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Title: Dick Kent, Fur Trader
Author: Oblinger, Milo Milton
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dick Kent, Fur Trader" ***

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DICK KENT, FUR TRADER


[Illustration: Dick, happening to glance through the window, drew back
suddenly with a cry of surprise. (Page 70)]


DICK KENT, FUR TRADER

by

MILTON RICHARDS

Author of
“Dick Kent with the Mounted Police”
“Dick Kent in the Far North”
“Dick Kent with the Eskimos”
“Dick Kent and the Malemute Mail”



[Illustration: Logo]

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     Blind Man’s Pass                                         3
  II    Dick Plays the Part of a Spy                            13
  III   Sergeant Richardson’s Theory                            24
  IV    Two Encounters in One Day                               33
  V     A Midnight Conference                                   44
  VI    Murky Takes a Hand                                      56
  VII   Wandley’s Post                                          69
  VIII  The Ambuscade                                           82
  IX    The Meeting Place                                       91
  X     The First Prisoner                                     105
  XI    An Unexpected Setback                                  116
  XII   The Outlaws’ Cabin                                     124
  XIII  A Scout returns                                        133
  XIV   Following the Pack-train                               142
  XV    The Corporal Upbraids Himself                          152
  XVI   Murky Nichols!                                         162
  XVII  Dick Goes to the Rescue                                172
  XVIII A Dusky Friend                                         181
  XIX   A Game of Hide-and-seek                                190
  XX    The Invalid                                            198
  XXI   Campfire Smoke                                         207
  XXII  Murky’s Confession                                     213
  XXIII Back at Fort Good Faith                                222



                         DICK KENT, FUR TRADER



                               CHAPTER I
                            BLIND MAN’S PASS


Dick Kent, bronzed by exposure to wind and sun, leaned over the rough
pine table in the trading room of Factor MacClaren at Fort Good Faith
and listened intently to the conversation being carried on at that
particular moment between Murky Nichols, prospector and gentleman of
parts, and Corporal Rand of the Mackenzie River detachment of the Royal
North West Mounted Police. On the paper in front of them, torn from a
convenient packing case, were a number of irregular lines, dots and
scrawls, which had been placed there with the aid of the stub of a lead
pencil, held awkwardly in the hands of the big prospector.

“I want to show yuh,” Nichols explained eagerly, “jus’ where I think ol’
Daddy McInnes crossed the Dominion Range. He travelled east an’ then
south until he got to Placer Lake, goin’ through what the Indians call
Blind Man’s Pass. There ain’t no other way he could o’ got through, sick
an’ worn out like he was. That pass must come out on this side of the
range somewhere near where yuh picked up his body.”

Corporal Rand drummed softly on the table and regarded Murky’s animated
face with thoughtful interest.

“Sounds reasonable,” he commented. “In fact, that’s exactly the way I
had it figured out myself. Blind Man’s Pass must be something more than
a myth—a mere Indian legend. McInnes got through some way, travelling
along a fairly well defined, not too difficult trail. No man can walk
over Dominion Range, neither can he crawl under it. Yet McInnes came
through. I have conclusive proof of that. But where is Blind Man’s
Pass?”

“It’s there somewhere,” Nichols declared doggedly.

“Certainly. I agree with you, Murky.” The mounted policeman took the
pencil from the prospector’s hand and drew a straight line near the
center of the map. “This line,” he pointed out—Dick thought a little
impatiently—“represents a distance of thirty miles. The country is
rough, broken, almost inaccessible along its entire length. Somewhere
within that thirty miles is a narrow opening, probably not more than
fifty, a hundred or two hundred feet wide, which forms one end of what
is called Blind Man’s Pass. Now how are you going to find it? There are
a thousand different openings, all more or less alike. Attempt to follow
any one of them, and you end up against a solid rock wall. You go back
and start all over again somewhere else—and with the same result. I
spent two weeks out there, going through the same stupid performance day
after day. Only infinite patience or fool’s luck will lead you to the
right opening.”

So interested had Dick Kent become that presently he crowded closer to
the two men and began staring at the paper himself. Exactly what were
they trying to do? What were they talking about? Who was McInnes, and
why all this bother about a fabled trail through the mountains no one
seemed to know anything about? He was interrupted in his train of
thought by the next statement of the mounted policeman:

“McInnes had been dead more than a week when I found him. You could see
the poor devil had been half-starved and had suffered every sort of
hardship and privation. How he had managed to stagger along with that
heavy load is more than I can imagine.”

“Too bad ol’ Daddy has passed,” Murky sighed regretfully. “I ’member
seeing him one time ’bout three years ago over in the Goose Lake
country. Might’ fine ol’ man he was, an’ a good trapper, folks said.
Never failed to bring in a good catch ever’ spring—mostly fox, marten
an’ beaver—an’ he got top prices ’cause he knew how to cure his fur—all
prime, A-Number-1 stuff it was. He had a knack, almost amountin’ to
genius for locatin’ black and cross fox an’ then gettin’ ’em to walk
plump into his traps.” Nichols paused to gaze reminiscently out of the
window and to smile to himself. “Couldn’t beat him that particular way,
no, sir. A big catch ever’ year—fortune for most men; yet Daddy allers
complained that he wa’n’t gettin’ nothin’ atall, that he was either
gonna quit or cross the Dominion Range, where trappin’ was a hull lot
better.”

“You’re right about the black fox skins,” remarked Corporal Rand,
pushing the paper aside. “In the pack I found beside the body, there
were eight of the shiniest, loveliest black pelts I’ve ever looked
upon.”

“An’ he came through Blind Man’s Pass,” mused Murky. “The clever ol’
coot. Too bad he didn’t live to tell about it.”

Dick had edged still closer. His eyes were shining with interest. He
reached over and touched the sleeve of the corporal’s scarlet tunic.

“Pardon me, Corporal Rand—but I’ve been eavesdropping. You don’t mind, I
hope.”

The mounted policeman turned quickly and smiled into the eager face.

“Certainly not, you’re welcome to any information or nonsense you may
have heard. Isn’t that the truth, Murky?”

“It sure is.”

“And may I ask you a question?” Dick persisted.

“Yes,” smiled Rand.

“What is Blind Man’s Pass?”

“A reality or a legend—I’m not sure which. Outside of Daddy McInnes I’d
say it was a legend. We used to laugh at the old tales about it. The
Indians claimed that years and years ago one of their ancestors had
discovered a long, narrow pass or defile that cut Dominion range
somewhere due west of here. In 1895 a party of mounted police explorers
investigated the story by making a very careful, painstaking search
through all the country lying between Cauldron Lake and Summit River.
Nothing came of it. The party decided that the tale was a myth. Blind
Man’s Pass was, until a few weeks ago, a bye-word among all the white
men living in this section.”

Corporal Rand paused and favored Dick with a most engaging smile.

“And what about Daddy McInnes?” the young man inquired.

“I’ll give you the bald facts and you can draw your own conclusions. A
little over a year ago Daddy McInnes left us. For years it had been his
ambition to trap on the other side of the Dominion Range in what is
commonly known as the Caribou Hills country. As the crow flies, Caribou
Hills are less than three hundred miles away. It wouldn’t have been much
of a journey if McInnes could have gone straight there, crossing the
mountains. But, of course, he couldn’t. He chose instead the more
sensible and longer route by way of the Yellowhead Pass, which, as you
know, is many hundred miles south of here. It took Daddy the greater
part of one summer to make the trip.”

Corporal Rand rose slowly to his feet and walked over to a window,
gazing somberly out across a bleak, snow-streaked meadow that extended
west and north to meet the encroaching woodland. He swung about
presently, and continued:

“But Daddy came back. What motive prompted him, I have no way of finding
out. All I know is that he did come back—but not by the Yellowhead
route! I came upon his dead body less than a week ago. It was lying in a
sheltered spot near a little knoll, less than a hundred yards from the
banks of Run River. It was easy to determine the cause of his death. He
died of starvation and exposure. McInnes is an old, old man and this
last trip had proved too much for him.”

“And you don’t think that he had contrived somehow to cross over the
range?” queried Dick.

“Absolutely, utterly impossible.”

“If he didn’t come by the Yellowhead route, or cross the mountains—”

“The only possible solution is Blind Man’s Pass,” interrupted Corporal
Rand.

“But you can’t find it.”

“I haven’t yet. But I have every hope that we will in a very short time.
The best scout and woodsman who ever enlisted in a service of the R. N.
W. M. P. is out there now looking for it—a man called Malemute Slade.”

“Malemute Slade!” shouted Dick, clapping his hands in glee. “Why,
corporal, I know him. He’s a friend of mine.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I knew that Slade was well acquainted with
Factor MacClaren’s nephew, Sandy. Are you by any chance the Dick Kent,
who accompanied Sandy last summer to Thunder River in search of a gold
mine?”

“Yes,” answered Dick.

Corporal Rand laughed as he extended his hand.

“I guess that we’ll shake on that. The mounted police haven’t forgotten
the incident. Time and time again, before a crackling fire, when we
happened to meet on patrol, Sergeant Richardson entertained me with the
history of your exploits.”

“We had a lot of trouble with the Henderson gang,” stated Dick.

“So I heard. Fortunately they’re wiped out. They were the worst band of
outlaws that ever infested the North. By the way, what ever became of
that young Indian lad, Toma, who used to accompany you on so many of
your expeditions?”

“He’s out with Sandy right now on a hunting trip,” Dick replied. “I’m
expecting them back today.”

Murky Nichols rose lazily, yawned, and stretched himself to his full
length.

“Well, I guess I’ll toddle along,” he announced. “Hope yuh find that
pass, corporal.”

With a friendly nod to Dick in passing, Nichols strode over to the
counter before which a small group of half-breed men, women and children
chatted volubly.

No sooner had the prospector passed out of hearing, than Rand turned
eagerly to Dick:

“Ever meet Murky before?”

“No,” answered Dick in surprise, “but I’ve heard of him.”

“Queer character,” mused Rand, half to himself. “Sometimes bears
watching.”

“What do you mean?” asked Dick, a little startled.

“Murky’s intentions are the best in the world, but his sense of right
and wrong is considerably clouded. Also, you may or may not have heard,
Nichols has the reputation of being the laziest mortal on earth and one
of the shrewdest. He has money but seldom works. For months past I’ve
been trying to find the key that will open the secret to Murky’s
checkered past.”

Slightly annoyed at Rand’s garrulity, Dick looked up sharply. Well he
knew that no self-respecting member of the force became so confidential
in so short a time with a comparative stranger. For the most part, the
men of the Royal Mounted were reserved, dignified and aloof. It was none
of Dick’s business what sort of a man Murky was.

“What bothers me,” Corporal Rand hastened on, “is why Nichols should be
so interested in Blind Man’s Pass. This is the third time he’s troubled
himself to seek me out and pester me with questions.”

“It’s an interesting topic,” said Dick. “I don’t know as I blame him
very much. Don’t forget, corporal, that I’ve just been bothering you
with questions myself.”

“But you’re different.”

“You’ve known Nichols longer than you’ve known me,” Dick shot back,
somewhat testily.

“All right, Dick,” grinned the corporal, “I’ll accept your reprimand.
And, come to think of it, I’ve got a note for you. It may possibly
explain why I do not hesitate about taking you into my confidence.”

“A note!” gasped Dick.

“Yes, it’s self-explanatory.”

Dick received the missive and opened it, considerably perplexed. He read
quickly:

  “Dear Richard:

  I’ll be very grateful to you for any assistance you may be able to
  render to the bearer of this note, Corporal William Rand, of the
  Mackenzie River detachment. Corporal Rand will instruct you in certain
  matters of extreme importance. Please trust him implicitly in
  everything.

  Please convey my very best wishes to Mr. MacClaren and your two young
  cronies, Sandy and Toma.

                                  Sincerely,
                                                    Henry C. Richardson,
                                                Sergeant R. N. W. M. P.”

When Dick had finished reading the letter, he looked across at Corporal
Rand with new understanding in his eyes.

“I’ll help, of course. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Sergeant
Richardson.”

“That’s splendid of you.”

The mounted policeman moved closer and spoke in a low tone.

“Sit down at that table and pick up that old magazine. Pretend you’re
reading. Watch Nichols. In ten or fifteen minutes two half breeds will
enter this room and will probably walk over and engage Murky in
conversation. You won’t be able to hear a thing they say, but I want you
to notice particularly whether or not any money passes between them.”

Dick had scarcely recovered from his astonishment, when Corporal Rand
turned with quick, military precision and walked swiftly out of the
room.



                               CHAPTER II
                      DICK PLAYS THE PART OF A SPY


The two men who entered the trading room within a few minutes after
Corporal Rand’s sudden exit were undoubtedly half-breeds. Both were
heavy, powerful-looking specimens of the lowest type of humanity to be
found in the North. Their appearance was far from prepossessing. They
shambled over to the counter, elbowed their way through the small group
of customers and stood for a moment watching Factor MacClaren wrapping
up merchandise purchased by the various members of the chattering party.

Behind the pages of his magazine, Dick covertly watched them. Thus far,
they had made no effort to approach or accost Nichols, whose indolent
form slouched on one of the high stools, which had been placed before
the counter. To all appearances, the two newcomers were entirely
oblivious of the presence, or even the existence of the big prospector.
Not once had their dark, insolent glances been turned in his direction.

But—and here was a curious thing—each passing moment seemed to bring
them closer and closer to the man under police surveillance. They
accomplished this maneuver in a manner that would have done credit to an
experienced horseman, jockeying for position at the commencement of a
race. Almost imperceptibly, and by degrees, they had edged nearer,
covering the short space separating them from the imperturbable Nichols
without once creating the impression that the thing had been done
intentionally.

They were so close now that Nichols might easily have reached out with
one long arm and placed it on the shoulder of either one of them. The
prospector’s eyes were upon Factor MacClaren and his face was perfectly
immobile and expressionless. If he was aware of the proximity of the
murderous looking pair, he gave no sign of it. He moved slightly in his
chair but completely ignored them. Dick had about come to the conclusion
that the two half-breeds were not those whom Corporal Rand had expected,
when a very suspicious movement on the part of Murky caught his alert
gaze. With a lazy, seemingly unconscious action, the prospector’s hand
was thrust in a pocket, held there for a moment, then was drawn forth,
palm down and thrust quickly towards the nearer of the two stalky forms.
Swift as the movement had been, Dick had, nevertheless, caught a glimpse
of the roll of bills so secretly exchanged.

The half-breeds lingered for a very short time near their benefactor,
then advanced along the counter and purchased several plugs of smoking
tobacco from Factor MacClaren. Completing this transaction, they turned
nonchalantly and walked out. No sooner had the door closed after them,
than Murky rose and sauntered over to the window. He was still gazing
out when the door creaked again and Corporal Rand entered.

“I’ve been out inspecting MacClaren’s new warehouse,” he announced
cheerfully. “You must be expecting a large volume of business this
winter.” He addressed the factor.

