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Title: Dick Kent in the Far North
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
                            In the Far North


                           By MILTON RICHARDS


                               AUTHOR OF
                  “Dick Kent with the Mounted Police”
                      “Dick Kent with the Eskimos”
                        “Dick Kent, Fur Trader”
                   “Dick Kent and the Malemute Mail”


                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
                        Akron, Ohio    New York

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



                                Contents


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I The Map in the Cave                                                3
  II A Messenger from Headquarters                                    15
  III Scarlet and Gold                                                24
  IV Dick Makes a Suggestion                                          33
  V Dick is Indiscreet                                                40
  VI In the House of the Messenger                                    50
  VII Flight Through the Woods                                        58
  VIII Tracks in the Snow                                             67
  IX The Council of War                                               79
  X Sandy Plays a Lone Hand                                           90
  XI Off for the Mine                                                 98
  XII A Mysterious Ten Dollar Bill                                   110
  XIII The Raiding Party                                             119
  XIV A Fateful Crossing                                             128
  XV Within the Barricade                                            139
  XVI A Path Through the Rocks                                       148
  XVII Sandy Explores the Mine                                       159
  XVIII In the Toils of Henderson                                    167
  XIX Hours of Torture                                               175
  XX Henderson’s Plans Miscarry                                      183
  XXI The Red Fury                                                   190
  XXII In the Indian Village                                         201
  XXIII Guests of the Chief                                          209
  XXIV The Caribou Herd                                              221
  XXV Reunion                                                        233
  XXVI Debts of Gratitude                                            243



                       DICK KENT IN THE FAR NORTH



                               CHAPTER I
                          THE MAP IN THE CAVE


Three persons plodded along the snow-piled floor of a tiny canyon in the
heart of the northern Canadian wilderness. The broad snow-shoes on their
feet made their progress like that of so many huge crabs on a sea shore.
In the fore was a tall, well-knit young man, whose weather-tanned face
was that of Dick Kent, who for more than a year had sought and found
adventure in the vast land where the sole guardians of the peace are the
Royal North West Mounted Police.

“It can’t be very far from here,” he turned and spoke, his breath
puffing out in white vapor.

Sandy MacClaren strained his eyes ahead. His stocky frame, no less
hardened than that of his older chum, Dick Kent, seemed to bend forward
with a little more eagerness as he replied:

“I hope we don’t pass it by.”

The man in the rear laughed. He was Sandy’s uncle, Walter MacClaren, an
old Scotchman, and factor at Fort Good Faith for the Hudson’s Bay
Company.

“I hardly think I could miss the cave,” he spoke. “I spent too many
unpleasant hours in there without anything to eat.”

Dick Kent was about to respond to this, when he caught sight of what
they were seeking, the mouth of a large cave in the wall of the canyon.

“There it is!” he cried, quickening his pace.

“Now for the map!” exulted Sandy.

All three removed their snowshoes at the mouth of the under-ground
passage, which seemed to have been formed by the erosion of water in
ages gone by, and, in moccasined feet, went along the dark corridor,
lighting candles which they had brought with them from Fort Good Faith,
not far south.

“Remember it’s the left branch when we get to the fork,” Sandy called to
his chum.

“Yes, I guess I won’t forget that.”

Dick recalled a particularly exciting incident in that same cave, which
would indelibly impress upon his memory the correct passage to the
underground chamber, which was their destination.

The three hurried on down the main passage until ahead, in the dim glow
of the candles, they could see where the main cavern branched. Almost
there, Dick in the lead, paused.

“Wait,” he whispered.

Sandy and his uncle drew back.

“I thought I heard a sound in the passage to the right,” Dick said in a
low voice.

They listened for a few seconds, but heard nothing.

“Probably some animal who has come in here out of the cold,” Sandy’s
uncle observed.

“It sounded like footsteps,” Dick replied dubiously. “And you know we’ve
plenty of reason to believe we’re not the only ones after what’s in this
cave.”

Sandy agreed, but was anxious to go on, and since whatever sound had
been detected by Dick’s sharp ears was not repeated, they continued down
the passage to the left.

For several minutes they wound downward before they reached the widening
of the passage and abruptly entered an underground chamber which seemed
to have been fashioned by the tools of man.

“At last,” whispered Dick.

There was no sign of life evident, except those a week or so old, as
they hurried to a particular portion of the rock wall and bent over it
with their candles. What the light revealed was a confusing tracing of
charcoal lines and crosses. It was the map of the location of the lost
gold mine, and had been the purpose of their visit.

“I’ll copy it on this sheet of paper I’ve brought, so it will be clear
to you boys,” Sandy’s uncle spoke, his voice sounding hollow in the
silent, damp place.

He had just placed the paper on a smooth portion of the rock and touched
the pencil to it, when a sound brought them to their feet. Somewhere
along the passage they had come a stone had fallen. Someone was
following them!

For the benefit of those readers who did not follow the adventures of
Dick Kent and his chum, Sandy MacClaren, in the first volume of this
series, a few explanations may clear up many obscure points. Several
months before, they had with the aid of the mounted police, rescued
Walter MacClaren from the control of Bear Henderson, an unprincipled
enemy of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who had tried and failed to gain
control of all the far north trading posts. In the incidents leading to
the rescue they had met a particularly mysterious enemy, whom they
called the Scar-Faced Indian.

At Fort Good Faith—when as a reward for their help during the Henderson
trouble, Sandy’s uncle had consented to let them hunt for the lost
mine—the scar-faced Indian had been detected eavesdropping at the door
by Toma, a young Indian guide, who had accompanied the boys on many of
their adventures. Toma had sworn vengeance against Scar-Face, since he
believed his brother, Big John Toma, had been killed by the Indian. But,
with his usual elusiveness, Scar-Face had escaped Toma, and the boys
were left to wonder just what steps the Indian would take to thwart them
in their attempt to find the mine.

The sound that had startled the three in the cavern chamber immediately
brought before the minds of Dick and Sandy a vision of the evil face of
the Indian.

“Shall we go back and chase whoever it is out of the cave?” Sandy
queried tensely.

“I wouldn’t do anything like that,” Dick shook his head. “If it’s the
scar-faced Indian he’ll have a trap set for us. We’ll just watch the
entrance while your uncle copies the map. When that’s done, all three of
us will be ready for trouble.”

Factor MacClaren considered Dick’s plan wise and went ahead with his
work, while Dick and Sandy turned their attention to the entrance of the
chamber.

Fearfully they waited, wondering just what might appear. It was very
nearly an hour before Walter MacClaren finished copying the map, yet no
one had come. Out of the corner of their eyes, Dick and Sandy watched
the factor erase the charcoal tracings on the rock and turn to them.

“We’re ready to go back to the fort now,” he said.

“If we ever get back,” Sandy rejoined.

“Oh, I don’t think there’s much danger with the three of us,” Dick
encouraged.

“Yes, but that scar-faced Indian is apt to have some one with him, and
if they jump down on our heads from one of the ledges in this cave,
we’ll have small chance of getting away.”

“Well, we’ve got to hope for the best and be prepared to fight with all
there is in us,” Dick responded grimly, gripping his rifle, a 45.70
Winchester, and starting into the cavern.

Tensely Sandy followed, the factor taking up the rear with the precious
map stuffed under his heavy bearskin overcoat.

Slowly they progressed back along the dark passage, scanning the shadows
ahead and overhead for a sign of whatever had made the noise. A hundred
feet from the chamber, a pair of eyes glowed out of the darkness. Dick
raised his rifle, aiming at the gleaming points ahead. His sights came
into line squarely and he fired.

The crack of his rifle was almost deafening.

“I got him!” shouted Dick, hurrying forward. “A bear!”

Sandy and his uncle had joined Dick over his kill. The large black body
quivered under the candle light.

“I hated to do it,” Dick was sorry. “Poor old fellow!”

“He was probably wintering here somewhere,” Sandy’s uncle put in. “I
wonder if he made that rock fall which we heard.”

“Probably did,” said Sandy.

“Well, I hope so,” the factor declared earnestly. “My old bones won’t
stand much excitement. I’m not the tough customer I used to be when I
was your age.”

All three went on, a little more confident that no danger lay ahead.
Dick alone, had his suspicions of what lay before them, and he was about
to advise the factor to walk between him and Sandy, when of a sudden,
there sounded the fall of a body directly behind them. There came a
grunting shout and Sandy’s candle was knocked from his hand, and the
cavern plunged in darkness.

“Hey!” Dick whirled, his gun clubbed. The sound of scuffling was heard,
and blindly he plunged back.

“Here he is,” Sandy’s muffled shout directed him. “He’s got Uncle Walter
down, trying to take the map away from him.”

Sandy’s voice died away with a sudden _umph!_ Dick’s rearward leap was
stopped by a heavy body. The shock almost knocked the breath out of him,
but he clung on to the person he had collided with, feeling that it was
neither Sandy nor the factor.

“Here, here! I’ve got him!” cried Dick, panting. Then he was overpowered
and thrown heavily down. The sound of retreating footsteps sounded along
the cavern in the darkness. Sandy’s candle flared up under a match.

“Are you all right, Dick?” was Sandy’s question.

Dick picked himself up and replied that he was. “Quick, find out if he
got the map from your uncle!”

Factor MacClaren himself replied: “Luckily he didn’t, though he thinks
he did. He got an old letter out of my inside breast pocket. The map is
safe. Wonder who it was?”

“It must have been the scar-faced Indian,” Dick guessed the identity of
their unknown assailant. “Say, he didn’t work slow, did he?”

“I’ll say he didn’t,” rejoined Sandy, rubbing one eye, which was already
commencing to blacken from a blow received at the hands of the man in
the dark.

“Let’s hurry and get out of this hole and back to the fort,” said Dick
hastily.

All three hurried on and reached the blinding sunlight of the canyon
without further mishap. An hour later they were in the big log house of
the factor, gathered around the map, listening to Walter MacClaren’s
directions regarding it. Toma, the young Indian guide who was to
accompany them on the trail to the lost mine, had joined them. His dark,
immobile face was over the table with the rest, when a tall, long-haired
man entered. They looked up.

“Hello, Malemute,” Dick greeted the newcomer. “What’s the news?”

“Reckon we’re goin’ to have company on this here trip,” said the big
man. “A constable of the mounted from Fort Dunwoody has just come in
with instructions to capture a party of fur thieves, hidin’ in the
territory you’re goin’ into.”

“Good! We may need him badly before we get through,” Dick replied.

Malemute Slade, an official scout for the mounted police, who through
the effort of the factor had been detailed to accompany the boys on
their trip northward, agreed with Dick, and ushered in a scarlet-coated,
brisk-looking officer, at sight of whom both Dick and Sandy emitted
exclamations of delight. It was no less than Corporal Richardson, an old
friend, whom they had aided when he was wounded on the trail from Fort
du Lac to Fort Dunwoody.

Corporal Richardson was as pleased as they at this reunion, and, at
their invitation, joined them around the big table in the post living
room.

That night, after a brain-taxing afternoon, following the factor’s
instruction regarding the location of the lost mine, Dick lay wide awake
until very late, thinking over the happenings of the day. He had a bunk
curtained from the living room, not far from the entrance to MacClaren’s
private sleeping room. He realized that Sandy’s uncle had taken the map
with him, and half that kept him awake was a fear that another effort
might be made to steal it. Lying there, looking up into the impenetrable
darkness, it seemed that a hundred suspicious sounds were audible. But
at last he fell fitfully asleep.

It seemed to Dick that he had slumbered for only a moment, when suddenly
he was wide awake, his skin prickling as if some unknown presence were
in the room. Quietly he lay there, listening in the darkness, forcing
the dullness of sleep from his senses. What had awakened him?

Then his hand crept slowly to the head of his bunk where a rifle leaned.
Some one was fumbling at Factor MacClaren’s door. As he strained his
eyes in the dark, he could distinguish a shadowy figure crouching there.



                               CHAPTER II
                     A MESSENGER FROM HEADQUARTERS


In the breathless interval that followed, Dick Kent was unable to decide
upon a definite course of action. The figure of the man still crouched
before Factor MacClaren’s door but Dick, rifle in hand, felt that under
no circumstances could he bring himself to fire point-blank at the
shadowy form, even if the entire success of their expedition depended
upon it. He could hear the slight rattle of the door, and the faint
shuffle of the intruder’s moccasined feet. Momentarily, he awaited the
crash that would follow the man’s efforts to break in.

The rifle lay like a dead weight in Dick’s hands. The suspense and
excitement of the moment seemed unendurable. His limbs had commenced
under the strain to shake and quiver, as if afflicted by some deadly
malady. If he fired, he would kill the man, and if he cried out, as he
very much wanted to do, the man would probably kill him. It was the sort
of predicament with which Dick had no desire to cope, and yet here he
was, in spite of himself, at the very beginning of their adventures,
placed in a position that might have daunted a much older person.

While he still hesitated, there fell suddenly across the deep quiet of
the room the smashing sound of the door breaking in, and through the
dark shadows Dick perceived, as he sat there, wide-eyed with
apprehension, the intruder thrown into Factor MacClaren’s room with a
force that carried him half way to the sleeping man’s bed. He knew
immediately what had happened. Shoulders hunched, the man had employed
what, in school circles, would have been called football tactics. From a
position about ten feet from the door, he had charged forward, breaking
through the heavy obstruction and gaining access to the room.

He had picked himself up from the floor, as Dick sprang to the
assistance of the factor, shouting as he went. By the time Dick had
entered the chamber itself, a furious struggle was in progress—a wild
tossing and tumbling about of two scarcely distinguishable forms. A
chair crashed to the floor. Some heavy object whirled past Dick’s head,
striking the wall with a thudding impact, before it dropped clattering
almost at his heels. No sooner had he started forward to give his
assistance to Factor MacClaren in the unequal struggle, when he was
thrown back again violently, as the two men, locked in each other’s
arms, swayed into him. Dick sat down with a thump, the corner of the
heavy table cutting the back of his head.

The fall had dazed him and his recovery was slow. From this point on
Dick was unaware of the events that followed in rapid succession. His
first really clear impression was that of a blinding glare of light in
his eyes, and the voice of Malemute Slade raised in alarm.

“This boy’s hurt a’right. Bad cut on the back of his head. Move back,
corporal, while I lift him up.”

The mounted police scout stooped forward and Dick felt himself being
raised bodily, swung up in the powerful arms of his friend. Then
Richardson spoke:

“I’ll attend to MacClaren’s bruises while you put this lad to bed. We’re
lucky in one way that no one was seriously hurt. Mighty lucky!”

“Except for that map, I’d call this night’s business more than lucky,”
affirmed Malemute Slade. “But it’s too blamed bad he got that.
MacClaren’ll feel worse about the loss of the map than the trummeling he
got. Still as you say, corporal, we’re all of us mighty fortunate that
nothin’ worse happened. Ol’ Scar-Face ain’t usually so keerful ’bout
things.”

The scout continued talking to himself as he carried his bewildered
burden into the adjoining room.

“So the map’s gone,” Dick quavered a moment later. “Are you sure,
Slade?”

“You sit here an’ keep your trap shut,” Slade ordered, not as gruffly as
his manner indicated. “You’re hurt, boy, an I’m goin’ to fix you up.
I’ll fetch some bandages right quick.”

“But the map——” Dick sat straight up, not in the least heeding Slade’s
command. “Did he really get it? I tell you, I must know.”

“He sure did. Broke the window an’ made good his escape. I don’t want to
discourage nobody, but you an’ Sandy had better say good-bye to your
chances of ever finding that mine. Jes’ forget it.” An interval of
silence ensued. The mounted police scout stroked Dick’s hand.

“Plucky little savage—you!” he grinned. “But you better forget it. Sandy
an’ you can have lots of fun anyway. Couldn’t keep you out of mischief
very long, I guess. Not you two, I reckon!”

“I don’t care so much about losing the map or our chance of finding the
mine,” declared Dick manfully, smothering what sounded very much like a
sob, “but I hate to give up before we’re really licked—especially by
that—that——” He paused, searching for the word that would most aptly
describe the person he had in mind, “by that tripe,” he concluded.

“Yeah, it does seem bad,” Slade reflected. “’Course, we’ll try to get
the map back again. I didn’t mean to sit with our arms folded, or
anything like that. Scar-Face ain’t through with us yet, an’ the mounted
police’ll have a nice string of crimes chalked up to his credit when we
do get him. But this here map is a different matter, if you can follow
me, son. They’ll be sure to hide or destroy it when they are in danger
of being captured. It stands to reason that if they can’t have the pesky
mine themselves, they won’t let you have it.”

“You’re right,” admitted Dick.

“’Course I am. An’ now for those bandages. No sense in sittin’ here
yapping like this anyway. We can’t help ourselves by talking, can we?
The thing to do is get goin’—quick!”

“You mean follow Scar-Face?”

“Yep. That’s exactly what I do mean. A light snow has fallen an’ he
won’t be so hard to track. Corporal Richardson an’ I’ll be on the trail
in less than an hour. How does that strike you?”

“Splendid!” exclaimed Dick, unable to conceal his enthusiasm. “Sandy and
I will follow along in the morning. We’ll catch up to you, won’t we,
Slade?”

The mounted police scout laughed as he strode away. When he had returned
a short time later with his first-aid emergency kit tucked under one
arm, a basin of water in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other,
he was still grinning broadly.

For several minutes Slade was too busily occupied with his task of
dressing Dick’s wound, to find time to talk. Having finished, however,
he sat down on the bed beside his young charge and playfully poked that
young man in the ribs.

“So you an’ Sandy are goin’ to catch up to us,” he chuckled. “Son, I
like your spirit. It’s boys like you that grow up to be men like—well,
say like Corporal Richardson.”

“Or Malemute Slade,” suggested Dick.

A tiny scowl flickered between Slade’s eyes.

“No—not me. I’m nobody. I ain’t ever had a chance. I can’t even read or
write. A good mounted policeman has education, brains and nerve. I ain’t
got nothin’ except nerve.”

“And a heart as big as a house,” added Dick. “Not to mention other
things like woodcraft and knowledge of birds and animals and men. You
know the location of most of the trails, lakes and portages in this
country. Corporal Richardson told me that you were a crack shot. He said
that you could shoot faster and hit oftener than any person he had ever
known. You’re the best marksman in northwestern Canada.”

Malemute Slade flushed to the roots of his hair.

“Look here,” he began gruffly, “you keep your trap closed.”

“I know now why you laughed when I said Sandy and I would overtake you
and Corporal Richardson on the trail,” grinned Dick. “What I meant, of
course, was that we’d follow along and join you later.”

“You’ll stay right here until we get back,” ordered Slade. “That’s
final. There’s goin’ to be some trouble up the line. We’re risking our
own lives—not yours.”

“He’s right, Dick,” broke in the heavy, though not unmusical voice of
Corporal Richardson. “Neither you nor Sandy can come along this time.
You must wait here until we return.”

Dick choked back his disappointment, looking up at the stalwart figure
of Corporal Richardson through a blur of tears. He turned his head and
stared miserably across at the room which had almost been wrecked in the
recent encounter between Factor MacClaren and the scar-faced Indian. A
whirl of conflicting thoughts flashed through his mind.

“All right,” he said dully, “but——”

He was interrupted by the appearance of an Indian servant, upon the
heels of whom came a tall young man with flashing eyes, clad in a heavy
fur coat and parka. For a brief moment the young man stood, surveying
the three occupants of the room. Then, without further preliminary, he
advanced shyly toward Corporal Richardson, fumbling in the pocket of his
coat.

“For ze mounted police,” he said, presenting Richardson with a long
official-looking envelope. “Inspector Cameron he tell me take eet to
you. To be queek. To be very careful. I have been on the trail eight,
ten hours, monsieur.”

“Thank you,” said Corporal Richardson simply. He tore open the envelope,
produced the letter and read its contents. Except for a slight pucker on
his brow, there was no change in his expression.

“It will be necessary,” he said, turning to Slade, “to change our plans
completely. I must ask you to go on alone in pursuit of the scar-faced
Indian. It will be my duty to proceed elsewhere. I’m sorry, Slade.”

“Don’t you worry about that, Corporal. Orders is orders. I’ll go alone.”
A moment of silence, then: “When do you think I’d better start?”

“Right away,” answered Corporal Richardson.

Dick grunted and rolled back into bed, thoroughly disgusted with the
whole world in general, but particularly with a certain body of men
known as the Royal North West Mounted Police. They had commanded him to
remain at the post, while glorious adventure stalked valiantly along the
snow-white trail just beyond. He and Sandy were not babies to be petted
and pampered in this manner. He’d show ’em. He——

With rebellion in his heart, Dick rolled over presently, thumped down
his pillow, and, in a very short time, fell fast asleep.



                              CHAPTER III
                            SCARLET AND GOLD


Dick awoke on the following morning to find Sandy stooping over him,
regarding him silently with eyes from which shone sympathy and deep
concern. As a matter of fact, Sandy was seriously alarmed over his
friend’s appearance. Dick’s bandaged head and somewhat pallid face gave
him the look of one who hovers close to death’s door. There was an
unmistakable catch in the young Scotchman’s voice as he leaned forward
still closer to the recumbent form and inquired solicitously:

“Are you feeling any better, Dick?”

“I’m feeling fine,” came the surprising answer, “and I’m going to get up
in about three minutes and fight it out with Corporal Richardson. I have
no intention of being treated like a child.”

The angry wave of color that swept into Dick’s cheeks, coupled with the
dark frown and resentful eyes, so astonished Sandy that he sat down on
the edge of the bed and gasped weakly:

“You don’t really mean that. Why, Dick, you’re no match for Corporal
Richardson. Besides, it’s a criminal offense to assault a mounted
policeman.”

“I’m not going to assault a mounted policeman,” Dick petulantly
explained. “I think too much of Corporal Richardson for that. What I
intend to do is to find out why he intends to keep us here until
Malemute Slade returns. My contention is that as long as we obey the
laws and conduct ourselves like honest citizens, no person has the right
to interfere in our business.”

Sandy sat for a long time before answering. Here was a problem that
required a good deal of careful thought and attention. On the face of
it, Dick’s grievance seemed pardonable, and yet common sense told him
that Corporal Richardson was fair and just, not at all the sort of
person to take advantage of his authority. If the mounted policeman
insisted upon Dick and him staying here, there must be a good reason for
it.

“Didn’t Corporal Richardson tell you why he wanted us to stay here?”
Sandy asked.

“He and Malemute Slade thought we would be risking our lives if we
followed Scar-Face.”

“Well, perhaps they’re right.”

Dick sat up and put one hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Listen to me, Sandy. Listen to me and then, if you wish, form your own
opinion. The mounted police insist upon our remaining here at the post
because if we undertake to follow old Scar-Face we may be risking our
lives. They may be right. I haven’t the least doubt but that we’ll
encounter certain dangers. Possibly we’ll be risking our lives but,”
Dick paused and waved one hand dramatically, “what else have we been
doing except just that: Risking our lives every day, running into
dangers and difficulties with the consent of everybody, including the
mounted police. Now, suddenly, for no reason at all, we’re asked to be
good little boys, to remain indoors for fear we may catch a bad cold. I
tell you, Sandy, it sounds fishy to me.”

“Dick, I think you’d make a great orator,” said Sandy admiringly.

“And a poor soldier,” chimed in a voice. “Pardon me for eavesdropping,
gentlemen, but the fact is I couldn’t help overhearing a part of your
conversation.”

Faces red with shame, the two boys turned in the direction of the
newcomer, Corporal Richardson himself, who stood just inside the door.
Dick could have bit out his tongue or, better still, hid his head under
the pillow while some friendly magician transported him—bed, blankets
and all—to some remote place, thousands and thousands of miles distant.
For the first time he realized what a fool he had been—a miserable young
fool with a wagging tongue in his head. He hadn’t the courage to look
Corporal Richardson in the face.

“You’d make a poor soldier,” continued the corporal, calmly surveying
the two culprits. “You see, Dick, a soldier’s first duty is obedience.
What do you suppose would happen to me if I questioned my superior’s
commands, if I didn’t do what I was told to do even if, deep down in my
heart, I believed or knew that my superior was in the wrong?”

“You’d be placed under arrest,” surmised Sandy.

“Right! That’s exactly what would happen to me. And I’d deserve the
punishment I got.”

Corporal Richardson ceased speaking for a moment, strode forward and
placed a kindly hand on Dick’s bandaged head.

“Now don’t feel badly about this, Dick, and when I go out of the room I
want you to try and forget the reprimand. Dismiss the whole incident,
just as I propose to dismiss it. We’re all friends, I owe you boys a
debt of gratitude. I admire you both very much. As a general thing, I’m
not usually one to hand out compliments or bestow praise, but I’ll say
this: You and Sandy are as rough a pair of young vagabonds as it has
ever been my experience to meet.”

A roar of laughter greeted this amusing sally, and for a moment Dick
entirely forgot his discomfiture.

“Seriously now,” Corporal Richardson continued, “I want both of you to
understand my position in this matter. Remember this: It is one thing to
risk your life, but quite another to risk your life needlessly. That’s
exactly what you’d be doing if you went out on the trail with Malemute
Slade. Your chance of stopping a bullet would be exceedingly good.
Scar-Face would lead you into a trap before you had gone thirty miles. I
tell you Henderson’s gang of cut-throats and ruffians has become a
terrible menace to the entire western portion of this north country.
Conditions have never been worse since the Riel Rebellion. If things do
not improve shortly, I’m afraid the Royal Mounted will be compelled to
call in outside aid.”

“But what will happen to Malemute Slade?” questioned Sandy in awed
tones.

“To be perfectly frank, I’ll be worried about him and won’t know a
single moment’s peace until he returns. However, Slade can look after
himself much better than he could if you boys went with him. He’s the
best scout in the mounted police service.”

“Do you think he has any chance of recovering the map?” Dick asked.

Corporal Richardson shook his head.

“I doubt it very much. I do not believe any of us will ever see the map
again. But that does not mean that you need give up hope altogether.
Your chance of finding the mine and eventually getting it into your
possession is almost as good now as it ever was.”

“What do you mean?” both boys shouted out in unison.

“Henderson and his gang will be apt to find it, won’t they? Well if they
do, we’ll take it away from them. Could anything be simpler? It sounds
easy but, of course, it isn’t. Just the same, I really do think the
thing could be managed.”

“A sort of roundabout way of gaining possession,” laughed Dick.

“Any way is a good way, especially in their case,” grinned Sandy. “But
if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see Uncle Walter. He’s covered with
bruises from head to foot. Painful, of course, but not serious. I can’t
imagine how I managed to sleep through all that uproar last night.”

“I’m not at all surprised,” rejoined Dick, who well knew his friend’s
propensity in this regard, and never lost an opportunity of chiding him
about it.

When Sandy had hurried away, Corporal Richardson turned to Dick.

“We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“You bet!” came the answer unhesitatingly. “Corporal, I owe you an
apology. I can see now what a fool I was.” Impulsively he extended his
hand.

“Now that that’s settled,” said Richardson, “I have a job for you. Do
you happen to remember the messenger, who came last night?”

“Yes.”

“If you saw him again would you know him?”

“Yes,” stated Dick positively.

“How did he impress you?”

“Why, favorably, I guess.” Dick wondered what the policeman was driving
at.

“That was my first impression too,” Corporal Richardson resumed, “but I
have since had occasion to alter it considerably. I don’t mind telling
you that I nearly made a very fatal error of judgment. That
French-Canadian messenger was a fake, and he brought me a fake message,
supposed to be from Inspector Cameron. I was fooled last night and
permitted my man to escape. This morning a careful scrutiny of the
message proved that the signature affixed was a forgery. In other words,
the letter did not come from headquarters at all, although the
stationery upon which it had been penned must have been stolen from the
Inspector’s office.”

“What did the letter say?” Dick asked.

“It instructed me to proceed, not later than the morning of March
2nd—which is today—to a place called Little Run River and there place a
certain person under arrest for the theft of valuable furs.”

“But what would be the purpose of such a hoax?” Dick wanted to know.

“Simply to get me out of the way. For some reason, not yet quite
apparent, my presence here at Fort Good Faith is not wanted. For some
reason, my presence here interferes with the carrying out of important
plans of certain unscrupulous persons; which, of course, makes it all
the more necessary why I should remain and why you should go on to Run
River in my place.”

Dick would not have jumped to his feet any quicker if he had been
pricked by a pin.

“In your place!” he gasped. “Why, corporal, I don’t understand! No one
could mistake me for you!”

“When I get through with you,” calmly smiled the mounted policeman,
“anyone will be very apt to be fooled by the resemblance. The main thing
is, you’re about my height.”

At that moment Dick was too excited to grasp fully what the corporal was
telling him. Presently, however, he was enlightened.

“For the first time in your life, Dick,” declared Corporal Richardson,
still smiling, “you’re going to don the uniform of his majesty’s Royal
North West Mounted Police.”



                               CHAPTER IV
                        DICK MAKES A SUGGESTION


A very serious but elated young man, no other than Dick himself, strode
into the room occupied by Corporal Richardson and proceeded to put on
the scarlet and gold uniform of the Royal North West Mounted Police. At
that particular moment his mind was in a whirl of conflicting emotions.
He still possessed a somewhat hazy idea of what was expected of him,
although he knew that when the time came Richardson would give him
complete and painstaking instructions.

That he was embarking upon an important and mysterious errand, there
could be no doubt, and it thrilled him to know that the mounted
policeman had sufficient confidence in his ability to give him this
chance to be of real service. As he pulled on the blue breeches with the
wide yellow stripe and later the scarlet tunic, resplendent with braid
and shining brass buttons, he made a solemn resolution to be worthy of
the trust imposed in him.

“Sandy will laugh when he sees me,” he told Corporal Richardson, “and I
must say that I feel awkward and out of place.”

“It fits you remarkably well,” smiled the corporal, “considering how
much heavier I am. I think I’m inclined to be proud of your appearance,
and perhaps just a little bit jealous.”

