He start in ag'in
tonight w'ere he leave off. We go back, now, an' set som' trap w'ere he
ain' be'n."

Retracing their steps to the first unmolested deadfall, the Indian set
one of the beaver traps. But instead of baiting it, or setting it at the
opening of the bait house, he carefully scooped a depression in the snow
at the back of the house. Placing the trap in this depression so that it
lay about two inches below the level of the snow, he carefully laid
small clusters of needles from the pan outward so that they rested upon
the jaws. This was to keep the snow from packing or freezing on the trap
which would prevent it from springing. When the trap was completely
covered the Indian took two pieces of crust from the snow and, holding
them above the trap, rubbed them together, thus grinding the snow and
letting it fall upon the needles until the whole was covered with what
looked like a natural fall of snow. "De _carcajo_ he com' to de trap at
de back an' break it up," he explained as he stood up and examined his
handiwork critically.

"I hope he tries it on that one," grinned Connie, as he followed the
Indian who had already started for the next set.

This set was different, in that it was not made at any trap. The Indian
paused beside a fallen log and with the ax cut a half-dozen green
poles. These he cut into three-foot lengths and laid them one on top of
the other in the shape of a three-cornered crib. Then he took from the
pack some of the articles that had excited Connie's curiosity. An old
coat, tightly rolled, was first placed within the enclosure of the crib.
Then several empty tin cans were placed on top of the coat, and covered
with an old scrap of canvas. On top of the canvas were placed the
snowshoes that had been crushed by the bear. Four of the beaver traps
were now set, one on each side of the crib, close to the wall and one on
top of the snowshoes inside the enclosure. The traps on the outside were
covered in exactly the same manner as the trap set at the deadfall, and
the one inside was simply covered with an old worn-out sock.

"Where does the bait go?" asked Connie, as he glanced curiously at the
contrivance.

"De bait she all ready. We ain' want no meat bait. De _carcajo_ com'
'long, she see de leetle log house. She sniff 'roun' an' she say: 'Dis
is wan _cache_. I bust him up an' steal all de t'ings.' An' so he go to
bust up de _cache_ an' de firs' t'ing she know she got de leg in de
trap. Dat mak' him mad an' he jump 'roun' an' by-m-by anodder leg gits
in odder trap, an' by golly, den he ain' kin git away no mor'!"

"Why don't you fasten the chains to the big log, instead of to those
light clogs?" asked the boy.

"Dat ain' no good way to do," replied the Indian. "If she fasten on de
big solid log, de _carcajo_ git chance to mak' de big pull. He git w'at
you call de brace, an' he pull an' pull, an' by-m-by, he pull hees foot
out. But w'en you mak' de trap on de clog he ain' kin git no good pull.
Every tam he pull, de clog com' 'long a leetle, an' all he do is drag de
stick."

The remaining trap was set at another deadfall, and the two trappers
returned home to await results. But while they waited, they were not
idle. The dog food was running low, so armed with ice chisels and axes
they went out on to the snow-covered lake and busied themselves in
setting their whitefish nets through the ice.



CHAPTER XI

THE CARIBOU HUNT


Connie Morgan and his trapping partner, 'Merican Joe, bolted a hurried
breakfast. For both were eager to know the result of their attempt to
trap the _carcajo_ that had worked such havoc with their line of marten
and mink traps.

"Suppose we do catch this one?" asked Connie as he fastened his rackets.
"Won't there be an other one along in a day or two, so we'll have to do
it all over again?"

"No," explained the Indian. "_Carcajo_ no like nodder _carcajo_. In de
winter tam de _carcajo_ got he's own place to hunt. If nodder wan comes
'long dey mak' de big fight, an' wan gits lick an' he got to go off an'
fin' nodder place to hunt. Injun hate _carcajo_. Marten hate um. Mink,
an fox hate um. Deer hate um. All de peoples hate um--de big peoples,
an' de leetle peoples. _Carcajo_ so mean even _carcajo_ hate _carcajo_!"

A yell of triumph escaped Connie as, closely followed by 'Merican Joe,
he pushed aside the thick screen of spruce branches and came suddenly
upon the crib-like _cache_ that the Indian had constructed to entice the
malicious night prowler. For right in the midst of the wreckage of the
_cache_, surrounded by the broken snowshoes, the tin cans, the old coat,
and the sticks that had formed the crib, was the _carcajo_ himself, a
foreleg in one trap and his thick shaggy tail in another! When he caught
sight of the trappers the animal immediately showed fight. And never had
Connie seen such an exhibition of insensate ferocity as the _carcajo_,
every hair erect, teeth bared, and emitting squall-like growls of rage,
tugged at the rattling trap chains in a vain effort to attack. Beside
this animal the rage of even the disturbed barren ground grizzly seemed
a mild thing. But, of course, the grizzly had been too dopey and dazed
from his long sleep, to really put forth his best efforts.

"Shoot um in de ear," advised 'Merican Joe, "an' it ain' no hole in de
hide an' it kill um queek." And, holding the muzzle of the little
twenty-two close, Connie dispatched the animal with one well-placed
shot. The next instant, 'Merican Joe was laughing as Connie held his
nose, for like the skunk, the _carcajo_ has the power to emit a
yellowish fluid with an exceedingly disagreeable odour--and this
particular member of the family used his power lavishly.

"He too mooch smart to git in de trap in de snow," said the Indian,
pointing to the dead _carcajo_. "He climb up on de log an' den he jump
'cross de leetle space an' put de foot in de trap on top of de pile. Den
w'en he git mad an tear up de _cache_ an' try to git loose, he sit down
in wan more trap, an it ketch him on he's tail."

While 'Merican Joe drew the shaggy brownish-black skin from the thick
body, Connie recovered the traps, removed the clogs, and _cached_ them
where they could be picked up later. Neither of the two traps that had
been set at the backs of the marten traphouses had been disturbed, and
as Connie gathered these and placed them with the others, he learned of
the extreme wariness and caution of the _carcajo_. For the snow told the
story of how the prowler had circled the traphouses several times, and
then lumbered on, leaving them untouched.

"It's a wonder you don't cut some steaks out of him," grinned the boy
as he looked at the fat carcass.

The Indian shook his head. "No. De _carcajo_, an' de mink, an' de
marten, an' de fisher, an' de otter ain' no good to eat. W'en you fin'
de Injun w'at eat 'em--look out! Dat one bad Injun, you bet!"

The work of "freshing up" the trap line in the wake of the _carcajo_
took almost as long as the laying of a new line. For the marauder had
done his work thoroughly and well. Hardly a trap was left unmolested. In
some places the snow showed where he had eaten a marten, but in most
instances the traps were simply destroyed apparently from sheer
wantonness. Three or four martens and one lynx were recovered where they
had been taken from the traps, carried off the line for some distance,
and buried in the snow.

By evening of the third day the task was finished and the two trappers
returned to their cabin.

The following day was spent in getting ready a trail outfit for the
caribou hunt. Both of the toboggans and dog teams were to be taken to
haul home the meat, and provisions for a week's trip were loaded. Only
a few caribou tracks had been seen on the trap line and 'Merican Joe
believed that more would be found to the south-eastward.

The first night on the trail they camped at the edge of a wide _brule_,
some twenty miles from the cabin. No caribou had been sighted during the
day, although tracks were much more numerous than they had been in the
vicinity of the cabin. 'Merican Joe had not brought his heavy rifle,
preferring instead the twenty-two, with which he had succeeded in
bringing down four ptarmigan. And as they sat snug and cozy in the
little tent and devoured their supper of stew and tea and pilot bread,
Connie bantered the Indian.

"You must think you're going to sneak up as close to the caribou as I
did to the _carcajo_, to get one with that gun."

'Merican Joe grinned. "You wait. You see I git mor' caribou wit' de
knife den you git wit' de big gun," he answered. "Me an' Leloo, we ain'
need no gun, do we, Leloo?" The great wolf-dog had been secured in the
tent to prevent his slipping off during the night, and at the mention of
his name he pricked up his ears and searched the faces of the two, as
if trying to figure out what all the talk was about. Far away in the
timber a wolf howled, and Leloo's eyes at once assumed an expression of
intense longing and he listened motionless until the sound died away,
then with a glance at the _babiche_ thong that secured him, settled
slowly to the robe and lay with his long pointed muzzle upon his
outstretched forepaws, and his dull yellow eyes blinking lazily.

Early the following morning they skirted the south shore of Lake Ste.
Therese, crossed the river, and headed for a range of hills that could
be seen to the south-eastward. The day was warm, ten to fifteen degrees
above zero, and the gusty south-east wind was freighted with frequent
snow squalls. Toward noon, as they were crossing a frozen muskeg,
Connie, who was in the lead, stopped to examine some fresh caribou
tracks that led toward the timber of the opposite side in a course
nearly parallel with their own. 'Merican Joe halted his team and came
forward. Leloo nosed the tracks and, with no more show of interest than
a slight twitching of the ears, raised his head and eyed first 'Merican
Joe, then Connie. The trail was very fresh and the scent strong so that
the other dogs sniffed the air and whined and whimpered in nervous
eagerness. The trail was no surprise to Leloo. So keen was his sense of
scent that for a quarter of a mile he had known that they were nearing
it. Had he been alone, or running at the head of the hunt-pack, he would
even now have been wolfing down huge mouthfuls of the warm,
blood-dripping meat. But this case was different. At this moment he was
a dog, and not a wolf. His work was the work of the harness. Leloo's
yellow eyes scrutinized the faces of his two masters as they talked, for
he had been quick to recognize Connie as his new master, although he
never quite renounced allegiance to the Indian. He obeyed alike the
command of either, and both were too wise in the way of dogs to try him
out with conflicting commands just to see "which he would mind."

Leloo knew that his masters would do one of two things. Either they
would follow the caribou and kill them, or they would ignore the trail
and hold their own course. He hoped they would decide to follow the
caribou. For two or three days he had been living on fish, and Leloo did
not like fish and only ate them when there was nothing else to eat. He
watched 'Merican Joe return to his dogs, and fairly leaped into the
collar as Connie swung him on to the trail. Two bull caribou had gone
that way scarcely an hour before. There would be a kill, and plenty of
meat.

A quarter of a mile before reaching the timber, Connie, who was in the
lead, swerved sharply from the trail and headed toward a point that
would carry them to the bush well down wind from the place the caribou
had entered. Leloo cheerfully followed for he understood this move, and
approved it. Arriving in the scrub, Connie and 'Merican Joe quickly
unharnessed the dogs and tied all except the wolf-dog to trees. The boy
removed the rifle from the toboggan and threw a shell into the chamber.

"Hadn't we better put a line on Leloo?" he asked as they started in the
direction of the trail.

'Merican Joe laughed; "No, Leloo he know 'bout hunt--you watch. You want
to see de gran' dog work you jes' shoot wan caribou. Leloo he git' de
odder wan, you bet!"

"You don't mean he'll get him unless he's wounded!"

"Sure, he git him--you see! If you shoot wan an' wound him, Leloo git
de good wan first, an' den he go git de wounded wan."

They cut the trail at the edge of the muskeg and immediately circled
down wind. Leloo trotted quietly beside them, and now and then Connie
noted twitching of the delicate nostrils. Suddenly the animal halted,
sniffing the air. The ruff bristled slightly, and turning at a right
angle to the course, the dog headed directly into the wind.

"He ketch um," said 'Merican Joe. "Close by. Dat ain' no trail
scent--dat body scent!"

The spruce gave place to willows, and creeping to the edge of a frozen
marshy stream, they saw the two caribou feeding upon the opposite side.

Connie set for two hundred yards and fired. The larger bull reared high
in front, pitched sidewise, and after several lurching leaps, fell to
the snow. The other headed diagonally across the open at a trot. Beside
him Connie heard a low growl, there was a flash of silver, and Leloo
shot into the open like an arrow. For several seconds the bull trotted
on, unconscious of the great grey shape that was nearly upon him. When
he did discover it and broke into a run it was too late. As if hurled
from a gun the flying wolf-dog rose from the snow and launched himself
at the exposed flank of the fleeing caribou, which was whirled half way
around at the impact. Leloo sprang clear as the stricken animal plunged
and wobbled on his fast weakening legs. The caribou staggered on a few
steps and lay down. And the wolf-dog, after watching him for a moment to
make sure he was really done for, trotted over and sniffed at the bull
Connie had shot.

While 'Merican Joe, with a quick twist of his sheath knife, cut the
stricken animal's throat, Connie examined the wound that had brought him
down. Leloo had returned to his kill, and as the boy glanced up the
great wolf-dog opened his mouth in a prodigious yawn that exposed his
gleaming fangs, and instantly the boy remembered the words of Waseche
Bill, "Keep your eye on him ... if he ever turns wolf when he'd ort to
be dog ... good-night." "It would be 'good-night,' all right," he
muttered, as he turned again to look at the wound--a long slash that had
cut through the thick hide, the underlying muscles, and the inner
abdominal wall and literally disembowelled the animal as cleanly as
though it had been done with a powerful stroke of a sharp knife.

"W'at you t'ink 'bout Leloo, now?" grinned the Indian, as he rose from
his knee and wiped his bloody knife upon his larrigan.

"I think he's some killer!" exclaimed the boy. "No wonder you don't
carry a rifle."

"Don't need no gun w'en we got Leloo," answered 'Merican Joe, proudly.
"De gun too mooch heavy. Injun ain' so good shot lak de w'ite man. Waste
too mooch shell--dat cost too mooch."

The butchering and cutting up of the two caribou took less than an hour,
during which time 'Merican Joe found that no matter how much of a
_chechako_ Connie was in regard to the fur-bearers, he had had plenty of
experience in the handling of meat. When the job was finished, the meat
was covered with the hides, and taking only the livers and hearts with
them, the two started for the toboggans. The low-banked, marshy river
upon which they found themselves made a short turn to the northward a
short distance farther on, and they decided to circle around far enough
to see what lay beyond the wooded point. Rounding the bend, they came
upon what was evidently a sluggish lake, or broadening of the river,
its white surface extending for a distance of two or three miles toward
the north. Far beyond the upper end of the lake they could make out
another ridge of hills, similar to the one to the southward toward which
they were heading. They were about to turn back when Connie pointed to
Leloo who was sniffing the air with evident interest. "He smells
something!" exclaimed the boy, "maybe there are some more caribou in the
willows a little farther on."

The Indian watched the dog narrowly: "Noe he ain' git de body scent--dat
de trail scent. Mus' be de strong scent. He smell um down wind. We go
tak' a look--mebbe-so we git som' mor' meat."

Keeping close to shore they struck northward upon the surface of the
lake and ten minutes later, 'Merican Joe uttered an exclamation and
pointed ahead. Hastening forward they came upon a broad trail. As far as
they could see the surface of the snow was broken and trampled by the
hoofs of hundreds and hundreds of caribou. The animals had crossed the
lake on a long slant, travelling leisurely and heading in a
north-westerly direction for the hills that could be seen in the
distance. The two bulls they had killed were evidently stragglers of the
main herd, for the trail showed that the animals had passed that same
day--probably early in the morning.

"We go back an git de dogs and de outfit, an' follow um up. We git
plenty meat now. Dat good place we camp right here tonight an' in de
mornin' we follow 'long de trail." The short afternoon was well advanced
and after selecting a camping site, the Indian hung the livers and
hearts upon a limb, and the two struck out rapidly for the toboggans.

After hastily swallowing a cold lunch, they harnessed the dogs and
worked the outfit through the timber until they struck the river at the
point where they had slipped upon the two caribou. As they stepped from
the willows Connie pointed toward the opposite shore. "There's something
moving over there!" he exclaimed. "Look--right between the meat piles! A
wolf I guess."

'Merican Joe peered through the gathering dusk. "No, dat _loup cervier_.
De wolf ain' hunt dead meat." Leloo had caught a whiff of the animal and
the hairs of his great ruff stood out like the quills of an enraged
porcupine. Stooping, the Indian slipped him from the harness and the
next instant a silver streak was flashing across the snow. The _loup
cervier_ did not stand upon the order of his going but struck out for
the timber in great twenty-foot bounds. He disappeared in the willows
with the wolf-dog gaining at every jump, and a moment later a young
spruce shivered throughout its length, as the great cat struck its trunk
a good ten feet above the snow. Connie started at a run, but 'Merican
Joe called him back.

"We tak' de outfit long an' load de meat first. We got plenty tam. Leloo
hold um in de tree an' den we go git um." Picking up Leloo's harness the
Indian led the way across the river where it was but the work of a few
minutes to load the meat on to the toboggans.

When the loads were firmly lashed on, the toboggans were tipped over to
prevent the dogs from running away, and taking the light rifle the two
went to the tree beneath which Leloo sat looking up into the glaring
yellow eyes of the lynx. One shot placed squarely in the corner of an
eye brought the big cat down with a thud, and they returned to the
outfit and harnessed Leloo. When they were ready to start, 'Merican Joe
swung the two caribou heads to the top of his load.

"What are you packing those heads for?" asked Connie.

"Mus' got to hang um up," answered the Indian.

"Well, hang them up back there in the woods. There's a couple of handy
limb stubs on that tree we got the lynx out of."

The Indian shook his head. "No, dat ain' no good. De bear head mus' got
to git hang up right where she fall, but de deer an' de moose and de
caribou head mus' got to hang up right long de water where de canoes go
by."

"Why's that?"

The other shrugged. "I ain' know 'bout dat. Mebbe-so w'en _Sah-ha-lee
Tyee_ com' to count de deer, he com' in de canoe. I ain' care I know so
mooch 'bout why. W'en de Injuns hang up de head in de right place, den
de deer, an' de bear, an' all de big peoples ain' git all kill off--an'
w'en de w'ite mans com' in de country an' don't hang up de heads, de big
peoples is all gon' queek. So dat's nuff, an' don't mak' no differ'
'bout why."

[Illustration: "As darkness settled over the North Country, a little
fire twinkled in the bush, and the odour of sizzling bacon and frying
liver permeated the cozy camp."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

At the bend of the river 'Merican Joe hung up the heads upon a couple
of solid snags, and a short time later they were pitching their little
tent upon the camp site selected beside the caribou trail. As darkness
settled over the north county, a little fire twinkled in the bush, and
the odour of sizzling bacon and frying liver permeated the cozy camp.



CHAPTER XII

THE TRAIL IN THE SNOW


It was noon the following day when they overtook the caribou herd, half
way between the northern extremity of the lake and the range of hills. A
halt was called upon the margin of a small lake along the shores of
which the stragglers could be seen feeding slowly along.

"Dat bes' we ain' kill only 'bout six--seven today. Dat mak' us work
pretty good to git um cut up before de night com' long an' freeze um.
Tomorrow we kill eight--nine mor' an' dat be nuff."