Walter MacClaren put down a large bundle of merchandise and paused to
wipe his perspiring face.

“Yes,” he answered, “trading is good this year. Just now the indications
are especially bright. Although this is just the beginning of the fur
season, I’ve never seen better prices or the promise of so large a
trade.”

“Indian trappers are out everywhere,” Corporal Rand remarked. “Yesterday
I ran into a party of them going out to the Big Smoky. They told me they
expected a good catch this year.”

MacClaren nodded as he went back to his work. The mounted policeman
moved over to the table where Dick sat and placed a friendly hand on
that young man’s shoulder.

“If I can pry you loose from that magazine,” he declared jovially, “I’m
going to ask you to step up to my room for a few minutes for a private
consultation. No! Don’t look frightened. I really don’t intend to take
you into custody just yet. If you’ll bring your cribbage board and a new
deck of cards, I’ll promise to be lenient.”

Grinning, Dick got to his feet. Well he knew that the game he and the
corporal would presently play had nothing whatever to do with cribbage.
Something a great deal more important was at stake just then—he could
tell that from the serious, thoughtful expression so poorly concealed
under Rand’s effort at deception. The jovial manner, the subterfuge of
the cribbage board and the forced laugh—all were intended for the eyes
and ears of the man who still stood near the window, and whose
suspicions, under any circumstances, must not be aroused.

With a quickening pulse, Dick followed the policeman through the door at
the back of the trading room, down a long hallway and into an
immaculately neat and clean-looking chamber, which MacClaren always
reserved for the use of various members of the R. N. W. M. P. who came
frequently to the post.

Rand motioned his visitor to a chair.

“Well, what did you find out?”

“Nichols handed a roll of bills to two half-breeds who entered the room
shortly after your departure,” Dick replied quickly.

“Did you happen to overhear any of their conversation?” came the next
question.

“They didn’t talk,” the other informed him. “The breeds moved close to
Nichols, but pretended to be interested in the customers and the
trading. Until he put his hand in his pocket and passed the money
quickly over to one of the half-breeds, you never would have known that
Murky realized that the two were standing there.”

“Then what happened?”

“Nothing. At least nothing of importance. The pair bought some tobacco
and walked out. Nichols went to the window and seemed to be watching
them as they hurried away. You came in yourself a moment later.”

“Thanks, Dick, you’ve done well,” approved the corporal. “You’ve helped
me to weld the first link in the chain. In time, I hope to piece
together the other links that will lead me to the solution of this
mystery.”

Dick’s curiosity was aroused, but hesitated about asking any questions.
To what mystery did Rand refer? He waited patiently for the policeman’s
next words:

“In fairness to you, Dick, I think it’s advisable to give you some
information regarding this case. I’ve already hinted to you that Murky
Nichols is under police surveillance. We’ve been watching him closely
for a long time. His movements have been suspicious. Although he
professes to be a prospector, he really hasn’t done a tap of work in the
last four years. He always has a large amount of money and he spends it
liberally.”

“Where does he get this money?” Dick inquired.

“From three or four different sources. To my certain knowledge, there
are two men who pay him money regularly. One is Fred Hart and the other
is Tim O’Connell. Both of these men are packers in the summer and
freighters in the winter. They have almost a monopoly on the
transportation business in this particular section of the country. The
Hudson’s Bay, in addition to several of the independent fur companies
and free traders, give practically all of their business to these men.
Last year Factor MacClaren’s business alone amounted to nearly five
thousand dollars. Hart and O’Connell get the preference over the other
packers and freighters because they are more efficient, careful and
responsible.”

“Why,” said Dick, as the thought suddenly occurred to him, “perhaps
Nichols is a silent-partner in their enterprise.”

Rand smiled at the other’s quick perception, but he slowly shook his
head.

“That’s the conclusion we came to ourselves. Investigation, carried out
secretly, proves that he isn’t. No—the thing goes deeper than that.
Nichols is engaged in some secret and probably illegal enterprise.
Little by little we’ve been picking up new clues—making new discoveries.
We’ve found nothing incriminating yet, but I don’t believe it will be
very long before we will.”

“What about the money that exchanged hands today? What business dealing
do you suppose Nichols could have with those two hard-looking
customers?”

“Both of them are thieves, but we haven’t yet been able to prove
anything against them. For several weeks past we’ve suspected that
either they’re in Murky’s employ or that the breeds come to him to sell
stolen goods. The fact that Nichols paid them money today is a pretty
strong indication that one or other of these suppositions is correct.”

Corporal Rand paused to fill his pipe.

“Nichols is shrewd and clever,” he went on. “He’s amiable and
well-liked. He has many friends in every part of the country.
Notwithstanding, there’s a deep, treacherous side to his nature, a
diabolical cleverness that can find its outlet only through criminal
channels. Your friend, Sergeant Richardson, believes firmly he’s a
master crook, a sort of genius at crime, and that he contrives to
distract attention from himself by assuming this role of genial, lazy,
ignorant prospector.”

Dick laughed outright.

“Sergeant Richardson has a vivid imagination,” he declared, “but very
often in cases of this kind his deductions prove correct.”

“True enough!” Constable Rand puffed reflectively. “He’s worked out a
very unusual theory in regard to Nichols. It was shortly after the
finding of old Daddy McInnes’ body that he told me about it. The whole
thing is so extraordinary, so wild, and yet so convincing that we’ve
decided to look into it. It’s this theory that we’re working on now.”

“Won’t you tell me about it?” pleaded Dick.

“Certainly. There’s no harm done, that I can see. Besides the sergeant
informed me that I could trust you implicitly. He even hinted that you
contemplated joining the force. What about that?”

“It’s true,” Dick was forced to admit, his face red with embarrassment.
“I’ve made application to the commissioner at Ottawa, but I’m not sure
that anything will ever come of it.”

“I’m not so certain,” Rand shook his head. “We need more men, especially
here in the North. You’d have to spend a period of training at Regina
though.

“But to go on with Richardson’s theory,” resumed the corporal.
“Incredible as it may at first appear, it’s logical enough. I’ll give
you its substance briefly: Nichols is the leader of a small band of
crooks. Hart and O’Connell are his accomplices, or, what I should say
his accessories—they’re both honest. Nichols never actually commits any
crime himself. He purchases fur, which he knows is stolen and disposes
of it.”

“Through Hart and O’Connell, I suppose,” Dick put in. “They take it to
civilization and sell it.”

“No. You’re a thousand miles from the mark. Hart and O’Connell play a
less important part in this scheme. Murky is more clever than that. He
disposes of his own stuff in a more original and unheard-of way. Hart
and O’Connell merely supply him with means of transportation—pack horses
in summer and dog teams in winter.”

Corporal Rand paused again and rose to his feet. He tiptoed softly to
the door, opened it and looked out.

“I thought there might be someone in the hallway,” he apologised. “One
can’t be too careful.”

He closed the door, a slight frown on his face, and went back to the
chair opposite Dick.

“I guess we won’t be bothered. Where was I—oh, yes—As I just said Hart
and O’Connell supply Nichols with ponies or dog teams, depending upon
the season, and Murky proceeds to transport his stolen fur to the
coast.”

“To the coast!” gasped Dick. “How could he?”

“Through Blind Man’s Pass.”

Dick sat and stared incredulously at the grave, serious face of the man
opposite.

“You’re fooling me, corporal.”

“Not a bit! Richardson feels that he’s absolutely sure that such is the
case. I’m almost convinced myself. Every clue that we’ve been able to
pick up since the Sergeant hit upon this wild theory seems to bear him
out. Another thing, there’s the case of Daddy McInnes. The story I told
in the trading room an hour ago was an elaboration of or a tampering
with the true facts.”

“I don’t think I quite understand.”

“Daddy McInnes was murdered. A blow on the back of the head.”

Dick shivered.

“Naturally, we don’t want anyone to suspect—least of all Nichols—that we
know McInnes came to a violent end. That would spoil everything. We
never would catch Murky if a breath of this ever leaked out. The
abrasion on the back of Daddy’s head caused a little comment, but we
took immediate steps to check it.”

“How?” asked Dick.

“We claimed that in his weakened and starved condition, McInnes fainted
and fell, his head striking a rock. Everyone believes it now.”

“But why should Nichols—I mean, what motive would he have?”

“Daddy found the pass and came through it. If he had lived, its exact
location would have become public property. In that event, Murky Nichols
would have been out of a job.”

“But what about Hart and O’Connell? They must know where Blind Man’s
Pass is.”

“No, I don’t think so. There is only one white man in this country who
could lead us unerringly to Blind Man’s Pass—and that person is Murky
Nichols!”



                              CHAPTER III
                      SERGEANT RICHARDSON’S THEORY


For the second time since coming to the room, Corporal Rand strode to
the door and opened it.

“I must be nervous today,” he declared. “I pop up here every few minutes
like a jack-in-the-box. Somehow, I can’t get over the feeling that there
was really someone prowling about the hallway a short time ago.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” reassured Dick.

“Possibly I am mistaken. There are times when a thing like that will lay
hold of you, and you don’t seem to be able to shake it off.”

“I’ve often experienced the same feeling,” confessed Dick. “It isn’t
very pleasant.”

Closing the door, the mounted policeman helped himself to a glass of
water from a pitcher that stood on the table.

“I’ve given you a brief outline of Richardson’s theory,” he stated, “but
I’m afraid I haven’t made everything quite clear. Are there any
questions you’d like to ask?”

“Yes—about Hart and O’Connell,” Dick responded quickly. “According to
what you have said, these men have given Nichols money. After listening
to your story, that part of it doesn’t seem reasonable. If Murky uses
their outfits to transport stolen goods to the coast through Blind Man’s
Pass, I should think he’d be under obligation to them, that he’d pay
them money instead of their paying him.”

“So it would seem,” Corporal Rand smiled approvingly. “That was my
contention. I claimed it was the one weak spot in Richardson’s
theory—but, of course, the explanation is simple enough.

“Hart and O’Connell’s are freighters. They go everywhere. They have
almost a monopoly on the transportation business. They have the
government mail contract from here to Edmonton. Occasionally, perhaps
not more than once or twice a year, they have business that takes them
to the west coast—across Dominion Range. As you know this is a long and
roundabout trip, requiring weeks, sometimes months for its completion.
Consequently the transportation rates to the west coast are high. No one
realizes this condition of affairs any better than Nichols. He takes
advantage of it for his own gain. He draws up an agreement with the two
packers to handle all the west-coast business himself, charging a very
nominal rate for this service, and killing two birds with one stone. You
can see how diabolical, how very clever the arrangement is. The freight
that goes through Blind Man’s Pass is a mixed shipment. Part of it is
stolen fur, the other part is merchandise which the original shipper has
entrusted to the care of Hart or O’Connell.

“The scheme works beautifully,” smiled Rand. “Both parties to the
transaction reap a lovely profit. Hart or O’Connell charge the shipper
the same price that he would have to pay if his merchandise went all the
way round to the west coast through the Yellowhead Pass. Murky can smile
up his sleeve too, because all expense of taking out his contraband
falls upon the willing shoulders of the two packers.”

“I never heard of anything so clever,” declared Dick. “Of course, Hart
and O’Connell are aware of the existence of Blind Man’s Pass. You don’t
suppose they know where it is themselves?”

“No, that’s Murky’s own secret. Otherwise the packers would never have
entered into such an agreement.”

“I can see it all very clearly now,” said Dick, “and I’m anxious to know
in what way I can be of help.”

Corporal Rand hesitated for a moment before making a reply. He sat in
the chair opposite and regarded Dick with appraising eyes.

“We haven’t definitely decided just what we are going to do ourselves,
but we intend to use you in some capacity. I’m waiting now to hear from
Sergeant Richardson. However, unless something unforseen occurs, I
imagine our program will be something like this: Malemute Slade will
continue in his search for the pass; Constable Pearly—a new man just
recently transferred here from the Peace River Detachment—will be
detailed to keep close tab on Hart and O’Connell, while Sergeant
Richardson and myself will study every movement of the two half-breeds
and Murky.

“It may take weeks, possibly months, before we’ll be able to accomplish
much. We are compelled to move very, very cautiously. If Nichols
discovers our interest in his affairs, we’ll lose our only chance of
getting him. He’s as slippery as an eel, and as crafty as a fox. I don’t
believe there is another person in the North with a wider acquaintance,
or a more thorough knowledge of conditions.”

“But wouldn’t Hart and O’Connell squeal if Murky should refuse to take
any more of their shipments through Blind Man’s Pass?”

“In the first place they won’t dare to, because the shippers will hear
of it and refuse to give the packers another dollar’s worth of business.
Remember Hart and O’Connell have been reaping a golden harvest at the
shippers’ expense. In the second place, even if they do squeal, we’ll
have no direct evidence against Nichols.”

“How then do you propose to catch Murky?”

“There are several ways: One would be to find the pass ourselves and
then wait for Murky to come through; another would be to follow a
west-coast shipment from the time it leaves the hands of Hart and
O’Connell; still another, to locate Murky’s cache of stolen fur, and
awaiting the next shipment through Blind Man’s Pass.”

“You really think Murky has such a cache?”

“If our theory is correct, he must have. In all likelihood, he has two
of them.”

“Two of them!” gasped Dick. “What makes you think that?”

“It stands to reason that he has. In fact, it’s quite obvious. The
stolen fur must be stored somewhere before it is shipped. When it
reaches the coast, it must be stored again.”

“Why not sold?”

“There’s only one place to sell it—at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s post at
Fort Pennington—and Murky isn’t foolish enough to take that risk.”

“You mean,” asked Dick in amazement, “that he’d continue to—that he’s
been hiding it out there on the coast year after year, making no attempt
to sell it?”

“Yes and no! We believe he hides it out there all right. But we’re
pretty sure that he sells some of it occasionally. We do know that two
years ago last summer he went to Seattle. He was away about six months.
When he returned he was rolling in money and told a very interesting
story about a legacy he had received from a brother, recently deceased.
We believed the yarn then—but we don’t now! In fact,” Rand spoke
sarcastically, “we’re somewhat inclined to the opinion that while he was
there he met one or two unscrupulous gentlemen who offered to accompany
him up the coast for the fun and profit to be derived.”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” laughed Dick.

“He probably hasn’t sold any of the fur since then. I think that when
you go out there, you’ll find that Richardson’s theory is correct.
There’ll be a big cache—”

“When _I_ go out there?” interrupted Dick, staring in astonishment at
the policeman.

“Yes—you, Sandy and Toma. Surely, you’d be willing to do that much for
us, Dick. Sergeant Richardson said that you’d jump at the chance.”

“But—but—”

“We’re so sure that you’ll find the cache, that we’re willing to pay all
the expenses of the trip—and a liberal reward in the bargain. What do
you say?”

“Say!” choked Dick. “I can’t say enough. What I want to know is—do you
really mean it?”

“I was never more serious in my life.”

Dick rose to his feet and paced agitatedly back and forth. His heart had
jumped a few wild beats before he could compose himself sufficiently to
make another effort to speak.