“When do you want me to start?” Dick asked. “In about an hour. But
first, there are a number of things I want to discuss with you. So, if
you’ll just sit down in that chair over there and listen attentively,
I’m sure there’ll be no question about the ultimate success of our
plan.”

“As I explained to you before,” continued Corporal Richardson, “the
French-Canadian messenger, who came here last night with the forged
letter, is an agent or emissary of a band of crooks. Who these crooks
are, I’m not altogether sure. My belief is that they’re the fur thieves
Malemute Slade and I have been trailing for the last three weeks.”

Sitting very still and rigid in his chair, Dick followed closely every
word spoken. Richardson’s face had become serious, even stern in its
expression.

“I’ve nothing very tangible to go on, of course, but during the past few
hours I’ve given a good deal of thought to this case. I’m convinced of
one thing. I’m positive that the fur thieves and Henderson’s gang are
one and the same. I believe it was Henderson who sent the messenger last
night. Henderson is the author of this strategy or hoax, just as surely
as he is the person directly behind the effort to secure possession of
your lost gold mine.”

“You really think so?” Dick interrupted.

“Yes.”

For a short interval the mounted policeman sat without speaking. The
room had become almost intolerably silent. Turning towards the window,
Dick looked out across a vast snow field, dotted here and there with the
dark green of spruce and jackpine.

“And now,” suddenly resumed Richardson, “we’ve come to the very serious
part of this whole business. I must confess to you that I’m worried
and—you may be surprised at this admission—afraid!”

“Afraid!” Dick gasped. “Why, corporal, I can’t believe that anything
would ever frighten you.”

“Something has,” confessed Richardson, “and right now I’m frightened so
badly that I’m almost inclined to tell you to take off that uniform and
go and hunt up your friend, Sandy, for a game of cards.”

Dick started to laugh, but a second look at the brooding, troubled eyes
of the man opposite, choked his untimely mirth.

“This is a serious moment for you, my boy, and I’ll tell you why. The
message received last night was sent to me for a purpose. For reasons,
as yet not quite clear to us, my presence at Fort Good Faith constitutes
a hindrance to certain plans of Henderson. Henderson wants me to clear
out—to go away. Why?”

“I’m sure I can’t answer that question,” said Dick.

“Neither can I; but I’ve a pretty fair hunch. Fort Good Faith is on the
only direct, open, well-travelled trail, leading south to civilization.
Henderson, let us say, has a valuable shipment of stolen fur. He wants
to dispose of it. He’s in a hurry to get it south before the spring
thaw. Every day that he is forced to wait, is time and money lost. He’s
anxious to start right away, sending out his fur by dog teams, but he
can’t do that because I’m here at Fort Good Faith and will be sure to
seize his shipment.”

“Whew!” whistled Dick. “How did you ever contrive to figure that all
out? It sounds very plausible.”

“Nevertheless,” said Corporal Richardson, “it’s entirely supposition and
may be absolutely wrong. I’m hoping that it’s right, because if it
isn’t, the only other motive that I can think of for inducing me to go
to Run River is a very sinister one.”

“What is it?” asked Dick.

“A trap for me to fall into. Somewhere between here and Run River an
ambush—a slinking half-breed or Indian lying in wait to pop me off. A
score of mounted policemen have gone that way. It’s an old trick. That’s
why I’m shivering clear down to the bottom of my feet for fear that I
may be sending you out to your death. Before God, I wish I had detected
that forgery before I ordered Slade to set out in pursuit of the
scar-faced Indian.”

Dick caught at the side of his chair, his cheeks deathly pale. The room
seemed to be spinning around in a sort of dark haze, through which he
could see the distorted face of Corporal Richardson opposite. When he
had recovered somewhat, he observed that the mounted policeman had
sprung to his feet and was pacing abstractedly back and forth.

“I can’t—I can’t do it, Dick,” he was muttering. “It isn’t fair.
No—there must be some other way.”

“But I want to go,” Dick insisted. “I’ll take good care of myself and
I’m sure nothing will happen. Anyhow, I’m convinced that your first
guess was right, that Henderson and the fur thieves are planning to send
that shipment.”

“And, on the other hand,” pointed out Corporal Richardson, “both guesses
may be right. It would be a feather in Henderson’s cap if he could
dispose of the furs and have me put out of the way at one and the same
time.”

For several moments the two stood, facing each other, both deep in
thought. Suddenly, Dick’s face lighted and he clapped his hands together
gleefully.

“Corporal Richardson, I think possibly I may have hit upon a rather
sensible plan,” he cried out enthusiastically. “Why not follow the trail
to Run River only a short distance, then strike off in an entirely
different direction, make a wide detour, and come back here to the post.
Henderson will naturally suppose that I have gone on to Run River. If
your first supposition is correct, the dog teams with the fur will start
to move down this way at once. If your second guess is right, I won’t
run into an ambush because I won’t be travelling where they expect me to
go.”

“Good!” exclaimed Richardson. “Dick, you’re a young man after my own
heart. Why in the Dickens didn’t I think of that myself.”

“You’ve done well enough for one day as it is,” Dick rejoined. “All I
hope is that you won’t have any trouble capturing the men with the fur
shipments. Aren’t they apt to put up a fight?”

“I expect that,” answered the corporal, “but I’ll have Sandy, young Toma
and Mr. MacClaren to give me a hand if necessary.”

Breakfast, a few minutes more of preparation, and Dick and the mounted
policeman, the latter now clothed in ordinary civilian garb, slipped
quietly out of the room and hurried down a long hall in the direction of
the side entrance. As they went, the corporal was speaking in hushed
undertones:

“It’s just as well that Sandy doesn’t see you before you go. We haven’t
time now for explanations or further delays. Good luck, and God be with
you.”

They paused for a single hand-clasp before Dick turned to close the door
after him, which action Corporal Richardson prevented by sticking out
his foot.

“Straight ahead until you cross the river, then take the first trail to
your right,” he called out. “Be careful!”

“Good-bye,” said Dick without turning his head.

His eyes were moist and a sticky lump reposed in his throat. Chin out,
arms swinging at his side, who, indeed, might detect anything amiss
here? The trail was ahead, a glimmering stretch of snow, dazzling in the
early morning light. Behind him were friends, comfort and a good fire.

Dick plodded on.



                               CHAPTER V
                           DICK IS INDISCREET


Three hours after he had left Fort Good Faith, Dick Kent, still on the
Run River trail, had become conscious of an increasing nervousness. The
section of country through which he now passed was densely wooded,
rugged and broken, a treacherous, uninviting prospect. Dick estimated
that he had travelled about twelve miles from the post. To continue much
farther might prove to be a dangerous business. Even now, as he went
cautiously forward, he could almost persuade himself that behind every
clump of bushes, behind almost every tree, there crouched the leering,
skulking form of one of Henderson’s men.

If he followed his original plan, the thing to do presently was to
strike off, either to the right or left, and proceed on his way back by
a circuitous route. Tonight he would camp somewhere in the open,
building himself a shelter of spruce boughs. Tomorrow morning he would
set out again, moving slowly, making a wide detour, always bearing in
mind that he must not, under any circumstances, return to Fort Good
Faith before two days had elapsed. The fur thieves, both he and Corporal
Richardson had conjectured, would be sure not to delay more than two
days before commencing the trek southward with their valuable loot. So
Dick had a good deal of time to waste, before he might hope to rejoin
his friends.

A hundred yards farther on, a turn in the trail brought Dick to a small
creek. Frozen, and covered deeply with snow, it traced its way through
the dark green of the forest. From where he stood, Dick thought that it
looked very much like a white snake, twisting through the trees. It
would be great fun, he decided, to leave the trail at this point and
follow the creek on a little voyage of exploration, later leaving it, if
he found that the general course of the stream ran too far in the wrong
direction.

Also, by following the creek, there would be a certain advantage to
himself, well worth considering. It offered a smooth, hard trail to his
feet, with no obstruction from rocks, bramble and bush, as the case
would be if he chose to strike out in a more haphazardly course through
the forest.

Turning to the left, Dick slid down the small embankment and commenced
leisurely to walk along the creek bottom. The snow-crust was so heavy
that he paused, kicked off his snowshoes and went forward again,
whistling happily. It was a great relief to leave the Run River trail.
He would have no fear now of a deadly ambuscade. His heart had ceased
its disconcerting flip-flops every time he went past a dark screen of
brush or a heavy clump of trees. It now functioned in a more healthy
manner.

The weather was mild, a stream of warm sunshine lighting the open forest
spaces with a dazzling radiance. The glare of snow was hard on the eyes,
but by keeping in the shadow of the large trees, bordering the creek,
Dick contrived to overcome this difficulty.

In another hour or two he would pause for his midday meal. The long walk
had given him an appetite. He was sorry that Sandy hadn’t come along to
enjoy the fun. On a day like this it was good to be alive. He grinned as
a rabbit whisked across his path, boy-fashion stooping to pick up a
chunk of ice to hurl after it. As he straightened up, eyes on the trail
ahead, he was startled by the sight of a thin, white spiral of smoke
curling up from the trees, not more than two hundred yards distant.

Dick stopped dead in his tracks, scarcely believing the reality of the
thing he saw. He was totally unprepared in the emergency and for a
moment stood, with bated breath, debating whether he ought to go on or
turn tail, like a frightened husky, and scamper for cover.

Corporal Richardson had warned him to keep away from all human kind.
Before the experienced eyes of the average frontiersman Dick’s
masquerade would be useless. And once the deception had been laid bare,
no one might tell how soon the news would reach Bear Henderson and his
gang of outlaws.

To add to Dick’s discomfiture, there emerged unexpectedly in plain view
ahead the figure of a man. Half way across the creek the man paused,
perceiving Dick, and one arm went up in a gesture of friendly
salutation.

In chagrin, Dick bit his lips. His chance now to get away undetected had
been lost. In less than four hours from the time he had left Fort Good
Faith, he had committed a most unpardonable blunder. All very well for
spying eyes to follow his progress along the Run River trail, and Indian
messengers to report the news later to Henderson—that was playing the
game correctly; but to be discovered here, four miles off the prescribed
route, calmly throwing chunks of ice after scurrying rabbits, was an
entirely different matter. If word of it ever reached the suspicious
outlaw, Corporal Richardson’s chances of capturing the fur thieves was
very slim indeed.

“The only thing about me worthy of the name of a mounted policeman is
this uniform,” Dick lamented to himself. “I’ve messed up everything.
I’ll be ashamed to go back and look Corporal Richardson in the face.
Hang the luck!”

With a snort of disgust, he strode forward again to meet the waiting
figure. There was no turning back now. The thing to do was to swallow
his disappointment and endeavor to make the best of it.

In a few minutes more he had approached to within twenty feet of the
man. His moccasins crunched lightly over the snow, but the blinding
glare of sun in his eyes, together with the dazzling reflection of
millions of white crystals underfoot, made it difficult to see. He heard
a voice announce:

“Ah, et eez ze Corporal Richardson himself. I bid you ze welcome,
monsieur. You come to ze house. You come——”

The words trailed off suddenly, culminating in an exclamation of
surprise. Dick stopped.

“My mistake. Et ees not ze good Corporal Richardson at all. Mon Dieu! A
boy!”

A prickling sensation ran up and down Dick’s spine. He could see more
clearly now, and one good look at the man in front of him was more than
sufficient. Who could mistake those snapping eyes, or that tall, lithe,
athletic figure? It was the messenger of the night before—the man who
had brought the forged letter to Corporal Richardson!

During the first few minutes of bewilderment and surprise, Dick found it
impossible to think clearly, but as this feeling wore off, there flashed
through his mind the thought that perhaps this messenger of Henderson
had not yet discovered his true identity. The man had seen him only
once. Dick presented an entirely different appearance now than he had on
the evening before in the poorly lighted room at the post.

“What ees your name, monsieur?” demanded the Frenchman.

“Corporal Rand,” Dick lied deliberately. “Recently from the mounted
police training school at Regina. This is the first time I’ve ever been
sent out on actual service. I arrived at Fort Good Faith a few hours ago
to relieve Corporal Richardson, but I discovered he had left under
instructions just a few minutes before for a place called Run River.”

The Frenchman, to judge from the relieved expression on his face,
actually believed the story.

“And so you already start on ze friendly patrol?” he inquired politely.

“No,” answered the quaking young counterfeit, “at first that really
wasn’t my intention. I had hoped to overtake Corporal Richardson before
he had gone very far, but I guess I wasn’t swift enough. There is no
catching him!”

The messenger grinned at this admission. He surveyed the lanky young
tenderfoot, bethought him of the prowess of Corporal Richardson on the
trail, and doubled up in a paroxysm of mirth. Dick joined willingly in
the laugh on himself.

“Monsieur will become swift himself if he continue to stay in zis
countree,” came the encouraging assertion.

“Conditions here are much different than they were in the south,”
explained Dick, “but I imagine that in time I’ll get used to them.”

“True, monsieur, an’ now you are veree tired, I expect.” The messenger’s
gestures were expressive. “So you will come with me to my house. You
will honor me, monsieur. You will stay an’ rest an’ forget about ze
hardness of ze trail. Baptiste La Lond ees a veree good friend to ze
mounted police.”

Dick guessed at the motive underlying the messenger’s efforts at
hospitality. La Lond was afraid that Dick might decide to return at once
to Fort Good Faith. It would never do, of course, after getting rid of
one policeman, to have all their plans spoiled by the sudden advent of a
second.

“I really must return to Fort Good Faith at once,” stated Dick, by way
of a feeler. “I’ll be stationed there for several days, I imagine.”

“No! No! No!” protested La Lond, throwing up his hands in protest. “Et
ees unthinkable. Monsieur is tired after ze hard trek. He must rest an’
eat at my house.” He paused, a smile of eagerness lighting his face. The
dark eyes snapped. “An’ now I will tell you ze beeg news, monsieur.
Tonight my veree good friend, Pierre Chapelle, ees hold a dance at hees
house. We will go. What you say, monsieur?”

“I’ll think about that later,” Dick answered, deciding to play into the
other’s hands. “I’ll stay here for a while, if you insist. I really am
very tired.”

La Lond kept up a continuous chatter as he quickly led the way to the
house—a small cabin, nestling in the woods. His host threw open the door
to permit him to enter a tidy room, at one side of which Dick perceived
a young man of about his own age.

“My brother, Phellep,” explained the messenger, pushing his way in and
closing the door. “We live here together. Phellep, take monsieur’s
coat.”

Phillip La Lond rose stiffly, a look of fear on his face. Evidently he
was not accustomed to entertaining members of the Royal Mounted and was
probably trying to figure out the reason for Dick’s unexpected visit.

But if Phillip experienced fear, he was not without company. Dick also
was afraid. It had just occurred to him that perhaps the wily messenger
had not been in the least deceived by the story, which he, Dick, had
related. Perhaps La Lond had recognized him at the very beginning and
was now planning some devilish method of getting rid of him.

During the preparation of the midday meal and for several hours
afterward, Dick sat, shivering with apprehension. La Lond’s continuous
flow of conversation fell on unheeding ears. The pressure of the
revolver in its holster at Dick’s side was somewhat reassuring, yet what
match was he, a single inexperienced youth, against a seasoned criminal
like La Lond. He had probably made a serious mistake in coming here. No
doubt, he would be made to pay dearly for his blundering. But in any
event, it was up to him now to play the game in a way that would be a
credit to the faith imposed in him.

And so with this grim resolve, Dick straightened in his chair,
endeavoring to conquer the quailing spirit within. La Lond was still
speaking:

“Perhaps monsieur ees veree tired an’ would like to lie down an’ rest,”
he inquired solicitously. “While you have your leetle nap, Phellep will
take ze run out to ze trap-line.”

“What you mean, you deceiving scoundrel,” Dick thought to himself, “is
that you are sending Phillip over to Henderson’s camp with the news of
my coming.” Then aloud:

“No, I’m not as tired as you think. Let’s sit here and rest for a few
minutes more, then all three of us will go out to examine your traps.”

The appearance of animation and the smile of good fellowship suddenly
and inexplicably disappeared. In their place a dark frown settled over
the face of the messenger. For one brief moment he glared at Dick.

“All right, eet will be as you wish,” he snapped. Then his eyes met
Dick’s in a look that could not possibly be misunderstood.

Unconsciously, Dick stiffened in his chair as he read the challenge.



                               CHAPTER VI
                     IN THE HOUSE OF THE MESSENGER


It was a trying ordeal. Never before, in all Dick’s experience, had time
seemed to pass so slowly as it did upon that fateful afternoon. The
messenger had thrown aside all further attempts at conversation. Head
bent forward, fingers locked, he feigned a drowsiness, which did not
fool Dick in the least. Phillip, on the other hand, had grown restless,
continually fidgeting about, or pacing up and down the room like a caged
lion.

Occasionally Dick would catch a glimpse of a furtive, frightened glance
cast in his direction. The younger La Lond, less adept in the school of
deception, could not conceal his real feelings.

“Have you many traps out this winter?” Dick inquired, looking across at
Phillip.

The other mumbled something in reply and went on with his pacing.
Evidently, he had no desire to commit himself. In the cabin were no
evidences of traps or trapping, and Dick would have been willing to
swear on oath that the brothers La Lond not only did not possess such a
thing as a trap-line, but had other and more profitable ways of making a
living.

To all appearances, the two brothers lived a life of ease and
indulgence. The room was nicely furnished, the cupboards were stocked
with food, two bottles of Hudson’s Bay Company’s rum peeped from behind
an inadequate curtain. But the thing which struck Dick’s gaze most
forcibly of all, was a queer-looking object which stood near the
fireplace. It was a sort of rack, cleverly constructed out of wood, upon
which fairly bristled a miniature arsenal of guns, rifles, knives and
belts—the last bulging with cartridges.

Time and time again, Dick’s eyes returned to a fascinated scrutiny of
that rack. There were weapons enough here to supply a small army. Deadly
looking revolvers and automatics, shot-guns, 45 and 30-30 caliber
repeating rifles, with here and there a long-bladed knife to add
interest to the general effect.

On the floor, close to the rack, were several packing cases, as yet
unopened, which probably contained a more complete supply of ammunition.
The brothers La Lond might boast of possessing a different weapon for
almost every day of the month. So complete were their requirements in
this respect, that Dick very quickly jumped to the conclusion that no
two men could possibly find use for them all. It was much more
reasonable to believe that others, beside the two brothers, had an
interest in them, and that this cabin was used as a meeting place—if not
for Henderson’s gang itself—for another band equally as bad.

“I’m about as safe here,” Dick grimaced to himself, “as I would be
sitting on a case of nitroglycerine. The best thing for me is to get
away from here as quickly as possible.”

From under his lowered brows, Baptiste La Lond, still feigning sleep,
was secretly watching him. Dick felt the scrutiny through some intuitive
sense, and became more and more uncomfortable. Another worry was caused
by the younger La Lond, who, during his restless pacing to and fro,
often passed behind Dick’s chair. It would be very easy, Dick thought,
for Phillip to spring forward and pinion his arms behind him. In fact,
chancing to look across at the former messenger he intercepted a signal,
a sly wink which might, had Dick been less on guard, easily have passed
unnoticed. Dick turned almost completely around, just as Phillip came
stealthily forward, preparing for a spring.

“When are we going to visit the trap-line, Phillip?” Dick inquired
mockingly.

Phillip stopped suddenly, his face red with anger and embarrassment. He
turned and beat a hasty retreat, glowering from his corner as Dick rose
and moved back his chair.

Then, as never before, Dick realized fully the seriousness of his
position. Not for one moment could he relax his vigilance. His life
itself depended upon extreme caution and, when it became necessary,
swift action. But even by exercising the utmost care, sooner or later a
little slip on his part might give the treacherous brothers the
advantage they craved.

Dick rose to his feet, finally, and addressed the still drowsing
messenger.

“La Lond,” he stated in a clear, steady voice, “I’ve decided to go at
once. I’m afraid it will be impossible for me to neglect my duty. It is
too late in the afternoon to go back to Fort Good Faith, but I think
I’ll continue on my patrol, returning to the post late tomorrow
afternoon or the morning following.”

Baptiste, apparently, was sleeping with one ear open. Almost immediately
he sprang to an upright position.

“No! No, monsieur!” he protested, waving his arms wildly about. “You
must not go, I beg of you. Stop here for a time longer, monsieur.”

But Dick shook his head.

“I must go,” he declared firmly.

“But think, monsieur, eet will be veree late by ze time you get back to
Fort Good Faith.”

“I’ll not go there tonight, as I just explained to you, and probably not
tomorrow. I must finish my patrol.”

La Lond’s eyes blinked.

“Where do you go then?” he asked, evidently much relieved.

“That is a matter I have not yet decided,” answered Dick. “I’m not very
well acquainted with the country hereabouts, and I’ve been wondering if
you’ll be kind enough to direct me to the nearest dwelling.”

“Yes, certainly, monsieur, I will be veree glad.”

His sudden great eagerness to assist him did not escape Dick’s
attention. He knew very well what Baptiste would say, and he had no
intention of following any suggestions of the bandit as to where he
should go. It was easy to guess where the wily messenger would send
him—to Henderson’s camp probably, or, if not there, to the house of some
other crook in the outlaw’s employ.

“I have a friend who live seex miles from here,” said La Lond. “Ze trail
ees veree easy to his house. You must go zere.”

“All right, I’ll do as you say,” agreed Dick, “but first you must be
very careful in directing me so that I do not get lost.”

“Et ees easy to tell, monsieur. You will not get lost,” the messenger
shrugged his shoulders expressively. “Two mile down ze leetle creek to
ze first turn to ze right, zen four mile straight ahead to my friend’s
house. Not possibly can you miss et, monsieur.”

“So that is where Henderson is camped,” exulted Dick to himself. “The
information may be valuable to Corporal Richardson.”

“Thank you very much,” he said to Baptiste.

“Et ees nothing,” La Lond blinked wickedly.

Phillip had suddenly come to life again and was treading soft-footed
across the floor. From the corner of one eye, Dick watched him. Then
Baptiste shuffled farther to one side, probably with the intention of
preventing Dick from observing his brother’s sly movements. Not to be
outdone in this clumsy fashion, Dick took a step in the opposite
direction, just in time to see Phillip approach the fireplace and the
rack of guns close by.

“You will find ze place without difficulty,” declared Baptiste in a loud
voice, attempting to attract attention to himself. “I tell you,
monsieur, my friend he ees veree good host. So joll-ee, so kind,
monsieur. You will not regret.”

Dick whipped his revolver from his holster and sprang back just in time.

“Put down that gun,” he shouted to Phillip. “Put it down, I say!”

Phillip’s weapon clattered to the floor, and his hands clawed at the
empty air above his head. At that particular moment he was a very much
frightened and surprised young man. His cheeks were white as the drifts
of snow outside. Baptiste turned, his face crimson with fury.

“Fool! Fool!” he screamed, rushing forward and cuffing the shivering
culprit about the face and head. Then he turned apologetically to Dick.

“Pardon, monsieur,” he whimpered. “Mon Dieu! I am stricken! Ze boy ees
mad. Perhaps you notice et before, monsieur. I intend to tell you ze
truth when first you came, but there ees always ze shame an’ ze pride.
You understand me, monsieur.”

“Yes, I understand you,” Dick replied coldly. “Believe me, I’ll know
exactly what to expect from you in future. One false move from either
one of you, and I won’t hesitate about using this nice little plaything
here in my hands. Stand aside!”

Baptiste obeyed quickly as Dick backed slowly to the door, opened it and
went quickly out. His pulses were pounding and his hand trembled as he
returned the gun to its holster.

“Close shave!” he muttered to himself. “I guess I was pretty lucky that
time.”

At a dog trot, he hurried along the foot-path, leading to the creek.



                              CHAPTER VII
                        FLIGHT THROUGH THE WOODS


A very alert and still somewhat frightened young man in the person of
Dick Kent hurried across the small creek he had commenced following a
few hours before, and struck off through the heavy forest of spruce and
poplar, which lay between him and Fort Good Faith.

In spite of the fact that travelling was now more difficult, Dick made
remarkably good time. The thought uppermost in his mind was to put as
many miles between him and the treacherous Baptiste as possible, to go
on with undiminished speed until darkness came to prevent further
progress.

Pursuit would be almost certain, Dick reasoned. The two brothers,
smarting under their recent thwarted attempt to take Dick prisoner,
would be anxious to even the score.

“They’ll be wild,” Dick grinned to himself, “and angry enough to boil me
in oil if ever I fall in their hands again.”

He chuckled as he visualized the picture of Baptiste and Phillip,
quarreling amongst themselves over the miscarriage of their plans. By
the time they had fought out the verbal battle and had got down to the
real business of recapturing their slippery guest, Dick hoped he would
have several miles to his credit, and would be able to retain the lead.

He had been unwise in accepting the hospitality offered by Baptiste, yet
in so doing he had made several important discoveries. One was that the
cabin, occupied by the two brothers, afforded a meeting place for the
band of criminals, then infesting the country, and a second, that either
Henderson himself or other members of the band could be found in the
place to which Baptiste had directed him.

Dick pondered over this information as he hurried on. He recalled what
Corporal Richardson had told him regarding the operations of a large
criminal organization there in the North, and he was quite sure the
mounted police would welcome any news of their movements or places of
abode. He remembered also what Richardson had said about the connection
between the fur thieves and Henderson’s outlaws. The corporal believed
that they were one and the same—all under the leadership of Henderson.
If this supposition were correct, then the La Lond cabin was just as apt
to be a meeting place or rendezvous for the men who had stolen the map
of the lost mine, as for the fur thieves themselves.

Sooner or later, reasoned Dick, the scar-faced Indian would show up at
one or the other of the two places of which he, Dick, had knowledge.
Probably right now the possessor of the map was somewhere in that very
neighborhood. Having escaped Malemute Slade, what would be more natural
than that he should immediately proceed to Henderson’s camp to report
his good fortune.

Dick paused abruptly at the thought, his pulses pounding with
excitement. In a high state of tension he strode forward, brushed the
snow from a small, broken stump, and sat down to think it all out.

“I’ve a good notion to throw caution to the winds,” he confided to
himself, gulping a handful of snow, “and go right back at once. They
won’t be expecting me. Anyway, it’ll be dark by the time I return to the
La Lond cabin. It will be comparatively safe then. I’ll reconnoitre a
bit, find out if Baptiste and Phillip are still there, and, if they’re
not, I’ll slip over to Henderson’s. I’ve just got a hunch that the
scar-faced Indian has returned.”

Dick had never been placed in a similar position, and found it very
difficult to decide. Reason told him that it would be the height of
folly to embark upon any such enterprise. But in Dick’s veins was the
hot, adventurous blood of youth. Here was a chance in a thousand to win
back the ground which had been lost. He would find the scar-faced Indian
and endeavor to recover the map.

He had risen to his feet for the express purpose of proceeding to carry
out his foolhardy plan, when quite unexpectedly there rang in his ears a
former statement of Corporal Richardson:

“You’d make a mighty poor soldier, Dick.... A soldier’s first duty is
obedience.”

Was this obedience? He had been warned to keep away from all human
habitation, to be careful not to expose himself needlessly—to shun men!
And now—— A slow flush of shame mounted to his forehead. Hang it all,
what an imbecile he was. So far he had obeyed none of the commands of
his superior. He had—or very nearly had—violated them all. At every
turn, instead of doing the right thing, he had done the wrong thing. He
was not worthy of Corporal Richardson’s or any other man’s trust. Even
Sandy, younger than he, nor half as strong physically, would never have
been guilty of such willful disobedience.

It was a more sober and earnest young man who faced resolutely about and
continued the trek eastward towards Fort Good Faith. The silence of the
great forest lay about him. Shadows had lengthened, the sun had slipped
down out of sight, the cooler breath of evening stung color in his
cheeks and tickled his nostrils with tiny particles of frost.

“I’ll go on for an hour before stopping to make camp for the night,” he
decided.

He felt more tired now as he resumed his lonely and monotonous journey.
Crossing a narrow valley, thickly studded with clumps of red willow and
saskatoon, he commenced scrambling up a sharp incline, until finally he
reached a wide plateau. Here, except for an occasional stunted
jack-pine, there were no trees. Huge boulders and queer looking rocks,
most of them covered thickly with snow, gave a weird appearance to the
place.

The wind had full sweep across the plateau. It was bitterly cold here,
so cold indeed that even the heavy fur jacket and parka, worn by the
mounted police, failed to keep out the insidious penetrating frost. Dick
beat his arms against his shivering body and stumbled on across that
desolate plain, anxiously scanning the darkening prospect ahead. He
hoped that he would come soon to the more friendly forest, where, when a
stop became necessary, he could gather wood and kindle a fire. But out
there ahead he could see nothing except a long and weary stretch of
country covered with snow and bristling with rocks, a land indescribably
lonely and terrible just then in the rapidly gathering darkness.

Fully an hour passed before he had traversed the plateau and had come
again to the welcome woodland. Breathing a sigh of relief, he started
down the slope, faintly outlined in the gloom ahead. It was so steep
here that Dick had difficulty in keeping his balance. He slid, stumbled,
now and again reaching out for a young sapling to aid him in his
somewhat precipitous descent. He had almost reached the bottom when he
felt himself being thrown violently forward, falling in a crumpled heap
at the foot of a large spruce. A stab of pain in his right ankle, and
Dick momentarily lost consciousness.

He realized presently what had happened. The thong of the snowshoe on
his right foot had become caught in a snag of brush and had tripped him.
His fall had been heavy, but Dick did not become aware of the full
extent of his injury until he attempted to rise.

It was useless. His right ankle throbbed with a sickening pain. A bad
fracture or torn ligaments—he was not sure which—made it absolutely
impossible for him to put any weight at all upon that foot.

A sudden, horrible fear overcame him. In the first moment of weakness, a
terror-stricken sob broke from his lips. Here he was absolutely
helpless, without wood, water or fire, without shelter of any kind, in
weather so bitterly cold that in a few hours time, lying there inactive,
he would be frozen as stiff as a block of ice.

