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Title: Dick Kent on Special Duty
Author: Richards, Milton
Language: English
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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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                               DICK KENT
                            ON SPECIAL DUTY


                           By MILTON RICHARDS


                               Author of
“Dick Kent with the Mounted Police,” “Dick Kent in the Far North,” “Dick
  Kent with the Eskimos,” “Dick Kent, Fur Trader,” “Dick Kent with the
                            Malemute Mail.”


                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
                        Akron, Ohio    New York

                          Copyright MCMXXVIII
                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
                 _Made in the United States of America_



                                Contents


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I Rand Tackles a Difficult Case                                      3
  II The Price of Folly                                               12
  III Three New Recruits                                              17
  IV Frischette’s Money Box                                           28
  V A Midnight Prowler                                                38
  VI New Complications                                                49
  VII The Mysterious Poke                                             57
  VIII Corporal Rand Takes Charge                                     66
  IX Unexpected News                                                  76
  X Conflicting Theories                                              85
  XI Finding a Motive                                                 93
  XII “Rat” MacGregor’s Wife                                         103
  XIII On Creel’s Trail                                              111
  XIV A Meeting in the Woods                                         121
  XV A Deserted Road-House                                           129
  XVI Trapped!                                                       134
  XVII A Policeman’s Horse                                           144
  XVIII A Red Blob                                                   154
  XIX Across Hay River                                               161
  XX A Thrilling Experience                                          170
  XXI The Key to the Mystery                                         180
  XXII Dewberry’s Treasure                                           188
  XXIII Leaves From an Old Diary                                     197
  XXIV Carson’s Son                                                  206
  XXV Piecing the Threads                                            216
  XXVI Dick Rejoins His Comrades                                     225



                       DICK KENT ON SPECIAL DUTY



                               CHAPTER I
                     RAND TACKLES A DIFFICULT CASE


“Rat” MacGregor dropped to the floor and crawled on hands and knees to
the bunk wherein Dewberry, weary after hours of heavy mushing over an
almost unbroken trail, now slept the sleep of the just. Dewberry’s
raucous snores could be heard plainly. He lay face up, mouth partly
open, while one large, hairy arm hung limply over the side of his bed.

MacGregor knew that Dewberry was really asleep. Not only did he know
this, but he was cognizant of another fact, of which he alone was the
sole possessor. He knew that the big Englishman could not easily be
awakened. He was aware that something else besides weariness and
exhaustion compelled Dewberry to slumber thus. And he grinned over the
thought of it.

Before retiring for the night, the prospector had, following the usual
custom, removed none of his clothes. Neither had he troubled to unstrap
the money-belt that he wore, and place it in safe-keeping. The
money-belt was full, almost bursting with yellowbacks and greenbacks of
various denominations. But the thing which interested MacGregor even
more, was the small poke, suspended from a moosehide cord, and tied
securely about the sleeping man’s neck.

In his present predicament, the prospector would have been easy prey for
the figure who crept towards him, had circumstances been a little
different. The difference was this: In the room, the large airy room of
one “Frenchie” Frischette, keeper of road-houses, were a number of other
persons besides MacGregor and the drugged Dewberry.

These persons reclined in various attitudes and conditions of sleep. Not
a few of them, including Corporal Rand, of the Royal North West Mounted
police, possessed—even in slumber—a sense of hearing exceedingly acute.
The creak of a board, a sudden rustling movement—almost any noise at
all—would have aroused them at once. No one realized this any better
than MacGregor. His job had been only half accomplished a few hours
before when, with very little difficulty, he had drugged the man from
Crooked Stick River.

The thief rose slowly to a position on his knees. He was so close to his
victim that the man’s feverish breath fanned his cheek. He could hear
plainly his own heart and the heart of the sleeper, beating in a sort of
wild harmony together. His right hand was within eight inches of the
rugged prospector, yet he seemed unable, powerless to extend it one
infinitesimal part of the distance which separated it from the actual
point of contact.

In the dull, red glow of the fireplace he could see the tell-tale bulge
on Dewberry’s barrel-like chest. It filled him with a sort of agony to
realize that at the crucial moment he lacked the courage and the
strength to accomplish his task. Never before had he been so overcome
with weakness. A few quick movements only were required to bring wealth
into his grasp; yet here he knelt, with a cold dampness suffusing his
face and a tingling paralysis of all his muscles.

The prospector groaned and moved slightly, then raised one knee in a
convulsive movement of pain. MacGregor shrank back trembling, his eyes
darting about apprehensively. In a far corner another form stirred
uneasily and a loud, full-throated cough broke across the stillness like
a trumpet of doom.

Several minutes elapsed before MacGregor had recovered sufficiently from
his fright to attempt another furtive movement forward. This time he
summoned to his aid the last remnant of a wilted spirit. His hands went
out toward Dewberry’s throat. These clammy physical members found the
cord, but his fingers refused to function in his efforts to untie the
knot. For a moment he hesitated, then with a low, almost inhuman growl,
he tore his hunting knife from its sheath and tried to cut the cord. In
his haste, inadvertently the sharp point of the knife pricked the
sleeping man’s chest and, to MacGregor’s great astonishment and horror,
Dewberry started visibly and opened his eyes.

                            * * * * * * * *

The aroma of freshly fried bacon filled the room. Standing among his
pots and pans, nursing a new-found despair, “Frenchie” Frischette,
road-house keeper and gentleman of parts, could hear the approaching
figure. The pupils of his eyes were like beads of glass as they
encountered the trim, athletic figure of Corporal Rand.

“_Oui_,” he admitted slowly, “ze beeg prospector ees dead. You saw
heem?”

Corporal Rand nodded.

“How many men have already left?” he inquired.

“Zay haf all left,” Frischette shrugged his shoulders regretfully. “Many
before dawn. Zay go in ever’ direction—both ze good men and ze bad. How
you find heem of ze beeg knife?”

“The man who stabbed and robbed Dewberry will go south,” Corporal Rand
stated with conviction. “It is the law of the land. Men, who have money,
invariably go south—to spend it. Is there anything more simple than
that, Frischette? The rule seldom fails. Adventure goes north and money
goes south. I’m taking the trail south.”

The road-house keeper moistened his dry lips.

“I see heem four men go on the south trail ver’ early roun’ five
o’clock.”

“Together?”

“Zay went each by heemself.”

“No doubt, one of those four men is the murderer.”

“You t’ink so?”

“Yes,” said the policeman stubbornly, “I’m quite sure the murderer would
travel south. At any rate, I’m going in that direction. So long,
Frischette.”

Two days later, Corporal Rand was forced to admit that in this case, at
least, a precedent had been broken. None of the four men was the
murderer. Two were Indians from Lac la Biche; a third, Beckholt, a free
trader, a serene, gray-eyed veteran of the North, was above suspicion.
Father Marchand, who completed the quartette, could not for one moment
be included in any inventory of crime.

Without even taking the time to question one of them, Rand swung about
and retraced his way to the scene of the recent murder.

In the policeman’s absence, Frischette had made an important discovery.
Eagerly and somewhat excitedly, he told the story in a mixture of poor
English and bastard French. Fontaine, a half-breed boy in Frischette’s
service, had seen, on the evening preceding the robbery, a tall,
furtive-eyed man mix two drinks—one for himself and one for the
prospector. In the cup intended for Dewberry, the tall, furtive-eyed man
had poured something out of a small bottle. Shortly thereafter, the big
prospector had stumbled to his pile of blankets and had fallen asleep.

In doubt, Rand questioned the boy closely. At first, he did not believe
Fontaine was telling the truth. Then it became apparent, following a
severe cross-examination, that Fontaine had really seen what he had
described—was wholly innocent of guile. The description of the
furtive-eyed man, his mannerisms, his clothing, the way he walked, had
quickly brought a picture to Rand’s mind. There was no possibility of
any mistake here. It was MacGregor, “Rat” MacGregor, of the Willow Lake
country.

Soberly, the mounted policeman pondered his problem. If “Rat” MacGregor
was the murderer, as the cards seemed to indicate, why, with so much
money in his possession, had he set out on a trail which led farther
into the wilderness? By all the rules of common sense, a person of
MacGregor’s caliber would have lost no time in getting back to the gay
“outside.”[1] It was inevitable. The desire within him would have been
stronger than the will to resist. A powerful influence indeed, that
would pull a man north when wealth was burning his pockets.

Ten days later, Rand found MacGregor in a small cabin below the Finley
River. First he had seen a man and woman together, then two scrambling
forms, a door closed hastily, and presently a gray puff of smoke from a
window near the front of the house. The bullet whistled over his head,
struck harmlessly in the brush behind him. A second cut into a drift to
his right. A third, lilting of death, grazed his shoulder, causing him
to sit down very suddenly.

Thereafter, Rand moved slowly and painfully. This time he advanced
toward the cabin more cautiously. Fifty feet from his objective, he
threw himself down behind a snow-covered log, lit his pipe and dully
pondered what he ought to do next. For several hours MacGregor continued
to blaze away intermittently from the window. After that darkness came
and an interval of silence. The cold had grown more intense, more
bitter. By degrees, a peculiar numbness had settled over the policeman’s
shoulders and along his wounded side.

A moment later, he struggled to his knees, then rose deliberately and
walked ahead in the direction of the cabin. In front of the door he
paused, every sense alert. No sound issued from within; nor could he see
even a faint glimmer of light. Somewhere inside, Rat MacGregor—true to
his name—skulked in the dark—and his wife with him.

The faint outline of a block of wood, lying in the snow at his feet,
drew his attention. Acting upon a sudden angry impulse, he stooped
forward, picked it up, and raised it high above his head. It catapulted
from his powerful arms, striking the window with a resounding crash. A
woman screamed. Her terrified cry rang out through the deep hush that
ensued and, accompanying its last wailing note, MacGregor’s guns
spoke—two fiery flashes, not unlike the red tongue of a serpent—darting
out into the gloom.

Shoulders hunched, Rand struck the door with a furious impact, and the
bolts gave way. As he fell forward into the room, one hand clutched his
gun. Again MacGregor fired; this time wildly, foolishly, for the flash
of his revolver indicated only too well his position, and Rand had him
almost before the sound of the other’s weapon had become smothered in
the deep stillness of the room.



                               CHAPTER II
                           THE PRICE OF FOLLY


MacGregor’s resistance had cost him his life. Ten minutes later, in the
flickering glow of a wax candle, the mounted policeman looked down at
the prone and lifeless form.

“Well,” he said, turning suddenly upon the girl, a rather pretty French
half-breed, “where is the money?”

The half-breed grunted and looked sarcastically, indignantly at Rand.

“No have money. No take money. Why you keel my man?” she wailed
tearfully. “Mounted police! Bah!”

“Easy,” cautioned Rand. “Where’s that money?” He drew up to his full
height. “Better answer me quickly now or I’ll take you along too.”

“No money,” insisted the girl. “He no catch ’em money that time. Beeg
prospector wake up. No chance then. My man he come away.”

“Rot!” declared the policeman. “Your man killed Dewberry. Robbed him.
Nobody else.”

“Leesen!” MacGregor’s wife plucked at his sleeve. “You think wrong this
time. You make heem beeg mistake. My man no rob, no keel—nothing! I
prove you find no money here. My man heem try rob, but no get nothing.
Otherwise, we go south—Edmonton. No can go without money.”

Although Rand was certain that the half-breed lied, a careful and
painstaking search of the premises failed to reveal the hiding place of
Dewberry’s gold. Baffled, he was forced on the day following to place
the girl under arrest and set out for detachment headquarters, two
hundred miles away. There he filled in his report, turned the prisoner
over to Inspector Cameron for further questioning.

But to no avail. Invariably the same answer, repeated over and over
again:

“My man heem no rob, no keel. No take beeg prospector’s money. Mounted
police! Bah!”

From that point it became a baffling case indeed. Corporal Rand, to whom
it had been assigned, still believed, in the months that followed, that
MacGregor had committed the murder. But where was the money and the
poke? Did the girl really know where Dewberry’s gold was? If the theft
had actually been committed by MacGregor, why had he broken precedent
and remained in the North.

At Frischette’s stopping-place, two miles east of the Big Smoky River,
Rand heard again Fontaine’s story of the drugged drink, together with
such other information as the two Frenchmen could supply. Both were of
the opinion that MacGregor, and no one else, had planned and executed
the crime. Frischette’s voice came droning in his ears:

“Zat girl she know well enough where money ees. Not crazy zat girl; ver’
clever, ver’ clever.” His low chuckling laugh gradually grew boisterous.
“What you think, Corporal, zat girl foolish enough to tell ze mounted
police ever’thing. Mebbe after while she go south too.”

Preoccupied as he was, Rand caught the significance of that last
statement.

“Are _you_ going south, Frischette?”

The Frenchman nodded.

“Yesterday I sell my beezness. I haf done ver’ well here, corporal.”
Then his voice sank to a confidential whisper. “In ze las’ two, tree,
four year I make much money—ver’ much money. Now you wish me ze good
luck, corporal.”

“Good luck,” said Rand, his brow wrinkling. “Yes. By the way, whom did
you sell to?”

Frischette hesitated, his little eyes gleaming queerly.

“I no sell exactly. I haf too much already—too much money. Fontaine ees
a good boy, monsieur. You understand—a good boy. He learn queek. He
deserve much from me. For a few hundred I sell heem my beeg beezness.”

Still thinking deeply, Corporal Rand walked outside and sat on a rough
bench in the warm spring sun. Why had MacGregor failed to go south if he
had really robbed Dewberry of his gold. Men with money travelled south
invariably. There was no other rule. It had seldom been broken. Why,
Frischette himself, who had made a lot of money during his stay in the
North, now contemplated going south to spend it.

With a sudden exclamation, Rand jumped to his feet. No! The rule had
never been broken. MacGregor probably killed, but he never robbed
Dewberry. He wondered if the man who had robbed Dewberry was inside.

“Frischette,” said the mounted policeman a moment later, “I wish to ask
a favor of you.”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“You are going south?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“How soon?”

“In ver’ few days, corporal. Why you ask.”

“Because I may need your help. I am going to ask you to remain here for
a while. I shall ask you to stay here until I have recovered Dewberry’s
gold.”

Rand watched the other closely. The eyes of the road-house keeper
narrowed slightly—but that was all.

“Et ees as you say, monsieur.”

Then Frischette turned and walked back into the kitchen.



                              CHAPTER III
                           THREE NEW RECRUITS


One bright spring morning Corporal Rand arrived at Fort Good Faith. It
was somewhat off his regular route, but he had a purpose in mind. There
were three young men there he very much wished to see. One of them was
Dick Kent, the second, Sandy MacClaren, a nephew of the factor, and the
third, a young Indian, named Toma. On many occasions previously the
three boys had given unsparingly of their services. The police needed
their help now.

Working on the Dewberry case, Corporal Rand had suddenly remembered
about the boys and had decided to call upon them for assistance. They
could help him in clearing up the mystery. All three were unknown to
Frischette. They might be able to secure valuable information he
couldn’t obtain himself. So, immediately after his arrival, he summoned
the three boys and made known his plans.

“I would suggest,” he concluded, “that the three of you, masquerading as
young prospectors, drop into Frischette’s place and remain there several
days on some pretext or other. You can say that you’re waiting for
supplies, coming in by pack-train from Fort Good Faith. Cultivate
Frischette’s acquaintance. Make friends with Fontaine, the half-breed
boy in his service. See how much information you can pick up about
Dewberry and ‘Rat’ MacGregor.”

“But do you really believe,” Dick asked, “that Frischette knows any more
about the murder than he has already given out to you?”

“I’m not sure.” Corporal Rand pursed his lips. “But one thing is slowly
dawning upon me.”

“What?” asked Sandy breathlessly.

“That MacGregor’s wife was right, that MacGregor didn’t take Dewberry’s
money, or the small poke he had around his neck.”

“But if he didn’t take it, who did?” Dick inquired.

“Frischette himself might have taken it.”

“Surely MacGregor had something to do with it,” argued Sandy.

Corporal Rand rose and walked slowly across the floor to a little table,
where he helped himself to a glass of water. He turned and regarded the
boys thoughtfully.

“Here is a supposition that may throw a little light on what actually
occurred. ‘Rat’ MacGregor, as we have reason to believe, was the first
person to have designs upon Dewberry. He planned the robbery. He drugged
his victim. Evidently murder did not enter into his calculations. When
all was still in the room, MacGregor crept over to Dewberry’s bunk to
commit the robbery.

“In some way his plans went wrong. Perhaps the drug had not proved
sufficiently potent. While taking the money and poke, let us say,
Dewberry woke up. Perhaps Dewberry made some slight exclamation or
sound, which terrified MacGregor and which also might have aroused some
other sleeper in that room. In desperation, we will assume, MacGregor
murdered Dewberry, but is surprised in the act by this other person who
had awakened. Just for the sake of my theory, we will say that that
person was Frischette, that in some way he got the ‘drop’ on MacGregor,
compelling him to hand over the money and poke and then forcing him to
leave the place immediately.”

“Yes, that is plausible,” agreed Dick. “But why Frischette? There were
other persons in the room beside him. Why do you think that Frischette
may be the guilty one?”

“Because Frischette is planning to leave the country. He claims that he
had made a lot of money up here, and is now giving his business to the
boy, Fontaine, for a small consideration. That in itself is suspicious.
Frischette’s determination to go ‘outside’ surprised me because I
remember that, less than a year ago, he confided to me his intention to
build three new road-houses here in the North.”

“When is he planning to leave?” asked Sandy.

Corporal Rand smiled reminiscently.

“He expected to go this week, but he has changed his mind since my last
talk with him. As a personal favor to me, he has consented to postpone
his journey until this little mystery has been cleared up.”

“But do you think that Frischette is aware that you suspect him of the
theft?”

“No, I believe not. I merely told him that he would be of invaluable
assistance to me in solving this case, and that the mounted police would
be deeply indebted to him if he would consent to remain here for a few
weeks longer.”

Dick and Sandy both laughed.

“I’ll bet he’s worried stiff,” grinned the latter, “that is, if he’s
really the thief. By the way, corporal, how much money did this Dewberry
have in his possession at the time of the murder?”

“There’s no way of determining the exact amount,” Rand answered.
“Probably several hundred dollars in cash.”

“I wouldn’t think that that would be sufficient bait to tempt
MacGregor.”

“There was the poke. Don’t forget that.”

“But you said it was a small one. Perhaps there wasn’t more than a few
hundred dollars in nuggets and gold dust.”

“I’m not sure that it was gold.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, it was a very small poke. That much I know. It was almost too
small for a prospector’s pouch. As you have suggested, if it contained
nuggets, there would scarcely be a fortune there—hardly enough to tempt
MacGregor. MacGregor would never have taken the chance he did for the
small amount involved. He was naturally a coward, a sneaking human rat,
and only a big stake could have induced him to gather sufficient courage
to make the effort. After reasoning it all out, I have come to the
conclusion that MacGregor must have known what that poke contained:
Something infinitely more valuable than gold.”

“More valuable!” exclaimed Dick.

“Yes. Why not? Precious stones—or a secret of some sort worth thousands
of dollars.”

Sandy sat up, clutching the sides of his chair.

“I’ll say this is getting interesting. You’re arousing my curiosity,
corporal. I love a mystery.”

“Well, you have one here,” smiled Rand. “The morning after the murder I
came to the conclusion that it would not be a very difficult case.
However, it seems that I was wrong. Apparently, ‘Rat’ MacGregor is not
the only person involved. Before we sift this thing to the bottom, we
may discover that many persons are implicated. It is one of the most
mysterious, unusual cases with which I have ever had to deal.”

“How do you purpose to work it all out?”

“I’m almost wholly at a loss to know. I haven’t a great deal to go on.
It occurred to me that you boys might be able to pick up information
that I couldn’t get myself. You may be able to find a clew. In the
meantime, I’m going over to Crooked Stick River—the place where Dewberry
came from just before the murder—and question some of the people there.
Perhaps Dewberry had a friend or two in whom he confided. Certain it is
that the contents of that poke has been seen by someone. Otherwise, to
use a well known expression, MacGregor never would have been ‘tipped
off.’”

“Don’t you suppose that Dewberry might have told MacGregor about his
secret?” asked Dick.

“Scarcely likely. MacGregor was hardly the type of person in whom one
would confide. He was a notorious character here in the North. He had a
very unsavory reputation. At various times he had been implicated in
certain questionable undertakings, and once had served a term in jail.”

“You think, then, that MacGregor had been following Dewberry?”

“Yes, awaiting his opportunity. He’d learned of the secret. But I’m
positive that Dewberry gave him no information at all.”

Thus far Toma, naturally reticent, had taken no part in the
conversation. He sat rigid in his chair, eyes wide with interest,
nothing escaping him. Suddenly he drawled forth:

“When you want us go over this fellow Frischette’s place?” he asked.

“Tomorrow, if you will,” answered the corporal. “Arrange to stay there
for three or four days. Then come back here to meet me.”

“I know this young fellow, Fontaine, you talk about,” Toma informed
them. “One time we pretty good friends. We go to school one time at
Mission. If he know anything, me pretty sure him tell Toma.”

“Good!” exclaimed Corporal Rand. “I’m glad to hear that, Toma. Your
friendship with Fontaine may be the means of solving this mystery. If
Frischette is implicated, Fontaine must be aware of it.”

The policeman rose to his feet again.

“Well, I guess you understand what’s to be done. If you’ll excuse me,
I’ll hurry away now. I want to see Inspector Cameron for a few minutes
before I go on to the Crooked Stick.”

He turned and shook hands with each of the boys in turn.

“Well, good luck to you. I hope you’ll like your new role of police
detectives. When you return, you’ll probably find me here awaiting you.”

On the evening of the following day, the three boys, dressed for the
part, arrived at Frischette’s road-house. It had been a warm afternoon
and the boys were weary as they rode up to the well known stopping place
and slowly dismounted. Sandy paused to wipe the perspiration from his
face.

“We’re here—” he announced, “mosquitos and all.” He looked curiously
about him. “So this is the famous stopping-place. I’ve often heard of
it. It’s one of the largest road-houses north of the Peace River. They
say that Frischette is an interesting character. He’s lived in the North
a good many years.”

Sandy’s observations were cut short by the appearance of two young
half-breeds, who sauntered over in their direction. Toma gave vent to an
exclamation, dropped the reins over his pony’s head and advanced quickly
to meet them.

“One of them must be Fontaine,” guessed Sandy.

“But he knows them both,” observed Dick.

Immediately Toma and his two friends approached and introductions took
place.

“This him fellow,” Toma was explicit, “my friend, Pierre Fontaine. This
other fellow, also my friend, Martin Le Sueur. He come long way this
morning to be with Pierre. Mebbe after while they be partners an’ buy
Frischette’s business.”

Both Le Sueur and Fontaine spoke very little English, so the
conversation that ensued, a lively one, was carried on in Cree. While it
was taking place, the boys put up their ponies and walked back in the
direction of the hostelry. No sooner had they entered, than Frischette,
with his usual hospitality, came forward to bid them welcome. As he did
so, Dick gave him the benefit of a close scrutiny.

He was a little man, dark, vivacious—typically French. Yet his lively
features showed the unmistakable Indian strain of his mixed origin. He
conducted the boys to the dining room, talking as he went.

“Very hungry you must be, monsieurs. Sit down for a moment. We have
plenty to eat here. I myself will serve you. Baked whitefish from ze
water only an hour. Brown bread which I bake with my own hands. Then
there ees coffee an’ a sweet pastry, monsieurs.”

“I was hungry, but I’m famished now after hearing all that,” Sandy
declared. “You are very generous, Mr. Frischette.”

“Et ees nothing.” The Frenchman waved his arms deprecatingly. “I like et
you come here once in a while during thees lonesome summer to make ze
company. I am glad to learn that you are friends of thees ver’ good boy,
Fontaine.”

Their welcome had been so whole-hearted and spontaneous that Dick did
not, even for a moment, believe that Frischette’s manner was assumed. In
spite of himself, he was drawn toward the vivacious, hospitable
Frenchman. A capital host! It was difficult to see how Corporal Rand
could harbor suspicion against such a person. The genial road-house
keeper had none of the characteristics nor any of the appearances of a
criminal.

That was Dick’s first impression of the man. Nor did he stand alone in
this respect. Sandy, too, had been impressed favorably. Just before
retiring for the night, the young Scotchman whispered in his chum’s ear:

“Look here, Dick, if you want my honest opinion, I think we’ve come on a
wild goose chase. I believe Corporal Rand is wrong. After seeing and
talking with this man Frischette, I’m absolutely certain that he’s
innocent. Someone else is the guilty person.”

“I can’t help thinking that too,” Dick replied. “If looks and actions
are not deceiving, Frischette is innocent. I doubt if he knows any more
about the case than he’s already told Rand. Just the same, we’ll remain
here and follow the corporal’s instructions.”

“Just wasting time,” grumbled Sandy.

Suddenly, they were aware of a presence near them. Both looked up
quickly and a little guiltily, expecting to see Frischette himself.
Instead it was Toma—Toma, a curious expression on his face, the light of
excitement in his eyes.

“Sandy, Dick,” he announced breathlessly, “you come with me. I find out
something important to tell you!”



                               CHAPTER IV
                         FRISCHETTE’S MONEY BOX


Toma led Sandy and Dick to the seclusion of a poplar grove, a few rods
away from the house. His manner was mysterious. That he had come in
possession of information of extreme importance, neither of his two
friends could doubt. The young Indian’s eyes fairly snapped, as he
motioned Dick and Sandy to be seated, he himself taking a position near
them. Sprawling out on the soft turf, he began eagerly:

“I think better we come to this place, where no one hear us. I just find
out something about Frischette. Fontaine tell me. Good news for the
mounted police.”

“I hope you didn’t tell your friend what we were here for,” interrupted
Dick. “We mustn’t take anyone into our confidence.”

“I no tell him that,” Toma assured him. “All I do is ask once in a while
few questions ’bout Frischette. Then my friend, Fontaine, him talk. Tell
’em me all ’bout murder. He think MacGregor get money all right, an’
hide it away somewhere before police catch him. Never once it come in my
friend’s mind that mebbe Frischette take the money an’ the poke himself.
Frischette, he say, is good man, but very queer fellow. Once in a while
he do queer things—things Fontaine not understand. Every few days he get
out all his money, take it to room where he sleep, lock door, an’ begin
count many, many times. Over an’ over he count all his money ’til he get
tired, then he take an’ put it back in box an’ walk outside an’ find
another good place to hide it.”

“A miser!” gasped Sandy.

“I don’t know what you call him. But Frischette very queer that way.
Fontaine ’fraid to ask him any questions or make talk when Frischette
like that, because he act like crazy an’ swear an’ beat Fontaine with a
big stick if he say too much.”

“The mere fact that Frischette is a miser, Toma,” Sandy pointed out,
“doesn’t necessarily imply that he’s also a thief. If he wants to hide
his money and gloat over it, that’s his own privilege.”

Toma nodded.

“Yes, I know that. But Fontaine tell me something that make me think
that mebbe Frischette steal money too.”

“Is that so? What did he say?”

“He say,” Toma hurried on, “that two times last winter a very queer
thing happen. First time he wake up at night an’ hear someone walking in
room, where all the men sleep. Next morning one man him say he lost all
his money. Frischette feel very bad an’ give man mebbe ten dollars an’
say how sorry he is that once in a while thief comes like that in his
house.”