“When do you want us to start?” he asked.

“As soon as it can possibly be arranged. Toma knows the route to the
Yellowhead Pass; but after that you’ll have to chart your own course. We
can depend on you then?”

“So far as I’m concerned—yes. I won’t presume to speak for Sandy and
Toma, yet I’m pretty sure they’ll go.”

A few minutes later, Corporal Rand and Dick returned to the trading
room, which was crowded. Stalwart, dusky half-breed trappers, eager to
purchase supplies for impending excursions to favorite trapping grounds,
pushed and elbowed their way through the throng awaiting their
opportunity to confer with Factor MacClaren. Indian women, resplendent
in bright shawls, bright-faced children from the Catholic Mission, here
and there the dark, expressionless face and sinewy form of Cree hunters
and rivermen from the south—all of this queer blend of humanity jostled
forth and back, chattering excitedly.

At one side of the room, surrounded by an admiring group, a tall, lanky
half-breed youth was playing a violin. Glancing that way, Dick’s eyes
lighted up as he perceived the familiar figures of his two friends,
Sandy MacClaren, the factor’s nephew, and John Toma, the young Indian
guide.

Toma, Sandy and Dick, following several years of interesting adventures
in the North, had become greatly attached to each other. They were three
inseparables, who had learned to take the trials and hardships of
wilderness life as a matter of common experience. In spite of many hard
knocks, they were still as eager to embark upon new adventures as in the
days when Dick and Sandy were newcomers to that remote and inhospitable
land.

Dick lost no time in rejoining his two chums. With a friendly nod to
Corporal Rand, he darted through the crowd and administered a resounding
whack on the backs of Sandy and Toma.

“Well, you’ve returned at last,” he greeted them joyfully. “Did you have
any luck?”

Sandy turned eagerly.

“You bet! We shot two moose,” and the young Scotchman immediately
commenced a somewhat rambling and disconnected account of their
experiences.

At its conclusion, Dick feigned scepticism, winked broadly at Toma.

“Pah! The whole thing sounds fishy to me. I don’t believe you shot
anything. If you actually killed a moose it was because the poor thing
fell down and broke a leg. At two hundred yards a blind man with a bow
and arrow could out-shoot you.”

“All right, wait and see. An Indian packer is bringing over our two
moose tomorrow.”

“How much did you pay him for them?”

In attempting to evade Sandy’s friendly upper-cut, Dick stepped back
just in time to be knocked flat by a person hurrying across the room.
From his position on the floor, he looked up to see the man spring to
the door, open it, and dart outside.

It was the half-breed, who had received the roll of money from Murky
Nichols!



                               CHAPTER IV
                       TWO ENCOUNTERS IN ONE DAY


An excited shout from Sandy drew Dick’s attention as he clambered to his
feet. At the opposite end of the trading room a gesticulating, wildly
vociferous crowd had gathered about the drooping figure of Murky
Nichols. The face of the prospector was deathly pale, as he stood, one
hand clutching the counter, the other gripping firmly a long-bladed
hunting knife, which he held up for the inspection of the crowd.

The scarlet-coated form of Corporal Rand advanced through the milling
throng and a moment later, just as the three boys came hurrying up, the
policeman helped Nichols to a chair.

“What happened, Murky?” he demanded.

“Some breed tried to knife me,” choked the frightened man, holding on to
the chair for support.

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know,” wheezed Murky. “Never seen him before. He came up while
I was a standin’ over there an’ first thing I knowed he made a slash at
me.”

Nichols trembled as he spoke, drawing attention to the wide slit in his
mackinaw shirt just below his left arm-pit.

“This is where the knife caught me when I jumped back. Good thing I did
or he’d o’ got me sure.”

“Did he hurt you at all?” inquired Rand.

“Nothing but a scratch.”

“You were lucky. You say you didn’t know the breed?”

A slight hesitation on the part of the prospector was noted probably by
only two persons in the room—Dick and Corporal Rand.

“First time I ever set eyes on him, corporal.”

“Did he speak to you or did you speak to him before he drew the knife?”

“No,” Murky stated emphatically.

“Very queer the man should attack you without provocation,” mused Rand.
“You’re absolutely sure you never saw him before?”

A slow flush mounted to Nichols’ weather-tanned brow and for a
split-second his eyes evaded the questioner.

“Hang it, corporal,” he spoke testily, “ain’t I been tellin’ yuh. Don’t
even know what he looks like—it all happened so sudden. If he should
come walkin’ in here in ten minutes from now I ain’t so sure I’d
recognize him. The feller must be crazy.”

“It certainly looks queer!” Rand’s cool, unwavering gaze met that of the
prospector. “Usually there’s a motive for an attack of this kind. As a
general thing, a man doesn’t attempt to stab another unless he has some
real or fancied grievance.”

“He’s crazy, I tell yuh,” persisted Nichols.

Rand turned away.

“I’ll see what I can do. I intend to take the breed in custody. I ought
to be able to run him down in a few hours. Then we can question him.”

The corporal turned without a moment’s hesitation and hurried away. He
was gone almost before Dick could collect his scattered wits and remark
to Sandy:

“There! I intended to tell him something, but it’s too late now.”

“You might be able to catch him at the stable,” said the quick-witted
Sandy, seizing Dick’s arm. “Come on!”

The three boys pushed their way through the crowd, but a jam in front of
the door delayed them. Like themselves, everyone, so it seemed, wanted
to get out. They were caught in a drifting, struggling current of
over-curious half-breeds, were jolted back and forth and, when they
finally emerged, panting and dishevelled, to the yard outside, they
perceived to their chagrin that Rand had already mounted his horse and
was speeding away.

“Just my luck!” Dick sputtered. “There he goes. I might have given him
information that would have saved him a lot of time.”

“What information?” demanded a person almost at his elbow.

Neither Sandy nor Toma had spoken. Dick wheeled quickly and looked up
into a pair of steel-gray eyes, at a coarse, brutal face. The man’s
rough garb was that of a prospector or trapper. None of the boys had
ever seen him before.

“What information?” he repeated insolently.

Dick met the other’s appraising gaze without flinching.

“I wasn’t speaking to you, sir.”

“That’s all right, I’m speaking to yuh. I asked yuh what I consider is a
decent, friendly question. Yuh don’t need to try any o’ your high an’
haughty manner with me.”

Dick completely ignored the insult, despite the fact that it was
difficult to suppress the surge of anger that rose within him. He was
fighting mad and his fists clenched involuntarily, yet he turned to
Sandy and contrived, though the effort was difficult, to speak calmly:

“Let’s walk down along the river.”

Sandy’s face fell as he swung into step beside his friend, his right arm
linked into Toma’s. As they struck off to the left, they were followed
by the baleful, mocking glare of Dick’s newly discovered enemy.

Out of ear-shot, Sandy broke forth:

“Dick, I’m almost ashamed of you. Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Walk away like that. It looks cowardly. I never saw you do a thing like
that before.”

“I don’t know why I did it,” Dick confessed, “except that I had a hunch
that if I let him pick a fight with me, I’d—I’d—well, I can’t explain
it. Something seemed to warn me to keep away from him.”

“You mean, you were afraid of him.”

“No, not that!” Dick retorted hotly. “I’d like to go back even now and
‘mix-it’ with him.”

“Why don’t you?”

“I’ve tried to explain to you, Sandy. I have a feeling that it woul‘d be
foolhardy. Something more than a mere quarrel or a fight is involved.
That man, whoever he is, had some secret purpose in view when he
accosted me just now. I don’t know what that purpose is, but I do know
I’m not going to take any chances.”

For a few moments they walked on in silence.

“I can forget about it if you can,” remarked Sandy a little dryly.

Dick laughed good-naturedly.

“I don’t think I’ll have any trouble doing that,” he responded quickly.
“There’s too much else to think about. And that reminds me that I have
some big news for you and Toma. How would you like to take a trip out to
the coast this winter?”

Sandy stopped short in his tracks.

“To the coast!” he exclaimed. “What do you mean?”

“Exactly that. Corporal Rand told me about it today. He brought a letter
from our old friend, Sergeant Richardson.”

Without further preliminary, Dick launched into the story. Toma and
Sandy listened with bated breath while Dick gave them the particulars of
the theory which had been advanced by the mounted police respecting the
alleged operations of Murky Nichols. Blind Man’s Pass, the murder of
Daddy McInnes, the double cache of stolen fur and finally the proposed
expedition to the west coast to be undertaken by the boys themselves—all
became subjects of absorbing interest and speculation.

“As I understand it,” Sandy broke forth enthusiastically, “Sergeant
Richardson is sending us out to the coast because he believes we can
find the cache.”

“Yes,” answered Dick. “It’s an important undertaking, and we ought to be
proud that the police have faith in our ability. Of course, we would
never have been given the chance if Inspector Cameron wasn’t so short of
men.”

“We make ’em mounted police glad they give us chance to go,” cut in
Toma. “If cache anywhere along coast, we find it.”

“We certainly will,” said Sandy.

Walking leisurely along the banks of the river, the boys made their
plans. So interested had they become, so absorbed in the contemplation
of the proposed journey, that they found themselves presently out of
sight of the trading post. They were crossing a narrow gulch, when Dick
stopped short, glancing about him.

“No use going any farther,” he declared laughingly. “Let’s return to the
post.”

Sandy took note of their surroundings and he too broke forth into an
amused chuckle.

“Can you beat that!” he exclaimed. “We’ve been sauntering along not
paying the least bit of attention. I had no idea we’d gone so far. We’re
five miles from Fort Good Faith. A hundred yards on the other side of
this gulch is where Run River trail crosses the river.”

As Sandy spoke, he turned back and led the way to the top of the gulch.
Spruce and poplar grew thickly along the trail ahead. A light snow of a
few days before, sifting down through the trees, had only partially
covered the heavy carpet of dry leaves and grass.

“It will be several weeks yet before winter sets in in earnest,”
observed Dick. “I hope the mounted police give us instructions to leave
for the west coast before it does come. If we travel light, we’ll reach
the Yellowhead Pass long before the extremely cold weather arrives.”

“Not snow enough,” Toma shook his head disapprovingly. “No use start out
until catch ’em plenty snow for dog team. Mebbe no get snow for five,
six days yet.”

“Nonsense!” Sandy looked up at the overcast sky with a critical but
approving gaze. “It’s cloudy right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it
started to snow this afternoon.”

“Too warm,” Toma objected. “Wind blow southwest. Tomorrow chinook make
like summer. Mebbe it rain, but no snow.”

“You might as well keep quiet, Sandy,” grinned Dick. “Toma is a better
weather prophet than you are. He’s seldom wrong.”

“Just the same, I think there’s a storm brewing,” stubbornly persisted
the young Scotchman. “This is the second week in October. Last year at
this time there was seven inches of snow on the ground and the weather
was ten below zero.”

“Don’t worry about it. I look at it this way: if the police are ready,
we’ll be ready too. Let the chinook come. We’ll start out on foot and
buy our grub-stake and dog team at Fort Wonderly, one hundred miles
south of here.”

“Good idea! You’re talking sense now, Dick. Well—for the love of Pete!”

Sandy’s abrupt exclamation was caused by the sudden appearance on the
trail ahead of four men. One of them they recognized instantly. It was
the person who had attempted to pick a quarrel with Dick. Startled for a
moment, the boys drew back to the side of the trail.

“Don’t say a word,” cautioned Dick in a low voice. “If they attempt to
start trouble, try to keep away from them. We’re no match for them.
Besides, they’re armed and we aren’t.”

Pretending a nonchalance they did not feel, the three boys strode
forward again until they came abreast of the oncoming and ominous
quartette. In the lead, Dick edged over to the side of the trail, hoping
that no attempt would be made to prevent their passing. He was now
within three feet of the nearest of the party, and had almost begun to
believe that nothing would happen, when the four men spread out quickly,
completely barring their progress. Dick looked across at two gray eyes
that glinted evilly.

“Guess yuh better stop a while, sonny,” sneered the voice of the white
man. “Feel like answerin’ that question now?”

“I haven’t any question to answer,” retorted Dick, looking straight at
his tormentor, and then at the three half-breeds, a villainous-appearing
trio, who stood ready and eager to leap forward at the first word of
command.

The white man stepped forward and confronted Dick, one arm raised
threateningly.

“Yuh better do some quick thinkin’ afore I whale the tar outta yuh. Are
yuh gonna answer that question or not?”

In the short interval in which he stood there undecided, a daring plan
leaped into Dick’s mind. He would feign submission. He would agree to
answer the question. Then when the time came—

“All—all right,” stammered Dick, simulating terror. “Wh-what do you
want?”

“Yuh know blamed well what I want. Back there at the post ’bout an hour
er two ago, you wuz figgerin’ on givin’ that danged mountie a whole
earful o’ information. I heerd yuh tellin’ these young friends o’ yourn.
Out with it!”

The arm was raised again and Dick shrank back, his eyes blinking.

“Don’t strike me and I’ll tell you,” he trembled. “I’ll tell everything.
I promise I will.”

Dick’s antagonist chuckled in triumph. It tickled his vanity to perceive
how easily he was winning his case. He had his victim almost frightened
out of his wits. This young stripling who stood before him hadn’t the
backbone of an eel. His arm dropped and he slouched forward, completely
off guard, and leered into Dick’s face.

It was the opportunity that Dick had been looking for. Crack! The blow
was a smashing one and wholly unexpected. The white man’s feet skidded
out from under him; his heavy frame struck the ground with a resounding
impact. Before the half-breeds had time to recover from their
astonishment, three fleeting forms shot through the opening and took the
turn in the trail, running at top speed.

A few moments later a bullet whizzed harmlessly over their heads. The
boys redoubled their efforts. A second turn in the trail revealed a
straggling party of Indians returning from the post. At sight of them,
Sandy let out a whoop of joy. Help was at hand. The danger was over.
Panting like three small locomotives, they sat down on a log and waved a
cheerful greeting as the Indians passed by.

When the last straggler had disappeared from view, Sandy turned and
smiled at his chum. There was approval and admiration in his eyes.

“Step over here and let me shake your hand. Wow! I’ll bet that fellow is
still wondering if it was really a tree that struck him. I’ll give you
all the credit this time, Dick. There’s no denying the fact: You
certainly answered his question!”



                               CHAPTER V
                         A MIDNIGHT CONFERENCE


Corporal Rand returned with his half-breed prisoner shortly after dark.
The man was sulky and refused to talk. Brought before Murky Nichols by
the mounted policeman, one might have thought from his actions and
demeanor that he had never before set eyes upon the prospector. He stood
absolutely unmoved in the presence of the person he had attempted to
murder only a few hours before. Rand’s voice rang out sharply:

“Here is the prisoner. Is he the man who attempted to stab you?”

In order to cover his confusion, Nichols rubbed his eyes with one large
hairy hand. His face was slightly pale and he rested his weight first on
one leg and then on the other.