Not entirely to Dick’s discredit, he cried like a child, one arm flung
out, the other pillowed under him. He lay there, his body shaking with
ill-suppressed grief. Face blanched with terror, he sat up finally
staring about him with tragic eyes. Everywhere around was deep and utter
silence. To all appearances, there was no life anywhere in that dead
waste of snow, in that land of bitter, penetrating cold.

And then, suddenly, far away, he heard the familiar wolf-cry. Long and
mournful it was, and Dick shivered, remembering a former occasion when
he, Sandy and Corporal Richardson and Toma had very nearly given their
lives to a hungry pack in the vicinity of the Big Smoky. If there was
anything on earth which Dick feared, hated and despised, it was a wolf.
Whenever he heard the eerie cry of this species of human hunters in the
North, his hair fairly bristled from panic and indignation. In his
present predicament, it was the very thing required to put strength and
determination in his heart. Groaning in the effort, he rose dizzily to
his knees and commenced to scoop away the snow with his hands.

By dint of hard work, he had soon cleared a fairly wide space around
him. The exercise had warmed his body and kept his mind from dwelling
too much on the seriousness of his plight. From a bush nearby, he
gathered an armful of twigs, and from a dead, fallen tree, just beyond
the big spruce, sufficient dry bark and moss to start his fire. In an
hour’s time, considerably cheered and comforted, he was brewing tea over
a roaring blaze.

“Things are not as bad as I thought,” Dick was forced to admit to
himself a few minutes later as he gulped down a cup of hot tea and ate
sparingly from his supply of emergency rations. “As long as I can crawl
around on my hands and knees, I can manage somehow to gather enough wood
to keep myself from freezing. By eating very little and drinking plenty
of snow water, I can stay here for a week if necessary. After that——”

What would happen after that, Dick did not dare even to conjecture. The
thought was too appalling. But surely his ankle would become strong
again before a week had elapsed.

“It’s only a bad sprain,” he endeavored to reassure himself. “Perhaps
even by tomorrow I’ll be able to hobble around.”

He settled back with a smile on his face and stretched out full length
before the blaze. Worn out, mentally and physically, he soon drowsed
lightly, only to be awakened by the wolf-cry again, a bloodcurdling
howl, which pierced the deep silence in the forest space around him.

“Great Caesar!” sputtered Dick, sitting bolt upright and staring out
balefully in the intense darkness. “Troubles never come singly. If I had
my hands on the neck of that brute, I’d choke him into silence and
insensibility.”

For a brief space he stared, then abruptly his eyes opened wide in
astonishment. Out of the velvety blackness, beyond the circle of light
made by his campfire, there emerged two fur-coated figures carrying
rifles. Slowly, confidently, they came on—in their approach exercising
not even the slightest caution.

Dick turned his head indifferently and gazed quietly into the fire. What
did he care for the brothers La Lond now? As well die at their hands as
to stay here to be eaten by wolves. He did not even look up as the
treacherous pair stepped forward within the narrow space he had cleared
with his own hands.

“Dick!” shouted a familiar voice.

In wonderment, almost in a stupor, Dick looked up into the smiling,
joyful faces of Sandy and Toma.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                           TRACKS IN THE SNOW


“How,” inquired Dick in bewilderment, “did you ever manage to find me
here?”

Sandy sat down and put one arm around Dick’s shoulders.

“You miserable, deceiving old rascal,” he threatened, “if I could have
got my hands on you this morning, when I discovered the scurvy trick you
and Corporal Richardson had played upon me, you’d never be able to walk
over another trail again. I really mean it, Dick. I think it was the
most unfriendly act you have ever committed. If I wasn’t just naturally
patient and forgiving by nature, you and I would never have seen each
other again.”

“What would have happened to you?” grinned Dick.

Before replying, Sandy winked broadly and good-humoredly at Toma.

“I had a blamed good notion to go right out and join forces with the
Henderson gang. They need a lot of new blood now that Corporal
Richardson has taken so many of ’em into camp. Four dog teams and eight
men! Just think of it, Dick! He captured the whole outfit—lock, stock
and barrel—single-handed.”

“And the stolen fur?” Dick questioned breathlessly.

“He got that too,” answered Sandy, glad of the chance to tell the story.
“But first of all, I’m going to start at the beginning. Three hours
after you set out over the Run River trail, Toma and I, who were looking
out of the window and suspecting nothing, saw the four dog teams coming
into view. There is nothing unusual about a dog team up here in this
country, so we weren’t much interested. I had just turned away from the
window to start another search for you and the corporal—somehow, I
hadn’t gotten over the idea that you were skulking somewhere about the
place—when Toma poked me in the ribs. Dick, I wish you could have seen
it. It all happened so suddenly that no one knew just what was up.”

“Yes! Yes!” said Dick a little impatiently. “Go on, Sandy. What
happened?”

“They were just opposite us, travelling along merrily, when a man
slipped out of the brush on the far side of the trail, holding something
in each hand. They must have been startled all right. Corporal
Richardson told me afterward that they were taken completely by
surprise. At any rate,” Sandy went on, “the dog teams stopped and eight
men stepped forward with their arms in the air. It was a regular
hold-up.”

Sandy paused for breath.

“Both Toma and I very naturally jumped to the conclusion that the person
who had committed the hold-up was a bandit, probably in the employ of
Henderson. So we grabbed our rifles and hurried out to help. We ran
straight over in the direction of the dog teams, firing our rifles as we
went and yelling like mad.”

“You see,” explained Sandy, “we thought that the bandit would become
frightened and start running away. But,” admitted the young Scotchman, a
little shamefacedly, “he didn’t run. He stood right there like a statue,
keeping those men covered. All the time we kept getting closer and
closer, until finally Toma poked me in the ribs again and told me to
stop firing—that the bandit was Corporal Richardson himself.”

In spite of the discomfort and pain he endured, Dick roared with
laughter.

“What did Corporal Richardson say?” he asked.

Sandy smiled at the recollection.

“When we came up, he stared at us coldly.

“‘If you two young fools have finished with your celebration,’ he said,
‘you’ll please take charge of these dog teams while the rest of us
gentlemen retire to the post.’

“That’s all there is to tell you, I guess, except that Corporal
Richardson locked the men up in a big room at Fort Good Faith and that
we stored all the stolen fur in the company’s warehouse. Afterwards,
when the corporal had cooled off and was a little more friendly towards
me, he told me where you had gone and about the plan you had employed to
deceive Henderson’s spies.”

“I tell you, Dick,” Sandy went on, “you can’t imagine how much the
corporal likes you. He seemed worried stiff for fear that something
might happen to you. Finally, after we had bothered him a lot, he gave
us permission to go out and try to find you.”

“You found me all right,” Dick was forced to admit, “but I don’t see how
you ever managed to do it.”

“It was easy enough—for Toma. He found your tracks where you left the
Run River trail and we followed them up to a house.”

“The house of La Lond,” said Dick.

“I don’t know whose house it was. It was almost dark when we got there.
My plan was to walk right up, knock at the door and ask for you, but
Toma thought differently.”

“Bad men him live there,” interrupted Toma, moving closer to the fire.
“I know him Baptiste for bad fellow. Me see that man many times an’ no
like at all. I ’fraid mebbe he kill you an’ hide body. So I listen at
door. I find out something.”

“What did you find out?” asked Dick.

“Me find out you been there an’ go ’way again. Baptiste very mad an’
talk in loud voice. He say I kill him that fellow bye-’n’-bye. Drink
much rum an’ shout all time. No have trouble to listen.”

Sandy started to speak but Dick motioned to him to be silent. He was
anxious to learn what the young Indian had found out, and wanted to hear
the story from the lips of Toma himself.

“Did he mention the name of Henderson at all?” he inquired.

Toma nodded. “Yes,” he answered, “him talk about Henderson too. Him say
he go see Henderson pretty soon. Then get scouting party an’ find you
where you hide in the woods. Talk like Henderson no live very far away.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to make sure of,” Dick explained to Sandy,
“and I’m almost certain that I know where the outlaw’s camp is.”

“Did you see the camp?” asked Sandy.

Dick shook his head. “No, I didn’t see it. Baptiste told me where it
was.”

“But why did he do that? I should think he’d want to keep its location a
secret.”

“He wanted me to go there and directed me to the place because he knew
that the moment I walked into the outlaw’s camp Henderson would either
kill me at once or make me his prisoner.”

In a few words Dick related his experiences at the house of the Brothers
La Lond, of his escape, and, finally, of the accident that had befallen
him.

“You’re hurt!” cried Sandy, suddenly jumping up. “Why, Dick, you should
have told us before.”

The faces of Sandy and Toma were very grave as they stooped to untie his
moccasin and examine the injured foot.

“Very bad sprain,” said Toma, straightening up. “I help you fix him, so
after while you feel very much better. Sandy,” he ordered, turning to
his still gaping companion, “you start build shelter right away. You, me
work all night mebbe to make nice warm place. Dick stay here with bad
foot one, two days, I think.”

In less than an hour, his foot properly attended to, Dick was resting
more easily. Around him a shelter was being hurriedly constructed. He
could hear Sandy and the young Indian guide walking back and forth,
gathering huge arm-loads of brush, spruce boughs and moss, occasionally
calling out to each other in bantering tones. The fire, which had been
replenished, blazed brightly in front of the opening of the shelter. Its
welcome heat succeeded in making Dick drowsy and presently he fell
asleep.

When he awoke on the following morning, he rubbed his eyes in
astonishment. All about him was the green, circular wall of a large
tepee, so closely woven together with spruce boughs and moss that it was
impossible to see even the faintest shaft of light coming through from
the outside. The opening had been hung with a small blanket, but, what
astonished Dick more than anything else, was that the fire, which had
formerly been outside, was now inside the shelter. Smoke from an
arm-load of burning branches rose straight up, escaping through a vent
at the top of the tepee.

The shelter was warm and cozy, fragrant with the smell of spruce. Over
the fire a small kettle of snow water was bubbling merrily. Dick threw
back the four-point Hudson’s Bay blanket, which covered him, and clapped
his hands with delight. What a miracle Toma and Sandy had wrought during
the night! They had worked like Trojans to make things pleasant and
comfortable for him.

He wondered where they were now. Except for the crackling of the fire
and the sound of the water boiling in the kettle, there was nothing
whatsoever to break the deep hush of that winter morning. He sat up and
endeavored to examine his ankle. It felt better, he thought. There was
no pain worth mentioning, and he was quite sure the swelling had gone
down.

“I don’t mind staying here in the least,” he informed himself, twisting
around and making his way over to the inviting blaze. “It will be great
sport to live in a green wigwam like this with Sandy and Toma for
company.”

A dull tramping in the snow outside, caused him to raise his head and
turn his eyes toward the opening. The blanket was pushed aside and Sandy
appeared, crawling on hands and knees, trailing his rifle and a large
rabbit. Toma, who entered immediately behind, had two rabbits and a
ptarmigan. The eyes of the two youthful hunters glowed from the
excitement and pleasure of their successful foray.

“We eat good breakfast,” Toma announced, holding out the rabbits and
ptarmigan for Dick’s inspection.

“When did you wake up?” Sandy wanted to know. “Thought you’d sleep for
an hour yet.”

“It’s wonderful!” Dick voiced his appreciation and nearly choked in the
effort. “You fellows are certainly two good pals. When I woke up I could
scarcely believe my eyes.”

“It took us nearly all night,” said Sandy. “I don’t suppose I could ever
have done it alone. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that Toma was
the architect.”

“My people build ’em like that many times,” Toma modestly explained.
“Plenty warm even when weather very cold. See many like that on Indian
trap-line.”

“How long were you away hunting?” Dick asked.

“About an hour, I think. Game seems to be fairly plentiful around here.
And, O Dick!——” Sandy paused as he turned somewhat eagerly toward his
friend, “a mile from here, just across a narrow ravine, Toma came across
snowshoe tracks. He says they were made by a white man.”

“Baptiste or Phillip,” guessed Dick, shivering a little.

Toma shook his head.

“Me no think so. Tracks at least two days old. Some white man he go by
here day before yesterday.”

“But how,” sceptically inquired Dick, “do you know it was a white man?
Surely you’re not able to tell that. Are the tracks so very much
different?”

The Indian guide laughed as he nodded his head in the affirmative.

“Easy to tell. White man no use ’em snow shoes same like Indian. Tracks
turn out. Indian tracks go straight ahead.”

“I think there’s something in it,” Sandy volunteered, “because after
Toma had told me, while we were still out there on the trail, I noticed
that Toma’s tracks were different from mine.”

Although still a little sceptical, Dick was sufficiently well acquainted
with Toma and his ability and prowess, not to doubt that the Indian lad
might be correct in his surmise. Very rarely, indeed, did Toma err in
matters of this kind. A natural-born tracker and scout, versed in the
ways of the wilderness, he had often startled his two young friends by
his almost unlimited knowledge of wood-lore.

“And that isn’t all,” Sandy’s voice broke the lull in their
conversation. “We discovered something else besides those tracks. I
almost hate to tell you, Dick.”

“What was it?” his friend asked wonderingly.

“Blood stains!” Sandy enlightened him. “The man’s tracks were sprinkled
here and there with tiny red spots. He must have been hurt or wounded,
Dick. It makes me shiver to think about it.”

“Perhaps he was carrying some animal he had killed,” suggested Dick.

Again Toma shook his head.

“No,” he stated with conviction, “man hurt very bad. Him not go many
miles like that. Toma feel plenty sorry for that man.”

In alarm, Dick looked from one to the other of his two friends. A hurt
or wounded man out there on the trail alone—it made him feel weak and
sick himself. He recalled his own helplessness and horror on the
previous night, when he had fallen and sprained his ankle.

“Isn’t there something we can do?” he finally blurted out. “Just think
what it may mean, Sandy.”

Sandy did not answer. Neither did Toma. The three boys were looking at
each other now in a gloomy silence.

“You mustn’t forget your own condition, Dick,” Sandy reminded him. “We
can’t leave you here alone, can we?”

“One of you could go after we’ve had breakfast. Why couldn’t you, Toma?”
He turned appealingly to the Indian guide. “What do you say?”

To Dick’s surprise, Toma drew back and raised one arm in a gesture of
protest.

“What you think poor Toma make crazy altogether?” he inquired. “Sandy
an’ me both stay here to fight ’em Henderson’s men when they come. What
good you think just one against two, three, four—mebbe six, ten men?” he
demanded hotly.

It was, indeed, a poser. Dick sat with his head in his hands and Sandy
turned wearily away to commence the preparation of breakfast.



                               CHAPTER IX
                           THE COUNCIL OF WAR


Breakfast was over and three very sober young men sat down to what Sandy
described as a council of war.

“We must make some sort of a plan right away,” he stated. “First thing
we know Henderson will be here to catch us napping.”

Sandy’s brow wrinkled at the very unpleasant thought.

“Now my proposal is that each one of us make a suggestion. Then the
three of us will consider these suggestions one by one and try to pick
flaws in them. Maybe out of the three suggestions we can build some sort
of working plan.”

“All right, you’re number one,” smiled Dick. “What is your plan?”

Sandy flushed with embarrassment.

“Look here, Dick, not so fast. Give me a little time please. You know
blamed well that I haven’t had an opportunity to think yet.”

“What about you, Toma?”

The Indian guide stirred uneasily and licked his dry lips. From his look
of detachment, it was quite evident that he had been deeply engrossed in
his own thoughts for quite a long time. He stared blankly at Dick.

“What you mean?” he asked.

“We’re trying to think of some way to fool Henderson,” Dick patiently
explained. “What are we going to do, Toma? We can’t sit here all day
just waiting for something to happen.”

“Only way I think of is for me go down trail in direction La Lond’s
house. Bye-’n’-bye when Henderson come, I hide in bush and shoot rifle.
Henderson stop. He not know what to do. Mebbe he think man in bush is
you, Dick. He come after me an’ I keep shoot all time, but all time me I
run very fast. No can catch. I keep lead him away more all time from
this camp.”

Dick and Sandy clapped their hands enthusiastically.

“Very good,” Dick complimented Toma. “Your plan’s so original that I
don’t think we can improve on it.”

“I can improve on it,” boasted Sandy. “You see, Dick there is one weak
spot in his plan. Henderson will be sure to catch sight of Toma, no
matter how careful he is about hiding and shooting from cover. And once
he sees him, he’ll know right away that it isn’t you—because you’re
wearing the uniform of the mounted police.”

“You right,” admitted Toma. “I never thought of that.”

“And so you think that Henderson will realize right away that Toma isn’t
the man he wants, and will keep right on coming?” asked Dick.

“That’s it,” Sandy answered. “Toma may check him, but he won’t stop him.
Henderson will very likely divide his force, sending part of his men
after Toma and the rest down here. It won’t be very difficult for him to
follow the trail the three of us have made.”

“No, of course, it won’t,” agreed Dick.

“There’s only one way to make Toma’s plan absolutely water-tight and
fool-proof,” continued Sandy, “and it’s as simple as A, B, C.”

“Prove it,” challenged Dick. “I guess I don’t understand you.”

“Easy enough,” Sandy enlightened him. “Put your uniform on Toma. That
little trick will work just as well now as it did in the case of the fur
thieves.”

“Whew!” Dick whistled. “Honestly, Sandy, there are moments when you show
indications of real genius. At other times you’re so hopelessly imbecile
that it makes me tremble to think what will become of you.”

“Easy there!” ordered the person both complimented and accused, throwing
a chip at Dick’s head. “You and Toma are nearly the same size. The
uniform will fit well enough for our purposes. If there aren’t any more
suggestions, we’d better get busy.”

In a few minutes more the uniform had again changed hands. Toma put it
on with a feeling of awe and reverence, that was only natural in one
who, since infancy, had been taught to respect and revere the men who
wore it.

“You look fine, Toma,” said Dick, “and I haven’t the least doubt but
that you’ll make a much better mounted policeman than I did.”

“I try be better,” Toma stated simply, which assertion brought a laugh
from Sandy.

“Before you go,” smiled Dick, “I think we’d better have some sort of an
understanding. How far are you going down the trail before you stop to
wait for Henderson, and how long will you wait there if he doesn’t come
along right away?”

“I go down trail about four miles,” answered the guide, “an’ wait until
dark. Him no come at all if no come by dark, I think.”

“I don’t think so either,” Sandy cut in. “You’d better not stay out too
late, Toma. Return as quickly as you can after night comes.”

“Another thing,” Dick spoke again, “I wouldn’t fire at Henderson’s men
until after they had fired at you. Show yourself from a safe distance
and let them do most of the shooting. Besides, you know as well as I do,
Toma, that a real mounted policeman never fires from ambush.”

With the words of his friends still ringing in his ears, Toma crawled
through the narrow opening and a moment later was gone. Dick and Sandy
sat motionless.

“I’d like to be in his shoes,” Sandy finally broke forth, “and I’m sorry
now that I didn’t go along.”

“That would be foolish. Toma can look after himself.”

“But I feel like a fool sitting here and doing nothing.”

“Go out and hunt for some more rabbits,” suggested Dick. “You don’t need
to bother about me. I feel that I am perfectly safe here now. I have a
lot of confidence in Toma and the plan he and you so cleverly worked
out. Why don’t you go, Sandy?”

Sandy opened his clasp-knife and commenced to whittle on a stick.

“I would, only I hate to leave you here alone. It would be pretty
lonesome for you just sitting or lying here with nothing to occupy your
mind.”

“I have plenty of things to think about,” Dick replied. “So don’t let
that worry you. Why don’t you go?” he repeated.

“If I do go, it won’t be on a hunting trip.”

“Why?”

Sandy threw down the stick and put away his hunting knife. He rose to
his feet.

“Do you know, Dick, I keep thinking about that man out there—the one who
was hurt. Do you suppose that—that something has happened to him?”

“I’ve been thinking about him too,” Dick confessed. “It’s terrible,
isn’t it, Sandy?” He paused as he drew himself to a more upright
position. “But I imagine,” he continued hopelessly, “that he’s beyond
help now. Toma said that he wouldn’t go very far.”

Sandy strode forward and put one hand on Dick’s head.

“Do you suppose, Dick——” he began, then paused abruptly.

Smiling, Dick looked up.

“I know what you are going to say, Sandy. You feel that it’s our duty to
try and do something. But you are hesitating on my account. You’d like
to follow those tracks and see if you can find the man.” Dick seized
Sandy’s hand and gave it a re-assuring squeeze. “It’s exactly what I
hoped you’d want to do. Hop to it, Sandy.”

“I’ll return before dark,” promised the other, his face lighting up with
pleasure.

“Don’t get lost,” cautioned Dick.

“Of course, I won’t. I have a better sense of direction than I used to
have, and I’m a lot more careful too.”

Sandy stooped down and picked up his shoulder-pack. He was eager now and
worked hurriedly assembling his kit.

“Take two or three days’ rations with you,” Dick ordered. “You never can
tell what will happen.”

Sandy complied willingly enough. He turned to bid Dick good-bye.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll be all right. I’ll
return safe and sound, depend on that.”

Then, almost before he realized it, Dick was alone. He sat staring at
the green, thatched walls of his little prison, disconsolately kicking,
with his uninjured foot, at the tangled mat of moss and dead leaves at
the side of his bed. Hours would pass before either of his two friends
would return. The day would drag itself along, seeming never to come to
an end. If there was only something he could do to make time slip away
more quickly.

For an hour or more, he cleaned and polished his rifle, pausing now and
again to crawl over and put a stick of wood on the fire. By carefully
conserving the wood, which Toma and Sandy had gathered on the previous
night, there would be sufficient to last for quite a long time.

A little later, putting down his rifle, his gaze fell upon the two
rabbits and ptarmigan Toma had brought in. The one rabbit, which Sandy
had killed, they had eaten for breakfast. Securing his hunting knife,
Dick worked his way across the tepee and commenced to skin and dress the
game they had been so fortunate in obtaining.

Having completed this task, Dick went to the opening for snow, which he
melted in a kettle over the fire. It was necessary to make many of these
trips before he had sufficient water for drinking purposes and for the
rabbit-stew he had decided upon. Thus occupied, he contrived to keep
himself in a cheerful frame of mind. Staying here alone was not really
as monotonous as he had expected.

After he had prepared a light lunch and had drunk several cups of tea,
he retired to his bunk and soon fell asleep. When he awoke, it was with
the consciousness of being chilly and uncomfortable. Turning his head,
he perceived, with a start, that the fire had gone out. It was now quite
dark inside the tepee, and looking up he was astonished to see several
stars peeping down at him through the smoke-vent.

“I must have slept a long time,” thought Dick, scrambling to a sitting
position and preparing to crawl over to rekindle the fire.

In a few minutes a bright blaze sprang up under his hand and in a few
minutes more, piling on brush and sticks, he had driven the chill from
the room. He was in the act of placing the rabbit-stew over the fire,
when the blanket, covering the opening, was pushed unceremoniously aside
and Toma entered.

“Hello, you old rascal!” shouted Dick. “This is luck. You made a quick
trip of it.”

Toma grinned broadly as he approached the fire and commenced to remove
his parka and coat.

“Plan work fine,” he informed him. “Me fool Henderson good an’ plenty, I
guess. Make ’em run all through woods try and catch me. Shoot plenty of
rifles an’ make big noise. Bye-’n’-bye I give ’em slip an’ come back
here.”

“You’re a trump!” exulted his hearer. “I knew you could do it.”

“Henderson him plenty sick by now,” chuckled Toma. “Go home like mad
grizzly ’cause he no find mounted police.”

The Indian guide stood for a moment, warming his hands over the fire.

“Where Sandy go?” he suddenly asked.

Dick flushed slightly under the direct, searching scrutiny. The truth
was, he felt a little guilty about Sandy. After all, perhaps, he should
not have permitted his friend to go.

“I’ll tell you about it,” said Dick, which he proceeded to do, wondering
what Toma would say.

When Dick had concluded, the guide stood for several minutes silently
contemplating the leaping flames at his feet. His face was
expressionless—neither sober nor gay.

“No like,” he declared finally, shaking his head. “No like Sandy go away
alone. Him more young me an’ you. Him little fellow. No stand much.
Mebbe get lost.”

“No,” said Dick, endeavoring to reassure the young Indian and likewise
himself, “Sandy will be perfectly all right. We don’t need to worry.”

But, as a matter of fact, both of them did worry. They ate supper in a
gloomy mood, straining their ears for the sound of a familiar step. The
hours passed, and still Sandy did not appear. When midnight came, Dick,
nearly frantic, raised his head from his pillow, deciding to sit up.

“He no come yet,” said Toma in a hushed voice.

Somewhere, fairly close at hand, they heard the howling of a wolf.

It was the only sound which, for many long hours, had broken the deep
silence of the forest.



                               CHAPTER X
                        SANDY PLAYS A LONE HAND


“Wake up! Wake up!”

A light was shining in Dick’s face and he was being shaken roughly by
the shoulders. Something had fallen near the bed—a dull clatter of some
sort. Then a voice raised slightly, then more voices, and, presently, as
Dick half-sat, half-reclined on his spruce couch, endeavoring to rub the
sleep from his eyes and collect his befuddled senses, he perceived what
seemed to be at first a miracle.

The tepee was full of people. It seemed incredible, but true it was. The
narrow confines of the room, in which he had spent the previous
thirty-six hours, most of them alone, now fairly bustled with life. To
his great amazement, he saw Sandy, Toma, Corporal Richardson, Factor
MacClaren and two half-breeds, employed as servants at Fort Good Faith.
They were all standing or sitting about, everyone, apparently, talking
at once.

Dick made another quick dab at his eyes to make sure that his vision had
not suddenly played him false. Was he suffering from some sort of a
delusion? Was he seeing and hearing things? What did it all mean?

“That boy could sleep through an earthquake,” Sandy’s uncle declared,
detaching himself from the little group and walking over beside Dick.
“My boy,” he inquired, placing a solicitous hand on Dick’s head, “how
are you feeling? Sandy tells me that you have been quite seriously
hurt.”

For the third time, Dick rubbed at his eyes.

“What has happened?” he cried in a hollow, unnatural voice.

A general laugh followed this plaintive inquiry.

“It means,” Corporal Richardson enlightened him, “that everything is all
right, Dick. We’ve come to take you back to the post.”

“But how——” began Dick.

“Sandy brought the news to us last night.”

Dick turned reproachful eyes in the direction of his chum.

“I like your nerve,” he said coldly, “and that’s no joke either. You
said you’d come back before dark, and all the time you were scheming and
planning to sneak back to the post. I suppose it didn’t matter to you
how much Toma and I worried.”

“No such thing,” Sandy retorted hotly. “I wouldn’t have gone back to the
post at all if I hadn’t come across Malemute Slade. I thought he was
dying.”

“Malemute Slade!” Dick stared incredulously.

“I think,” Factor MacClaren broke in, “that you’d better let me
straighten out this tangle.”

“No, Uncle Walter,” Sandy protested, “I can do that better myself.” He
walked over and sat down on the bed beside Dick.

“When I left here,” he commenced, “you know what my intention was: to
follow the tracks of the man who had been hurt and, if possible, to find
him. Well, I had no difficulty in getting back to the place where Toma
and I had been. The trail wasn’t very hard to follow. There were
blood-stains in the snow, and here and there, I could tell where the man
had sat down to rest.

“I had been out on the trail—well, it couldn’t have been much more than
an hour—when the tracks led me to an old dilapidated-looking cabin.
Right away, I had a feeling that the man would be there, and I had a
horrible suspicion that I would find him dead.

“I knocked at the door,” Sandy continued breathlessly, “but there was no
answer. So I went in. I couldn’t see anything at first, it was so dark
inside. There was only one small window. But pretty soon my eyes became
accustomed to the light. There was a bunk, stove and two wooden benches
in the room. A man was lying in the bunk with some blankets pulled
around him.

“The wounded man had started a fire, but it had gone out and it was
quite cold in the room. At first, I just stood there looking around,
almost too frightened to move. When I walked over to the bunk, I was
trembling all over. I had scarcely strength enough to pull down the
blankets, which were tucked around the man’s head.”

Sandy paused and looked around him. His face was gray and drawn.
Evidently, the memory was not a very pleasant one.

“The man,” he resumed in a low voice, “was Malemute Slade.”

Dick jumped.

“Sandy!” he cried in a stricken voice. “Don’t tell me he’s dead!”

“Of course not,” smiled the speaker. “We wouldn’t all be so blamed
cheerful if he was. But when I found him, he was delirious, and I don’t
mind telling you that I was nearly frightened stiff.

“I was so excited, that I don’t know exactly what I did. I remember
starting the fire and trying to bathe his wound in some warm snow-water.
He was wounded in his right arm, which was badly swollen and almost
black from infection.”

“Did Malemute Slade recognize you?” Dick asked.

“No, he was too sick for that. But he kept asking for water, sometimes
sitting up and staring wildly about him. I gave him all the water he
would drink, and late in the afternoon his fever subsided and he fell in
a deep sleep.

“You can bet,” Sandy went on, “that I had been doing a lot of thinking.
I couldn’t let him stay there like that. I was afraid he was going to
die. I decided that the best thing I could do was to go back to the fort
for help before it was too late.

“Shortly before dark, I banked my fire and started out. I knew I
couldn’t be very far from the Run River trail, probably not more than
two miles west of it. I found the trail, after a good deal of trouble,
and reached Fort Good Faith soon after midnight.”

“Where is Malemute Slade now?” Dick wanted to know.

“He ought to be at the post by this time,” Corporal Richardson replied.
“As soon as Sandy appeared and told us the news, I called for a little
party of volunteers and we started out. The cabin, where Malemute Slade
lay wounded, is between here and the Run River trail, so, of course, we
stopped there first, bundled him up and sent him back in a hurry. Then
we came on here for you, Dick. There is a dog team and sleigh waiting
for you outside.”