“So next time,” continued the young Indian, “when Fontaine hear someone
walk again in middle of the night, he go quick as he can to Frischette’s
room, an’ he very much surprise when he see no one sleep in Frischette’s
bed. Quick he go back again to room, an’ all at once he meet Frischette
coming out.”

“‘What you do here?’” Frischette say.

“‘I hear noise,’ Fontaine tell him, ‘an’ I go to wake you up.’

“‘I hear noise too,’ Frischette say, ‘so I come in here to find out
mebbe another bad thief come,’ he say.

“Next morning, sure enough, two men lose all their money, an’ Frischette
very sorry again an’ say bad things ’bout thief an’ give each man ten
dollars.”

“It does look suspicious,” mused Dick.

“Something of a coincidence,” agreed Sandy.

They sat for a short time deep in thought. Sandy got out his knife and
began whittling a stick. Dick’s gaze wandered thoughtfully away to the
fringe of woodland opposite.

“It might not be very difficult,” he broke forth suddenly, “to determine
beyond the shadow of a doubt whether or not Frischette is a thief. In
fact, I have a plan. We might try it.”

“What is your plan?” asked Sandy.

“We’ll lay a trap for him. Between us we can scrape up a little roll of
money, and we’ll use that as bait. I’ll pull it out of my pocket when
he’s looking, and pretend I’m counting it.”

“Yes, yes! Go on.”

“I’ll return the money to the inside pocket of my coat while he’s still
watching me. At night, when he comes into the room, I’ll throw my coat
carelessly over a chair.”

“Look here,” objected Sandy, a wry smile on his face, “I don’t think we
have fifty dollars between us. Hardly an impressive roll, is it?”

Dick grinned. “I can easily remedy that.”

As he spoke, he pulled from his pocket a number of old envelopes,
containing letters, wadded them together and then began wrapping crisp
new bills around them. With the acquisition of the bank notes Toma and
Sandy gave him, the dummy had grown to noble proportions. The boys
laughed gleefully over the subterfuge.

A short time later, returning to the house, Dick awaited his
opportunity. Frischette was nowhere to be seen, when first they entered,
but presently a noise at the back attracted their attention and
immediately afterward Frischette came through the door, leading into the
kitchen, carrying a box under his arm.

Dick and Sandy exchanged significant glances. Both recalled what Toma
had told them regarding that box. Also they observed the inexplicable
change that had come over their host. His animation and vivacity were
gone. From under their shaggy brows his dark eyes darted glances from
right to left—the look of a maniac or insane person. Without even a nod,
he passed by the three boys and entered his own room.

“Got ’em again,” whispered Sandy, much taken aback. “Not a very good
time for the working out of our plan, is it? He’s deeply engrossed in
that mysterious box by this time.”

“We’d better try it out on him tomorrow,” decided Dick. “He’ll be in
there several hours, and it will probably take him another hour to find
a new hiding place for his precious treasure chest. It’s getting late
now. We ought to be in bed.”

The boys went over and sat down on a long bench near the fireplace and
began idly to take mental inventory of the room. Bear skins hung from
the wall. In the center of the room stood a long rough board table,
covered with a somewhat frayed and tattered cloth. Above the mantel were
several firearms of various caliber and design.

Suddenly, Sandy leaned forward and clapped Dick on the knee.

“Dick, I have an idea. Just for the fun of it, let’s follow the old
rascal and find out where he hides that box.”

Dick looked at the other dubiously.

“Well,” he hesitated. “I don’t know. It seems like meddling to me—prying
into something that doesn’t concern us.”

“Wait a moment, Dick. Is it really meddling? For the sake of argument,
suppose that box contained Dewberry’s poke and money. We already have a
suspicion that such may be the case. Why wouldn’t we be justified in
following him, when he leaves his room, and attempt to find where he
hides the box?”

“But surely you wouldn’t open it?”

“Why not? I don’t think I would have any scruples about that. Remember
you are dealing with a crook.”

“Are we?” argued Dick. “What makes you so sure? We have proved nothing
against him. Neither has Corporal Rand. He may be entirely innocent.”

Sandy lifted his shoulders in a gesture of impatience.

“I’m afraid you’d make a poor detective. You’re too honest, too
cautious.” He paused, looked up and grinned. “Can you picture a
case-hardened police officer or the average sleuth passing up such an
opportunity? Candidly now?”

Dick was forced to admit that his chum was right. “I’ll grant you,” he
smiled, “that no one, working on a case like this, ought to have trouble
with his conscience.”

“No, he shouldn’t. As long as we are in the business, we might as well
conduct ourselves like real detectives.”

“All right, you can have your way this time. We’ll follow Frischette.
We’ll even pry open the box if you say so.”

A shadow flickered across Sandy’s forehead.

“But supposing the box is locked. There’s a possibility that hadn’t
occurred to me. We’d be in a difficult position, wouldn’t we, if we
broke it open and found that there was nothing there to incriminate him?
Frischette would see that the box had been tampered with. He’d guess
that one of us, you, Toma or I, had opened it, or possibly he might
suspect Fontaine or Le Sueur.”

“If the box is locked,” reasoned Dick, “there is a key to open it.”

“Yes—and he probably carries it around his neck. Fine chance we’d have
getting it from him.”

Their whispered conversation was interrupted at this juncture by the
creak of a door opening, and the sound of footsteps along the floor.
Startled, the boys looked up, just as Frischette came into the room
where they were, the box under his arm. He had come sooner than they had
expected. Again the boys noticed his strange behaviour. Some sudden
impulse induced Dick to accost him.

“Mr. Frischette, may I trouble you for a moment.” He attempted to
control the quaver in his voice. “We—Sandy, Toma and I—have been
wondering about our bill. If you don’t mind, we’d like to pay you.”

Frischette’s face recovered some of its former cheerfulness.

“Ah, monsieurs, surely you are not to go so soon. Did you not tell me
zat you stay here for three, four day yet. I will be ver’ sorry ef you
go now.”

“But we have no intention of going now,” Dick enlightened him. “We
merely wish to pay you in advance.”

The Frenchman’s dark face brightened. He watched Dick reach in his
pocket and pull forth a huge roll of bills. At sight of it, his eyes
gleamed and sparkled with envy.

“If you weesh, monsieur. But et ees not necessary. Ze amount ees twenty
dollars for ze three of you.”

Dick fondled the heavy roll, slowly peeling off the required amount. He
was watching the roadhouse keeper and noticed with satisfaction the
effect the money had upon him. To his surprise, Frischette said:

“Ees not monsieur leetle careless to carry roun’ so ver’ much money? Are
you not afraid zat thief will take et or else you lose et from your
pocket?”

Dick pooh-poohed the idea, laughed, and with a sly look at Sandy, thrust
the roll carelessly in the inside pocket of his coat. Frischette
followed every move. His eyes seemed to burn into Dick’s pockets. A look
of greed so transformed his features that for a time Dick could scarcely
believe that this was the genial, obliging host of the previous
afternoon.

When he had received the twenty dollars, Frischette had found it
necessary to put down the square box, containing his treasure. He had
placed it on the table at his elbow with his right arm flung out across
it. Not once did he move from this position. While Dick was carrying out
his part of the prearranged plan, Sandy also was busy. He moved to the
opposite side of the table, in order to get a better view of the box.
What he wanted to find out was whether or not it was locked.

Not until Frischette was in the act of picking up the box, preparing to
go, was Sandy able to determine about the lock. A key would not be
necessary. The small but formidable-looking chest could easily be
opened. Sandy smiled to himself.

All that remained to be done now, he reasoned, was to follow Frischette
and learn where he kept his treasure. Then, when the opportunity arose,
they would ransack the box. It would not take long to solve the mystery
surrounding Dewberry’s priceless poke.



                               CHAPTER V
                           A MIDNIGHT PROWLER


To follow a man through Arctic twilight, to slink from tree to tree and
cover to cover, to keep hid always and make very little sound—is not an
easy accomplishment. At least, the three boys found that it was not.
They stole stealthily along about fifty yards behind Frischette,
attempting to keep within that distance, neither advancing too quickly
nor too slowly.

The wood they had entered was exceedingly dense, in places almost
impassable. Underbrush grew so thick that it choked out even the grass.
So thick indeed was the undergrowth, through which Frischette hurried,
that it was utterly impossible always to keep within sight of him. Now
and again they would see his hurrying form, only to lose it a moment
later. Sometimes the crackling of the underbrush would reveal his
whereabouts. At other times the boys would be in doubt as to where he
was, and would come to the conclusion that perhaps they had lost him.
Then they would hesitate about pressing on for fear that they might walk
boldly out in plain view of him.

Yet always they contrived to pick up his trail, either by finding his
footprints or by hearing some slight sound ahead. As they continued
their pursuit, their astonishment grew. Why did the Frenchman seek out a
hiding place so far from the house? Had his greed completely unseated
his mind? Already, Dick estimated, they had come at least two miles, and
yet Frischette showed no sign of stopping. He was walking at a furious
pace now, his nimble legs darting along over the uncarpeted forest path.
He hugged his treasure-box to him and fairly plunged through thicket and
across the open spaces, occasionally muttering to himself.

To the boys’ amazement, the chase ended abruptly. They had come out to a
small clearing in which stood a cabin. Frischette’s fingers stole to his
lips and a peculiarly soft, bird-like whistle sounded through the
forest. Then the Frenchman remained standing where he was until the door
opened and a slouching figure emerged.

At sight of the occupant of the cabin, the boys gasped in wonder. Never
before had they seen so unusual a person. He was bent and old, and
hobbled as he walked, in one hand a cane to guide him. His head was
hatless, covered with a thick, straggling crop of hair, some of which
fluttered into his face and over his shoulders. His beard was long and
heavy—of a peculiar reddish tinge, streaked with gray.

He approached Frischette, pausing a few feet from him, and looked up at
his visitor with eyes that peeped out from the shadowed depressions
between his beard and eyebrows like two black beads. The Frenchman was
the first to speak:

“I bring back ze box again, M’sieur Creel. You will take et an’ watch
over et. You are a faithful guardian, my friend. I weesh to compliment
you. Ever’zing ees here: ze money, ze treasure—ever’zing.”

The stranger spoke in a voice so low that, from their hiding place, the
boys could make out but a few words. Frischette spoke again:

“Et ees tonight.”

The old man shook his head vigorously, gesturing with his hands. The
Frenchman raised his voice: “Et ees tonight, I tell you. You will do as
I say.”

This time they heard the protest:

“No, no; I cannot come. Tonight I have other work. I cannot be there. I
refuse to do as you wish, Frischette, even for the sake of gain.”

The Frenchman’s face grew suddenly crimson with fury. He stooped and
picked up a club, advancing threateningly.

“I see ’bout that,” he fairly shouted. “I see ’bout that pretty queek.
You try fail me, m’sieur, I make you sorry.”

The other did not blink. He faced his antagonist calmly, scornfully,
presently breaking into an amused chuckle.

“You couldn’t hurt a fly. You are a coward, Frischette. I, an old man,
have far more courage than you.”

The road-house keeper’s sudden flare of fury quickly burned out. He
dropped his club and stepped back several paces, hugging his treasure to
him. Before the unwavering gaze of the old man he was helpless, and
possibly a little afraid. He glanced about sullenly.

“All right, et ees your own broth you brew, monsieur. I shall keep ze
box. Et ees all mine. Do you hear? Et ees mine.”

“Faugh! A bluff! You wouldn’t dare. I ask you to try it.”

The Frenchman clutched the box still more tightly.

“Et ees mine,” he persisted stubbornly.

“You try it,” warned the other.

“No more will I come to you,” Frischette informed him. “We are through.
I shall keep ze box.”

“Fool!” cried the other in vexation, beginning to relent “I suppose that
I must humor you always. Very well, it shall be as you say. I give you
my promise. But it will cost you a pretty penny this time.”

Suddenly they began to barter.

“Half,” said the Frenchman.

“Two-thirds,” insisted the man with the beard.

Frischette gave vent to a shriek of anguish.

“Two-thirds,” he howled. “What? Are you crazy? I will not leesen to zat.
Et ees outrageous, m’sieur.”

Sandy poked Dick cautiously in the ribs.

“Both mad!” he announced. “Can you make anything out of that gibberish?
What are they talking about?”

“I’ll confess,” Dick whispered, “that I’m at a loss to know.”

In the end, the two conspirators came to an agreement

“One-half it shall be,” they heard the old man mutter.

Having won his point, Frischette beamed. He thrust the box into the
other’s hands.

“Take et, m’sieur. I am sorry ef I speak cross. We must be friends. We
must understand each other. En a ver’ few weeks we go to Edmonton an’ we
shall be rich, m’sieur.”

Creel grumbled something through his beard, seized the box with eager
hands and half-turned as if to depart.

“Tonight then?”

“Yes, tonight.”

The boys scrambled back quickly, for Frischette was beginning his
journey homeward. A moment later, from the deep shadow of a heavy
thicket, they watched him pass. He was shaking his head and talking to
himself in a complaining undertone. Not long afterward he had
disappeared in the tangle of greenery, and over the woodland there
settled a deep and impressive silence. Dick looked at Sandy and Toma and
smiled.

“The farther we go into this thing, the stranger and more perplexing it
becomes. I wonder who that man is? In what way is he associated with
Frischette? Why is he guarding the box? Now what do you suppose they
were arguing about?”

“I can’t imagine,” answered Sandy. “What do you think, Toma?”

The Indian youth rose and broke off a twig from a branch above his head.

“I think him bad fellow just like Frischette.”

“Yes,” agreed Sandy, “probably his accomplice.”

“It doesn’t look as if we would open that box now,” grimaced Dick.

“Not unless we overpower the old man.”

Dick too arose, glancing back at the cabin.

“I’d like to think it over before we attempt it. Possibly some plan may
occur to us tomorrow. At present we’d better go back to the road-house
before Frischette becomes suspicious. I wouldn’t be in the least
surprised if he attempts to relieve me of that roll tonight.”

“I can agree with you there,” said Sandy. “Did you notice his eyes when
you pulled it from your pocket?”

“Yes.” Dick smiled at the memory.

They started back along the trail, for a time walking in silence.
Presently, however, Sandy turned toward Dick, his face thoughtful.

“Supposing,” he inquired, “that Frischette really does attempt the
robbery tonight. What will we do? Let him have the money? Or do you want
to catch him in the act?”

“We’ll let him have it.”

“But there’s nearly sixty dollars of our money. I’m not so rich that—”

“We’ll get it back somehow, Sandy,” Dick interrupted. “The police will
see to that. I’ve marked the bills so that we can identify them.”

“Good!”

“We’d better remain awake, all of us,” continued Dick. “I’ll take the
lower bunk in the corner near the door. You can sleep in the upper one.
Toma can occupy the lower bunk next to mine. Just before we retire,
while Frischette is still in the room, I’ll remove my coat and throw it
over the back of a chair.”

“We’ll all keep perfectly still,” said Sandy, “when he enters the room.
Remember, Toma, that you are not to make any effort to stop him.”

The young Indian nodded:

“Yes, I understand. Me do nothing.”

Later, when they had retired for the night, they were in an excited
frame of mind. Had they been ever so tired, it is doubtful whether they
would have been able to relax for sleep. Dick lay, facing the doorway,
so that he could command a view of the entire room. Frischette’s
sleeping apartment, almost directly opposite, opened on to the large
bunk-hall they occupied. If the Frenchman planned to take the roll, it
would be necessary for him to pass through the doorway, directly across
from Dick, and steal stealthily along the row of bunks to the chair,
over which Dick had carelessly flung his coat.

The bunk-hall was shrouded in a partial darkness. Outside the night was
clear, and a half-moon rode through a sky sprinkled with stars. To the
ears of the boys, as they lay quietly awaiting the Frenchman’s coming,
there floated through the open windows the droning sounds of the forest.
An owl hooted from some leafy canopy. The weird, mournful cries of a
night-bird, skimming along the tree tops, could be heard distinctly. The
curtain, draping the window on the west side of the room, fluttered
softly as it caught the rippling, nocturnal breeze.

As time passed, Dick became conscious of an increasing nervous tension
and restlessness. He found it difficult to lay still. He turned from
side to side. The strain upon his eyes from watching the door so
continuously had caused a blur to appear before them, and only with
difficulty could he make out the various objects in the room. Time and
time again, he imagined he could hear a slight sound coming from
Frischette’s apartment. Yet, as he lay there and the door did not open,
he realized that he must have been mistaken.

At length he decided that the road-house keeper would make no effort to
come that night. Reasoning thus, he lay very still, his eyes closed,
drowsiness stealing over him. Through his mind there flashed confused
pictures of the day’s happenings. In imagination, he was threading a
woodland path, following the fleeing form of a man, who clutched to him
a mysterious wooden box. Again he saw the angry, distorted face of
Frischette, who was standing there, one arm raised threateningly above
the stooped form and uncovered head of Creel—the queer old recluse.

Tossing restlessly, his eyes came back to the door, and suddenly his
nerves grew taut. The door, he perceived, was now slightly ajar. It was
opening slowly. A few inches at a time it swung back, and at length a
muffled form stood framed in the doorway, then moved noiselessly nearer.
Unerringly, it padded across the floor, straight towards Dick’s bunk. It
paused near the chair, scarcely four feet from where Dick lay.

With difficulty, Dick suppressed a cry. The skulking, shadowy form was
not that of Frischette—but Creel! Creel, a horrible, repellent figure in
the half-darkness. Long, straggling locks of hair fell over his eyes,
while the heavy beard formed a mask for his repulsive face. Dick could
almost imagine that he could see Creel’s deep-set eyes shining from
their sockets. They were like those of a cat.

Previously it had been agreed between the three boys that in the event
of Frischette entering the room and attempting to steal the money, no
effort would be made to prevent him. Now Creel, and not Frischette, was
about to commit the crime. For some unknown reason Dick felt that he
could not lay there inactive. Resentment and anger suddenly burned
within him. As Creel cautiously lifted up his coat, Dick found himself
sitting bolt upright, and, to his amazement, heard himself shout out:
“Drop that coat if you don’t wish to get in trouble. Drop it, I say!”

Creel started so quickly, dropped the coat so suddenly, that the chair
overturned and crashed to the floor. There came the sound of moccasined
feet pattering away! Dick had sprung from his bunk, as had also Sandy
and Toma. For a time confusion and excitement reigned. Frischette
appeared in the doorway, and upon his heels came Fontaine and Le Sueur,
rubbing their eyes.

“What ees ze matter?” Frischette inquired in a frightened voice. “What
has happen?”

“Someone came in here a moment ago,” cried Dick angrily, “and tried to
steal my money. I tell you, Frischette, the thief is in this house!”



                               CHAPTER VI
                           NEW COMPLICATIONS


Not until the following morning did the boys have a chance to discuss
the happenings of the previous night. Over the breakfast table, Dick was
the cynosure of two hostile pair of eyes—those of Sandy and Toma. It was
quite evident that Dick’s chums were not satisfied with the outcome of
the night’s adventures. Sandy, in particular, could scarcely contain
himself. He kept glowering at his friend over his coffee and bacon, and
Dick could see that a lecture was forthcoming. However, Sandy did not
get his chance until nearly an hour later, when the three boys left the
dining room for a turn in the open air. Scarcely were they outside, when
Sandy broke forth petulantly:

“Look here, Dick, I must say that you followed out our agreement to the
letter. What did you mean by crying out like that, after it had been
decided to let Frischette walk away with the money?”

“But it wasn’t Frischette,” Dick defended himself.

“Wasn’t Frischette. What do you mean? Of course, it was Frischette. I
saw him with my own eyes.”

“It was Creel.”

“Creel!”

“Yes, that fellow who took the box from the Frenchman yesterday.”

Sandy whistled softly.

“So that’s their game. Creel is Frischette’s confederate. I can see it
all now.”

“That’s the way I have it all figured out too. Frischette is the man who
plans all the robberies and Creel is the one who executes them.”

Dick paused and leaned against the trunk of a huge jack-pine,
contemplatively regarding his two chums.

“It means we have two persons instead of one to deal with. The
treasure-box they keep between them. Each probably has an equal interest
in it. I wish there was some way we could get hold of it.”

“Mebbe that not be so very hard,” Toma suddenly interjected. “One night
we go over to Creel’s cabin an’ find it sure. I think I know how we get
it without much trouble.”

“How?” demanded Sandy.

“You remember yesterday when Frischette come close to Creel’s cabin he
stop in the brush an’ make ’em noise for him to come out. Well, one of
us do same like that while other two hide close to cabin. When Creel
come out, thinking it Frischette, good chance go get box. What you say?”

“A good plan, certainly,” criticised Dick, “only how are we going to
imitate that peculiar, mysterious whistle. I’m sure I couldn’t.”

“I couldn’t either,” declared Sandy.

Toma put two fingers to his mouth and blew softly. It was an excellent
imitation of the sound the boys had heard on the previous day, and both
Dick and Sandy clapped their hands in delight.

“You’re good!” Sandy exclaimed. “I’m proud of you. How can you manage to
do it, after hearing it only once?”

“I hear it many times,” flushed the young Indian. “You see, there is
bird that hide deep in the woods that make ’em call like that.
Frischette, jus’ like me, try make sound like that bird.”

“We’ll go tonight,” exulted Dick.

The other two nodded in agreement.

“Ten o’clock will be a good time,” Sandy suggested. “Dick and I will
enter the cabin, while you, Toma, practice your wiles upon the thieving
Mr. Creel. Lead him away from the cabin as far as you can, so that we’ll
have plenty of time to look around. We may have some trouble in finding
the place where he has hid the box.”

The boys had worked themselves up to a high pitch of excitement long
before the time appointed for setting out on their night’s adventure. In
order not to arouse Frischette’s suspicions, should he discover their
absence, they had informed him that they were planning to go over to
Lake Grassy Point, a distance of about eight miles, and visit the Indian
encampment there. Fontaine and Le Sueur, they explained, would accompany
them too, and he, Frischette, must not worry if they were late in
getting back.

To their surprise, the arrangement met with the Frenchman’s immediate
approval.

“Et ees good you go,” he told them. “You young fellow get ver’ tired
stay one place all ze time.” Then he sighed regretfully. “Ver’ often I
weesh I might be young too. Always go, always have good time. Et ees ze
great fun, monsieurs.”

Dick’s brow contracted thoughtfully. Did Frischette contemplate a visit
to Creel himself? Had the Frenchman a plan of his own?

“Just our luck,” Dick told Sandy a few minutes later, “if the old rascal
decides to visit Creel tonight. We’ve gone to a lot of trouble already.”

The young Scotchman slapped irritably at a mosquito that had lit upon
his arm.

“Yes, it was necessary to take Fontaine and Le Sueur more or less into
our confidence. That’s one phase of the thing I don’t like. Those two
friends of Toma’s know we’re up to something. All I hope is, that
they’ll have sense enough to keep their mouths shut. If Frischette ever
gets an inkling that we’re watching him, the game’s up.”

“But Fontaine and Le Sueur haven’t the least idea what we purpose to
do,” said Dick. “Neither one of them knows that we’re spying upon
Frischette.”

“Yes, but they’ll think it’s queer that we’re deceiving him. They’ll
wonder why we have lied to him, want them to go to the encampment while
we remain behind.”

“You don’t need to worry about that, Sandy. You may depend upon it that
Toma has made our proposed actions seem very plausible.”

Sandy grinned.

“Toma probably has told them a wonderful story. I’ll agree with you
there. He certainly possesses a keen imagination.”

Dick consulted his watch.

“It’s twenty minutes past nine now. I think, Sandy, we’d better go back
to the house and find Toma and the others. It’ll be time to start before
long.”

They hurried along the path, and a few minutes later entered the house,
where they were joined by Toma and his two friends. Soon afterward,
Frischette strode into the room, carrying his coat and hat.

“I go with you a leetle way,” he announced. “All day long I work in ze
kitchen, where et ees hot. I think ze night air mebbe make me feel
good.”

Dick glanced sharply across at Sandy, keen disappointment depicted in
his gaze. The Frenchman’s announcement had taken him completely by
surprise. The situation was awkward.

“Why not come all the way to the encampment with us,” invited Dick.
“We’ll be glad to have you.”

Frischette threw up his hands in a gesture of dismay.

“All zat way! Empossible! Et ees too far, monsieur. I am too tired.
Eight miles there an’ back an’ ze brush tangle in my poor tired legs.
No, I will go only a ver’ short way.”

So Frischette, much to the boys’ disappointment, accompanied them. He
chatted as they walked, continually gesturing, often stopping abruptly
in his tracks to point out some inconsequential object.

Never before had Dick been given so excellent an opportunity to study
the man. He was slightly amused at the Frenchman’s queer antics. He
would become intensely enthusiastic over the merest trifles—a bright
flower, a sparkling stone, a gnarled, misshapen tree.

A person of moods and impulses, Dick decided, watching him. Sometimes he
wondered if Frischette were not assuming a certain behavior for their
special benefit. What was his real purpose in coming with them?
Certainly it was not because he really wanted the exercise and fresh
air. More likely, he intended to go over to visit Creel.

Their course to Grassy Point Lake led them in the general direction of
Creel’s cabin. When the Frenchman bade them adieu and turned back, Dick
estimated that they had still about two miles farther to go before they
would be directly opposite the abiding place of the mysterious recluse.
Realizing this, his previous conviction that Frischette was really going
there became shaken. Perhaps, after all, the road-house keeper had told
the truth, was actually going back as he said.

Even if the man planned to strike off obliquely through the woods to
Creel’s, hope of obtaining possession of the box was not altogether
lost. They might still turn the trick that same night, if only they
hurried. By running part of the way, they would arrive at the cabin
sufficiently in advance of Frischette to achieve their purpose. With
this thought in mind, Dick, after waving a friendly farewell to the
unsuspecting Frenchman, led the party forward quickly until a turn in
the trail obscured their movements. Then, breaking into a run, he darted
along the shadowy forest path, motioning the others to follow.

Ten minutes later, the three boys drew away from Fontaine and Le Sueur,
striking off at right angle with the dim trail to Grassy Point Lake, and
continued their hurried course straight in the direction of the lonely
cabin. As they proceeded on their way, excitement, caused by the thought
of their coming adventure, grew upon them. They were shaky and nervous
when they finally drew up in front of a thick screen of underbrush, less
than sixty yards from the house. Dick motioned to Toma.

“Hurry around toward the front of the cabin,” he whispered tersely, “and
give your bird-call.”

“Sure you all ready?” inquired the young Indian.

“Yes, all ready.”

“I go then.”

Without further word, Toma slunk forward, skirted the line of underbrush
and presently disappeared from view.



                              CHAPTER VII
                          THE MYSTERIOUS POKE


Dick and Sandy waited breathlessly. Thus far, no sound had come to them.
The forest was pervaded by a silence so deep and oppressive that the two
boys, waiting for Toma’s mysterious call, could hear the thumping of
their own hearts. They had crept forward through the dense thicket to a
point where, though still concealed themselves, they could see the cabin
plainly. In the sombre northern twilight its every detail stood clearly
revealed—the low, grass-grown sod roof, the tiny window and the crude,
rough door.

The boys found it difficult to restrain their gathering impatience. What
was Toma doing? Chafing over the delay, they crouched low, their gaze
sweeping the tiny clearing ahead. On Dick’s forehead beads of
perspiration gathered slowly, while the palms of his hands were moist
and warm.

“Can’t imagine what’s happened to him,” Sandy croaked in Dick’s ear.
“What’s he waiting for? What’s got into him, anyway? First thing we
know, Frischette’ll be here—and it’ll be too late.”