“Well, corporal, I can’t exactly say,” he spoke hesitatingly. “He might
be the one an’ again he mightn’t. He does look sort o’ familiar, but I
see so many Nitchies ’round here. I couldn’t exactly swear to it.”

Corporal Rand smiled a little grimly.

“There were quite a number of people present in this room when the
attempt upon your life was made. It shouldn’t be very difficult to find
out whether or not this man is the right one.”

Nichols started forward with an exclamation of surprise. He was staring
at the prisoner now with an intentness that seemed scarcely to be
assumed. Excitedly, he turned towards Rand.

“By golly, I know now, corporal, where I seen him before,” he declared
in a loud and animated voice. “Up at the first portage on the Moose
River. He was workin’ there as a packer last summer when I come through.
I don’t think he’s the man we’re looking fer atall.”

The mounted policeman turned his head ever so slightly and winked
covertly at Dick, who, in company with Sandy and Toma, stood a few feet
away, silent spectator in the interesting tableau.

“You really don’t think he’s the man, then?”

“No, he ain’t,” Murky spoke positively. “When I stop to think about that
little affair this afternoon, an’ try to get a picture in my mind o’ the
pesky breed what made fer to knife me, there’s one thing that stands
out. He was a tall man—not short like this breed. I’m tall myself, an’ I
remember when I jumped back to clear myself o’ the knife, I looked
straight acrost in his eyes. Now, it stands to reason, corporal, that I
couldn’t o’ done that if it had o’ been this feller here. I’d o’ looked
straight over this man’s head, now wouldn’t I?”

With difficulty, Dick suppressed a laugh. Murky Nichols was noted for
his tall stature. Long and lanky, he stood well over six feet and four
inches in height. The half-breed was stockily built and inclined to be
short. The top of his head reached no higher than the point of Murky’s
protruding chin.

“Now that your memory has revived,” Corporal Rand spoke sarcastically,
“we may be able to make better progress.”

Dick strode forward with the intention of drawing the mounted
policeman’s attention to one detail of the case that had evidently been
overlooked. If the half-breed, who confronted Nichols, was not the
person who had attempted to stab him, how would it be possible to
explain that person’s hasty exit from the trading room immediately
following the attack? Also, as Dick was well aware, the prisoner was the
same man who had received the roll of bills from Murky earlier in the
day.

Dick paused in amazement. Before he could reach the policeman’s side, he
saw Rand stoop forward and commence to unlock the prisoner’s hand-cuffs.
Then, wonderingly, he watched the corporal move back and permit the
astonished half-breed to go free. His voice broke the startled silence
of the room:

“You’re at liberty to go now.”

“Sorry to cause yuh all this trouble,” Nichols apologised. “But you’re
doing the right thing, corporal. He ain’t the man what tried to knife
me.”

The policeman favored Murky with one swift appraising glance, nodded
absently and walked over and took Dick’s arm. Although he did not speak,
the light pressure of the corporal’s fingers told Dick that the
policeman wished to see him. With a mumbled apology to Sandy, Dick led
the way to his own room. When he had drawn up a chair for his guest, he
came immediately to the subject uppermost in his mind.

“I can’t understand—” he began.

The policeman held up one hand in an impatient gesture.

“You’re about to tell me that I have made a very serious blunder, aren’t
you, Dick?”

“We-well,” stammered that young man, “you can hardly blame me, corporal.
The man you just released is guilty. I didn’t see him when he attempted
to stab Murky, but I did see him when he escaped. In spite of what
Nichols told you, he did recognize the breed. Murky lied. He’s the same
one who received the roll of bills.”

Corporal Rand grinned as he looked across at Dick’s puzzled, serious
face.

“I’m well aware of that,” he said calmly. “I too am sure that the
half-breed was Murky’s assailant. But I had a good reason for releasing
him.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what reason?”

For a moment Rand did not reply. Apparently, he had become absorbed in
his own thoughts. He had relaxed in his chair, his head bent forward,
his eyes studying the tips of his brightly polished boots.

“Ever since I captured the half-breed this afternoon,” he spoke finally,
“I have been thinking that very little is to be gained by holding him in
custody. Nichols will not prefer a charge against him because he’s
afraid the fellow may squeal. The half-breed himself, realizing the
danger of his position, and who is really more clever than I had at
first supposed, is attempting to save himself by keeping silent. Even if
we subjected him to a severe grilling, I doubt very much whether we
could get anything out of him. It seems to me that the best way to deal
with the situation is to accept Murky’s assertion that we have captured
the wrong man.”

“But I should think that by letting the half-breed go, you’d lose a
chance to find out in what way Murky and the breed are associated.”

“No, I don’t think so,” replied the corporal. “On the contrary, I’m
quite sure we can find out more now that I have set the half-breed free.
I’m playing right into Murky’s hands. He’s laughing up his sleeve at
this very moment at the way he thinks he’s fooled the mounted police.
He’ll be inclined to be a little careless. We can look for immediate
developments.”

“What developments?” asked Dick.

“Murky’s first move will be to attempt to patch up his differences with
his former assailant. The half-breed’s motive for attacking Nichols can
easily be explained—money! No doubt, Murky had failed to live up to an
agreement.”

The policeman paused to fill his pipe.

“By watching the two of them, we will be pretty sure to find out
something,” he continued. “If I’m not badly mistaken, we will be able to
secure evidence against them within the next two or three days. I intend
to keep a close tab on the pair from now on.”

Dick stirred uneasily in his seat. There was a question he wanted to
ask, but he did not wish to appear too eager. During a lull in the
conversation, however, he finally managed to pluck up sufficient
courage.

“When would you like to have us start for the west coast?” he inquired.

“Have you seen Sandy and Toma?”

“Yes.”

“What did they say?”

“They’re as eager to go as I am,” replied Dick.

Corporal Rand drummed on the arm of his chair.

“I can see no reason why you shouldn’t start right away,” he declared.
“The only difficulty is that you will be compelled to take supplies for
the trip, and just now pack-horses would be inadvisable. A dog team
would be better, but there’s no snow.”

“We were talking about that,” Dick put in eagerly. “Why couldn’t we
travel on foot to Fort Wonderly and buy our team and supplies there?”

“A capital idea!” approved Rand.

“Can we start in the morning?” Dick asked impetuously.

“Yes.”

Dick jumped up, his eyes shining, and strode forward and grasped the
corporal’s hand.

“Sandy and Toma will be tickled pink!” he cried enthusiastically.

“And what about yourself?” smiled Rand.

Dick flushed to the roots of his hair. He grinned sheepishly.

“Why—why, I’m pleased, of course. Who wouldn’t be with a chance like
that. I can hardly wait until we start, corporal.”

He grew suddenly more serious.

“Have you any further instructions to give us before we go?”

Corporal Rand shook his head.

“There is nothing except what I have already told you,” he replied. “You
know the route. There are any number of trails leading south to the
Yellowhead Pass. After you have gone through the pass and have turned
north, you’ll find only one trail, very rough and difficult, which will
take you in a northwesterly direction to Fort Pennington. From there
your course will be straight west to the Pacific.”

“And there—on the coast, I mean—our real work will commence,” Dick
smiled in anticipation.

Corporal Rand regarded the statement with approval.

“_Work_ is the right name for it,” he assured him. “I haven’t the least
doubt but that you’ll all become discouraged long before you find the
cache. In fact, you may never find it. You’ll encounter dangers and
difficulties on every hand.”

“Do you think the cache will be guarded?” asked Dick.

“Almost sure to be,” Rand replied. “Probably by some Indian or
half-breed. You’ll be compelled to move cautiously. If I were you, I
wouldn’t take too many chances. No telling what sort of a mess you’ll
get in, if you aren’t incessantly on the alert.”

Dick would have liked to ask the policeman a few more questions, but
decided not to as he observed the other sleepily consulting his watch.
The hour was getting late. The sounds from the trading room, which a
short time before could be heard faintly, had now entirely ceased. The
place had become enveloped in a deep and slumberous silence.

Corporal Rand suppressed a yawn, rose slowly to his feet.

“It’s time we were both in bed,” he announced. “If either one of us
expects to get anything accomplished tomorrow, it will be necessary to
secure some sleep. I’ve had a rather hard day myself.”

With a friendly nod and a smile, he turned and walked out of the room.
Dick stood in the doorway and watched him for a moment, a happy
expression on his face. Rand’s figure continued down the hallway. A few
feet farther on was the corporal’s room. Dick stepped back to re-enter
his own chamber, when, to his surprise, he perceived that the policeman
did not even pause in front of his own door, but went on instead to the
end of the hallway and immediately disappeared through a door which
opened to the yard outside.

“He’s gone out to see if his horse is bedded down for the night,”
thought Dick.

For some reason he could not himself explain, Dick stood in his own
doorway, awaiting the corporal’s return. The minutes passed by. A
quarter of an hour elapsed—and still no sign of the mounted policeman.
Growing impatient, Dick commenced pacing back and forth along the
hallway. Presently, moved by an unexplained impulse, he dashed into his
room, seized his cap and followed in the footsteps of Rand.

It was exceedingly dark outside. A heavy mist moistened his face as he
stared through the enveloping gloom. He groped forward until he had
found the path that led to the stable, then hurried along it, wondering
what had happened to detain the corporal.

Forty or fifty yards from the house he stopped short in consternation.
From his right came the sound of voices. Hesitating for a brief moment,
he struck forth again in the direction of the sound, walking on tiptoes,
his pulses pounding. Quite unexpectedly, there loomed before him the
dark shape of the company’s warehouse. It was a large, square building,
constructed entirely of logs. Here he came to an abrupt pause and
crouched down close to the wall, trembling at his own audacity.

Immediately around the corner from him were two men, talking in guarded
tones. Dick listened intently.

“Yuh can do this thing a hull lot better than I can,” drawled the voice
of Murky Nichols. “Yuh gotta fix it up somehow jes’ as soon as yuh
possibly can. Tomorrow mornin’ ain’t none too soon, La Qua, ’cause there
ain’t no tellin’ what that danged breed’ll be up to next.”

“Yuh mean yuh want me to get him outta the way?”

“If there ain’t no other way—yes!” calmly answered Murky. “We can’t
afford to take no more chances with him. I gotta know he’s gonna get
right down to business an’ no more foolin’. Yuh can tell him we’ll give
him fifty dollars more fer the next bunch o’ pelts he brings down. I
won’t go a dime higher ’an that an’ if he squawks I’m givin’ yuh
permission to pick him off any time.”

“Should o’ done that long time ago,” growled the other. “Yuh can’t trust
him. Yuh ain’t the only one he’s nearly got with that blamed knife o’
his. He nearly killed one o’ my best packers less ’an a week ago in a
scrap over a card game. I tell yuh, I hate to have him around.”

“Jes’ the same, he comes in pretty handy,” Murky Nichols declared. “Take
the case of Daddy McInnes, fer example. None o’ yuh fellers would o’
dared to do what he done. Both you an’ Bremner was in the party guardin’
the pass when the ol’ man came through.”

“I was the first one who seen him,” protested the other hotly. “It was
me what told this breed, Testola, to go after him.”

“Mebbe so, but yuh wouldn’t o’ done it yourself.”

Dick’s eyes had widened with understanding and horror. He crouched low,
scarcely daring to breathe. A feeling of nausea was followed by a surge
of anger and disgust. The two men were vicious and evil—absolutely
heartless. At first, he had not recognized the voice of Murky’s
companion, but a certain quality in the tone, a peculiar inflection,
stirred presently his groping memory. It was the voice of the
red-bearded man—the person who had attempted to stop him on the trail!

A short silence was broken by Nichols’ question:

“When do yuh expect to be ready to send the next shipment?”

“It’s about ready now,” came the quick answer. “I was thinkin’ o’
sendin’ it through tomorrow night. If we do, I’m gonna start from the
same place I did last time—the little shack near the foot o’ Settlement
Mountain. We’ll have eight pack-horses, belonging’ tuh Fred Hart, an’
five o’ our own.”

“Has Hart got much stuff this time?” inquired Murky.

“’Bout three thousand pounds. The rest o’ the shipment belongs to us.”

Dick rose cautiously to his feet and commenced to beat a panicky
retreat. It would never do to be caught eavesdropping. If he fell into
Murky’s hands at that moment, his life would be forfeit.

Careful as he was, it seemed to Dick that his footsteps must have been
heard plainly. A moment later this feeling became a certainty. There
came to his ears a startled, anxious exclamation from one of the men.

“Did yuh hear that?”

“It must have been the wind,” reassured the other.

His heart beating wildly, Dick dropped to the ground and wormed his way
forward on his hands and knees. A few yards farther on, he sprang to his
feet again and bolted away in the direction of the house. Suddenly there
appeared immediately ahead the shadowy figure of a man. Dick stopped
short in his tracks, shaking in every limb.

His retreat was cut off!



                               CHAPTER VI
                           MURKY TAKES A HAND


“Is that you, Dick?”

The voice was Corporal Rand’s. Dick’s sigh of relief was more like an
explosive gasp. He tottered forward a few steps and grasped the sleeve
of the policeman’s coat, clinging there like a person who had found a
friendly haven in the center of a whirlpool. Gradually he recovered his
self-possession.

“Did you see them too?” he asked.

“See whom?” demanded the corporal, whispering. “What do you mean? What
are you doing out here? I thought I’d left you in bed.”

“I’ll explain,” answered Dick, “but first we’d better go to my room.
We’re not safe here.”

Entering the house a few moments later, they made their way in silence
along the hallway and entered Dick’s room. Here the light from the oil
lamp, which stood on the table, seemed very bright and cheerful to their
eyes, which had become accustomed to the intense darkness outside. Rand
started forward in surprise.

“Good Heavens, my boy, you’re as white as a ghost! What’s happened? What
were you doing outside?”

“You were gone so long I followed you,” explained Dick. “What detained
you?”

“Went out to the stable to look after my horse. I put hay in the manger
and then gave him a sheaf of oats. I curried and bedded him down. Of
course, it took a little time.”

“And you didn’t hear voices—”

“No,” Rand replied, “I didn’t hear anything out-of-the-ordinary until
after I had left the stable and heard you running.”

“I started out for the stable myself,” said Dick, “but in the darkness I
took the wrong path, the one toward the warehouse. I heard someone
talking and I thought it was you at first, but as I came closer I made
out the voices of Murky Nichols and a man named La Qua. I have some
startling information to give you, corporal.”

“Good boy! What is it, Dick?”

“The outlaws are sending a pack-train through Blind Man’s Pass tomorrow
night.”

Rand became visibly excited. A look of amazement swept over his face,
then, to Dick’s surprise, he moved forward quickly and blew out the
light.

“A light here may arouse their suspicions if they’re still outside.
We’ll sit in the dark for a while. But go on, Dick—I’m interested. What
else did you overhear?”

“The pack-train will set out from the vicinity of Settlement
Mountain—wherever that is. There’s a small cabin there. La Qua said
there would be thirteen horses in the train. They’re taking through a
little freight for Hart, about three thousand pounds. The rest of the
stuff belongs to Murky and his confederates.”