“I wonder how Slade happened to get wounded?” came Dick’s next question.

“I don’t know,” the corporal replied. “We won’t be able to find that out
until Slade is sufficiently recovered to tell us. However, I know this:
It’s a bullet wound, and the weapon his assailant used was fired at
close range. The hole in his arm is a large one. I’m afraid the bone is
shattered.”

“Will he get well again?” Dick asked.

“Yes; I think so. With proper care and attention, he’ll be around again
in a few weeks, although I doubt very much whether he’ll be able to use
his right arm for a long, long time.”

“I’d like to get my hands on the man who shot him,” Sandy stated
belligerently.

Everybody laughed at this assertion except Toma, who had good cause to
remember a certain experience only a few months before, when he had been
somewhat roughly treated by the young Scotchman.

“Well, there’s no use of wasting any more time here,” said Factor
MacClaren. “I suggest that we roll our friend, Dick, up in a nice little
bundle and proceed on our way. Averse to a sleigh-ride, Dick?”

“Not at all.”

“You may change your mind before we reach the Run River trail,” the
factor warned him. “It’s pretty rough in places.”

“My foot’s better, and I won’t mind it at all,” said Dick cheerfully.

The sun had just slipped up over the horizon when the small cavalcade,
with Corporal Richardson in the lead, set out. In a short while, a
brilliant flood of sunshine lay over the land. Out of the west came a
warm chinook, stirring the spruce and pine branches over their heads.

“Spring is coming,” rejoiced Sandy, sniffing the air and prancing about
Dick’s sleigh like a young colt. “Won’t it be glorious, Dick, when the
grass and flowers start to grow?”

“And the rivers and streams commence running again,” Dick added. “We’ll
go fishing then, won’t we, Sandy?”

“You bet!”

Sandy appeared to be so happy, indeed, that it occurred to Dick
presently, watching him gamboling about, that there must be some other
explanation for his friend’s high spirits than the mere fact that Spring
was approaching.

“What’s up, Sandy?” he inquired a moment later as the young man came
cavorting back to the sleigh. “Anyone would think that you’d just been
elected King of Scotland.”

“Nothing like that, Dick, on my word. I’m just feeling fine.”

“Sandy, you’re lying to me.”

“Not I.”

“You might as well tell me,” persisted Dick, “because I’ll be sure to
find out anyway. I can tell by the way you act and by the expression on
your face that something out of the ordinary has happened. Out with it!”

Sandy hesitated, then moved closer to his friend.

“It’s not exactly a secret, but we thought we wouldn’t tell you until we
got back to the post. However, now that you’ve become so suspicious, I
don’t see any harm in it. Are you prepared for a shock?”

“Certainly. Go right ahead.”

Sandy looked about him to make sure that they were not overheard, then
leaned forward, as he walked beside the sleigh, and fairly hissed the
words in Dick’s ear:

“We’ve got back the map of the lost mine!”

“No!” shouted Dick.

“It’s a fact. Corporal Richardson found it this morning on the body of
Malemute Slade.”

For a brief second, Dick stared incredulously, wonderingly at his
friend, then removed his parka and threw it high in the air.



                               CHAPTER XI
                            OFF FOR THE MINE


On a bright Spring morning, nearly a month after the recovery of the
map, a small but enthusiastic party of young prospectors left Fort Good
Faith, and started north on its exciting quest. In the lead went Toma,
the young Indian guide, and Dick Kent, now fully recovered from his
recent injury. Sandy MacClaren and two Indian packers, Lee and Pierre,
brought up the rear.

Three pack-horses, carrying supplies, blankets and equipment, trudged
along behind the packers. They were heavily laden and, considering the
fact that they had but recently come off the winter range, were in
excellent condition.

The route Dick and his friends followed was a narrow trail, which
threaded its way north by a little west through a practically unexplored
and uninhabited country. By following the trail, the party would, in a
few days, cross a low range of hills and emerge upon a trackless, broken
plain. This plain, according to the map, sloped away in a northwesterly
direction to Thunder River.

Thunder River, although not the boys’ final objective, was yet not very
far away from the location, presumed or real, of the lost mine. The map
was not very clear on this point. The small “X,” indicating the position
of the mine, had been placed the fractional part of an inch on the west
side of Thunder River. Whether the distance between the river and the
mine was one mile or ten, there was no way of ascertaining.

The boys conversed animatedly as they proceeded slowly along the trail.
The weather was mild. Here and there, were a few discolored patches of
snow. The ground was moist and cold, dotted with pools of water or
streaked with tiny rivulets that trickled audibly away to join other
streams in the steaming forest spaces beyond.

At exactly twelve o’clock by Dick’s watch, the party came to a halt for
its midday meal. After consulting the two packers, Dick had chosen a
small bluff, thickly covered with dry grass and almost devoid of trees,
as the best spot for the picketing out of the ponies. They could feed
and rest here for an hour.

“I’ve an appetite myself,” Sandy declared. He stood, watching the two
Indian boys, Pierre and Lee, remove the packs from the hungry little
steeds and stake them out near the top of the bluff.

Dick and Toma had already started a fire. The latter was carrying an
armful of brush, considerably larger than himself, and Dick, squatting
on his haunches, hunting knife in hand, was carving thick slices of
steak from a hind-quarter of moose he had fetched from the unloaded
packs. He looked up at Sandy’s approach.

“Here you, old lazybones, get a stir on if you expect to eat with the
rest of us. Just now I require two frying-pans, salt, kettle and a
liberal supply of water from that creek over yonder. You’ll find bannock
in the large canvas bag, tied with the yellow string.”

“I was just planning to put myself to work when you mentioned it,” Sandy
retorted. “Gee, but I’m hungry. I know blamed well from the way I feel
that our four-months’ supplies won’t last us more than a week.”

He trotted away without waiting to hear what Dick’s answer might be, and
in considerably less than half an hour the boys were seated around the
camp fire, eating their savory meal. At its conclusion, Dick stretched
himself out at full length, basking in the warm noonday sun.

“Well, Sandy,” he exulted, “we’re away to a start at last. Aren’t you
glad?”

“You bet I am,” came the hearty answer as the youngest member of the
expedition sprawled down beside his friend. “The only thing I’m sorry
about is that Uncle Walter couldn’t come along with us. He’s taking
inventory at the store, and it’ll be several weeks before he’ll be ready
to start.”

“A good thing in one way,” commented Dick. “When he comes he’ll bring
another string of packhorses and more supplies.”

“Corporal Richardson and Malemute Slade promised to pay us a visit too,”
Sandy reminded him. “What were you three doing together last night?” he
suddenly demanded, sitting up and glowering down at the other.

“You think I’m secretive and selfish, I suppose,” Dick replied, “but
really there wasn’t anything so very mysterious about our little
meeting. You could have come into the room where we were if you had
cared to. I motioned to you when you passed down the hallway, but you
pretended not to see. You’re terribly stubborn at times, Sandy.”

“Not at all,” Sandy protested. “But I feel like this: I wouldn’t for the
world attempt to intrude where I’m not wanted. You and Corporal
Richardson and Malemute Slade went into that room without saying a word
to me. Not a word!”

The aggrieved young man carefully broke off the brown stem of a withered
pea-vine and crumpled it between the palms of his hands.

“As usual you weren’t around when we wanted you,” explained Dick. “I
looked everywhere. But as I said before, there was no particular secret
between us except—” Dick lowered his voice—“except that, at Corporal
Richardson’s suggestion, we made a second copy of the map. He took the
copy and put it in the inside pocket of his coat. In a day or two, when
he returns to headquarters, he’s going to hand it over to the Inspector
for safe-keeping.

“You can see for yourself,” Dick resumed, “that it was a wise
precaution. If the map we have with us should be lost or stolen, we’ll
still be able to find the mine.”

“Yes,” agreed Sandy, now fully recovered from his pique, “the plan was a
good one. The Inspector will give us the other copy if we lose ours. A
little delay, that’s all.”

“Just the same, I hope we don’t lose the map again. I’ll be pleased if
nothing happens this time. I’d like to make good time getting over to
the mine.”

That Dick’s wish gave every promise of being fulfilled, became more and
more apparent as the days passed. So far the little cavalcade had not
been molested. Through deep forests and across broad, seemingly endless
meadows they plodded hopefully, making very good progress. It seemed to
Dick that one rare and glorious day followed another. The sun shone
almost incessantly—a great, yellow, burning disc,—that had begun to work
miracles in the land, which only a few weeks before had been gripped in
the mighty hand of an implacable winter.

Continuing north and west, the country through which they passed became
more rugged and difficult. The trail they had followed came to an end.
There was no track, no outstanding landmark of any kind to guide them.
For five dismal days, consulting their compass from time to time, the
three boys with their packers and ponies struggled on over the scarred
and battered face of a land of utter desolation. Gray, towering,
misshapen rocks, rising up on every side, seemed to offer them mute
defiance.

“It’s as if they dared us to go on,” Sandy remarked. “I’m getting so I
hate the sight of them. I wonder, Dick, if we’ll ever manage to get
through?”

“Of course, we will,” Dick replied cheerily enough, although at heart he
was troubled. They could get through all right, they themselves, but the
packhorses——

He looked around at the struggling little beasts, who were slipping and
sliding over the treacherous slate and granite formation underfoot.
Their hoofs had been worn smooth as glass. One of them had become lame
and part of its burden had been transferred to the other ponies and to
the weary, chafed shoulders of the boys.

Since morning the two packers, Lee and Pierre, had shown the first
symptoms of open rebellion. Neither one could speak English, so their
complaints came to Dick and Sandy through the medium of Toma, who acted
as interpreter.

“Them fellows say ponies die if no find grass pretty quick. Ponies so
weak now can hardly stand up.”

It was true. There was no grass, or so very little, that it provided but
scant nourishment for the plodding, overworked animals. The soil was not
productive. Indeed, so far as the boys could determine, there was no
vegetation at all in that bleak and unfriendly waste. Dick and Sandy
pitied the horses but were powerless to do anything.

“Before long we’ll come to a place where the grass grows,” Dick stated,
attempting to cheer the packers.

Toma conveyed this message to the glowering pair but without result.

“They say no think so. Many, many miles yet before we reach ’em place
where grass grows.”

“The fools! The fools!” stormed Sandy, stamping his feet and glaring
about him. “What do they expect us to do: shoot the horses or
manufacture a lot of grass. The horses would surely starve if we turned
back now. Ask them what they want us to do, Toma?”

“They say go on no good,” Toma replied patiently, after he had put the
question. “Fellows say we must go back or pretty soon we all die.
Fellows say this bad medicine land.”

“Bad medicine or not, I’m going to take it,” exploded Sandy. “You tell
them, Toma, that if they don’t like our company or the place we’re
going, they’re at perfect liberty to quit, like the miserable cowards
they are, and return to the post.”

“No! No! Don’t tell them that,” Dick quickly interposed. “Ask them to
remain with us for a day or two longer. We’ll be sure to find forage for
the ponies before long.”

The packers protested but finally consented to remain. The little party
pushed forward. On and on It went through the glaring sunlight that fell
across that indescribable waste, Lee and Pierre shaking their heads and
muttering to themselves. Just before nightfall, Dick and Toma, who were
well in advance of the others, led the way down to a deep gulch, a sort
of miniature canyon, that stretched away before them as far as the eye
could see.

A few miles farther on, a tiny stream of pure, cold water gurgled down
from a cleft in the rocks.

“Grass here!” Toma shouted. “Plenty grass here for many horses.”

Dick breathed a sigh of relief as he unslung his shoulder-pack. The
horses came up at a brisk trot. Sandy, foot-sore and weary, the last
person to reach the friendly oasis in that desert of rocks, grinned at
sight of the green velvety strip that carpeted the entire floor of the
gulch.

“They’ll gorge themselves and die of colic,” he predicted. “Just look at
them, Dick!”

Dick laughed as he looked, then stepped back quickly, every ounce of
blood gone from his face. A strange whirring sound through the air, and
something had whisked past his head, striking the ground not more than
ten feet behind him. One of the ponies had snorted in sudden fear, and
Lee, the packer, reached out, plucking the still quivering shaft from
the ground at his feet.

Toma, ever on the alert, was the first to take the queer missile from
the packer’s trembling grasp.

“Look!” he said, holding it up. “An arrow!”

An arrow it was—a yellow arrow with a long shaft and a sharp head. Dick
and Sandy regarded it for a moment in blank amazement. Then both of the
boys jumped as a sudden, deafening report rang out.

Toma had fired his rifle. It lay now in the crook of his arm, and Toma
himself, one hand shading his eyes, scanned the rugged cliffs on the
opposite side of the ravine.

“Did you see something?” Dick quavered.

“Me not sure,” Toma spoke calmly. “One time I thought see something
move. Mebbe only sun shining on rocks. Anyway,” he paused, smiling a
little, “him fellow shoot arrow be frightened now at big noise an’ run
away, I think.”

“I hope so,” said Dick, endeavoring to control the tremor in his voice
and trying to appear unconcerned.

Sandy’s face was pale but he said nothing as he walked over to the
supply packs and commenced to haul them out in preparation for supper.

On the following morning, when Dick awoke, there was no sign, no
indication anywhere of their mysterious enemy of the night before. In
the bright presence of a new day, it seemed scarcely possible that the
thing really could have happened. The fear and dread he had experienced
before retiring for the night, was gone. The bright rays of the sun were
friendly and reassuring. There was something peaceful and comforting in
the sight of the green strip of grass growing there in the ravine, and
in the sound of the water tumbling down from the rocks.

Lighted-heartedly, he threw back his blankets and jumped up, only to
meet the troubled gaze of Toma, who sat, fully dressed, a few feet away,
his rifle in his lap.

“What’s the matter, Toma?” Dick cried jovially. “You look as if you’d
lost your best friend.”

The guide replied by pointing in the direction of the pack-horses. Dick
turned his head quickly. A few feet away, two of the ponies were
munching the grass, straining at their picket ropes.

“Where’s the other one?” he asked.

“It go along with Lee and Pierre sometime last night,” Toma answered
disconsolately. “Them fellows ’fraid like coyotes. Take supplies along
too—nearly half. What you think about that?”

What Dick thought was best expressed in his sudden exclamation:

“The miserable, cowardly thieves! Toma, I’ve a mind to go and fetch ’em
back.”

“No catch ’em now,” pointed out the more practical Toma. “I no feel
sorry very much they go. But the supplies—I no like that.”

“You’re right! Good riddance!” Dick walked over to the small stream of
running water and commenced washing his face and hands. “We’ll make out
very well without them.”

“I hate wake Sandy,” said Toma. “Him get so mad mebbe no stop talking.”

Dick laughed, not so very heartily, and went on with his task.



                              CHAPTER XII
                      A MYSTERIOUS TEN DOLLAR BILL


On the afternoon of the day following the disappearance of the two
packers, the ravine narrowed down to a mere gully, and the three boys,
leading the pack-horses, scrambled up the precipitous slope to find
themselves looking out across a broad and fertile meadow.

Off in the northwest, a low-lying haze or ribbon of mist indicated the
presence of a body of water.

“It’s probably Thunder River,” Dick surmised. “According to the map,
there’s no other stream of any importance we have to cross. That means,
Sandy, that we must be very close to the end of our journey.”

Sandy raised one hand and clapped Dick on the back as he spoke.

“I’m glad for all of us. But I must say, Dick, that this trip hasn’t
been so unendurable after all. On the whole, I’ve rather enjoyed it.”

“With the exception of the arrow and the disappearance of those cowardly
packers, I’ve enjoyed it too,” said Dick.

“Queer about that arrow,” mused Sandy, as they started off again. “You
know, Dick, I’ve been thinking a good deal about that ever since it
happened. It’s so terribly mysterious. I wonder who shot it?”

He paused for a moment as he hurried forward to keep abreast of his much
swifter companion.

“Do you suppose,” he resumed, “that the person who shot the arrow
intended to kill one of us, or merely wanted to give us a good fright?”

“I hold to the former view,” Dick answered a little grimly. “I don’t
think there’s the least doubt on that score. The arrow missed my head by
less than a foot, and nearly caught Lee in his right leg.”

“A good shot all right,” Sandy mumbled, half to himself. “Whoever fired
it, was a marksman. He knew his business. It was an Indian, of course.”

“Yes, it must have been.”

Sandy raised his voice so that the guide, who was leading the
pack-ponies, could hear.

“Toma, how does it happen that some of the Indians around here still use
a bow and arrow. I thought that all of them went to the trading posts
now to buy rifles. How do you account for it?”

“Not all buy rifles,” Toma enlightened him. “Once in a while far away
from trading post like this, you find wild people, mebbe not more than
once or twice see white men. These Indians very much afraid white man’s
guns. No come very close to settlements or trade at post. These people
not many—only few tribes left.”

“Yes,” said Dick, “I remember hearing something like that before.
Possibly, it was from Corporal Richardson.”

“Well, I know this much,” Sandy broke in, “I’d much rather have them to
contend with than the outlaws under Henderson.”

“Mebbe have both very soon,” predicted Toma.

“Great Guns! I hope not!” Sandy’s alarm was genuine. “I’ve had enough of
Henderson to last me all the rest of my days. I’m really beginning to
believe, though, that we’ve seen the last of him. At any rate, I don’t
think he’s going to bother us any more about the mine.”

“It has commenced to look that way,” Dick agreed. “But I think we can
account for it. Corporal Richardson and Malemute Slade are keeping them
so busy, they haven’t time to come up here to worry us.”

“Still,” Sandy reflected, “I don’t believe Henderson will give up so
easily. They know about the mine and will do everything possible to gain
control of it. The outlaws will be in a dangerous mood now after losing
the fur.”

Toma did not, as a general thing, enter into the discussions Dick and
Sandy so often indulged in. But he was an attentive listener at all
times, very rarely failing to understand what was being said. In the
present instance so interested had he become, that he quite forgot his
usual taciturnity.

“What you think, Dick,” he suddenly broke forth, “if I tell you
Henderson’s men him close to us all the time since we left post? You
believe me crazy fool, eh?”

Dick was so startled by the question that he stopped dead in his tracks
and stared curiously at the young Indian.

“Why—why,” he stammered, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. But
you’re spoofing me, Toma. It isn’t reasonable, of course.”

“I think,” Toma was in deadly earnest, “that Henderson send men to
follow us when we left post. Right now, Henderson’s men in hiding close
by. You see if Toma not speak you the truth.”

Sandy laughed in derision.

“That’s a good one! If Henderson is within fifty miles of us right now,
I’ll undertake to eat our two pack-horses for supper.”

Toma flushed with embarrassment, but still held stubbornly to his
belief. Sandy’s laughter and Dick’s sceptical smile had not influenced
him in the least.

“You see if Toma not speak the truth,” he said doggedly.

“What I want to know,” Sandy taunted him, “is if a change in the weather
wouldn’t make you feel better. Perhaps a little rain would freshen your
mind, Toma. This everlasting sunlight is getting the better of you.”

“If the outlaws have really been following us,” inquired Dick, scowling
darkly at Sandy, “why haven’t we heard from them before? Why haven’t we
been attacked? If what you say is true, Toma, Henderson has decided to
be a good man instead of the rascal we have always known.”

“Henderson him bad, but very smart fellow,” said the guide. “He shoot
you, me, Sandy, in one minute if he like. But he no like because if he
shoot us he mebbe lose mine.”

“You mean——”

“Much more easy, much better for him to follow along ’till we find mine
ourselves. Then he take it away from us. More sense do thing like that
than kill you, me, Sandy, when not know for sure if we have map.”

Sandy’s smile suddenly faded away.

“By George, you’re right! Toma, I’ll take back everything I just
said—with some interest added.”

“Then, according to your belief,” said Dick, “we have nothing to fear
until we have located the mine?”

“No. Only men with arrows bother us now. Me pretty sure Henderson keep
out of sight. He no want us suspect anything when he get ready take
mine.”

“How long have you had this suspicion in your mind,” quizzed Dick, “and
why didn’t you tell us before?”

“I think same as you an’ Sandy until last night,” came the startling
revelation. “Them fellow, Lee an’ Pierre, go off like that make me
worry. First I think all same you an’ Sandy. I say to me: ‘Toma, them
fellow run away because this bad medicine land an’ because they ’fraid
get killed Indian arrows.’

“But more I think like that the more not sure I get all the time. Lee
an’ Pierre have ’em more sense mebbe. Not so crazy fool after all. Both
them packers I know for long, long time. Lee pretty good fellow, but
Pierre get drunk, gamble—not so good like Lee.”

“What in Sam Hill are you driving at?” interrupted Sandy impatiently. “I
fail to see what they have to do with it. We were talking about
Henderson—not about the packers.”

“You understand pretty quick,” said Toma, reaching in his pocket and
bringing forth a crisp ten-dollar bill. “I find that in the grass next
morning Lee an’ Pierre run away.”

“One of them lost it,” reasoned Sandy, “but I fail to see——”

“I find the money an’ pick it up,” Toma went on, ignoring Sandy’s
remark. “Then I forget all about it, because I get me so excited they
steal supplies an’ run away. But bye-’n’-bye, I start think about that
money. I remember Pierre he say to me one day: ‘Toma,’ he say, ‘me, Lee
like play poker some night but no got money.’ He ask me lend him money
so him an’ Lee play poker.”

“He must have lied to you,” said Dick.

Toma shook his head.

“Me no think so. He no lie that time. Pierre an’ Lee get money from
somewhere else.”

Dick jumped.

“From Henderson!” he exclaimed.

The Indian nodded in the affirmative.

“Me pretty sure Henderson man come during night, wake up Lee an’ Pierre
an’ give money so they run away. In the dark, they drop money in grass
an’ no find this one.”

Sandy turned mournful, accusing eyes upon Toma. Dejectedly, he kicked
the turf at his feet.

“That’s always the way,” he lamented. “The minute I begin to feel happy
and contented, something like this comes along to upset me. I believe
Toma now. This business about the money has so thoroughly convinced me,
Dick, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Henderson himself should step out
of that clump of bushes over yonder and tell us to throw up our hands.”

“We’ll keep guard every night now,” Dick decided. “Whatever happens,
we’ll be ready for them.”

“Perhaps we ought to camp here and wait for Uncle Walter,” Sandy
suggested. “I don’t mind confessing to both of you that I’m scared
stiff. Between the Indians and their arrows and Henderson and his guns,
I predict that we’re going to have a hot time of it.”

“I think we be all right ’till we get to mine,” said Toma. “No use stop
here.”

“What do you propose, Dick?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Dick confessed. “Three or four weeks is a
long time to wait for reinforcements. Even then we’ll probably be
outnumbered. It’s rather difficult to decide. Perhaps you’d like to give
up altogether, Sandy, and return to the post.”

Sandy’s face flamed a bright crimson.

“Are you trying to insult me—or what!” he demanded hotly.

“Of course not. I mean it. It’s no crime to run away if the job is too
big for us. I’m not doubting your courage.”

“I’ll die and rot in my tracks before I go back to the post. If that’s
what you’re figuring on doing, go ahead.”

For a full minute the two boys stood, face to face, breathing heavily.
There was a gleam of defiance in Sandy’s eyes, while Dick’s face had
become overshadowed with anger. Toma dropped the end of the lead-rope
carefully on the ground and placed one foot on it. Then he straightened
up, putting a hand on the shoulder of each one of the young
belligerents.

“No fight here,” he grinned. “Dick, Sandy, you come with me. Toma show
you nice place where fight all time, day an’ night. Mebbe you like that
better.”

Dick and Sandy glared at each other for a moment, then grinned
sheepishly. The matter was settled. They would go on to the mine.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                           THE RAIDING PARTY


Thunder River at last! Like most northern streams it had cut its channel
deeply into the earth, through soil, rock and sandstone, and the result
now, after ages of this corrosive action, was a deep canyon at the
bottom of which roared and tumbled the mighty river.

Spring floods, caused by melting snow and ice in the hills and mountains
to the west, had made a veritable torrent of the river, and Dick, Toma
and Sandy, looking down at the racing, foam-capped waters, were a little
dubious about crossing it.

“We’ll never get the horses over at any rate,” Dick decided. “There’s no
animal living that can swim against that current. It simply can’t be
done.”

“No,” agreed Sandy, “it can’t. And I very much doubt whether we can get
across ourselves. It looks to me as if the strongest raft in the world
would be dashed to pieces against those rocks in a very few minutes.
What do you think, Toma?”

For once, apparently, their guide was at a complete loss to know what to
say. He frowned as he looked down below.

“I never see river so bad like that before,” he admitted, shaking his
head.

“If Toma thinks it’s bad, it must be pretty bad indeed,” laughed Dick.
“How are we going to cross it, I wonder?”

“We no cross here,” said Toma, “but mebbe we find better place somewhere
else.”

Acting upon this suggestion, they started out. They followed the river
for several miles, making their way along the comparatively level ground
that skirted the edge of the canyon. At the end of an hour, they paused
in dismay.

“It seems to be getting worse instead of better,” complained Sandy.
“It’s hopeless. I don’t believe we’re going to get over.”

“We’ve got to do it somehow,” Dick gritted his teeth. “Let’s make camp
here, stake out the ponies and go after this thing systematically. Sandy
and I will return to the place we just came from and scout further up
the river, while you, Toma, go on in the other direction. We’ll meet
back here sometime before evening.”

“All right,” said Toma, “I think that good idea. We pretty sure find
some place not quite so bad. Then we build raft.”

“But what about the ponies?” Sandy wanted to know.

“They’ll be safe enough here.”

“I don’t mean that, Dick. What are we going to do when we build the
raft? We can’t take pack-horses along with us.”

“We can take the packs along,” reasoned Dick, “and that’s almost as
important. We’ll turn the ponies loose and let them shift for
themselves.”

“But we can’t carry all our supplies with us when we do get over. It’s
impossible. We can’t do it.”

“No,” admitted Dick, very much perplexed. “We can’t.”

“We make ’em cache for supplies,” Toma suggested. “We carry ’em over to
mine, little at a time.”

“That’s the only solution, I suppose,” said Sandy, “but it’s sure to be
a whale of a job. How’ll you like to climb up those slippery rocks with
a hundred pounds on your back? Another thing, how far do you think it is
from the other side of the river to the mine?”

Dick produced the map, while Sandy and Toma gathered around him.

“It doesn’t say how far it is,” Dick stated, as he unfolded the now
soiled piece of paper. “But it isn’t so very far because the cross,
indicating its position, is very close to the river.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Sandy turned away in disgust. “How do we
know at what point along the river the mine is? We may be fifteen or
twenty miles out of our course, for all you know. The place where we
cross may be miles and miles away from the mine.”

Dick placed an agitated finger on the map and bit his lips in vexation.
Sandy was right. How could they possibly find the mine unless they knew
at least approximately at what point along the river it was situated?
And then, suddenly, staring at the paper in his hand, he became aware of
something he had not noticed before. Across the upper portion of the
map, Thunder River was indicated by a line, a fairly straight line
throughout its entire length. A casual or fleeting look at the line
brought out nothing of importance, but a close and careful examination
showed that, midway between the source and mouth of the river, there was
a tiny loop or bow. Within this bow, on the opposite or upper side of
the line, was the “X,” which showed the location of the mine.

“I’ve got it!” Dick shouted. “There’s an abrupt curve in the river at
only one place—opposite the mine. When we find that curve, we’ll know
where to cross.”

Sandy took the map from his friend and inspected it closely, silently.

“Yes, the curve is there,” he was forced to admit. “And it ought to
simplify matters, too. The next thing on our program is to find it.”

“Why not do as I just proposed,” said Dick. “While we’re hunting for a
place to cross, we may find the bow.”

It seemed about the only thing to do under the circumstances. In a short
time the boys had staked out the ponies, and had picked up their rifles
in preparation for departure. Toma, who had been looking about, suddenly
exclaimed:

“I have good idea. I climb big, tall tree over there an’ mebbe I find
out where river makes turn. I go up see.”

He crossed over to the tree at a brisk trot and commenced climbing up.
It was a huge, towering spruce, and it was several minutes before he
reached the top.

“Do you see anything?” shouted Sandy.

Toma clung to the topmost branches, swaying there nearly seventy-five
feet above their heads, a dark blur against a background of blue sky. He
made no answer to Sandy’s shouted inquiry, in fact refusing to divulge
any information until he had clambered down again and stood there on the
knoll beside them.

“I find ’em curve all right,” he announced gleefully, brushing away the
fragments of bark which clung to his clothing. “You laugh when I tell
you only two miles down river. I see very plain from top of tree. River
come out on this side nearly quarter-mile before it turn go back again.”

Sandy clapped his hands joyfully.

“What luck! Toma, you old rascal.”

“I find out something else too,” continued the guide, pleased at the
impression he was making. “In place where river turns, I see another big
ravine where river flow long time ago. Mebbe it just about place where
you find ’em mine.”

Waiting to hear no more, Sandy, overcome with a fever of excitement,
rushed over to the pack-horses again.

“Let’s hurry,” he called, beginning to gather up their supplies.

“Come on, Dick, get a move on! Toma, you’ll have to pack these brutes
yourself. I never could throw a diamond hitch. Gee, but I’m excited.”

Dick had never seen Sandy quite like this before. His chum’s face was
flushed; his eyes glowed brightly.

“We’ll get to the mine tonight,” he exulted. “Throw on these packs,
Toma. If we can’t cross the river any other way, I’m going to swim.”

The contagion had caught Dick, too. His own hands were trembling as he
stooped down to untie the picket-rope from the stake he had driven down
only a few minutes before.

“This is great!” he mumbled to himself. “We’re almost there. I can
hardly believe—”

The pony, only a few feet away, reared suddenly on its hind legs,
screaming in pain. The stake snapped under Dick’s hands and the rope
swished away in the grass as the stricken little beast leaped forward a
few feet, then fell headlong.