Dick did not reply. Just then he thought he had heard a slight sound in
the brush, directly in front of the house. Excitedly, he reached forward
and seized Sandy’s right arm.

“Ssh!” he whispered. “Keep still. Just look over there.”

Following his friend’s instructions, Sandy looked and immediately his
mouth gaped open, and he emitted a startled gasp.

Two men plunged out into the open—rough, desperate, evil-looking men,
who made their way stealthily forward. Each carried a knife and revolver
at his belt. One was tall and sinewy, the other short and thin. The tall
man proceeded ahead with long awkward strides, while the little man at
his side pranced along, like a small boy attempting to keep pace with
his elder.

Of the two, the face of the smaller man was, if such a thing were
possible, more sinister, malevolent and wicked than that of the other.
His features were twisted in an expression that was both horrible and
repellent. It was as if he had been overcome by some violent emotion:
rage that hungered for revenge, or cruelty inflamed by avarice. In all
their experience, the boys had never encountered a more terrifying pair.
The very sight of them caused Dick and Sandy to shiver and draw back in
a sudden panic.

“Ho-hope they don’t come this way,” shuddered Sandy.

“Toma saw them before we did,” whispered Dick. “That’s why he didn’t
attempt that call. Who do you suppose they are?”

In terror, Sandy shook his head.

“Keep down,” he trembled, “or they may see us.”

Dick grew suddenly tense. The two men had reached the door of the cabin,
and for a brief moment stood undecided. Then the tall man raised a
gnarled hand and struck the door so violently and unexpectedly that
Sandy and Dick both jumped back, as if they, instead of the rough pine
barrier, had received the full impact of that mighty blow.

The echo had scarcely subsided, when the tall man struck again.

“Open up! Open up!” he thundered. “Creel, open up this yere door.”

The door swung back on its rusty hinges, and then the boys saw Creel
framed in the aperture. But it was a different Creel than the man they
had seen previously. He looked much older. The stoop to his shoulders
was more noticeable. A pathetic figure now, a terror-struck human
derelict. At the very best he could offer but feeble resistance to these
two terrible fellows, who had come storming and raging upon him.

“Guess yuh know what we’ve come fer, Creel,” the little man snarled.
“Yuh can guess, can’t yuh? Quick now, an’ bring it out. We’re in a
hurry, I tell yuh. Quick!”

Creel made the fatal mistake of pretending he did not know what the
other was talking about. He raised a trembling hand.

“If you’ll explain a little more clearly, gentlemen, what you want
I’ll—”

The sentence was not completed. The tall man reached out with one arm
and caught Creel about the neck. Scarcely seeming to exert himself, he
lifted him completely off his feet, holding him dangling—head pressed
back against the frame of the door. For a brief moment the body of the
recluse remained pinioned there, then was suddenly released and fell
with a muffled thud across the threshold.

Dick and Sandy, who had been silent witnesses of the drama unrolling
before their eyes, caught their breath in anger. Much as they despised
and feared Creel, the unwarranted brutality of the tall man caused them
to experience a feeling of sympathy for the helpless old recluse. Dick’s
hand flashed to the revolver at his belt, and he had half-started to his
feet, when Sandy drew him back.

“Don’t be foolish, Dick,” he trembled. “Keep out of this. We can
accomplish more by remaining right here where we are. Look!”

Creel had stumbled dazedly to his feet, gripping the door for support.

“Now,” declared the little man grimly, “I guess yuh understand. Bring it
out.”

Creel staggered inside and appeared, a short time later, carrying the
box. Both men made a grab for it, but the smaller was the quicker of the
two. He flung open the lid of the small treasure-chest and both he and
his companion pawed through it excitedly, their faces distorted with
greed.

Dick and Sandy, who were watching events with wide-open eyes, were
wholly unprepared for the next step in the little drama. In a sudden
fury of disappointment, the little man raised the box and sent it
crashing to the floor. His expression was awful to behold, his eyes like
two bright coals of fire. Nor did his companion contain himself much
better. With an oath, he spurned the box at his feet, sending it flying
within the room. His cheeks were livid.

“It ain’t here, Emery!” he almost screamed. “It ain’t here! That squaw
lied to us. We’re done for. MacGregor got it after all!”

But the other was not so easily discouraged.

“It is here!” he fairly howled in his rage.

With a lightning motion, he turned upon Creel, advancing with
outstretched hands—hands that looked like the talons of some huge bird;
hands that worked convulsively as they floated toward Creel’s throat.
Before the little man’s advance, the old recluse tottered back, throwing
up his arms in a defensive gesture.

“I’ll give yuh jus’ two minutes tuh bring out that poke,” the words came
screaming at him. “Yuh got it. I know yuh got it. If yuh don’t want to
make food fer the crows, yuh better trot it out.”

“Gentlemen—” began Creel, his voice deathly calm.

The little man’s right hand flashed out and for the second time Creel
measured his length across the threshold. This time, however, he did not
rise. In falling, his head had struck the sharp edge of the doorway,
rendering him unconscious. Without even as much as a glance at him, the
two men stepped over his prostrate body and disappeared into the room.
For a space of nearly five minutes they remained inside, while Dick and
Sandy sat in a sort of stupor and blankly regarded each other.

Then abruptly, Creel’s assailants re-appeared and from their expression
and behavior, the boys realized instantly that the search had been
successful. The big man guffawed loudly as he pushed Creel’s body to one
side with his foot and stepped out into the pale light of that Arctic
summer night.

“We got it,” gloated the little man. “That was a stroke o’ luck,
pardner. The squaw was right. We got it!”

As he spoke, he drew from his pocket a small object and fondled it in
his hands. Again the loud guffaw rang out, penetrating the silence.
Chattering and exulting, the pair made their way through the lush grass
that overran the clearing. Then, suddenly, they stopped. At the edge of
the clearing there had sprung up a frail but defiant figure.

“Stop!” cried a voice. “Put ’em hands up or I shoot you quick.”

Creel’s assailants, looking straight at the muzzle of Toma’s revolver,
had no other alternative. Their hands went high. Dick thought the pair
looked very foolish standing there. And he could hear very plainly their
astonished, burning oaths. He and Sandy leaped to their feet and hurried
to Toma’s assistance. They came up from behind and, with a nod to their
chum, quickly disarmed the murderous pair. But though they searched
everywhere, they could not find the poke. Dick paused in consternation.

“Big fellow got it in his hand,” said Toma.

“Give it to me,” Dick turned upon the outlaw.

The big man’s eyes gleamed with hatred, but with Toma’s revolver
threatening him, he was forced to obey.

“Take it,” he growled out an oath. “But I bet yuh don’t keep it long,
stranger. Yuh won’t never get away with it. Jus’ mark my words.”

Dick stepped back, laughing.

“That remains to be seen,” he answered the outlaw. “You fellows can go
now. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave this neighborhood as
quickly as you can. I have the description of both of you and will
notify the mounted police of this night’s affair.”

The partners struck off through the underbrush, calling out their
taunts. It was not long before silence came again. The three boys stood
in a little circle, looking at each other. Now that the tension had
relaxed, they were all more or less bewildered. Dick still had the small
poke in his hand, and as yet had scarcely deigned to give it a second
glance. Suddenly, Sandy’s voice rang out:

“Well, if you ask me, this is a peculiar night’s business. I’m almost
stunned. We’re indebted to Toma for the way everything has turned out.
Let’s see what’s in that poke, Dick. Why don’t you open it?”

Dick looked down at the small object in his hand. He turned it over and
over thoughtfully.

“No,” he said, “you can open it, Sandy. I’m too shaky.”

With the poke held firmly between two fingers, he reached out to hand it
to his chum. But in that moment a strange thing happened. A crackling of
brush, a lightning leap forward, a snarl like that of a beast—and the
thing was whisked from his fingers as it dangled there in the air. Then
a figure darted past them and disappeared in the darkness of the forest
beyond.

The three chums gaped at each other.

“Who was that?” gasped Dick.

Toma was the first to speak.

“I see ’em,” he spoke dolefully. “It was Frischette.”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                       CORPORAL RAND TAKES CHARGE


Sandy rubbed his eyes.

“I don’t know what to make of this. Frischette has the poke now. In a
way I’m glad that he has. It’s better for us, Dick. I’d hate to have
another encounter with those two prospectors. Wonder what Frischette
will say to us when we return to the road-house.”

“Don’t worry,” said Dick, “we’ve seen the last of him. He won’t come
back.”

“You mean he’ll leave everything?”

“Yes, that’s my opinion. I don’t know what the poke contains but it must
be something of immense value. Just stop a moment to reason it all out,
Sandy. First of all, the poke belonged to Dewberry. MacGregor tried to
get it, but was thwarted in his purpose either by Frischette or Creel.
Creel had it in his possession until those two prospectors came along
and took it away from him. Now it’s in Frischette’s hands again. If he
returns to the road-house, he’ll be afraid that we’ll get it away from
him. After what happened tonight, he’ll take no chances. He’ll not even
consider his partner, Creel. He has a fortune in his hands and will
attempt to keep it.”

“What’s to be done now?” asked Sandy. “Do you think we ought to set out
in pursuit of Frischette?”

For a time Dick stood undecided.

“No,” he answered, “we haven’t time. Tomorrow Corporal Rand will return
to Fort Good Faith. He has asked us to meet him there. We’ll have to
follow his instructions: Go back tonight.”

“But what about Creel? We can’t leave him here.”

“That’s right. Let me see,” Dick scratched his head in perplexity.

“Tell you what we do,” Toma suddenly broke forth. “One of us stay here
look after Creel an’ other two go back to Fort Good Faith. If you like,
I stay here myself while you, Sandy, you, Dick, go on see Corporal Rand.
After while I get Fontaine an’ Le Sueur to help me. Soon they come back
from Grassy Point Lake.”

“Your plan is a good one,” approved Dick. “It’s the best thing to do. If
Sandy and I start at once—go over to the road-house and get our
horses—we can reach Fort Good Faith shortly before the corporal arrives.
What do you think, Sandy?”

“We ought to go, of course. The way things have turned out, we need
someone to take charge and straighten out this tangle. Corporal Rand
will know what to do. I expect his first move will be to set out in
pursuit of Frischette. The sooner we get Rand back here the sooner he’ll
be able to follow and overtake him. Yes, we’d better start at once.”

“All right, we’ll walk over and get the horses.”

Toma gave a little start of dismay.

“I jus’ happen think, Dick— By Gar— Make me feel like silly fool. What
you think I do?”

“What did you do?” Dick asked kindly.

“Yesterday I turn ponies out to eat grass.”

“Hang the luck!” exploded Sandy. “That means we’ll have to walk. We
might have to look around all night before we find ’em.”

“I very sorry,” began Toma. “I—”

Sandy cut him short.

“Forget it! I don’t blame you, Toma. It’s just a bit of bad luck, that’s
all.”

“An’ you don’t feel mad at Toma?” inquired that young man plaintively.

“Certainly not,” Dick assured him. “Either Sandy or I might have made
the same mistake. It’s all right. We’ll walk.”

Without even returning to the cabin to determine the extent of Creel’s
injuries, they shook hands with the young Indian and quickly departed.
Their hurried trek back to Fort Good Faith long remained in the boys’
memory. Dick struck out with Sandy at his heels, and hour after hour
they pushed on without even a pause for rest.

Both were swaying on their feet from weariness as they entered the broad
meadow, surrounding the fort, and came finally to the well known trading
post.

Factor MacClaren looked up from his work as the two youths entered.

“Why, hello,” he exclaimed in surprise. Then: “Whatever has happened to
you. You both look as if you’d been stuck in a swamp somewhere for the
last day or two. I wish you could see yourselves.”

The boys looked down at their mud-spattered garments. Sandy’s eyes were
bloodshot and his shoulders drooped. Dick’s face was scratched with
brambles. He had lost his hat and his hair was rumpled and streaked with
dirt. Each flopped into a chair and breathed a sigh of relief.

“We made record time from Frischette’s stopping-place,” Sandy announced
finally.

Sandy’s uncle laughed. “I can well believe that from your appearance.
Have you been travelling all night?”

“Yes,” answered Dick, “all night. By the way, is Corporal Rand here?”

Factor MacClaren nodded.

“Arrived last night. Got in sooner than he expected. He’s waiting for
you. Went out to the stables just a few minutes ago.”

“Uncle Walter,” Sandy requested wearily, “I wonder if you’ll be kind
enough to notify him that we are here.” He sprawled lower in his chair.
“I’m so tired that I don’t think I could walk out there. Also, while
you’re at it, I wish you’d tell Naida, the cook, to prepare a good
breakfast for two hungry men.”

“Men!” grinned the factor.

“Yes, men. At least, we’re doing men’s work.”

Chuckling to himself, Sandy’s uncle departed upon his errand. Not long
afterward Corporal Rand himself appeared in the doorway and came eagerly
toward them.

“Well! Well!” he exclaimed. “So you’re back. What luck did you have?”

“Great!” replied Dick, too weary to rise. “If you’ll sit down for a
moment, corporal, we’ll tell you everything.”

When Dick and Sandy had completed their narrative, Corporal Rand sat for
a long time in thought. His fingers drummed on the table.

“You’ve done much better than I expected,” he complimented them. “And to
be perfectly frank, I don’t know what to think of it all. Those two men
you spoke of, who attacked Creel and secured the poke, I can’t recall
that I’ve ever seen them. However, your description tallies with that of
two prospectors I met one time at Fort MacMurray. But that’s hundreds of
miles from here. It hardly seems likely that it would be the same pair.
But that is neither here nor there. You boys have practically
established Frischette’s guilt. If he didn’t actually take the poke from
Dewberry himself, he must have induced Creel to do it. Probably when I
have seen and talked with Creel I can force the truth from him.”

“Will you place Creel under arrest?” asked Sandy.

“Not unless I can get him to confess. As yet we can prove nothing
against him.”

Naida appeared at this juncture to announce that breakfast was ready,
and Corporal Rand accompanied the two boys to the dining room. Dick and
Sandy applied themselves with such diligence to the feast before them,
that Rand refrained from asking any more questions just then. When the
boys had pushed back their chairs, sighing contentedly, Rand took up the
subject anew.

“I’m glad you came when you did. I’m anxious to go out on the trail
after Frischette. Just now Frischette holds the key to the riddle. If we
can catch him, I think our troubles will be at an end.”

Dick looked across at the policeman.

“Your suggestion, then, is to return immediately to the road-house?”

“If you boys are not too tired, I’d like to start at once.”

“Now that we’ve had something to eat, I’m ready to go,” said Sandy. “I
feel a lot different than I did when we arrived here a short time ago.”

With one accord the three rose to their feet, and not long afterward
secured their horses and departed. Following a hard but uneventful ride,
they reached the scene of the events of the night previous. They met
Toma just outside the door of the road-house. He greeted them with a
cheery smile, striding forward to shake hands with Corporal Rand.

“Glad you come so soon, corporal. I get ’em Creel over here last night.
Him pretty near all right now.”

“Did Frischette come back?” asked Sandy.

The young Indian shook his head.

“He no come. Creel no think he come either.”

They found Creel a few moments later, sitting, with bandaged head, in a
chair near an open window. At sight of the mounted policeman his eyes
dilated perceptibly. Yet otherwise he showed little of the emotion and
fear the boys had expected.

But if Rand had hoped to secure information of value from the old
recluse, he was disappointed. When questioned about the events of the
night before, his answers were evasive. He knew nothing about the poke.
He had seen no poke. The money-box, slightly battered, which Toma
brought forth as evidence, belonged to him, he admitted. Why the thieves
had not taken the box, Creel could not understand. It contained upward
of five thousand dollars in currency.

“If this box and money belongs to you,” Rand demanded, “what was
Frischette doing with them? The boys say that Frischette had this box in
his possession here only two days ago. What was he doing with it?”

Creel met the policeman’s eyes unflinchingly.

“The boys must be mistaken,” he wagged his head. “The box is mine. Until
last night no one has seen it. People call me a miser. Those men, who
came last night, were disappointed because they expected to find more.”

Rand scowled. He saw the uselessness of further questioning. Though
Creel might be aware of Frischette’s treachery, it was evident that he
had no intention of attempting to obtain revenge upon him. To
incriminate his confederate, would be to incriminate himself. Both would
go to jail. Creel was wise enough to see that.

“Perhaps,” said Rand grimly, “you’ll have more to tell us when we bring
your friend, Frischette, back and obtain possession of that poke. You
could save yourself a lot of trouble by giving me a confession now.”

“I have nothing to confess,” Creel declared obdurately. “I do not
understand Frischette’s disappearance. But even if you do find him and
bring him back, you’ll learn nothing of value. Frischette is my friend
and I know that he is not Dewberry’s murderer, that he is innocent of
all wrong.”

The policeman rose to his feet, walked over and looked down at the old
recluse.

“I didn’t say that Frischette murdered Dewberry. I’m convinced that
MacGregor did that, just as much as I’m convinced that either you or
Frischette secured the money and poke that belonged to the murdered
man.”

Thus openly accused, Creel shrank back. His hands trembled. Yet, in a
moment, the weakness had passed. Again, unflinchingly, he met the gaze
of the man opposite.

“You are mistaken,” he declared in a clear, steady voice. “You will find
that you are mistaken. Events will bear me out.”

Rand suddenly drew back. Footsteps sounded outside. Voices, scarcely
distinguishable, floated to their ears. More scuffling of feet, and then
the door opened. Dick, Sandy and Toma darted to their feet, staring
wildly at the two newcomers:

Creel’s assailants of the night before!



                               CHAPTER IX
                            UNEXPECTED NEWS


For a full minute no one spoke.

It was a question who was the more astonished—the prospectors or the
three boys. Corporal Rand turned his head as the two men entered and
regarded them steadily. Creel had half-started from his chair, then
quickly sat down again, while a queer smile puckered the corners of his
mouth. If Dick had expected that Creel’s assailants of the previous
night would show fear at sight of the mounted policeman he was greatly
mistaken. To his surprise the big man nodded in a friendly way toward
the corporal, then advanced to confer with him.

“This sure is a piece of luck,” he exclaimed, extending a grimed and
hairy hand, which Rand totally ignored. “I hadn’t expected to find yuh
here. Most allers when yuh want a policeman, there ain’t one within
fifty miles.”

This statement, apparently, did not wholly please Rand, for he scowled
lightly, his sharp blue eyes full upon the other.

“What business have you with the police?” he demanded.

“It ain’t nothin’ that concerns us,” the little man cut in, in his
attempt to smile looking more repulsive and ferocious than ever. “It’s
like this, constable—”

“I’m a corporal,” interrupted Rand severely.

“A’ right, corporal. As I jes’ started out tuh say Burnnel an’ me—that’s
him there. He’s my pardner—is a hoofin’ it along on our way to Deer Lick
Springs, when sudden like, in a little clearin’ in the brush ’long side
the trail, we comes upon the body of a man.”

The prospector paused, rubbing his chin with the sleeve of his coat.

“He was dead, corporal,” he went on, “—dead as a dead crow he was, sir,
a lyin’ there all stiff an’ cold with a bullet through his head.

“Fer more ’n a minute Burnnel an’ me we couldn’t speak, we was that
surprised, corporal.”

“My pardner has told yuh right,” the big man hastened to confirm the
other’s story. “He’s back there now, jes’ like we found him.”

During the short announcement by the two men, Rand’s expression had
grown severe, as was always the case when he was thinking deeply or when
he had suddenly been made aware of some new and unexpected happening. A
deep pucker showed between his eyes. He motioned the partners to be
seated, produced a notebook and fountain pen.

“Now just a moment,” he began, glancing sharply across at the two tale
bearers. “Answer my questions as I put them to you. First of all, just
where did you find this body? How far from here?”

Burnnel scratched his head.

“Le’s see—I reckon, corporal, ’bout twenty miles from here, southeast on
the trail tuh Deer Lick Springs. It was on the right side o’ the trail,
wa’n’t it Emery?”

“It was,” Emery corroborated the other.

“On the right side o’ the trail,” continued Burnnel, “close to a willow
thicket.”

“In what position was the body?” Rand next inquired.

“The man was a lyin’ stretched out a little on his left side, one arm
throwed up like this:” The speaker imitated the position of the body by
putting his head forward on the table and extending his arm. “It was
like that, wa’n’t it, Emery?”

Again he turned toward the little man.

“It was,” came the ready rejoinder.

“And you say there was the mark of a bullet on the man’s forehead?”

“Yep,” Burnnel answered, “an’ a revolver in the hand what was
outstretched.”

“In other words,” Rand’s tone was incisive, “it looked like suicide.”

Both the men nodded emphatically.

“Yeah, that’s what it was. Suicide. An’ it happened not very long afore
we had come. Yuh could see that.”

The policeman tapped softly on the back of his hand with his fountain
pen. For several minutes he did not speak, then—

“You say you didn’t disturb the body?”

“No,” answered the little man, “we didn’t touch him.”

“Did you, by any chance, examine the contents of his pockets?”

The big man flushed under the direct scrutiny, while his partner, Emery,
suddenly became interested in the fringe of his mackinaw jacket.

“Well, yes,” drawled the big man. “Yuh see,” he attempted to defend
their actions, “Emery an’ me thought that mebbe we could find a letter
or suthin’ in his pockets what would tell who the fellow was.”

“Quite right,” approved Rand. “And what did you find?”

“Nothin’,” stated Emery.

“Nothin’,” echoed his partner.

“Absolutely nothing?” Rand’s eyes seemed to bore into them.

The partners exchanged furtive, doubtful glances. Then the face of Emery
darkened with a sudden resolve, and he thrust one hand in his pocket and
brought forth—to the boys’ unutterable amazement—a small moose-hide
pouch, scarcely more than two inches in width and three inches in
length—a small poke, identical to the one Dick had held in his own hands
less than twenty-four hours before. Seeing it, Dick had taken in his
breath sharply, while Sandy and Toma rose excitedly to their feet and
crowded forward.

“You found that?” asked Rand, wholly unmoved.

“Yes.”

“Let’s see it.”

Emery tossed it over and it fell in Rand’s lap. The corporal picked it
up and examined it closely. He untied the cord at the top and opened it.
He thrust two fingers inside.

“Empty,” he said.

“Yeah. Empty.”

Both Burnnel and Emery wagged their heads. Corporal Rand favored them
with a keen, searching look.

“You’re sure about that. You didn’t take out its contents?”

The partners denied the implication stoutly. Their denials and
protestations were so emphatic, that neither Corporal Rand nor the boys
could believe that they spoke anything but the truth.

“And this was all you found?” Rand continued his questioning.

“Nothin’ else,” grunted the big man. “There wasn’t even a pocket knife
or a comb or a watch, or anything like that. His pockets was absolutely
empty.”

The sight of the moose-hide pouch had produced a strange effect upon
Dick. His eyes kept returning again and again to the mysterious object
Rand still held carelessly in one hand. Improbable as it seemed, Dick
could not shake off the belief that the poke was the same one that had
been taken forcibly from Creel the night before. He wondered what the
old recluse thought about it all. Turning his head, he glanced sharply
in his direction.

To his surprise, Creel sat unmoved, apparently uninterested. His round,
staring eyes, which somehow reminded one of those of a cat, were set in
a fixed stare. Occasionally, Creel’s long hand stole to his bandaged
head. It was evident that nothing was to be gained here. Then Dick
became conscious of a question that Rand had just asked the two men:

“You found the body along the trail, twenty miles from here. Deer Lick
Springs is only ten miles farther on. What motive prompted you to return
here? Wouldn’t it have been much easier to go on to your destination?”

“We thought about that,” the little man answered without a moment’s
hesitation. “Burnnel an’ me we talked that over when we was standin’
lookin’ down at that man’s body. I was fer goin’ on tuh the Springs, but
Burnnel he says no. Wouldn’t hear to it. He insists on comin’ back all
this way tuh Frenchie’s stoppin’-place.”

“Why?” asked the policeman, turning upon Burnnel.

The big man drew a deep breath before he answered.

“It’s like this, corporal,” he finally declared. “Yuh see I had a notion
that I had seen that man before. He looked like somebody I knowed what
lives over this way. I wa’n’t sure, o’ course, but I had a suspicion. It
sort o’ bothered me. I says to Emery: ‘We’ll go back an’ find out.’”

The pucker came back between the corporal’s brooding eyes. He looked
upon Burnnel with suspicion. Dick wondered if Rand believed, as he was
somewhat inclined to believe himself, that the partners were the man’s
murderers.

“What did you intend to do when you arrived here?” Rand asked.

“We was plannin’ to send word tuh the police. We thought they ought tuh
be notified. But afore God, corporal, we didn’t have no idea that yuh
was here. Mighty lucky, I call it. Saved us a hull lot o’ time an’
trouble.”

“Yes, it was lucky,” the corporal averred grimly. “Rather fortunate for
me too. You may consider yourselves under arrest, at least until I have
investigated this case. You and your partner will lead me to the scene
of the tragedy.”

“A’ right,” agreed Emery, his face more repellent than ever, “me an’
Burnnel’ll go with yuh. It won’t take long. If we had some horses now—”

“I’ll supply the horses,” Rand informed him.

“That’s fine!” Emery’s smile expanded into a leer. “We can go an’ get
back afore night. Ain’t that right, Burnnel?”

“Yeah,” agreed Burnnel, “an’ when do we start, corporal?”

“Right away.”

“That’s a’ right with us,” said the big man, “only—”

“Yes,” insisted Rand, “Only—”

“Yuh see, me an’ Emery ain’t had nothin’ tuh eat fer a long time. Soon
as we get suthin’—jes’ a bite, corporal—we’ll be ready tuh start. Ain’t
that fair enough?”

Rand nodded. His brow had contracted slightly, deepening the pucker
between his eyes.

“There’s one thing you’ve forgotten to tell me,” he informed them.
“Burnnel, you said a moment ago that the man out there reminded you of
someone. Who?”

“Yes, yes,” said the big man eagerly, “I was a comin’ tuh that. It’ll
explain, corporal, why we drifts back this way ’stead o’ goin’ on to
Deer Lick Springs. Yuh see, the man out there looked,” he paused,
wetting his lips, “looked like this here fellow what runs this
stoppin’-place—this here Frenchie Frischette.”

The three boys bounded from their seats. Corporal Rand himself started
visibly. With one exception every one in the room showed his
astonishment. That exception was Creel. The old recluse sat perfectly
unmoved, as though he had expected, had been prepared for the strange
denouement.



                               CHAPTER X
                          CONFLICTING THEORIES


Soon after the departure of Corporal Rand, Burnnel and Emery, the boys
sat in the big, cheerful room of Frischette’s road-house and discussed
the latest episode in the chain of mysterious events.

“I never expected to encounter anything like this,” Sandy was saying.
“Honestly, Dick, it gives me the shivers just to think about it. If I
were called upon to express an opinion, I’d say that the farther we get
into this case, the more muddled and difficult everything appears to be.
For one thing, whoever would have guessed that this sudden tragedy would
have overtaken Frischette. What is the reason for it? Do you really
believe the story about the suicide?”

“It sounds plausible, the way they tell it, but to be perfectly frank, I
think it’s a deliberate lie. Why should Frischette take his own life? It
would be rather difficult to supply a motive.”

“That’s what I think. But if he didn’t take his life, how—I mean, what
happened?”