The dogs were unhitched and tied to trees, and Connie started to loosen
the rifle from its place on top of one of the packs. But the Indian
stayed him: "No, dat ain' no good we mak' de shoot. We scare de herd an'
dey travel fast. We let Leloo kill um, an' dat don't chase um off. Dey
t'ink Leloo wan big wolf, an' dey all de tam git kill by de wolf, an'
dey don't care."

So armed only with their belt axes and knives, they struck out for the
herd accompanied by Leloo who fairly slavered in anticipation of the
coming slaughter. And a slaughter it was, as one by one the stricken
brutes went down before the deadly onslaught. What impressed Connie more
even than the unerring accuracy of the death stroke was the ominous
silence with which the great wolf-dog worked. No whimper--no growl, nor
whine, nor bark--simply a noiseless slipping upon the selected animal,
and then the short silent rush and a caribou staggered weakly to its
knees never to rise again. One or two bawled out as the flashing fangs
struck home, but the sound caused no excitement among the others which
went on feeding as if nothing had happened. This was due to the cunning
of Leloo--partly no doubt a native cunning inherited from his father,
the great white wolf from the frozen land beyond the frozen sea--partly,
too, this cunning was the result of the careful training of 'Merican
Joe, who had taught the wolf-dog to strike only those animals that were
separated from their fellows. For had the killer rushed blindly in,
slashing right and left the herd would have bunched for defence, and
later have travelled far into the hills, or struck out for the open
tundra.

When six animals were down, Leloo was called off, and Connie and the
Indian set about skinning and cutting up the carcasses.

"I see where we're going to make about two more trips for this meat,"
said Connie. "We've got more than we can pack now, and with what we kill
tomorrow, it will take at least three trips."

'Merican Joe nodded. "Yes, we build de _cache_, an' we pack all we kin
haul, an' com' back w'en we git time. Anyhow, dat ain' so far lak we
gon' on dem odder hills. We strike mos' straight wes' from here we com'
on de cabin."

The killing and cutting up was finished by noon next day, and when
darkness fell the two gorged an enormous meal of bannocks and liver, and
retired to their sleeping bags for a well-earned rest. For the two
toboggans stood loaded with meat covered tightly with green hides that
had already frozen into place, and formed an effective protection
against the pilfering of the dogs, three or four of which were amazingly
clever sneak-thieves--while at least two were out-and-out robbers from
whose depredations even the liver sizzling in the frying pan was not
safe. The same precaution of covering was taken with the meat on the
platform of the pole _cache_, for while its height from the ground
protected it from the prowlers, the frozen hides also protected it from
the inroads of the "whiskey jacks," as the voracious and pestiferous
Canada jays are called in the Northland. For they are the boldest
robbers of all, not even hesitating to fly into a tent and grab some
morsel from the plate of the camper while he is eating his meal. These
birds scorn the cold, remaining in the far North all winter, and woe
betide the unprotected piece of meat they happen to light upon, for
though it be frozen to the hardness of iron, the sharp bills of these
industrious marauders will pick it to the bone.

The pace was slow next day owing to the heavy loads, each toboggan
carrying more than one hundred pounds to the dog. But the trail to the
cabin was not a long one and the trappers were anxious to carry with
them as much meat as possible, to avoid making another trip until well
into fox trapping time. It was late in the afternoon when Connie who was
travelling ahead breaking trail, paused at the edge of a clump of
spruce and examined some tracks in the snow. The tracks were made by a
pair of snowshoes, and the man who wore them had been heading
north-east. 'Merican Joe glanced casually at the tracks. "Som' Injun
trappin'," he opined.

"White man," corrected Connie, "and I don't believe he was a trapper."

The Indian glanced again at the trail. "Mebbe-so p'lice," he hazarded.

"Not by a long shot! If there was any patrol in here there'd be sled
tracks--or at least he'd be carrying a pack, and this fellow was
travelling light. Besides you wouldn't catch any men in the Mounted
fooling with snowshoes like that!" The boy pointed to the pattern of a
track. "Those are bought rackets from the outside. I saw some like 'em
in the window of a store last winter down in Minneapolis. They look nice
and pretty, but they're strung too light. Guess we'll just back track
him for a while. His back trail don't dip much south, and we won't swing
far out of the way."

'Merican Joe expressed indifference. "W'at you care 'bout de man? We
ain' los' nuttin'. An' we ain' got to run way from de p'lice."

Connie grinned. "No, and believe me, I'm glad we haven't got to!
They're a hard bunch to run away from. Anyway, this fellow is no
policeman, and I've just got a hunch I'd like to know something about
him. I can't tell why--just a hunch, I guess. But somehow I don't like
the looks of that trail. It don't seem to _fit_. The tracks are pretty
fresh. We ought to strike the remains of his noon camp before long."

The Indian nodded. "All right, we follow um. You know all 'bout de man
trail. Som' tam you know all 'bout de fur trail, too--you be de gran'
trapper."

The back trail held its course for a few miles and then swung from the
westward so that it coincided with their own direction. At the point
where it bent from the westward, they came upon the man's noon-time
camp.

"Here's where he set his pack while he built his fire," pointed the boy.
"He didn't have much of a pack, just a sleeping bag and a couple of
day's grub rolled up in it. Here's where he set his rifle down--it was a
high power--little shorter and thinner butt than mine--a thirty-thirty,
I guess. He ain't a _chechako_ though, for all he's got bought
snowshoes. He tramped out his fire when he went, and he didn't throw
away his tea-grounds. Whoever he is, he's got a camp not farther than
two days from here, or he'd never be travelling that light in this
country."

A few miles farther on Connie again halted and pointed to another trail
that converged with the one they were following. They had been
travelling upon the ice of a small river and this new trail dipped into
the river bed from the north-eastward.

"It's the same fellow!" cried the boy. "This trail was made yesterday.
He camped somewhere ahead of us last night and went back where he came
from today. Left his own back trail here--thought it was easier to
follow on up the river, I guess. Or, maybe he wanted to dodge some bad
going. Where he came from isn't so far away, either," continued the boy,
"he was travelling light yesterday, too."

They had proceeded but a short distance when 'Merican Joe called a halt.
He came forward, and looked intently at Leloo who was the leader of
Connie's team. Connie saw the great wolf-dog was sniffing the air
uneasily.

"What is it?" he asked of 'Merican Joe.

"Injuns. Big camp. Me--I kin smell de smoke."

Connie sniffed the air, but could smell nothing. "How far?" he asked.

"She straight ahead on de wind--mebbe-so two, t'ree mile."

The banks of the small river they were following became lower as they
advanced and finally disappeared altogether as the stream wound its way
through a frozen swamp. In the swamp they encountered innumerable trails
of snowshoes that crossed each other at every conceivable angle.

"Squaw tracks," grunted 'Merican Joe. "De squaw got to ten' de rabbit
snare. Dat mak' um work pretty good. Injun don't buy so mooch grub lak
de wi'te mans, an' every day de squaw got to ketch 'bout ten rabbit. If
dey got mooch--w'at you call _tenas-man_?"

"Children--kids," supplied Connie.

"If dey got mooch kids dey mus' got to ketch 'bout twenty rabbit every
day."

"Why don't they go after caribou?"

"Yes, dey hunt de caribou w'en de caribou com' roun'. But dey can't go
mebbe-so hondre mile to hunt de caribou. Dey live on de rabbit, an
ptarmigan, an' fish in de winter tam, an' w'en de bad rabbit year com'
'long den de Injun he's belly git empty an' de ribs stick out an' he too
mooch die from de big hongre."

They were nearing the village. Sounds of a dog fight reached their ears,
the savage growls of the combatants, and the yapping and barking of the
pack that crowded about them. Then the hoarse call of an Indian, and a
yelping of dogs as the man evidently worked on them industriously with a
club.

They emerged suddenly from the thick growth of the swamp on to the ice
of the broader stream which connects Lake Ste. Therese with McVicker Bay
of Great Bear Lake. The village was located upon the opposite bank which
rose some twelve or fifteen feet above the river ice. Through the
gathering darkness Connie made out some five or six log cabins, and many
makeshift dwellings of poles, skins and snow blocks.

Their appearance upon the river was the occasion for a pandemonium of
noise as the Indian dogs swept out upon the ice to greet them with
barks, yaps, growls, whines, and howls. Never had the boy seen such a
motley collection of dogs. Big dogs and little dogs, long tailed, short
tailed, and bob tailed--white dogs and black dogs, and dogs of every
colour and all colours between. In only two particulars was there any
uniformity--they all made some sort of a noise, and they were all
skin-poor.

Heads appeared at the doors of various dwellings, and a little knot of
Indians gathered at the top of the bank, where they waited, staring
stolidly until two heavily loaded toboggans came to a halt at the foot
of the steep bank.

Greetings were exchanged and several invitations were extended to the
travellers to spend the night--one Indian in particular, who spoke a few
words of English and appeared to be rather better dressed than the
others, was very insistent, pointing with evident pride toward the
largest of the log houses. But they declined with thanks, and indicated
that they would camp a short distance below the village where a more
gently sloping bank gave promise of ascent for the heavily loaded
toboggans. As they proceeded along the foot of the bank, an Indian
lurched from one of the skin dwellings, and leered foolishly at them
from the top of the bank. Sounds issued from the shack as of voices
raised in quarrel, and Connie and 'Merican Joe exchanged glances as they
passed on to their camping place.

An hour later as they were finishing their supper, an Indian stepped
abruptly out of the darkness, and stood blinking at them just within the
circle of light from the little fire. He was the Indian they had seen
lurch from the dwelling.

"Hello," said Connie, "what do you want?" The Indian continued to stare,
and Connie tried jargon. "_Iktah mika tika?_" But still the man did not
answer so the boy turned him over to 'Merican Joe who tried out several
dialects and gave it up. The Indian disappeared as abruptly as he had
come, and a few moments later stepped again into the firelight. This
time he carried a large beaver skin which he extended for inspection.
Connie passed it over to 'Merican Joe.

"Is it a good skin?" he asked.

"Good skin," assented 'Merican Joe, "Wan' ver' big beaver ..."

"How much?" asked Connie, making signs to indicate a trade.

The Indian grunted a single word. "_Hooch!_"

"Oh--ho, so that's it!" cried the boy. "I knew it when I saw him the
first time. And I knew that trail we've been following this afternoon
didn't look right. I had a hunch!"

He handed the Indian his skin and shook his head. "No got _hooch_." It
took the man several minutes to realize that there was no liquor
forthcoming, and when he did, he turned and left the fire with every
evidence of anger. Not long after he had gone, another Indian appeared
with the same demand. In vain Connie tried to question him, but
apparently he knew no more English or jargon than the first.

"We've got to figure out some scheme to gum that dirty pup's game!"
cried the boy. "I just wish I was back in the Mounted for about a week!
I'd sure make that bird live hard! But in the Mounted or out of it, I'm
going to make him quit his whiskey peddling, or some one is going to get
hurt!"

'Merican Joe looked puzzled. "W'at you care 'bout dat? W'at dat mak' you
mad som' wan sell Injun de _hooch_?"

"What do _I_ care! I care because it's a dirty, low-lived piece of work!
These Injuns need every bit of fur they can trap to buy grub and
clothes with. When they get _hooch_, they pay a big price--and they pay
it in grub and clothes that their women and children need!"

'Merican Joe shrugged philosophically, and at that moment another Indian
stepped into the firelight. It was the man who had insisted upon their
staying with him, and who Connie remembered had spoken a few words of
English.

"You looking for _hooch_, too?" asked the boy.

The Indian shook his head vigorously. "No. _Hooch_ bad. Mak' Injun bad.
No good!"

Connie shoved the teapot into the coals and motioned the man to be
seated, and there beside the little fire, over many cups of strong tea,
the boy and 'Merican Joe, by dint of much questioning and much sign talk
to help out the little English and the few words of jargon the man knew,
succeeded finally in learning the meaning of the white man's trail in
the snow. They learned that the Indians were Dog Ribs who had drifted
from the Blackwater country and settled in their present location last
fall because two of their number had wintered there the previous year
and had found the trapping good, and the supply of fish and rabbits
inexhaustible. They had done well with their traps, but they had killed
very few caribou during the winter, and the current of the river had
taken many of their nets and swept them away under the ice. The rabbits
were not as plentiful as they had been earlier in the fall, and there
was much hunger in the camp.

They traded as usual, and had gotten "debt" at Fort Norman last summer
before they moved their camp. Later in the summer two men had come along
in a canoe and told them that they would come back before the mid-winter
trading. They said they would sell goods much cheaper than the Hudson's
Bay Company, or the Northern Trading Company, and that they would also
have some _hooch_--which cannot be obtained from the big companies.

Yesterday one of these men came into the camp. He had a few bottles of
_hooch_ which he traded for some very good fox skins, and promised to
return in six days with the other man and two sled loads of goods. He
told them that they did not have to pay their debt to the companies at
Fort Norman because everything at the fort had burned down--all the
stores and all the houses and the men had gone away down the river and
that they would not return. The Indians had been making ready to go to
the fort to trade, but when they heard that the fort was burned they
decided to wait for the free traders. Also many of the young men wanted
to trade with the free traders because they could get the _hooch_.

The Indian said he was very sorry that the fort had burned, because he
did not like the free traders, and he wanted to pay his debt to the
company, but if there was nobody there it would be no use to make the
long trip for nothing.

When he finished Connie sat for some time thinking. Then, producing a
worn notebook and the stub of a pencil from his pocket he wrote upon a
leaf and tore it from the book. When he spoke it was to 'Merican Joe.
"How long will it take you to make Fort Norman travelling light?" he
asked.

"'Bout fi', six, day."

"That will be ten or twelve days there and back," figured the boy, as he
handed him the note.

"All right. You start in the morning, and you go with him," he added,
turning to the Indian.

"That white man lied! There has been no fire at the fort. He wants to
get your skins, and so he lied. You go and see for yourself. The rest
of them here won't believe me if I tell them he lied--especially as the
young men want the _hooch_. I have written McTavish to send someone,
back with you who has the authority to arrest these free traders. I'm
going to stay to get the evidence. In the meantime you send your hunters
on our back trail and they will find many caribou. Divide the meat we
have on the sleds among the people--the women and the children. It will
last till the men return with the meat. I am going to follow the free
traders to their camp."

It took time and patience to explain all this to the Indian but once he
got the idea into his head he was anxious to put the plan into effect.
He slipped away and returned with two other Indians, and the whole
matter had to be gone over again. At the conclusion, one of them agreed
to accompany Connie, and the other to distribute the meat, and to lead
the caribou hunt, so after unloading the sleds and making up the light
trail outfits, they all retired to get a few hours' sleep for the
strenuous work ahead. How well they succeeded and how the free
traders--but, as Mr. Kipling has said, that is another story.



CHAPTER XIII

AT THE CAMP OF THE _HOOCH_-RUNNERS


The late winter dawn had not yet broken when the little camp on the
outskirts of the Indian village was struck and two dog teams drawing
lightly loaded toboggans slipped silently into the timber. When out of
sight and sound of the village the two outfits parted.

Connie Morgan, accompanied by an Indian named Ton-Kan, swung his great
lead-dog, Leloo, to the eastward, crossed the river, and struck out on
the trail of the free trader; while 'Merican Joe with Pierre Bonnet
Rouge, the Indian who had told them of the free trader's plans, headed
north-west in the direction of Fort Norman.

It was nearly noon six days later that they shoved open the door of the
trading post and greeted McTavish, the big bewhiskered Scotchman who was
the Hudson's Bay Company's factor.

"What are ye doin' back here--you? An' where is the lad that was with
ye? An' you, Pierre Bonnet Rouge, where is the rest of your band? An'
don't ye ken ye're two weeks ahead of time for the tradin'?"

"_Oui, M's'u,_" answered the Indian. "But man say----"

He was interrupted by 'Merican Joe who had been fumbling through his
pockets and now produced the note Connie had hastily scribbled upon a
leaf of his notebook.

McTavish carried the scrap of paper to the heavily frosted window and
read it through slowly. Then he read it again, as he combed at his beard
with his fingers. Finally, he laid the paper upon the counter and
glanced toward a man who sat with his chair tilted back against the
bales of goods beyond the roaring stove.

"Here's something for ye, Dan," he rumbled. "Ye was growlin' about
fightin' them ice _bourdillons_, here's a job t'will take ye well off
the river."

"What's that?" asked Dan McKeever--_Inspector_ Dan McKeever, _now_, of N
Division, Royal Northwest Mounted Police. "It better be somethin'
important if it takes me off the river, 'cause I'm due back at Fort
Fitzgerald in a month."

"It's important, all right," answered McTavish, "an lucky it is ye're
here. That's one good thing the rough ice done, anyhow. For, if it
hadn't wore out your dogs you'd be'n gone this three days. D'ye mind I
told ye I'd heard they was a free trader over in the Coppermine country?
Well, there's two of 'em, an' they're workin' south. They're right now
somewheres south of the big lake. They've run onto the Dog Ribs over
near Ste. Therese, an' they're tradin' em _hooch_!"

"Who says so?" asked the Inspector, eying the two Indians doubtfully.

"These two. Pierre Bonnet Rouge I have known for a good many years. He's
a good Indian. An' this other--he come in a while back with his pardner
from over on the Yukon side. His pardner is a white man, an' about as
likely a lookin' lad as I've seen. He's over there now on the trail of
the free traders an' aimin' to stand between them 'an the Indians till
someone comes with authority to arrest them."

"Who is this party, an' what's he doin' over in that country himself?"

"He's just a lad. An' him an' his pardner, here, are trappin'. Name's
Morgan, an----"

Big Dan McKeever's two feet hit the floor with a bang, and he strode
rapidly forward. "_Morgan_, did you say? _Connie Morgan?_"

'Merican Joe nodded vehemently. "Yes, him Connie Mo'gan! Him wan
_skookum tillicum_."

The big inspector's fist smote the counter and he grinned happily. "I'll
say he's _skookum tillicum_!" he cried. "But what in the name of Pat
Feeney is he doin' over here? I heard he'd gone outside."

"D'ye know him?" asked McTavish, in surprise.

"_Know him!_ Know him, did you say? I do know him, an' love him! An' I'd
rather see him than the Angel Gabriel, this minute!"

"Me, too," laughed McTavish, "I ain't ready for the angels, yet!"

"Angels, or no angels, there's a kid that's a _man_! An' his daddy, Sam
Morgan, before him was a man! Didn't the kid serve a year with me over
in B Division? Sure, Mac, I've told you about the time he arrested
Inspector Cartwright for a whiskey runner, an'----"

McTavish interrupted. "Yes, yes, I mind! An' didn't he fetch in
Notorious Bishop, whilst all the rest of you was tearin' out the bone
out in the hills a-huntin' him?"

"That's the kid that done it! An' there's a whole lot more he done, too.
You don't need to worry none about yer Injuns as long as that kid's on
the job."