Completely taken aback, Dick raised his head. Sandy and Toma had
flattened themselves out on the ground and were reaching for their
rifles. A series of sounds very much like small rocks thudding around
them, was followed soon after by a deep, resounding crash from the
direction of Toma and Sandy. A few more reports from Toma’s gun, and the
deep, brooding hush of the wilderness became suddenly intensified—a
silence that seemed to wall them about, to encompass them.

Three startled, white-faced youths crawled on hands and knees to the
protection of a large rock and squatted down in mute terror. By some
wonderful miracle, each had escaped injury. A score or more of
yellow-plumed shafts; the arrows of the invading party, projected here
and there above the green grass, like so many tiny sentinels of death.

“A close call,” breathed Dick, “and may God help us if they come back.”

“They were all in hiding over there on that ridge,” Sandy volunteered
the information, pointing out the place with a finger that still shook.
“I didn’t see one of them—not one! Did you, Toma?”

“No.”

“Cracky! but how those arrows came,” Sandy shivered. “Well, our pony’s
gone.”

“We go too,” said Toma, “unless we be more careful. Crazy, them fellows!
What harm we do them?”

“No harm,” answered Dick, “unless they feel we’ve no business here on
their hunting ground. We _are_ trespassing, when it comes right down to
it.”

“This bad medicine land,” Toma asserted. “That’s why free traders no
come here. Once in a while mebbe come but never go back.”

“Be quiet!” Sandy expostulated. “I’m feeling creepy enough now. Those
Indians steal up on us and disappear again like ghosts. It takes the
nerve right out of me.”

“Me too,” said Dick, “but hereafter I, for one, intend to be ready for
them. At least, I don’t purpose to be asleep when they come over for
their next raid. And I’m going to keep my eyes open as I never kept them
open before.”

“Well, we weren’t exactly asleep,” objected Sandy.

“We might just as well have been. I’ll bet that any one of their party
could have walked over here and taken a scalp before we would have
noticed him.”

Toma rose warily and went over to the packs.

“I think no more danger now,” he called. “We better hurry before dark
comes. Lots of work build raft over at river.”

“We’ll have to make two trips down there,” Dick suddenly remembered.
“We’ve only one pony now.”



                              CHAPTER XIV
                           A FATEFUL CROSSING


The remainder of the afternoon was passed in getting their supplies to
the river. This task was accomplished with the greatest care possible.
Sandy led the pack-horse, while Dick and Toma went forward, rifles in
hand, ever on the alert. In dead silence, they scanned the woods to the
right and left for a possible sign of their recent enemy.

One piece of good fortune came with the discovery of a safe crossing
place in the river. Toma had found it after a half hour of
reconnoitring, while Dick and Sandy awaited his return on the steep
slope, near the top of the canyon.

“Mebbe we swim pony across in the morning,” he confided, smiling for the
first time in several hours. “River wide an’ very few rapids. Find ’em
plenty easy for raft.”

With Dick standing guard, the raft was built that same night, and, on
the following morning, supplies and equipment aboard, they were ready
for the crossing.

“The thing to do first,” said Sandy, scratching his head, “is to get our
little playmate, Sir Bucking Broncho, into the water. How do we go about
it, Toma?”

Toma led the pony down to the water’s edge and coaxed and cajoled the
little beast but to no avail. The horse sniffed, snorted, swung around
this way and that, but refused stubbornly to do more than wet his front
fetlocks at the brink of the running stream. He was a good pony, but he
was taking no chances.

Dick laughed in spite of himself, although the delay was irksome.

“I don’t know as I blame him very much. The water does look cold and
it’s a long way across. Perhaps, we’ll have to leave him on this side
after all. Do you suppose the three of us could push him in?”

The pack-horse not only refused to be pushed, but resented the liberty
taken. A glancing blow sent Sandy reeling back and deposited him, none
too gently, in the exact center of a willow copse, where he sat for a
moment with a surprised look on his face. The look of surprise changed
to one of anger as there came to his ears the loud guffaws of Dick and
Toma.

“Laugh if you want to,” said the aggrieved young man, rising and
brushing his clothing. “It may interest you to know that I’m through.
You fellows can do your pushing alone.”

The merriment subsided presently and Dick turned to Toma.

“I guess we’ll have to give up,” he decided, wiping the tears of
laughter from his eyes. “Your friend, has plainly indicated his
intention of remaining on this side. Perhaps he doesn’t like your
company, Sandy.”

“And perhaps he does,” Sandy retorted promptly. “I’m blaming you, not
the pony. Any idiot ought to know that that’s no way to treat a horse.”

“If you like, you can coax him over with a lump of sugar,” Dick grinned.

Sandy turned his back upon his tormenter.

“Go ahead and don’t mind me. Why don’t you put your own vast
intelligence to work in some practical way? I wouldn’t give up if I were
you.”

“I try once more,” Toma suddenly announced. “I think this time I make
pony swim across. You, Dick, Sandy, stand on raft ready push off jes’ so
soon as I get in water.”

“Get in water!” cried Dick in alarm. “Why you’re not going to swim, are
you?”

“Watch!—See!”

Toma walked back, leading the horse. Thirty feet from the shore he
bolted to the pony’s bare back, wheeled the animal abruptly about, and
came forward at a brisk trot. Dick and Sandy jumped aboard the raft,
poles in hand, ready to push off. At the river’s edge the pony
hesitated, but a quick pressure from Toma’s heels sent him plunging into
the water. A second later steed and rider struck out boldly for the
opposite shore.

As the raft came abreast of the two swimmers, Toma released his hold of
the pony’s mane and, lead-rope in hand, scrambled aboard.

“Like clock work,” exulted Sandy, slapping Toma’s dripping shoulders.
“You’re a wonder, Toma, and there’s no mistake about that. Even Dick
would never have dared to pull a stunt like that.”

“You’re right,” Dick returned good-naturedly, “I never would.”

The crossing was made without mishap. As the craft glided up to the
rocky shore, Dick and Sandy cheered lustily.

“Before we do anything more,” said Dick a few minutes later, when they
had unloaded the raft, “I think we had better decide upon some definite
course of action. Unless this map and everything connected with it is a
hoax, we are now within a few miles of the mine.”

“Yes,” said Sandy.

“Well,” Dick continued, “we are all very anxious to find it. From now on
our search must be painstaking and we musn’t waste any more time than is
absolutely necessary.”

“Of course,” Sandy agreed, “but where are we going to look first?”

“That’s a question we’d better decide right away. The place where we’re
standing now,” Dick made a sweeping gesture with his arm, “seems to form
one end of a more or less oval space, which lies between the river on
one side and the dry canyon or ravine on the other.

“The mine,” he went on slowly, “may be located in any one of a number of
likely places. It may be in the oval, stretching away behind us, or in
the ravine, or somewhere on the other side of the ravine. In which of
these places are we going to search first?”

“The ravine,” said Sandy. “I believe we’ll be more apt to find the mine
there.”

“I think ravine too,” Toma agreed with him. “What you say we make camp
here while we look for mine? No use take supplies an’ pony along
everywhere we go.”

“That’s a good suggestion. This will be our base, which we can always
come back to. Anyway, it won’t take more than an hour or two to travel
through the ravine from one end to the other. If the mine’s there, we’ll
be sure to find it in a very short time.”

“There’s one thing I don’t like about this arrangement,” Sandy pointed
out. “If we make our base here—which seems a pretty good idea—aren’t we
running the chance of losing everything? In our absence the Indians
could easily slip down here and steal it all. Put us in a nice pickle,
wouldn’t it?”

“It would!” Dick declared most emphatically. “One of us will have to
remain here, that’s all.”

“Which one of us?”

The three boys looked at each other. It was quite apparent from the
expression on the face of each, that none of them wished to remain
behind. To go and look for the gold mine was much more interesting and
exciting.

“I guess we’ll have to draw straws,” Dick grinned.

“That’s fair enough,” Sandy broke off a twig as he spoke.

He divided the twig in three small pieces—one shorter than the rest. He
turned his back as he arranged them in his hand.

The unpleasant choice of remaining to guard the camp fell to Dick. For a
moment his face clouded with disappointment as he gazed at the tell-tale
straw.

“O well,” he comforted himself, “I’ll have my chance later on.”

Sandy and Toma rose joyfully to their feet, slung on their
shoulder-packs and otherwise prepared for an immediate departure.

“We’ll be back before lunch time,” Sandy sang out, as the two made their
way across the comparatively level piece of ground, and headed for the
ravine.

“Good luck!” shouted Dick.

A few moments later they had disappeared.

“I hope they find it,” Dick mused, turning away. “Sandy will be
overjoyed.”

He walked back to the packs, his thoughts in a whirl of excitement. A
few feet away the packhorse grazed contentedly. The camp, since the
departure of his two friends, had become strangely quiet. There was only
the sound of the river to break the heavy, all-pervading silence.

Digging down in one of the packs, Dick brought forth presently a hook
and line and afterward, cutting a pole from a clump of bushes and
procuring a small piece of moose meat for bait, he turned his attention
to the river.

Dick loved to fish and on this particular morning luck was with him. The
water swarmed with trout. In less than twenty minutes he had pulled out
a good two-days’ supply of them.

“It doesn’t require a great amount of skill to do this,” he informed
himself, throwing out his line for the last time. “If I had a hay fork,
I believe I could pitch ’em out by the ton. Great Caesar! What’s that!”

A quick splashing in the water on the opposite shore had drawn his
attention, caused him to straighten up in sudden alarm.

“A moose!” he ejaculated, breathing his relief. “I thought maybe it was
something else.”

He stood perfectly still as the majestic swimmer came on.

“I can’t shoot him—I can’t!” decided Dick, his admiring gaze on the
monarch of the northland forests, watching with bated breath as the
splendid beast continued its course across the murky, discolored stream.
“Anyway,” he continued, “it wouldn’t be fair to take an advantage like
that. Our larder is full of meat now.”

He actually turned his back a moment later as he rolled up his line,
picked up the fish he had caught and walked back to the packs. Yet he
swung about again when the moose plunged to shore, scarcely more than a
hundred feet away. Head raised high, the magnificent animal struck out
at a brisk trot and was soon lost to view.

“I’m glad I didn’t take a shot at him,” Dick breathed thankfully. “He
was too wonderful.”

The morning wore on. It was eleven o’clock when Dick consulted his
watch, and only a few minutes after when Toma and Sandy appeared.
Haggard-eyed, faces gray with dust, they loped into camp and threw
themselves down, gasping for breath.

“We’ve got to get out of here quick!” Sandy wheezed, turning a
terror-stricken gaze upon his chum. “I’m fagged out.... Crawled a
hundred yards on our bellies before we dared to get up and run.... We
haven’t a moment to lose.”

“Why, Sandy, what do you mean?”

“They’re coming now!”

Sandy staggered to his feet; Toma raced to get the pony. It was not
until the packs had been lifted and tied into place, that Dick was made
aware of the danger which threatened them.

“Indian encampment over there in the ravine. Ran right into it. Dick,
I’m afraid they saw us.”

Dick’s pulses quickened perceptibly as he received the disconcerting
news.

“We’ll cross the river. Better there. Don’t bother with the pack-horse.”

“No, Toma thinks we’ll be safer among those high rocks behind us.”

As Dick paused for a brief space undecided, Toma seized the lead rope,
motioning frantically.

“I see ’em first fellow already. Look out!”

He raced forward, pressed the lead-rope in Dick’s hands, then fell back
to cover their retreat. His rifle roared intermittently as they made
their way up the slope.

“Our chance is slim, but we may make it,” Sandy breathed in his chum’s
ear. “You see, Dick, there’s the danger of being cut off. We may walk
straight into a trap.”

“You think they may climb up from their side of the ravine and head us
off.”

“Yes,” shuddered Sandy. “It will be sure to happen if we don’t hurry.”

“Encumbered as we are with this pony, I don’t see how we can hurry. The
farther we go, the harder it’s going to be. We’ll never reach that high
point of rocks up there at this rate.”

“Let’s wait here until Toma catches up with us. I think myself we’re
risking our lives needlessly by taking the pony along. He’s too much of
a hindrance.”

Toma came up and the situation was explained to him.

“All right, we unload pony,” he said tersely, suiting the action to the
word. “Sandy, you, Dick stand by ready with guns.”

The task took but a moment. They were off again at a dead run, while the
pack-horse stood gazing reproachfully after them.



                               CHAPTER XV
                          WITHIN THE BARRICADE


Toma poked out his head from behind a gray pile of rocks and looked
down. Far below him, at the bottom of the ravine, he beheld a sight
which caused his hands to clinch involuntarily and his heart to quicken
a beat or two in righteous indignation.

In the Indian encampment, there was a very noticeable flurry and bustle
of excitement as a small party, headed by an exceedingly atrocious
individual, made its way into camp. With the exception of the leader,
Toma had never seen any of them before. Also, with the exception of the
leader, every man was weighted down with a load of what—even at that
distance—Toma recognized immediately as being the supplies he, Dick and
Sandy had discarded at the beginning of their hasty retreat.

Even the pony, which brought up the procession, was the self same
pack-horse he had ridden into the river that morning. Their supplies and
their horse were gone, but it was not this loss alone which had been the
direct cause of Toma’s anger.

The young guide flashed one more look of resentment in the direction of
the encampment, then turned quickly and made his way back to Dick and
Sandy, who were crouched within a natural rock barricade, about one
hundred yards distant.

“What did you find out?” Sandy demanded as Toma rejoined them.

“Indians get our supply an’ pony,” came the prompt answer.

“Well, that was to be expected,” said Dick. “It can’t be helped now. Did
you find out anything else?”

“Yes.”

“What was it?”

“Toma see scar-face Indian.”

“What!” exclaimed Dick and Sandy in one voice.

“Scar-face Indian him there all right. Make himself big fellow. What you
think about that?”

“It’s an outrage!” stormed Dick. “No wonder we’re having trouble. So
Henderson is at the bottom of this after all.”

“If scar-face Indian here, Henderson not very far away,” speculated
Toma.

“Old Scar-Face must have discovered the mine before this if it’s located
in the ravine,” Sandy suddenly spoke up.

“It doesn’t matter much now where the mine is,” Dick stated
despondently. “We can’t do anything anyway. Our cause is pretty nearly
hopeless.”

“Uncle Walter is coming,” Sandy reminded him. “Don’t forget that.”

“Two or three weeks from now. We may all be dead before then.”

“We can defend ourselves here for a day or two,” said Sandy. “In the
meantime maybe something will turn up.”

“What about food and water?”

“Dick!” exclaimed Sandy, moving over and placing one arm affectionately
about his chum, “You’re not your usual self. It’s not like you to give
up so easily.”

Dick received the gentle rebuke with calm indifference. He stared
soberly out across the desolate, sun-filled space without speaking.

“Indians make night attack mebbe,” Toma suddenly broke the silence.

“Let ’em come,” growled Dick. “We’ll be ready. All I hope is that
Scar-Face leads the attacking party and that I can get a shot at him.”

“They’ll probably be in no hurry about that attack,” Sandy sagely
remarked. “They know we’re up here somewhere and practically helpless.
It would be a whole lot simpler and easier to starve us out.”

“That sounds reasonable,” said Dick. “We’re trapped and they know it.”

“I tell you something,” Toma rose and began pacing back and forth across
the narrow, confining space within the barricade. “We have good chance
now to make ’em Indians all look foolish. Place over
there”—pointing—“where look down camp. You, me, Sandy go over there an’
start shoot rifles. Kill ’em plenty men in very few minutes. We drive
’em all bad fellows out of ravine.”

Dick and Sandy stared at each other aghast.

“What you say?” inquired Toma.

“Never!” shuddered Dick.

“Murder!” shivered Sandy.

“Why not?” the tone was plaintive. “Toma not understand.”

“You poor devil,” Sandy commenced grimly, but checked himself. “What
quarrel have we with those people down there, Toma? It’s not their
fault—it’s Henderson’s and the scar-face Indian’s.”

“All right, I go shoot him—that fellow.”

Dick’s sudden laugh relieved the tension.

“We didn’t come out here to kill anyone,” Sandy attempted to explain.
“We came out here to find the mine. It’s wrong to take any human life.”

Toma shrugged his shoulders.

“You mean you sit here an’ no shoot if attack come?” he asked in
amazement. “You sit here an’ let bad fellow kill you without so much
raise up your rifle?”

“If I’m cornered, I’ll fight, of course. But not until then.”

The guide shook his head and subsided into a puzzled silence.

“What we do then?” he asked presently.

“What I’d like to do,” Dick cut in sharply, “is to run away—get out of
this mess somehow.”

“How we swim river?” Toma wanted to know. “No chance build raft.”

“What about our own raft?” Sandy wondered. “Do you suppose they’ve
overlooked that?”

“I’ll give them more credit for brains than that,” was Dick’s opinion.
“I don’t think we ought to consider it.”

He paused for a moment, his brow wrinkling in thought.

“The only other way of escape is across the ravine, and I’m willing to
bet they have sentries posted every hundred yards.”

“Very probably,” Sandy agreed, “but even at that there’s a possibility
that we could make it. After dark there might be a chance. It’s better
than staying here.”

“In our present hopeless position,” said Dick calmly, “I’ll try
anything.”

“What about you, Toma?”

The young Indian drew himself up proudly.

“I go too,” he stated simply.

“Well, then, it’s decided.” Sandy arose and gazed out across the rough,
broken strip of land to the south, conscious of a sinking feeling
within.

To attempt to escape by way of the ravine was, as he well knew, a
desperate hazard. Their chance of getting through safely was slim
indeed—with every advantage in favor of their ruthless enemy.

“It’s the only thing we can do,” he declared, turning again toward his
two companions and speaking in a low, trembling voice.

Dick evaded Sandy’s direct gaze and he, too, looked out upon that weird,
desolate view. The afternoon sun was very bright and the rocks, gray and
white and brown, were like blinding mirrors to his eyes. Somewhere, deep
down within his breast, he could feel the beginning of a sob—a choking,
helpless feeling difficult to express.

“My throat’s dry,” said Sandy, “and I’d like to have a drink.”

“I go for water,” volunteered Toma.

Dick wheeled about quickly.

“No! No! Don’t be a fool, Toma. We’ll have to stand it. You can’t risk
your life now.”

In dull, aching monotony, the afternoon passed. The sun slipped down
through a bank of clouds to a flaming northwestern sky. Innumerable
shadows, spreading grotesquely about them, grew dark, then velvet-black,
merging finally into one complete inky blot.

“There aren’t a hundred stars out tonight,” Dick whispered to his two
delighted companions. “Conditions couldn’t be better.”

“It has clouded over,” said Sandy. “Thank God for that.”

Out of the west had come a cool, moist breeze. If it rained, so much the
better. Since their departure from Fort Good Faith, three weeks
previous, the days and nights had succeeded each other with no hint of
rain, a seemingly endless procession of sunlit and starlit hours.

“We ought to start pretty soon,” said Dick, as he paced uneasily,
restlessly about.

“I’m ready any time you fellows are,” Sandy replied.

Ten minutes passed. The wind seemed stronger now and was blowing more
from the south. Unable longer to endure the suspense, Toma plucked at
Dick’s arm.

“Come,” he whispered.

Slowly, cautiously, three figures worked their way up and over the rough
barricade of rocks and headed for the ravine.

“Keep close together,” cautioned Dick in a low voice. “Whatever happens,
we mustn’t become separated.”

In a few minutes they had reached the edge of the ravine and prepared
for the perilous descent. They had to feel their way now. Every step
forward was tedious, conscious effort. The moisture-laden wind,
breathing over the warm rocks, had produced a wet, slippery surface
under foot. Careful as the three boys were, one of them slipped or fell
occasionally, producing a sound which caused them to pause in
consternation in the belief that the noise must have carried to the
sentries below.

About half way down, a most disconcerting thing occurred. In attempting
to recover his balance, Sandy dropped his rifle. It slid out of reach as
he made a wild lunge for it, and a moment latter dropped twenty feet to
the ledge below. The loud metallic clatter resulting, broke across the
silence—so it seemed to Sandy—with a force and noise as terrifying as
that made by a derailed express train dropping over a cliff.

The three boys stood huddled together in speechless dismay. Had they
been heard? Would the sentries know now for a certainty that an effort
was being made to escape?

Sandy recovered his rifle and, following a whispered consultation, it
was decided to make their way along the slope of the ravine before
descending further. They had succeeded in covering a distance of perhaps
three hundred yards, when they paused again—this time in absolute
terror.

Up along the ridge, not far from their previous barricade, there arose a
medley of demoniacal shrieks and yells that would easily have struck
fear in the bravest heart. So suddenly and unexpectedly had it come,
that the three boys, white-faced and trembling, shrank back against the
side of the ledge too frightened even to move.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                        A PATH THROUGH THE ROCKS


Following the first shock of surprise and terror, Dick reached out and
clutched Sandy’s arm.

“Now is the time to cross the ravine,” he whispered tersely. “Our best
chance. Come!”

The remainder of the descent to the floor of the ravine was made at the
cost of bruised bodies and torn garments, but with a speed and dispatch
that made caution utterly impossible. Dick’s shins and knuckles were
bleeding as he helped Sandy to his feet and spoke again in a low voice.

“Are you there, Toma?”

“Yes.”

“All right, we’ll make a bee-line for it. Ready!”

Three shadowy forms moved out to the level floor of the ravine,
hesitated a split-second, then bolted for the opposite side.

Crash!

The report thundered in Dick’s ears. His own gun flamed into the night
with a loud, reverberating roar. Four or five wavering figures, who had
attempted to check their flight, fell back suddenly, making a path for
them. First Sandy, then Dick, then Toma—each in turn fired his rifle
into the air as he sprinted for the safety of the rocks.

They were clambering up presently, side by side, in the first flurry of
a drenching Spring rain. The wind whipped about them, tearing fitfully
at their soiled and rent clothing. Somewhere, miles up the river valley,
a crooked flare of light lit up the sky.

It was a smothering downpour long before they had reached the top. It
seemed now as if the earth was slipping under their feet. Water and
gravel! Curious little patches of sliding wet clay! In places, thick
mud, ankle deep, oozing out of crevices in the rocks! Yet they went on
somehow through a breath-taking torture of exhaustion, contriving
finally to pull themselves up over the edge of the canyon wall to the
firm, grass-grown space beyond.

They had struggled to safety and were, for the present, at least, beyond
the fear of immediate pursuit. Something very much like a prayer
breathed from Dick’s lips. Sandy had thrown himself to the ground, his
body shaking with sobs. With the exception of Toma, who, even in this
extremity, possessed the untamed, unbeaten spirit of the wild, the
little party had spent its last ounce of endurance and its last spark of
courage.

Yet, they had made good their escape. They had come through the Indian
lines, less than a quarter of a mile from the main encampment. It was an
achievement worth while. Dick, recovering his breath, sat perfectly
still, thrilled and happy as he looked out into the storm.

He was recalled from his abstraction by Toma’s voice, almost at his ear.

“We go pretty soon an’ find dry place to sleep. What you think?”

“Yes,” he answered, “but let Sandy rest for a while. This warm rain
won’t hurt us.”

The youngest member of the trio rolled over, propping himself up on one
elbow.

“I’m all right now. I’m ready to go on. I’m so happy I can’t think. If
there was ever a time to feel glad for the sparing of three no-account
lives, it’s tonight.”

Not long afterward, they crawled into a dense thicket which, though far
from dry, afforded some protection from the steadily falling rain.

“Wake me up early,” Sandy muttered sleepily, as he snuggled down like a
young lynx and closed his eyes.

Dick had started to follow his example, when he noticed that Toma still
sat like the graven statue of a Hindu god.

“Aren’t you going to lie down?” he asked.

“No,” came the rather startling answer, “Toma no sleepy tonight.”

Dick stared his unbelief.

“How can that be?” he asked incredulously. “Toma, if it wasn’t so blamed
dark, I could look into your face and convince myself you’re lying.”

“No dare go sleep tonight.”

“Why?”

“Forget to wake up. First thing we know Indian come. Just so soon get
light, Scar-Face send out party look everywhere. He try find us. We too
close encampment yet.”

“Why, you deceiving old rascal——” Dick choked, deeply impressed by the
other’s unselfishness. “Do you mean to tell me you’d sit here all night
and keep watch alone?”

“Yes,” answered Toma, “I sit here so I wake you and Sandy before it get
light. Then we travel fast. When Indian start look for us we be many
miles away.”

“So you intend to sacrifice your own comfort for us?”

“Toma no understand.”

Dick crawled over and put his arms about the statuesque figure.

“Lie down, you miserable deceiver,” he purred. “Lie down before I pull
out my hunting knife and scalp you. No wonder we hate you—Sandy and I.”

“Stinging rattlesnakes!” gasped a sleepy voice. “Have you gone suddenly
mad, Dick? What was that you just said to Toma?”

Dick laughed.

“Listen, Sandy, do you know what this lump of uselessness purposes to
do?”

“No.”

“Stay up all night so he’ll be sure to wake us before dawn.”

“But what’s the big idea?”

“He doesn’t think we’re safe here, so close to the Indian encampment. He
thinks Scar-Face’ll send out a scouting party at daybreak.”

“I never thought of that. Of course, he will,” Sandy had become
genuinely alarmed.

“So Toma is going to watch while we two lazybones sleep,” Dick
concluded.

“Like fun he is.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion,” Dick commented dryly, “that Toma is
taking too much responsibility upon himself. He’s not satisfied with
doing most of the work; he must do most of the thinking too.”

“It’s a terrible state of affairs,” Sandy growled. “What will we do with
him?”

“As duly appointed judge sitting on this case, I propose to make an
example of you, John Toma. Prisoner before the bar, with malice
aforethought, I do hereby sentence you to four hours of solitary
slumber.”

“Without benefit of clergy,” supplemented Sandy.

“Without benefit of clergy and with his boots on.”

“Moccasins, your honor,” corrected the prosecuting attorney.

“All right,” Dick laughed, “without clergy and with moccasins tightly
strapped about his ankles. Take him to his cell, sheriff.”

“I no understand what you try say me,” said the prisoner, a little
bewildered.

“You’re to sleep four hours without stopping while Dick and I keep
watch,” Sandy explained.

It was exactly three o’clock by Dick’s watch when the three boys emerged
from the thicket to continue their interrupted flight. The rain had
ceased falling and a few stars peeped out from between dark clouds,
scudding before the wind.

“We’ll make a nice wet trail through the wet grass,” Sandy grumbled
sleepily. “Almost anybody could follow us.”

“It may be more difficult than you think,” Dick was of the opinion. “The
sun will be up in an hour, and it won’t take long to dry things off.”

Their course away from the river—almost due west—led them across a
rolling plain in the direction of a high range of hills, beyond which
were the mountains. With the coming of daylight, they discerned the gray
outline of the nearest hill, not more than two miles away.

The hill was steep and wide, more like a lofty plateau than a hill.
Trees and vegetation covered its lower portion, but towards its summit
the earth and rocks were perfectly bare.

“We’re going to have a good, stiff climb,” Dick remarked. “Do you feel
equal to it, Sandy?”

The person addressed shifted his pack over chafed and burning shoulders.

“If I had something to eat, I could make it better.”

“No eat ’till we get to top,” said Toma. “We hide better up there.
Indians see where we are if stop here.”

It took an hour of exhausting effort to make the ascent. Very much out
of breath, limbs shaking with weariness, they stumbled forward a few
paces, then threw off their shoulder-packs and proceeded to bring forth
the meagre store of food that remained to them. Dick divided a bannock
and a small chunk of bacon.

“We’ll have to eat the bacon raw,” he declared, a slight quaver in his
voice. “There’s no firewood here.”

“Or water either that I can see,” added Sandy. “It’s a good thing we
filled our water bottles on the way over.”

Towards the close of the inadequate, barely satisfying meal, Dick, who
had been gazing curiously about him, pointed to an opening in the rocks
a few yards away.

“It looks as if a sort of path runs through there,” he remarked.

“Deer-run,” suggested Sandy.

“What would deer be doing up here?” Dick wanted to know.

“Mebbe salt-lick somewhere,” Toma bore out Sandy’s conjecture.

Investigation proved that there was a path, clearly defined and
well-beaten, a path which wound away towards the center of the plateau.
Following it for a while, the three weary explorers passed through a
narrow, broken defile and emerged at length to an opening amongst the
rocks. They paused in wonder.

Immediately ahead sparkling like a jewel under the bright rays of the
morning sun, was a pool or small lake. A perpendicular wall of sandstone
rose sheer on one side, but on the other, a little to the right of where
the boys were standing, the shoreline was practically unbroken and
level, sloping slightly upward over a grass- and tree-grown space to
another wall of sandstone. The whole effect was that of a huge hole or
depression sunk into the earth: The small lake occupied one-half of this
depression and the green slope the remaining half.

The boys stood for several minutes, struck with the beauty and novelty
of the scene.

“I don’t care whether that pond’s a thousand feet deep and cold as a
cake of ice,” Sandy suddenly decided. “I’m going to have a swim in it. A
cool plunge right now would make me feel like a million dollars.”

He laughed as he spoke, but a surprised grunt from Toma quickly drew his
attention to another quarter. As the guide pointed out the cause of his
startled ejaculation, both Dick and Sandy gasped in wonder.

Twenty feet to their right, a heavy wooded cross reared its awesome
shape above a mound of earth and rocks.

“A grave!” whispered Sandy.

“I’m not sure it is a grave,” said Dick a moment later, as they
approached to examine the cross.

“Why not?” asked Sandy.

“Because,” Dick looked about carefully, “there’s no indication of one.
The mound and pile of rocks support the cross.”

“If that’s the case,” argued Sandy, “what was it put here for? People
don’t build crosses just for the fun they get out of it.”

“I realize that. But where’s the grave?”

“It’s here somewhere. I feel sure of it.”

“There’s no name carved on the cross,” Dick pointed out. “And it isn’t a
regular cross either. Look here,” he indicated one of the arms. “The end
of this is pointed; the other isn’t. It looks like a marker or sign of
some sort.”