“Simple enough. Burnnel and Emery met Frischette on the trail,
discovered that he had the poke and murdered him. Then, having committed
the crime, they became afraid. In order to save their own necks, they
devised a scheme so that it will appear that the Frenchman had taken his
own life. They probably arranged the body to bear out the story, placing
a revolver in Frischette’s hand. They emptied the poke, hid its
contents, and then came back here, intending, as they both openly
admitted, to get in touch with the police.”

“Well, that is a lot more plausible than the suicide story. Do you think
that Corporal Rand was taken in by it?”

“No; not in the least. They won’t be able to fool him for a minute. When
they return here tonight, I’ll be willing to wager every cent I have
that Burnnel and Emery are still under arrest.”

“I won’t take your bet,” said Sandy. “That’s my belief too.”

Imagine their surprise, therefore, less than four hours later, to
witness the return of Corporal Rand and to perceive that he was
unaccompanied. Burnnel and Emery were not with him. The horses which had
borne the two prospectors to the scene of the tragedy, trotted behind
the policeman’s horse at the end of a lead-rope, saddled but unmounted.

It seemed incredible to the boys that Rand, usually so careful and
cautious in matters of this kind, should permit the two miscreants to
slip out of his hands. It was not like him. What could be the reason for
it? They could hardly wait for the policeman to dismount.

“I found everything,” said Rand a few minutes later, “just as Burnnel
and Emery told us. It is unquestionably a case of suicide. Everything
pointed to it. The revolver gripped in Frischette’s hand, the position
of the body and the wound in his forehead. But what caused him to commit
such a rash act, is a problem which we may never solve.”

While the corporal was speaking, Dick could scarcely contain himself. On
two or three different occasions he started to interrupt the policeman.
At the very first opportunity he broke forth:

“Corporal Rand,” he began earnestly, “you have made your investigations
and, no doubt, are in a better position than we are to form an opinion.
But has it occurred to you that there is something unusually mysterious
about the whole affair. Sandy and I were talking it over just before you
came in. And no matter from what angle we look at it, we can draw but
one conclusion.”

“And what is that?” Rand was smiling.

“That Burnnel and Emery killed Frischette, afterward making it appear
that the road-house keeper took his own life.”

Corporal Rand moved over to where Dick stood and patted that young man
on the back good-naturedly.

“Splendid! You’ve both shown that you know how to use your heads. And
now, I’ll make an admission: That was exactly my own estimate of the
case up to a few hours ago. To use a well known expression, the thing
looked like a ‘frame-up,’ very carefully planned by Monsieurs Burnnel
and Emery. I could have sworn that they were guilty. I was absolutely
sure—as sure as I am that I’m standing here—that Frischette had not
committed suicide at all, but had been murdered. There was pretty strong
circumstantial evidence to bear out this belief. The two men had gone to
Creel to obtain the poke, and had secured it, only to lose it again
through your intervention.”

The corporal paused, clearing his throat.

“Then Frischette got it from you. Now, I ask you, what would be more
likely than that the two prospectors and Frischette should meet each
other, that Emery and Burnnel should learn that the Frenchman had come
into possession of the poke and eventually murder him in order to get
it. As I have said, that was the reasonable and logical deduction, and
you can imagine my astonishment to discover, almost beyond the shadow of
a doubt, that such a deduction was entirely wrong. Motive or no motive,
the Frenchman took his own life. I have proof of that.”

“What is your proof?” asked Sandy.

“Well, I made a search of the body and found something that both Burnnel
and Emery had overlooked, a note in the inner pocket of Frischette’s
coat. I know his handwriting and I am positive that the note is not a
forgery.”

“What did it say?” Dick asked breathlessly.

By way of answering, Corporal Rand produced a wallet and extracted from
it a small, soiled slip of paper, handing it over to the boys to read.
For a moment they found difficulty in deciphering the sprawling, almost
illegible script. But presently Dick read aloud:

  “To whom it may concern:

  “I, Louis Frischette, am about to kel myself because I am veery much
  desappoint. I write thes so no other man be acuse an’ put in jail for
  what I do.
                                 Signed:
                                                     “Louis Frischette.”

Dick’s hand shook as he handed the paper back to the policeman.

“I’m not convinced yet,” he declared.

“But here’s the evidence—the proof right here.” Rand patted the slip of
paper.

“It might be explained,” Dick pointed out.

“What!” The corporal looked startled.

“How do you know that Emery and Burnnel did not force Frischette to
write that note before they murdered him?”

Rand did a peculiar thing. He stared at Dick for a moment in absolute
silence, then turned without a word and walked back into the stable and
led out his horse. Not until he had sprung into the saddle did he trust
himself to speak.

“I’m going back. I ought to be jerked back there by the nape of my neck.
What have I been dreaming of? Dick, I’ll take off my hat to you. It’s a
fortunate thing that one of us, at least, has not been wholly deprived
of the faculty of sober reasoning.” He smiled grimly. “If this ever got
to Cameron’s ears, I’d be fined six months’ pay.”

“But I may be wrong,” Dick flushed at the other’s compliment.

“Right or wrong, we can’t afford to take any chances. In any event, I’m
going back before Emery and Burnnel slip out of my hands.”

And, in an incredibly short space of time, he was gone. A turn in the
woodland path shut him from view. But, even long after he had gone, Dick
and Sandy stood looking down the trail, across which laggard twilight
had flung its darkling banners. Sandy broke into an amused chuckle.

“That’s one on the corporal. He won’t be in a very pleasant frame of
mind for the remainder of the evening, will he?”

Dick scowled.

“You must remember, Sandy, that we all make mistakes. Rand’s oversight
is excusable. He’s been working on this case day and night for the last
six months. He’s tired out, and sometimes so sleepy that he can hardly
stick in the saddle.”

“Yes, that’s right.” The laugh died on the young Scotchman’s lips. “He’s
had a lot to contend with. And perhaps he hasn’t made a mistake after
all. Frischette may have committed suicide. The note might not have been
forced from him. Who can say?”

“Yes,” said Dick, “who can say? Why don’t you put on your thinking cap,
Sandy, and find a motive for Frischette’s act?”

“That’s a bargain. We’ll find the motive. We’ll go over the details
carefully in our minds and try to come to some conclusion.”

Sandy grinned. “And tomorrow morning we’ll compare notes.”

They were interrupted at this juncture by the appearance of Toma. They
could see at once, from that young man’s expression, that something
unusual had happened. His face, sober at all times, was unusually gray
and depressed. As he came forward quickly, he kept glancing from one to
the other interrogatively.

“Have you seen ’em fellow Creel?” he asked anxiously.

“Why, no, Toma,” Dick answered. “What makes you ask that?”

“Little while ago,” the young Indian enlightened them, “I think mebbe I
change bandage on that fellow’s head. I look everywhere. I no find.”

“Come to think about it,” Sandy made the assertion, “I haven’t seen him
myself since lunch.”

Toma’s face darkened.

“I ’fraid mebbe he run away.”



                               CHAPTER XI
                            FINDING A MOTIVE


The disappearance of Creel caused the boys a lot of worry. He had left
the road-house without a word to anyone and had slipped away without
being seen. It occurred to Dick to question Fontaine and Le Sueur, in
the hope that they might be able to throw some light on the matter. But
neither of the two young half-breeds could supply any information.

“He must have gone back to his cabin,” guessed Sandy. “He’s a queer old
duffer in some ways, and probably prefers to be alone. No doubt, we’ll
find him there.”

But such did not prove to be the case. Creel’s cabin was empty. When the
boys entered, the place was strangely silent and eerie. It was so dark
within, that at first they could see nothing. It was damp and musty, and
their footsteps echoed cheerlessly through the gloom.

“Strike a match,” said Dick, “and we’ll see if you can find a candle.
Although he isn’t here, I’d like to look around a bit.”

The boys fumbled in their pockets. No one had a match, apparently, but
finally Toma found a broken stub of one and a tiny glare flickered
through the room. In its light, Sandy discovered a short piece of candle
on a soap box near the fireplace and carried it triumphantly over to
Toma before the match sputtered out.

It was well that the boys had decided to look around before pursuing
their investigations further. The room was in complete disorder.
Confusion was everywhere. Toma, who had been the last person to leave it
on the previous day, was astonished at the change which had been brought
about there.

“What you think about that?” he exclaimed excitedly. “Yesterday, when I
leave this place, everything all right. Somebody him come an’ make
trouble here.”

“Creel must have come back,” Sandy decided. “I wonder where he went to
from here?”

“That seems hardly likely,” Dick spoke up. “Everything here belongs to
Creel and he wouldn’t be apt to throw things about like this. It isn’t
at all reasonable, Sandy. Even if he was planning to leave this place
for good, he wouldn’t do this thing, unless he had suddenly gone mad.”

“Yes, that’s right. Just look at things! It’s more reasonable to think
that someone came here with a grudge against Creel and proceeded to do
as much damage as possible.”

The boys spent a few more minutes in looking about. A tall cupboard, at
one end of the room, had been completely emptied. Its contents—parcels,
packages, cans of fruit and an occasional dish or granite plate—had been
swept to the floor. Chairs had been overturned. A small trap-door,
entering upon a tiny cellar below the rough, board floor, gaped open.
Looking at it, Dick came to a sudden conclusion.

“Do you know what I think?” he began hurriedly. “This isn’t a case of
wanton revenge. There’s a reason behind it all. In Creel’s absence some
person has been ransacking this place in the hope of finding something
of value.”

“You guess right that time,” Toma nodded. “That’s what it look like.
Somebody, not Creel, come here. Mebbe he look for box, where Creel keep
all his money.”

Sandy turned upon the young Indian.

“By the way, Toma, what became of that box, the night we left here and
you took Creel over to the road-house?”

“He take box with him.”

“Whoever came here,” reasoned Dick, “must have thought that Creel’s
treasure had been left behind.”

Sandy scratched his head.

“Look here, Dick, do you think it _was_ the box? Was it the money he
came after? Why not that mysterious poke?”

Dick slapped his chum on the back.

“You have it,” he exulted. “We’re getting closer now.”

“And the plot thickens,” grinned Sandy.

“A few more tangled threads,” Dick answered, smiling. “Perhaps we’d
better give up. This case is too deep and complicated for us. We haven’t
the ability to solve it.”

“I quite agree with you. Not one of us is a Sherlock Holmes or an expert
from Scotland Yard. We’re out of our natural element.”

“Just the same,” Dick’s enthusiasm was contagious, “we’ll have lots of
fun in trying to figure it all out.”

“What we do about Creel?” Toma wanted to know.

In their interest in the new development, Dick and Sandy had completely
forgotten about the old recluse until thus reminded. Where had he gone,
and what was his purpose in going?

“No use in trying to do anything more about him tonight,” Dick came to
the obvious conclusion. “It would be foolish to start out now to look
for him. We don’t know which way he has gone.”

“Perfectly true,” said Sandy. “He has given us the slip and, even in
broad daylight, we’ll probably have plenty of trouble in picking up his
trail. We’ve been careless. I dread to think of what Corporal Rand will
say, when he hears the news.”

Dick righted an overturned bench and sat down upon it.

“Let’s rest here for a moment and then go back to the road-house.”

Toma, who had been carrying the candle about in his hand, moved forward
and placed it upon the table. Sandy drew up a chair. A short silence
ensued. Outside they could hear the plaintive whispering of the pines,
the rustling of leaves near the open window.

Suddenly, Sandy sat up very straight on the bench, then leaned forward
eagerly, his merry blue eyes now serious.

“I’ve just had a real inspiration,” he announced. “Incidentally, I’ve
fulfilled my part of our agreement. I’ve found the motive for
Frischette’s suicide.”

“Tell us.”

Dick’s face lit in a half-smile. At the moment he did not take Sandy
seriously. He doubted very much whether Sandy would be able to advance
anything of value concerning the Frenchman’s untimely end. Yet he was
mildly curious to learn what the other had to say.

“What is your motive?”

“Before I tell you,” Sandy’s eyes were sparkling now, “I want to ask you
a question. Please comb that old wool of yours and help me out as much
as you can.”

“Fire away,” smiled Dick.

“The other night when we took the poke away from Burnnel and Emery, can
you remember what it felt like?”

Dick broke into a roar of laughter.

“Felt like? What do you mean, Sandy?”

“The poke, of course,” scowled the young Scotchman. “I’m perfectly
serious. It’s important. For nearly a minute you held that poke in your
hand. Didn’t you feel it? Didn’t you look at it? What were your
sensations?”

“Why, why—I was too excited at the time. I had it in my hand, of course.
I remember it sort of fitted nicely in my hand—a little, flat poke, made
of soft leather, that was somehow pleasant to the touch.”

In his excitement, Sandy rose to his feet.

“There! That’s what I’ve been driving at. Didn’t it occur to you at the
time that the poke was curiously light?”

“No, I can’t remember that it did. On the contrary. I have a sort of
hazy memory that, although the poke was somewhat flat, it did contain
something.”

Sandy sighed. “Well, if that’s the case, I guess my theory is already
exploded.”

“What were you trying to deduce?”

“You can have it for what it’s worth. You will recall that after Burnnel
and Emery had spurned the money-box, and had knocked Creel flat across
the threshold, they went inside and found the poke—the thing they had
come after. They weren’t inside that room more than a few moments. I
don’t believe they opened the poke inside the room, and I know they
didn’t open it outside. They were probably satisfied that it contained
what they had reason to believe it contained—I mean, weren’t
suspicious.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Well, it’s just a possibility, of course, yet it seems quite
reasonable. Anyway, for the sake of argument, we’ll say that Creel had
removed everything of value from the poke. Not suspecting this ruse,
Burnnel and Emery took the poke away with them. A few yards away from
the cabin they are confronted by Toma, and then we relieve them of that
mysterious poke. We have it in our possession only a short time.
Frischette snatches it away from you. Believing that he has a fortune in
his hands, he decides to make his escape, leaving Creel, his
confederate, in the lurch.”

Sandy paused for breath, smiled soberly, then went on again:

“Let us say that he puts the poke in his pocket and hurries along,
gloating over his good fortune. At first, he’s so busy endeavoring to
put distance between him and the rest of us, that he doesn’t find it
convenient to open the poke and examine its contents.

“After a time, he slackens his pace. He pulls the poke from his pocket,
opens it, and, to his horror, discovers that it is empty. What is he
going to do? He dare not turn back. He has no money. You will remember
that Frischette was a person of sudden moods and emotions. He was
violent in everything—violently happy or utterly dejected. He feels that
there is nothing to do but to take his own life. A few hours later,
Burnnel and Emery came along and find his body and the empty poke. Now,
what do you think of that for a theory?”

“Sandy,” said Dick, in tones of deep admiration, “you’ve done well.
Splendid! Very logical. I’ve almost begun to believe in your theory
myself.”

“The trouble is,” sighed Sandy, “it has one very weak point.”

“What is it?” questioned Dick.

“You said just a moment ago that you were under the impression that,
when you had the poke in your hand, it contained something; wasn’t quite
empty.”

“No,” remembered Dick, “it wasn’t.”

“So all my clever reasoning has been in vain.” Sandy looked despondent.
“The circumstances do not fit my theory.”

Another long silence.

“Let’s not discard your theory altogether,” said Dick at length.
“Perhaps I can help you out a little. Two minds are better than one, you
know. Permit me to offer a suggestion. From what you have said, I gather
that your inference is that Creel removed the contents of the poke.
Well, perhaps he did.”

“Yes, yes,” said Sandy. “Go on.”

“And made a substitution. Put something of no value, whatsoever, in the
poke. That will bolster up your theory.”

Sandy’s eyes gleamed.

“You’re right. If we keep at it, Dick, we’ll soon be as proficient as
the great Sherlock Holmes himself.”



                              CHAPTER XII
                         “RAT” MACGREGOR’S WIFE


Before the lunch hour on the following day, Corporal Rand and his two
prisoners returned to Frischette’s road-house, only to discover that
Creel and the three boys were gone. However, Fontaine had a letter,
which he pressed into the policeman’s hands. It was from Dick, a short
note, scrawled hastily over the discolored surface of a torn piece of
wrapping paper:

  “Dear Corporal:

  “Creel disappeared yesterday and we have set out this morning in an
  effort to find him. If our search is not successful, it is doubtful
  whether we will return to the road-house before tonight—and it may
  possibly be sometime tomorrow. Very sorry this had to happen.
                               “Sincerely,
                                                                 “Dick.”

Rand looked up, after perusing the short missive, and pursed his lips.
Then he made a swift calculation. If Dick and his two chums had
contrived to pick up Creel’s trail, and had travelled steadily in one
direction, they were not more than twenty or thirty miles away at that
precise moment. They were on foot, while he had the choice of three
tough, sturdy horses. It would be possible to overtake them and assist
in the search. He wondered if it would be advisable to leave Burnnel and
Emery locked up in a room at the road-house, awaiting his return.

He thought the matter over carefully. He hated to risk the chance of
losing his prisoners, yet it was very important that Creel should not
escape. The recluse, as the boys had ascertained a few days before, had
been associated with Frischette in a number of robberies, including that
of Dewberry.

Dewberry’s poke had been in the possession of Creel until the coming of
Burnnel and Emery. No doubt, Creel knew all about the murder as well. In
any case, he was too dangerous a character to be permitted to run at
large. The policeman roundly upbraided himself for his negligence in
failing to instruct the boys about keeping close watch over the man
during his own recent absence.

After much thinking, pro and con, the corporal came to a decision. He
would go. Fontaine would watch over the prisoners. Just as soon as he,
Rand, could feed and water his horse and get something to eat himself,
he would immediately take the trail south—for that undoubtedly was the
direction in which the wily old recluse had gone.

Having made his plans, the policeman proceeded to put them into
execution. He cared for his horse, had lunch, gave Fontaine final
instructions, and, just before starting out, locked Burnnel and Emery in
the room, which formerly had been the private chamber of the road-house
keeper himself. He led out his horse, saddled and bridled, and was in
the very act of mounting, when a sound came from the opposite side of
the road-house. It caused him to hesitate, one foot already in the
stirrup, then presently, with an exclamation of surprise, to withdraw
that foot and place it firmly on the ground again.

A half-breed woman, quite young, sitting gracefully on a pinto pony,
guided by a rope bridle, came around the corner of the house and drew
up, less than twenty feet from the spot where the corporal stood.

Seeing a woman there, was not what had interested Rand so much as the
fact that he had immediately recognized her. It was “Rat” MacGregor’s
wife!

If he had suddenly been brought face to face with her like this at any
other place except here, at Frischette’s road-house, he would have
thought nothing of it, would have continued about his business,
untroubled by a single suspicion.

But here it was different. What was the woman doing here? Surely it was
for no good purpose. Her coming had induced a perplexing train of
thought in the corporal’s mind, and had made necessary a complete
revision of his plans.

Shaking his head, he led his horse back into the stable and advanced to
question the woman. Removing his hat, he bowed politely.

“Madam is a long way from home,” he remarked. “May I ask which way you
are going?”

“Rat” MacGregor’s wife threw back her head haughtily.

“Police! Bah!” she sniffed.

“You have been released on probation,” the policeman reminded her, not
unkindly. “Inspector Cameron has asked you to remain at home. What are
you doing here?”

The woman sniffed again, but did not answer. She turned her back and
began fumbling with the cinches of the saddle.

“You will return home at once,” Rand instructed her, endeavoring to keep
his temper.

She turned her head and looked over her shoulder, her face set and
determined.

“Why you say where I go?” she broke forth passionately. “What business
you have tell me go home? I go, I stay where I like. First, you keel my
man, then you put me in jail, then you say I no go where I wish. Police
pretty big fool, eh?”

“Mrs. MacGregor,” declared the corporal patiently, “we have been more
than kind to you. We released you from jail and placed you on probation.
All that we have asked is that you remain at home and be good, attend to
your own affairs. If you will do that, we will not put you back in jail
again.”

“Bah!” snorted MacGregor’s wife, sticking out her tongue and defying
him.

“You must promise to go back,” said Rand. “You must be good. You must
not try to anger the police. If you will go back this afternoon, I will
not mention this matter to the inspector. He shall know nothing about it
and will not ask me to put you back in jail.”

For a moment the policeman believed that he had won his point. Her
manner changed suddenly.

“My horse he is very tired.”

“I will take him in the stable for you and give him something to eat. He
can rest there for a few hours and then you can start back.”

The corporal advanced, pushed her gently aside, loosened the cinches and
swung the saddle from the back of the pinto mare. As he did so,
MacGregor’s wife withdrew a few paces. The policeman had his back to
her, and, therefore, did not see the swift movement of her right hand
toward her blouse. But he did see, when next he chanced to turn his
head, the small revolver nestling in her hand—pointed straight at his
head.

“I didn’t think you’d do a thing like that,” declared Rand,
reproachfully. “You’ll only get yourself in more trouble. Put it down.”

“You keel my man,” the young barbarian declared spitefully. “Now I keel
you.”

“That’s your privilege,” answered the policeman, quite unmoved. “But if
you do, you’ll hang for it. Be reasonable, and put down that gun.”

“Rat” MacGregor’s wife possessed the black, beady eyes of a snake. They
were unrelenting, wicked, revengeful. Her staring gaze never left the
policeman’s face. Eight feet away—it would not be possible to leap
suddenly forward and disarm her. His best chance was to endeavor to get
his own gun.

But how could he get his gun, when she was watching him like that? He
knew that if he moved his hand a single inch, her weapon would explode
in his face. Hers was no idle threat. She really intended to kill him!

There was a chance, very remote, of course, that Fontaine or Le Sueur
might come to his assistance. Look out of the window. See him and the
woman there.

“Look here,” said Rand, fighting for time, “I think you are making a
very serious mistake. You’ll have to answer for it in the end. Inspector
Cameron will be sure to get you. You can’t possibly escape. While there
is still time, you’d better put down that gun.”

“If I do,” her eyes glinted, “will you promise not put me in jail?”

The corporal did not hesitate.

“A while ago I could have given you my promise. But not now. It is too
late, madam.”

The policeman was afraid that he had sounded his own death-knell. Well,
he had told the truth, anyway. He had not lied to her. He had not
stained his honor or violated the code. He wondered why he could feel so
calm with those eyes blazing at him and the knowledge that he was about
to die. Calm!—when he could see that the index finger of her right hand
was beginning to press slowly but determinedly against the trigger.

“Time’s up!” thought Corporal Rand.

And then—like the sound that comes out of a dream—the opening of a door.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            ON CREEL’S TRAIL


The search for Creel had taken the boys southward. They were not sure
that he had gone that way; it merely seemed the most likely direction.
He had taken the contents of his money-box and had decamped, leaving no
trail. Just before starting, they had found the empty chest in the room
which he had occupied.

Being a fugitive from justice, and with a considerable amount of money
in his possession, the natural deduction was that he was making his way
out to Edmonton. His chance of escaping was good. He had at least six
hours’ start. He was not known to be a criminal. Almost anywhere he
would have passed unchallenged. As yet, the police had had no
opportunity to telegraph ahead in an effort to secure his apprehension.

The boys had discussed his probable route, deciding that he would go by
way of Peace River Crossing. Boats of the Hudson’s Bay Company plied up
and down the river during the spring and summer months, and it was only
reasonable to suppose that he would secure passage on one of these,
ascend the river to Peace River Crossing, where he could purchase a
ticket to go by rail to Edmonton.

All this, of course, was mere conjecture. They had no real assurance
that it was the route that the old recluse would take. For all they
knew, he might still be in hiding somewhere in the vicinity of the
road-house. The only way to determine whether or not he was on his way
south, was to set out along the trail, making inquiries wherever
possible.

Dwellings were few and far between. Sixteen miles due south of
Frischette’s, they arrived at Meade’s Ferry, where there was a
road-house and small trading-post, conducted by Hampton Meade, a kindly
veteran of the North. Here Fortune befriended them. They learned that
their assumption had been correct. Creel had spent the night there.

“And he left early this morning,” Meade’s son, a handsome young man of
about Dick’s own age, informed them. “Queer old beggar, isn’t he?”

Dick nodded.

“Did he leave here on foot?”

“Yes.”

Dick considered for a moment thoughtfully.

“Would it be possible to obtain a horse or two? Are there any here? We
had our own ponies when we arrived at Frischette’s stopping-place. We
turned them out to graze and they have disappeared. If you have any, I
will pay you handsomely.”

“There are two ponies,” answered the young man,“—one of them mine, the
other, father’s. You may have the use of them.”

The boys were overjoyed at this unexpected stroke of luck. It would be
necessary, of course, for one of them to remain at Meade’s, while the
other two went on after Creel. They drew straws. It fell to Sandy’s lot
to wait at the road-house until his two chums returned.

“I don’t expect we’ll be away very long,” declared Dick a short time
later, as he and Toma mounted the two borrowed steeds. “We ought to be
back before night.”

Creel had a few hours start of them, but he was walking. With light
hearts, feeling confident of success, the boys cantered away. Soon the
miles wound away behind them. They pressed their ponies forward, urging
them to their greatest speed. Time passed quickly. They had now begun to
scan the trail ahead, in the expectation of seeing the queer, shambling
figure of the old recluse. They galloped past a party of Indians, then
two prospectors, trudging along, weighted down by heavy shoulder-packs,
and finally drew up at a wayside cabin, inhabited by a half-breed
trapper. Dick questioned him:

“Did an old man stop here not so very long ago? Walked with a stoop,
face covered with a heavy beard, hair straggling in his eyes. Did you
see him?”

“_Oui_, m’sieur. I see him two, three hour ago. Him ver’ fine fellow.
Plenty money. I have nice horse. He buy et.”

Dick had not expected this. The news had come as a shock. He blinked.

“Rotten luck!” he exclaimed irritably.

“What you say, m’sieur?”

Dick did not answer. He was making a rough calculation. They had already
come fifteen or sixteen miles at top speed. No longer were their ponies
fresh. Creel had the advantage. It would be absolutely impossible to
overtake him now. Apparently, Toma held the same opinion.

“No use go on now,” he declared grimly.

Dick turned to the half-breed.

“You haven’t any more fresh horses?”

The half-breed looked surprised.

“Know where we can get any?” Dick persisted.

“Not many ponies ’round here,” explained the trapper. “Why you no like
those pony there?”

“Tired out,” answered Dick. “And we want to go fast.”

He relaxed in the saddle, and just then an idea came to him.

“How far is it from here to Fort Wonderly?”

“’Bout twelve mile.”

Dick thanked the half-breed, motioned to Toma, and they set off again.

“Well,” announced Dick, “we’re going over to the fort.”

“Why you go there?” Toma stared blankly. “Fort Wonderly off trail. Creel
him no go that way. I no understand why you do that.”

“I’ll tell you, Toma,” Dick spoke despondently. “We haven’t a chance now
to overtake Creel. But at Fort Wonderly there’s a government telegraph
office, and I’ll give a message to the operator, warning everybody along
the route. There is another detachment of the mounted police at Peace
River Crossing, and they’ll send out a man to intercept him.”

So it was late that night when Dick and Toma returned to Meade’s Ferry
and reported the outcome of their journey.

“It’s too bad,” Sandy commented, “I was sure that when you got back
you’d have Creel with you. But you showed a lot of good sense when you
sent that message. If Creel manages to slip through the police lines
farther south, he’ll be a wizard.”

“I’ve been thinking about Creel all day,” said Dick. “I’ve been blaming
myself continually for my negligence. We should never have permitted him
to escape. I’m positive now that your theory is correct, and that he’s
going south, not only with the money that was in that box, but the
contents of Dewberry’s poke as well. I really believe that if we had our
hands upon him now, and searched him, we’d find everything.”