"But, ye're goin' to hurry over there, ain't you? I hate to think of the
lad there alone. There's two of them traders, an' if they're peddlin'
_hooch_, they ain't goin' to care much what they do to keep from gittin'
caught."

Dan McKeever grinned. "You don't need to worry about him. That kid will
out-guess any free trader, or any other crook that ever was born. He's
handled 'em red hot--one at a time, an' in bunches. The more they is of
'em, the better he likes 'em! Didn't he round up Bill Cosgrieve an' his
Cameron Creek gang? An' didn't he bring in four of the orneriest cusses
that ever lived when they busted the Hart River _cache_? An' he done it
alone! Everyone's got brains, Mac, an' most of us learns to use 'em--in
a way. But, that kid--he starts in figurin' where fellers like us leaves
off!"

"But this case is different, Dan," objected the factor. "He was in the
Mounted then. But what can he do now? He ain't got the authority!"

McKeever regarded the Scotchman with an almost pitying glance. "Mac, you
don't know that kid. But don't you go losin' no sleep over how much
authority he ain't got. 'Cause, when the time comes to use it, he'll
have the authority, all right--if he has to appoint himself
Commissioner! An' when it comes right down to cases, man to man, there's
times when a six-gun has got more authority to it than all the
commissions in the world."

"But they're two to one against him----"

"Yes, an' the kid could shoot patterns in the both of 'em while they was
fumblin' to draw, if he had to. But the chances is there won't be a shot
fired one way or another. He'll jest naturally out-guess 'em an' ease
'em along, painless an' onsuspectin' until he turns 'em over to me, with
the evidence all done up in a package, you might say, ready to hand to
the judge."

McTavish smote his thigh with his open palm. "By the great horn spoon,
I'll go along an' see it done!" he cried. "We'll take my dogs an' by the
time we get back yours will be in shape again. My trader can run the
post, an' I'll bring in them Dog Ribs with me to do their tradin'."

The Indian, Ton-Kan, who accompanied Connie proved to be a good man on
the trail. In fact, the boy wondered, as he followed with the dog team,
if the Indian did not show just a little too much eagerness. Connie knew
something of Indians, and he knew that very few of them possessed the
zeal to exert themselves for the good of the tribe. Their attitude in
regard to the troubles of others was the attitude of 'Merican Joe when
he had shrugged and asked, "W'at you care?" Pierre Bonnet Rouge, Connie
knew to be an exception, and this man might be too, but as he understood
no word of either English or jargon, and Connie knew nothing of the Dog
Rib dialect, the boy decided to take no chances, but to keep close watch
on the Indian's movements when the time for action came.

In the afternoon of the second day Connie exchanged places with the
Indian, he himself taking the lead and letting Ton-Kan follow with the
dogs. The boy figured that if the trader had expected to be back at the
village in six days, his camp could not be more than two days away,
travelling light. That would allow him one day to pack his outfit for
the trail, and three days to reach the Indian village travelling heavy.
Therefore, he slowed the pace and proceeded cautiously.

Connie's experience as an officer of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police
had taught him something of the law, and of the value of securing
evidence. He knew that if he himself could succeed in buying liquor from
the free traders he would have evidence against them under the Northwest
Territories Act upon two counts: having liquor in possession in
prohibited territory, and selling liquor in prohibited territory. But
what he wanted most was to get them under the Indian Act for supplying
liquor to Indians, and it was for this purpose he had brought Ton-Kan
along. The boy had formulated no plan beyond the first step, which was
to have the Indian slip into the traders' camp and purchase some liquor
in payment for which he would give a beautiful fox skin, which skin had
been carefully and cunningly marked the night before by himself and
Pierre Bonnet Rouge. With the liquor as evidence in his possession his
course would be determined entirely by circumstances.

The early darkness was just beginning to fall when, topping a ridge,
Connie caught the faint glimmer of a light at the edge of a spruce
thicket beyond a strip of open tundra. Drawing back behind the ridge
Connie motioned to the Indian to swing the dogs into a thick clump of
stunted trees where they were soon unharnessed and tied. Loosening the
pack Connie produced the fox skin while the Indian lighted a fire. A few
moments later the boy held out the skin, pointed toward the camp of the
free traders, and uttered the single word "_hooch_."

Notwithstanding the Indian's evident eagerness to reach the trader's
camp, he hesitated and made signs indicating that he desired to eat
supper first--and Connie's suspicion of him immediately strengthened.
The boy shook his head, and reluctantly Ton-Kan obeyed, but not without
a longing look toward the grub pack.

When he had disappeared over the ridge Connie hastily bolted some
bannocks and a cold leg of rabbit. Then he fed the dogs, looked to his
service revolver which he carried carefully concealed beneath his
mackinaw, slipped Leloo's leash, and moved silently out on to the trail
of the Indian. Skirting the tundra, he kept in the scrub, and as he
worked his way cautiously toward the light he noted with satisfaction
that his own trail would excite no suspicion among the network of
snowshoe tracks that the free traders had made in visiting their rabbit
snares. In the fast gathering darkness the boy concealed himself in a
bunch of willows which commanded a view of the door and window of the
tiny cabin that lay half-buried in the snow. It was an old cabin
evidently, rechinked by the free traders. The light shone dully through
the little square window pane of greased paper. The Indian had already
been admitted and Connie could see dim shadows move across the pane. The
great wolf-dog crept close and, throwing his arm about the animal's
neck, the boy cuddled close against the warm shaggy coat. A few minutes
later the door opened and Ton-Kan reappeared. Immediately it slammed
shut, and Connie could dimly make out that the Indian was fastening on
his snowshoes. Presently he stood erect and, as the boy had expected,
instead of striking out for camp across the open tundra, he gave a
hurried glance about him and plunged into the timber.

Instantly the boy was on his feet. "I thought so, Leloo," he grinned.
"I thought he was awfully anxious to get that _hooch_. And when he
wanted to wait and eat supper first, I knew that he figured on pulling
out and wanted a full belly to travel on."

"He won't travel very far nor very fast," muttered the boy, as he
circled the little clearing. "Because it's a cinch he didn't get
anything to eat out of those birds--they'd take the fox skin for the
_hooch_, and they're not giving away grub." Leloo walked beside him,
ears erect, and every now and then as they glanced into the boy's face,
the smouldering yellow eyes seemed to flash understanding.

Darkness had settled in earnest, and it was no easy task to pick up the
trail in the scrub among the crisscrossed trails of the free traders,
especially as the boy did not dare to strike a light. He had carefully
studied the Indian's tracks as he had mushed along behind the dogs until
he knew every detail of their impression, but in the darkness all trails
looked alike. Time and again he stooped and with his face close to the
snow, examined the tracks. Time and again he picked up the trail only to
lose it a moment later. Then Leloo took a hand in the game. Connie's
attention was drawn to the dog by a low whine, and stopping he found the
great animal sniffing the fresh trail. "Good old dog!" whispered the
boy, patting the great head. Understanding what was wanted the wolf-dog
bounded off on the trail, but Connie called him back. "If I only dared!"
he exclaimed under his breath. "You'd run him down in five minutes--but
when you did--what then?" The boy shuddered at the recollection of the
stricken caribou and the swift silent rush with which the great silvered
brute had launched himself upon them. "I'm afraid you wouldn't savvy the
difference," he grinned, "and I don't want old Ton-Kan cut plumb in two.
If you'd only throw him down and hold him, or tree him like you did the
_loup cervier_, we'd have him in a hurry--and some time I'm going to
train you to do it." A sudden thought struck the boy as he met the
glance of the glowing yellow eyes. "If I had something to tie you with,
I'd start the training right now," he exclaimed. A hasty search of his
pockets produced a length of the heavy line that he and 'Merican Joe
used for fishing through the ice.

It was but the work of a moment to secure the line about the neck of
the wolf-dog and lead him to the spot where he had nosed out the
Indian's trail. With a low whine of understanding the great beast struck
straight into the timber, the confusion of tracks that had thrown Connie
completely off in the darkness, offering no obstacle whatever to the
keen-scented dog. As Connie had anticipated, Ton-Kan did not travel far
before stopping to sample the contents of the bottle. A half-hour after
the boy took the trail he pulled the straining Leloo to a stand and
peered through the scrub toward a spot at the edge of a thick windfall
where the Indian squatted beside a tiny fire. Holding Leloo close in,
Connie silently worked his way to within twenty feet of where the Indian
sat, bottle in hand, beside his little fire. The man drank from the
bottle, replaced the cork, rose to his feet, and with a grunt of
satisfaction, rubbed his stomach with his mittened hand. Then he
carefully placed the bottle in the snow, and moved toward a small dead
spruce to procure firewood. It was but the work of a moment for Connie
to secure the bottle, and at the sound Ton-Kan whirled to find himself
confronted by the smiling boy. With an exclamation of rage the Indian
sprang to recover his bottle, and the next instant drew back in terror
at sight of Leloo who had stepped in front of the boy, the hair of his
huge ruff a-quiver, the delicately pointed nose wrinkled to expose the
gleaming white fangs, and the yellow eyes glowing like live coals.

"Thought you'd kind of slip one over on me, did you?" smiled the boy as
he made signs for the Indian to follow, and headed for the sled. "You
did drink part of the evidence, but we've got enough left to hold those
birds for a while--and I'm going to get more."

The boy led the way back to the sled with Ton-Kan following dejectedly,
and while the Indian ate his supper, Connie did some rapid thinking. The
meal over he took the Indian's blankets from the sled and, together with
a two days' supply of grub, made them into a pack, which he handed to
Ton-Kan and motioned for him to hit the back trail. At first the Indian
feigned not to understand, then he protested that he was tired, but the
boy was unmoved. When Ton-Kan flatly refused to leave camp Connie drew
his watch from his pocket, held up three fingers, meaningly, and called
Leloo to his side. One glance at the great white wolf-dog with his
bristling ruff settled the argument, and with a grunt of fear, the
Indian snatched up his pack and struck out on the back trail with an
alacrity that belied any thought of weariness. Alone in the camp the boy
grinned into the embers of the little fire. "The next question," he
muttered to himself, "is where do I go from here? Getting rid of Ton-Kan
gets the odds down to two to one against me, but what will I do? I
haven't got any right to arrest 'em. I can't stay here, because they'll
be hitting the back trail for the Indian camp in the morning, and the
first thing they'll do will be to run on to my trail. Then they'll
figure the Mounted is on to them and they'll beat it, and make a clean
get-away. That would keep the _hooch_ away from this bunch of Indians,
but they'd trade it to the next bunch they came to. I ain't going to let
'em get away! I started out to get 'em and I will get 'em, somehow.
Guess the best way would be to go straight to the shack and figure out
what to do when I get there." Suiting the action to the word, the boy
carefully cached the bottle of liquor and packed his outfit. Then he
harnessed his dogs. When it came the turn of the leader, he whistled
for Leloo, but the great wolf-dog was not to be found. With a sudden
fear in his heart, the boy glanced toward the back trail. Had the great
brute understood that Connie and the Indian were at outs and had he
struck out on the trail to settle the matter in his own way? Swiftly the
boy fastened on his snowshoes, and overturning the sled to hold the
other dogs, he headed back along the trail. He had gone but a few steps,
however, before he halted and pushing the cap from his ears, listened.
From a high ridge to the northward, in the opposite direction from that
taken by the Indian, came the long howl of a great grey caribou-wolf,
and a moment later came an answering call--the weird blood-chilling,
terrible cry of the big white wolf-dog. And then Connie returned to his
outfit, for he knew that that night Leloo would run with the hunt-pack.



CHAPTER XIV

THE PASSING OF BLACK MORAN


A string of curses that consigned all Indians to regions
_infra-mundane_, greeted Connie's knock upon the door of the cabin of
the free traders.

"I'm not an Indian!" answered the boy. "Open the door and let a fellow
in! What's the matter with you?"

Connie could hear muttered conversation, as one of the occupants
stumbled about the room. Presently a light was struck and the door flew
open. "Who be you, an' what d'ye want? An' what you doin' trailin' this
time o' night, anyway?"

The man who stood framed in the doorway was of huge build, and scowling
countenance, masked for the most part by a heavy black beard.

Connie smiled. "My partner and I are trapping over beyond the Injun
village, about forty miles southwest of here, and the Injuns told us
that there were some free traders up here some place. We're short of
grub and we thought that if we could get supplies from you it would save
us a trip clear to Fort Norman."

"Turn yer dogs loose an' come in," growled the man, as he withdrew into
the cabin and closed the door against the cold. If Connie could have
seen, as he unharnessed his dogs, the swift glances that passed between
the two occupants of the cabin, and heard their muttered words, he would
have hesitated a long time before entering that cabin alone. But he did
not see the glances, nor did he hear the muttered words.

As he stepped through the doorway, he was seized violently from behind.
For a moment he struggled furiously, but it was child's play for the big
man to hold him, while a small, wizened man sat in his underclothing
upon the edge of his bunk and laughed.

"Frisk him!" commanded the big man, and the other rose from the bunk and
removed the service revolver from its holster. Then, with a vicious
shove, the big man sent Connie crashing into a chair that stood against
the opposite wall. "Sit there, you sneakin' little pup! Thought you
could fool us, did you, with yer lies about trappin'? Thought we
wouldn't know Constable Morgan, of the Mounted, did you? You was some
big noise on the Yukon, couple years back, wasn't you? Most always goin'
it alone an' makin' grandstand plays. Thought you was some stuff, didn't
you?" The man paused for breath, and Connie scrutinized his face, but
could not remember to have seen him before. He shifted his glance to the
other, who had returned to the edge of the bunk, and was regarding him
with a sneering smirk.

"Hello, Mr. Squigg," he said, in a voice under perfect control. "Still
up to your old crookedness, are you? It's a wonder to me they've let you
live this long."

The big man interrupted. "Know him, do you? But you don't know me. Well,
I'll tell you who I be, and I guess you'll know what yer up against. I'm
Black Moran!"

"Black Moran!" cried the boy. "Why, Black Moran was----"

[Illustration: "As he stepped through the doorway he was seized
violently from behind."

Drawn by Frank E. Schoonover]

"Was drounded when he tried to shoot them Pelly Rapids about three
jumps ahead of the police boat, was he? Well, that's what they said but
he wasn't, by a long sight. When the canoe smashed I went under all
right but the current throw'd me into a eddy, an' when the police boat
went down through the chute I was hangin' by my fingers to a rock. The
floater they found later in the lower river an' said was me, was someone
else--but I didn't take the trouble to set 'em right--not by a jug full,
I didn't. It suited me to a T."

"So you're the specimen that murdered old man Kinney for his dust
and----"

"Yup, I'm the party. An' they's a heft of other stuff they've got
charged up agin me--over on the Yukon side. But they ain't huntin' me,
'cause they think I'm dead." There was a cold glitter in the man's eye
and his voice took on a taunting note. "Still playin' a lone hand, eh?
Well, it got you at last, didn't it? Guess you've saw the handwritin' on
the wall by this time. You ain't a-goin' no place from here. You've
played yer string out. This here country ain't the Yukon. They ain't
nobody, nor nothin' here to prevent a man's doin' just what he wants to.
The barrens don't tell no tales. Yer smart, all right--an' you've got
the guts--that's why we ain't a-goin' to take no chances. By tomorrow
night it'll be snowin'. An' when the storm lets up, they won't be no
cabin here--just a heap of ashes in under the snow--an' you'll be part
of the ashes."

Connie had been in many tight places in his life, but he realized as he
sat in his chair and listened to the words of Black Moran that he was at
that moment facing the most dangerous situation of his career. He knew
that unless the man had fully made up his mind to kill him he would
never have disclosed his identity. And he knew that he would not
hesitate at the killing--for Black Moran, up to the time of his supposed
drowning, had been reckoned the very worst man in the North. Escape
seemed impossible, yet the boy showed not the slightest trace of fear.
He even smiled into the face of Black Moran. "So you think I'm still
with the Mounted do you?" he asked.

"Oh, no, we don't think nothin' like that," sneered the man. "Sure, we
don't. That there ain't no service revolver we tuk offen you. That
there's a marten trap, I s'pose. 'Course you're trappin', an' don't know
nothin' 'bout us tradin' _hooch_. What we'd ort to do is to sell you
some flour an' beans, an' let you go back to yer traps."

"Dangerous business bumping off an officer of the Mounted," reminded
the boy.

"Not over in here, it ain't. Special, when it's comin' on to snow. No.
They ain't no chanct in the world to git caught fer it--or even to git
blamed fer it, 'cause if they ever find what's left of you in the ashes
of the cabin, they'll think it got afire while you was asleep. Tomorrow
mornin' yo git yourn. In the meantime, Squigg, you roll in an' git some
sleep. You've got to take the outfit an' pull out early in the mornin'
an' unload that _hooch_ on to them Injuns. I'll ketch up with you 'fore
you git there, though. What I've got to do here won't take me no longer
than noon," he glanced meaningly at Connie, "an' then, we'll pull out of
this neck of the woods."

"Might's well take the kid's dogs an' harness, they might come in
handy," ventured Mr. Squigg.

"Take nothin!" roared Black Moran, angrily. "Not a blame thing that he's
got do we take. That's the trouble with you cheap crooks--grabbin' off
everything you kin lay yer hands on--and that's what gits you caught.
Sometime, someone would see something that they know'd had belonged to
him in our possession. Then, where'd we be? No, sir! Everything, dogs,
gun, sled, harness an' all goes into this cabin when she burns--so, shut
up, an' git to bed!" The man turned to Connie, "An' now, you kin roll up
on the floor in yer blankets an' pertend to sleep while you try to
figger a way out of this mess, or you kin set there in the chair an'
figger, whichever you want. Me--I'm a-goin' to set right here an' see
that yer figgerin' don't 'mount to nothin'--see?" The evil eyes of Black
Moran leered, and looking straight into them, Connie deliberately raised
his arms above his head and yawned.

"Guess I'll just crawl into my blankets and sleep," he said. "I won't
bother to try and figure a way out tonight--there'll be plenty of time
in the morning."

The boy spread his blankets and was soon fast asleep on the floor, and
Black Moran, watching him from his chair, knew that it was no feigned
sleep. "Well, of all the doggone nerve I ever seen, that beats it a
mile! Is he fool enough to think I ain't a-goin' to bump him off? That
ain't his reputashion on the Yukon--bein' a fool! It ain't noways
natural he should take it that easy. Is he workin' with a pardner, that
he expects'll git here 'fore mornin', or what? Mebbe that Injun comin'
here after _hooch_ a while back was a plant." The more the man thought,
the more uneasy he became. He got up and placed the two rifles upon the
table close beside him, and returned to his chair where he sat,
straining his ears to catch the faintest night sounds. He started
violently at the report of a frost-riven tree, and the persistent
rubbing of a branch against the edge of the roof set his nerves
a-jangle. And so it was that while the captive slept, the captor worried
and fretted the long night through.