Corporal Rand whistled softly.

“It’s our chance. You’re a jewel, Dick! Information like this is what
we’ve been looking for for months,” exulted the mounted policeman. “I
happen to know where Settlement Mountain is. Thirty miles from here.
Between Big Lake and the Settlement House River.”

The mounted policeman struck a match in order to consult his watch.

“It’s nearly one o’clock now,” he declared. “No sleep for me tonight.
Your information has upset all my plans, Dick, and yours too. Just as
soon as I think the coast is clear, I’m going to steal out, saddle my
horse and ride over to see Sergeant Richardson.”

“What about our trip to the west coast?” Dick asked. “Wouldn’t it be
foolish for us to go by way of the Yellowhead Pass now that there’s a
chance to follow Murky’s pack-train and discover the much shorter route
through Blind Man’s Pass?”

“Yes, it certainly would,” agreed the corporal. “That’s why I just said
that your information has upset all our plans. We must make new ones
right away to fit the circumstances. Also it will be necessary for us to
move hurriedly and secretly. Instead of sending you south tomorrow
morning—or this morning, to be exact—I’m going to ask the three of you
to start as quickly as possible for the Big Lake country, which is
almost due west of here. You’d better pick out three fast ponies and
head straight for Wandley’s post—you know where that is?”

Dick had often heard of Wandley’s post, although he had never been there
himself. Wandley was a free trader, well known in the North, having for
many years conducted a thriving trade with the Indians. His store or
trading post was situated a few miles south of Big Lake.

“Yes,” said Dick in answer to Rand’s question, “I know where it is. I
met Wandley himself about a year ago. It’s about twenty-five miles over
there, and you follow the Settlement House River trail.”

“Right!”

Rand stepped closer to Dick and spoke in an undertone:

“Sometime before noon today, Constable Pearly—the new man I told you
about—will be at Wandley’s. I’ll give you a message for him. This
message will explain who you are and why I have sent you. The four of
you, Constable Pearly, Sandy, Toma and yourself will continue along the
Settlement House trail until you come to a bend in the river. At this
point you’ll leave the trail, strike straight off through the woods and
make camp at the lower end of the bend just above the river. Here you
will remain in concealment until Sergeant Richardson and I join
you—sometime before dark.”

“What will we do then?” Dick asked a little breathlessly.

“That will depend—” the corporal hesitated, “upon circumstances and
Sergeant Richardson. He will be in command—not I. But I imagine, at
least it is very reasonable to suppose, that we’ll start at once for the
outlaws’ rendezvous, their meeting place near the foot of Settlement
Mountain.”

“But won’t it spoil everything if the outlaws see us?” put in Dick.

“Of course! It’s exactly what we don’t want to happen. We’ll be
compelled to move very carefully. Our only chance of finding Blind Man’s
Pass will be to follow La Qua and his pack-train at a safe distance. We
mustn’t be seen.”

“I suppose you’ll arrest La Qua and his men as soon as they get to the
pass?”

“Possibly. I think a better plan would be to follow them straight
through to the coast—to the big cache they must have there. That is a
suggestion I’m going to make to Sergeant Richardson.”

Dick’s face fell. He was keenly disappointed. The trip to the west
coast, the search for the cache of stolen fur, had suddenly, because of
this new development, gone glimmering. Constable Pearly and Corporal
Rand would probably be the ones now chosen for this task. There was too
much at stake, the danger attending the task of following the outlaws
was too great to permit of any bungling. Here was a job that required
older heads and more experience.

“I guess that lets us out,” said Dick disconsolately. “Sergeant
Richardson wouldn’t hear of Sandy, Toma and I going out there
alone—following the pack-train, I mean.”

Corporal Rand took Dick’s arm and gave it a friendly squeeze.

“I’m afraid not. But don’t feel badly about it, Dick, we may have other
important work for you. If I happen to be the one chosen to trail along
after La Qua, I’ll speak to the sergeant about you and the chances are
that he may consent to the three of you accompanying me. I’ll promise to
do all I can.”

“That will be splendid of you,” Dick blurted out. “All of us will
appreciate your kindness. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Don’t try,” laughed the policeman. “Everything will be all right, I
assure you. Where are your two friends sleeping?”

“They’re bunking in the room next to the factor’s,” answered Dick.
“Shall I go and wake them?”

“Wait until I go. First of all, I’d like to be sure about the ponies.
Unless you have them, you’ll never be able to get over to Wandley’s in
time to meet Pearly.”

“Sandy and I have a pony each,” Dick assured him. “They’re out in the
stable now with four others, which belong to Factor MacClaren. We’ll
pick out one of Mr. MacClaren’s horses for Toma. If you say the word, we
can saddle-up and be away from here in less than fifteen minutes.”

“That’s the spirit!” Corporal Rand declared. “However, it will not be
necessary for you to start as soon as that. I think you’d better remain
for about three-quarters of an hour after I leave. It might be a good
idea to take emergency rations and an extra blanket or two. In eight or
ten hours there may be a decided change in the temperature. It is always
best to be prepared.”

The mounted policeman tip-toed softly over to the table, struck a match
and re-lit the lamp.

“Now, Dick,” he spoke hurriedly, “I’m going to leave you. In a very few
minutes I’ll be hitting the trail. I want you to remember everything
I’ve told you—but above all, be cautious and careful. When the time
comes, wake Sandy and Toma and make as little noise as possible. Unless
it is absolutely necessary, don’t disturb Factor MacClaren.” He turned
and held out his hand. “Good-bye, and good luck to you!”

“Good-bye,” said Dick, accompanying the corporal as far as the door. “I
hope everything goes well with you.”

A moment later, the door had closed behind the trim, athletic figure and
Dick was left with his mind whirling confusedly. The events of the
night, incident following incident so closely, formed a chaotic picture,
which passed in review before his weary eyes. With difficulty, he
stifled a yawn at the same time looking a wee bit covetously at the
clean, white bed at the far side of the room.

“I’ll wait here for ten or fifteen minutes before I steal over to wake
Toma and Sandy. Gee, I’m so tired I don’t even dare to sit down.”

He began a restless pacing back and forth across the room, occasionally
glancing up at the little clock that stood on a shelf near the door. The
minutes seemed interminable. A cold sweat broke out upon his face, his
hands twitched nervously.

“Still five minutes more,” sighed the impatient young man. “This
suspense is terrible. I hope—”

A slight noise in the hallway outside riveted his attention. He swung
about on his heel, took a few steps forward, then stood stock still,
shaking with excitement. It seemed as if some ghostly hand was opening
the door. Slowly, a few inches at a time, it swung on its hinges, and
presently the bearded, uncouth face of Murky Nichols appeared through
the aperture.

“Stayin’ up kind o’ late, ain’t yuh?” he drawled out in an insinuating
voice.

Dick’s two hands went up to his chin. He made a gesture of pain.

“I’ve been up all night with this pesky toothache,” he said a little
shakily. “Nothing that I can do has seemed to help very much.”

Murky pushed his way into the room, his evil mouth twisted into a sneer.
At the same time, Dick dropped back, edging his way over near the table,
where his rifle stood. Murky’s voice broke an interval of silence.

“I shore feel sorry for yuh, young feller,” he grimaced. “Toothache
ain’t no fun. Ain’t anything I can do, is there?”

“No,” answered Dick, “it will stop aching presently, I hope. Thank you,
just the same.”

As he spoke, he glanced furtively at the clock. It was now twenty
minutes after one—time to wake Sandy and Toma. In less than half an hour
they were due to start for the Wandley post. His problem now was to get
rid of Nichols. On some pretext or other he must induce Murky to leave
the room. But how?

Dick groaned inwardly as the prospector yanked forward a chair and sat
down. All the while his black, penetrating eyes were studying him
closely. His manner and expression showed only too plainly that he was
not in the least deceived by Dick’s lie.

“If I can’t help yuh, I can keep yuh company,” he remarked, his thin
lips curling up at the corners in a faint indication of a smile.

“O, no, that won’t be necessary,” Dick hastened to tell him. “You must
be tired yourself. It has stopped paining me a little now and I think
I’ll pop into bed. You’d better go to your own room, Murky.”

With exasperating slowness, Nichols fumbled in a pocket for tobacco and
pipe. He stretched out his long legs at the end of a few minutes,
puffing contentedly. Evidently, he had no intention of moving just then.

Dick glanced at the clock again. He had grown desperate—and angry. Back
and forth he paced, one hand held to his chin, trying to think of some
way in which he might outwit the imperturbable prospector. Anger,
finally, overcame his caution and he stopped short in front of the
lanky, indolent form.

“I’ll have to ask you to get out,” he heard himself saying. “I’m going
to bed.”

Nichols looked up into Dick’s indignant face, grinned exasperatingly,
and rose lazily to his feet.

“Well, all right, if yuh say so. I jes’ happened to see your light under
the door an’ I thought I’d drop in. Feel kind o’ nervous myself after
what happened this afternoon. Don’t care atall ’bout goin’ tuh bed.
Guess I’ll walk up an’ down the hall fer a while.”

Still grinning, he opened the door and went out. That he actually
intended to remain in the hallway for a time, there could be no doubt.
His suspicions had become aroused and he had shown by his actions that
he was frankly skeptical of Dick’s story. Standing guard outside, he had
his youthful suspect almost as completely under surveillance as if he
had remained in the room.

Dick bolted and locked his door and made ready for his departure. Then
he blew out the light and sat down on the edge of the bed—waiting! Tears
of rage and exasperation welled into his eyes. They were delayed now—and
no immediate prospect of a start. How long would Nichols keep watch in
the hallway? Dick gritted his teeth and swore vengeance upon the wily
outlaw.

The wind, rattling at the window, suddenly gave him an idea. The window!
Funny he hadn’t thought about that before! It would be a simple task to
raise the sash and slip around the building to Sandy’s and Toma’s room.
Once there he would tap lightly on the pane outside until Toma, ever a
restless sleeper, would come to admit him.

A grim smile played around the corners of his mouth as he thought about
Murky standing guard just outside his door to prevent his escape. He was
half-chuckling to himself as he tugged at the sash there in the
darkness. It went up with only a slight squeak, and Dick slipped through
the opening with a wildly exultant heart.

Hurrying around the house, a few moments later he stood just outside the
sleeping boys’ window. With his bared knuckles, he wrapped softly on a
square of glass, continuing intermittently until a shadow appeared on
the opposite side, and a sleepy voice demanded to know what was the
matter.

“Open up!” Dick called softly.

Toma complied willingly enough, and it was not long before Dick stood
within the room.

Whispering a word of warning to the young Indian guide, he pulled a
blanket from the bed and threw it down in front of the door. Then he lit
the lamp. In night attire, rubbing his eyes sleepily, Toma regarded his
friend in wonderment. What sort of trick was this? Dick’s and Sandy’s
pranks were well known to him, and, judging from the broad smile that
quickly lit up his usually mobile features, it was apparent that he
believed that Sandy was to be made the victim of another practical joke.
However, Dick hurriedly disillusioned him.

“No fooling this time, Toma,” he whispered into the Indian’s ear. “It
may be a life or death matter. The police want our help. We haven’t a
minute to lose.”

“What we do?” asked Toma.

“We’re to carry a message to Constable Pearly at Wandley’s post. It is
nearly two in the morning now. We must get there before noon.”

“How we go so fast like that?” Toma wanted to know.

“Ponies,” answered Dick. “Wake Sandy up while I gather together a few
things we may need. If Sandy starts talking before he is fully awake,
shove a pillow in his mouth. Get busy! We’ll have to hurry!”



                              CHAPTER VII
                             WANDLEY’S POST


The boys reached Wandley’s Post shortly after twelve o’clock and just in
time to intercept Constable Pearly, who had arrived early and was
saddling up in preparation for his departure. Their ponies covered with
mud and lather, Dick and his two companions dashed into the compound and
came to an abrupt halt not twenty feet from the policeman himself, who
had come rushing to the door of the stable at the first sound of
clattering hoofs.

Dick stumbled from his mount and limped forward with the message in his
hands.

“From Corporal Rand at Fort Good Faith,” he explained, presenting the
letter. “I’m Dick Kent. These are my two friends, Sandy MacClaren and
John Toma. At Corporal Rand’s request we rode over from Fort Good Faith
this morning.”

The corporal acknowledged the introduction with a friendly smile and a
hand-clasp for each of the three mud-bespattered messengers. Then he
tore up the envelope. As he read its contents, a slight frown settled
and overspread his face.

“This is important news. Thanks very much for bringing it over. I see
that the three of you are to go with me.”

“Yes; that’s what we understood,” Dick replied.

Pearly rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“It’s only a few miles from here to our destination. You’ll have plenty
of time to rest and get something to eat before we start.”

Sandy greeted this declaration with an exclamation of approval. The boys
were ravenously hungry and so stiff and sore that they could scarcely
walk. Loss of sleep and the hard ride from Fort Good Faith had worn
Dick’s endurance to a shred. He was nearly tottering as he reached out
for the bridle-reins of his pony and led the fagged and foot-sore little
beast through the open door of the stable.

A few minutes later, having cared for their tired mounts, they
accompanied Constable Pearly to Wandley’s trading room. Just outside the
door, Dick, happening to glance through the window, drew back suddenly
with a cry of surprise. Seated at one of the tables was the burly figure
of La Qua, and immediately opposite, their heads bent forward in
discussion, were the two half-breeds who had played such a conspicuous
part in the affairs of the previous day. Dick seized Pearly’s arm, just
as the latter reached for the latch-string.

“We can’t go in there, constable,” he declared excitedly, his voice
hoarse and tremulous. “Quick! Let’s get away from here. If we step
inside, it’ll spoil everything.”

In spite of Sandy’s remonstrances and the policeman’s puzzled and
questioning look, Dick hurriedly led the way back to the compound before
he could be induced to offer a single word of explanation.

“It’s La Qua,” he broke forth eagerly, “the man who will be in charge of
the pack-train Murky is sending over to Blind Man’s Pass tonight. He was
sitting in there at one of the tables. He’s already suspicious of me,
and it would never do to meet him again now.”

“Are you sure it’s La Qua?” Pearly wished to know.

Dick nodded his head emphatically.

“Yes, I am sure. He was over at Good Faith yesterday—in fact, until one
o’clock this morning—consulting with Murky Nichols. One of the two men
with him is the half-breed Corporal Rand arrested for attempting to stab
Nichols.”

“Stab Nichols!” Pearly’s face lit up with sudden interest. “I hadn’t
heard about it. When did this happen?”

“Yesterday afternoon,” Dick replied. “I thought perhaps Rand had
mentioned it to you in his letter.”

“No,” answered Pearly, “he had too many other things to tell me. Most of
his message was taken up with instructions which we are to follow as
soon as we leave this post.”

Sandy’s dispirited face clouded still more as the moments passed. Unable
longer to withstand the gnawing demands of his stomach, he stepped
forward and demanded:

“What about something to eat? Just because that blamed outlaw is sitting
in there, is no reason why we should all go hungry. Constable Pearly,
isn’t there something you can suggest?”