“No doubt, you’re right. Well, I suppose there’s only one thing to do
now: Return to Frischette’s road-house. Corporal Rand must be back by
now. He’ll know what to do next.”

The two boys were joined later by Toma, Meade and his son. The
free-trader, a tall, imposing figure, complacently smoked a pipe and now
and again engaged the boys in conversation.

“I understand that you’ve come from Fort Good Faith,” he said.

“Well, not exactly,” Dick replied. “We live there. Factor MacClaren is
Sandy’s uncle; but for the last few days we’ve been stopping at
Frischette’s roadhouse.”

Meade’s clear blue eyes shadowed.

“Friend of his?”

“Not exactly,” answered Dick evasively.

“Queer character,” commented Meade.

“He’s dead,” said Sandy.

“Dead!” The free-trader straightened in his chair, removed the pipe from
his mouth and stared. “What happened to _him_?”

“Took his own life.”

Meade received this information with a slight raising of his eyebrows.

“Queer! That road-house will soon have an evil name. First Dewberry and
now Frischette.”

For a time conversation languished. Everyone seemed to be occupied with
his own thoughts.

“I was interested in the Dewberry case,” Meade finally broke the
silence. “You see, I knew him; knew him better probably than most folks.
Sort of unusual fellow, Dewberry was. One of the quietest, queerest men
I have ever met.”

Dick locked across at Meade sharply.

“Not very many people really knew Dewberry,” he stated.

“I knew him,” said Meade, “and I was sorry to hear of his death.”

“Where do you suppose Dewberry was going?” Sandy spoke up. “I mean just
before the tragedy. No one seems to know.”

Meade smiled. “There’s no secret there. Dewberry often passed along the
trail, and sometimes remained here for several days at a time. He was a
queer duffer. But once you got to know him, his eccentricities passed
unnoticed. Not many folks knew it, but Dewberry’s time was divided
between this country and Peace River Crossing. Usually, about six months
of the year, he lived at the Crossing. He owns property there. Has a
little house, overlooking the Hart River, and for weeks at a time he’d
shut himself up in it. A lot of folks couldn’t understand why he chose
to do that. Neither could I, until one time, when I happened to be in
Peace River Crossing, I met him on the street.”

For a time Meade lapsed into silence, gazing reminiscently away in the
direction of the river.

“He invited me up to the house,” he continued. “Tidy little place, I
found it. Nicely furnished. Piano, violin, books. Books!—there were rows
upon rows of books. Special bindings, shelf upon shelf, I tell you, and
strange old volumes, musty with age. He loved them. That’s where he
spent most of his time. Read from morning ’til night, and when he wasn’t
reading, he was fiddling away on the violin or thumping on that piano. I
stayed there two days, and I want to tell you that I’ve never enjoyed
anything more. His company. His talk about the books. The music he made
on that piano.”

“Too bad he’s gone,” said Sandy.

The free-trader nodded.

“He was reputed to be very wealthy,” said Dick.

“I guess that is true,” Meade answered thoughtfully. “You see, he was
one of the best prospectors that ever came into the North. There are
some folks who say that his luck was phenomenal. At any rate, he had no
occasion to worry. In recent years, it was more for the love and
excitement he got out of the game than the necessity of making more
money that induced him to take those long, lonely treks out there in the
foothills.”

“After what you have told us about him,” puzzled Sandy, “there is one
thing rather difficult to understand. Why did a person of his
intelligence carry so much wealth about his person.”

“I don’t think he did,” declared Meade.

“If that is so,” persisted Sandy, “why did they follow him and plan the
robbery and murder at Frischette’s?”

“Well, there is no doubt that he had a considerable amount of money and
gold with him, but no more, probably, than the average prospector. I am
positive that he didn’t carry his entire wealth with him. ‘Rat’
MacGregor, or whoever it was that committed the robbery, merely
suspected that such was the case.”

Sandy abandoned the issue. Yet neither he nor Dick was convinced. There
was that tell-tale poke.

As they sat there, watching the shadows steal out from the darkening
woodland beyond, they were presently made aware of a newcomer.

An Indian pony, a pinto mare, left the turn of the trail near the fringe
of trees, bordering the river, and came slowly forward. A woman sat
astride the pony—a young woman, unmistakably an Indian or half-breed.
Meade rose as she reined up in front of the cabin and slowly dismounted.
The boys were not particularly interested. They had never seen the woman
before.

“Who is that?” Sandy inquired listlessly.

Both boys started at the unexpected answer.

“Heaven help me,” growled Meade, “if it isn’t ‘Rat’ MacGregor’s wife!”



                              CHAPTER XIV
                         A MEETING IN THE WOODS


Scarcely had the boys recovered from their astonishment, when they were
treated to a still greater and more breath-taking surprise. Meade’s son
was the first to draw their attention. In their interest in the
newcomer, they had entirely overlooked the approach of two others.

These two were Burnnel and Emery. They rode up to the accompanying
thump, thump, thump of three wildly beating hearts. Astride two horses!
Stolen horses! In his agitation, Dick rose and gripped the back of his
chair. He recognized the wiry little ponies, and rubbed his eyes. Less
than twenty-four hours before he had ridden one of them himself. The
other belonged to Sandy.

In truth, Dick had become so excited that for the next few moments he
was barely aware of what was taking place. He was confused and
befuddled. He saw Sandy and Toma shoot to their feet in sudden dismay
and shrink back toward the open doorway. Not knowing that anything was
wrong, Meade and his son had gone forward to bid the new arrivals a
hearty welcome. And it was probably well that they did, for it gave the
three boys time to slip within the log building, hurriedly cross the
room and pass out of the door at the opposite side.

All three were trembling with excitement. Below his shock of bright
yellow hair, Sandy’s forehead was ashen. The boys hoped that they had
not been recognized. Undoubtedly, while making their approach, Burnnel
and Emery had seen them, but Dick recalled that in the position in which
they sat out there on the front porch, they had been hid somewhat by the
figures of Meade and his son.

The coming of the two malevolent prospectors had placed them in a rather
awkward, if not dangerous position. It would be impossible for them to
remain at the road-house while the partners were there. Burnnel and
Emery had not forgotten the encounter of two days before in front of
Creel’s cabin. No doubt, they would take a great deal of pleasure in
evening the score. Both were remorseless, savage, vindictive. Neither
would hesitate for a moment to take any advantage offered, any
opportunity for reprisal.

“No, it will never do for us to remain,” Sandy trembled. “You and Toma
can stay here if you like, Dick—not I. If we stay here, we’ll be
compelled to fight it out.”

“I willing fight,” Toma announced darkly.

“It wouldn’t be fair to Meade,” Dick objected. “There’s sure to be
trouble. Anyway, there’s nothing to be gained by remaining here.”

“The thing to do,” said Sandy emphatically, “is to get out—go somewhere
and make camp for the night. Either that, or start back at once for
Frischette’s road-house, which we had planned to do tomorrow anyway.
I’ll repeat that I don’t care to show my face around here—at least, not
until Burnnel and Emery have gone.”

They were standing just outside the door on the side of the cabin
opposite to the one, where they had previously been sitting talking to
the free-trader and his son. They were safe from detection here only for
a few moments. As soon as Burnnel and Emery and “Rat” MacGregor’s wife
put up their horses, they would enter the cabin. Then the boys would be
seen, for not only the door but one window overlooked the space there on
the west side of the house, where they were now standing.

Toma pointed to a line of brush two or three hundred yards away, and
they proceeded hurriedly toward it. In leaving thus surreptitiously,
they had been forced to abandon part of their equipment—their rifles and
shoulder-packs, and a small roll of Hudson’s Bay blankets.

“What will Meade think?” Dick inquired anxiously, as they plunged into
the dense thicket and commenced picking their way ahead. “He won’t
understand our sudden disappearance. I’m afraid he’ll be anxious about
us.”

“Worse than that,” Sandy struck out at a branch directly in front of him
before taking his next step. “He’ll be sure to give us away. Emery and
Burnnel, if they don’t know it already, will learn from him that we were
at the road-house when they arrived.”

“It can’t be helped. I don’t think they’ll follow us.”

“What beats me,” Sandy stopped altogether and turned to face his two
companions soberly, “is how they managed to get away from Corporal Rand.
You don’t suppose he turned them loose again, do you?”

“It seems hardly likely, yet—” Dick paused.

“Yet they’re here,” the young Scotchman finished the sentence for him.
“Either they escaped, or he gave them their freedom. If he gave them
their freedom, Rand has proved to his own satisfaction that Frischette
really committed suicide. Then, of course, he wouldn’t have any reason
for detaining them any longer.”

“Perfectly true. But that doesn’t explain about the ponies. Rand may be
kind-hearted and all that, yet he wouldn’t deliberately lend them the
ponies, would he? We need them ourselves.”

“They might have stolen the ponies,” reasoned Sandy.

“That seems more probable.”

“Well, what we do now?” Toma had grown impatient. “I think it be foolish
to stay here in brush all night. Better we start right back an’ see if
we find ’em Corporal Rand.”

“But suppose the corporal didn’t release Burnnel and Emery?” Dick asked
perplexed. “We’d be foolish to run away then. The least we could do,
would be to keep in sight of them. Remember, Creel has already escaped.”

In exasperation, Sandy strode over to a fallen tree trunk and sat down,
moping his perspiring forehead with short, angry jabs, a scowl on his
face.

“O pshaw! What’s the use? Everything’s turning out all wrong. We’re
getting deeper and deeper and deeper into trouble every minute. I’m
through! I’ll never become a policeman or a good detective—I know I
won’t. I’m growing tired of all this, Dick. It’s wearing on my nerves.
It is, I tell you.”

Dick and Toma both laughed.

“Nonsense, Sandy! This is a game of wits. I like it.” Dick made a
comical gesture with his hands. “All you have to do is to out-guess the
other fellow. We’ll win in the end. We’re bound to.”

“Oh, is that so. A guessing contest!” The other’s tones were deeply
sarcastic. “Well, if that’s the case, we’re at the losing end right now.
How many of your guesses have been correct?”

Boy-fashion, Dick strode over and placed a hand on his chum’s indignant
shoulder.

“Forget it, Sandy. This isn’t a bit like you. Come on!”

“Come on where?”

Thus put to it, Dick found himself in somewhat of a predicament. The
question required an answer.

“Why—why—well—” he began. “You see, Sandy—”

“It’s a contest,” Sandy reminded him scornfully. “All you have to do is
to outwit the other fellow. You like it. Now tell me, please, what is
your guess?”

Dick flushed, but contrived to keep his temper.

“I haven’t quite decided yet. There are two courses open to us. We can
stay here and keep an eye on Burnnel and Emery, or go back to meet
Corporal Rand.”

In such a mood, Sandy got a good deal of enjoyment in tantalizing his
friend.

“All right. I’m waiting. Why don’t you guess?”

Dick looked about him in desperation. Then gradually out of his
perplexity there sprang a solution to his difficulty. It came like the
sudden glimmer of inspiration.

“We’ll have to do both,” he stated positively.

“How?”

“Separate.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“One of us can go back to meet Corporal Rand, the other two remain here
to watch Burnnel and Emery.”

Sandy rose from his place on the fallen tree, grinning a little
sheepishly.

“Now you’re talking. Why didn’t you think of that before? Which one of
us will go to meet the corporal?”

“You can go if you like, Sandy,” said Dick with great magnanimity.

“No, no; I wasn’t thinking about that. You’d better go, Dick. You’re the
one that thought of it.”

Dick shook his head.

“I think I’d rather stay here, if you don’t mind.”

“Just as you say.”

Sandy was really pleased.

“It’s a bargain, then, unless Toma—”

“I like stay here, too,” declared Toma.

The three boys were grouped together, facing each other. For the time
being, they were off guard. Not that they had felt at any time during
the past few moments that danger really threatened them. Although still
fairly close to Meade’s road-house, they weren’t troubled about Burnnel
and Emery just then. Even if the two prospectors had seen them when they
rode up, it was extremely unlikely that they would attempt anything
until they had fully rested. Immediate pursuit was a thing that had not
entered the boys’ calculations, and yet—

Dick’s first intimation of an attack, or even of the presence of an
enemy, came when he beheld Toma—apparently for no reason at all—leap
straight back, like a deer surprised in its forest haunt, and plunge
headlong into a willow thicket. Sandy’s behavior was equally puzzling.
Sandy sat down. He sat down on the seat he had just vacated and stared
wildly past Dick, both eyes and mouth open wide. Whirling about, Dick
blinked and caught his breath. A familiar pair confronted him.

“Don’t move,” said a heavy voice. “We got yuh!”



                               CHAPTER XV
                         A DESERTED ROAD-HOUSE


Frischette’s road-house was quiet. A casual passer-by, threading his way
along the shadowy forest trail, a trail arched by the branches of tall
poplar trees, might have thought that the place was deserted. There was
no sign of life anywhere, although a door and several windows stood
partially open. A young Indian, who approached the familiar landmark,
was struck by an overwhelming feeling of presentiment.

The morning was well advanced and yet there was no evidence of life
here. No smoke issued from the tall mud-chimney, which rose like a bleak
sentinel at one side of the building. Sitting on the projecting end of
the center ridge-pole, a hawk basked in the sun. Intense quiet reigned,
a funereal silence, that was broken only by the faint rustling of the
leaves and the nervous stirring of the tall grass, which encroached up
to the door of the cabin itself.

Toma rubbed one hand across his brow wearily. For four hours he had
walked steadily with this place as his objective, and in the hope of
finding his friend, the mounted police corporal. He knew that Rand ought
to be here. That had been their agreement, the understanding between the
policeman and the three boys.

When he had approached to within thirty or forty yards of the house,
Toma’s spirits fell. He was sure now that the road-house was untenanted.
No occupied dwelling, he reasoned, could be wrapped so deeply in that
tragic, sombre silence. The door stood invitingly open, yet Toma knew
before entering that no person recently had left it thus. He paused on
the threshold, staring into the room. It seemed to mock him. Except for
the few bare furnishings, it was entirely empty. With a quaking heart
and a trembling step, he passed through the main front room to the
kitchen at the back.

No one was about. In the kitchen there had been stacked up, on a long
work-table opposite the stove, a pile of dirty, unwashed dishes. He
glanced at them casually, then passed on out of the back door and made
his way over to the stable. Like the cabin, the stable was unoccupied.
Disconsolately, Toma walked over and, climbing up, sat down on the top
rail of the six-foot-high corral fence.

He didn’t know what to make of it all. The absence of Corporal Rand
might, of course, be accounted for. But what about Fontaine and Le
Sueur, his two friends? Since the death of Frischette, these two last
named young men had taken over the management of the road-house. They
had entered upon their duties with a good deal of enthusiasm, and it
seemed unusual that they should both be away now, neglecting their
business.

It was true, of course, that summer visitors were few. The bulk of
Frischette’s trade had come during the early fall and winter and just
before the spring break-up. However, even if there were no guests at the
road-house, there was always the chance that one might come—an
occasional straggler—and it was not reasonable to suppose that both
Fontaine and Le Sueur would leave the place for any length of time.

Yet, that was exactly what they had done. They were neglecting their
business. Toma scowled at the ground, and one moccasined foot beat an
impatient tattoo along the surface of the rail beneath him. He decided
after a time that, low on supplies, they had gone over to Fort Good
Faith to replenish their larder. But the absence of Rand was not so
easily explained, unless he was out searching for Burnnel and Emery.

Shaking his head, Toma hopped down off the corral fence and strode back
in the direction of the house. This time he had a purpose in mind. He
would enter the kitchen and prepare himself a belated breakfast. He had
not eaten since early the night before and was tremendously hungry. He
entered the kitchen, kindled a fire in the large iron cook stove and
methodically set about his task.

In the middle of his preparations he paused, pricking up his ears. Had
he heard something—a slight scraping sound? He stood perfectly still,
listening patiently. Then, as the sound was not repeated, he decided
that he had been mistaken. He returned to his task, and in a short time
breakfast was ready. He set a place for himself on the table in the
adjoining room, and was returning to the kitchen for his rasher of bacon
and pot of coffee, when he heard the sound again.

This time there was no doubt in his mind. He had heard aright. The sound
issued from the room which had formerly been used by Frischette for his
office and private sleeping apartment. It was the only room in the house
that he had not explored. He bounded quickly forward, seizing the knob
of the door. He bent his weight against it.

He stood back, scratching his head in perplexity. It was locked.
Something or someone was inside there. He called out softly. But,
although he imagined he heard the faint, scraping sound again, no voice
answered him.

Toma was not long in deciding upon his course of action. He hurried into
the kitchen, passed through the door at the back, picked up a small log,
about four feet in length and six inches in diameter and, returning with
it, he applied himself to the door.

At the first blow from his heavy battering-ram, the lock gave way. A
splintering and cracking of wood, and the door swung back. Looking
inside, Toma dropped his battering-ram.

Closest to the door, lay Rand, gagged, bound hand and foot. A few feet
farther on, sprawled the youthful figures of his two friends, Fontaine
and Le Sueur.

Following a little gasp of amazement, Toma strode into the room.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                                TRAPPED!


Burnnel and Emery had appeared so unexpectedly before the boys, opposite
Meade’s road-house, that resistance was useless. Dick and Sandy had no
chance, whatever, to raise a hand in their defense. Of the three, Toma
had been the only one at all fortunate. His sudden leap backward into
the brush made possible his escape, but Dick and Sandy were powerless.
The young Scotchman, shrinking with terror, still sat on the fallen
tree, while Dick, no less overcome with fear, stood motionless, as the
two men drew closer, flourishing their guns. Emery’s face was malignant
but triumphant.

“So you thought you’d bust into our little game, eh?” he snarled, as he
relieved Dick and Sandy of their revolvers. “Yuh thought yuh was pretty
smart back there at Creel’s a few days ago, didn’t yuh? Well, yuh can
pay fer that now. Time we get through with yuh, yuh won’t be so willin’
to meddle in somebody else’s business.”

Dick found his voice.

“We didn’t harm you.”

Emery’s scowl darkened. He was on the point of making some sarcastic
reply, but Burnnel cut in sharply:

“Save your gab, both o’ yuh. Too bad that other feller got away.”

Dick hoped that their captors would take them back to Meade’s
road-house. It would be the best thing for him and Sandy. Their chance
of getting away would be better. They would feel safer there. Meade, no
doubt, would interfere and gain their release.

Sandy had sunk into deep and utter dejection. He recalled, with little
shivers of apprehension, the treatment which had been meted out to Creel
a few days before. He was not buoyed up by any false hopes. He could see
in Burnnel and Emery’s actions only an effort at reprisal—revenge for
their previous humiliation. Unlike Dick, he did not believe that they
would be taken back to Meade’s road-house. In fact, such a thought had
never entered his mind. The partners were too shrewd for that. No, he
and Dick would be mistreated and tortured merely to satisfy their
craving for revenge. Besides, it would not suit Burnnel and Emery’s
purpose to be encumbered with two prisoners. They had other business to
attend to.

And, in a way, Sandy was right. Shortly after the boys had been relieved
of their guns, Burnnel straightened up, his mouth twisted in a venomous
leer.

“Turn out your pockets,” he ordered.

The boys obeyed hastily, their hands nervous and trembling. Emery stood
over them, watching like a hawk, seizing from one or the other the
miscellaneous assortment of things that were brought to light. Dick, who
had acted as treasurer for the three boys, was relieved of a roll of
bills and a handful of silver. Burnnel’s eyes lighted with satisfaction
at sight of the money, but his partner only grunted. Soon the boys had
completed their task. Their pockets had all been emptied.

“Where’s the poke?”

Dick stared incredulously.

“Poke? Why—why—what do you mean?”

“Don’t yuh try tuh look so blame’ innocent. Yuh got it, one o’ yuh.”

“Look here,” said Dick hotly, “you know where that poke is—in Corporal
Rand’s possession. You had it yourself on two different occasions. Why
didn’t you keep it?”

Burnnel advanced threateningly.

“Enough o’ that! Yuh know what I mean, a’ right. We want what was in
that poke an’ we want it quick.”

“But see here,” protested Dick, “we haven’t anything. I tell you, we
haven’t. We don’t even know what was in the poke in the first place.”

Burnnel and Emery exchanged glances. Then, indignantly, the little man
addressed the other:

“There, what’d I tell yuh. It’s plain they ain’t got it. I was right.
It’s Creel!”

The huge bulk of Burnnel stood like a statue. Since questioning Dick, he
had not moved, except to turn his head in his partner’s direction. Now
his chin was bent forward, resting upon his expansive, barrel-like
chest. To all appearances, his partner’s assertion had given him food
for thought, required deliberate and careful consideration. In a moment
he raised his eyes again, glancing at Emery. With the fingers of one
hand he scratched the stubble on his pocked, scarred face.

“How do yuh know that? You’re jus’ guessin’. I’d as soon think these
boys had it as Creel. Fact is, it’s a hull lot more likely. How do we
know that this here young tomcat didn’t empty the poke t’other night
right after we left an’ afore Frischette comes along an’ grabs it?”

Emery darted a quick, insolent, sarcastic glance at his huge
confederate.

“I don’t believe it. Creel’s the one what’s fooled us. Fooled us in the
first place there at his cabin. It’s all your fault, too. Yuh never
looked in that poke. An easy mark you are,” he declared scornfully,
“lettin’ him put it over yuh like that.”

Burnnel snarled like a bear in a trap. Emery perceived that he had gone
too far. His next words were placating, almost a whine.

“Now look o’ here, Bob, yuh don’t need to get huffy. I think you’re
wrong an’ I’m goin’ to stick to it. The only reason I said I’d come over
here tuh question these brats was all on your account. I wanted yuh to
be satisfied, tuh see fer yourself. We’re jus’ wastin’ time. The thing
tuh do is tuh go back, pick up that blame’ squaw an’ see if we can’t run
that worthless ol’ rat tuh earth.”

Burnnel hated to admit that he was in the wrong, and in order to cover
his chagrin and disappointment, he flew into a violent rage and for a
period of nearly two minutes cursed wildly and furiously. As he did so,
he paced back and forth, huge fists clinched, swinging his arms
violently. With a final snarl, he cuffed Dick across the head, sending
the young man reeling back dizzily. His large moccasined foot, swinging
up, brushed Sandy’s thigh. Then he seized Emery by the shoulder.

“Come on! Let’s get out o’ here!”

The little man’s head jerked back with a snap. He, too, became furious.
They were still cursing and storming at each other as they disappeared
from view.

The boys could scarcely believe their good fortune. They had not
expected to escape from the encounter with so little injury. They had
not even been taken prisoners. Their only loss had been that of their
money and their revolvers—a thing which troubled them little. Meade,
Dick was quite certain, would willingly help them out, as soon as they
explained their predicament.

Of course, they couldn’t go back to the road-house until Burnnel, Emery
and the woman had taken their leave. Tonight they must remain in the
woods, sleeping out under the trees. Also they must find Toma.

Through the blue, enveloping twilight, they wandered hither and thither,
calling out his name. For hours they searched in vain. In response to
their repeated halloos, no cheery answer came. The deep silence drew in
around them.

“He’s gone for help,” Sandy decided, flinging himself down on a soft
carpet of moss and pine-needles, and looking up anxiously into Dick’s
face.

His chum sighed wearily.

“Yes, he must have gone back to Frischette’s in the hope of meeting
Rand. But you may depend upon it, he’ll give a good account of himself.”

“Toma’s a trump,” said Sandy, closing his eyes and speaking drowsily. “I
couldn’t help but admire the way he leaped for that thicket at the first
sound from Burnnel and Emery. He’s quicker than we are. Pretty hard to
catch him off guard.”

“And yet,” answered Dick, “I can’t understand why he didn’t linger in
the vicinity. That would have been more like him. Waiting and watching
for a chance to get the drop on them, and then rescuing us. Just
thrilling enough to suit him. Funny he didn’t do it.”

Sandy sat up, smiling.

“I think he left his gun behind—over there at Meade’s. I’ll bet he was
provoked. He must have decided that the best thing to do was to hurry
back to Frischette’s and rush Corporal Rand to our assistance.”

Although the days were warm, the nights were invariably cool. It would
not be pleasant to sleep out without blankets. Nor was it possible to
start a fire. Every article they possessed, including a box of matches,
had been taken by the two outlaws.

They slept but ill. Mosquitos buzzed about them in swarms. They kept up
an incessant fight with these vicious pests, shivering on their bed of
moss, waking every few minutes to wonder if morning would never come.

Somewhere around three o’clock, they rose and made their way back in the
direction of the road-house. It was too early yet to think about
disturbing any of its occupants. Burnnel and Emery would still be there,
and they had no wish to meet them again. Hungry as they were, and
sleepy, they realized that it would not be advisable to approach the
cabin until after the outlaws had departed.

“When we get something to eat, and borrow a rifle or two from Meade,”
said Dick, “I suppose we’ll have to trail on after them.”

Sandy glanced at Dick sharply.

“But don’t you think we ought to wait for Toma and Corporal Rand?”

“If we do, we’ll be apt to lose trace of them, just as we lost trace of
Creel. You must remember that we’ll have to follow them on foot. They
have horses.”

Sandy said no more, lapsing into a moody silence. The mosquitos
continued to buzz around their heads. But no longer was it cool. The
sun, an hour high, shed its warm rays to every part of the land. The
moisture, caused by the dew, was soon evaporated. Day had commenced.

Yet they waited a long time before they were rewarded for their
patience. Smoke curled upward from the rough mud-chimney at the
road-house. Now and again, they could see someone walking about outside.
Another long wait, and they breathed a sigh of relief. Three mounted
ponies came out around one end of the cabin and headed down the trail. A
few minutes more, and they were out of sight.

“Thank goodness!” Sandy breathed thankfully, parting the screen of brush
in front of him and stepping out into the open. “I thought they’d never
go. Come on, Dick—breakfast!”

Dick hurried after Sandy, and it was not long before they pushed open
the door of the cabin and entered. Meade was there, and at sight of
them, sprang to his feet. He came forward quickly.

“Where in the name of Old Harry have you boys been? We missed you last
night; looked everywhere. I wondered if you hadn’t gone suddenly crazy.”

“We didn’t want to meet Burnnel and Emery,” explained Sandy.

“You mean those two men, who stopped here last night?”

“Yes.”

Meade whistled. “Why not?”

Stammering out something, Sandy looked at Dick. His chum returned the
gaze, then stared straight into the eyes of the pleasant-faced free
trader.

“Well, I guess it won’t do any harm to tell you. Those two men, who
stopped here last night, are in some way implicated in the Dewberry
case. Corporal Rand went out with them yesterday to the place where
Frischette was found. They were under police surveillance. Apparently,
they have escaped. Those two ponies that they were riding belong to us.
We had met Burnnel and Emery before and thought there might be trouble
if they saw us. So we left.”

“And it was a good thing we did,” Sandy cut in. “As it was, they
followed us, shortly after their arrival here, and came upon us
unexpectedly. They took our revolvers and all the money we had. Toma
escaped. Then they came back here.”

“And you’ve been out there in the woods all night?” Meade inquired
softly.

“Yes, we have, Mr. Meade,” replied Dick, “and we’re mighty tired and
hungry.”



                              CHAPTER XVII
                          A POLICEMAN’S HORSE


Toma had never seen Corporal Rand in a rage before. The corporal’s face
was flushed with anger and his expressive blue eyes snapped. As yet the
young Indian had received no explanation of how the policeman and his
two friends had been made prisoners. He had been too busy to question
them. Besides they had been in no condition to talk. The first
intelligible word from any of them had been:

“Water!”