Long before daylight, Black Moran awoke Squigg and made him hit the
trail. "If they's another policeman along the back trail, he'll run on
to Squigg, an' I'll have time fer a git-away," he thought, but he kept
the thought to himself.

When the man was gone, Black Moran turned to Connie who was again seated
in his chair against the wall. "Want anything to eat?" he asked.

"Why, sure, I want my breakfast. Kind of a habit I've got--eating
breakfast."

"Say!" exploded the man, "what ails you anyway? D'you think I'm
bluffin'? Don't you know that you ain't only got a few hours to
live--mebbe only a few minutes?"

"So I heard you say;" answered the boy, dryly. "But, how about
breakfast?"

"Cook it, confound you! There it is. If you figger to pot me while _I'm_
gittin' it, you lose. I'm a-goin' to set right here with this gun in my
hand, an' the first move you make that don't look right--out goes yer
light."

Connie prepared breakfast, while the other eyed him closely. And, as he
worked, he kept up his air of bravado--but it was an air he was far from
feeling. He knew Black Moran by reputation, and he knew that unless a
miracle happened his own life was not a worth a gun-wad. All during the
meal which they ate with Black Moran's eyes upon him, and a gun in his
hand, Connie's wits were busy. But no feasible plan of escape presented
itself, and the boy knew that his only chance was to play for time in
hope that something might turn up.

"You needn't mind to clean up them dishes," grinned the man. "They'll
burn dirty as well as clean. Git yer hat, now, an' we'll git this
business over with. First, git them dogs in the cabin, an' the sled an'
harness. Move lively, 'cause I got to git a-goin'. Every scrap of stuff
you've got goes in there. I don't want nothin' left that could ever be
used as evidence. It's clouded up already an' the snow'll take care of
the tracks." As he talked, the two had stepped out the door, and Connie
stood beside his sled about which were grouped his dogs. The boy saw
that Leloo was missing, and glanced about, but no sign of the great
wolf-dog was visible. "Stand back from that sled!" ordered the man, as
he strode to its side. "Guess I'll jest look it over to see if you've
got another gun." The man jerked the tarp from the pack, and seizing the
rifle tossed it into the cabin. Then he slipped his revolver into its
holster and picked up Connie's heavy dog-whip. As he did so Connie
caught just a glimpse of a great silver-white form gliding noiselessly
toward him from among the tree trunks. The boy noted in a flash that the
cabin cut off the man's view of the wolf-dog. And instantly a ray of
hope flashed into his brain. Leloo was close beside the cabin, when with
a loud cry, Connie darted forward and, seizing a stick of firewood from
a pile close at hand, hurled it straight at Black Moran. The chunk
caught the man square in the chest. It was a light chunk, and could not
have possibly harmed him, but it did exactly what Connie figured it
would do--it drove him into a sudden rage--_with the dog-whip in his
hand._ With a curse the man struck out with the whip, and as its lash
bit into Connie's back, the boy gave a loud yell of pain.

At the corner of the cabin, Leloo saw the boy throw the stick. He saw it
strike the man. And he saw the man lash out with the whip. Also, he
heard the boy's cry of pain. As the man's arm drew back to strike again,
there was a swift, silent rush of padded feet, and Black Moran turned
just in time to see a great silvery-white shape leave the snow and
launch itself straight at him. He saw, in a flash, the red tongue and
the gleaming white fangs, and the huge white ruff, each hair of which
stuck straight out from the great body.

A single shrill shriek of mortal terror resounded through the forest,
followed by a dull thud, as man and wolf-dog struck the snow together.
And then--the silence of the barrens.

It was long past noon. The storm predicted by Black Moran had been
raging for hours, and for hours the little wizened man who had left the
cabin before dawn had been plodding at the head of his dogs. At
intervals of an hour or so he would stop and strain his eyes to pierce
the boiling white smother of snow that curtained the back-trail. Then he
would plod on, glancing to the right and to the left.

The over-burden of snow slipping from a spruce limb brushed his parka
and he shrieked aloud, for the feel of it was a feel of a heavy hand
upon his shoulder. Farther on he brought up trembling in every limb at
the fall of a wind-broken tree. The snapping of dead twigs as the spruce
wallowed to earth through the limbs of the surrounding trees sounded in
his ears like--the crackling of flames--flames that licked at the dry
logs of a--burning cabin. A dead limb cracked loudly and the man
crouched in fear. The sound was the sound of a pistol shot from
behind--from the direction of Black Moran.

"Why don't he come?" whispered the wizened man. "What did he send me
alone for? Thought I didn't have the nerve fer--fer--what he was goin'
to do. An' I ain't, neither. I wisht I had--but, I ain't." The man
shuddered: "It's done by this time, an'--why don't he come? What did I
throw in with him fer? I'm afraid of him. If he thought I stood in his
way he'd bump me off like he'd squ'sh a fly that was bitin' him. If I
thought I could git away with it, I'd hit out right now--but I'm afraid.
If he caught me--" The wizened man shuddered and babbled on, "An' if he
didn't, the Mounted would. An' if they didn't--" again he paused, and
glanced furtively into the bush. "They _is_ things in the woods that men
don't know! I've heered 'em--an' seen 'em, too. They _is_ ghosts! And
they _do_ ha'nt men down. They're white, an--it's beginnin' to git dark!
Why don't Moran come? I'd ruther have him, than _them_--an' now there's
another one of 'em--to raise out of the ashes of a fire! I'd ort to
camp, but if I keep a pluggin' along mebbe I kin git to the Injun
village. 'Taint fur, now--acrost this flat an' then dip down onto the
river--What's that!" The man halted abruptly and stared. "It's one of
'em now!" he faltered, with tongue and lips that felt stiff. "An' it's
covered with fine white ashes!" He knew that he was trembling in every
limb, as he stared at the snow-covered object that stood stiffly beside
the trail only a few yards ahead. "Nuthin' but a stump," he said, and
laughed, quaveringly. "Sure--it's a stump--with snow on it. I remember
that stump. No--it wasn't here where the stump was. Yes, it was. It
looks different with the snow on it. Gosh, a'mighty, it's a ghost! No
'taint--'taint moved. That's the stump. I remember it. I says to Moran,
'There's a stump.' An' Moran says, 'Yup, that's a stump.'" He cut
viciously at his dogs with the whip. "Hi yu there! Mush-u!"

At the door of the little cabin Connie Morgan stared wide-eyed at the
thing that lay in the snow. Schooled as he was to playing a man's part
in the drama of the last great frontier, the boy stood horror-stricken
at the savage suddenness of the tragedy that had been enacted before his
eyes. A few seconds before, he had been in the power of Black Moran,
known far and wide as the hardest man in the North. And, now, there was
no Black Moran--only a grotesquely sprawled _thing_--and a slush of
crimson snow. The boy was conscious of no sense of regret--no thought of
self-condemnation--for he knew too well the man's record. This man who
had lived in open defiance of the laws of God and of man had met swift
death at the hand of the savage law of the North. The law that the men
of the outlands do not seek to explain, but believe in
implicitly--because they have seen the workings of that law. It is an
inexorable law, cruel, and cold, and hard--as hard as the land it
governs with its implacable justice. It is the law of retribution--and
its sentence is PAY.

Black Moran had paid. He had played his string out--had come to the end
of his trail. And Connie knew that justice had been done. Nevertheless,
as the boy stood there in the silence of the barrens and stared down at
the sprawling form, he felt strangely impressed--horrified. For, after
all, Black Moran had been a human being, and one--the boy shuddered at
the thought--who, with murder in his heart, had been ill equipped for
passing suddenly into the presence of his God.

With tight-pressed lips the boy dragged the body into the cabin and
covered it with a blanket, and then, swiftly, he recovered his rifle and
revolver, harnessed his dogs, and struck out on the trail of Squigg. An
hour after the storm struck, the trail was obliterated. Here and there,
where it cut through thick spruce copses, he could make it out but by
noon he knew he was following only its general direction. He knew also
that by bearing slightly to the southward he would strike the river that
led to the village of the Indians.

It was nearly dark when he came out upon a flat that even in the gloom
and the whirling snow he recognized as the beaver meadow from which the
trail dipped to the river. Upon the edge of it he halted to examine the
spruce thickets along its western side, for signs of the trail of
Squigg, and it was while so engaged that he looked up to see dimly in
the white smother the form of the man and his dog-team. The man halted
suddenly and seemed to be staring at him. Connie stood motionless in his
tracks, waiting. For a long time the man stood peering through the
flying snow, then the boy saw his arm raise, heard the crack of his
whiplash, and then the sound of his voice--high-pitched and unnatural it
sounded coming out of the whirling gloom: "Hi yu, there! Mush-u!"

Not until Squigg was within ten feet of him did the boy move, then he
stepped directly into the trail. A low, mewling sound quavered from the
man's lips, and he collapsed like an empty bag.

"Stand up!" ordered the boy, in disgust. But instead of obeying, the
man grovelled and weltered about in the snow, all the while emitting an
incoherent, whimpering wail. Connie reached down to snatch the man to
his feet, when suddenly he started back in horror. For the wailing
suddenly ceased, and in his ears, high and shrill, sounded a peal of
maniacal laughter. The eyes of the man met his own in a wild glare,
while peal after peal of the horrible laughter hurtled from between the
parchment-like lips that writhed back to expose the snaggy, gum-shrunken
teeth.

Horrible as had been the sight of Black Moran lying in the
blood-reddened snow, the sight of Squigg wallowing in the trail and the
sound of his weird laughter, were far more horrible. The laughter
ceased, the man struggled to his feet and fixed Connie with his
wild-eyed stare, as he advanced toward him with a peculiar loose-limbed
waddle: "I know you! I know you!" he shrilled. "I heard the flames
cracklin', an' snappin'! An' now you've got me, an' Moran's comin' an'
you'll git him, an' we'll all be ghosts together--all of us--an' we'll
stand like stumps by the trail! I'm a stump! I'm a stump! Ha, ha, ha.
He, he, he! I'm a stump! I'm a stump!"

"Shut up!" cried Connie in desperation, as he strove to master an
almost overwhelming impulse to turn and fly from the spot. "Crazy as a
loon," thought the boy, with a shudder, "and I've got to take him clear
to Fort Norman, alone!" "I'm a stump, I'm a stump," chanted the man,
shrilly, and the boy saw that he had come to a rigid stand close beside
the trail.

With a final effort Connie pulled himself together. "I've got it to do,
and I'll do it," he muttered between clenched teeth. "But, gee whiz! It
will take a week to get to Fort Norman!"

"I'm a stump, I'm a stump," came the monotonous chant, from the rigid
figure beside the trail.

"Sure, you're a stump," the boy encouraged, "and if you'll only stick to
it till I get the tent up and a fire going, you'll help like the
dickens."

Hurrying to his dogs the boy swung them in, and in the fast gathering
darkness and whirling snow he worked swiftly and skillfully in pitching
the little tent and building a fire. When the task was finished and the
little flames licked about his blackened teapot, he sliced some fat
pork, threw a piece of caribou steak in the frying pan, and set it on
the fire. Then he walked over to where Squigg stood repeating his
monotonous formula.

"Grub's ready," announced the boy.

"I'm a stump. I'm a stump."

"Sure you are. But it's time to eat."

"I'm a stump, I'm a stump," reiterated the man.

Connie took hold of him and essayed to lead him to the fire, but the man
refused to budge.

"As long as you stay as stiff as that I could pick you up and carry you
to the tent, but suppose you change your mind and think you're a buzz
saw? Guess I'll just slip a _babiche_ line on you to make sure." The man
took not the slightest notice as the boy wound turn after turn of line
about his arms and legs and secured the ends. Then he picked him up and
carried him to the tent where he laid him upon the blankets. But try as
he would, not a mouthful of food would the man take, so Connie ate his
supper, and turned in.

In the morning he lashed Squigg to the sled and with both outfits of
dogs struck out for Fort Norman. And never till his dying day will the
boy forget the nightmare of that long snow-trail.

Two men to the sled, alternating between breaking trail and handling the
dogs, and work at the gee-pole, is labour enough on the trail. But
Connie had two outfits of dogs, and no one to help. He was in a
snow-buried wilderness, back-trailing from memory the route taken by the
Bear Lake Indians who had guided him into the country. And not only was
he compelled to do the work of four men on the trail, but his camp work
was more than doubled. For Squigg had to be fed forcibly, and each
morning he had to be lashed to the sled, where he lay all day, howling,
and laughing, and shrieking. At night he had to be unloaded and tended
like a baby, and then put to bed where he would laugh and scream, the
whole night through or else lie and whimper and pule like a beast in
pain.

On the fifth day they came suddenly upon the noon camp of the party from
Fort Norman, and before Connie could recognize the big man in the
uniform of an Inspector of the Mounted he was swung by strong arms clear
of the ground. The next moment he was sobbing excitedly and pounding the
shoulders of Big Dan McKeever with both his fists in an effort to break
the bear-like embrace.

"Why, you doggone little _tillicum_!" roared the man, "I know'd you'd do
it! Didn't I tell you, Mac? Didn't I tell you he'd out-guess 'em? An'
he's got the evidence, too, I'll bet a dog! But, son--what's the matter?
Gosh sakes! I never seen you _cryin'_ before! Tell me quick, son--what's
the matter?"

Connie, ashamed of the sobs that shook his whole body, smiled into the
big man's face as he leaned heavily against his shoulder:
"It's--nothing, Dan! Only--I've been five days and nights on the trail
with--_that_!" He pointed toward the trussed figure upon the sled, just
as a wild peal of the demoniacal laughter chilled the hearts of the
listeners. "And--I'm worn out."

"For the love of Mike!" cried the big Inspector, after Connie lay asleep
beside the fire. "Think of it, Mac! Five days an' five nights! An' two
outfits!"

"I'm sayin' the lad's a man!" exclaimed the Scotchman, as he shuddered
at an outburst of raving from Squigg. "But, why did he bring the other
sled? He should have turned the dogs loose an' left it."

For answer McKeever walked over to Squiggs' sled and threw back the
tarp. Then he pointed to its contents. "The evidence," he answered,
proudly. "I knew he'd bring in the evidence."

"Thought they was two of 'em, son," said McKeever, hours later when
they all sat down to supper. "Did the other one get away?"

The boy shook his head. "No, he didn't get away. Leloo, there, caught
him. He couldn't get away from Leloo."

"Where is he?"

Connie glanced at the big officer curiously: "Do you know who the other
one was?" he asked.

"No. Who was it?"

"Black Moran."

"Black Moran! What are you talkin' about! Black Moran was drowned in the
Pelly Rapids!"

"No, he wasn't," answered the boy. "He managed to get to shore, and then
he skipped to the other side of the mountains. The body they pulled out
of the river was someone else."

"But--but, son," the big Inspector's eyes were serious, "if I had known
it was _him_--Black Moran--he was the hardest man in the North--by all
odds."

"Yes--I know," replied the boy, thoughtfully. "But, Dan, he PAID. His
score is settled now. I forgot to tell you that when Leloo caught
him--he cut him half in two."



CHAPTER XV

SETTING THE FOX TRAPS


After turning over the prisoner to Inspector McKeever, Connie Morgan and
'Merican Joe accompanied the men from Fort Norman back to the Indian
village where they found that the party of hunters had succeeded in
locating the caribou herd and had made a big kill, so that it had been
unnecessary for the men to use any of the _cached_ meat.

Preparation was at once started by the entire population to accompany
McTavish back to the post for the mid-winter trading. In the Indian's
leisurely method of doing things these preparations would take three or
four days, so Pierre Bonnet Rouge, who seemed to be a sort of chief
among them, dispatched some of his young men to haul in all the meat
that the two partners had _cached_. Meanwhile, leaving Mr. Squigg at the
village in the care of McTavish, Connie piloted Inspector McKeever to
the little cabin of the free traders. For McKeever had known Black Moran
over on the Yukon, and had spent much time in trying to run him down in
the days before his reported drowning, and he desired to make absolutely
sure of his ground before turning in his report upon the death of so
notorious a character.

Connie had placed the man's body in the cabin, and as the two pushed
open the door Dan McKeever stepped forward and raised the blanket with
which the boy had covered it. The big officer stooped and peered into
the face of the dead man. Finally, he rose to his feet with a nod: "Yes,
that's Black Moran, all right. But, gosh, son! If I'd know'd it was him
that you was up against over here, I wouldn't have been so easy in my
mind. You sure done a big thing for the North when you got him."

"I didn't get him, Dan. It was Leloo that got him--look there!"

McKeever stooped again and breaking back the blood-soaked clothing
examined the long deep gash that extended from the man's lower ribs to
the point of his hip. Then he turned and eyed Leloo who stood looking on
with blazing eyes, his great silver ruff a-quiver. "Some dog!" he
exclaimed. "Or is he a dog? Look at them eyes--part dog, part wolf, an'
mostly devil, I'd say. Look out, son, if he ever goes wrong. Black Moran
looks like he'd be'n gashed with a butcher's cleaver! But, at that, you
can't lay all the credit on the dog. He done his share all right, but
the head work--figurin' out jest what Black Moran would do, an' jest
what the dog would do, an' throwin' that chunk at jest the right second
to make 'em do it--that's where the brains an' the nerve comes in----"

"It was mostly luck," interrupted Connie.

The big officer grinned. "Uh-huh," he grunted, "but I've noticed that if
there's about two hundred per cent brains kind of mixed in with the
luck, a man's got a better show of winnin' out in the long run--an'
that's what you do."

"What will we do with him?" asked the boy after McKeever had finished
photographing the body, and the wolf-dog, and Connie, and such of the
surroundings as should be of interest in connection with his report.

"Well, believe me," answered the officer, "I ain't goin' to dig no grave
for him in this frozen ground. We'll jest throw a platform together in
that clump of trees, an' stick him up Injun fashion. I'd cremate him,
like he was goin' to do to you, but he was so doggone tough I don't
believe nothin' would burn but his whiskers, an' besides I don't want to
burn the cabin. It's got a stove, an' it might save some poor fellow's
life sometime."

The early winter darkness had fallen when the work was finished, and
Connie and McKeever decided to wait until morning before striking out
for the village.

After supper the big Inspector filled his pipe and glanced about the
little room. "Seems like old times, son--us bein' on trail together.
Don't you never feel a hankerin' to be back in the service? An' how
comes it you're trappin' way over here? Did you an' Waseche Bill go
broke? If you did, you've always got a job in the service, an' it beats
trappin' at that."

Connie laughed. "You bet, Dan, if I ever need a job I'll hit straight
for you. But the fact is Waseche and I have got a big thing over at Ten
Bow--regular outfit, with steam point drills and a million dollars'
worth of flumes and engines and buildings and things----"

"Then, what in time are you doin' over here trappin' with a Siwash?"