“Certainly,” smiled the constable, “I can easily arrange that. But first
we’d better find a more suitable hiding place than this.”

“What about the loft in the stable?” proposed Dick.

“As good a place as any,” Pearly decided, glancing across at Sandy’s wan
and disconsolate features.

“I’ll hustle back to the trading room and purchase a few things for you
to eat. While I’m doing that, the three of you can go up to the loft.”

The boys entered the barn and climbed the rickety ladder to the floor
above. Crossing over to a large pile of hay, they flung themselves down
to await the constable’s return. It was not long before he reappeared.

With a sigh of intense satisfaction, Sandy reached out for the packages
Pearly had handed over and began dividing their contents.

“I had a good look at this man, La Qua, and the three half-breeds,” the
policeman informed them. “From what little of their conversation I was
able to overhear, it is evident that they are about to leave Wandley’s.
They’ll probably proceed at once to Settlement Mountain.”

“Will they follow the same trail as we will?” asked Dick.

Constable Pearly nodded. “Yes, there’s only one route which leads off in
that direction. They will go directly past the bend in the river, where
we are to await the coming of Richardson and Rand. Our best plan is to
remain here until La Qua and his two men leave. Then we can follow them
leisurely. As I said before, we have only a few miles to go. I think
we’d better not take our horses with us. I’ll make arrangements with
Wandley himself to have them looked after.”

Pearly excused himself, and a short time later the boys could hear his
measured tread across the frozen ground outside.

“He’ll keep a sharp eye on La Qua,” decided Sandy. “I don’t imagine the
outlaw will stay here very long if they are really planning to set out
with the pack-train tonight.”

“Constable Pearly him pretty good policeman,” said Toma.

“Yes, he’s the new man from the Peace River detachment,” Dick explained.
“Corporal Rand spoke highly of him.”

Sandy yawned and stretched out his legs. Since eating, it was quite
apparent that he felt much better. Eyes twinkling, he looked across at
Dick.

“I’m beginning to feel like a new man myself. I’ll be ready to start any
time. I honestly believe, Dick, that I’m going to enjoy this adventure
almost as much as I would the trip to the coast. Hope nothing happens to
prevent a change in the outlaws’ plans to start for the pass tonight.”

“I don’t believe anything is likely to occur now,” responded Dick. “La
Qua seems to be very anxious to return to Settlement Mountain. I’ll be
very much surprised if the pack-train doesn’t leave there soon after
dark.”

The boys were so busily engaged in discussing the proposed trip that
they did not hear Constable Pearly when he stole silently up the ladder
and emerged to the loft. Dick turned quickly at the policeman’s
approach, then started in surprise. The constable’s face was grave, his
manner a little furtive. A slight frown had etched more deeply the lines
in his forehead. As he came over to where the three boys sat, he raised
a finger to his lips.

“I can’t understand it,” he whispered. “The two half-breeds have gone!
But that isn’t all! Murky Nichols rode up to the door of the trading
room a few minutes ago, and he and La Qua are conferring now just
outside. I wonder what it means?”

Dick’s face fell. Here was an unlooked-for turn of events. A feeling of
disappointment swept over him. So Murky had become alarmed and had left
Fort Good Faith as soon as he had discovered that he, Dick, had eluded
him. Was he here to instruct La Qua not to send the pack-train of stolen
fur through the pass?

In as few words as possible, Dick informed Pearly of the incidents of
the previous night, describing Murky’s suspicious attitude when he had
forced his way into Dick’s room.

“Do you think,” he concluded, “that Nichols has come expressly for the
purpose of warning La Qua?”

The constable folded his arms and stood for a short time, his brow
wrinkled in thought.

“It is hard to guess what will be the outcome of this visit,” he
answered finally, “or to know definitely Murky’s purpose. But it is easy
to see that he came here on some matter of extreme importance. His horse
nearly dropped from exhaustion as he rode in. Its flanks were steaming
wet, spattered with mud, while under its belly were two horrible welts
which the brute had inflicted with his spurs. At any other time, I would
have arrested Murky on the spot for cruelty to a poor dumb animal.”

As he spoke, Pearly’s eyes flashed with indignation.

“He’s driven furiously all the way from Fort Good Faith,” he went on.
“He would never have done that unless the occasion warranted the
effort.”

“I guess we’d better remain in hiding,” trembled Sandy. “Do you think
we’ll be safe here, constable?”

A ghost of a smile played across the policeman’s weather-tanned
features.

“If you mean ‘safe from detection’—I doubt it. Sooner or later some one
is certain to enter this loft and will find you here. Murky may lead his
horse into the stable at any moment.”

“Even if he does, he may not come to the loft,” reasoned Dick. “There is
plenty of hay piled up in the stable below.”

“But what about your ponies? Wouldn’t he recognize them?”

Dick and Sandy gasped in unison. Toma bounded to his feet with a
guttural exclamation of dismay.

“Nichols be sure know ponies right away,” he declared excitedly.

“What do you think we’d better do?” Sandy quavered.

“Get your horses out of the stable as quickly as possible,” Pearly
replied. “This young man here”—indicating Toma—“can give me a hand. Come
on! We’ll have to hurry. You two,” motioning Dick and Sandy to remain
seated, “will remain here. I’ll let you know just as soon as the coast
is clear. I may possibly find another hiding place.”

“They’ll take them out through the back door,” said Dick.

A noise below, followed by the creaking of a door, indicated to the boys
that Constable Pearly and Toma were taking out the ponies. Soon after
another sound came from the front of the building. Almost immediately,
Dick heard someone walking across the stable floor and the gruff voices
of La Qua and Nichols.

Although they listened intently, neither Dick nor Sandy could hear any
of the conversation. The rumbling tones died away presently. A tense
moment had passed. Sandy rose and tip-toed across the loft, endeavoring
to peep out through a narrow slit between the logs. He was about to turn
to come back, when he became visibly excited, motioning frantically to
his chum.

“La Qua has taken out his horse!” he whispered breathlessly to Dick, as
soon as the other had joined him.

“Is Murky going with him?” asked Dick.

Sandy stepped back to permit the other to look through the tiny
aperture.

“No,” he answered. “From the look of it, Murky intends to remain here.
La Qua is probably going on to Settlement Mountain.”

Dick caught sight of a fleeting roan, upon which was astride the
slouching, unkempt figure of La Qua. Then abruptly he was startled by
the sound of the door of the stable creaking open again, and a few
moments later, heavy steps upon the ladder, leading to the loft.

For one brief moment, Dick’s heart leaped to his throat. Had Murky
Nichols learned of their presence there? Or was it Constable Pearly and
Toma? He and Sandy stood shaking with suppressed excitement, their eyes
riveted on the trap-door. Both breathed a sigh of relief as the flushed
face of the mounted policeman appeared through the opening. Behind him,
came Toma. Dick and Sandy rushed forward excitedly to meet them.

“Do you think La Qua is going on to Settlement Mountain?” Dick asked.

The constable paused to brush the dust from his tunic. A thoughtful
expression shadowed his face.

“This thing is getting more and more complicated,” he finally broke
forth. “I don’t know what to make of it. If La Qua has really gone on to
Settlement Mountain in anticipation of the trip tonight, I can’t
understand why Nichols did not accompany him.”

“Perhaps he is here to watch our movements,” said Dick. “He may have
heard of our arrival.”

Pearly compressed his lips and looked searchingly at the three boys.

“Did any one see you when you rode up?” he demanded.

Sandy and Dick both shook their heads, but Toma—it was quite
apparent—had important information to impart.

“I see ’em two fellows walk away from compound just when we ride up,”
came his startling revelation. “Me no sure, but I think mebbe one fellow
him white man.”

“Where did they go?” snapped Pearly.

“Don’t know,” answered the young Indian guide. “When we get close I see
’em no more. Mebbe they walk around building and go in trading room.”

A deep silence followed this last statement. Pearly regarded Dick with
questioning eyes. Sandy rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Do you suppose that it was La Qua and one of the half-breeds, and that
they recognized us?”

The constable made an impatient gesture.

“This is all conjecture and will get us nowhere. We have no way of
determining whether the outlaws know you are here or not. The thing to
do is to assume that they haven’t seen you, and lay our plans
accordingly. Toma and I have staked out the ponies about a hundred yards
from here in a shallow coulee that slopes down to the shore of
Settlement House River. Your next move will be to get over there without
Murky seeing you.”

“But what will we do with the ponies now?” Sandy interposed.

“I’m coming to that. As I previously informed you, I had intended to ask
Wandley to look after them. That is out of the question now with Nichols
here. They must remain hidden from his inquisitive eyes—kept out of
sight entirely. The only thing I can think of just now is to take them
with us to the meeting place near the bend of the river.”

The constable paused for a brief moment before he resumed:

“Please listen to me closely. I’m going back to the trading room and
strike up an acquaintance with our friend, Mr. Nichols. I’ll engage him
in conversation for ten or fifteen minutes. That will give you plenty of
time to make your way to the coulee undetected. Wait for five or six
minutes after I go before you leave the loft.”

“When we get to the coulee,” inquired Dick, “we’re to wait for you. Is
that the understanding?”

“Yes,” nodded Pearly, turning to go, “I’ll rejoin you there in half an
hour. I’ll ride my own horse over.”

Without further word, the policeman disappeared through the opening
again, much to the amusement of Sandy.

“He must be tired climbing up and down that ladder,” he grinned. “Is
this the fourth or the fifth time he’s been up here?”

“This is no joking matter,” Dick reproved him. “Sandy, I’ve left my
watch at home. Have you got yours?”

“Yes,” answered Sandy, feeling in his pocket.

“Better hold it in your hand until the time comes for us to slip away
from here.”

Sandy followed out the suggestion with alacrity. Silence fell over the
little party, a silence so deep that Dick could have sworn that he could
hear the faint ticking of his chum’s watch. An interminable period
seemed to have passed before Sandy raised his arm.

“Time to go!” he whispered eagerly.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                             THE AMBUSCADE


Toma led the way to the coulee where the ponies were picketed. On the
road thither they had met no one, and were in consequence in high
spirits as they pushed forward through the trees, entered the draw, and
came finally to the screen of thicket beyond which the horses munched
contentedly on the dry grass covering the space around them.

Dick noted with deep concern that the wind had veered round more to the
north and that the weather had become appreciably cooler. As yet there
was no hint of a storm. Scarcely a cloud could be seen across the blue
expanse of sky.

Sandy drew his coat more tightly about him and sat down in the shelter
of a small thicket, while Dick and Toma began a restless pacing back and
forth in the cleared space near the ponies. They were thus occupied when
the sound of clattering hoofs heralded the approach of Constable Pearly.

A moment later he drew up in front of them, smiling down cheerily.

“I guess we might as well start,” he declared.

“As soon as you boys have saddled up, we’ll strike off along the
Settlement River trail. We have plenty of time and can proceed slowly.”

The boys hastened to obey. Presently they drew away from the coulee,
keeping well within the shelter of spruce and jack-pine bordering the
river. A few hundred yards farther on they picked up the faint thread of
a trail, which soon brought them to the main travelled road. Here, two
abreast, Constable Pearly and Toma in the lead, they jaunted leisurely
along.

Conversation lagged. For some unknown reason, the little party rode
under a cloud of dejection. Pearly’s face had become set and stern;
Sandy slumped in his saddle; Toma’s eyes wandered furtively from side to
side; while Dick himself was obsessed by a sense of foreboding. This
feeling persisted as they continued slowly on their way. Strive as he
would against it, he could not shake off the thought of impending
disaster. It was as if the gray spectre of some great trouble followed
in their rear.

Dick wondered if this unpleasant phantasm had come as the result of his
nervous strain and lack of sleep, or if it was really a warning. Ought
he to tell Constable Pearly? Pressing his heels against his pony’s
flanks, he cantered up behind the policeman for the purpose of doing so,
but on second thought decided against it. Pearly would probably laugh at
him and with just cause, for his fears were groundless. It was folly
even to think about it. He must endeavor to get a better grip of
himself.

A moment later, he wished he had acted upon his first impulse. The
constable suddenly threw his hands high in the air and dropped from his
saddle. The reverberating report of a rifle, a puff of smoke from the
side of the trail, the fleeting glimpse of someone hurtling away through
the underbrush—all were vivid impressions, indelibly traced across
Dick’s mind. With a snort of fear, his horse had thrown himself back so
abruptly that its rider had nearly become unseated. Dick sprang to the
ground just as Toma, who had already dismounted, stooped over Pearly’s
prostrate form.

“Is he dead!” gasped Dick.

Sandy rode up, his cheeks ashen with horror, a revolver gripped in one
trembling hand.

“The half-breed!” he faltered. “The same man who tried to stab Nichols.
I saw him!”

“The yellow, despicable cur!”

As he spoke, Dick placed two hands gently under the constable’s broad
shoulders, and supporting the wounded man’s head against his own body,
raised the limp, but still breathing, form to a more upright position.

“He may be mortally wounded,” he declared in a stricken voice. “We must
do something quickly. We’ll have to take him back to Wandley’s post.”

Toma quickly unbuttoned the policeman’s tunic. A red stain colored the
cloth beneath. With his hunting knife, the young guide slit open the
shirt and undergarment, revealing the wound itself—a dangerous one, a
few inches below the right arm-pit.

As Dick well knew, every member of the mounted police force was required
to carry a first-aid kit. Acting upon this knowledge, he and Toma
hurriedly went through the stricken man’s pockets until they discovered
the object of their search. Absorbent cotton, bandages, adhesive tape
and a small bottle of disinfectant were yanked out of the container and
placed in handy proximity. Toma began the work of dressing the wound
with the calm deliberateness of an experienced surgeon. At the end of a
few minutes he straightened up, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Mebbe by do that we help save his life,” he murmured hopefully. “Next
thing—how we get him back to Wandley’s? Constable Pearly him too big to
tie on horse. What you think?”

The boys looked from one to the other in dismay. How indeed, was this
imperative task to be accomplished. Dick thrust his hands disconsolately
in his pockets, unable to think of any adequate plan. Sandy dismounted
and strode forward.

“Do you suppose that we could place him on one of the smaller ponies,”
he suggested, “and support him by riding on either side—three horses
abreast? It seems to be the only way. We could link our arms in his and
drive carefully.”

Dick and Toma remained thoughtful for a moment, considering Sandy’s
plan.

“It may work,” Dick decided. “At any rate, we must do something
quickly.”

To raise the limp and heavy figure to the saddle proved to be a
difficult task. The ponies snorted and swung back. Dick was almost in
despair before they finally succeeded in getting the wounded man in
place and had made a start for Wandley’s post. He rode on one side of
the policeman and Toma on the other. Long before they had traversed the
first few hundred yards, their arms ached from the burden. Also some
difficulty was experienced in keeping the ponies together.