None of the three could stand. Locked in that hot stifling room, their
suffering had been terrible. For more than an hour Toma had administered
to them, chafing their limbs, bringing them water, making them more
comfortable. After that, he had been compelled to hurry back to the
kitchen to prepare a meal for them. Cared for in this fashion, their
recovery had been rapid. Soon all, except Le Sueur, were able to stand
and to limp about the room.

It was then that Toma noticed the policeman’s anger. His lips were
pressed together tightly, his hands were clinched. The nails of his
fingers dug into his palms.

“How it happen you get tie up in that room?” Toma asked, his sober dark
eyes gravely regarding the policeman.

“Burnnel and Emery.” The answer came short and terse, with no attempt at
elaboration.

“How they do that?”

“I had them locked up here,” Rand pointed to the room, “when that woman
came.” He paused, while a slow flush of shame mounted to his bronzed
forehead. “It was she, MacGregor’s wife, who did it, Toma. Came riding
into the corral, just as I was preparing to start. I led my horse back
into the stable and went over to question her. You see,” Rand explained,
“I knew her—‘Rat’ MacGregor’s wife. Wondered why she had come here,
Toma. Surmised, of course, that she was up to some mischief. But I was
wholly unprepared for her treachery.”

The corporal paused again and the flush deepened.

“What she do?” inquired Toma.

The policeman’s mouth set in a straight hard line.

“Pulled a gun on me without warning and without provocation. I didn’t
have a chance. I knew she’d use it. Fontaine and Le Sueur came out of
the house and she got the drop on them too. Marched us back to the
road-house and forced us to release Emery and Burnnel.

“As soon as Emery and Burnnel were released, they took charge. We were
thrown into the room, bound, gagged, and the door was locked.”

The corporal paused again, moistening his dry lips.

“But that isn’t all, Toma. I have still to tell you about—about
Inverness. My horse! In my position, lying on the floor, I had a view
through the window, and those fiends,” Corporal Rand choked, “brought
Inverness around and shot him before my very eyes. After that I saw them
drag him away. They came back again and I caught a glimpse of them as
they rode off: Burnnel astride Sandy’s horse, and Emery riding Dick’s,
the woman bringing up the rear on her own pony.”

Toma’s face had grown dark with suppressed emotion.

“Bad thing they shoot your horse, corporal.”

The deep lines about the policeman’s mouth tightened. The pupils of his
eyes were like two steel points, hard, glittering. It was not difficult
to see what most aroused his ire. Rand could accept, without
complaining, the indignities offered to his own person. Not so,
regarding his horse. He loved the animal. Through weary, lonesome days
on patrol, it had been his only friend and companion. A strange
attachment had grown up between them. Almost any time, Rand would gladly
have sacrificed his own life to save that of the fiery little steed.

The wilful, deliberate shooting of this horse was the cause of the
corporal’s anger. In his heart, he had sworn revenge.

“You see, Toma,” his voice was strangely calm, “he meant a lot to
me—Inverness. I—I hated to see him go. Poor old fellow! I could see his
pleading look, when they brought him over opposite the window, and he
looked in and saw me.”

Unbidden, a tear came into the corporal’s steely eye and trickled down
his cheek. He rose from his chair and strode to the door.

“Why they shoot your horse like that?” Toma wanted to know.

“To insure their escape,” the policeman answered, not turning his head.
“If I were released, it would be necessary to follow on foot.”

He turned quickly upon Toma.

“How did it happen,” he asked, “that you came on alone? Where are Dick
and Sandy?”

“Burnnel and Emery get them jus’ like they get you. Almost get me, too,
but I jump away from them. I come on here because I think mebbe you go
back an’ help.”

“You did well, Toma. Where did this happen?”

“Near the place where keep ’em house that free trader.”

“Meade?”

The Indian nodded.

“That isn’t far from here,” said Rand. “We’ll start at once.”

In admiration, Toma drew in his breath. Well he knew the agony the
policeman must endure from his limbs, still swollen, as the result of
that terrible ordeal. Notwithstanding this, he proposed to start out as
if nothing had happened. It was nearly twenty miles back along the trail
to Meade’s Ferry. Twenty miles with legs like that! Twenty miles through
the stifling heat of that summer’s day—and over a rough trail!

“You think you do that?” he asked, his mouth agape.

“I can do it,” declared Rand simply.

And not long afterward they were on the trail, the policeman walking
with a pronounced limp, yet keeping abreast of his more agile companion.
Mosquitos drove around them in clouds. The hot breath of the sun-steeped
earth rose up about them. It was tedious work, a gruelling, unpleasant
experience.

Yet the corporal did not complain. When he spoke at all, it was to joke
or jest, to comment lightly upon some phase of their journey. And with
each passing minute, his limp grew more pronounced. He was hobbling now
upon swollen, blistered feet.

“We better stop rest,” Toma advised him.

“No,” said Rand, clenching his teeth, “we’ll go on. It can’t be much
farther now. Just a few miles more.”

So they went on again, a weary, perspiring pair. Though Toma suffered no
particular physical discomfort, he endured mental torture as he watched
the policeman keep pace with him. He could have cried out with
thankfulness, when at last, through an opening in the trees, he
discerned the low, rambling structure, which served the double purpose
of store and road-house.

A short time later they entered the building itself and were greeted by
the kindly free trader.

“Glad to see you, corporal. The boys were expecting you.”

“Where are they now?”

“They’ve gone on.”

“And Burnnel and Emery?”

“The boys are camping on their trail.”

Corporal Rand looked very much surprised and turned upon Toma.

“I thought you said that the boys had been taken prisoners?”

“Yes,” nodded Toma.

“Well, how can that be?”

“I can explain it all,” Meade laughed. “Dick and Sandy were taken
prisoners, all right, but were released a few minutes later. They slept
out last night in the open, returning here shortly after the three set
out—Burnnel, Emery and the squaw.”

“How did the boys travel?” Rand asked.

“I lent them two ponies.”

“Got any more?”

“Not another one, corporal. I have only the two. One is mine and the
other belongs to my son, Frederick. But where is your own horse,
corporal?”

Thus reminded of his loss, Rand’s face became grim again.

“They shot it. Back at Frenchie’s road-house. That’s why I’ve come on
foot.”

“And you’re almost crippled,” said Meade, who had observed the
policeman’s limp.

“I can manage somehow.”

“Not until you’ve doctored up those feet,” Meade declared kindly.

Rand flung himself down in an easy chair, motioning to Toma also to be
seated.

“You’d better rest while you can, Toma. We’ll go on again in a few
minutes.”

Meade had grown thoughtful.

“I’ve an idea,” he announced at length, “that I can get two horses for
you over at Bonner’s Lake from a half-breed there. This man has a herd
of ponies he keeps for Spring and Autumn freighting. They’re feeding on
the range now and I’m sure he’ll accommodate me.”

Meade smiled, puffing stoutly on his pipe.

“I’ll send my son, Frederick, over there,” he resumed. “In the meantime,
you can rest here. He won’t be long.”

The kind offer was accepted. In truth, the corporal’s limbs were so
badly swollen from the effects of the thongs and the hard trek
immediately after being released by Toma, that he doubted very much
whether he could walk more than a few miles more, anyway.

“I won’t forget your kindness,” the policeman thanked him. “It’s very
good of you.”

“Not at all! Not at all!” Meade hastened to assure him. “I’d do that
much for the Royal Mounted any time. I’ve heard about the case you’re
working on, corporal, and I’m anxious to have you succeed. Dewberry was
a friend of mine.”

Rand looked up quickly.

“That’s interesting. So few men really knew Dewberry. Queer character,
from what I’ve heard.”

“A splendid man,” Meade declared reverently. “A generous and fine man!”

“While your son, Frederick, is away after the horses, I wonder if you’ll
tell me what you know of him. It has been very difficult to gather any
information concerning him. It might help a lot in this case if you’d
give me a clear insight into his character. There are a number of things
I can’t explain.”

Frederick was called and sent after the ponies. Then Meade sat down and
began telling about his friend, the mysterious Dewberry. It was a story
very similar to the one he had told Dick and Sandy. Rand listened
without once interrupting, and Toma also paid close attention until,
growing drowsy, he fell asleep in his chair. When he awoke again, Meade
was still talking, but now occasionally the policeman plied him with a
question.

Toma yawned, rose to his feet and stalked over to a window. Looking out,
he was surprised to see the free trader’s son already returning with the
horses.

“They come,” announced Toma. “The ponies are here.”

Corporal Rand smiled and nodded at Toma, but—a thing the young Indian
could not understand—seemed more interested in the conversation than in
the arrival of the ponies. Nevertheless, a moment later Rand rose and
hobbled to the door. Meade followed him. They went out ahead of Toma,
and, as they did so, the policeman remarked:

“Your talk has been a revelation. I’m beginning to see a little light.”

Long afterward, when he and the corporal were out on the trail, Toma
studied over that statement. What did Rand mean by that? Hadn’t he
always seen the light?

Then he shook his head and gave up in despair. For Corporal Rand, as
Toma was well aware, had never had trouble with his vision.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                               A RED BLOB


Burnnel, Emery and Rat MacGregor’s wife set a hard pace. They led Dick
and Sandy far afield and it was seldom that the boys ever came in sight
of them. It was plain that the prospectors intended to force their
horses to the limit in an attempt to overtake the fleeing recluse.

The trail led south. It was a well known trail, much travelled,
especially in the Spring and Fall of the year. Then, to the boys’
amazement, the outlaws suddenly left it, striking off southeastward
through a country infrequently visited. For a long time Dick and Sandy
could find no reasonable explanation for this, but, finally, the younger
of the two boys, brooding over the strange conduct of the outlaws,
offered an opinion.

They were crossing a broad meadow at the time, exerting their ponies to
renewed effort. Through the thick, waving grass ahead, almost waist
high, was the faint track made by Burnnel’s party.

“I know now,” Sandy’s voice was excited. “I’ve solved the mystery.”

“What mystery?”

“The reason why they went this way. It’s a shortcut, Dick. The main
trail, if you happen to remember, turns straight east about fifty miles
south of here. Burnnel and Emery figure that they can head Creel off by
coming this way.”

“You must be right, Sandy. But I wonder if they’ve stopped to consider
that they have a river to cross. It’s a wide one, too, nearly a quarter
of a mile, I should say. Do you suppose they can swim the horses?”

“Dangerous, but they must intend to try it. It will be interesting to
watch them. If they can make it, so can we.”

“We ought to arrive at the river some time this afternoon. Hope they
don’t see us coming. We must be fairly close to them right now.”

Crossing the meadow, they entered a grove of poplar, through which they
made their way more slowly, emerging, at length, to another meadow,
somewhat smaller than the one they had previously crossed. Here they
paused. On the far side, several miles away, they saw three tiny specks,
which they knew was Burnnel’s party. Not wishing to approach any closer,
they rode back to the poplars again, dismounted, staked out their horses
and prepared their midday meal. At the end of an hour, when they resumed
their journey, they knew there would be little danger of drawing within
sight of the outlaws.

So they pushed on steadily. They left the meadow behind and entered a
woodland, which grew thicker as they advanced. The dim trail ahead
became more difficult to follow. Finally, they lost it altogether, but a
few hours later the trees thinned out and straight ahead of them, a
shining, glistening ribbon in the sun, they saw the broad expanse of the
Hay River.

They staked out their ponies, and set out on foot to reconnoitre. For
several hundred yards they followed the course of the valley, but could
find no trace of the outlaws. However, continuing eastward, they were
rewarded by the sight of a thin column of smoke, drifting lazily up
through the trees. The outlaws had made camp a few hundred yards below
on the bank of the river. Just now they were engaged, so the boys
surmised, in the preparation of a meal.

Dick and Sandy crept closer. Nerves taut, they wormed their way ahead.
Then Dick touched Sandy’s arm.

“Look!” he whispered.

Burnnel and Emery were squatting in front of the fire, indolently
smoking their pipes, while MacGregor’s wife busied herself in gathering
wood, laying out the camp utensils and in other ways making herself
generally useful.

“Lazy brutes!” sneered Sandy. “They don’t seem to be in much of a hurry.
Do you suppose they’ll attempt to ford the river this afternoon?”

“Yes, I think so. In spite of their indolence now, they’re anxious to
get on.”

“No use staying here,” Sandy spoke again. “We’d better get back to our
ponies. We’ll bring them over to the top of the ridge, where I think
they’ll be safe enough. There’s little danger that those lazy beggars
will climb the slope again.”

In returning to their horses, they chose to circle around the outlaws’
camp, went down to the bank of the river and moved slowly along,
conscious of a cool breeze and the close proximity of the water. They
were hot and tired and the water looked inviting. Close to the bank it
was clear as liquid glass. Here and there were the shadows of whitefish
and Northern trout. At the bottom of the river was white sand. Every few
yards or so, projecting up through this white sand, were smooth,
brownish-colored rocks that were surrounded by innumerable tiny eddies.

In the interest of the moment, the boys almost forgot the grim business
in which they were engaged. Both had an overwhelming desire to linger
here. It was a peaceful, quiet spot. Sandy turned and smiled upon his
chum.

“That water,” he remarked, “looks cool.”

He wiped his perspiring brow.

“I know what you’re thinking,” laughed Dick. “You’d like to strip and
plunge in, wouldn’t you? I wish we could.”

Sandy stopped and commenced fanning himself with his hat.

“Why not? It will do us both good. We’d be safe enough, I’m sure. They
can’t possibly see us from here.”

Dick was tempted. He looked down at the water. A trout flashed up from
the cold, clear stream. Only for a moment did he hesitate.

“All right. Come on.”

They threw off their clothes, racing with each other to see who would be
the first to dive in. Sandy won. Both boys commenced swimming about,
diving, floating, frolicking in the water to their hearts’ content. So
absorbed were they in the refreshing sport, that they became oblivious
of the passing of time. Had not Sandy chanced to glance across the
river, it is probable that they might have forgotten about their
responsibilities for at least another hour or two.

But in that glance, the young Scotchman had seen something that quickly
brought him back to the world of realities. He sprang ashore, calling to
Dick excitedly.

“Look, Dick! What do you make of that?” One glistening wet arm was flung
out in front of him.

On the opposite side, a few rods up from the water, Dick saw a blob of
red—something that looked very much like a large strip of flannel,
caught against the darker background of green.

“A red cloth,” answered Dick, only slightly interested. “Wonder who left
it there?”

“It moves! It moves!”

In spite of the nearness of Burnnel’s party, Sandy almost shouted out
the words.

Both boys stared, as if under some queer mesmeric spell. They watched
the red blob move along the line of brush and disappear with magic
abruptness. It came back again, however, in a very few minutes—only in a
different place. Again it remained perfectly stationary, then fluttered
behind a rock. In its second re-appearance, it moved toward the brink of
the river and, suddenly, instead of being merely a red blob,
mysteriously it formed itself into the unmistakable outline of a human
figure.

“Some one in a red mackinaw,” declared Sandy, laughing.

“In a police tunic, you mean,” Dick corrected him, commencing to hurry
into his clothes.

“What! A mounted policeman?”

“Exactly that. Why, you can see his broad-rimmed hat and heavy
top-boots.”



                              CHAPTER XIX
                            ACROSS HAY RIVER


“I’d like to go over there,” said Dick, “but if we do, Burnnel and Emery
will be sure to see us. We don’t want that to happen. Our best plan is
to wait until after we ford the river. Then, if he hasn’t already left
the vicinity, we’ll find out who he is.”

“I know one thing,” Sandy declared confidently, “and that is he’s not
from the Mackenzie River detachment.”

“I’m not so sure. It may be our old friend, Sergeant Richardson.”

“But that territory, over there across the Hay, is patrolled by men from
the Peace River Detachment,” Sandy objected.

Dick rose quickly to his feet, hugging himself in sheer ecstasy.

“I have it! I have it!” he cried. “You’re right! He’s from the Peace
River Detachment. They received my wire. I’m willing to bet on it. It’s
someone after Creel.”

For a time Sandy caught the infection of the other’s enthusiasm but,
after mature deliberation, he became more serious again.

“No; you’re wrong. The police haven’t had time to come up from Peace
River Crossing since you wired them.”

“This man might have been on patrol somewhere between here and the
Crossing. They probably got in touch with him; wired back, I mean. Sent
him out on Creel’s trail.”

“A possibility, of course. I wonder if we couldn’t signal to him?”

The suggestion interested Dick for a time. Then caution warned him that
it was not a very good plan after all. It might lead to complications.

“No, we’d better let things remain as they are. Whatever we do, we
mustn’t let Emery and Burnnel know that we are here.”

“Very well, then,” Sandy agreed, “we’ll go back to our ponies. It
shouldn’t be long now before the outlaws commence to ford the river.”

Cheered and invigorated, they made their way up the slope, and not long
afterward came to the place where they had picketed the ponies. Saddling
and bridling their rugged little mounts, they rode slowly along the
ridge to a point above the outlaws’ camp. Again they tethered out their
horses and sat down to wait. It was more than an hour later before the
outlaws attempted to cross. The sound of splashing came up from below,
punctuated now and again by sharp voices of the two men.

The boys bounded to their feet and scrambled down the steep embankment.
Arriving at the abandoned camp, they observed that Burnnel’s party were
already more than a quarter of the distance across the stream. The
ponies were swimming bravely, while the two prospectors and “Rat”
MacGregor’s wife could be seen in the water beside them, clinging to the
pommels of the saddles. It was an exciting ordeal and the boys watched
the progress of the party breathlessly. Soon they had reached the center
of the river, fighting valiantly. Now they were being carried along by
the swift central current. Gradually, however, they neared the opposite
shore. They made their landing safely, a few minutes later, nearly a
mile downstream. They clambered up the slippery bank, shook then like
rats, and soon afterward disappeared from view.

The boys waited for nearly an hour, before they made any effort to
follow. Then, leading their horses down, they, too, plunged into the icy
stream. Exultant and happy, ten minutes later they waded ashore and
paused to dry their dripping garments in the hot sun, near the edge of
the river.

“Now,” grinned Dick, “we’ll look for that policeman.”

They mounted their horses and proceeded on their way. But, although they
kept the river within view, they could find no trace of the red-coated
figure they had seen only two hours before. He had vanished
mysteriously. Fearing that they had proceeded too far down along the
course of the stream, they turned back, mounting the slope. Twilight had
fallen. The boys were baffled and discouraged. When they made camp for
the night, neither had much to say. After supper they sat gloomily,
looking out across the valley.

“I’m afraid we’ve lost out all around,” complained Dick. “We may have
some difficulty in finding Burnnel’s party now. I wish we had left the
policeman to his own devices and had gone on after them.”

Sandy struck irritably at the mosquitos swarming about him.

“Think I’ll start a smudge,” he growled.

Dick rose to his feet.

“While you kindle the fire, I’ll go along the slope and get an arm-load
of moss.”

Suiting the action to the word, he started away, walking leisurely. He
had gone less than fifty yards, when he drew back, startled. Unless his
eyes had deceived him, he had seen something—a movement in the brush.
Trembling, he took up a position in the deep shadows, close to a willow
copse, straining his eyes through the obscurity.

“Might be a deer,” he thought.

He had really not expected to see a man. Yet a man it was. Creel! Dick
blinked. The old recluse stood limned in the darkening twilight,
scarcely twenty feet away. His attitude was that of a hunted beast. His
long hair fell over his eyes in straggly disorder, giving him the
appearance of a madman. His long beard fluttered lightly in the breeze.

Dick’s heart leaped. Creel was coming straight toward him. Cold sweat
beaded Dick’s brow. He was shaking as if from the ague. Nearer and
nearer came Creel. Only a few feet away now—almost upon him!

Then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, the recluse paused. Dick could
hear his labored breathing. Some intuitive sense had warned the man of
impending danger. For a full minute he remained perfectly still, his
gaze darting from right to left. He took one step forward cautiously. A
second step. Again he paused. He was so close now, that Dick could
almost reach out his hand and touch him. The young man’s mind was
awhirl, dizzy with conflicting impulses. His quarry within his grasp,
and yet he hesitated. Why, he did not know.

The recluse took one more step and in that instant caught sight of the
crouching form. He attempted to turn, one hand struggling at his belt.
Dick lunged forward, catching Creel around the knees, bearing him down.
The struggle was short but spirited.

“No use,” panted Dick, “I’ve got you!”

Creel’s struggles subsided.

“What do you want with me?” choked the captive, as Dick pinioned his
arms.

“The police are looking for you, Creel,” the other breathed in his ear.
“The game’s up. You’ll have to come along with me.”

Securing the other’s revolver, Dick rose to his feet.

“Come on now,” he ordered, “Get up!”

He drove Creel ahead of him to the place where he and Sandy had made
camp. In the dim light, Sandy saw the approaching shadows, but as yet
was unaware of the presence of a third person.

“Did you bring the moss?” he inquired petulantly. “What kept you so
long?”

“Sandy,” Dick’s voice quavered, “come here!” The young Scotchman put
down the branch, which he had been breaking into short lengths, and
strode forward. His astonishment was unbounded.

“Creel!” he exclaimed. “Where did you find him, Dick?”

“Out there,” Dick pointed. Then, turning upon the old recluse: “Hand
over the contents of that poke,” he ordered, pressing his revolver close
to the man’s chest.

Creel backed away.

“I haven’t it,” he whined. “It’s gone—gone! Release me, I tell you. I
haven’t it.”

“You had it,” said Dick. “What did you do with it?”

“They took it,” answered Creel, his voice rising almost to a scream.

“Who?”

“Burnnel and Emery. That woman.”

“Where did you meet them?”

“Back there,” the recluse waved one arm. “I came on them unexpectedly.”
He shook in his agitation. “Wasn’t even thinking about them. I—I— The
policeman— He was following me. Ever since last night.”

The story seemed plausible, yet in order to make sure that their captive
spoke the truth, they searched his pockets, which proved to be almost as
bare as their own.

“Did they take your money too?” Dick demanded.

“Yes.”

“Where are they camped now?”

“About a mile from here. They turned me loose less than an hour ago.”

“Creel,” said Sandy, “there’s one thing I wish you’d explain. What are
you doing here so far from the trail?”

“Trying to get away from that policeman,” came the answer. “I was on my
way south to Peace River Crossing, when I met him on the trail. He had
me cornered. He was sitting there on his horse, waiting for me. I could
see that. But I gave him the slip. I dropped off my horse and ducked
into the thick timber on the left side of the trail. I ran. I was sure
that I could get away from him. I knew that no horse could follow me
there. But he kept on my trail, and several times that night and today,
I caught sight of him following me.”

Sandy’s voice broke the next interval of silence. “What’s to be done
now?”

“I’m going over to the outlaws’ camp,” declared Dick with grim decision.

“But what will we do with Creel?”

“You can stay here and watch him.”

Sandy caught his breath.

“Do you mean to say you’d tackle ’em all alone, Dick? A terrible risk!
They’d be sure to get you.”

“No, they’ll be too surprised to do anything. They won’t expect me.”

Sandy put one trembling hand to his face.

“I—I hate to think of it. You’d be all right if only Toma were with you.
But alone—”

He paused, choking.

“I’ll set out right away,” said Dick, “and you needn’t worry, Sandy.
I’ll promise to be careful. I won’t take any more chances than
necessary. Perhaps I’ll find them asleep.”

He turned to go. Sandy sprang after him, seizing his arm.

“If anything happens to you, Dick, I’ll—I’ll feel that it’s all my
fault. But don’t forget that I’m with you. If—if they should happen to
take you prisoner, I’ll manage your release somehow.”

“I know you will, Sandy,”—in a smothered voice.

“Good-bye, Dick.”

“Good-bye.”

Dick stumbled forward through the shadows, his heart beating wildly. A
mile to Burnnel’s camp. Not far! He’d move cautiously. He mustn’t fail
now. Victory was in their hands.

The shadows were very dark along the ridge, and far below came the
murmur of the river. From its darkened perch, an owl hooted dismally.



                               CHAPTER XX
                         A THRILLING EXPERIENCE


Though only a short distance away, Burnnel’s camp proved to be hard to
find. It was darker than usual that night, owing to the fact that the
sky was overcast. It is doubtful if Dick would have discovered the camp
at all, had he not, after nearly an hour of beating futilely about in
the underbrush, been attracted by the dull red glow of a dying campfire.

Stealing upon his enemies with a quaking heart, he had soon advanced
within the circle of light made by the glowing red embers. Near the fire
were stretched the forms of the two prospectors, while thirty or forty
feet away lay the woman.

The camp slumbered. Conditions could not have been more favorable for
Dick’s project. It would be easy to walk over, gun in hand, and awaken
the sleepers. Neither of them would have the least opportunity to offer
resistance.

“It’s dead easy,” Dick argued with himself. “I can’t fail. It’s all as
easy as A, B, C.”

Yet he hesitated. He had planned his approach and knew exactly what he
was going to do and say. But, somehow, it was easier to think about it
than to act. Once or twice he started determinedly forward, but as
quickly checked himself.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with me,” he breathed. “Any minute they
may awake, and yet I’m standing here.”

He was nervous and shaky; his cheeks and hands were deathly cold. His
right hand gripped his revolver so tightly that the bones in his fingers
ached. A stricture in his throat made breathing difficult. For the
second time, he took a step forward. The fire was slowly dying out. Its
subdued glow was less bright than when he had arrived. If he didn’t act
promptly he’d be forced to accomplish his purpose in the darkness and
run the risk of failure.

He was less than twenty paces from the sleeping forms. Moving very
slowly, it would take less than two minutes to reach the sleeping men.
He realized that to hurry over might be fatal to his plans. The faintest
sound might betray him. He mustn’t snap a single dry twig or brush too
hurriedly through the tall grass. He couldn’t afford to fail now.

He negotiated the distance without mishap. Heart in his throat, he stood
with his back toward the fire. Immediately in front of him lay the two
unsuspecting outlaws. Burnnel snored peacefully, while Emery, lying on
his right side, one arm flung out, might have been dead, for all the
sound he made resting quietly there.

Dick, preparing to shout out to awaken them, checked himself in time. A
cold sweat broke out upon his body. An obstacle had presented itself.
When he aroused Burnnel and Emery, he would awaken the woman too, and he
was too far away from MacGregor’s wife to prevent her escape. Or, what
would be more disconcerting or fatal still, she might suddenly determine
to come to the outlaws’ rescue. No doubt she was armed. Dick’s heart
beat wildly against his ribs and a lump rose in his throat, choking him.
What was he going to do?

He considered waking the woman first, being as quiet as possible, then
coming back for the two prospectors. But he dismissed this idea almost
as quickly as it had come. Better, far better to start with the outlaws.
He dismissed his original plan of shouting out. That would never do. No;
he would prod them quietly with his foot until they woke up.

A distance of several feet separated the two sleepers. He stepped
between them. Burnnel lay flat on his back. Dick stooped over and jerked
the big prospector’s gun from its holster, expecting of course, that the
man would awake. To his surprise Burnnel slept on. So he turned his
attention to Emery.

Dick now had a gun in either hand. It gave him more confidence. Emery
stirred, as he prodded him with his foot. He continued until the wiry
little man sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“A word out of you,” said Dick softly, “and I’ll blow your brains out.
Hand over your gun, butt forward.”

Emery obeyed. Dick thrust the revolver in his own holster, an awkward
proceeding because he was compelled to keep his opponent covered.