"Oh, just wanted to have a look at the country. I'll tell you, Dan,
hanging around town gets on my nerves--even a town like Ten Bow. I like
to be out in the open where a fellow has got room enough to take a good
deep breath without getting it second-handed, and where you don't have
to be bumping into someone every time you turn around. You know what I
mean, Dan--a long trail that you don't know the end of. Northern lights
in the night-sky. Valleys, and mountains, and rivers, and lakes that
maybe no white man has ever seen before, and a good outfit of
dogs--that's playing the game. You never know what's going to
happen--and when it does happen it's always worth while, whether it's
striking a colour, or bringing in _hooch_-runners."

The big Inspector nodded. "Sure, I know. There ain't nothin' that you
know the end of that's worth doin'. It's always what lies jest beyond
the next ridge, or across the next valley that a man wants to see.
Mostly, when you get there you're disappointed--but suppose you are?
There's always another ridge, or another valley, jest beyond. An' if
you keep on goin' you're bound to find somethin' somewheres that's worth
all the rest of the disappointments. And sometime, son, we're goin' to
find the thing that's bigger, or stronger, or smarter than we are--an'
then it'll get us. But that's where the fun comes in."

"That's it, exactly!" cried the boy his eyes shining, "and believe me,
Dan--that's going to be some big adventure--there at the end of the last
trail! It'll be worth all the others--just to _be there_!"

"Down in the cities, they don't think like we do. They'd ruther plug
along--every day jest like the days that's past, an' jest like all the
days that's comin'."

Connie interrupted him: "Down in the cities I don't care what they
think! I've been in cities, and I _hate_ 'em. I'm glad they don't think
like we do, or they'd be up here plastering their houses, and factories,
and stores all over our hills and valleys."

"Wonder who stuck this shack up here," smiled McKeever, glancing
inquisitively around the room. "Looks like it had been here quite a
while. You can see where Black Moran an' Squigg rammed in fresh
chinkin'."

Connie nodded. "Some prospector or trapper, I guess. I wonder what
became of him?"

McKeever shook his head. "Maybe McTavish would know. There's nothin'
here that would tell. If he pulled out he took everything along but the
stove, an' if he didn't the Injuns an' the Eskimos have carried off all
the light truck. There was a fellow name of Dean--James Dean, got lost
in this country along about six or seven years back. I was lookin' over
the records the other day, an' run across the inquiry about him. That
was long before my time in N Division. There was a note or two in the
records where he'd come into the country a couple of years before he'd
disappeared, an' had traded at Fort Norman an' at Wrigley. The last seen
of him he left Fort Norman with some supplies--grub an' powder. He was
prospectin' an' trappin'--an' no one ever seen him since. He was a good
man, too--accordin' to reports. He wasn't no _chechako_."

"There you are!" exclaimed Connie, "just what we were talking about. I'd
give a lot to know what happened at the end of his trail. I've seen the
end of a lot of those trails--and always the signs told the story of the
last big adventure. And always it was worth while. And, good or bad, it
was always a man's game they played--and they came to a man's end."

"Gee, Dan, in cities men die in their beds!"

Upon the evening before the departure of the Indians who were to
accompany McTavish and McKeever back to Fort Norman for the mid-winter
trading, Connie Morgan, the factor, and the big officer sat in the cabin
of Pierre Bonnet Rouge and talked of many things. The owner of the cabin
stoked the fire and listened in silence to the talk, proud that the
white men had honoured his house with their presence.

"You've be'n in this country quite a while, Mac," said Inspector
McKeever, as he filled his pipe from a buckskin pouch. "You must have
know'd something about a party name of James Dean. He's be'n reported
missin' since six or seven years back."'

"Know'd him well," answered McTavish. "He was a good man, too. Except,
maybe a leetle touched in the head about gold. Used to trap some, an'
for a couple of years he come in twice a year for the tradin'. Then,
one time he never come back. The Mounted made some inquiries a couple
years later, but that's all I know'd. He had a cabin down in this
country some place, but they couldn't find it--an' the Injuns didn't
seem to know anything about him. Pierre, here, would know, if anyone
did." He turned to the Indian and addressed him in jargon. "_Kumtux
Boston man nem James Dean?_"

The Indian fidgeted uneasily, and glanced nervously, first toward one
window and then the other. "_S'pose memaloose_," he answered shortly,
and putting on his cap, abruptly left the room.

"Well, what do you think of that?" exclaimed McKeever. "Says he thinks
he's dead, and then up an' beat it. The case might stand a little
investigatin' yet. Looks to me like that Injun knew a whole lot more
than he told."

McTavish shook his head. "No, Dan, I don't think ye're right. Leastways,
not altogether. I've known this band of Indians for years. They're all
right. And Pierre Bonnet Rouge is the best one of the lot. His actions
were peculiar, but they were actions of fear, not of guilt or of a man
trying to cover up guilty knowledge. He believes Dean is dead--and for
some reason, he fears his ghost."

"The factor is right," agreed Connie. "There's some kind of a
_tamahnawus_ that he's afraid of--and somehow he believes it's connected
with Dean."

McKeever nodded. "That's about the size of it. And when you run up
against their superstitions, you might as well save your time as far as
any investigatin' goes. I'd like to know what's on his mind, though."

"Maybe I'll run on to the end of his trail," said Connie. "It's a pretty
cold trail by this time--but I might."

"Maybe you will, son," assented McKeever. "An' if you do, be sure to let
me know. I'd kind of like to clean up the record."

Good-byes were said the following morning, and Connie and 'Merican Joe,
their sleds piled high with caribou meat, pulled out for their little
cabin where for the next three days they were busy freshening up their
trap line, and resetting rabbit and lynx snares.

"Dat 'bout tam we start in to trap de fox, now," observed 'Merican Joe,
as he and Connie finished skinning out the last of the martens that had
been taken from the traps. "Dat de bes' kin' trappin'. De leetle fox she
de smartes' of all de people, an' w'en you set de fox trap you never kin
tell w'at you goin' git."

"Never can tell what you're going to get?" asked Connie. "Why, you're
going to get a fox, if you're lucky, ain't you?"

"Yes--but de fox, she so many kin'. An' every kin' some differ'. De bes'
fox of all, he is de black wan, den com' de black silver, an' de silver
grey. Dem all fine fox, an' git de big price for de skin. Den com' de
cross fox. Lots of kin' of cross fox. Firs' com' de black cross, den de
dark cross, den de common cross, den de light cross. All de cross fox
pret' good fox, too. Den com' de blue fox--dark blue, an' light blue.
Den com' de red fox--bright red, an' light red, an' pale red--de pale
red ain' no mooch good. She de wors' fox dere is. Even de white fox is
better, an' de white fox is mor' differ' as all de fox. She de only fox
w'at is good to eat, an' she de only fox w'at is easy to trap. She ain't
got no sense. She walk right in de trap. But de res' of de fox she
plent' hard to trap--she ain' goin' roun' where she git de man-scent.
Dat why I hang de two pair of moccasins an' de mittens out on de
_cache_, so she don' git no camp-scent on 'em."

The following morning 'Merican Joe took from the _cache_ the dozen steel
traps he had placed there when the platform was first built. Also he
brought down the moccasins and mittens that had lain exposed to the air.
Then, drawing on the mittens, he proceeded to cut into small chunks
portions of the carcass of the bear which he placed in a bag of green
caribou skin.

"Those traps look pretty small for foxes," opined Connie, as he reached
to pick one up from the snow.

'Merican Joe pushed back his hand before it touched the trap. "Don't
pick 'em up!" he cried, "Dey git de man-scent on 'em. W'at you t'ink I'm
keep 'em out on de _cache_ for? W'en you touch dem trap you got to put
on de mitten lak I got--de mitten dat ain' be'n in de cabin. An' dem
trap ain' too leetle. If you set de beeg trap for de fox, dat ain' no
good. She git caught high up on de leg, an' de beeg spring bre'k de leg
an den de leg freeze an' in wan hour de fox giv' de pull an' de leg
twist off, an' de fox run away--an' nex' tam you bet you ain' ketch dat
fox no mor'. Any fox she hard to ketch, but de t'ree legged fox she de
hardes' t'ing in de worl' to trap--she too mooch smart. You got to git
de trap jes right for de fox. You got to ketch 'em right in de pads
where de foot is thick an' strong an' don' bust an' freeze. Den you hol'
'em good."

Slipping on the outside moccasins over their others, the two trappers
struck out for a small lake they had passed on the caribou hunt--a lake
that lay between the foot of a high ridge and the open tundra upon which
they had struck the trail of the two caribou bulls. Connie carried the
light rifle, and Leloo accompanied them, running free.

That night they camped comfortably upon the shore of the lake, with
their blankets spread beneath a light fly. They slept late and it was
long after sunrise the following morning when they started out with
their traps. Fox tracks were numerous along the shore, some of them
leading back onto the ridge, and others heading across the lake in the
direction of the open tundra. Connie was beginning to wonder why
'Merican Joe did not set his traps, when the Indian paused and carefully
scrutinized a long narrow point that jutted out into the lake. The
irregularity of the surface of the snow showed that the point was rocky,
and here and there along its edge a small clump of stunted willows
rattled their dry branches in the breeze. The Indian seemed satisfied
and, walking to the ridge, cut a stick some five or six feet long which
he slipped through the ring of a trap, securing the ring to the middle
of the stick. A few feet beyond one of the willow clumps, nearly at the
end of the point, the Indian stooped, and with his ax cut a trench in
the snow the length of the stick, and about eight or ten inches in
depth. In this trench he placed the stick, and packed the snow over it.
He now made a smaller trench the length of the trap chain, at the end of
which he pressed the snow down with the back of his mitten until he had
made a depression into which he could place the trap with its jaws set
flat, so that the pan would lie some two inches below the level of the
snow. From his bag he drew some needles which he carefully arranged so
that they radiated from the pan to the jaws in such manner as would
prevent snow from packing down and interfering with the springing of the
trap. Then he broke out two pieces of snow-crust and, holding them over
the depression which held the trap, rubbed them together until the trap
was completely covered and the snow mounded slightly higher than the
surrounding level. He then rubbed other pieces of crust over the
trenches which held the clog, and the trap-chain. When that was finished
he took from the bag a brush-broom, which he had made of light twigs as
he walked along, and dusted the mounded snow lightly until the whole
presented an unbroken surface, which would defy the sharpest-eyed fox to
discover it had been tampered with. All this the Indian had done without
moving from his tracks, and now from the bag he drew many pieces of bear
meat which he tossed on to the snow close about the trap. Slowly, he
backed away, being careful to set each snowshoe in its own track, and as
he moved backward, he dusted the tracks full of snow with the
brush-broom. For fifty or sixty feet he repeated this laborious
operation, pausing now and then to toss a piece of meat upon the snow.

Connie surveyed the job with admiration. "No wonder you said foxes are
hard to trap if you have to go to all that trouble to get 'em," smiled
the boy.

"It ain' hard to do. It is, w'at you call careful. You mak' de trouble
to be careful, you git de fox--you ain' mak' de trouble you ain' git no
fox. Odder peoples you kin git mebbe-so, if you ain' so careful, but de
fox, an' de wolf, you ain' git."

Leloo circled in from the ridge, and Connie called to him sharply. "Wish
we hadn't brought him along," he said. "I'm afraid he'll get to smelling
around the bait and get caught."

'Merican Joe shook his head. "No. Leloo, he ain' git caught. He too
smart. He know w'at de bait for. He ain' goin' for smell dat bait. If de
meat is 'live, an' run or fly, Leloo he grab him if he kin. If de meat
dead Leloo he ain' goin' fool wit' dat meat. You feed him dead meat--me
feed him dead meat--he eat it. But, if he fin' dead meat, he ain' eat
it. He too mooch smart. He smart lak de wolf, an' he smart lak de dog,
too."



CHAPTER XVI

THE VOICE FROM THE HILL


The shore of the lake was irregular, being a succession of rocky points
between which narrow bays extended back to the foot of the ridge which
grew higher and higher as the two progressed toward the upper end of the
lake, where it terminated in a high hill upon the sides of which bold
outcroppings of rock showed at intervals between thick patches of scrub
timber.

It was well toward the middle of the afternoon when the two reached the
head of the lake, a distance of some five or six miles from the starting
point. All the steel traps had been set, and 'Merican Joe had
constructed two deadfalls, which varied from those set for marten only
by being more cunningly devised, and more carefully prepared.

"The other shore ain't so rough," said Connie, when the second deadfall
was finished. "We can make better time going back."

'Merican Joe swept the flat, tundra-skirting eastern shore with a
glance. "We ain' fool wit' dat shore. She too mooch no good for de fox.
We go back to camp an' tomor' we hont de nudder lak!"

"Look, what's that?" exclaimed Connie pointing toward a rocky ledge that
jutted from the hillside a few rods back from the lake. "It looks like a
_cache_!"

'Merican Joe scrutinized the arrangement of weather-worn poles that
supported a sagging platform, and with a non-committal grunt, led the
way toward the ledge. The spot was reached after a short climb, and by
ascending to another ledge close behind the first, the two were able to
look down upon the platform, which was raised about eight feet from the
floor of its rock-ledge.

"Funny bunch of stuff to _cache_!" exclaimed the boy. "I'll tell you
what it is, there's a grave here. I've seen the Indians over on the
Yukon put stuff out beside a grave. It's for the dead man to use in the
Happy Hunting Ground."

The Indian shook his head. "No. Ain' no grave here."

"Maybe they buried him there beside the rock," ventured the boy.

"No. Injun ain' bury lak' white man. If de man ees here, she would be on
de rocks, lak de _cache_. Injun lay de dead man on de rock an' mak' de
leetle pole house for um."

"Well, what in thunder would anyone want to _cache_ that stuff 'way out
here for? Look, there's a blanket, and it's been here so long it's about
rotted to pieces, and a pipe, and moccasins, and there's the stock of a
rifle sticking out beneath the blanket--those things have been there a
long time--a year or two at least. But there's grub there, too. And the
grub is fresh--it hasn't been there more than a month."

'Merican Joe was silent, and as the boy turned toward him, he caught him
glancing furtively over his shoulder toward the dark patches of timber
that blotched the hillside. "I ain' lak dis place. She no good," he
muttered, as he caught the boy's glance.

"What's the matter with it?" smiled Connie. "What do you make of it?"

For answer, 'Merican Joe turned abruptly and descended to the shore of
the lake. At the extremity of a rocky point that afforded a sweeping
view of the great hillside, he stopped and waited for Connie to join
him. "Dis place, she ain' no good," he reiterated, solemnly.

"What's the matter with it?" repeated the boy. "You said all along,
until we came across that _cache_, that it was a dandy lake to trap
foxes on."

"Good for fox, mebbe--but no good for Injun. Me--I'm t'ink I'm pull up
dem trap, an' fin' som' nudder place."

"Pull up nothing!" cried the boy. "After all that work setting them?
Buck up! What's the matter with you anyhow?"

"Dat _cache_--she lak you say--lak de grave _cache_. But dey ain' no
grave! Dat mus' got to be de _tamahnawus cache_!"

"_Tamahnawus cache!_" laughed the boy. "_Tamahnawuses_ don't make caches.
And besides there ain't any _tamahnawuses_! Don't you remember the other
_tamahnawus_--that turned out to be a man in a moose hide? I've heard a
lot about 'em--but I never saw one yet."

'Merican Joe regarded the boy gravely. "Dat better you don't see no
_tamahnawus_, neider. You say, 'ain' no _tamahnawus_, 'cos I ain' see
none'. Tell me, is dere any God?"

"Why, yes, of course there's a God," answered the boy, quickly.

The Indian regarded him gravely. "Me--I ain' say, 'ain' no God 'cos I
ain' see none'. I say, dat better I ain' mak' dat white man God mad.
But, jus' de same, I ain' goin' mak' no _tamahnawus_ mad, neider."

"All right," smiled Connie. "We won't make him mad, but I'm going to
find out about that _tamahnawus_--you wait and see. I wonder who built
that _cache_?"

"Dat Dog Rib _cache_," promptly answered the Indian.

"Probably the Injuns up at the village will know about it. They'll be
back from Fort Norman in a few days, and I'll ask Pierre Bonnet Rouge."

Avoiding the rough shore, the two struck out for camp down the middle of
the ice-locked lake where the wind-packed snow gave excellent footing.
The air was still and keen, the sky cloudless, and Connie watched the
sun set in a blaze of gold behind the snow-capped ridge to the westward.
Suddenly both halted in their tracks and glanced into each other's
faces. From far behind them, seemingly from the crest of the hill they
had left, sounded a cry: "_Y-i-i-e-e-o-o-o!_" Long-drawn, thin,
quavering, it cut the keen air with startling distinctness. Then, as
abruptly as it had started, it ceased, and the two stood staring.
Swiftly Connie's glance sought the bald crest of the hill that showed
distinctly above the topmost patches of timber, as it caught the last
rays of the setting sun. But the hill showed only an unbroken sky-line,
and in the dead silence of the barrens the boy waited tensely for a
repetition of the wild cry. And as he waited he was conscious of an
uncomfortable prickling at the roots of his hair, for never had he heard
the like of that peculiar wailing cry, a cry that the boy knew had
issued from the throat of no wild animal--a wild cry and eerie in its
loud-screamed beginning, but that sounded half-human as it trailed off
in what seemed a moan of quavering despair.

The cry was not repeated and Connie glanced into the face of 'Merican
Joe who stood with sagging jaw, the picture of abject fear. With an
effort, the boy spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, for he well knew that it
would never do to let the Indian see that his own nerve had been
momentarily shaken:

"Someone lost up in the hills, I guess. We'd better go hunt him up."

The Indian's eyes stared wide with terror, his lips moved stiffly and
the words rasped huskily: "_Tamahnawus!_ She git dark. We git to camp.
Mak' de big fire. _Tamahnawus_ she no lak' de fire." And without waiting
for a reply, he struck off down the lake as fast as his snowshoes would
let him. And Connie followed, knowing that in the approaching darkness
nothing could be done toward clearing up the mystery of that loud-drawn
wail.

That night the boy slept fitfully, and each time he awoke it was to see
'Merican Joe seated close beside the huge fire which he kept blazing
high all the night through. Breakfast was finished just as the first
grey light of dawn showed the outlines of the ridge. 'Merican Joe
watched in silence as Connie made the remaining grub into a pack. "Take
down the fly," ordered the boy, and the Indian obeyed with alacrity.
Folding the fly, he added the blankets to the pack, fastened on his
snowshoes and struck out toward the north-west.

"Here, where you going?" cried Connie.

The Indian paused. "Goin' back to de cabin, jus' so fas' lak I kin."

"No you ain't," laughed the boy. "You're going with me, and we're going
to find out all about who, or what made that racket last night."