In places, where the trail narrowed down to a mere foot-path, they were
compelled to break the close formation. At such times, one of the boys
would be compelled to dismount and support the figure from the ground
until the road again grew wider.

Altogether, it was a sorry and dejected group that made its way back
over the selfsame route they had come only a few minutes before. In the
twinkling of an eye, the carefully laid plans of Corporal Rand had
miscarried. Their hopes had gone glimmering. Murky Nichols had shown his
hand. One of Dick’s greatest worries just now was that the crafty outlaw
himself would soon witness their arrival at the post.

Moving along carefully, their arms and shoulders aching from the strain
put upon them, they came at last within sight of Wandley’s. As they
emerged upon the small prairie, at the far side of which the post was
situated, they came directly in the path of a sharp “northwester.” The
smiling sky of an hour previous had become leaden with menace. Dun,
metal-colored clouds scudded before the wind. The horizon, black and
threatening, indicated only too plainly the approach of a storm.

They rode up to the door of the trading room in a dispirited silence. A
curious group gathered about them. Anxiously, Dick scanned the
unfamiliar faces, expecting to see that of Murky Nichols. But the outlaw
was not there. Willing hands assisted them in lifting Pearly down from
his precarious seat and help carry him within. The solicitous figure of
Wandley himself presently pushed forward through the crowd.

“Mon Dieu! What has happened?” cried a voice.

“A policeman!” gasped Wandley, his good-humored face suddenly gray with
concern. “Who shot him?”

Sandy mumbled something under his breath. Dick turned his head and
looked up appealingly into the horrified eyes of the free trader.

“Will you help us out, Mr. Wandley? Constable Pearly’s condition is
serious.”

Wandley took in the situation at a glance. He was a man of action. In an
incredibly short space he had placed a room at the policeman’s disposal,
and in various ways assisted in making him comfortable. A short time
later, the three boys followed Wandley to the trading room, where they
told the story of the ambuscade.

The free trader listened with rapt attention. A stolid, heavy-set man,
known throughout the North for his honesty and sincerity of purpose, he
showed by his manner and expression unmistakably what he thought of the
outrage.

“Who do you suppose could have been guilty of such a dastardly attack?”
he asked at the conclusion of the boys’ recital. “Did you see the person
who fired the shot?”

Sandy was about to tell Wandley of his suspicions, when Dick silenced
him with a look. Other persons were within hearing and might carry the
information to Nichols.

“No,” he lied deliberately, “we haven’t the faintest idea. Sandy, here,
thought he caught a glimpse of a person running in the underbrush
shortly after the shot was fired. But we have no knowledge of his
identity.”

Wandley turned sympathetic eyes upon his three informants.

“I’ll see that everything possible is done for Pearly,” he promised
them. “I’m sending over to the Indian village for a native doctor who
has often proved to be very good in cases of this kind.”

The boys thanked the free trader and turned to go. They still had time
to reach the bend in the river before the coming of Sergeant Richardson
and Corporal Rand. Their own ponies were waiting outside. At the door,
moved by a sudden impulse, Dick pressed Sandy’s arm significantly, then
hurried back to Wandley’s side.

“May I have a word with you for a moment?” he inquired meaningly.

The free trader started back in surprise.

“Why certainly. What is it?”

Motioning the other to follow, he led the way to an inner room, which
served as Wandley’s office.

“Now what’s the trouble, my boy?” he asked.

Dick stood awkwardly, cap in hand, a little confused, a little doubtful
whether, after all, it would be good policy to ask the question now
uppermost in his mind. Wandley seemed to sense the young man’s
difficulty. He patted Dick’s arm.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up, if it is anything of importance,” he said
reassuringly. “You can trust me absolutely.”

Dick smiled across at the grizzled, earnest face.

“All right, Mr. Wandley, there is something I want to know.”

“What is it?”

“Did you see Murky Nichols here an hour or two ago, when he arrived here
at the post?”

“Yes,” Wandley unhesitatingly replied. “He rode in here like a dozen
furies shortly after one o’clock. But he’s gone now.”

“So he’s really gone?” Dick breathed a sigh of relief.

“Yes,” answered the free trader, wondering what his young interrogator
was driving at.

“How long since he left?” came the next question.

“Not more than fifteen or twenty minutes ago. He was hardly out of sight
before you came in with Pearly.”

“Which trail did he take?”

“The one to Fort Good Faith.”

Dick stepped forward and pressed the huge hand of the free trader.

“Thank you very much. I’ll explain sometime, Mr. Wandley, but I’ll have
to hurry now. We’ll stop in to see you on our return.”

Saying which, Dick hurried through the door, crossed the trading room
and quickly rejoined his two friends outside.



                               CHAPTER IX
                           THE MEETING PLACE


Faint flecks of snow were falling as they took the first turn in the
trail at top speed. The wind had increased in velocity. It had become a
gale that bent the tops of the spruce and poplar, driving down a fine
icy sleet through the trees. Toma raised anxious eyes to the lowering
sky and presently shrieked out above the roar of the approaching storm:

“Big blizzard come pretty soon. How far we go before we get to bend in
river?”

“It’s only a short distance,” Dick answered, yelling at the top of his
voice.

At a brisk canter, they passed the place of the recent ambuscade, soon
afterward following the trail across an open meadow in the very teeth of
the storm. For a moment a white, driving curtain of snow almost
suffocated them. Only with difficulty could they drive their ponies into
it.

“We’re licked!” shouted Sandy. “I dread to think of waiting for anyone
in this blizzard. The pack-train will never be able to start tonight.”

When they had gained the woodland again, it was almost impossible to
make out their surroundings clearly. Overhead was a gray impenetrable
blur. Within the shelter of the trees, when Dick, straining his eyes
against the whirling particles of snow, endeavored to get his bearings,
he could see scarcely fifty yards ahead. Somewhere off to the right was
Settlement House River. Judging from the distance they had already come,
they must be close to their destination right now.

Dick drew up his horse sharply, calling a halt. His two chums came
closer.

“I think we’ve gone far enough,” was Sandy’s opinion, as they sat
huddled on their tired mounts, looking into each other’s apprehensive
eyes. “My suggestion is to leave the trail here and strike off to the
right in the direction of the river. What do you think, Toma?”

The guide did not immediately reply. His face was calm and
expressionless. There was no outward manifestation of his secret, inner
emotions. Just then he was not thinking of the bend in the river at all.
Indeed, he had become so absorbed in his own thoughts that he was
scarcely conscious even of the presence of his two companions. At that
particular moment his mind was concentrated on a matter of extreme
importance. He gazed sombrely at the trail at their feet, across which,
plainly visible in the freshly fallen snow, were the imprints of
moccasined feet.

Only a few minutes before someone had passed that way. The quick mind of
the guide reverted to the shooting of Constable Pearly. From ambush, a
man had deliberately shot down the mounted policeman. Were these tracks,
which he saw now, made by that selfsame man? Was the half-breed planning
a second attack?

Toma did not wish to alarm Dick and Sandy needlessly. Yet he was
possessed of a feeling—intuitive perhaps—that the near presence of the
man boded no good to them. If it was the same person who had wounded
Constable Pearly, it was reasonable to suppose that he would not
hesitate to draw a gun upon them.

It was a predicament indeed—and one fraught with danger. The footprints
led away in the same direction that Sandy now proposed to go. It would
be foolhardy for the three of them to take a chance. Turning the problem
over and over in his mind, Toma came to a decision.

“No use all three ride over an’ try find ’em place where we meet
Sergeant Richardson. What you say I go alone? Sandy, you Dick stay here
in shelter of bush. No take ’em me very long. If I find bend, I come
back pretty quick an’ let you know.”

The young guide’s proposal did not meet with the instant approval that
he had expected.

“No,” growled Sandy, “we can all go. What’s the use of staying here?”

“Look here, Toma,” interposed Dick, “three pairs of eyes are better than
one.”

Toma scowled. He feigned an angry indifference. “All right. I do what
you say. I think you ’fraid mebbe poor Toma get lost.”

Sandy reached up and snapped off the brittle twig from a branch just
over his head. He regarded it reflectively.

“Pshaw! Let him have his own way, Dick. If he insists, I don’t mind in
the least. I’m going to crawl off this old nag of mine and stretch my
legs.”

As if the matter were already settled, Sandy scrambled off his mount and
led it over to a thick clump of bushes, which offered better protection
from the storm. After a moment’s hesitation, Dick followed his example.
The two crouched there while Toma sprang to the ground, tied his horse
to a young sapling and then struck off sharply to the right on foot. In
a few seconds he became lost to view.

Dick and Sandy brushed away the snow from a small space in front of them
and sat down, weary and disheartened. The ponies turned with their backs
to the wind. Dick was so sleepy and tired from his long hours of
wakefulness that he had scarcely sat down when his head began to nod,
and soon after he drowsed off completely. How long he slept he did not
know. He was awakened by the hand of his chum, clawing roughly,
excitedly at his shoulder. He opened his eyes to look into the startled
face of his friend.

“Did you hear it?” gasped Sandy.

Bewildered from sleep, Dick could not imagine what sound Sandy alluded
to, when abruptly there came to his ears the faint report of a rifle.

“There it is again!”

The boys jumped to their feet, gazing fearfully out through the storm.
They trembled at the thought of what might now have happened. They stood
shivering in the teeth of the icy gale, their faces gray with
apprehension. After a time, following the first shock, Dick turned to
Sandy.

“It frightened me at first,” he confessed. “Thought it was the
half-breed. For a moment, I didn’t think about Toma. He probably saw a
moose or bear and fired at it.”

Sandy was not so sure. He shook his head doggedly, staring gloomily away
in the direction of the river.

“We’d better investigate, Dick,” he trembled. “Even if Toma did see a
moose, I doubt very much whether he would have taken a shot at it.”

“The hunting instinct in every Indian is strong,” argued his chum. “Even
you or I would have been liable to act the same under similar
circumstances.”

Sandy was not convinced. With his moccasined feet he kicked at a drift
of freshly fallen snow. Nervously, his hand played with the holster at
his belt.

“Perhaps I’m foolish, but I can’t help thinking that something has gone
wrong. The sound we just heard, although fainter, was very much like the
one we heard this afternoon when Pearly was wounded. Besides, if I
remember correctly, Toma has no rifle. All he has in the way of firearms
is a small automatic, which could not possibly make as much noise as we
heard just now.”

Dick’s face became sober again. He looked at Sandy in alarm.

“But all of us had rifles strapped to our saddles when we set out from
Fort Good Faith,” he pointed out.

“You and I—but not Toma! When Toma and I went out on our hunting trip a
few days ago, he broke the trigger-spring on his gun, and yesterday,
when we returned, he left it at the Indian village to be repaired. When
you wakened us last night, I had my rifle in my room. Toma had none. I
know I’m right about this, Dick.”

It was the other’s turn to become alarmed. With an excited exclamation
he stepped forward, and with fumbling fingers began to remove his own
rifle from the saddle. Sandy followed suit. Without further preliminary,
they hurried to the rescue.

Shoulders hunched, faces wet with melting snow, they darted forward
through the underbrush. Dick’s heart was beating miserably at the
thought of this new danger. Had Toma also been waylaid—probably
murdered? Desperately, he stared ahead, expecting momentarily to find
the crumpled figure of the young guide lying in the snow. They
progressed farther and farther away from the trail. Sandy’s breath came
in choking gasps.

“Toma! Toma!” he kept repeating.

Presently their hopes mounted. Thus far they had found nothing. Perhaps
the young Indian was still alive. Perhaps in some miraculous way he had
escaped the half-breed’s death-dealing bullets.

Through the blinding snow-mist directly ahead, they made out the vague
outline of Settlement House River. Toma’s tracks had become obliterated
here. They had emerged upon an open space across which the wind had full
sweep. They would be unable now to track Toma down. If they found him at
all, it would be through some lucky chance, rather than through any
direct effort on their part. Fifty yards ahead, standing like a huge
sentinel, guarding the descent to the river, the boys discerned a large
jack-pine.

Toward it they made their way, reached it after a short interval, and
glanced down along the slope expectantly. But there was no sign of
anyone. The storm now had reached its height. Snow and sleet lashed
across the earth. Trees bent their heads before the furious blast. Both
Dick and Sandy had seen many blizzards, but never such a one as this.

Sandy took Dick’s arm and shouted above the roar of the storm.

“No use in standing here, Dick. We may miss Toma altogether. If he’s
alive, he’s probably back to the trail by this time. Come on! Let’s
hurry over there ourselves.”

With a last look along the slope, Dick was about to turn, when he saw
the dim outline of something just ahead. Straining his eyes, one hand
shielding his face from the driving snow, he made out, at length, what
was unmistakably the figure of a man. Could it be Toma? The man was
afoot. Quickly, Dick started back, overcome by sudden fear. It was the
half-breed—and he carried a rifle!

Springing forward down the slope, Dick pulled Sandy after him. Just
ahead, a thick screen of bushes—now weighted down with snow—would hide
them from view. Yet here it would still be possible to watch the
movements of the figure proceeding toward them on the level ground above
the slope.

Sandy removed his parka and glared back toward the spot Dick had
indicated.

“The half-breed!” he whispered hoarsely. “The same man who shot
Constable Pearly. What do you suppose has happened to Toma?”

Rifle in hand, the half-breed came on, looking furtively to the right
and left. He seemed oblivious to the storm. In a few moments he had
approached to within fifty feet of the place where the boys lay
concealed.

Instinctively, Dick and Sandy reached for their revolvers. But before
they could be drawn from their holsters, the half-breed accomplished an
incredible and surprising movement. His head went back with a jerk—so
suddenly that he nearly lost his balance. For a moment he stood stock
still, then leaped for the protecting trunk of a poplar. Above the
roaring of the wind and storm, the boys heard distinctly the sound of a
muffled report.

The boys rose to their feet with a cry of joy. Well they knew the
meaning of the half-breed’s actions and the sound they had heard. Toma
was still alive! Not only that—he was carrying on a sort of running
fight with the outlaw. Sandy flourished his own gun, and, had Dick not
prevented it, would have fired point-blank at the figure, which, though
sheltered from Toma’s fire by the poplar, offered a splendid target for
the boys.

“Here, Sandy!” remonstrated Dick. “Don’t do that. Stop!”

“I haven’t forgotten Constable Pearly,” Sandy retorted angrily. “The
fellow deserves it.”

“Possibly he does. But it’s not your place to retaliate. Toma is well
able to look after himself. If I’m not mistaken the outlaw will be ready
and willing to take to his heels before long.”

“But Toma may be wounded,” argued Sandy.

“I doubt it. If he is, it’s only slightly. Our best plan is to stay here
and await developments.”

A few more shots from Toma’s automatic drove the half-breed from his
inadequate barricade. The stocky figure suddenly lurched backward, one
hand grasping his arm. His rifle dropped to the ground. For a
split-second his face was distorted with pain. Then, turning swiftly, he
retrieved his weapon and sped toward the slope, gaining its shelter
without sustaining further injury. The boys watched him as he scrambled
down through the trees and underbrush in the direction of the river.