“Now,” said Dick, “wake up Burnnel and do it quietly. Get busy!”

Emery, who evidently was thoroughly frightened, rolled over and shook
his partner. The big fellow half-awoke, perceived who was shaking him,
thrust out one huge arm petulantly and pushed the little man back with
considerable violence.

“Shoot me or not,” snarled Emery, “yuh kin wake him yourself.”

“Wake him up!” Dick’s voice carried a menace.

This time Emery succeeded. But the big man was noisy and profane, even
after his sleep-stained eyes had caught the glint of Dick’s weapon.

“Keep quiet!” ordered Dick, almost beside himself with fear. “Keep
quiet! If you don’t I’ll drill you through and through. Give me the
contents of that poke!”

The campfire glowed an angry red. In its ghostly light the two
prospectors turned out their pockets, defiantly. Dick recovered his own
money, watch and the huge roll of bills, belonging to Creel, Toma’s
jack-knife, Sandy’s pocket-compass, and two keys on a ring. The articles
were so many and varied that he soon perceived that he would not have
room for them about his person. So he compelled Emery to tie them up in
a bundle, flung over his own coat for the purpose. But where was the
treasure? Nonplussed, Dick stared from one to the other.

“Where’s the contents of Dewberry’s poke?” Emery gave Dick a look of
unutterable surprise—and almost choked. Burnnel laughed scornfully.

“We ain’t got it.”

“What have you done with it?”

“Ain’t never had it,” said Emery, choking with laughter.

“You lie!” exclaimed Dick hotly. “Creel told me that you took it away
from him.”

“No, you’re wrong, pardner. If Creel told yuh that, he was spoofin’ yuh.
We ain’t never even seen him.”

“If that’s true,” said Dick, white to the lips, “how did you manage to
get Creel’s roll?”

Neither of the outlaws attempted to reply. Emery hung his head guiltily.
Burnnel’s face was averted. Further questioning proved futile. Both men
persisted that they had taken nothing from Creel except his money.
Angrily, Dick drove them ahead of him to where the woman lay, still
sleeping, and aroused her. Then, forcing the three to saddle and lead
their ponies, they made their way back to Dick and Sandy’s camp.

On his way back, Dick felt that he had been robbed of a complete
victory. His achievement in capturing the outlaws single-handed was
darkened by the knowledge that in some unaccountable way Burnnel and
Emery had contrived to hide Dewberry’s much-sought treasure. He decided
that when morning came he would make a more careful search. It was
possible that he had overlooked its hiding place. It occurred to him
that it might be in one of the saddle-packs, or sewed up in the outlaws’
garments. At any rate, he would leave no stone unturned until he had
fully satisfied himself that Creel had lied to him.

Sandy’s joy and astonishment over the safe and successful return of his
chum were unbounded. He clapped Dick on the back, shouting out his
approval.

“If we’re only careful now,” he cried, “we’ll soon reach the end of our
adventures. We’ve won. Won’t Corporal Rand and Toma be pleased when we
return with all these prisoners.”

For the remainder of that night neither of the two boys slept. They took
turn in replenishing the fire and guarding the prisoners. Dick had
become more cheerful and was confident that when morning came they would
find the mysterious treasure, which had been responsible for so much
trouble and tragedy and waste of human life.

Yet, when morning came, they were destined to be disappointed again.
They found nothing. Burnnel and Emery watching them, sneered openly.
Creel seemed perplexed. Noticing his expression, Sandy questioned him.

“Why did you lie to us about the contents of that poke?”

“I didn’t lie to you,” Creel retorted. “They’ve done something with it,
you may depend upon that.”

“Don’t bother, Sandy,” Dick exclaimed in exasperation, “you’re just
wasting time. We might as well start back. Corporal Rand will know what
to do.”

So, a few minutes later, they set out on their return journey. They were
forced to travel more slowly than they had come, owing to the fact that,
on the previous day, while attempting to evade the police, Creel had
abandoned his horse. The boys forced the outlaws to take turn and turn
about walking.

On the evening of the first day they were treated to a pleasant
surprise. Sitting around the campfire, enjoying their evening meal, the
party was suddenly made aware of the presence of a stranger. He had come
up silently and unnoticed. Presently he stood before them, a trim, natty
figure, the bright crimson of his police tunic contrasting sharply with
the deep green around him. The policeman smiled at their quick start.

“I’m Constable Wyatt, of the Peace River Detachment,” he announced.

The boys sprang to their feet and hurried forward to greet the
constable.

“I’m Dick Kent and this is Sandy MacClaren,” Dick explained to him. “We
have been helping Corporal Rand, who has been working on the Dewberry
case.”

The policeman smiled.

“Well, you’ve been more lucky or clever than I have. From all
appearances, you’ve made a coup. I see you have Creel, the man they
wired about.”

“I sent the telegram for Corporal Rand,” said Dick a trifle proudly.

“I almost had my hands on him on several different occasions. Perhaps I
would have taken him eventually if you hadn’t. Who are these others?”

“Burnnel and Emery, two prospectors, and she,” Dick pointed, “is ‘Rat’
MacGregor’s wife. All of them are mixed up in the case, constable. We
had reason to believe that Creel had Dewberry’s treasure. Creel claims
that Burnnel and Emery took it away from him. Whether or not this is
true, we have been unable to determine. We can’t find it.”

And in a few words Dick related their experience of the previous night.

“You say you’ve made a very careful search?” asked Wyatt.

“Yes.”

“The only thing that I can think of,” hazarded the police constable, “is
that Burnnel and Emery hid the treasure somewhere near their camp before
they retired for the night.”

“That’s possible,” said Dick. “It didn’t occur to me. Of course, they
wouldn’t tell us if they had.”

“Naturally not,” Wyatt smiled grimly.

On the following morning they reached the trail and the first habitation
they had seen for many, many miles. Here they were able to procure
another horse, and thereafter they moved forward more quickly. The next
day, threading their way along through the cool forest spaces, a turn in
the trail revealed two approaching horsemen. Dick and Sandy rose in
their stirrups and waved their hats wildly.

The two horsemen were Corporal Rand and Toma.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                         THE KEY TO THE MYSTERY


Two days later, on its way north to the Mackenzie River barracks, the
party stopped for the night at Meade’s Ferry. After supper Toma, Sandy
and Frederick Meade went over to the river for an evening’s fishing. The
two policemen and Dick remained behind. Sitting in the large
trading-room, they conversed quietly.

“There’s only one thing that I regret,” said Corporal Rand, “and that is
that we have been unable to recover Dewberry’s treasure.”

“What is this treasure?” Wyatt asked, then turned his head as someone
came to the doorway. “You—Mr. Meade. Step right in. You don’t need to
hesitate. This isn’t a private conference.” As soon as the free-trader
had taken a seat beside him, Wyatt repeated his question:

“What is this treasure?”

“We don’t know,” replied Rand. “However, it is an established fact that
on the night he was murdered Dewberry had a roll of bills in his pocket
and a small poke, suspended from a cord tied around his neck.”

Rand paused, reached in his pocket and brought to light a diminutive
moosehide pouch or leather sack, which he passed over to his fellow
policeman.

“There it is. That’s the poke. You see how small it is. Nevertheless, at
one time it contained something of great value. MacGregor risked his
life to get it. Frischette or Creel—as I now have reason to
believe—surprised MacGregor in the very act of committing his crime, and
took it forcibly from him. Since that night the poke has had an
interesting history. Creel kept it in his cabin, but one night he was
visited by Emery and Burnnel, who secured possession of it. A few
minutes later Dick, Toma and Sandy took it away from them. But in the
end Frischette got it and escaped. The next day his body was found by
Burnnel and Emery, who reported the news to me.”

“They murdered him.”

“No, it was suicide. I’m almost sure of that. You see, I found a note in
the inner pocket of Frischette’s coat. This note was in Frischette’s
hand-writing and mentions that he is about to take his own life.”

“Burnnel and Emery might have forced him to write that note. It might be
a case of murder after all.”

“I’ve considered that too, Wyatt, but—well, to be frank, I have a
theory. My theory is that although this is the poke originally carried
by Dewberry, its contents were tampered with and a substitution made by
Creel at his cabin before Burnnel and Emery came. To make my theory more
clear to you, I’d like to say that I believe that this poke had been
filled with something of no value whatsoever. A clever deception on
Creel’s part. Not only did it fool Emery and Burnnel, but it fooled
Frischette himself. When Frischette opened the poke, you can imagine his
rage and disappointment. The treasure was not there. He was a coward at
heart and dared not return. Hopeless and despondent, he shot himself.”

Corporal Rand paused to light his pipe.

“My theory is strengthened by Creel’s subsequent actions,” the corporal
continued. “While I was out on the trail investigating the cause of
Frischette’s death, he took the opportunity to slip away unnoticed. The
assumption was that he had started out for Edmonton, or some other
point, with Dewberry’s treasure. Burnnel, Emery and ‘Rat’ MacGregor’s
wife evidently came to the same conclusion for, after locking me up at
Frischette’s road-house,” the corporal flushed at the memory, “they set
out to follow Creel. If they didn’t suspect him of having the treasure,
why did they follow him? How are you going to answer that question?”

“Your theory must be correct,” said Wyatt.

“It must be,” Meade agreed.

“It isn’t my theory particularly. Young Sandy MacClaren came to the same
conclusion. You have the facts. I needn’t go further into detail. You
know what happened over there by the river.”

“They cached the treasure somewhere,” declared Wyatt.

Corporal Rand nodded.

“It seems to be the only solution.”

Conversation wandered to other things, and Dick soon lost interest. He
yawned, rose from his chair and went outside. It was a lovely evening,
cool and exhilarating. There came to his ears the drowsy sound of the
forest. Birds peeped, preparing to nestle down for the night. The pine
trees droned their incessant chant. Here and there, rabbits scampered
into the open, their curious little muzzles twitching inquisitively.

Dick yawned again and stretched his arms above his head. It was about
time the boys were coming back. He wondered if their fishing expedition
had been successful. Bored with the inactivity, he decided to stroll
down toward the river to meet them.

He was twenty yards from the cabin when a voice called him back—the
voice of Corporal Rand. Quickly he retraced his steps.

“Sorry to trouble you, Dick,” Corporal Rand met him at the door, “but
Wyatt and I would like to see that bundle of stuff you secured that
night from Burnnel and Emery. Where is it?”

“In my bunk,” Dick answered, “rolled up in my coat. I’ll get it for
you.”

A moment later he secured the bundle, carried it to the table and opened
it. Wyatt, Rand and Meade gathered in a little circle around him. He
took up the objects, one by one, very much after the manner of a person
taking inventory.

“This is Creel’s roll of money. This is mine. These bills and coins
belong to the outlaws. This is my jack-knife and here is Sandy’s
compass. This is my watch and this is Emery’s revolver.”

There remained a pocket-comb and mirror, a pipe—its bowl somewhat
battered—two hunting knives and the ring with the two keys. As Dick
picked up the last named object, Meade gave vent to a startled cry and
jumped forward.

“Let’s see it! Let’s see it! Give it to me!”

Dick handed it over.

“Keys,” said Rand. “Who owns them?”

“I think they belong to one of the outlaws,” answered Dick.

“Outlaws!” shrieked Meade, his face distorted. “I should say not!
They’re Dewberry’s keys. I’d know them anywhere.”

A hush came over the room. An old-fashioned clock ticked loudly.
Presently Meade’s feet shuffled away from the table and he went over and
sat down. His head dropped in his hands. For several minutes he sat
there in deep abstraction. He was thinking deeply. Then, with unexpected
suddenness, he bounded to his feet.

“I’ve solved your mystery!” he shouted.

The three other occupants of the room surrounded him in a body.

“Tell us,” cried Rand.

The free-trader waved them to their chairs.

“Sit down,” he commanded, “and I’ll tell you all about it. But I must
begin at the beginning, so that it will all be clear to you.”

“Yes, yes,” breathed Rand.

“Dewberry was my friend. I was his guest one time at Peace River
Crossing. You know where his place is?” He turned to Wyatt.

“A little cottage on a hill. Overlooks the Hart River,” answered the
policeman.

“Have you ever been inside of it?”

“No.”

“Were you acquainted with Dewberry?”

“I knew him slightly,” said Wyatt. “But I’ve seen him often enough. An
unusual character.”

“Exactly. He _was_ queer—queer in many ways. He loved books—scores of
them in his book-cases. A violinist and pianist too! But the most
peculiar thing of all about him was his aversion to human companionship.
He had no real friends. He was shy and reserved. Kept to himself. For
months at a time, he would be away somewhere in the foothills
prospecting. Then he’d return again to Peace River Crossing and become
absorbed in his books; or else he’d go out to Edmonton.”

Meade paused to light his pipe. He puffed reflectively. It was several
moments before he resumed:

“The minute I laid my eyes on that key-ring with its two keys, I knew
it. I’d seen it many times before.”

As he spoke, Meade exhibited the ring and selected the larger of the two
keys.

“This,” he informed them, “is the key to the front door of Dewberry’s
cottage.”

“And the second?” Rand interrupted, unable to check his curiosity.

“This key, gentlemen,” Meade held it up and announced dramatically, “is,
I think, the key to your mystery, the cause of all your trouble. It was
the thing that MacGregor wanted when he murdered its owner, that
Frischette died for, that Creel, Emery, Burnnel and the squaw fought
over. In other words, unless I am very badly mistaken—and I don’t think
I am—this key unlocks a large iron chest that stands in the front room
of Dewberry’s cottage.”



                              CHAPTER XXII
                          DEWBERRY’S TREASURE


Peace River Crossing is a growing, bustling town that nestles in the
broad, deep valley of one of the North Country’s largest rivers. Until a
few years ago, it was a trading post merely, the stamping ground and
meeting place of trappers, prospectors and adventurers, who, from
various points along the river, and from the wilderness to the east and
west, came here to transact their business or find companionship and
entertainment.

At the time of this story, the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia
Railway only recently had been built. Just a few months before his
death, Dewberry had seen the miracle of two lines of steel, supported by
a marvelous system of trestlework, creep slowly into the village.

Soon after that Dewberry decided that he would go north. Turning his
back upon his cherished books, he went out, locking the door after him
for the last time. The cabin looked very lonely in his absence. Perched
on a hill, overlooking the Hart River, it stood day after day, a sort of
bleak landmark among the other houses in the village. When the sun was
bright, and happened to be shining from the right direction, the two
front windows blinked and glistened like two large human eyes. Indian
and half-breed children, playing in the level fields below, would look
up at them in fear. They were afraid of the house. They were afraid of
the man who lived there. Nothing whatsoever could have induced them to
climb the rocky path and enter the yard, which just now was overgrown
with tall weeds and grass.

This fear on the children’s part was shared to some extent by their
parents. They shunned the cabin. In all the time Dewberry was away on
this last trip, probably not more than three persons passed by the
house, and then only because it was necessary to do so. Not until late
in midsummer, did anyone actually cross the yard and deliberately walk
up to the door with the intention of entering.

That person was Constable Wyatt, of the Peace River Detachment of the
Royal North West Mounted Police. He was not alone. Another policeman and
three boys accompanied him. The constable strode forward, erect and
graceful, jingling a keyring. He selected one key and fitted it into the
lock. Then he turned, before proceeding further, and smiled at his
companions.

“The right one. It will work, I think.”

“Open the door,” instructed the other policeman, who stood close behind
him, and appeared to be either eager or impatient.

The key grated in the lock and the door creaked, as Wyatt turned the
knob and pressed his weight against it. Five pairs of eyes stared into
the room. One of the boys—the youngest of the three—drew in his breath
sharply.

“Great Scott! Books! Look at ’em—just look at ’em, Dick! A thousand or
more!”

“A piano too,” said Dick. “But where’s the chest?”

The small party crowded into the room. A heavy odor assailed their
nostrils. The place was stuffy and close. The blinds, which hung over
the closed windows, shut out most of the light. Not until these blinds
were raised and a window or two flung up, did any of the party do more
than to give the room a curious inspection.

“According to Meade,” Rand spoke calmly, “the chest ought to be
somewhere in this room.”

No chest was visible. Eyes darted here and there, questioningly. Wyatt,
Sandy and Dick hurried into the adjoining room to continue the search
there. Corporal Rand sat down, while Toma still remained in almost the
identical position he had taken up when he had first entered the house.

At one side of the room a heavy fur overcoat lay in a wrinkled heap upon
the floor. Four feet above it, a long wooden peg projected from the
scored surface of a log. The inference was that the coat had slipped off
the peg at some time or other and that Dewberry, either through
oversight or neglect, had failed to hang it back in its accustomed
place.

For a short space the young Indian gazed at the garment and then at the
peg. His eyes lit perceptibly. Something told him that the overcoat had
not fallen to the floor from that sturdy peg, and, besides, there was a
suspicious bulge—something underneath. With an amused chuckle, he darted
forward and lifted up the coat. The chuckle died in his throat. He
stepped back.

The chest was there!

Corporal Rand’s sharp exclamation drew the others quickly. They were
crowded around him and Toma, looking down with bated breath at an iron
box, covered with fantastic scrolls and figures, embellished and
ornamented with metal rosettes and a fret-work of bronze. Neither Dick
nor Sandy had ever seen anything quite like it. It was not an ordinary
chest. It looked old—hundreds of years old—yet it was neither battered
nor broken, nor in any way scarred or defaced. Beautiful though it was,
its beauty produced a strange effect upon them. A malevolent influence
seemed to emanate there.

Two feet high, three feet in length, approximately twenty in breadth—the
iron box stood there and seemed to defy them. Its workmanship was
superb. Dick guessed that it was of foreign origin, probably Oriental.
He shivered a little as Wyatt gave the key-ring to Corporal Rand and
motioned to him to stoop down and open the chest.

Rand’s fingers fumbled with the ring. A hollow scraping sound followed
the insertion of the key, and, having turned it, the cover—fitted with a
hidden, powerful spring—sprang open so quickly that its outer edge
caught the policeman on the point of the chin and threw him back amongst
his astonished companions.

Dazed, the corporal scrambled back to a position on his knees and stared
in bewilderment at the chest. There was not a great deal to see. Within,
the chest was fitted with a thin metal lid, which completely hid
everything below. On the inside of the cover, however, was pasted a
heavy label, upon which was the following writing:

“TREASURE CHEST.—Exhumed in September 1843 from the ruins of an ancient
temple discovered by Sir George Pettibone, English explorer, near
Kaifeng, in the province of Honan, China. Believed to date back to the
Mongol or Ming Dynasty, (A. D. 1260-1368), (A. D. 1368-1644).”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Dick, when Corporal Rand had finished reading.

“It is wonderful,” breathed Wyatt. “It would be interesting to know how
it came into Dewberry’s possession.”

Sandy was impatient. He had pushed closer to Corporal Rand and was
looking down at the chest over the policeman’s shoulder.

“I can hardly wait until you remove that lid,” he broke forth. “Why
don’t you lift it up, corporal?”

Gingerly, Rand placed a thumb and finger in two round holes in the lid
and tugged gently. Slowly, an inch or two at a time, it came up,
revealing an interior space taken up by six square trays of
sandalwood—any one of which contained a fortune.

Gold! Treasure! The boys caught their breath. There came a concerted
rush around the box. Exclamations of amazement. Not only gold here—but
precious stones. Diamonds! Sapphires! Blood-red rubies! Platinum in
rings and bars. Gold dust! Curios! Priceless antiques! Nuggets!

Sandy and Dick were shouting and exclaiming like maniacs. Wyatt and
Corporal Rand were talking in excited tones. Toma, less interested than
any of them, after a curious, puzzled glance into the interior of the
chest, backed away, grunting out something under his breath.

It was Sandy, who presently discovered that the trays were removable,
that underneath them was a shallow compartment, three or four inches in
depth, completely filled with letters and papers and documents of
various kinds.

“Here!” he shouted, holding it up. “A book! Must be very valuable or
Dewberry wouldn’t keep it in here.”

He passed it on to Corporal Rand, then turned again and, with Dick’s
assistance, began replacing the trays. The contents of these were, to
the boys, of far more importance and interest than anything else
confined within that ancient, mysterious receptacle. Again they fell to
examining the treasure.

They were so absorbed in this delightful pastime, that they were wholly
unaware of what was taking place in the room behind them. The two
policemen had drawn up chairs and were sitting opposite each other,
their faces alight. Wyatt, who leaned forward eagerly, was listening to
Rand. Rand flipped the pages and read out of the book:

“November 20, 1908.—This is my second trip out to Edmonton this year.
Today I met Professor B—, of the University of Alberta, who promised to
secure for me a first edition of Thackeray’s _Vanity Fair_. Will send to
Vincent’s at Montreal. Ought to have it here next time I come down.
Professor B— is generous and kindly. Knowing of my interest in antiques,
he sent me, with a letter of introduction to a Mr. Lipton, a private
collector, who occupies a suite of rooms at the King Edward. I enjoyed
this visit and induced Mr. Lipton to part with a very valuable cameo.”

“Interesting,” remarked Wyatt. “Go on!”

Corporal Rand flipped several pages and resumed:

“May 6, 1909.—Spent the better part of this week around the head-waters
of the Finley. Gruelling work, but I love it. The mosquitos are savage,
persistent little brutes, and only the fine mesh of my new net, with the
addition of a pair of gloves, saves me from being sucked dry. I’ll need
what blood and energy I have to complete my work here. Have been looking
for the famous Crystal Lode, which old Dave Crystal found somewhere near
here in 1890 and subsequently sold, ‘unsight, unseen,’ to Ben and Gordan
Wilson, who have never been heard from since.”

A slight pause while Rand cleared his throat and turned more of the
pages.

“December 2, 1911.—I’m happy tonight. This afternoon Lipton agreed to
sell me that wonderful Chinese chest. I paid him two thousand dollars
for it without once blinking an eye. At that, I’m lucky to get it.
Lipton wouldn’t have parted with it for twice that sum eight months ago.
I’m afraid he’s been buying so much real estate that he’s short of cash.
Whatever his motive, I’m exceedingly grateful to him.”

Wyatt slid forward in his chair.

“Yes! Yes!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Read on.”



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                        LEAVES FROM AN OLD DIARY


Dick and Sandy turned from their inspection of the treasure.

“What’s that you’ve been reading?” Sandy demanded.

“Dewberry’s diary.”

“Is that the book I handed you a few moments ago?”

“Yes,” the answer came from Corporal Rand. “I believe it will prove of
invaluable assistance to us in this case.”

The corporal still held the book in his lap, and seemed loath to
discontinue its perusal. The excerpts he had read aloud to Wyatt had
still further excited his curiosity, a curiosity which was shared by the
other policeman. The man from the Peace River Detachment consulted his
watch.

“It’s only three o’clock, Rand,” he pointed out. “We still have plenty
of time at our disposal. I’d enjoy hearing more from that book. Why not
continue, corporal?”

Rand turned the pages at random, his keen blue eyes glancing over the
contents. In a clear, musical voice he continued:

“November 12, 1912.—Why is it that my chest from Honan continues to
fascinate me? Sitting here at home this evening, my thoughts dwelt upon
it. Twice I opened it and removed the trays, one by one, with the rapt
interest of a child; removed them and placed them on the floor beside
me. How indescribably bare it looks. I’m sure it wasn’t like that during
the Ming dynasty.

“November 17, 1912.—Today I finished reading Marco Polo’s wonderful
narrative. Very naturally, it turned my thoughts to the chest. I’m
obsessed with a whimsical fancy. My chest, I am quite sure, was at one
time the depository for the jewels and wealth of the great Ming himself.
I visualize all those mysterious compartments overflowing with the
treasure from seven seas. This one contained diamonds; this one rubies;
this one sapphires and emeralds. In the remaining trays there are
quantities of silver and gold. Just to heighten the illusion, I have
placed the contents of three pokes in one of the trays. Then I locked it
up. I, too, shall have my treasure.”

Corporal Rand ceased reading. Dick and Sandy laughed.

“Queer old duck, wasn’t he?” Dick commented. “Well, I don’t know as I
blame him any. It is mysterious.”

Corporal Rand did not reply. He turned a few pages idly, then read
again:

“June 2, 1913.—I have found the Crystal Lode. Could scarcely believe my
good fortune. Came upon it more by accident than design. Tremendously
rich. Here and there, I found evidences of the workings of old Dave
Crystal. Will be compelled to keep this a secret. Took out over a
thousand dollars yesterday.”

“Whew!” gasped Sandy.

Rand was excited too. He turned the pages more quickly.

“October 1, 1914.—I’m back at the Crossing earlier than usual this year.
Brought a good deal of gold with me. Raced it in the chest. It will soon
be filled to overflowing. The depository of the great Ming has come into
its own.

“November 10, 1914.—Lipton would smile if he knew what I was up to.
Today—the third since my arrival in Edmonton—I converted nearly eight
thousand dollars worth of gold from the Crystal Lode into precious
stones. The jewelers here must think I am mad. Almost overnight, I have
changed my vocation. In place of being a collector of rare old books and
antiques, I have become a connoisseur of gems.

“November 12, 1914.—Professor B— of the University of Alberta, had lunch
with me at the Cecil Hotel. Our talk was on various subjects but finally
I led him, rather adroitly, I think, to a topic which, at present, is my
all-absorbing passion. Did Professor B— know anything about jewelry,
precious stones? He did. I have yet to touch upon a subject he is not
interested in. During our conversation, he happened to mention casually
that the Dalton’s, who are very wealthy people here, possess what is
undoubtedly the most valuable sapphire in this country. I think I must
have pricked up my ears at this information. During the rest of the day,
I could think of nothing else. Perhaps tomorrow I shall pluck up enough
courage to go and see Dalton.

“November 13, 1914.—The Dalton sapphire is mine. Paid forty thousand for
it. Dalton is not an agreeable person to deal with. I almost came away
without it. Was forced to draw on my account at the Bank of Montreal.
Dalton demanded a certified check and made a number of pertinent
inquiries over the telephone. In spite of his haughty manner, he must
need the money. Didn’t even offer to shake hands with me at parting.”

Rand closed the book, pointing at the chest.

“It’s easy to see now where he got those things. For years he’s been
converting the gold from the Crystal Lode into precious stones.”

“Merely to satisfy a whim,” smiled Wyatt.

A moment later Rand resumed reading:

“August 8, 1915.—What an inconceivable ass I am. Yesterday in some
unaccountable manner, I lost my note-book. I have been in the habit,
while away on these prospecting trips, of writing each day’s events in a
note-book, and later copying them in my diary at home. Hope no one ever
finds it. ‘My thoughts are precious things’ and I wouldn’t care to have
some fool laughing over them. Also, I fear that in the book I made
mention of the chest. Worse luck!”

A sudden silence followed the reading of this last excerpt. Then Wyatt
rose to his feet and began pacing up and down the floor.

“That has a direct bearing on this case,” he announced suddenly.
“MacGregor must have found that note-book—or Creel or Frischette.... Any
of those scoundrels. It’s the only possible way they could have learned
of the existence of this chest and the two keys Dewberry carried with
him. I am as sure of that as I am that I am standing here.”

“Extremely likely,” admitted Rand.

“Of course. And if we can determine which one of those men found the
note-book, we’ll have some valuable evidence.”

“It may force a confession from them,” said Rand. “Just before we came
down here, as you remember, Inspector Cameron endeavored to
cross-examine them. It was useless. Well, I haven’t lost hope that we
may succeed next time. I’ll take this diary with me.”