"No, no, no! I ain' got to fin' dat out! Me--_I know_!"

"You don't know a thing about it. Listen here. That sound came from that
high hill, didn't it?"

The Indian glanced fearfully toward the hill, the outline of which was
just visible at the head of the lake, and nodded.

"Well, we're going to circle that hill. There has been no fresh snow for
ten days or two weeks, and if we circle the base of it we'll strike the
trail of whoever is on the hill. Then we can follow the trail."

"I ain' want no trail! _Tamahnawus_ she don' mak' no trail. Dat hill she
b'long to _tamahnawus_. I ain' want dat hill. Plent' mor' hill for me.
An' plent' mor' lak' to trap de fox. An' besides, we ain' got nuff grub.
We got to git back."

"We've got enough grub for today and tomorrow if we go light on it. It
won't take us long when we strike the trail to follow it up on to the
hill. Come on, buck up! There may be someone up there that needs
help--maybe someone that is in the same fix you were when I found you
back on Spur Mountain."

"Ain't no one up dere. I ain' hang roun' on Spur Mountain an' yell lak
_tamahnawus_. Me--I'm too mooch dead."

"Come on. Are you going with me?"

The Indian hesitated. "If we go roun' de hill an' ain' fin' no track,
den we hit for de cabin?" he asked, shrewdly.

"Yes," answered the boy, confident that they would strike the trail by
circling the hill, "if we don't strike the trail of whoever or whatever
made that sound, we'll hit back to the cabin."

"All right, me--I'm go 'long--but we ain' strike no trail. _Tamahnawus_
don' mak' no trail." Connie struck out with the Indian following, and as
they reached the summit of the ridge that paralleled the shore of the
lake, the sun showed his yellow rim over a distant spruce swamp, and at
the same instant, far away--from the direction of the hill, came once
more the long-drawn quavering yell. 'Merican Joe whirled at the sound
and started out over the back trail, and it required a full fifteen
minutes of persuasion, ridicule, entreaty, and threat before he
reluctantly returned and fell in behind Connie.

At the base of the hill, the boy suggested that they separate and each
follow its base in opposite directions, pointing out that much time
could be saved, as the hill, which was of mountainous proportions,
seemed likely to have a base contour of eight or ten miles. But 'Merican
Joe flatly refused. He would accompany Connie, as he had agreed to, but
not one foot would he go without the boy. All the way up the ridge, he
had followed so closely that more than once he had stepped on the tails
of Connie's snowshoes, and twice, when the boy had halted suddenly to
catch some fancied sound, he had bumped into him.

It was nearly sundown when the two stood at the intersection of their
own trail after having made the complete circuit of the hill. Fox tracks
they had found, also the tracks of wolves, and rabbits, and of an
occasional _loup cervier_--and nothing more. Connie had examined every
foot of the ground carefully, and at intervals had halted and yelled at
the top of his lungs--had even persuaded 'Merican Joe to launch forth
his own peculiarly penetrating call, but their only answer was the dead,
sphinx-like silence of the barrens.

"Com' on," urged 'Merican Joe, with a furtive glance into a nearby
thicket. "Me--I got nuff. I know we ain' goin' fin' no track.
_Tamahnawus_ don' mak' no track."

"_Tamahnawus_, nothing!" exclaimed Connie, impatiently. "I tell you
there ain't any such thing. If we had grub enough I'd stay right here
till I found out where that yell comes from. There's no sign of a camp
on the hill, and no one has gone up or come down since this snow fell.
There's something funny about the whole business, and you bet I'm going
to find out what it is."

"You say we no fin' de track, we go back to de cabin," reminded the
Indian.

"Yes, and we will go back. And then we'll load up a sled-load of grub,
and we'll hit right back here and stay till we get at the bottom of
this. The sun will drop out of sight in a minute, and then I think we'll
hear it again. We heard it last evening at sundown, and at sunrise this
morning."

"I ain' wan' to hear it no mor'," 'Merican Joe announced uneasily. "Dat
ain' no good to hear."

Extending upward clear to the crest of the hill, directly above where
the two stood, was an area half a mile wide upon which no timber grew.
Here and there a jumbled outcropping of rock broke the long smooth sweep
of snow upon which the last rays of the setting sun were reflected with
dazzling brightness. As Connie waited expectantly he was conscious of a
tenseness of nerves, that manifested itself in a clenching of his fists,
and the tight-pressing of his lips. His eyes swept the long up-slanting
spread of snow, and even as he looked he heard 'Merican Joe give a
startled grunt, and there before them on the snow beside an outcropping
of rocks not more than three hundred yards from them, a beautiful black
fox stood clean-cut against the white background, and daintily sniffed
the air. Connie's surprise was no less than the Indian's for he knew
that scarcely a second had passed since his eyes had swept that exact
spot--and there had been no fox there.

The sunlight played only upon the upper third of the long slope now, and
the fox lifted his delicately pointed muzzle upward as if to catch some
fleeting scent upon the almost motionless air. Then came that awful cry,
rising in a high thin scream, and trailing off as before in a quavering
wail of despair.

As Connie stared in amazement at the black fox, there was a swift
scratching of claws, and a shower of dry snow flew up, as Leloo like a
great silver flash, launched himself up the slope. For a fraction of a
second the boy's glance rested upon the flying grey shape and once more
it sought the fox--but there was no fox there, only the low rock-ledge
outcropping through the snow. Instantly the boy sprang after Leloo,
disregarding the inarticulate protest of 'Merican Joe, who laboured
heavily along in his wake, hesitating between two fears, the fear of
being left alone, and the fear of visiting the spot at which had
appeared the fox with the voice of a man.

As Connie reached the rock-ledge he stopped abruptly and stared in
surprise at Leloo. The great wolf-dog's nose quivered, and his yellow
eyes were fixed with a peculiar glare upon a small irregular hole
beneath a projecting lip of rock--a hole just big enough to admit the
body of the fox. Even as the boy looked, the long hairs of Leloo's
great ruff stiffened, and stood quiveringly erect, a low growl rumbled
deep in the dog's throat, and with a curious tense stiffness of
movement, he began to back slowly from the hole. Never for an instant
did the low throaty growl cease, nor did the fixed yellow eyes leave the
black aperture. Not until he had backed a full twenty feet from the hole
did the dog's tense muscles relax and then his huge brush of a tail
drooped, the hair of his ruff flattened, and he turned and trotted down
the back trail, pausing only once to cast a hang-dog glance up the
slope.

Connie was conscious of a strange chill at the pit of his stomach. Why
had Leloo, the very embodiment of savage courage, backed away from that
hole with every muscle tense, and why had he hit the back trail
displaying every evidence of abject terror? The boy had seen him run
foxes to earth before, and he had never acted like that. He had always
torn at the edges of the hole with fang and claw. A hundred times more
terrifying than even the fox with the strange human cry, was the action
of the wolf-dog. Without moving from his tracks, the boy examined the
rock-ledge. It was probably twenty feet in length, and not more than
four or five feet high, and he saw at a glance that the small irregular
hole was the only aperture in the mass of solid rock. His eyes swept the
surrounding hillside but with the exception of numerous fox tracks that
led to and from the hole, the surface of the snow was unbroken.

The sunlight had disappeared from the crest of the hill. On the lower
levels the fast deepening twilight was rendering objects
indistinguishable, when Connie turned to 'Merican Joe, who presented a
pitiable picture of terror. "Let's go," he said, shortly. "We'll have a
moon tonight. We can travel till we get tired."

And 'Merican Joe without waiting for a second invitation struck off down
the hill after Leloo, at a pace that Connie found hard to follow.



CHAPTER XVII

THE-LAKE-OF-THE-FOX-THAT-YELLS


Leaving 'Merican Joe to look after the line of marten and mink traps,
Connie Morgan struck out from the little cabin and headed for the Indian
village. Straight to the cabin of Pierre Bonnet Rouge he went and was
welcomed by the Indian with the respect that only the real sourdough
ever commands in the Indians of the North. For Pierre knew of his own
knowledge of the boy's outwitting the _hooch_-runners, and he had
listened in the evenings upon the trail to Fort Norman, while big Dan
McKeever recounted to McTavish, as he never tired of doing, the
adventures of Connie in the Mounted.

After supper, which the two ate in silence, while the squaw of Bonnet
Rouge served them, they drew up their chairs to the stove. The boy asked
questions as to the success of the trading, the news of the river
country, and prospects for a good spring catch. Then the talk drifted
to fox trapping, and Connie told the Indian that he and 'Merican Joe had
set some traps on the lake a day's journey to the south-eastward. Pierre
Bonnet listened attentively, but by not so much as the flicker of an
eyelash did he betray the fact that he had ever heard of the lake.
Finally, the boy asked him, point-blank, if he had ever been there.
Connie knew something of Indians, and, had been quick to note that
Pierre held him in regard. Had this not been so, he would never have
risked the direct question, for it is only by devious and round-about
methods that one obtains desired information from his red brother.

Pierre puffed his pipe in silence for an interminable time, then he
nodded slowly: "Yes," he answered, "I be'n dere."

"What is the name of that lake?"

"Long tam ago _nem_ 'Hill Lak'. Now, Injun call um
'Lak'-of-de-Fox-Dat-Yell'."

"You have seen him, too--the fox that yells?" asked the boy, eagerly.

"Yes. I kill um two tam--an' he com' back."

"Came back!" cried the boy. "What do you mean?"

"He com' back--an' yell w'en de sun com' up. An' w'en de sun go down he
yell on de side of de hill."

"But surely he couldn't yell after you'd killed him. You must have
killed the wrong fox."

"No. Wan tam I trap um, an' wan tam I shoot um--an' he com' back an'
yell."

"Where did you trap him? At the hole that goes under the rocks?"

"No. Wan tam I trap um on de shore of de lak'. An' wan tam I watch um
com' out de hole an' shoot um."

"But the one you trapped--how do you know that it was the same one?
There's lots of foxes over there."

"Yes, I trap odder wans, too. Kin tell de fox dat yell. He wear de
collar."

"Wears a collar!" cried the boy. "What do you mean? Are you crazy?"

"No. He _tamahnawus_ fox. He wear de collar."

"What kind of a collar?"

"Ermine skin collar--always he got it on."

"Look here," exclaimed Connie, shortly. "Are you lying to me? Do you
expect me to sit here and believe any such rot as that? Did you save the
collars? I want to look at 'em."

"De collar, an de skin, dey on de _cache_ at de end of dat lak'."

"What do you leave the black fox skins out there for, they're worth a
lot?"

The Indian shrugged. "I ain' want for mak' de _tamahnawus_ mad. I put de
skin an' de collar under de blankets on de _cache_."

"Are they there now?"

The Indian shrugged. "I ain' know dat. Mebbe-so _tamahnawus_ fox com'
an' git he's skin an' he's leetle w'ite collar an' wear um agin."

"But you've been to the _cache_ lately. There was grub on it that hadn't
been there more than a month at the most."

"Yes. I got bad luck w'en I kill dem fox, so I build de _cache_ an' mak'
de _tamahnawus_ de present. All de tam I tak' mor' grub, an' now I ain'
got de bad luck."

For a long time Connie was silent as he went over in his mind step by
step the happenings at the lake where 'Merican Joe had set the fox
traps. Then he thought over what Pierre Bonnet Rouge had told him, but
instead of clearing things up, the Indian's words had only served to
deepen the mystery of the fox that yelled like a man. Suddenly the boy
remembered the action of Pierre when McTavish had asked him if he knew
anything about James Dean, the missing prospector. He glanced at the
Indian who was puffing his pipe in silence, and decided to risk another
direct question although he knew that in all probability Pierre Bonnet
Rouge would relapse into a stubborn muteness; for in matters touching
upon his superstitions, the Indian is a man of profound silence. "I
won't be any worse off than I am, now," thought the boy, "if he don't
say another word--so here goes." He addressed the Indian gravely.

"Pierre," he began, watching the man narrowly to note the effect of his
words, "you know I am a friend of yours, and a friend of the Indians. I
gave them meat, and I saved them from being robbed by the
_hooch_-runners." The Indian nodded, and Connie felt encouraged to
proceed. "Now, I believe there is something else beside a _tamahnawus_
down there at Hill Lake. And I'm going back there and find out what it
is."

Pierre Bonnet Rouge shook his head emphatically. "No. I ain' goin'
'long. I w'at you call, learn lesson for fool wit' _tamahnawus_."

"That's all right. I won't ask you to go. I am not afraid of the
_tamahnawus_. If 'Merican Joe won't go with me, I'll go alone. I want
you to tell me, though, what became of James Dean? Is he mixed up in
this?"

The Indian smoked without answering for so long a time that the boy
feared that he would never speak, but after a while he removed the pipe
from his mouth and regarded the boy sombrely. "You _skookum tillicum_,"
he began, gravely. "I ain' lak I see you mak' de _tamahnawus_ mad. De
_tamahnawus_, she mor' _skookum_ as you. She git you. I tell you all I
know 'bout dat _tamahnawus_. Den, if you goin' back to de lak--" he
paused and shrugged meaningly, and turning to the squaw, who had
finished washing the supper dishes, he motioned with his hand, and the
woman threw a brilliant red shawl over her head and passed out the door.

Pierre Bonnet Rouge refilled his pipe, and hunching his chair closer to
Connie, leaned toward him and spoke in a low tone. "She start long tam
ago--six, seven year. We camp on de Blackwater. Wan tam in de winter,
me, an' Ton-Kan, an' John Pickles, we go on de beeg caribou hunt. We
swing up by de beeg lak' an' by-m-by we com' on de cabin. She w'ite man
cabin, an' no wan hom', but de fresh track lead sout'. Ton-Kan, he t'ink
de man got de _hooch_ to trade an' he want som' _hooch_, an' John
Pickles too--so we fol' de track. By-m-by we com' to Hill Lak', an' de
man she got de leetle camp by de hill. He ain' got no _hooch_. We got
som' fox trap 'long, so we mak' de camp. Plent' fox track roun' de lak',
an' we say tomor' we set de trap. Dat night com' de man to de camp. Say,
'nem James Dean.' Say, 'w'at you Injun goin' do?' I say, 'we goin' trap
de fox. He ain' lak dat. By-m-by he say, 'you got look out. De
_tamahnawus_ fox here. She talk lak de man.' I ain' b'lieve dat. I t'ink
he say dat 'cos he wan' to trap de fox. But Ton-Kan an' John Pickles git
scare. I say, 'de _tamahnawus_ ain' git you, he mebbe-so ain' git me,
neider.' He say, 'me--I got de strong medicine. De _tamahnawus_ she know
me. She do lak I say.' I ain' b'lieve dat, an' he say, 'You wait, I show
you. I go back to my camp an' mak de medicine an' I tell de _tamahnawus_
to burn de snow out on de lak'.' He go back to he's camp an' Ton-Kan an'
John Pickles is ver' mooch scare. De night she ver' black. Wan tam I
t'ink I hear som' wan walk out on de lak', but I ain' sure an' Ton-Kan
say dat _tamahnawus_. Den he point out on de lak' an' I kin see leetle
fire lak' de eye of de fox in de dark. Den she mak de leetle spark, an'
she move 'long ver slow. I laugh an' I say, 'Dat James Dean out dere,
she mak de fire to scare Injun.' Den rat behine me som' wan laugh, an'
stands James Dean, an' he say, 'No, James Dean is here. Dat de
_tamahnawus_ out on de lak'. He burn de snow, lak I tell um.' I say,
'Mebbe-so, de piece of rope burn lak dat.' An' he say, 'No, dat ain' no
rope. Dat _tamahnawus_ burn de snow. You t'ink you smart Injun--but I
show you. If dat is rope she goin' out pret' queek, ain' it? She can't
mak' de big fire?' I say, 'No, rope can't mak' no big fire.' 'A'right,'
he say, 'I tell de _tamahnawus_ to mak' de beeg fire dat mak' de lak'
all light.' Den he yell at de _tamahnawus_. He say, 'Mak' de beeg fire!
Mak' de beeg fire!' But she ain' mak' no beeg fire, an' de leetle fire
crawl slow out on de snow, an' I laugh on heem. He say, 'De _tamahnawus_
ain' hear dat. I got yell louder.' So he yell louder, 'Mak' de beeg
fire! Mak' de beeg fire!' An den." Pierre Bonnet Rouge paused and
shuddered. "An' den de beeg fire com'! So queek--so beeg you kin see de
trees. An' den she all dark, so black you can't see nuttin'. An' James
Dean laugh. An' Ton-Kan, she so scare she howl lak' de dog. An' John
Pickles, she try to dig de hole in de snow an' crawl in. An' me--I'm so
scare I can't talk.

"Nex' mornin' w'en she git light nuff to see we go 'way from dat lak'
jes' so fas lak we kin, an' we ain' stop till we git to de Blackwater."
Pierre Bonnet Rouge lapsed into silence, and at length Connie asked:

"But the _cache_? And the foxes that wore the collars?"

"Nex' year I hunt caribou agin, but I ain' go by Hill lak', you bet.
Young Injun 'long _nem_ Clawhammer, an' we swing roun' by de beeg lak'
an' com' by de cabin. Lots of tracks, but I ain' see James Dean tracks.
By-m-by, we com' on de camp of 'bout ten Innuit. Dey mak' de track by de
cabin, an' dey got all de stuff out. I ain' see James Dean. _S'pose_
James Dean dead. He los' de medicine, an' de _tamahnawus_ git um.

"So I keep way from Hill Lak'. T'ree, four year go by, an' de fox
trappin' is bad. I ain' so mooch fraid of _tamahnawus_ no mor' an' I
t'ink 'bout dem plent' fox tracks on Hill Lak' so me an' Clawhammer we
go dere. We set 'bout twent' traps de firs' day. Never see so many fox
track. We set um by de hill. We git t'rough early an' set up de tent on
de shore of de lak'. She almos' sundown an' I look up de hill an' rat
beside wan leetle rock-ledge, I see wan fine black fox. I grab de gun,
an' tak' de res' on de sled, an' den I hear de yell! It soun' lak' wan
man w'at is los'! But it com' from de fox! I shoot queek, an' de fox
com' roll down de hill! Clawhammer he run an' git um, an' den we see
it--de collar of ermine skin! Den I know dat de _tamahnawus_ fox James
Dean say talk lak' de man, an' I ver' mooch scare. I ain' tell
Clawhammer 'bout James Dean, an' he t'ink som' wan git los' mak' de
yell. He ain' see it com' from de fox. I look on dat leetle fox, an' I
see he ver' dead. But no blood. De fur jes' scratch' cross de back of de
head--but, she ver' dead--I look good.