Sandy stood perfectly still, head on one side, and examined the cross
speculatively.

“Do you suppose——” he began.

Dick jumped.

“A marker for the mine! Good heavens! I never thought of that!”

“It might be,” said Sandy in an awed, breathless tone.

“Yes, it might.”

“It points over there at that perpendicular wall on the other side of
the lake.”

“The mine couldn’t be under water,” protested Dick.

“No, of course not. But it could easily be off somewhere in that general
direction.”

“Over on the other side of the cliff, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Tell you what,” Dick had become heir to a strange excitement, “let’s
continue following the path up out of this hole and see what we can see.
We’ll skirt around to the back of the lake.”

“It certainly wouldn’t do any harm.”

The path led away across the slope, swerved sharply to the left and came
to an abrupt stop at the foot of a wall of solid sandstone, more than
forty feet in height. Cut into the sandstone, to the boys’ utter
amazement, was a rough flight of steps.

“May wonders never cease!” gasped Sandy. “Who do you suppose did this?”

“A path leading down to the water,” cried Dick. “Sandy, we’re closer
now. I’m convinced of it.”

“Dick, I’m shaking like a leaf.”

They went up the steps slowly, Sandy in the lead. Reaching the top, they
paused again, looking carefully about them.

With a wildly beating heart, Dick noticed that the path still threaded
its way through a veritable graveyard of broken rocks and tomb-shaped
ridges of sandstone.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                        SANDY EXPLORES THE MINE


Sandy’s whoop of joy was the first intimation Dick had of the actual
discovery of the mine. Unable to suppress his excitement and eagerness,
the young Scotchman had loped down the path well in advance of his two
friends, and had reached the coveted goal at least five minutes before
Toma and Dick put in their belated appearance.

Sandy was gibbering inanely as Dick stepped up and clapped him on the
back. They shook hands all around, and then even Toma so far forgot his
dignity and reserve as to join in an impromptu dance that would have
shamed a drink-crazed party of South Sea Islanders. Presently Dick held
up one hand.

“Enough of this, Sandy. Let’s cool off. We’re actually here at last. But
we musn’t take leave of our senses altogether, or play the part of
fools. I propose that we make a careful inspection of the mine.”

The mine proper consisted of a single shallow shaft cut down into the
rock and shale to a depth of about eight feet. Over the top of the shaft
stood a windlass, a huge cumbersome affair made out of spruce logs.

“Our mine is more than half full of water,” laughed Dick, looking down
into the shaft. “It’ll take us a day or more to bail the thing out.”

Following a cursory look around, Dick led the way to a small log cabin,
which stood a short distance back from the mine. It was old and
considerably out of repair. The door had been nailed shut and the
windows sealed from the inside. A mud chimney, projecting through the
roof, had crumbled to decay; and a good deal of the chinking between the
logs of the house had dropped out, leaving gaping holes behind.

“It’s very nearly useless now,” Sandy observed, shaking his head, “but I
have no doubt we could make it habitable.”

Dick and Toma attempted to pry open the door. They had no tools at their
disposal except a small hatchet, the guide always carried with him. By
using the blade as a wedge and then hammering upon it with a rock, they
contrived finally to force their way into the dark, musty interior.

Even with the light streaming in from the open doorway, it was at first
very difficult to see very clearly to every part of the cabin. A mud
fire-place, a rough bench and table comprised the furnishings of the
room. Propped against the wall on one side were a few mining tools,
including a small pick, a coil of rope and a shovel. A large bucket
which, judging from its shape and general appearance, had been carved
out of a pine log, stood in one corner.

Further examination on the part of the three boys proved unavailing.
Little more of interest was found until Toma, prowling about, discovered
a trap door, which had been cut through the scored logs in the floor.

The trap was ponderous and heavy, stubbornly refusing to come up. It was
raised, at length, through the combined efforts of the excited trio, who
peered down into the dark hole, faces alight with interest.

“Looks very much like a deep cellar,” said Sandy, with a sharp intake of
breath. “But what was it used for?”

Dick lit a match in an effort to see below. The tiny flame flared up for
a moment, then went out. A second, third and fourth match——

“No use!” impatiently Dick threw the box to the floor and sat down with
his feet dangling through the trap. “There’s a draft coming up out of
here. Wish I had my old pocket light.”

“Move aside,” ordered Sandy. “I’m going down.”

“It may be deep,” objected Dick. “Let’s get a pole and find out.”

He had risen to go outside for the pole, when Sandy pushed quickly
forward, swung out over the trap and let himself down to his full
length, holding on by his hands.

“Don’t let go!” warned Dick, swinging around abruptly. “You don’t know
what’s down there. Be careful, Sandy!”

Sandy grinned up provokingly, like a young ape bent on mischief,
released his grip on the floor and disappeared forthwith. A low thud,
coming up from below, attested to the fact that he had reached bottom.
Toma’s annoyed grunt and Dick’s terrified exclamation, preceded a short
but oppressive silence.

Was Sandy hurt? Pale and trembling, Dick stared into the black pit
beneath and attempted to call out. His breath seemed to rattle in his
throat.

“Are you hurt?” he finally contrived to squeak.

No answer.

“Are you there, Sandy?”

“Heigh ho up there!” came a firm and confident voice. “Throw down that
box of matches.”

Toma and Dick breathed a sigh of relief. The matches were dropped down.
In an incredibly short space, a small flame partially lit up the dank
interior and soon after began flickering and bobbing about like a large
firefly.

“What luck?” Dick called out.

Sandy, bent on exploration, was too busy to reply. Match after match
flared brightly, burned down to a stub, and was swallowed up in the inky
maw of the hole.

“Can you pull me out of this?” Sandy asked finally, when Dick’s patience
had been worn to a shred. “I figure I’m about fourteen feet down. Didn’t
I see a coil of rope up there?”

Sandy was pulled up through the trap a short time later, blinking as his
eyes met the glare of light from the doorway. In spite of his effort to
appear unconcerned, it was apparent that he was gripped in some strong
emotion.

“What did you find, Sandy?”

The eyes of the young Scotchman gleamed queerly.

“There’s gold down there,” he exploded. “Loads of it! Sacks and sacks of
gold, Dick, piled up down there in moose-hide sacks, waiting to be
carried away!”

For a brief interval Dick was incapable of speech.

“Go-o-ld!” he stammered.

“Yes, gold!—thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth, I
guess.”

Dick’s eyes were popping.

“So they hid it there.”

“Hid nothing!” Sandy was pacing back and forth in his excitement. “The
real mine’s down there, I tell you. Right under our feet.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Go down and see for yourself,” shrieked Sandy. “It’s there,—it’s there,
I tell you! Passages lead out three ways from that main hole or shaft. I
could see them.”

“And those moose-hide sacks?”

“At one side of the shaft, directly under this room.”

“But where did they dump the rock and gravel that came out of those
passages?” Dick asked incredulously. “It didn’t just disappear, did it?
Tons and tons of earth and rock must have been moved in order to get the
gold.”

“I can’t explain it,” Sandy admitted, somewhat defiantly. “All I know is
that it was moved somewhere. The real mine is down there.”

“We’ll start exploring it at once,” Dick decided. “I’ll make some sort
of miner’s lamp and we’ll all go down. What do you say?”

A fever of excitement had seized upon them. Hunger and weariness, the
fear of pursuit—everything was forgotten in the obsession of the moment.
Sandy moved about with an accustomed lightness in his step; Dick had
become over-eager and impatient. Of the three, Toma alone remained
unshaken and indifferent.

“Why you so hurry go see mine?” he demanded of Dick, during a lull in
their preparations. “You think mine run away, eh?”

“Why, no.”

“How you feel if Indian come pretty soon an’ no ready for him?”

“What’s that?”

“Indian pretty sure come bye-’n’-bye.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Dick,” admonished the guide, “you, Sandy no think today. No think at
all. Crazy like fool. What good is mine today if get killed tomorrow?”

“Look here, old Trouble-Face,” Sandy sang out, “you’re a joy killer. I
don’t think there’s the least bit of danger.”

“Danger all time,” stubbornly persisted Toma.

Dick’s eyes wandered back to the trap in the floor. He visualized the
moose-hide sacks, bulging with gold. He wondered if Sandy had not been
mistaken about those three passages.

“The Indians won’t come today,” he decided.

“Don’t worry, Toma. Besides——”

He paused to watch Sandy throw the coil of rope into the shaft and then
walk back and tie the end, still in his hands, to a large iron hook in
the wall—a hook that had, apparently, been put there for that express
purpose.

He turned again to Toma.

“Come on, let’s go down. It’ll take only a few minutes.”

To his surprise, the guide shrugged his shoulders and turned away. As
Dick lowered himself through the trap, Toma strode to the doorway and
stood looking out across the shimmering, sunlit vista of rocks and
sandstone.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                       IN THE TOILS OF HENDERSON


Returning to the main shaft, following a tour of exploration through the
mine, Dick and Sandy were staggered by the discovery that during their
absence some one had removed the rope and had closed the trap. Darkness
enveloped them. The stream of light, which had poured through the wide
opening in the floor of the cabin, had been cut off. The shock of the
discovery for a moment unnerved the two young adventurers. The thing was
incredible—almost past belief! Sandy raised his candle aloft and stared
up through its flickering light. Dick smothered a cry, then stood
mopping his perspiring face, too dumbfounded for words.

After the first shock of surprise, it occurred to Dick that Toma was
playing a joke upon them. Piqued and resentful because of his and
Sandy’s refusal to postpone the exploration of the mine, their guide had
probably decided to teach them a lesson. No doubt, he wanted to frighten
them a little in his effort to revenge his wounded feelings. Such an
explanation seemed reasonable enough. It caused Dick to smile to himself
and presently to chuckle aloud:

“Toma’s done this, Sandy. The old boy’s a little peeved because we
wouldn’t listen to him. If we wait here a few minutes, he’ll relent and
open the trap.”

They waited in silence. Sandy nudged Dick and laughed. In order to pass
the time quickly, they went over and commenced to examine the sacks of
gold, piled against one side of the shaft.

Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes—and no sound from Toma! Dick sat down and
began mopping his face again. Sandy blew out his candle, grumbling to
himself.

“A joke has its limits,” he sputtered. “In about two more seconds——”

Footfalls sounded overhead. A low rumble of voices, a clatter of
something on the floor—and the trap came open. Light streamed down,
lighting up the shaft.

“Bear!” exclaimed an unfamiliar voice. “Better keep back. They’re
armed!”

“No, I tell yuh, we got their rifles. Fink,” the tone was overbearing
and threatening, “get a move on an’ throw down that rope.”

The rope came down with a dull thud. Then the voice:

“Get out o’ that. Scramble up that rope. You’re both down there—we know
it.”

A string of blasphemous oaths accompanied the sharp command. Sandy
shrank back close to Dick. They were both shaking with terror.

“Do yuh hear!” screamed Henderson, enraged at the delay. “Your game’s
up, I tell yuh. I’m givin’ yuh just five minutes to come outta that
hole.”

“I can’t,” moaned Sandy. “I can’t, Dick!”

With difficulty, Dick was gaining control of himself.

“We must, Sandy,” he quavered. “There’s no help for it. They have the
upper hand now. Let me help you to your feet.”

Sandy could scarcely stand. He trembled, and raised a white, pathetic
face to the opening.

“We’re coming, Henderson,” Dick called out, his voice ringing
tragically.

Slowly, tremblingly, they went up. Dick’s head, then his shoulders
projected through the opening. Strong, rough arms yanked him forward
with a force so violent that his jaws snapped. He was lying on the floor
now, Sandy beside him. The leering, uncouth faces above were faces
without pity. A circle of eyes, like those of hungry wolves, glared down
at them. Big, powerful—a tower of brute strength and wickedness—Bear
Henderson stormed through the group of men, cursing roundly.

“Truss ’em up! Truss ’em up, you fools. Think we got all day to stand
around in. Flick—bring that rope!”

The boys were bound hand and foot, then dragged across the floor and
kicked into a corner. Through a smother of dust, Dick perceived that the
party of outlaws were preparing to make a descent into the mine. Above
the din and confusion, came the hoarse, bellowed orders of Henderson.

One by one, the moose-hide sacks, containing the gold stored in the
shaft, were lifted up through the trap. A perfect bedlam of cries and
shouts arose. Order was forgotten. Sweating men, their faces distorted
with greed and passion, clawed over the precious metal, snarling like
beasts.

For a time it looked as if Henderson might lose control of the outlaws.
With one exception, every man cursed and fought around the moose-hide
sacks, turning deaf ears to their leader. This rebellion against
authority transformed Henderson from the brute he was to a glaring-eyed
madman. Never before in all his life had Dick seen anything to equal the
awful fury of the man, as he leaped here and there through that pack of
human wolves and beat them into submission.

In less than five minutes, the man, called Flick, was the only one left
of the cowering band who dared to dispute its leader’s authority. Flick
had backed away, nursing a cut over his right eye, blood trickling down
his face. His cheeks were livid. As Henderson rushed towards him, a
knife gleamed and whirred through the air, missing the outlaw by a scant
two inches. A short time later Baptiste La Lond, the only one of the
party who had shown little interest in the sacks of gold, proceeded to
remove the unconscious body of Flick. He accomplished this task by the
simple expedient of dragging it out by the heels, yanking it brutally
along the floor, through the doorway and thence outside.

Immediately the room became more quiet. With a jerk of his head,
Henderson tossed back his mop of yellow hair and wiped his face with the
back of one hairy hand.

“Any more o’ yuh devils lookin’ fer trouble—step out!”

No one moved. Sulky faces, many of them battered almost to a pulp, were
cast down; shoulders drooped in dejection. Not even the breath of a
murmur stirred through their broken ranks.

“Yuh got us licked, Bear, an’ yuh know it,” trembled one of the outlaws.
“We didn’t mean no harm jes’ lookin’ at that gold. There ain’t a nugget
missin’.”

“No, I suppose not,” snarled their chief. “Couldn’t see nothin’, could
I? Empty yer pockets fer I knock yuh all down again!”

Hastily, they complied. In spite of the torture of the rope that bound
him, Dick choked back a laugh as each one brought to light handful after
handful of the tell-tale nuggets and passed them over to their brutal
master.

Returning from his gentle mission, Baptiste La Lond sauntered through
the door and made his way unhesitatingly over to the corner where Dick
and Sandy lay.

“Ah, ze pretty mounted police boy,” he chortled, prodding Dick with his
foot. “Where is ze fine uniform now?”

Dick stared back in defiance, but made no answer.

“Pardon, monsieur!” Mockingly, La Lond bowed low before him. Then he
turned to the outlaws with what he considered to be a humorous gesture.

“Ze leetle boy ees feel sick now—so veree sick. He not feel lak talk
today.”

One or two of the outlaws guffawed loudly.

“Come out o’ that!” growled Henderson. “Leave that boy alone. We got
work to do.”

Baptiste cringed and slunk away from the corner. Turning upon his men,
Henderson raised his voice: “Listen tuh me, yuh yellow skunks—I’m boss
o’ this party. If yuh don’t believe it, jes’ try some more o’ your funny
tricks. None o’ this gold ain’t gonna be divided ’til we get back. The
police won’t find much when they come. Do yuh understand?”

“Yes,” came the cowed answer.

“All right!” The outlaw glared about him threateningly before he
proceeded: “Now, I’ll tell yuh somethin’: We got jes’ five days to get
what we can outta this mine. I’m gonna strip it. These few sacks here
ain’t all we’re gonna get.”

“How do yuh figger yer gonna do it?” inquired the man who had previously
spoken.

“Work!” boomed Henderson. “We’re gonna work this mine four days an’ four
nights like it’s never been worked before. Not countin’ them two boys
over there, there’s ten o’ us. Scar-Face’ll bring up a few Indians an’
I’m gonna make them get busy too. I’m plannin’ to run two shifts fer
each one o’ the shafts. Any o’ yuh got any objections?” he inquired
belligerently.

“Ze more we get, monsieur, ze more we divide,” Baptiste pointed out.

“Sure! That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell yuh. Now, as I said before, the
police is comin’. One o’ my Indian runners was here last night with the
news. We gotta work fast an’ we gotta work sure. If there’s any way o’
wreckin’ the mine before we go, I’m gonna do it.”

“We ought to be able to stop the police, Bear,” one of the men declared.

“What for? There ain’t no sense to it. If yuh devils is willin’ to work,
we can clean up plenty in a few days.”

Greed and avarice was without doubt the only real bond that held the
outlaws together. Even the domineering force and brutality of Henderson
would have been inadequate to cope for any length of time with so
murderous a crew. At thought of the great wealth lying in store for
them, the sulky, glowering looks, that were cast in the direction of
their leader, faded. The tension slackened. In a very few minutes the
room was noisy again—the scene of bustling and excited activity.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                            HOURS OF TORTURE


The afternoon and evening wore on. In their corner, Dick and Sandy
passed through an ordeal of suffering that had sapped even their rugged
endurance. They lay now with closed eyes, moaning in their sleep. The
lips of each were dry and cracked. Dust choked their nostrils. Ankles
and wrists throbbed and pained from the constant friction and pressure
of the rope with which the outlaws had bound them.

It was not until the following morning that Henderson deigned to notice
them. Nor was it pity that prompted him to bellow out at the top of his
voice:

“Baptiste, untie them two young swine an’ put ’em to work. We need ever’
available man. You can take charge of the outfit that’s workin’ outside
on that new shaft.”

This was the sort of thing that Baptiste did well. He pounced down upon
the benumbed and thirst-crazed pair with a whoop of delight. He untied
their bonds and kicked them to their feet, grinning in derision as they
swayed there, totally unable to stand. He shook them roughly, leering
into their bloodshot eyes.

“Ah, ze pretty boys,” he crooned, “zey will wake up to come with their
veree good friend, Baptiste. What you think about that, eh?”

“Stop it!” thundered Henderson, as he turned to go down through the
trap. “There ain’t no time to fool. Them boys’ll be all right in a few
minutes. Rub their legs. Go an’ fetch ’em some grub.”

By the time Baptiste had returned, the blood had commenced to circulate
in Dick’s and Sandy’s swollen limbs, but it was nearly two hours before
they were able to stagger forth to join the party of Indian workers, who
were engaged at that particular moment in bailing water from the shaft
situated about one hundred yards from the cabin.

In the group, very much to the boys’ surprise, was Toma. Their guide
stood turning the handle of the windlass as they approached, and, except
for a faint flicker in his eyes, one might have thought that the tall,
lithe Indian lad looked upon the two newcomers for the first time in his
life. Impassively he went on with his work when Dick and Sandy took
their places with the rest and were given instructions by Baptiste.

“I’ll be here to watch you veree close,” he warned them. “Et ees a good
thing for you ef you move veree quick when I say.”

Concluding this threatening speech, he pushed them roughly in the
direction of two wooden buckets, and bade them commence at once. Dick
was raging with suppressed anger; Sandy was furious. They picked up the
buckets, nevertheless, and walked back to the shaft. Greatly pleased
with himself, Baptiste sat down on a flat rock and puffed contentedly on
his pipe.

In the very next moment, the boys were given their first opportunity to
look directly into the eyes of Toma, and were rewarded with a sly wink.
Pretending to brush the perspiration from his face, Toma’s finger stole
to his lips.

Either Dick or Sandy would have given a good deal just then to have been
able to speak to their guide. But they realized that this was
impossible. Baptiste’s duty it was to see that the work progressed
rapidly and Henderson had given strict orders that there was to be no
talking. To disobey this ironclad rule would result in swift punishment,
either at the hands of La Lond or some other person equally as brutal.

It did not take the boys long to discover that Baptiste was a hard
taskmaster. He was continually among them, exhorting them to redouble
their efforts and speed up the work, bullying and tormenting them in
every way possible. On one occasion he jabbed Toma in the ribs with the
muzzle of his revolver and threatened to throw him down the shaft if he
didn’t step more lively.

Toma blinked, but held his peace. In a few minutes his face was as
inscrutable as ever.

The work party at the new shaft consisted of four persons besides Dick,
Toma and Sandy. These four were Indians recruited for the purpose from
the tribe with whom Scar-Face had aligned himself. They were all tall,
swarthy young men of about Dick’s own age. They had entered upon their
duties with a good deal of enthusiasm, but at the end of an hour or two,
the uninteresting, monotonous work palled upon them. Shortly after
Dick’s and Sandy’s arrival, they had begun to regret their promises to
Scar-Face and slackened down on the job.

This action on their part placed Baptiste in a rather peculiar position.
Neither could he speak their language, nor dare to employ the brutal
methods he did not hesitate to use in the case of the three prisoners.
Time and time again, he strode forward with grim purpose in his eyes,
only to check himself, growl out a burning oath and return sullenly to
his seat on the rock. A climax was reached finally when Henderson, on
his regular round of inspection, paused to peep down in the shaft.

His sudden, violent verbal explosive caused every member of the work
party, including Baptiste, to jump.

“This water ain’t goin’ down a danged inch,” he snarled. “What’s wrong?”

“Ah, monsieur——” La Lond wrung his hands in desperation. “Ah, monsieur,
zer ees a veree great trouble. Ze Indians, ze Indians, monsieur!”

“Well, what about ’em?”

“Zey will not hurry one leetle bit. Zey are veree slow, veree slow,
monsieur.”

Henderson flung himself away with a torrent of oaths.

“Make ’em work!” he bellowed over his shoulder. “If there ain’t more
done when I come back next time—look out! I’m holdin’ yuh responsible,
La Lond. Get busy!”

Baptiste proceeded to get busy with a vengeance. Smarting under the
rebuke, he advanced savagely upon his unsuspecting workmen, brandishing
his gun. Before his furious advance, three of the Indians scrambled back
to their buckets in alarm. The fourth, Dick observed, was not so easily
frightened. He stood his ground calmly, drew himself to his full height
and folded his arms. Dick’s heart beat with admiration—but only for a
moment; for La Lond’s hand went back, revolver clubbed, then forward
with a sickening thud.

The blow had caught the Indian squarely on the side of the head,
knocking him flat. At sight of such inexcusable brutality, something
within Dick seemed to snap. Leaping across the space that separated him
from the outlaw, he struck out with all the force of his right arm.
Baptiste sat down with a grunt.

He was still sitting there when Henderson, drawn by the commotion and
the loud screech from Sandy, came hurrying up.

“What’s wrong here?” he thundered.

Baptiste was too dazed just then to make a very satisfactory reply.
Holding his chin in his hands, he mumbled incoherently. Dick looked up
squarely into the eyes of Henderson.

“I struck Baptiste myself,” he acknowledged.

“What fer?”

“Because he clubbed the Indian with his gun.”

“I’ll settle with yuh later,” Henderson scowled, making a sudden swipe
at Dick with his open hand. “Get back to work. Get back to work all o’
yuh. Hereafter, I’m runnin’ this little show.”

It was several minutes before the Indian recovered consciousness and
staggered to his feet, his three comrades gathered about him. The four
of them glared at Baptiste, who stood cowering in front of Henderson.

“Baptiste,” roared the outlaw, “go and fetch Scar-Face. Tell him I want
to see him. Tell him that I want to see him blamed quick. Either these
Indians is gonna start to work or I’ll know the reason why. Yuh shore
made a pretty mess o’ things, ain’t yuh?”

“Et ees impossible, monsieur. Scar-Face has gone to ze Indian village.”

“Find some other breed then what can talk to these Nitchies. Get!”

Baptiste had no sooner slunk out of sight, than the four Indians,
favoring Henderson with a few chilling glances, started off across the
rugged slope toward the footpath, supporting their injured companion. In
vain did Henderson call out, entreating them to return. The four figures
did not hesitate, did not once look back until they had gained the more
even ground on the slope beyond. Then one of them turned, waving his
arms defiantly in the air.

A flood of abusive oaths broke forth from the lips of the exasperated
outlaw.

“Go on! Go on!” he screeched after them. “Yuh, ain’t no good anyway. Yuh
ain’t no good fer nothin’, yuh yellow scum!”

With a final livid oath, he turned quickly and strode away in the
direction of the cabin.



                               CHAPTER XX
                       HENDERSON’S PLANS MISCARRY


“He doesn’t seem to care whether we run away or not,” observed Sandy,
when the outlaw had passed out of hearing. “Shall we make a try, Dick?”

Dick shook his head.

“We wouldn’t go far. I’d rather stay here and take my chances.”

Toma dropped the handle of the windlass and walked over to his two
friends. His eyes were shining.

“You think I play mean trick when I drop trap yesterday,” he began. “I
think mebbe you feel mad at Toma.”

“No,” protested Dick, “but tell us how it all happened. What did they
do, Toma?”

“I stand look out door mebbe not more than ten minutes, when I see
plenty men come along ridge. No time to do much. Henderson close
already. No good shoot; no good run away. First thing I think about you
an’ Sandy. I try shout down hole, but you no hear. Men come closer all
time. I run to door then back to hole. I shout once more, but you no
hear. Pretty soon I have good idea. I think mebbe I close trap and
scrape dust over it. Henderson him not find where you, Sandy are. By
time I pull up rope and close hole bad fellows just outside cabin. When
they come in, I give up. Fellows take our guns. Henderson speak out:

“‘Where other fellow go?’

“I tell him lie. I say you, Sandy run away. He no believe that. He see
you, Sandy gun an’ shoulder-pack. He ask me many, many times where you
go, but always I tell him same thing. Bye-’n’-bye one bad fellow pull
knife an’ prick me three, four, five times so it hurt very much. He keep
on until I stand it no longer, so I tell him where you, Sandy go, an’
where he find ’em plenty sacks of gold.”

As proof of the truth of his story, Toma opened his shirt, exhibiting
his bare, scarred breast. Sandy turned away, a mist filming his eyes.
Here indeed was conclusive proof of the terrible ordeal through which
Toma had passed.

“They’ll pay for this all some day,” Dick prophesied. “They can’t keep
on doing these awful things and expect never to be punished for them.”

It was late that night before they were relieved from their arduous
labors and were permitted to eat or rest. Accompanied by one of the
outlaws, they were sent back to an opening among the rocks, where a camp
had been erected during the afternoon. At one side of the camp was a
large tepee, which served as a sort of mess-hall for the men, while on
the opposite side, flanked by rocks and somewhat sheltered by them, was
a level strip of ground which afforded ample room for sleeping.

They ate supper in the tepee with several of the other men and when they
had finished their guide led them over to the space reserved for
sleeping quarters.

“Yuh can roll out your blankets here,” he said gruffly. “But yuh better
keep your traps closed if yuh don’t want to get in trouble.”

Although it was not yet dark, Dick’s watch showed that it was after
eleven o’clock. Northern twilight, brooding across the land, lent a
certain weirdness and eeriness to the camp. Here and there, beyond the
sleeping forms of Henderson’s first shift, blinked the red embers of
several campfires. Around one of these were three outlaws, drinking from
a large bottle. Their coarse voices and loud disputes could be plainly
heard by the boys. As Dick lay watching them, unable to sleep, he
observed the approach of two other men, whose figures seemed somehow
vaguely familiar. Passing by, on their way over to the three tipplers,
he recognized them immediately. They were Lee and Pierre, the two
packers, who had deserted his own party less than a week before.

Dick was on the verge of waking Sandy to inform him of this discovery,
when a third person, no other than Henderson himself, made his way
hastily forward and paused just a few feet away from where the three
boys lay.

“Are yuh there, Brennan?” he called out.

“Yep,” one of the men answered from the campfire.

“Come here!”

Brennan lost no time in obeying the summons.

“Yes, Bear, what is it?”

“Scar-Face jes’ got back to camp from the river,” Henderson informed
him. “He tells me that we’d better watch out fer the Indians tonight.
They’re gettin’ dangerous. The hull outfit is buzzin’ around like a
swarm of mad hornets. He thinks they’re comin’ over.”

“What fer?”

Henderson cleared his throat.

“All on account o’ that Indian kid La Lond cracked over the head this
afternoon. He’s the chief’s son.

Brennan laughed. Alcohol had given him unlimited courage—of a sort. Just
then he was worried more about the diminishing contents of the bottle
than the chance possibility of an attack by Indians.

“Let ’em come,” he declared drunkenly. “What do we care? You ain’t
afraid of a few Nitchies with bows an’ arrers, are yuh, Bear?”

“There’s close to two hundred of ’em, not countin’ a few strays they may
be able to pick up. We ain’t got fifteen men.”

“Well, what do yuh think we’d better do?”

“I don’t think—I know. That’s what I came all the way over here fer.
Wake up all the men, except them three kids, an’ give ’em rifles. Tell
’em to be ready an’ waitin’ in case the Indians decide to come over. I
gotta supply of guns an’ ammunition over at the cabin, an’ I’ll look
after that end if you’ll look after this.”

“I don’t think there’s no danger,” argued Brennan. “Why don’t you send
Scar-Face back to sorta quiet ’em down?”

“Scar-Face has got a broken arrow in him already. He won’t live ’til
mornin’.”

Brennan considered this startling news for a brief space.

“All right, I’ll do as you say, Bear.”

When Brennan and Henderson had left, Dick lay quietly, pondering over
the information. Were the Indians really planning an attack? Would they
dare to do such a thing, fearful as they were of the white man’s guns?
He sat up, blankets tucked around him, and listened intently, half
expecting to hear the sound of the invaders prowling around in the rocks
above. Brennan had returned to his cronies and regaled them with the
conversation he had had with Henderson. Loud bursts of drunken laughter
followed the recital.

“The ol’ man’s gettin’ so he’s afeared of his own shadow,” chortled one
of them. “’Magine them Nitchies tryin’ to attack us. It don’t make
sense. Why I ain’t a bit scairt to fight the hull blamed outfit alone.
Pah!”

“He told me to wake up ever’body an’ give ’em guns,” giggled Brennan.

Another roar of laughter greeted this remark. When it had subsided,
Pierre, amid wild shouts of approval, produced a second bottle from
somewhere about his person, took a long draught himself, and passed it
around.