“May I look at it?” requested Sandy, holding out his hands.

“What about the treasure?” asked Dick. “What will we do with the chest?”

“Our inspector will attend to that,” answered Wyatt. “Probably will be
removed to the new Bank of Commerce, just recently established here.”

“There are two likely places, where one might find that note-book,”
mused Rand, “—at Creel’s and Frischette’s.”

“We can stop at both places on our way back,” suggested Dick.

“A good idea. Then there’s MacGregor’s shack too, I—”

“Listen to this,” interrupted Sandy, waving one arm about excitedly.

In his haste to open it, the diary slipped from his trembling fingers
and fell to the floor. Picking it up, he experienced some difficulty in
finding the right page again. The others waited impatiently. Finally,
Sandy read:

“September 28, 1915.—The first heavy snow of the season has come early
this year. Imagine my surprise this morning to wake in a blinding snow
storm. It is driving me away from the Crystal Lode. After breakfast, I
made haste to set out with my two pack-ponies, and arrived at Carson’s
cabin shortly after two. I have always made it a point to stop at
Carson’s whenever possible. They are friendly people. Mrs. Carson is an
Indian, but exceedingly pleasant and well educated. A cook too! I can’t
understand why a couple like that should be afflicted with such hopeless
offspring. Their daughter, about fifteen, is vicious, while their son,
Reynold, two years older, is a young cutthroat, if ever there was one.
This afternoon I found him in my room, quite brazenly going through my
things. It caused me to wonder if, after all, Reynold doesn’t know
something about that lost note-book. I recall that I stopped here just
the day before I discovered it was gone.

“September 29, 1915.—I am almost sure that Reynold has it. Today he was
copying something out of a book—a black leather note-book—that looked
suspiciously like mine. He rose when he saw me and beat a hasty retreat.
I can’t accuse him openly just yet, but when I come back this way in the
spring, I intend to lay a trap for him. That young scoundrel really
ought to be put in jail, although I am afraid I never would have the
courage to do it myself. It would break both Mr. and Mrs. Carson’s
hearts.”

Sandy paused.

“Have you finished? Is that all?”

In his eagerness, Corporal Rand stepped over behind the young Scotchman
and looked down at the open book.

“No,” answered Sandy, “it is not all. Here is another paragraph, dated
September 30—just a day later.”

“I purposely remained at Carson’s one more day. Thought I might be able
to keep an eye on Reynold, catch him again with the book and this time
positively identify it. Unfortunately for me, nothing happened. Carson
sent his son out with an armload of traps in the forenoon, and after
lunch, two prospectors, Emery and MacGregor, stopped for an hour or two
on their way east to Fort Good Faith. Carson introduced both men and we
conversed for a few minutes. Can’t say I liked either one. If I were
forced to choose a person to hang me, I think I’d name MacGregor.
Emery’s face is too vile—even for a hangman’s.”

“Ugh!” Dick’s voice trembled. “If only he had known!”

“October 1, 1915,” Sandy read on. “I can scarcely believe it yet.
Perhaps there is a redeeming trait in the boy after all. At any rate,
Reynold came to me this morning, as I was preparing to leave, and gave
me my book. I was so astounded that I simply stood staring at him.
According to his story—which, of course, I accepted, although I knew it
was a lie, ‘trembling unto heaven’—he had found the book after my last
visit here. He found it in my room, he explained, ‘just where I had
dropped it.’ I breathed a sigh of relief that was almost a gasp, thrust
the accursed thing hastily into my pocket and departed thence—_sans_ two
nuggets (worth about twenty dollars) which I had given him as a reward
for his honesty.”

“The brat!” choked Wyatt.

“Yes,” stormed Rand, “that young scoundrel concocted a devil’s mess
indeed. He’s the one that ought to be hanged for Dewberry’s murder.”

“But why?” Dick asked innocently.

“Why? Can’t you see. It’s as plain as the nose on your face. He copied
the contents of the note-book and gave it to Emery and MacGregor.”



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                              CARSON’S SON


Several weeks had passed. They were back in the North Country again—all
except Wyatt. Outside the door of the trading room at Fort Good Faith,
Sandy and Toma were bidding Corporal Rand and Dick good-bye, and wishing
devoutly that they too might have been permitted to accompany the
policeman on this—the last stage of a memorable journey.

Dick had been more than fortunate, they considered, in receiving
official sanction to be in at the finish. He had earned this privilege,
to be sure, but for that matter, hadn’t they? For weeks now they had
been pursuing what had at first appeared to be a phantom. The phantom
had taken form. The mystery had been uncovered. Step by step, day by
day, slowly and inexorably events had moved to an ultimate end. The
guilty were about to be punished. A few more things to do, then—

“Hang it all,” thought Sandy, “the real work is over anyway. I’ve done
my part. They can’t say I haven’t. This case is run to earth. What
little excitement remains, Dick is welcome to. Toma and I both need a
rest.”

Thus philosophically dismissing the matter, he and Toma went fishing;
and Corporal Rand and Dick made their way on horseback to the foothills,
arriving at the Carson cabin one evening before dusk.

Mrs. Carson met them at the door. She smiled her greeting and led the
way into the house. A sort of motherly person, Dick thought.

“I hadn’t expected anyone at this time of the year,” she told them
laughing, at the same time brushing back a dark wisp of hair that had
fallen over her kindly forehead. “I’m afraid you’ll find everything in
disorder. We’ve been drying saskatoons for the winter. Mr. Carson is in
the kitchen helping now. He’ll come right in.”

True to his wife’s prediction, Mr. Carson came right in and, looking at
him, Dick became heartily sick of the whole business. Carson was the
sort of man one couldn’t help but like instantly. A much older man than
Dick had expected, yet agile enough in spite of the white crown of hair,
and handsome in a dignified way. He shook hands and took a seat
opposite.

“Everyone is welcome here. You’re tired, I expect.”

“And hungry,” Corporal Rand amended.

“Mrs. Carson will soon attend to that,” her husband smiled. “She’ll have
something ready in a few minutes. Have you come far?”

“From Fort Good Faith.”

A girl appeared in the open doorway, having come noiselessly, and stood,
staring at them. The young lady mentioned in Dewberry’s diary, Dick
surmised. She continued to stare as the now somewhat bashful young man
stole a glance in her direction, then quickly dropped his gaze.

“Gertrude,” expostulated her father, “that isn’t nice. Either come
forward and be introduced or return to the kitchen. My daughter,” he
explained, turning his head and speaking to Rand. Gertrude made a wry
face, shrugged her pretty shoulders and returned to the room, where her
mother was preparing the evening meal. Her place was immediately usurped
by a tall youth, older than Dick, who took up the business of staring
with considerably more energy and effect, adding a dark scowl or two for
good measure. As this was the young man he and Corporal Rand had come
all that way to interview, Dick lost no time in giving him a careful
appraisal.

Reynold Carson’s appearance was not prepossessing. He resembled neither
of his parents. Unlike his sister, he was not good-looking. His mouth
turned down at the corners. An unpleasant habit of scowling had etched
two deep lines across his narrow forehead.

“A young cutthroat and no mistake,” mused Dick, remembering Dewberry’s
verbal picture of him.

It was not until after supper that Rand stated his errand. All except
Mrs. Carson were in the room. The boy and girl sat in one corner and
conversed in low tones. Rand and Carson had pushed back their chairs
from the supper table and had lit their pipes.

“Came over from Fort Good Faith,” said Rand, endeavoring to keep his
voice steady, “to see your son. There’s a certain matter Mr. Carson,
that I’d like to discuss with him. It’s important.”

“Yes, yes—” Carson removed his pipe and seemed to exhale the words with
the smoke. “Reynold—” he trembled. “What—what has he done?”

The policeman placed one hand on the old man’s shoulder.

“I—I hate to do this. I wish it wasn’t necessary to tell you. You—you
understand my position. It’s hard for me—hard for all of us.”

Dick choked and turned away his head. His heart had gone out to this
poor old man, and he just _couldn’t_ look at him now. And then, too,
there was the boy’s mother. Thinking about her— It was terrible! She
mustn’t come into the room. She mustn’t hear what Rand was saying.

“It’s in connection with Dewberry’s murder. Indirectly your son is
implicated. I—I—”

Carson shrank back in his chair, threw up his hands in front of his face
and moaned in misery—in terror. Reynold, who had heard his name
mentioned, and perceived his father thus afflicted, got unsteadily to
his feet and came stumbling across the floor, glaring at Rand.

“What you doing to dad?” he demanded.

Carson sat up, endeavoring to get a better grip of himself. Almost
fiercely he turned upon his son.

“Reynold, you’re in trouble. The police have come for you. What have you
done? Speak up, boy; speak up! My God!—this will kill your mother.”

“He lies! He lies!” stormed the boy. “I’ve done nothing. He lies!”

The corporal held up his hand, commanding silence.

“Sit down, Reynold—and keep quiet. You probably don’t know what it’s all
about—yet. Listen to me. Answer my questions. No! Don’t try that,” he
warned, as Carson’s son reached for his knife. “Sit down!”

“You’re lying,” whimpered the boy, taking a chair next to his father.

“Reynold, I wish you wouldn’t say that,” pleaded the old man. “He may be
mistaken, but—but he isn’t lying.”

“I haven’t done a thing,” protested the boy.

“Perhaps you’ve almost forgotten the incident,” Rand cleared his throat,
“but there was a note-book. You found a note-book belonging to Dewberry.
Isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” Reynold acknowledged. “I did.”

“I remember that too,” said Carson brightening a little. “Reynold said
he found it in Mr. Dewberry’s room. The prospector had—had mislaid it, I
believe.”

“I gave it back to Dewberry,” stated the young man defiantly. “You don’t
think I stole it, do you? I gave it back to him.”

“Quite right,” said Rand. “But is that all?”

“All! O’ course, it is. What you tryin’ to insinuate?”

“I’m trying to insinuate,” the policeman was very deliberate in his
choice of words now, “that you read the book, copied something out of it
and afterward sold that copy to two men—Emery and MacGregor. You did
that, didn’t you?”

Reynold seemed to sink into his chair. His lips were white. Either he
could not or would not answer. Feeling faint, Dick looked out of a
window. Shadows were falling everywhere outside. The trees were black
silhouettes. Night was shaking out its mantle from a metal-colored sky.
There was no brightness or radiance anywhere except a single orange
streak in the west, a sinister orange streak that marked the place where
the sun had gone down.

“If he doesn’t confess,” thought Dick, “and have this over with, I’ll go
crazy.”

A voice, trembling but defiant, broke across the silence.

“Yes, I did do that. What was wrong about it? Tell me—what was wrong
about it? I didn’t commit no crime— It wasn’t a very bad thing to do—you
can’t make me believe that. Just sold a copy of something that was
written in that old book.”

“Reynold!” cried the old man. “Reynold!”

“Listen, dad, it wasn’t so terrible wrong. I didn’t touch anybody an’ I
didn’t steal nothing. All I did was to sell what was in that book to a
few men for just a few dollars.”

“To a few men!” gasped the corporal. “Who—beside Emery and MacGregor?”

“I sold one copy one day when Dewberry was here—before I gave him back
the book. I made a second copy, but I didn’t sell it for months
afterwards. Dad and I had a quarrel and I ran away. I played cards and I
lost money—all I had. I tried to sell the copy. I showed it to a few
men, but they laughed at me. Then one night, when I was at a road-house
a queer looking chap, named Crane, gave me ten dollars for it.”

“Are you sure his name wasn’t Creel? Stop and think a moment.”

“Creel! Creel! That’s it.” Reynold looked at the policeman in surprise.
“How did you know?”

“I found out,” answered Rand.

“So you see, dad, it wasn’t anything so very terrible,” Reynold ran on.
“I—”

“Can you repeat what you copied from the book?” Rand interrupted.

“No, not word for word. It was something about an old chest that
Dewberry had at his home at Peace River Crossing—full of money; about a
key that he carried around his neck.”

“Would you remember if I read it to you?”

“Yes, I would,” answered the boy.

Corporal Rand crossed the room, knelt down, and opened his saddle-pack.
A moment later he returned, carrying Dewberry’s diary, resumed his seat,
and began thumbing the pages. It was several minutes before he found the
right place. Then he read:

“May 13th, 1915. That chest is an obsession. Even out here in the
wilderness away from it, it seems to haunt me night and day. Sometimes I
call myself a doddering old fool. To buy it was a waste of money, an act
of folly. That were bad enough, but this thing I have been doing lately
is madness itself. In a thousand years, if God gave me that long to
live, I could never restore that chest to its original glory and
splendor. I’m sure that I haven’t put into it one infinitesimal part of
the wealth and treasure that he did. If he were living now, Ming would
laugh my diamonds and rubies and emeralds to scorn. I’m afraid he’d
spurn my gold too. Cheap stuff! Trash! Where I have thousands he had
millions. Folly to pit the Crystal Lode against the resources of an
empire. Yet here I am, walking about with the key around my neck, trying
to emulate an emperor.”

Corporal Rand closed the book.

“Is that what you copied?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s it,” answered Reynold.

“I wonder if you realize what you’ve done,” Rand spoke softly. “When you
sold those copies you signed Dewberry’s death warrant. You must have
known that one of those men, to whom you sold that information, would
try to obtain Dewberry’s treasure.”

“I didn’t think much about it,” the boy declared doggedly.

“Dewberry is dead. MacGregor murdered him. It’s your fault. MacGregor
never would have murdered him, if—if it hadn’t been for you. I want that
fact to sink in. You know now why I’ve come to get you.”

“I’ll be hanged,” blubbered the boy.

Rand walked over and put his hand on the young man’s shoulder.

“No—not that. We’ll do what we can for you. You have a wonderful father
and mother. For their sake—and for your own—we’ll be as lenient as
possible.”

The young man’s body shook with sobs.

“Hush! Hush!” whispered Carson, wiping away his own tears. “I think I
hear your mother coming.”



                              CHAPTER XXV
                          PIECING THE THREADS


Creel was the first to confess. Sitting in the office of the commandant,
in the presence of Inspector Cameron, Corporal Rand, Reynold Carson and
Dick, he poured out his story. Confronted by Carson, who identified him
as being one of the men to whom he had sold Dewberry’s secret, Creel saw
that only the truth could help him. His deep-set eyes glowed dully. He
moistened his lips.

“It’s true,” he began. “Frischette and me robbed Dewberry. Took his
money and his poke. For months, we’d been waiting our chance. Dewberry
stopped at the road-house several times, but nearly always it was during
the middle of the day. Usually he’d hit our place about noon and stay
not more than an hour. He preferred to go on and spend the night with
Meade, who was his friend.”

The sun, shining in through the window, bothered the old recluse and he
hitched back his chair. Not until he became comfortable again did he
resume:

“Our chance come finally. Dewberry, delayed in a storm, drifted in one
afternoon late—about four o’clock. He hadn’t time to make Meade’s that
night. It was a cold day and miserable. A blizzard out. You could
scarcely see ahead o’ you. I was surprised when Frischette come over and
notified me that Dewberry was there. I hadn’t expected to stir out of my
cabin. I didn’t want to walk back through the storm with him, but
Frischette said it was the best time for our plan, that we’d have to
strike that night if we ever intended to. After while I agreed and we
walked over and I hid in Frischette’s room.

“Neither one of us had any idea that that man MacGregor was playing the
same sort o’ game as us. He was stopping at Frenchie’s that night, along
with a lot of others, and, of course, we thought nothing of it. You see,
we was sure that we was the only ones ‘in’ on the secret. We had got the
dope from the kid and had made our plans.”

“Was a part of your plan to kill Dewberry?” Inspector Cameron
interrupted.

Creel nodded.

“Wasn’t any other way our plan would work out. We simply had to do it.
We was compelled to put Dewberry out of the way, else he’d sound the
alarm and prevent us from getting into his cabin at Peace River
Crossing.

“About nine o’clock Frischette come into the room where I was, bringing
my supper. Then the two of us sat there talking. We had decided that it
wasn’t much use to try to do anything until along about midnight. So we
waited there in the dark. When the bunk-hall began to get a little quiet
we stopped talking ourselves for fear we might keep someone awake. It
was exactly twelve by my watch, when we stole out of that room.”

Creel paused reflectively, his eyes half closed. He remained motionless
and silent so long that Dick began to wonder if the man had lost his
power of speech. Suddenly he sat up straight in his chair and continued:

“We was both in our stocking-feet and we moved as quiet as ghosts
between the rows of sleepers. Nobody could have heard us. Men was
snoring all around us. It was dark in the room, almost black, but we
knew exactly where to go. All the details had been planned out in
advance. Yet, as I said before, we hadn’t figured on MacGregor, and on
that account we nearly got tripped up. We didn’t know nothing about him
until we was directly over him.”

Again Cameron interrupted: “Directly over him? What do you mean? Had you
made a mistake and gone to MacGregor’s bunk instead?”

“No! No!” the old recluse spoke impatiently. “He was on his knees,
stooping over Dewberry, with the poke and money in his hands. Dewberry
was dead!

“MacGregor hadn’t even heard us come up. I was carrying a knife in my
right hand and I pushed it against his throat. I whispered that if he
made a sound I’d kill him. In fact, I thought I would anyway. I was so
frightened I could hardly stand on my feet. But if I was frightened,
MacGregor was worse than that. He was frozen like a block of ice. I
don’t think he had more than strength enough to hand over the poke and
the roll of bills. After that we took him back into the kitchen and told
him we would give him his life if he’d promise to leave the place at
once and make no effort to get back the poke.”

“He was glad of the chance, I guess,” a smile twisted Creel’s lips. “We
were pretty sure that we’d never see him again. We weren’t afraid that
he’d squeal, because he was the one that had committed the murder. Our
hands was clean. Things had worked out better than we could have planned
ourselves.”

“You didn’t worry?” asked Cameron.

“Yes, we did worry—some. We knew that MacGregor wouldn’t say a word
about us unless he was placed under arrest for the murder. We didn’t
think you was going to get him, and you wouldn’t either if it hadn’t
been for Fontaine. We had no idea that Fontaine knew anything about
MacGregor until he blabbed out that he had seen MacGregor dope a drink
he was mixing for the prospector. We could have killed the kid for that,
but if we had, you’d have known right away that we was the ones that had
done it and was implicated in some way in the other murder. There wasn’t
a thing for us to do but just sit and wait.

“We didn’t have to wait very long either. MacGregor gets himself killed
in a scrap with the police. And lo and behold!—the ‘Rat’s’ wife won’t
talk. She wouldn’t tell you a thing and she knew _everything_. You can
bet MacGregor told his wife all about us. But why didn’t she squeal? She
could have got revenge on us good and proper. She had us right where she
wanted us. When she wouldn’t give evidence, we knew what was in that
lady’s mind then and there: _She was planning to get back that poke!_”

“Have you any more to say for yourself?” asked the inspector, following
a long interval of silence.

“No, sir, not a thing.”

“If you don’t mind,” said Rand, addressing his superior, “I’d like to
ask him a question.”

“Very well, corporal.”

“What was in the poke the evening Emery and Burnnel came to your cabin?”

Creel’s laugh sounded like the cackle of a madman.

“A rusty nail and a piece of broken string, taken from an old alarm
clock. That’s what I call a clever piece of work. It was my idea.
Frischette didn’t know a thing about it. It fooled everybody. I buried
Dewberry’s keys in a hole I dug in the cellar. When I got the chance, I
came back and dug them up. It was the same day that you went over to
investigate about Frischette. You thought he had committed suicide.”

“Well, wasn’t I right?”

“No.”

“If he didn’t commit suicide, what happened to him?”

“The squaw shot him—MacGregor’s wife.”

One might have thought that Rand had been shot himself. He jumped. It
was several moments before he fully recovered from his surprise.

“How do you know that MacGregor’s wife shot him?”

“She told me so herself.”

“When?”

“The night her and Emery and Burnnel took the keys away from me, that
night across the Hay River. Flew into a rage and spilled everything. I
guess she’d have shot me too, but Burnnel wouldn’t let her.”

“If what you say is true, how can you account for the note I found in
Frischette’s pocket?”

“She made Frischette write it before she shot him. Then she came back to
my cabin and searched everywhere for the keys. They were there, but she
couldn’t find them. My place looked like a wreck. After that she met
Burnnel and Emery who had come back to try to get the poke again. The
next morning she stayed out there in the woods while them two
prospectors went over to see you.”

“And did she stay in the woods until the afternoon of the next day?”

“That’s exactly what she did.”

Corporal Rand turned to Inspector Cameron.

“I guess that’s all, sir. I’d suggest that you verify the prisoner’s
last few statements by questioning Mrs. MacGregor herself and Burnnel
and Emery. However, I believe that they are true. Shall I take Carson
and Creel to their cells, sir?”

The commandant nodded absent-mindedly, waved one arm in a gesture of
dismissal. Dick started to file out with the others, when he heard
Cameron calling his name. Turning sharply upon his heel, he strode back
to the inspector’s desk and saluted.

“Dick, you young rascal,” began the mounted police official, “I’ve been
wanting to have a talk with you for a long time. You see, I have
received a letter concerning you and Toma. It came from the Commissioner
of the Canadian Royal North West Mounted at Ottawa.”

“I received a letter from him, too,” said Dick, “about a year ago. In
this letter he said that he had considered favorably my application to
join the mounted police, and that I should hold myself in readiness to
report at the barracks at Regina.”

“And you’ve heard nothing from him since?”

“Not a word, sir.”

“Didn’t you ever think that this was a little strange?”

“Well—er—” Dick flushed. “As a matter of fact, inspector, I’ve been so
busy—we’ve all been so busy—that I haven’t had much time to bother my
head about it.”

Inspector Cameron laughed and nudged Dick slyly.

“Would you care to hear a paragraph or two from the letter that _I_
received?”

“Yes, sir. That is, if you’d care to read it, sir.”

“I do wish to read it. Here it is.” Cameron picked up a typewritten
sheet on the desk in front of him. “Now prepare yourself for a shock.”

“Regarding your request,” read the commandant, “that Recruits Kent and
Toma should be retained at your detachment for special police service, I
wish to say that although such an arrangement is not usual and often not
advisable, we have decided to make a concession to you in this
particular case.”

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Dick.

“So you see it was my fault that you didn’t go to Regina. You boys are
too valuable to lose.”

Dick’s face beamed like the sun. He felt that some great force
underneath him had lifted him up and that now he was being whirled
around and around the room in a rose-tinted cloud. He couldn’t speak
because he was so happy.

“Don’t stand there looking like a ninny. Compose yourself, my boy.
Here’s your first month’s salary check. Here’s another one for Toma.
Came direct from the paymaster at Ottawa. I haven’t one for Sandy
because he didn’t put in his application. You tell him he’d better—if he
wants to work for me. And while you’re telling him that, you might slip
this bit of paper into his pocket with my compliments. Drawn from my own
personal account.”

Dick recalled afterward that he had thanked the inspector, but he never
could quite remember how he had gotten out of the room. He often
wondered if he hadn’t floated out in triumph and in regal state on that
rose-tinted cloud.



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                       DICK REJOINS HIS COMRADES


Three boys sat on the edge of a huge raft that drifted lazily over the
clear, cool surface of Whitefish Lake, near Fort Good Faith. It was a
hot day in late summer. Heat waves danced across the water. There wasn’t
a speck of a cloud anywhere in sight. Neither was there another craft on
the lake. With the exception of the three young sportsmen, no person
might have been found within a radius of ten miles, which was fortunate,
else it might have been discovered that not one of the trio wore any
clothes. Naked as on the day they were born, they sat and dangled their
feet in the water. “Mr. MacClaren told me that you were here,” Dick was
saying. “I stopped just long enough to have something to eat, then I
came right over. I was so anxious to tell you how everything came out.”

“How long did you remain at detachment headquarters?” asked Sandy.

“Four days,” replied Dick. “It was longer than I should have stayed, but
I was anxious to learn what they were intending to do with young Carson.
Inspector Cameron gave his case a special hearing the day before I left.
You can imagine how pleased I was at the outcome.”

“What was the outcome? Let him off with a light sentence, I suppose.”

“You couldn’t guess. He’s out on probation. Inspector Cameron would have
sent him to Edmonton for trial, along with the rest of them, if it
hadn’t been for Corporal Rand. During the hearing Rand proved to
everybody’s satisfaction that Reynold hasn’t full control of his mental
powers—in a way almost an idiot. He doesn’t fully realize yet what he’s
done.”

“So they sent him home,” said Sandy.

“I took him home.”

“Great Scott! How did that happen?”

“Inspector Cameron asked me to,” answered Dick. “I couldn’t very well
refuse, could I? I didn’t really want to go—but I’m glad now. Sandy—if
you could have seen Mr. and Mrs. Carson’s faces when we walked through
the door, you’d have felt repaid a million times.”

“I can believe that. What did they say?”

“I can’t remember all they said. At a time like that, things people say
don’t count. It’s what they do and how they feel that really matters. I
can’t explain exactly what I mean. But if you’d been there, you’d
understand.”

“I think I understand now, Dick,” said Sandy softly.

“That experience will make a man of him. He’s changed already. And the
girl, too. It was a lesson for both of them.”

Toma dropped off the raft a moment later, during a lull in the
conversation, and swam in widening circles around them. For a short time
the two boys watched him, then suddenly, with a little start, Dick
seized his trousers and plunged one hand in a pocket.

“There! I’d almost forgotten. Here’s a check for both of you from
Inspector Cameron. Toma,” he called, “come back!”

Toma swam back to the raft, and then Dick told them of his interview
with the commandant, not forgetting to mention the letter that had been
read to him.

“Wish I’d put in my application too,” sighed Sandy.

“It isn’t too late yet. Inspector Cameron told me to tell you.”

“I’ll write one out this very day,” decided Sandy.

Toma regarded his check thoughtfully.

“How I spend all this money?” he wanted to know.

“A new saddle,” suggested Dick.

“Got ’em good one now.”

“A rifle then.”

“Plenty rifle.”

“Tell you what,” impishly advised Sandy, “tell you what, Toma, you can
save your money and later on purchase a Chinese chest.”

“One that dates back to the Ming dynasty,” Dick elaborated.

“Ugh!” said the young Indian.


                                THE END



                               Footnotes


[1]Author’s Note: An expression frequently heard in the North. It means
   here “beyond the borders of the wilderness.”



                            Saalfield Books


                              BOYS FICTION

  SUBMARINE BOYS SERIES
    _The Submarine Boys on Duty_
    _The Submarine Boys’ Trial Trip_
    _The Submarine Boys and the Middies_

  NORTHLAND SERIES
    _Dick Kent, Fur Trader_
    _Dick Kent with the Malemute Mail_
    _Dick Kent on Special Duty_

  BLACK RIDER SERIES
    _In the Camp of the Black Rider_
    _The Mystery at Lake Retreat_
    _Tom Blake’s Mysterious Adventure_


                             GIRLS FICTION

  MEADOW-BROOK GIRLS SERIES
    _The Meadow-Brook Girls Across Country_
    _The Meadow-Brook Girls Afloat_
    _The Meadow-Brook Girls in the Hills_

  LINDA CARLTON SERIES
    _Linda Carlton, Air Pilot_
    _Linda Carlton’s Ocean Flight_
    _Linda Carlton’s Island Adventure_

  ADVENTURE GIRLS SERIES
    _The Adventure Girls at K-Bar-O_
    _The Adventure Girls in the Air_



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--Added a Table of Contents based on chapter headings.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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