"Clawhammer he wan' to skin dat fox, but I don' know w'at to do. If de
Injun kill de fox, he mus' got to skin um. Dat bad to waste de fox.
_Sah-ha-lee Tyee_ don' want de Injun to waste de peoples. I got to t'ink
'bout dat an' so I lay de fox behine de tent an' mak' de supper. After
supper I t'ink long tam. _Tamahnawus_, she bad spirit. _Sah-ha-lee
Tyee_, she good spirit. If I skin de fox, _tamahnawus_ git mad on me. If
I ain' skin de fox, _Sah-ha-lee Tyee_ git mad on me. I ain' know w'at to
do. I t'ink som' mor'. By-m-by I t'ink dat bes to skin de fox. I ain'
know where _Sah-ha-lee Tyee_ liv'. If I mak' um mad I ain' kin giv' um
no present. Better I mak' _tamahnawus_ mad cos he liv' rat here, an' if
I mak' um mad I kin give um de present an' mebbe-so he ain' stay mad on
me. So, I go behine de tent to git de fox. But, de fox, she gon'! An' de
track show she gon' back up de hill, an' I ver' mooch scare--cos she was
dead!

"In de morning Clawhammer say he look at de traps to de wes', an' swing
on roun' de hill to fin' de track of de man w'at git los' an' yell. I
ain' say nuttin', an' he start ver' early. I go look at de traps down de
lak', an' w'en de sun com' up, I hear de yell agin! An' I ver' mooch
scare, cos I'm fraid de _tamahnawus_ mad on me for kill de fox w'at yell
lak de man. So I go back, an' I skin two fox w'at I ketch in de trap.
Clawhammer ain' back, so I go an' build de _cache_. An' I put my
blankets an' rifle on it, an' plenty grub, for de present to
_tamahnawus_. Clawhammer com' 'long an' he say he ain' fin' no track. He
begin to git scare 'bout dat yell, w'en he don' fin' de track. So he
show me wan fox what he took from de trap. It is de black fox wit' de
ermine collar! Clawhammer ver' mooch scare now. He wan' to run away. But
I tell um we got to skin dat fox. If we don' skin um, we goin' to mak'
_Sah-ha-lee Tyee_ ver' mad. _Tamahnawus_ he ver' mad anyhow; so we mak'
him de present, an' we skin de fox, an' put de skin an' de collar on de
_cache_ too. Den mebbe-so _tamahnawus_ ain' so mad w'en he git de guns
an' de blankets, an' de fox skin back. So we go 'way from dat lak' ver'
fas'.

"Dat day I bre'k my leg. An' nex' day Clawhammer's tepee burn up. So we
git bad luck. Den de bad luck go 'way, cos _tamahnawus_ fin' dat
_cache_, an' he ain' so mad. But every tam de leetle moon com' I tak'
som' mor' grub to de _cache_. An' so, I keep de luck good."

"And do you think it's still there on the _cache_--the fox skin and the
collar?"

The Indian shrugged. "I ain' know 'bout dat. Mebbe-so de _tamahnawus_
fox com' an' git he's skin. 'Bout wan year ago Bear Lake Injun, _nem_
Peter Burntwood, trap wan fox way up on de beeg lak'. She black fox, an'
she got de collar of ermine skin. Me--I'm over to Fort Norman w'en he
bring in de skin an' de collar, an' trade de skin to McTavish."

"What did McTavish make of it?" asked Connie eagerly.

"He ain' b'lieve dat. He t'ink Peter Burntwood mak' dat collar to fool
um. He say Peter Burntwood lak too mooch to tell de beeg lie."

"But didn't you tell McTavish about the fox you shot, and the one you
trapped with the collar on?"

"No. I ain' say nuttin'. Dat hurt too mooch to bre'k de leg. I ain' want
dat _tamahnawus_ mad on me no mor'."

Connie was silent for a long time as he racked his brain for some
reasonable explanation of the Indian's strange story, pieced out by what
he, himself, had actually seen and heard at the lake. But no explanation
presented itself and finally he shook his head.

"W'at you t'ink 'bout dat?" asked Pierre Bonnet Rouge, who had been
watching the boy narrowly.

"I don't know. There's something back of it all--but I can't seem to
figure what it is. I'm going back to that lake, though, and I'm going to
stay there till I do know."

The Indian shook his head forebodingly. "Dat better you keep way from
dat lak'. She no good. James Dean he fool wit de _tamahnawus_. An' he
hav' de strong medicine to mak' de _tamahnawus_ do lak' he tell um. But
de _tamahnawus_ git James Dean. An' he git you--too."

Connie waited for two days after 'Merican Joe returned from the trap
line before he even mentioned returning to
The-Lake-of-the-Fox-That-Yells, as the Indians had renamed Hill Lake.
Then, one evening he began to make up a pack for the trail.

"Were you goin'?" asked 'Merican Joe, eying the preparations with
disapproval.

"It's about time we went down and looked at those fox traps, isn't it?"
he asked casually. "And we ought to get some more out."

The Indian shook his head. "Me--I'm lak' dat better we let de
_tamahnawus_ hav' dem fox trap. We go on som' nudder lak' an' set
mor'."

"Look here!" ripped out the boy, angrily, "if you're afraid to go you
can stay here and snare rabbits like a squaw! I ain't afraid of your
_tamahnawus_, and I'll go alone! And I'll stay till I find out what all
this business is about--and then I'll come back and laugh at you, and at
Pierre Bonnet Rouge, too. You're a couple of old women!" 'Merican Joe
made no answer, and after puttering a bit he went to bed.

When Connie awakened, before daylight the following morning, the fire
was burning brightly in the stove, and 'Merican Joe, dressed for the
trail, was setting the breakfast table. Connie drew on his clothing and
noticing that the pack he had thrown together the night before was
missing, stepped to the door. A pack of double the size was lashed to
the sled, and the boy turned to 'Merican Joe with a grin: "Decide to
take a chance?" he asked.

The Indian set a plate of beans on the table and looked into the boy's
eyes. "Me--I'm t'ink you too mooch _skookum_. Wan tam on Spur Mountain,
I say you good man, an' I say 'Merican Joe, she good man, too. But she
ain' so good man lak you. She scare for _tamahnawus_ mor' as anyt'ing
on de worl'. Rat now I'm so scare--me--dat de knees shivver, an' de hair
com's from de head an' crawl up an' down de back an' de feet is col' lak
de piece of ice, an' de belly is sick lak I ain' got nuttin' to eat in
my life. But, I'm goin' 'long, an' I stan' rat beside you all de tam,
an' w'en de _tamahnawus_ git Connie Mo'gan, by Goss! she got to git
'Merican Joe, too!"

The boy stepped to the Indian's side and snatched his hand into both his
own. "'Merican Joe," he cried, in a voice that was not quite steady,
"you're a brick! You're the best doggone Injun that ever lived!"

"Me--I'm de scarest Injun ever liv'. I bet I lak she was nex' week, an'
I was t'ousan' miles 'way from here."

"You're braver than I am," laughed the boy; "it's nothing for me to go,
because I'm not scared, but you're scared stiff--and you're going
anyway."

"Humph," grinned the Indian, "I ain' know w'at you mean--you say, if you
scare, you brave--an' if you ain' scare, you ain' so brave. By Goss! I
lak dat better if I ain' so mooch brave, den--an' ain' so mooch scare
neider."

Travelling heavy, darkness overtook them some six or eight miles from
their destination, and they camped. The sun was an hour high next
morning when they pushed out on to the snow-covered ice and headed for
the high hill at the end of the lake. 'Merican Joe agreed to look at the
traps on the way up while Connie held the dogs to a course parallel to
the shore. As the Indian was about to strike out he pointed excitedly
toward the point where he had made the first set. Connie looked, and
there, jumping about on the snow, with his foot in the trap was a
beautiful black fox! It is a sight that thrills your trapper to the
marrow, for here is the most valuable skin that it is possible for him
to take, and forgetting for the moment his fear of the lake, 'Merican
Joe struck off across the snow. A few moments later he halted, stared at
the fox, and turning walked slowly back to the sled.

"Mebbe-so dat fox is de fox dat yell lak' de man. She black fox, too.
Me--I'm 'fraid to tak' dat fox out de trap. I'm 'fraid she talk to me!
An' by Goss! She say jus' wan word to me, I git so scare I die!"

Connie laughed. "Here, you take the dogs and I'll look at the traps. I
remember where they all are, and I'll take out the foxes. But you will
have to reset the traps, later."

As Connie approached, the fox jerked and tugged at the chain in an
effort to free himself from the trap, but he was fairly caught and the
jaws held. Connie drew his belt ax, for 'Merican Joe had explained that
the fox is too large and lively an animal to be held with the bow of the
snowshoe like the marten, while the trapper feels for his heart. He must
be stunned by a sharp blow on the nose with the helve of the ax, after
which it is an easy matter to pull his heart. As he was about to strike,
the boy straightened up and stared at a small white band that encircled
the neck of the fox. It was a collar of ermine skin! And as he continued
to stare, little prickly chills shot up and down his spine. For a moment
he stood irresolute, and then, pulling himself together, he struck. A
moment later the fox's heart-strings snapped at the pull, and the boy
released the foot from the trap, and holding the animal in his hands,
examined the ermine collar. It was nearly an inch wide, of untanned
skin, and was tied at the throat. "No Injun ever tied that knot,"
muttered the boy, "and there's no use scaring 'Merican Joe any more than
necessary," he added, as with his sheath knife he cut the collar and
placed it carefully in his pocket, and carrying the fox, proceeded up
the shore.

In the fifth trap was another black fox. And again the boy stared at the
ermine skin collar that encircled the animal's neck. He removed this
collar and placed it with the first. 'Merican Joe was a half-mile out on
the lake, plodding along at the head of the dogs. The two foxes were
heavy, and Connie decided to carry them to the sled.

'Merican Joe stared, wide-eyed, at the catch. "Did dey talk?" he asked,
huskily. And when Connie had assured him that they had not, the Indian
continued to stare.

"Dat funny we git _two_ black fox. De black fox, he ain' so many. You
trap wan all winter, you done good. We got two, sam' day. I ain' never
hear 'bout dat before!"

"I knew this was a good lake for foxes," smiled the boy. 'Merican Joe
nodded, sombrely. "Som't'ing wrong. Dat lak' she too mooch good for fox.
Som' t'ing wrong."

The twelfth trap yielded another black fox, and another ermine collar,
and as the boy removed it from the animal's neck he gave way to an
expression of anger. "What in thunder is the meaning of this? Who is out
here in the hills tying ermine collars on black foxes--and why? The most
valuable skin in the North--and some fool catches them and ties a collar
on them, and turns them loose! And how does he catch them? They've never
been trapped before! And how does it come there are so many of them and
they are so easy to trap?" He gave it up, and returned to the sled, to
show the astounded 'Merican Joe the third black fox. But the Indian took
no joy in the catch, and all the time they were setting up the tent in
the shelter of a thicket at the foot of the high hill, he maintained a
brooding silence.

"While you skin the foxes, I guess I'll slip over and have another look
at that _cache_," said the boy, when they had eaten their luncheon.

"You sure git back, pret' queek?" asked the Indian, "I ain' want to be
here 'lone w'en de sun go down. I ain' want to hear dat yell."

"Oh, I'll be back long before sundown," assured Connie. "That yell is
just what I _do want_ to hear."

At the _cache_ he raised the rotting blanket and peered beneath it and
there, as Pierre Bonnet Rouge had told him, was a black fox skin, and
its ermine collar. The boy examined the collar. It was an exact
counterpart of the three he had in his pocket. He replaced the blanket
and walked slowly back to camp, pondering deeply the mystery of the
collars, but the more he thought, the more mysterious it seemed.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE MAN IN THE CAVE


It was late afternoon when 'Merican Joe finished skinning the three
foxes and stretching the pelts. As the sun approached the horizon Connie
seated himself upon the sled at a point that gave him a clear view of
the rock-ledge on the hillside. 'Merican Joe went into the tent and
seated himself on his blankets, where he cowered with his thumbs in his
ears.

The lower levels were in the shadows, now, and the sunlight was creeping
slowly up the hill. Suddenly, from the rock-ledge appeared a black fox.
Connie wondered if he, too, wore an ermine skin collar. The fox sniffed
the air and trotted off along the hillside, where he disappeared behind
a patch of scrub. Again the boy's eyes sought the ledge, another fox was
trotting away and still another stood beside the rock. Then it came--the
wild quavering yell for which the boy waited. The third fox trotted
away as the yell came to its wailing termination, and Connie leaped from
the sled. "It's just as I thought!" he cried, excitedly. "_The fox never
gave that yell!_" The boy had expected to find just that, nevertheless,
the actual discovery of it thrilled him with excitement.

The head of 'Merican Joe peered cautiously from the tent. "Who giv' um
den?" he asked in fear and trembling.

"The man that's at the bottom of that fox-hole," answered the boy,
impressively, "and if I'm not mistaken, his name is James Dean."

The Indian stared at the boy as though he thought he had taken leave of
his senses. "W'at you mean--de bottom of de fox-hole?" he asked "Dat
hole so leetle small dat de fox she almos' can't git out!"

"That's just it!" cried the boy. "That's just why the man can't get
out."

"How he git in dere?" asked 'Merican Joe, in a tone of such disgust that
Connie laughed.

"I'll tell you that tomorrow," he answered, "after James Dean tells me."

"If de yell com' from de hole, den de _tamahnawus_ mak' um," imparted
the Indian, fearfully. "An' if he can't get out dat better we let um
stay in dere. Ain' no man kin git in dat hole. I ain' know nuttin' 'bout
no James Dean."

A half-hour before sunrise the following morning Connie started up the
slope, closely followed by 'Merican Joe, who mumbled gruesome
forebodings as he crowded so close that he had to keep a sharp lookout
against treading upon the tails of Connie's rackets. When they had
covered half the distance a black fox broke from a nearby patch of scrub
and dashed for the hole in the rock-ledge, and as they approached the
place another fox emerged from the thicket, paused abruptly, and circled
widely to the shelter of another thicket.

Arriving at the ledge, Connie took up his position squarely in front of
the hole, while 'Merican Joe, grimly grasping the helve of his belt ax,
sank down beside him, and with trembling fingers untied the thongs of
one of his snowshoes.

"What are you doing that for?" asked Connie, in a low voice.

"Me--I'm so scare w'en dat yell com', I'm 'fraid I runaway. If I ain'
got jus' wan snowshoe, I can't run."

"You're all right," smiled the boy, as he reached out and laid a
reassuring hand upon the Indian's arm, and hardly had the words left his
lips than from the mouth of the hole came the wild cry that mounted
higher and higher, and then died away in a quavering tremolo. Instantly,
Connie thrust his face close to the hole. "Hello!" he cried at the top
of his lungs, and again: "Hello, in there!"

A moment of tense silence followed, and then from the hole came the
sound of a voice. "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello! Don't go 'way--for
God's sake! Hello, hello, hello----"

"We're not going away," answered the boy, "we've come to get you
out--James Dean!"

"James Dean! James Dean!" repeated the voice from the ground. "Get James
Dean out!"

"We'll get you out, all right," reassured the boy. "But tell us how you
got in, and why you can't get out the same way?"

"There's no way out!" wailed a voice of despair, "I'm buried alive, an'
there's no way out!"

"How did you get in?" insisted the boy. "Come, think, because it'll help
us to get you out."

"Get in--a long time ago--years and years ago--James Dean is very old.
The whole hill is hollow and James Dean is buried alive."

Connie gave up trying to obtain information from the unfortunate man
whose inconsistent remarks were of no help. "I'll see if these rocks are
loose," he called, as he scraped the snow away from the edges of the
hole and tapped at the rock with the back of his belt ax.

"It ain't loose!" came the voice. "It's solid rock--a hundred ton of it
caved in my tunnel. The whole hill is quartz inside and I shot a face
and the hill caved in."

A hurried examination confirmed the man's statement. Connie found, under
the snow, evidences of the mouth of a tunnel, and then he saw that the
whole face of the ledge had fallen forward, blocking the tunnel at the
mouth. The small triangular opening used by the foxes, had originally
been a notch in the old face of the ledge. The boy stared at the mass of
rock in dismay. Fully twelve feet of solid rock separated the man from
the outside world! Once more he placed his mouth to the hole. "Hello,
James Dean!"

"Hello!"

"Isn't there any other opening to the cave?" he asked.

"Opening to the cave? Another opening? No--no--only my window, an'
that's too high."

"Window," cried Connie. "Where is your window?"

"'Way up high--a hundred feet high. I've carried forty ton of rock--but
I never can reach it--because I've run out of rock--and my powder and
drills was buried in the cave-in."

"I'm going to find that window!" cried the boy. "You go back and get as
close to the window as you can, and yell and I'll find it, and when I
do, we'll pull you out in a jiffy."

"It's too high," wailed the man, "and my rock run out!"

"Go over there and yell!" repeated the boy. "I'll let a line down and
we'll pull you out."

Turning to 'Merican Joe, whose nerve had completely returned when he
became convinced that the author of the strange yell was a man of flesh
and blood, the boy ordered him post-haste to the tent to fetch the three
coils of strong _babiche_ line that he had added to the outfit. When the
Indian had gone, Connie struck straight up the hill, examining the
surface of the snow eagerly for sight of a hole. But it was not until
two hours later, after he and the Indian had circled and spiralled the
hill in every direction, that he was attracted to a patch of scrawny
scrub by the faint sound of a long-drawn yell.

Into the scrub dashed the boy, and there, yawning black and forbidding,
beneath a low rock-ledge, was a hole at least four feet in height, and
eight or nine feet wide. And from far down in the depths came the sound
of the voice, loud and distinct now that he stood directly in front of
the hole. The boy called for 'Merican Joe, and while he waited for the
Indian to come, he noted that the edges of the hole, and all the bushes
that over-hung its mouth were crusted thickly with white frost.
Carefully he laid flat on his belly and edged himself along until he
could thrust his face into the abyss. The air felt very warm--a dank,
damp warmth, such as exudes from the depths of a swamp in summer. He
peered downward but his eyes could not penetrate the Stygian blackness
out of which rose the monotonous wail of the voice.

"Strike a light down there!" cried the boy. "Or build a fire!"

"Light! Fire! Ha, ha, ha." Thin, hollow laughter that was horrible to
hear, floated upward. "I ain't had a fire in years, and years--an' no
light."

"Wait a minute!" called the boy, and began to collect dry twigs which he
made into a bundle. He lighted the bundle and when it was burning
fiercely he shouted, "Look out below!" And leaning far inward, he
dropped the blazing twigs. Down, down like a fiery comet they rushed
through the darkness, and then suddenly the comet seemed to explode and
a million tiny flames shot in all directions as the bundle burst from
contact with the rock floor. "Pile the sticks together and make a fire!"
called the boy, "and I'll toss you down some more!" He could see the
tiny red faggots moving toward a central spot, and presently a small
blaze flared up, and as more twigs were added to the pile the flame
brightened. Connie collected more wood, and calling a warning, tossed it
down. Soon a bright fire was burning far below, and in the flickering
light of the flames the boy saw a grotesque shape flitting here and
there adding twigs to the fire. He could not see the man clearly but he
could see that his head and face were covered with long white hair, and
that he was entirely naked except for a flapping piece of cloth that
hung from his middle.