It was the beginning of a mad debauch. In disgust, Dick turned his head
and silently regarded the forms of his two sleeping companions. Should
he awaken them? For a moment he hesitated. He put out one hand toward
Sandy, gently touching the face of his chum, smoothing back the lock of
hair that had fallen over the tired forehead.

An outlandish yowl sounded from the direction of the campfire. The noise
had disturbed Toma, for he stirred restlessly and finally sat up.

“What I hear?” he demanded sleepily.

“A few drunken fools——” began Dick.

He did not complete the sentence. A concerted, nerve-wracking screech
broke across the area above them. Its echo trembled for a moment in the
still air, then suddenly the camp filled, as if by a miracle, with
scores of hideous forms, darting here and there through the gathering
darkness.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                              THE RED FURY


It was an avenging red fury that swept down upon them.

Huddled in his blankets, Dick beheld a sight that caused him to shrink
back in mute terror. The camp was alive with invaders. Hideous shouts
rose on all sides. Rifles crashed. Through the gray twilight, appearing
like scurrying phantoms from another world, the attacking party had
hurled itself upon the outlaws’ encampment.

Brennan and his four companions had been among the first to attempt
flight. In desperation, reeling drunkenly as they hurried along, they
struck out in the direction of the cabin three hundred yards away. As
they passed opposite the three boys, four grisly forms leaped out from
the rocks just ahead and darted towards them. Dick could hear the
courageous Brennan squeaking like a rat before he turned again to make
off. Without thought of the possible consequences, they had swung about
and raced wildly back, screaming at the top of their lungs.

The din and commotion increased. Over at the mine a furious fusillade of
rifle shots attested to the fact that Henderson and the other outlaws,
who occupied the cabin, were resisting stubbornly every effort on the
part of the Indians to storm the stronghold. The shouting had become
deafening. Pine torches in the hands of scores of the besiegers began
fluttering across the slope, thence up to the cabin. In an incredibly
short space of time a dense cloud of smoke enveloped the low structure.
Wide tongues of flame leaped up, mounting quickly to every part of the
building.

Since the beginning of the attack, the three boys had made no effort to
escape. Sandy, weak with terror, clung to Dick while Dick himself,
nearly as badly frightened, sat shivering close to Toma. On several
occasions Indians had passed within a few feet of them, but had gone on.
It occurred to Dick that the reason their presence had not yet been
discovered was because they had pitched their blankets at the very foot
of the cliff, where the shadows were deepest. This thought gave birth to
an inspiration. A ray of hope flashed into Dick’s mind. Would it not be
possible, keeping within the dark shadow of the cliff, to creep along to
the far side of the encampment undetected, thence make their way up
through the sheltering rocks to the top of the plateau? It was perhaps a
forlorn hope, yet it offered possibilities.

In a low whisper, Dick told of his plan. A moment later the three boys
crept stealthily forth with wildly beating hearts. Inch by inch, they
wormed their way over the uneven ground. It required a full half hour of
ceaseless, uninterrupted crawling to negotiate the eastern side of the
wide, natural opening among the rocks. Scarcely daring to breathe, they
commenced the ascent. It was darker now, but the glaring reflection from
the burning cabin fell across their path directly above.

“They’ll see us up there,” Sandy panted. “We can’t make it.”

“Our only chance,” returned Dick. “Come on!”

They reached the top of the plateau in a panic of fear. Had they been
seen? Dick put one shaking hand on Sandy’s shoulder and pointed to a low
barrier of rocks.

“Make for it!” he quavered, gulping at the lump in his throat.

They broke into a run. Thirty, forty, fifty yards—they were tearing
along now at top speed, hurdling the low obstructions, darting around
the higher slabs of sandstone that stood in their road. Madly they raced
for another twenty yards—and stopped!

They had run straight into the arms of two powerful Indians. It had been
impossible to see them coming. Dick checked himself so suddenly that he
nearly fell. Sandy emitted a startled, agonized shriek, while Toma,
unable to stop, plunged ahead, colliding with the foremost of their
adversaries and sent him reeling back with crushing force against a
rock.

Dick and the second Indian came to grips a moment later. A
murderous-looking knife flashed down in a short half-circle, but Sandy
seized the hand that held it and clung grimly there until Dick had
contrived to tear himself away from the smothering embrace. He was
gasping for breath as he drew back. Encumbered with Sandy, the Indian
shook himself like a huge mastiff, but Dick’s clinched fist drove
forward with telling effect. Seeing their temporary advantage, the boys
were away again in a rush, Toma—somewhat dazed by the collision—bringing
up the rear.

As they raced farther and farther away from the encampment, hope mounted
in their breasts.

“We’ll get away yet,” Dick puffed. “We’ll make it, Sandy. Don’t lose
heart.”

They crossed a narrow swale, still running at top speed, and, continuing
eastward, came at length to a small meadow which extended to one side of
the plateau. The thickening dusk had become darkness. Far behind them
they could hear only faintly the noise of the attack. The red glow of
the burning cabin had almost subsided. The three boys tumbled in the
grass and lay still. Their breath came in choking gasps. Perspiration
oozed out from every pore in their bodies.

Pausing only for a short rest, they hurried on again, turning more to
the northward. Once or twice Dick or Sandy stopped to listen, fearful
lest the two Indians they had encountered might be following them.

“I can’t believe we’ve managed to get away so easily,” Dick declared.

“It doesn’t seem possible,” replied Sandy. “They’ll be sure to follow
us.”

They struggled on. It was difficult now to pick their way without
stumbling into ruts and slipping over rocks. They had left the meadow
behind. On every hand, boulders, stones, tall jagged cliffs surrounded
them. Their brisk walk had changed to a mere snail’s pace.

“We no get on very fast,” complained Toma at the end of another half
hour. “I think mebbe we made mistake come this way. Take all night to go
one, two miles.”

“Let’s turn more to the left,” suggested Dick. “That may lead us out of
here.”

Toma’s keen sense of hearing was responsible for their next full stop a
few minutes later. Groping out with his two arms he caught Dick by the
sleeve and Sandy by the back of his coat. Frantically, he pulled them
back.

“I think I hear someone.” His whispered warning was scarcely audible.
“Don’t move unless want to die. Somebody come.”

A small stone rattled down the sharp incline immediately ahead of them.
A guttural voice broke across the stillness.

“Indians!” breathed Sandy. “Quick!”

With alacrity, the three quaking refugees pivoted about. For a few paces
they hurried forward. Another stone rattled down almost at their feet.
In dismay, they came to a sudden halt.

“Trapped!” gurgled Dick.

His legs were growing limp under him. Fearfully, his eyes endeavored to
pierce the surrounding darkness. Was it illusion, or did he actually see
something?

Vague shapes took human form. Dick had barely time to reach out and draw
his two companions closer to him, to squeeze Sandy’s hand, and brace
himself for the final shock—when the blow fell. One long, piercing,
fiendish scream cut the silence. A wild scramble, hideous faces leering
out of the dark, the sensation of being pummelled, struck, thrown back;
the faint memory of a strangled sob—then complete oblivion!

When he woke to consciousness, Dick was being bounced and jerked about
in a most unusual and disconcerting way. He tried to raise his arms
above his head, but the effort proved futile. His wrists were bound.
Across his chest and around his legs he could feel the pressure of
tightly drawn rope. By turning his head slightly and squinting down
along the curved surface of the object under him—to which he had been
tied—he discovered the cause of his trouble.

He was strapped to a horse. The horse was slipping and sliding over
treacherous underfooting, and was one in a long string of similar pack
animals. The pack-train was advancing through the uncertain light of
early morning, moving very slowly to the accompaniment of hoarse,
guttural shouts.

In a sudden flash, the memory of the events of the preceding night came
back. Up to a certain point he retained a vivid, clear-cut impression of
everything that had passed—the Indian attack at Henderson’s encampment,
the flight across the plateau and finally the harrowing experience among
the rocks. What had happened afterwards he did not know. Had Sandy and
Toma been killed? Why had the Indians taken him prisoner? Where were
they going now, and what did they purpose to do with him, when they got
there?

But whatever fate lay in store for him—it mattered little. Just then
Dick was not particularly concerned with worry over himself. His mental
images had taken a gruesome and awful shape. Before his eyes he could
see the bruised and lifeless bodies of his two chums—Sandy and Toma. A
burning sob escaped him. He turned his head again, gazing up in the
gray, shadowy vault of the sky.

With the coming of the morning light Dick saw that the country around no
longer possessed the aspect of grim, forbidding desolation. The plateau
had been left far behind. They were now winding their way over a
beautiful rolling woodland, whose varied scenic effects were pleasing to
the eye. At one place the ponies forded a shallow creek and a little
farther on skirted the shore of a lovely lake. This lake was narrow and
long, sparkling like an emerald in the slanting rays of the morning sun.

And then Dick perceived, with a sigh of relief, the Indian village.
Scores of brown tepees nestled among the trees on the north side of the
lake. Blue pinions of smoke floated lazily through the still air above
the pines.

Dick could scarcely believe that the howling demons of the night before
could in any way be associated with this pastoral scene. A drowsy peace
lay over the village. Men and women sauntered here and there. Children
played in the white belt of sand that sloped gently away toward the
lake.

The pack-train turned quickly to the right and threaded its way along a
narrow path through the trees and a few minutes later drew up in a
cleared space at one end of the village. Their approach had been
heralded by an ear-splitting yowling of dogs and the noisy clamor of a
small regiment of half-naked children. During the general excitement
following their arrival, Dick began to believe that his own existence
had been entirely overlooked. Did they intend to leave him strapped to
the pony all day? Was it some new brand of torture devised for his
particular case?

He was still brooding, when three particularly ferocious-looking
warriors drew away from the noisy hubbub and approached. Without a
moment’s hesitation, they proceeded to untie the moose-hide thongs and
drag him down from his perch. In an incredibly short time, he was lying
in the grass at their feet, the cynosure of hundreds of curious eyes.

Dick sat up and rubbed his wrists and ankles. He wriggled his toes. He
made an unsuccessful effort to rise. His legs were as numb and useless
as those of a paralytic.

Two of the Indians who had released him helped him to his feet and, thus
supported, he was taken through the gaping crowd to a tepee nearby. Here
he was given food and water, one of the Indians remaining behind to
guard him.

“I suppose they’ll keep me confined here for the rest of the day,”
thought Dick. “They’re probably holding a council of war right now to
decide what’s to be done with me.”

As the hours passed, Dick’s guard sat stoically watching him. There was
no expression in the calm, deeply-lined face. Except for an occasional
flutter of his eye-lids, one might have thought that the silent,
tranquil figure had been carved out of stone.

When the numbness had left his legs, Dick rose to his feet, and, as the
inactivity was unendurable, he began pacing back and forth across the
narrow, confining space. The exercise succeeded in restoring his
sluggish circulation. He felt so much better that he wished he might be
permitted to go out and walk along the shore of the lake. The flap of
the tepee had been pulled back, revealing an inviting prospect of cool
blue water and green trees.

From time to time, visitors came to glance in at the prisoner.
Occasionally these were women and children, but more often dark-visaged
warriors, clad in moose-hide jackets and trousers that had been
beautifully embroidered in some kind of brightly-dyed fiber thread. Dick
became greatly absorbed in noting the various designs. There were totem
poles, bears, caribou, and animals of all descriptions. One Indian had a
picture of the sun emblazoned across his wide chest.

He was occupied on one occasion in admiring a particularly interesting
sample of this native handiwork when he was startled by an explosive
grunt. When he looked up quickly, it was to meet the gaze of a young
Indian, whom he had seen somewhere before. He was probably one of the
men who had conducted the pack-train, Dick thought. Then, suddenly, he
remembered. An involuntary cry of recognition escaped from his lips. It
was the son of the chief—the victim of Baptiste’s brutal attack.

Dick’s heart was beating joyfully as he sprang forward to grasp the
outstretched hand.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                         IN THE INDIAN VILLAGE


The young Indian’s first act was to dismiss the guard and wave aside the
inquisitive group that had gathered outside the tepee. Then he turned
towards Dick, jabbering excitedly, his face wreathed with smiles. He
patted the prisoner on the back and laughed uproariously.

His manner indicated plainly his surprise and joy at the unexpected
meeting.

“This is a huge joke,” he seemed to be trying to say. “Please don’t
worry any more—O fair-skinned stranger. I am the chief’s son. I have
unlimited authority. No one shall harm you.”

He went through an amusing pantomime for a few moments, then clutched
Dick by the arm and drew him quickly outside, making a sign for him to
follow. He led the way to a large tepee, kicked aside the flap and
motioned Dick to enter.

The chief, sitting cross-legged just opposite the entrance, was startled
into sudden wakefulness by the unexpected interruption. He had, it was
quite apparent, been indulging in an early morning nap. His manner was
not especially cordial, Dick thought, yet this impression vanished a
moment later when, at the conclusion of his son’s brief explanation, he
rose with great dignity, crossed over and placed a reassuring hand on
Dick’s head.

This ceremony over, the young Indian smiled, took his charge in tow
again and they were off—this time to the far end of the village. Tepee
after tepee they visited, going through the same monotonous performance.
Then Dick received a shock. The last tepee they had entered did not
contain the usual swarthy, dignified inmate. The atmosphere was wholly
different here. Dick drew back with a startled cry, while a feeling of
revulsion swept over him. Baptiste La Lond, a shivering white-faced
wreck, sat with his back propped against a small pile of firewood and,
close by, snoring as contentedly as if nothing had ever happened,
sprawled the huge bulk of Bear Henderson.

“Ah, monsieur,” whimpered the abject, cowering wretch, “so you too haf
suffered ze terrible misfortune. Veree soon we die. Zees barbarians haf
no heart. Zey thirst for our veree blood. O monsieur, I am stricken. I
feel ze so terrible, terrible position.”

“You look it!” Dick growled at him.

Dick felt that he should have been sorry for the unhappy Frenchman, but
for various reasons he could not. Sympathy would have been wasted upon
him. To a certain extent both Henderson and this cringing outlaw
deserved the fate that most assuredly awaited them.

The chief’s son nudged his arm and they had turned away, when Baptiste
again broke forth:

“Where ees ze rope?”

“What rope?”

“Why are you not bound, monsieur?”

“They took the rope off,” answered Dick noncommittally.

“An’ your two friends—are zey too without ze rope?”

“I haven’t seen either one of them since the attack. I think they are
dead,” Dick choked.

“Et ees not so, monsieur. With my own eyes I see them both. Zey come
along on ze same pack-train. Ze leetle fellow cry most ze way like beeg
baby. Somewhere, I tell you, zey are here.”

With that startling information ringing in his ears, Dick was led
outside. The young Indian scowlingly shook his head and pointed back at
the tepee which sheltered the outlaws. Still scowling, he plucked two
broad leaves from a weed growing at his feet, squatted on his haunches,
placed the two leaves on the ground in front of him and, with a cry of
rage, drove his long-bladed hunting knife through each in turn.

It was not difficult to comprehend that sort of sign language, and Dick
signified that he understood. Well he knew that it was a mock
murder—with Henderson and La Lond as the victims.

Watching his rescuer, suddenly Dick had an inspiration. Might it not be
possible to learn the whereabouts of Sandy and Toma through the medium
of this sign language. If Baptiste’s statement had been correct, his two
chums were imprisoned somewhere in the village. If only he could make
the young Indian understand.

With that purpose in view, Dick selected two smaller leaves growing on
the same weed. Speaking sharply to his new friend in order to make sure
that he had gained his strict attention, he stroked the leaves against
his face, coddled them in his hands, brushed them against his lips, and
in other ways attempted to show his love for them. That the leaves
represented two persons, the Indian knew, of course; but Dick’s efforts
apparently had overshot their mark. He had hit the wrong target The
chief’s son evidently believed, judging from the sudden savage scowl on
his face, that Dick was attempting to make known his friendship for the
two outlaws.

Dick pointed to the outlaw’s tent and then at the two leaves he still
held in the palm of his hand and shook his head vigorously. The scowl
disappeared. With a small twig, he drew in the sand a crude likeness of
two tepees. Within one of the tepees he placed the remnants of the
leaves which had been mutilated by the Indian’s knife and in the other
the two leaves he had himself selected, first being, very careful to
wind long blades of grass around each of them. The blades of grass, he
hoped, would carry to the Indian’s mind the suggestion he wished to
convey—rope wound around the ankles and wrists of his chums.

There followed a few more explanatory gestures—and Dick gazed eagerly
across to his benefactor. Had the young Indian grasped the message? The
minutes seemed interminable as the two squatted there in the sand.

To Dick’s great disappointment, the chief’s son shook his head as if in
doubt. Evidently he knew nothing of Sandy and Toma. However, he rose
quickly to his feet and with a grunt to his eager companion hurried away
through the trees, returning a few minutes afterward accompanied by
three men. As he approached Dick he smiled and gesticulated excitedly.

“Come!” said one of the Indians.

Dick started in surprise.

“You speak English!” he shouted joyfully.

“Come!” solemnly repeated the Indian.

Motioning to Dick, the four struck off sharply to the right. They passed
a few tepees, the last at that end of the village, and plunged straight
on through a thicket of saskatoon, very much to Dick’s bewilderment. At
the opposite side of the thicket a path, evidently used as a pack-trail,
threaded its way through a dense growth of underbrush. Where were they
taking him? A few hundred yards farther on, Dick stopped short, resolved
not to take another step until he had satisfied himself that the party
was not leading him astray.

“Where are we going?” he demanded of the Indian who had spoken the one
word of English.

There ensued an interval of silence, in which the four Indians stared at
Dick in mild disapproval. Then a wild chattering broke forth. They
surrounded their dazed and discomfited protege, gesticulating almost
savagely. Before their well-intended onslaught Dick shrank back in
dismay.

Perceiving the uselessness of such tactics, the chief’s son approached
the now thoroughly alarmed young man, smiling affably. He patted Dick’s
arm reassuringly and pointed to the trail ahead.

“Come!” he said in a soothing voice, imitating the Indian who spoke
English so fluently.

“Good! You come!” cried the fluent one, his face distorted in what
probably was intended for a smile.

“All right,” grinned Dick. “I come.”

In high spirits they set out again. In less than twenty minutes they
came upon a wide natural clearing, dotted here and there with the tepees
of another Indian encampment. A few minutes later, Dick’s heart pounding
in his throat, they entered the narrow opening of one of the tepees.

“Dick!” immediately shrieked a voice. “You! You! _You!_——”

With a cry that sounded like the screech of a calliope, Dick bounded
forward and caught his chum in his arms.

“Sandy!” he almost blubbered. “Toma!—Everything’s all right! Gee!—I’ve
found you—Don’t worry—Gosh! I’ve been nearly crazy, thinking,
thinking——”

Tears were welling in Sandy’s eyes.

“Did you drop from the clouds?” he inquired brokenly. “Say, Dick, we’ve
been through hell.”

“Don’t worry any more,” Dick comforted him. “We’re all right now. These
Indians have come to release you. Just think of it, Sandy—we’re free.
Free! Do you hear me, Sandy?”

“Yes, I hear you. But why——”

“The chief’s son—— We owe our lives to him.”

“Why chief’s son do that?” Toma demanded. “Mebbe they make you like
fool.”

Dick turned quickly and grasped the guides drooping shoulder in a
friendly grip.

“Listen, Toma. Look at that young Indian standing over there,” he
pointed as he spoke. “Ever see him before?”

Toma blinked a number of times, then suddenly started.

“Sure!” he broke forth excitedly. “I know him. Young Indian fellow
Baptiste strike ’em hard with revolver that day over at mine.”

“I’m beginning to see light,” Sandy cut in quickly. “We owe our lives to
you, Dick. Because you knocked Baptiste down that day, after he’d struck
the chief’s son, he—— he——”

“Is showing his gratitude,” Dick completed the sentence.

Then the three boys looked up expectantly. With a slow, measured tread,
the subject of their discourse advanced with great solemnity and,
bending over each of the prisoners in turn, cut the moose-hide thongs
that bound them.

“Hurrah!” shouted Sandy. Then facing about, turning his head slowly, he
looked up at Dick. “I was never happier—never quite so happy as I am
right now,” he declared fervently.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                          GUESTS OF THE CHIEF


There was much to think about, much to tell during the next few hours.
Over and over again, Sandy related the story of his capture, lingering
over certain details which lent themselves to dramatic exploitation.

“I was certain that you were dead,” he told Dick for the hundredth time.
“I saw them carry your body away and I could have sworn that there
wasn’t a breath of life in it. If ever there was a corpse that looked——”

“Forget about it,” Dick hastily interrupted. “I’m pretty much alive
now—and that’s all that matters. When you come to think of it, we’ve
been more than fortunate. How we’ve managed to get out of this scrape
without suffering seriously is a mystery to me. We’ve lost a little
weight, a little sleep, a little skin and cuticle here and there, but——”

“And we’ve lost the mine,” Sandy interrupted him.

“To whom?” Dick demanded.

“To Henderson or the Indians—I’m not sure which.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you don’t know where Henderson is?”

“Why should I? I haven’t seen him, have I?”

Dick reached over and laughingly shook his friend.

“Wake up, Sandy. Of course, you have. Baptiste told me that you and
Toma, Henderson and he himself all came out here on the same pack-train.
He said that you cried all the time like a big baby.”

Sandy sprang to his feet, his face crimson with rage.

“He’s a liar! Maybe they came out with us all right, but if he says that
he’s—he’s mistaken. I didn’t! I swear it, Dick. Toma will vouch for me.
I was a bit hysterical, of course and—and badly frightened. I might have
moaned once or twice. You know how it is. But that’s all—positively!”

“Where Henderson an’ Baptiste now?” Toma asked, smiling furtively.

“Over at the other village. They’re both trussed up, and there’s a
sentry guarding them. I’d hate to be in their shoes.”

“Serves ’em right,” growled Sandy.

“So I don’t see why we can’t get complete and undisputed possession of
the mine. We’ve won out. Sandy. Just think of it—not a single obstacle
in the road.”

“And you think the Indians won’t want it—won’t molest us if we go back
there?”

“Exactly.”

Dick gazed dreamily through the tepee opening. The late afternoon
sunlight fell radiantly across the earth. Through the trees at the far
side of the meadow he caught sight of the rippling, blue waters of the
lake.

“Do you know,” he spoke earnestly, “there’s a certain thing I’d like to
do, if you fellows are willing.”

“What is it?”

“Show our appreciation and gratitude to the Indians in some definite
way,” responded Dick. “I guess we all realize the extent of our
indebtedness. We owe them everything—our lives, the mine, the right to
go and come unmolested. We’ve gained their friendship and their respect;
we have them on our side to help us. I’m confident that they’ll prove to
be as loyal friends as anyone could expect.”

“I’d rather have them our friends than our enemies,” shivered Sandy.

“So would I. And I’m going to make a proposal. Let’s divide our
ownership in the mine with them, all of us sharing equally in the
profits.”

“But they don’t care for money,” protested Sandy. “Gold! What does it
mean to them? Nothing! It would be a whole lot more sensible to stake
them to a winter’s grub-stake. I think they’d appreciate it more.”

“That’s exactly what I’m coming to,” declared Dick. “My proposal is to
divide the property in this way: We’ll own a half interest, the Indians
the other half. It will be necessary to appoint a guardian for the
Indians. This guardian will look after their interest and——”

“Spend their money!” laughed Sandy.

“Sure. Buy them the things they really need and can enjoy—food, guns,
knives, traps, clothing. As long as the mine continues to produce,
they’ll never, never want for any of these things.”

“It sounds all right. It would work out all right, too, if only we could
find an honest, absolutely trustworthy guardian.”

“What about the Royal North West Mounted,” suggested Dick.

“By George! You have it. They’ll be the guardians!” Sandy rose in his
enthusiasm and smote Toma a resounding whack. “What do you think of it,
old sober-face? We haven’t heard from you yet.”

“I think ’em mighty fine idea,” their guide responded quickly.

The chief’s son appeared at this juncture and smiled at them through the
opening.

“Come,” he requested gutturally.

“I think he wants us to accompany him back to his own village,” said
Dick, when they had hurried outside.

This proved to be the case. Through the brilliant, warm sunshine of late
afternoon they followed the lithe young native along the path that led
back to the first and larger village. Arriving there, the boys were
escorted directly to the chief’s tepee, where a large crowd had
gathered. The chief himself, now fully arrayed in resplendant regal
garb, awaited their coming. As the small party drew up before him, he
advanced solemnly, raised one arm in a commanding gesture and everyone
sat down, including the chief’s son and the three boys.

“What’s the old beggar going to do now?” Sandy whispered.

“I don’t know,” Dick scratched his head in perplexity. “It’s probably a
meeting of some sort.”

Toma leaned over and nudged Dick in the ribs.

“Indians make ready for big feast. Look!”

A corpulent, kindly-looking squaw, closely followed by four Indian
girls, appeared suddenly in their midst, carrying huge trays or
platters, which were heaped high with what looked like roasted venison.
The first tray was placed on the ground in front of the chief, the next
before the boys, while the remaining three were deposited at different
points of vantage amongst the assembly. The hostess with her four comely
helpers disappeared, only to return a moment later, bearing other trays
piled with food.

Altogether it was a novel experience. It was the first time that the
boys had ever attended a regal function of this kind, and they
thoroughly enjoyed it. At the conclusion of the feast, the crowd fell
back, forming itself in a wide circle. Within the unoccupied center
space strode three grotesquely-attired braves, carrying a short section
of a hollow log, over one end of which moose-hide had been tightly
stretched.

The booming notes of the crude, home-made drum trembled forth its
invitation to the dance. A weird, unearthly yowling was struck up.
Warrior after warrior leaped into the cleared space and began spinning
about, to the accompaniment of a yip-yip-yihing that reminded Dick of
the howling of wolves.

Through the long evening and late into the night the dance continued,
growing more hideous and noisy with each passing hour. So violently did
a number of the participants disport themselves that they dropped to the
ground in utter exhaustion, but leaping up again as soon as they had
recovered sufficiently to make such an effort possible.

Dick and Sandy had grown weary of watching long before the dance broke
up, yet as guests of honor they hesitated about making known their wish
to retire for the night.

“I’m so sleepy I can’t hold my head up much longer,” Sandy declared.
“But just look at Toma—he’s enjoying every minute of it. I honestly
believe the old boy is anxious to get out there himself.”

Hearing the remark, the guide turned a flushed, excited face toward
Sandy and grinned good-naturedly.

“You bet! I like go there myself. Mebbe sometime I show you how good I
make ’em like that dance.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” answered Sandy.

Squaws and children kept adding fresh fuel to the three huge campfires
that had been kindled within the dancing space. In their bright glare
there came presently a group of Indians, attired in complete war
regalia, and closely following them, still another group, half-carrying,
half-dragging two pitiable, quaking forms.

Dick’s heart seemed to stand still when he had recognized the identity
of the two victims—no other than Henderson and Baptiste La Lond! With a
shaking finger, he pointed them out to Sandy and Toma.

“Great Caesar! I hope the Indians are not going to torture them right
here in front of our eyes,” Sandy exclaimed.

The approach of the group of warriors had been the signal for the dance
to cease, although the drum still kept up a low, muffled roll. Dick
turned to Toma.

“What do you think they’re about to do, Toma?” he quavered.

“Me not sure yet.”

“But will they kill them?”

The guide shook his head.

“Mebbe tomorrow morning—but not tonight. Tonight I think chief an’ brave
fighting men hold big meeting to decide what they do. Pretty sure,
Baptiste, Henderson no get killed tonight.”

“Yes, it’s a meeting,” cried Sandy. “See—they’re all sitting down. Look,
Dick, the chief is rising to his feet. Toma—run over and find out what
they’re going to do.”

When Toma returned, nearly an hour later, the meeting had ended and the
two prisoners were being dragged back to their former prison.

“I no find out very much,” he greeted them. “Indians make different talk
from my people. I hear only few words I understand. I find out just
enough know that they take ’em Baptiste, Henderson long way off
tomorrow.”

“What did the chief do when he walked over and stood in front of them?”
asked Sandy. “From here it looked as if he had stooped over to cut or
untie their ropes.”

“I not understand that part,” replied Toma. “Chief stoop down all right
but he no untie. He give Baptiste, Henderson each one little canoe small
like my hand. Then he walk away again an’ pretty soon Indians take them
bad fellow back to tepee.”

“The canoes must signify something,” mused Dick. “They’re symbols of
some kind. It would be interesting to know.”

That night the boys slept in a large tepee that had been pitched near
the shore of the lake. It was late when they awoke. Dick scrambled out
of his rabbit-robe and hurried outside. A loud clamor, coming from the
center of the village, increased in volume as he stood there shading his
eyes with his hand.

Toma and Sandy came bustling out a short time later and the three boys
stood watching the dense throng, milling about the space where the feast
and dance had taken place on the previous night.

“Wonder what’s up?” said Sandy. “They’re making more noise than a house
full of huskies. I’ll bet everybody forgot to go to bed last night.”

“Perhaps the village executioner is getting ready to sharpen his
hatchet,” guessed Dick.

“Ugh!” shivered Sandy. “I’d almost forgotten about that. It’s one event
that I don’t intend to witness. You fellows can go if you like—but
please count me out. My father went to a ‘hanging’ once in England, and
he used to wake up nights for months afterward and would lay there
thinking about it.”

The approach of the chief’s son cut short any further comment on the
impending tragedy. The young Indian greeted them cordially, pointed to
the glistening waters of the lake, and proceeded to disrobe. With a
whoop of delight, Sandy commenced to follow his example.

“Come on, Toma!” Dick cried. “We’ll join them. I haven’t had a decent
bath for—let’s see—how long is it?”

“For years!” jibed Sandy. “I reckon you’re about the dirtiest prospector
that ever struck these parts.” Dick repaid Sandy for the insult by
bouncing a small pebble off his defamer’s head. A moment later they were
engaged in a friendly scuffle, when a warning shout from Toma drew their
attention.