'Merican Joe arrived with the _babiche_ lines, and as the boy proceeded
to uncoil and knot them together, he sent the Indian to the tent for
some blankets. When he returned the line was ready, with a fixed loop in
the end.

"All right!" called the boy, "here comes the line. Sit in the loop, and
hold on to the rope for all you're worth, and we'll have you out in a
few minutes!" He could hear the man talking to himself as he hovered
about the fire so closely that the flames seemed to be licking at his
skin.

The man looked upward, and Connie paid out the line. When it reached the
bottom, the boy noted that there was only about ten feet of slack
remaining, and he heaved a sigh of relief. He could feel the man tugging
at the rope, and after a moment of silence the voice sounded from below:
"Haul away!"

Connie and 'Merican Joe braced their feet on the rocks and pulled. They
could feel the rope sway like a pendulum as the man left the floor, and
then, hand over hand they drew him to the surface. While the Indian had
gone for the blankets, Connie had cut a stout pole to be used to support
the load while they got the man out of the hole. Even with the pole to
sustain the weight it was no small task to draw the man over the edge,
but at last it was accomplished, and James Dean stood once more in the
light of day after his years of imprisonment in the bowels of the earth.
With a cry of pain the man clapped his hands to his eyes, and Connie
immediately bound his handkerchief over them, as 'Merican Joe wrapped
the wasted form in thickness after thickness of blankets. When the
blankets were secured with the _babiche_ line the Indian lifted the man
to his shoulders, and struck out for the tent, as Connie hurried on
ahead to build up the fire and prepare some food.

The bandage was left on the man's eyes, for the daylight had proved too
strong, but after the tent had warmed, the two dressed him in their
extra clothing. The man ate ravenously of broiled caribou steak and
drank great quantities of tea, after which, the day being still young,
camp was struck, and the outfit headed for the cabin.

It was midnight when they drew up at the door, and soon a roaring fire
heated the interior. Connie turned the light very low, and removed the
bandage from the man's eyes. For a long time he sat silent, staring
about him, his eyes travelling slowly from one object to another, and
returning every few moments to linger upon the faces of his rescuers. At
times his lips moved slightly, as if to name some familiar object, but
no sound came, and his eyes followed every movement with interest, as
'Merican Joe prepared supper.

When the meal was ready the man stepped to the pole-shelf that served as
a washstand, and as he caught sight of his face in the little mirror
that hung above it, he started back with a cry of horror. Then he
stepped to the mirror again, and for a long time he stared into it as
though fascinated by what he beheld. In a daze, he turned to Connie.
"What--what year is it?" he asked, in a voice that trembled with
uncertainty. And when the boy told him, he stood and batted his
squinting eyes uncomprehendingly. "Six years," he mumbled, "six years
buried alive. Six years living with weasels, and foxes, and fish without
eyes. I was thirty, then--and in six years I'm eighty--eighty years old
if I'm a day. Look at me! Ain't I eighty?"

In truth, the man looked eighty, thought Connie as he glanced into the
face with its faded squinting eyes, the brow wrinkled and white as
paper, and the long white hair and beard that hung about his shoulders.
Aloud he said, "No, you'll be all right again in a little while. Living
in the dark that way has hurt your eyes, and turned your skin white, and
the worry about getting out has made your hair turn grey but you can cut
your hair, and shave off your whiskers, and the sun will tan you up
again. Let's eat now, and after supper if you feel like it you can tell
us how it happened."

The man ate ravenously--so ravenously in fact, that Connie who had
learned that a starving man should be fed slowly at first, uttered a
protest. "You better go a little easy on the grub," he cautioned. "Not
that we haven't got plenty, but for your own good. Anyone that hasn't
had enough to eat for quite a while has got to take it slow."

The man looked at the boy in surprise. "It ain't the grub--it's the
_cooking_. I've had plenty of grub, but I ain't had any fire."

After supper the man begged to be allowed to help wash the dishes, and
when the task was finished, he drew his chair directly in front of the
stove, and opening the door, sat staring into the flames. "Seems like I
just got to look at the fire," he explained, "I ain't seen one in so
long."

"And you ate all your grub raw?" asked the boy.

James Dean settled himself in his chair, and shook his head. "No, not
raw. I might's well begin at the start. There's times when my head seems
to kind of go wrong, but it's all right now."

"Wait a few days, if you'd rather," suggested the boy, but the man shook
his head:

"No, I feel fine--I'd about give up ever seein' men again. Let's see
where'll I begin. I come north eight year ago. Prospected the
Coppermine, but there ain't nothin' there. Then I built me a cabin south
of the big lake. From there I prospected an' trapped, an' traded with
McTavish at Fort Norman. One time I struck some colour on the shore of
the lake, right at the foot of the hill where you found me. Looked like
it had come out of rotted quartz, an' I figured the mother lode would
maybe be in the hill so I fetched my drills, an' powder, an' run in a
drift. I hadn't got very far in when I shot the whole face out and
busted into a big cave. The whole inside was lined with rotten quartz,
but it wasn't poor man's gold. It was a stamp mill claim.

"I prodded around in the cave all day, an' that evenin' some Injuns come
an' camped near my tent. They was goin' to trap fox, an' I didn't want
'em around, so I went over to their camp an' told 'em there was a
_tamahnawus_ around. Two of 'em was scairt stiff, but one wasn't. I told
'em they was a fox that could talk like a man. But one buck, he figured
I was lyin', so to make the play good, I told 'em I had the medicine to
make the _tamahnawus_ do what I told him. I said I would make him burn
the snow, so I slips back to my tent and laid a fuse out on the lake,
an' put about a pound of powder at the end of it, an' while she was
burnin' I went back. The Injuns could see the fuse sputterin' out on the
lake, but this one buck said it was a piece of rope I'd set afire. I
told him if it was rope it would go out, but if it was _tamahnawus_ I'd
tell him to make a big fire. So I yelled at the _tamahnawus_ a couple of
times, and when the spark got to the powder she flashed up big, an' like
to scairt them Injuns to death. In the morning they beat it--an' that
was the end of them. If you're smart you can out-guess them Injuns."
The man paused, and Connie, although he said nothing, smiled grimly for
well he knew that the man had paid dearly for his trick.

"Nex' day I decided to shoot down a face of the rotten quartz to see how
thick she was, an' I drilled my holes an' tamped in the shots, an' fired
'em. I had gone back in the cave, instead of steppin' outside, an' when
the shots went off the whole ledge tipped over, an' plugged up my
tunnel. I'd shoved my drills an' powder into the tunnel, an they was
buried.

"Well, there I was. At first I yelled, an' hollered, an' I clawed at the
rock with my hands. Then I come to. The cave was dark as pitch, the only
light I could see come through under the rocks where the foxes use--only
they wasn't any foxes then. There I was without nothin' to eat an'
drink, an' no way out. I had matches, but there wasn't nothin' to burn.
Then I started out to explore the cave. It was an awful job in the dark.
Now an' then I'd light a match an' hold it till it burnt my fingers. It
was a big cave, an' around a corner of rock, five or six hundred foot
back from the hole, I found the window you drug me out through. That
let in a little light, but it was high up an' no way to get to it. I
heard runnin' water, an' found a crick run right through the middle of
that room, it was the biggest room of all. In one place there was a
rapids not over six inches deep where it run over a ledge of rocks. I
crossed it, an' found another long room. It was hot in there an' damp
an' it stunk of sulphur. There was a boilin' spring in there, an' a
little crick run from it to the big cold crick. I heard a splashin' in
the rapids an' I was so scairt I couldn't run. There wouldn't have been
no place to run to if I could. So I laid there, an' listened. The
splashin' kept up an' I quit bein' so scairt, an' went to the rapids.
The splashin' was still goin' on an' it took me quite a while there in
the dark to figure out it was fish. Well, when I did figure it, I give a
whoop. I wasn't goin' to starve, anyhow--not with fish, an' a boilin'
spring to cook 'em. I took off my shoes an' waded in an' stood still in
the rapids. Pretty quick I could feel 'em bumpin' my feet. Then I stuck
my hands in an' when they bumped into 'em I'd throw 'em out. I got so I
never missed after a couple of years. They run in schools, an' it got so
I knew when they was up the river, an' when they was down. I'd scoop
one or two out, an' carry 'em to the spring, an' I made a sort of pen
out of rocks in the boilin' water, an' I'd throw 'em in, an' a half-hour
or so later, they'd be done. But they stunk of sulphur, an' tasted
rotten, an' at first I couldn't go 'em--but I got used to it after a
while.

"The first year, I used to yell out the door, about every couple of
hours, then three times a day, an' at last I only yelled when the light
in the hole told me the sun was going down, an' again when it come up.
In summer a rabbit would now an' then come in the hole an' I got so I
could kill 'em with rocks when they set for a minute in the light at the
end of the hole. They was plenty o' weasels--ermine they call 'em up
here, but they ain't fit to eat. Towards spring a couple of black fox
come nosin' into the hole, an' I slipped in a rock so they couldn't get
out. I done it first, jest to have company. They was so wild, I couldn't
see nothin' but their eyes for a long time. But I scooped fish out for
'em an' fed 'em every day in the same place an' they got tamer. Then
they had a litter of young ones! Say, they was the cutest little fellers
you ever saw. I fed 'em an' after a while they was so tame I could
handle 'em. I never could handle the old ones, but they got so tame
they'd take fish out of my hand.

"All this time I used to go to the hole every day, an' two or three
times a day, an' lay with my face in it, so my eyes would get the light.
I was afraid I'd go blind bein' all the time in the dark. An' between
times I'd carry loose rock an' pile it under that window. I spent years
of work on pilin' them rocks, an' then I used up all the rocks an' had
to quit.

"When the little foxes got about a quarter grow'd I took 'em one at a
time, an' shoved 'em out the hole, so their eyes wouldn't go bad. After
a while I could let 'em all out together, an' they would always come
back. I was careful to keep 'em well fed. But I didn't dare let the old
ones go, I was afraid they'd never come back an' would drag off the
little ones, too. It wasn't so long before them six little fellows could
beat me scoopin' out fish. Well, one day the big ones got out, an' the
little ones followed. They'd clawed the rock away where I hadn't jammed
it in tight. I never felt so bad in my life. I sat there in the dark and
bawled like a baby. It was like losin' yer family all to once. They was
all I had. I never expected to see 'em again. They stayed out all night,
but in the mornin' back they all come--big ones an' all! After that I
left the hole open, an' they come an' went as they pleased. Well, they
had more little ones, an' the little ones had little ones, until they
was forty or fifty black fox lived with me in the cave--an' I had 'em
all named. They used to fetch in ptarmigan an' rabbits an' I'd take 'em
away an' eat 'em. Then one or two begun to turn up missin' an' I figured
they'd be'n trapped. That give me an idea. If I could tie a message onto
'em, maybe sometime someone would trap one and find out where I was. But
I didn't have no pencil nor nothin' to write on. So I begun tearin'
strips from my coat an' pants an' tied 'em around their necks, but the
goods was gettin' rottin, an' bushes clawed it off, or maybe the foxes
did. I used up my coat, an' most of my pants, an' then I used ermine
skins. I figured that if any one trapped a black fox wearin' an ermine
skin collar it would call for an investigation. If it was a white
trapper he would tumble right away that something was wrong, an' if it
was an Injun he would brag about it when he traded the fur, an' then
the factor would start the investigation. But nothin' come of it till
you come along, although they was several of them foxes trapped--as long
as three years back. But I kept on yellin' night an' mornin'. Sometime,
I know'd someone would hear. An' that's all there is to it, except that
my clothes an' shoes was all wore out--but I didn't mind so much because
it was warm as summer all the time, an' no mosquitoes in the cave."

"And now you can rest up for a few days, and well take you to Fort
Norman," smiled Connie, when the man relapsed into silence, "and you can
go out in the summer with the brigade."

"Go out?" asked the man, vaguely. "Go out where?"

"Why!" exclaimed the boy, "go out--wherever you want to go."

The man lapsed into a long silence as he sat with his grey beard resting
upon his breast and gazed into the fire. "No," he said, at length, "I'll
go to Fort Norman, an' get some drills an' powder, an' shoot me a new
tunnel. I'll take a stove so I can have a fire, an' cook. I like the
cave. It's all the home I got, an' someone's got to look after them
foxes."

"But the gold?" asked the boy. "How about bringing in a stamp mill and
turn your hill into a regular outfit?"

James Dean shook his head. "No, it would spoil the cave an' besides
where would me and the foxes go? That hill is the only home we've
got--an' I'm gettin' old. I'm eighty if I'm a day. When I'm dead you can
have the hill--but you'll look after them foxes, won't you, boy?"

A week later Connie and 'Merican Joe and James Dean pulled up before the
Hudson's Bay Post at Fort Norman, and, as the boy entered the door,
McTavish greeted him in surprise. "You're just the one I want!" he
cried. "I was just about to send an Indian runner to your cabin with
this letter. It come from the Yukon by special messenger."

Connie tore the document open, and as he read, his eyes hardened. It was
from Waseche Bill, and it had not been intrusted to "Roaring Mike
O'Reilly" to transcribe. It ran thus:


MR. C. MORGAN,

Cannady.

     Son, yo better come back yere. Theys an outfit thats tryin to horn
     in on us on Ten Bow. They stack up big back in the states--name's
     Guggenhammer, or somethin' like it, an they say we kin take our
     choist to either fight or sell out. If we fight they say they'll
     clean us out. I ain't goin' to do one thing or nother till I hear
     from you. Come a runnin' an' les here you talk.

Your pard,
W. BILL.


"What's the matter, son, bad news?" asked McTavish, as he noted the
scowling face of the boy.

"Read it," he snapped, and tossed the letter to the big Scotchman. Then
stepping to the counter he rapidly wrote a report to Dan McKeever, in re
the disappearance of James Dean, after which he turned to 'Merican
Joe--"I've got to go back to Ten Bow," he said. "All the traps and the
fur and everything we've got here except my sled and dog-team are yours.
Stay as long as you want to, and when you are tired of trapping, come on
over into the Yukon country, and I'll give you a job--unless the
Guggenhammers bust me--but if they do they'll know they've been
somewhere when they get through!"

And without waiting to hear the Indian's reply, the boy turned to
McTavish and ordered his trail grub, which 'Merican Joe packed on to
the boy's sled as fast as the factor's clerk could get it out.
"So-long," called Connie, as he stood beside the sled a half-hour later.
"Here goes a record trip to the Yukon! And, say, McTavish, give James
Dean anything he wants, and charge it to me!"

"All right, lad," called the factor, "but what are ye goin' to do? Dan
McKeever'll be wantin' to know, when he comes along?"

"Do?" asked the boy.

"Yes, are ye goin' to sell out, or fight 'em?"

"Fight 'em!" cried the boy. "Fight 'em to the last ditch! If they've
told Waseche we've _got_ to sell, I wouldn't sell for a hundred million
dollars--and neither would he! We'll fight 'em--and what's more we'll
beat 'em--you wait an' see!" And with a yell the boy cracked his whip,
and the dogs, with the great Leloo in the lead, sprang out on to the
long, long trail to the Yukon.

THE END.



  _A Selection from the
  Catalogue of_

  G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS

  [Illustration]

  Complete Catalogues sent
  on application


  Connie Morgan
  in the Lumber Camps

  By

  James B. Hendryx

  Author of "Connie Morgan in Alaska," "Connie Morgan
  with the Mounted," etc.


All his many friends will be glad to greet Connie Morgan again.

This time we find him in the timber regions of northern Minnesota, where
he solves a mystery that robbed him and his partner of thousands of
dollars' worth of logs. He is the same straight-forward lad "who finds
out what has to be done, and does it the best he knows how."

Mr. Hendryx has lived much in the lumber woods and has written an
excellent, exciting story of adventure.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York           London


  Connie Morgan
  in Alaska

  By

  James B. Hendryx

  Author of "The Promise," "The Law of the Woods," etc.

  _12°. Over twenty illustrations_


Mr. Hendryx, as he has ably demonstrated in his many well-known tales,
knows his Northland thoroughly, but he has achieved a reputation as a
writer possibly "too strong" for the younger literary digestion. It is a
delight, therefore, to find that he can present properly, in a capital
story of a boy, full of action and adventure, and one in whom boys
delight, the same thorough knowledge of people and customs of the North.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York        London


  Connie Morgan with the
  Mounted

  By

  James B. Hendryx

  Author of "Connie Morgan in Alaska"

  _Illustrated._


It tells how "Sam Morgan's Boy," well known to readers of Mr. Hendryx's
"Connie Morgan in Alaska," daringly rescued a man who was rushing to
destruction on an ice floe and how, in recognition of his
quick-wittedness and nerve, he was made a Special Constable in the
Northwest Mounted Police, with the exceptional adventures that fell to
his lot in that perilous service. It is a story of the northern
wilderness, clean and bracing as the vigorous, untainted winds that
sweep over that region; the story of a boy who wins out against the
craft of Indians and the guile of the bad white man of the North; the
story of a boy who succeeds where men fail.


G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York         London


  The Promise

  A Tale of the Great Northwest and of a
  Man Who Kept His Word

  By James B. Hendryx


A tale of a strong man's regeneration--of the transformation of
"Broadway Bill" Carmody, millionaire's son, rounder, and sport, whose
drunken sprees have finally overtaxed the patience of his father and
_the_ girl, into a Man, clear-eyed and clean-lived, a true descendant of
the fighting McKims.


The Texan

A Story of the Cattle Country

By James B. Hendryx

Author of "The Promise," etc.


A novel of the cattle country and of the mountains, by James B. Hendryx,
will at once commend itself to the host of readers who have
enthusiastically followed this brilliant writer's work. Again he has
written a red-blooded, romantic story of the great open spaces, of the
men who "do" things and of the women who are brave--a tale at once
turbulent and tender, impassioned but restrained.


G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York        London


  The White Blanket

  By

  Belmore Browne

  Author of "The Quest of the Golden Valley," etc.

  _12°. Illustrated_


A sequel to _The Quest of the Golden Valley_, this time taking the chums
through the vicissitudes of an Alaskan winter. They trap the many
fur-bearing animals, hunt the big game, camp with the Indians, do
dog-driving, snow-shoeing, etc. With the coming of spring they descend
one of the wilderness rivers on a raft and at the eleventh hour, after
being wrecked in a dangerous canyon, they discover a fabulous quartz
lode, and succeed in reaching the sea coast.


G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York        London





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