“Henderson!”

Less than eighty yards behind them the outlaw, a heavy club in each
hand, battled his way through the crowd. His towering form plunged this
way and that in an effort to shake himself free of the two or three
swarthy figures that still clung to him. Like a madman he fought forward
fifteen or twenty yards, then went down suddenly before a concerted rush
that literally tramped him in the sand under the infuriated feet of the
mob.

“He was a fool to try it,” said Sandy. “How in the dickens did he ever
manage to free himself of the rope in the first place? Whew! He’s a
regular human tornado!”

“They were getting ready to take the prisoners away somewhere, by the
looks of it. Probably he was untied for a moment, and he saw his
chance,” Dick replied.

“He’ll never have another one,” Sandy prophesied. “I’ll bet they’ll
watch him so closely from now on, they’ll all need glasses for their
worn-out eyes. I hope he didn’t kill any of them.”

A splash in the water near at hand recalled their forgotten swim, and
the two boys looked up just as the chief’s son came blowing to the
surface a few feet from shore.

“He’s a cool one,” admired Dick. “He didn’t pay any more attention to
the struggle back there just now than he would to a dog fight.”

Sandy kicked off his moccasins and socks and paused to wriggle his toes
in the sand.

“I’m very anxious to know what they intend to do with Baptiste and
Henderson. Toma, don’t you suppose you could find out. You said last
night that you could understand a few words of what they said at the
meeting. Why don’t you try to question the chief’s son?”

“Bye-’n’-bye I speak to him,” promised Toma. “But why you worry so much
’bout them?”



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                            THE CARIBOU HERD


A belated breakfast followed the swim. Greatly refreshed, both in mind
and body, Dick and Sandy repaired to the shade of an ancient spruce to
discuss the plans for the day. Toma, who had struck up a close
friendship with the young Indian, had betaken himself to the village in
an effort to gather the information that Sandy’s morbid curiosity seemed
to require.

“We ought to go back to the mine as soon as possible,” said Dick. “I’m
anxious to see how things are, and especially to find out about the
moose-hide sacks. I doubt very much whether they’re still stored in the
main shaft. The chances are that Henderson and his men attempted to take
them with them when they were driven from the mine.”

“I hope we’ll be able to find them,” Sandy responded. “If they’re not
buried under the charred remains of the cabin that must now be littering
the main shaft, we may have to search the entire north side of the
plateau.”

“Another reason why we ought to hasten back to the mine,” Dick pointed
out, “is because your Uncle Walter and the mounted police are scheduled
to arrive there in the next day or two.”

“But what makes you think that?” asked Sandy.

“Henderson himself said so. One of his Indian runners came in with the
news the night before we were captured by the outlaws. That was the
reason why Henderson was in such a hurry to strip the mine, as he called
it, and make his ‘get-away’.”

Sandy nodded and lapsed into a short silence.

“You’re right, Dick. We ought to hurry back,” he finally broke forth.
“If Uncle Walter and Corporal Richardson arrive at the mine during our
absence, they’ll be terribly alarmed. Everything there is in an awful
mess. The cabin’s burned. Here and there, they’ll come across signs of
the Indian attack. They may possibly find a few dead bodies of the
outlaws. You can guess what they’ll think has become of us.”

“Yes,” shuddered Dick, “I know what they’ll think. It wouldn’t occur to
them that we’d been taken by the Indians.”

“Why not return today?” suggested Sandy.

“We’ll try to, Sandy. I only wish that there was some way that we could
talk to the chief’s son and explain matters to him. If we hurry away he
may think that we don’t appreciate his kindness.”

Sandy gazed thoughtfully at his chum for a few moments, then rose
decisively to his feet.

“Well, it can’t be helped. Let’s go over to the village and see if we
can find Toma. He’s right in his element now. It would tickle him pink
if we would decide to remain here for the rest of the summer.”

Dick laughed as he swung into step beside his friend.

“You’re wrong there. Toma may enjoy a day or two of this, but the
novelty would soon wear off. He’s on the job day and night. Besides,
he’s troubled with a secret ambition.”

“What is it?”

“He hopes some day to become a mounted police scout like Malemute Slade.
It’s about all he lives for. He’ll be the proudest mortal in seven
kingdoms and fourteen republics if they ever decide to give him a
chance.”

“And he’d make good, too,” said Sandy.

“I know it. In some respects he’s almost as clever as Malemute Slade
right now. Corporal Richardson and Inspector Cameron are keeping an eye
on him. It’s hard to get good scouts for the mounted.”

The subject of this short but complimentary appraisement came suddenly
in view, accompanied by the chief’s son. Both were smiling in great good
humor as they approached.

“I make ’em pretty good talk,” Toma proudly announced. “I find out where
Indian take Baptiste an’ Henderson. Where you think?”

“I can’t imagine,” replied Dick.

“Thunder River.”

“Thunder River!” exclaimed Sandy. “What for?”

“I suppose,” said Dick, “they intend to drown them or else throw them
over a cliff.”

“No,” said Toma, shaking his head, “Indian do better thing than that.
Big men an’ chief decide about that last night. You remember ’bout
little canoes chief gave to Baptiste and Henderson?”

“Yes, I remember you mentioned it.”

“When he give ’em Baptiste, Henderson little canoes he mean by that a
certain thing. He mean they take voyage on river. He send ’em down
river.”

“How kind of the dear old chief,” said Sandy sarcastically.

“Not so kind you think,” retorted Toma. “Indians take Baptiste,
Henderson to bad place in river. Put each one in different canoe, then
push canoe away from shore. No paddle! Nothing! God swim along under the
water——”

“What!” shouted Dick and Sandy in unison. “What did you say?”

“God swim along under the water,” calmly repeated Toma, “an’ if he see
man in canoe very bad he tip it over. Mebbe man not very bad, so he no
tip.”

“What makes you think that God swims in the water?” Dick inquired,
suppressing a smile.

“Indians see him many times—they tell me that.”

“A river manitou,” said Sandy, winking slyly at Dick. “I’ve heard of him
before. Do you suppose he’ll permit Henderson and Baptiste to pass
safely through the rapids?”

“No can tell.” Toma shook his head gravely. “Sometimes bad fellow from
tribe get through, but not very often. This afternoon we find out about
Baptiste, Henderson. You see for yourself. Indian get ready go Thunder
River pretty soon. Chief’s son he like it we go along.”

“But we ought to return to the mine, Toma. Factor MacClaren and the
mounted police are almost due now, and we’d hate to miss them.”

The guide’s face clouded with disappointment. From his expression and
actions it was evident that he looked forward to the ordeal at the river
with considerable anticipation.

“Chief’s son feel bad you no go,” he declared disconsolately.

“It can’t be helped,” Sandy interjected. “You must explain to him
somehow. Tell him we’d like to stay and would gladly go with him to the
river if we weren’t expecting the arrival of friends at the mine.”

Toma performed the unpleasant task with his usual willingness. He had
some difficulty, however. At the first attempt the chief’s son stared
blankly at the perspiring interpreter, unable to translate the confusing
jumble of words, signs and gestures the guide showered upon him. Toma
had nearly exhausted his supply of ideas before he succeeded in making
himself understood. Dawning comprehension showed itself in the quickly
brightening features, then suddenly a smile rewarded Toma for his
efforts.

With a good-natured grunt he turned, motioning to the boys to follow,
and led the way to a small clearing in the woods, where a herd of Indian
ponies, picketed in the long grass, raised their heads and snorted in
affright.

Dick and Sandy paused in wonder.

“Can you beat that!” gleefully shouted the latter. “He’s going to lend
us ponies, Dick. If that isn’t the last word in kindness and generosity,
I’ll eat Toma for dinner.”

“If that is really his intention, we’ll get back to the mine in a
hurry,” chuckled Dick.

“You bet!” grinned Toma. “We ride fast. What you say if Toma tell him
thank you.”

“You can fall on his neck and kiss him if you like,” said Sandy, jumping
about and clapping his hands in delight. “By George, he’s a true sport
if there ever was one. Just for this I’m going to give him my jack-knife
and pocket mirror.”

The suggestion seemed a good one and the three boys turned out their
pockets and took inventory of the contents. Sandy handed over the mirror
and knife with an elaborate bow; Dick parted with his pocket-compass
without a single sigh of regret, while Toma’s contribution consisted of
a much-prized mouth-organ, two steel fish-hooks and a string of glass
beads.

The young Indian was so overcome by this liberality that his hands shook
as he examined each object in turn. The harmonica especially enthralled
him. He listened to Toma’s expert piping on this, the most favored of
all musical instruments among the Indians in the North, with eyes that
grew bright with pleasure, and broke forth at the conclusion of the
short concert with an awed expression of approval.

Less than an hour later, loaded down with fresh meat and fish, a gift
from the Indians, and with the shouts and plaudits of a large crowd that
had gathered to see them off, the young adventurers turned the heads of
their ponies southward and cantered away. The chief’s son accompanied
them for several miles before he waved his final farewell. As the horse
and rider disappeared in a turn of the forest path, Dick heaved a sigh
of regret.

“I hated to see him go,” he confided to Sandy, “I wonder if he’ll ever
come over and visit us at the mine.”

“I sincerely hope so.”

“He come all right,” Toma assured them. “He tell me mebbe he ride over
tomorrow to see how we get along.”

A few miles farther on the forest thinned out and presently they rode
forth across an open prairie. To the south lay the plateau. Far to the
westward, a chain of purple-belted hills extended back to meet the
rugged slope of Dominion Range. In this direction, above the horizon’s
broken rim, they could discern plainly many snowy mountain peaks.

“It take about three hours to get back to mine,” guessed Toma.

Dick, gazing away in the direction of the plateau, nodded his head.

“Yes, it shouldn’t take much longer than that.”

He paused, squinting in the bright morning sunlight.

“I wonder if my eyes are deceiving me,” he suddenly broke forth. “What
are those dark spots a little west and south of here? Looks to me like a
band of horsemen.”

“Unless it’s a whole tribe of Indians on the march—it couldn’t be that,”
Sandy interposed, reining up his pony. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say
it was a big herd of cattle.”

“Caribou!” trilled Toma, becoming suddenly tremendously excited, and
almost falling off his mount as he craned his neck in order to get a
better view. “Pretty soon you see something mebbe you never forget. Only
one time before I watch ’em big caribou herd.”

Dick and Sandy had often been told about but had never witnessed one of
the most interesting and marvelous sights to be seen in the far North—a
migrating herd of caribou! Almost as numerous as the bison or American
buffalo that once roamed over the western plains of the United States,
twice a year—south in the autumn, north in the spring—these sleek,
antlered beasts, that very much resemble the reindeer of northeastern
Europe, formed themselves into vast herds and started forth on the
inevitable trek to new grazing grounds.

Dick’s breath caught with excitement as he followed their slow,
unhurried course. On and on they came in a dense, black wave, pouring
out over the prairie in one long, seemingly endless column. Their
thundering hooves shook the earth. Had the boys possessed rifles and
been less kind-hearted, they might easily have slaughtered hundreds of
the mild-eyed, forward-surging animals without leaving a single gap in
the line.

“In all my life I’ve never seen anything so wonderful!” Sandy gasped.

“Neither have I,” admired Dick. “I can believe now the story that
Malemute Slade told me one time. He and a mounted policeman, named
Corporal Casserley, were proceeding north through the first heavy snow
of early winter when they met a huge herd of caribou travelling south.
For three hours they stood shivering in the cold, waiting for the herd
to go by. Finally, they were forced to build a campfire and erect a
shelter. It was not until noon of the following day that the last of the
herd passed and Slade and Casserley were permitted to proceed on their
journey.”

“I’d hate to ride out in the path of the caribou,” Sandy declared, as he
turned his pony’s head. “It might cause them to stampede.”

“It would be very apt to,” Dick replied. “Personally, I haven’t any
desire to be trampled under their hooves. In preference to being chopped
into mince-meat, I think I’ll steer my course more to the east and avoid
them.”

“I think like that too,” smiled Toma. “What you say we hurry along now
an’ get back to mine. Pretty soon we get hungry an’ no like to stop an’
build campfire then. Much better we travel fast an’ cook ’em big dinner
soon we get there.”

“And I want to get there before Uncle Walter arrives,” remembered Sandy.

“I don’t think we’ll find them at the mine,” said Dick. “They’ll be in
exactly the same boat that we were. They won’t know where the mine is.
During the last hour or two I’ve been turning things over in my mind,
and I’ve just about come to the conclusion that our best plan is to go
right on past the plateau to Thunder River, where we made the crossing.
I’m sure we’ll meet them sooner by doing that.”

“Of course we will. Funny I never thought about it But that means, Dick,
that we have a longer ride ahead of us than we first expected. Even by
forced travelling, we won’t reach the river much before night.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“And we’ll have to stop to graze the ponies, not to mention preparing
our own lunch.”

“Yes.”

“Then, let’s hurry!”

With a last look at caribou, they dug their heels into their impatient
mounts and sped southward, whooping like three cowboys.



                              CHAPTER XXV
                                REUNION


Sandy sat with his chin in his hands, his brooding, disconsolate eyes
fixed on the opposite shore of Thunder River.

“They aren’t coming tonight,” he finally exploded. “Not a sign of them.
We’ve been sitting here for hours just wasting our time. I’m beginning
to believe that Henderson lied about that Indian messenger. If Uncle
Walter and the mounted police were really coming, they ought to be here
now.”

“Don’t be so impatient, Sandy,” Dick laughed. “If you keep on worrying
like that, you’ll be a nervous wreck by the time they do get here. Of
course, they’re coming. If not tonight—tomorrow or the next day. I see
no reason to doubt Henderson’s statement.”

“Tomorrow or the next day!” groaned the other. “Mighty cheering, aren’t
you? If I actually thought they wouldn’t arrive before then, I’d cross
the river and go on to meet them.”

“You foolish fellow if you do that,” stated Toma, throwing a handful of
pebbles into the swiftly-flowing stream. “You easy pass by each other by
mistake an’ not know thing about it. Bye-’n’-bye you find you hit trail
for Fort Good Faith an’ factor an’ mounted police same time hit trail
close to mine. How you like that?”

“I wouldn’t like it,” responded Sandy, “and I haven’t the least
intention of pulling a crazy stunt like that. What I would do if I
crossed, would be to search for them along the river. You remember the
trouble we had in finding a place where the current wasn’t too swift for
a raft. It is only natural to suppose that they may be having the same
trouble.”

“True enough,” agreed Dick. “But eventually they’d be forced to come
down here. It’s the only safe crossing.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“Another thing, you can’t cross over without a raft,” Dick went on. “It
would be more difficult to build a raft on this side of the river than
on the other. The trees are all on the other side.”

“There’s plenty of driftwood,” Sandy pointed out.

“I think mebbe it good idea if we do build raft,” Toma suddenly spoke
up. “It save time for mounted police. First thing they have to do when
they come is make ready chop down trees. Mebbe pretty tired an’ no like
do that. Factor MacClaren him be glad when he find raft all ready—only
wait for him to cross.”

“You said a mouthful!” approved Sandy. “We can have one ready in two or
three hours. Then we’ll slip over to the other side and wait until they
come.”

Dick acquiesced willingly, not only because the suggestion seemed a good
one, but also because the work entailed would cause them to forget the
slow, monotonous passing of time. Sandy became cheerful again almost
immediately. He and Toma hurried away to select the logs from the large
piles of driftwood, while Dick sauntered over to the three ponies and
returned a moment later with an axe and a coil of rope.

When twilight descended, their task was nearly completed. Toma and Dick
were tying the last log in place when a fervid, reverberating halloo
sounded across the canyon. Dropping everything, the three boys darted to
their feet.

“Yih! Yip!” screamed Sandy. “Who’s there?”

“Mounted police!” came the answering shout. “Is that you, Sandy?”

Sandy’s hysterical reply took the form of a screech that might have been
heard for miles. Dick’s own contributing whoop was scarcely less
powerful.

“Coming over?” Sandy’s question stirred up another battery of echoes.

“No raft! Everybody safe?”

“Yes, we’re all here. Wait just a few minutes. Own raft almost finished.
Stand by, we’ll soon be there.”

Twenty minutes later they had made the crossing in safety and were
joyfully helped ashore by the three men, Corporal Richardson, Factor
MacClaren and Malemute Slade. Vocal confusion ensued. Everybody talked
at once. With a strangled cry, Sandy threw himself in the outspread arms
of Walter MacClaren. Malemute Slade and Corporal Richardson took turns
in pounding Dick and Toma on the back.

“Thank God, we got here in time,” Corporal Richardson declared
fervently. “We hardly expected to find you alive.”

“Why not?” asked Dick.

“Why not!” Corporal Richardson repeated Dick’s question sharply. “Why
not! Because every member of Henderson’s murderous gang followed you out
here. They’re here—right in this vicinity now. We’ve been right on the
jump ever since we heard the news.”

“What news?”

“Why—the news that they had followed you.”

“If you ain’t seen ’em, you’re liable to before long,” Malemute Slade
hinted darkly. “Did you fellers find the mine?”

“Yes, we found it,” answered Dick.

“Any good?”

“It’s a peach!”

“Funny Henderson didn’t take it away from you.”

“Why, he did,” shouted Sandy. “He took it away from us the very same day
we found it.”

“Well, that sure is tough luck. Never mind,” Malemute Slade patted
Sandy’s arm comfortingly, “mebbe we can get it back fer yuh. Mebbe we——”

“But we’ve already got it back,” Dick interrupted him.

“Got it back? What do yuh mean? See here, young feller—you’re not
spoofin’ me. I think not!”

Bit by bit the story came out. Sandy, Dick and even Toma took turns in
the telling. Eagerly, the three men gathered around them and listened,
often interrupting the narrator to ply him with questions. Often
Corporal Richardson, unable to follow the broken thread of the story’s
sequence, threw up his hands in despair:

“Hold on there, Dick! Not so fast! Wait a moment, Sandy, you forgot to
tell us what happened before that. Toma, why don’t you speak in Cree.
We’ll understand you better. You’re too excited to talk ’em English
tonight.”

It was so late when the tale was concluded, that by common consent the
party decided not to cross the river that night.

“It will be perfectly safe to leave the ponies on the other side,” said
Dick. “There’s plenty of grass where we have them picketed. I don’t
believe anything will come to disturb them.”

“We have our own pack-horses on this side,” laughed Factor MacClaren.
“We left them in charge of three half-breeds up there on the level
ground above the canyon. I thought it would be better not to make the
descent with the horses until we had looked around a bit.”

“Did you have much difficulty in following our trail?” Dick enquired.

“No, not very much. Malemute Slade is a good tracker and we found many
of your campfires. Once we picked up an old pair of moccasins that we
thought had been discarded by Sandy. They were small—about the size he
usually wears.”

The camp was astir early on the following morning. When Dick and Sandy
tumbled out of the blankets they had borrowed from Factor MacClaren, a
pan of bacon sizzled over the fire and the odor of strong black coffee
blended with the smell of spruce and balsam. Malemute Slade and Corporal
Richardson nodded a cheery greeting as the two young adventurers, still
rubbing their eyes, stumbled down to the river for an icy-cold plunge.

Shivering for a moment in anticipation, Dick raised his arms above his
head, darted for a few paces over the smooth white sand and shot
straight out into the gurgling current. Sandy hit the water almost
simultaneously. As the two boys came blowing to the surface, Dick made a
playful swipe at his chum’s head. Instinctively Sandy ducked.

“I’ll race you down to that big rock, you big, overgrown puppy,” he
called out mockingly. “I’m in my natural element now. Try to catch me!”

They plowed through the water. An expert swimmer, Sandy won the race by
a wide margin. He was sitting on the rock, feet dangling above the
surface of the stream, when Dick came puffing up. But instead of the
look of triumph on his face that Dick had expected, Sandy’s countenance
was distorted painfully.

“Why, Sandy—what’s the matter? Did you get cramps?”

The other did not reply. He was staring at Dick now with eyes that were
wide with horror. He slipped from the rock in a sort of panic and struck
out for shore. Hastily, Dick followed him.

Wading out, Dick approached the trembling figure.

“You’re frightened,” he declared. “Or are you sick, Sandy? Was the water
too cold for you?”

“Dick—I saw it! A body floated past! A man!”

“A what——” gasped Dick.

“I was crawling on the rock. I could see it plainly. I tried to call
out.”

Sandy’s voice choked. He reached out and gripped Dick by the arm. His
lips were blue from fright and cold.

“_It was Henderson!_” he whispered.

Perceiving that something was wrong, Malemute Slade and Corporal
Richardson hurried over.

“The boy’s sick!” exclaimed Slade. He turned his head: “MacClaren, fetch
a blanket. Hurry!”

A moment later they were chafing his limbs, and had wrapped him up in
heavy folds of the thick, woollen blanket.

“You boys ought to know better than this,” Corporal Richardson scolded
them. “Thunder River is a glacier-fed stream and its water is like ice.
Don’t go swimming in it again. No wonder Sandy got cramps.”

“He didn’t,” Dick protested. “He’s frightened. He said that he saw the
body of a man floating past. He thinks it was Henderson.”

“Bosh!” declared the policeman, pointing over at the river. “The current
is full of driftwood. A water-logged stump a short distance away might
easily be mistaken for the body of a man. What Sandy thought he saw and
what he actually saw—are two different things. Besides, Sandy is nervous
and unstrung as a result of his experiences over at the mine.”

“I did see it, I tell you!”

“There! There!” soothed Factor MacClaren. “You’ll be all right in a
moment. Please forget about it. We’re having breakfast now, Sandy. Toma
is pouring the coffee this very minute.”

With the possible exception of Dick and Malemute Slade, no one believed
that Sandy had seen anything out of the ordinary, notwithstanding the
young Scotch lad’s angry protestations. In the hurry and bustle of the
morning, the incident was soon forgotten. Sandy himself soon recovered
his usual cheerfulness, assisting Dick and Toma in the work of rafting
the supplies of the police party to the opposite side of the river.

The trek over to the mine commenced early in the afternoon. On this
occasion it was an imposing cavalcade that wound its way up through the
rocks to the wide plain that stretched away to the westward. In advance,
went the three half-breed packers with the ponies; behind them, Corporal
Richardson and Malemute Slade, while Factor MacClaren and the three
boys, chatting animatedly, brought up the rear.

“We feel a lot different than the last time we went over this route to
the plateau,” Dick remarked. “It was raining and we slept part of the
night in that thicket you see just ahead.”

“You must have had a terrible experience,” said the factor. “I doubt
very much whether I could have endured the nervous tension had I been
with you. Looking at it from a selfish viewpoint, I can see now how very
fortunate I was that that pesky inventory prevented me from coming
along. I might not have been as lucky as the three of you were.”

“It wasn’t good luck at all, Uncle Walter,” grinned Sandy.

“Well, what was it?”

“Courage and good management,” declared Sandy, as he winked slyly at
Dick.



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                           DEBTS OF GRATITUDE


Malemute Slade kicked a branch of burning wood into the center of the
roaring campfire and turned eagerly to address the scarlet-coated figure
of Corporal Richardson.

“It couldn’t o’ come out any better if we’d done the thing ourselves,”
he drawled complaisantly. “I guess there ain’t anybody what can deny
that. Here’s the mine—an’ there’s Dick an’ Sandy an’ that young scamp of
a Toma—all as safe an’ happy an’ contented as if nothin’ had ever
happened.”

As he spoke, Slade pointed to the ruins of the log cabin, around which
the three boys had gathered. In the center of the charred and littered
space, one could make out, even at that distance, a gaping hole
partially filled with debris. But no one, unless he had made a more
thorough investigation, might have guessed that the hole, instead of
being the cellar or basement of the ruined cabin was, in reality, the
main shaft leading to a very valuable gold mine.

The ruined cabin was the one and only grim reminder of a night of
tragedy. Slade eyed it contemplatively as he continued in his drawling
tone:

“It kind o’ makes me shudder when I think o’ what might have happened if
Dick hadn’t fought Baptiste, when the Frenchie knocked down the Indian
kid. It’s the only thing that saved ’em. Them Indians is as friendly now
as the friendliest Cree in the settlements along the Peace. The chief’s
son was over here ’bout an hour ago to pay his respects to the boys an’
to promise ’em that they needn’t worry ’bout bein’ molested. That’s what
I call gratitude.”

“When the boys told their story I could hardly believe it,” Corporal
Richardson spoke reminiscently; “I can imagine how they felt when the
Indian attack took place. Sandy said that the three of them were so
struck with terror, that for a long time they didn’t move a foot away
from their bed-rolls. The attack was nearly over before they plucked up
sufficient courage to make an attempt to escape.”

Malemute Slade drew out his pipe and grinned across at the mounted
policeman.

“At any rate, them Indians has saved you an’ me a whole lot o’ trouble.
I don’t imagine we’ll ever hear from Henderson again. His band is pretty
well broke up. I sometimes wonder how many o’ them outlaws escaped.”

“No one knows except the Indians, and I doubt very much whether they do.
The outlaws left everything behind, including those precious moose-hide
sacks, and a large quantity of supplies and provisions. The boys have
food enough to last them for seven or eight months.”

He broke off suddenly, as a familiar figure emerged from a small canvas
tent in the space to the right and came over to join them. Advancing,
Factor MacClaren waved an arm cheerily.

“I’m getting things in order over at my private hotel,” he laughingly
called out. “At my age, gentlemen, personal comfort means everything. It
is as necessary and important to my well-being as excitement and
adventure is to those three young scallawags over there at the mine.
There they are puttering about, entirely oblivious of the fact that it’s
fully three-quarters of an hour past our regular lunch time.”

“I’ll call ’em,” said Malemute Slade, placing two fingers in his mouth.
“Now watch ’em race!”

At the shrill summons, three jostling forms scrambled over the rocks
near the site of the former cabin, and sped forward for a few yards,
neck and neck. Then the race became a hard fought contest in which Dick,
panting and out of breath, won by a narrow margin from Toma. Sandy was
grumbling as he came up.

“They had to push me, of course. I’m protesting this race on the grounds
that two of the contestants presumed to take unfair advantage.”

“I’ll look into it,” laughingly promised Corporal Richardson. Then he
turned to the victor. “Dick, how are operations progressing at the
mine?”

“Fine!” panted Dick. “We’ll clear the shaft before night. Once we’re
able to get into the mine, work’ll go along more quickly.”

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Sandy’s uncle declared, as he
pulled a grub-sack closer to the fire. “Your mine hasn’t a dump. What
becomes of the rock and shale?”

“We asked ourselves that very same question,” replied Dick, “but we
discovered the answer the first time we descended into the mine. We have
water pressure to carry away everything except the pure ore itself.”

“But I don’t understand,” puzzled the factor. “What do you mean by water
pressure?”

“There’s an underground river which flows below the mine,” explained
Dick. “One of the passageways slopes down to a wide opening, through
which one can hear the sound of rushing water. The former owners of the
mine dumped all of the refuse here and it was quickly carried away.
Sandy and I have figured out that the source of the river is the deep
lake, near the wooden cross, two miles to the east of us. You remember
seeing it.”

“Yes,” answered the factor.

“You boys are rich now,” congratulated Corporal Richardson. “What are
you going to do with all your wealth?”

“Well, we have some pressing obligations,” hinted Dick.

“What are they?”

“Our first debt is to the Indians. We’ve decided to give them half
ownership in the mine. Papers will be made out in the regular way and a
guardian appointed.”

“Who will be the guardian?” asked Factor MacClaren.

“The Royal North West Mounted.”

“But they may not care to accept such a responsibility,” smiled the
corporal.

“O they’re all pretty decent fellows,” teased Sandy. “I don’t think
we’ll have very much difficulty on that score.”

Corporal Richardson laughed.

“Are yuh really serious ’bout this, Dick?” demanded Malemute Slade. “Yuh
don’t mean you’d give half the mine to them Indians?”

“We don’t mean anything else,” Dick spoke very quietly. “They spared our
lives. We wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them. When we went to
school back in the States, our history books told us how white men have
been taking land and valuable resources away from the Indians for the
past three hundred years. Here’s one case where the Indian is going to
receive what’s coming to him.”

“Here! Here!” shouted the factor. “Good boy, Dick! If you and Sandy and
Toma can manage to carry out your plan successfully we’ll all be proud
of you.”

Dick flushed with embarrassment, then hurried on:

“The debt to the Indians is not the only one. There are three persons,
all of them white men, who are entitled to share in our good fortune.
These men are Factor MacClaren, Corporal Richardson and Malemute Slade.”

The right hand of the mounted policeman stole over to Dick’s shoulder.

“We appreciate your kindness, Dick, but I’m afraid that you’ll have to
wipe out a part of that debt. As members of the force, we—Malemute Slade
and myself—have no right to accept anything at all. We’ve already been
paid for any service we may have rendered you. It is a part of our
regular duty.”

“If that’s the case, will you and Malemute Slade accept our thanks for
all you’ve done for us,” blurted out Sandy.

“Gladly! It is nothing at all. We wish you every success in your new
undertaking.”

“Thank you,” said Dick and Sandy in unison.

A short silence ensued. Presently Sandy walked over to the grub-sack and
stooped down to untie the string.

“I’m hungry as a bear,” he grumbled. “It’s getting so there’s no system
around this camp. Who’s cook?”

“I suppose,” said Corporal Richardson with a sly twinkle in his eye,
“that when the ghost of Scar-Face or Henderson or Baptiste La Lond comes
back here to visit you, he won’t recognize your thriving mining town as
the place of his former misfortunes.”

“You bet he won’t!” emphatically declared Sandy.

Dick laughed—a cheery, boyish laugh—as he picked up a frying pan and a
slab of bacon, opened his hunting knife and then squatted down in front
of the fire.


                                THE END



                          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.

--Replaced the otherwise unknown Sandy MacPherson by Sandy MacClaren.

--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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