“Come on, Dick!” Sandy shouted excitedly. “We’ll go over and see Toma.
That’s what I call marksmanship!”

“You’re taking a chance if you do. In this storm Toma wouldn’t be able
to tell whether it was you or the half-breed. Good way to commit
suicide.”

“Guess I won’t take a chance,” grinned Sandy. “But how are we going to
join him?”

“I think we’d better slip along the slope for a few hundred yards, then
circle back to the trail where the ponies are,” was Dick’s suggestion.

The two friends proceeded to put this plan into execution. In high
spirits again, now that they knew that the guide was safe, they hurried
along, and in less than twenty minutes were back at the same place they
had left but a short time before. They had scarcely taken up their
former position beside the ponies, when a sharp crackling in the
underbrush close at hand, told them that Toma had returned. He sauntered
up as if nothing had happened, his face as inscrutable and
expressionless as ever.

Secretly, Sandy poked Dick in the ribs. Then he turned upon the newcomer
scowling.

“Where have you been all this time?” he demanded hotly. “Did it take you
nearly an hour to walk over to the river? We’ve been sitting here so
long that we’re nearly frozen.”

Toma offered no explanation. He strode over and pulled the blanket from
his pony.

“Mebbe we find bend little farther on. Me no think it very far now.”

Dick and Sandy winked at each other as they got once more into the
saddle and followed Toma along the drifting trail. For a time they rode
on in silence, once more conscious of the fury of the storm. Abruptly,
the trail swung to the south and very soon they could see the broken,
snow-covered valley of the river—so close that it seemed as if the trail
ran into it. Here was the bend at last!

Dick recalled that Corporal Rand had instructed him to descend to the
floor of the valley and make camp close to the river. They proceeded to
do this, first dismounting and leading the ponies after them.

A short time later they had gained their objective. The ground was level
here, densely overgrown with trees and shrubs. The river had not yet
frozen over. Slush ice choked the current, making a grinding, roaring
sound as it floated swiftly past. Here and there on the sandbars, large
piles of ice and driftwood had been shoved ashore. In another
twenty-four hours, with the steadily falling temperature, the stream
would be frozen over, although it would be many days before it would be
safe to cross on foot.

As he gathered driftwood for the fire, Dick’s gaze returned again and
again to the ice-choked current. A thought suddenly came to him.
Sergeant Richardson and Corporal Rand were to meet them here at
nightfall. The two were travelling westward, and it would be necessary
for them to cross the river here before they could go on to the cabin of
the outlaws at Settlement Mountain.

Would they be able to do it? He looked out again across the grinding,
grating field of ice and slowly shook his head. It was a feat he had no
desire to attempt himself. It seemed foolhardy even to think of it. Not
only would a raft be in imminent danger of being broken to pieces by the
drifting chunks of ice in the whirling current, but there was also the
possibility of its occupants being shaken or thrown precipitately into
the river.

He consulted his watch. It was now nearly four o’clock. The short
afternoon would soon be terminated by the approach of darkness. Night
would descend, and he shuddered to think of any attempt on the part of
the police party to cross.

When the flames from their campfire had commenced to leap up, radiating
warmth and comfort in a wide circle around them, he broached the subject
to Sandy and Toma.

“I don’t see how they’ll ever manage to get over. It’s getting late now.
By the time they’ve built a raft, it will be so dark that it will be out
of the question to think of crossing.”

“Mebbe him Corporal Rand know about raft somewhere on other side of
river,” said Toma.

“He never mentioned it to me.”

Sandy, who had been sitting on the end of a fallen tree, gazing
thoughtfully into the fire, looked up with a smile.

“You can trust Rand and Richardson to do the impossible,” he pointed
out. “I’d like to lay you a wager that if they reach the opposite side
of the river tonight, they’ll manage somehow to find a way to get
across. Perhaps they’ll come floating over on one of those huge cakes of
ice.”

“I won’t take your bet, Sandy,” Dick laughed. “Just the same I’d hate to
be in their shoes.”

Toma rose and walked down to the edge of the river, returning a moment
later with water for tea. Huddled around the blaze, they ate from the
supplies that had been purchased at Wandley’s post. Darkness was quickly
descending. As is frequently the case in the North, the wind subsided as
night approached; but the snow continued to fall. If possible, it came
down thicker than ever. About them was one all-enveloping mantle of
white. Even the trees and underbrush bent under the weight of their
snowy burden.

The three ponies, warmly blanketed, each one tied to a long picket-rope,
pawed away the snow in order to browse at the dead grass and moss
underneath. Dick felt sorry for the little beasts, almost wishing that
he had left them with Constable Pearly’s horse at Wandley’s. While he
was watching them, Toma broke forth abruptly:

“Did you hear that?”

The three rose swiftly to their feet and rushed down to the shore of the
river. Again came the sound—a faint halloo which trembled across the
valley. The boys cupped their hands to their mouths and sent back an
answering shout.

“The police party! What did I tell you, Dick? They’ll make it yet!”

As he spoke, Sandy reached out and slapped Dick excitedly on the
shoulder.



                               CHAPTER X
                           THE FIRST PRISONER


Swinging their arms against their bodies, and walking up and down along
the river bank, from time to time the boys shouted out words of
encouragement. Time dragged monotonously. Hours seemed to have passed
before they heard again from the mounted policemen.

Faintly at first, then louder as it approached, they heard the scraping
of the raft. Human voices sounded eerily out of the gloom. A thrill of
excitement coursed along Dick’s spine. The suspense was nerve-breaking.
He had become almost as limp as a rag, when finally he discerned a dark
shape ahead and the raft pushed in closer to shore. A few minutes later,
using the long poles which had served them so well in crossing, Sergeant
Richardson and Corporal Rand vaulted across the intervening space
separating them from the beach.

It was a happy re-union. The three boys had not seen Sergeant Richardson
for months. They wrung the policeman’s hand, then escorted him and his
companion back to the campfire.

“Where’s Pearly?” demanded Corporal Rand, looking about him.

“Wounded,” replied Dick. “We’ve had a terrible time, corporal. Murky
Nichols followed us to Wandley’s post, where he conferred with La Qua.
La Qua went on to Settlement Mountain alone, first sending ahead the two
half-breeds who were with him. While Pearly and the three of us were
journeying along the trail on the way here, Pearly was shot down from
ambush. We were compelled to take him back to Wandley’s. The man who
shot him was the same person you arrested yesterday—the one who
attempted to stab Nichols. He’s in this vicinity right now. Less than
two hours ago, when Toma was reconnoitering in an effort to find this
place, he fired at him several times. Toma managed to escape injury and
made things so hot for him that he was compelled to seek shelter along
the slope of the river.”

The young guide’s eyes had widened perceptibly and he stared
unbelievingly at his chum.

“How you find out about that?” he blurted.

Sergeant Richardson ignored the interruption.

“Did Murky Nichols see you when you left Fort Good Faith?”

Dick flushed under the searching scrutiny.

“I don’t think he saw us, but he found out about our departure right
after we left.” Then Dick turned to Corporal Rand. “It wasn’t altogether
my fault, corporal. In less than ten minutes after you went out of my
room, the door opened and Murky Nichols came in. He seemed suspicious
and asked me what I was doing up at that hour. I pleaded a toothache and
was finally forced to ask him to leave. He took up a position in the
hall outside. It was easy to see that he did not believe my story and
intended to watch me. I was compelled to slip out of the window and go
around and wake Sandy and Toma. We were very quiet and I do not believe
that he had any intimation of the trick we had played upon him until an
hour or two after we’d gone.”

Neither Richardson nor Rand had anything to say. Dick felt that their
silence was in itself condemnatory.

“I did the very best I could.” His voice shook a little. “Corporal Rand,
I endeavored to follow out your instructions. If I have spoiled your
plan, I’m sorry.”

Dick turned his head to hide the tears which had suddenly welled into
his eyes. Then he felt a strong comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Forget it, Dick. It’s not your fault,” Corporal Rand declared
consolingly.

“You have all done remarkably well,” Sergeant Richardson congratulated
them. “I’m proud of you. In the person of Murky Nichols we have one of
the cleverest, shrewdest outlaws in this North country. He was your
opponent today. You must remember that. He’s not very easily outwitted.”

“How badly is Pearly wounded?” asked Rand.

“Quite seriously, I think,” Sandy answered. “He was unconscious and lost
a good deal of blood before we could get him back to the post. Wandley
is doing all that is possible for him.”

“Are you going to push on to Settlement Mountain tonight?” Dick
inquired, addressing Sergeant Richardson. “Or do you think that no
attempt will be made to start for the pass?”

“It’s hard to say. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that they will.”

“But this storm!” gasped Sandy.

“I doubt if that will make a great deal of difference. I’m convinced now
that they have a huge cache in their cabin at Settlement Mountain.
They’ll be compelled to do one of two things—either remove their fur to
another place of safety, or follow their original plan to take it
through Blind Man’s Pass. They’ll be forced to act quickly. They’re in a
difficult predicament and know it. From what you have already told me,
it is easy to see what has happened.”

The others were hanging upon the sergeant’s words. He had ceased
speaking for a moment and had stepped closer to the fire, his handsome
upright figure outlined clearly against the background beyond. Corporal
Rand addressed his superior:

“Exactly what do you mean, sergeant?”

“It is all clear enough,” Richardson spoke again. “Nichols’ suspicions
have become aroused. When he found out that you three boys had left Fort
Good Faith and had started north for Wandley’s, he surmised at once what
was afoot. Arriving at Wandley’s and finding Pearly there, very
naturally still further alarmed him. Fortunately for him, his
confederate, La Qua, had not yet gone on to Settlement Mountain.

“Now put yourself in his place,” he went on after a short pause. “What
was to be done? A cache of stolen fur worth thousands of dollars in a
cabin only a few miles away awaiting shipment—and the police aware of
this fact! He would suppose naturally that Pearly intended to go
immediately to seize the cache. In desperation, he ordered La Qua to
send the two half-breeds ahead with instructions to ambush the police
party. La Qua himself hurried on to Settlement Mountain.”

“Your theory seems reasonable enough,” said Corporal Rand. “But now that
the outlaws know that Pearly is out of the way, do you suppose that they
will do anything tonight?”

“La Qua doesn’t know this. Even if he did, it would be folly on his part
to take chances. Something must be done with the cache at once.”

“So you really intend to start?” asked Sandy.

“Yes. Right away. Neither the corporal nor myself have had anything to
eat since this noon, but we dare not stop now.”

Toma, who had gone out to gather brush for the fire, suddenly darted
back within the circle of light, a startled cry on his lips.

“Quick!” he faltered. “Get to cover! I jus’ see ’em someone!”

Toma’s warning came in the nick of time. Motioning to the boys to drop
back away from the campfire, Sergeant Richardson and Corporal Rand
struck off hurriedly. With Sandy at his side, Dick found himself a
moment later stumbling through snow more than ankle-deep. They could
hear the sound of hurrying forms, a sharp word of command—then silence!
They brought up before a willow copse, thick and almost impassable. Here
they crouched low, waiting developments.

“It must be the half-breed again,” Dick whispered hoarsely. “It’s a good
thing we scattered when we did. Anyone near the campfire would make a
splendid target.”

He turned and looked back toward the place they had just vacated. A
bright glare of firelight cast its reflection through a wide circle of
pitchy darkness, producing an eerie effect. The trees looked stark and
gaunt at the outer fringe of the circle. The place, which a few moments
before had been alive with the human forms of his companions, was now
totally deserted.

They waited breathlessly. The commotion, following Toma’s announcement,
had died away. Deep and forbidding seemed the solitude of the forest.
Dick wondered what had become of the two policemen and Toma. He half
expected to hear the disconcerting crack of a revolver. The minutes
passed slowly. The snow fell softly now—huge white flakes floating
through the air like particles of fluff. Sandy stamped his feet
impatiently, then pulled his parka farther down so that it muffled his
face.

“If it isn’t one thing, it’s another,” he lamented. “If that half-breed
has come back to bother us, he may get more than he has bargained for.”

Dick looked up sharply. A sudden tramping of feet and the crackling of
underbrush, warned him of someone’s approach. For a split-second his
heart caught with excitement. Was the half-breed himself coming their
way? Then his mouth gaped open in amazement. Within the circle of light
there appeared abruptly three forms, two of which the boys quickly
recognized—Richardson and Rand. They half-carried, half-dragged between
them a struggling protesting creature—none other than the half-breed
himself!

The boys hurried forward. As they came up to where the policemen and
their prisoner stood, they observed that the half-breed’s wrists had
been manacled. Over his prominent cheekbone, close to his left eye, was
a large welt he had received in his encounter with the guardians of the
law. Corporal Rand’s uniform was slightly dishevelled. A button had been
torn from his coat. He was bleeding from a cut on one cheek.

“Here’s one of Murky’s friends that won’t give us so much trouble in the
future,” Sergeant Richardson stated evenly.

“He’ll not be released this time either,” the corporal said with
conviction.

“How did you manage to capture him so quickly?” Sandy inquired
wonderingly.

“I kept him occupied,” the sergeant replied, “while Corporal Rand stole
up on him from behind. Rand got him after a short struggle.”

“We’ll have to take him along with us, I suppose,” said Dick.

“It can’t be helped,” Rand answered. “Hadn’t we better start, sergeant?”

Richardson brushed the snow from his fur jacket.

“Yes. At once. Dick,” he instructed, “you can saddle your ponies right
away. We’ll use them in breaking trail.”

The boys offered the two policemen the use of their mounts but the offer
was rejected.

“You’ll be tired enough as it is,” Corporal Rand pointed out. “Dick here
hasn’t had a wink of sleep in the past twenty-four hours.”

The party set out shortly afterward, moving quickly through the
darkness. They reached the Settlement River trail without mishap. Not a
word was spoken. Silently they trekked on. In spite of the importance of
their undertaking, the travelling had become so monotonous that Dick
nodded in the saddle. The crunch, crunch, crunch of the ponies’ hoofs
was slowly lulling him to sleep. Had his horse not stumbled occasionally
over some obstruction in the trail, it is probable he might have fallen
from his seat. On one of these occasions, shaken back to consciousness
when on the verge of dropping off into sound sleep, he heard the voice
of Sergeant Richardson.

“Just a moment, boys, until I get my bearings.”

They checked their forward progress at once. Instructing Sandy to look
after the prisoner, the two policemen came up to the head of the column,
conversing in low tones.

“We leave the trail here somewhere,” Richardson announced. “There used
to be a tiny foot-path that wound away through the trees to our left.
This is the one the outlaws must use in going to and from Settlement
Mountain.”

“Like hunting for a needle in a haystack,” Dick heard Rand remark. “Have
you a flashlight, sergeant?”

A faint flicker of light appeared and the two men started up the trail,
their eyes searching the ground. Dick would have pushed on after them
but Toma, who was in the lead, restrained him.

“They want us to stay here,” he whispered. “Come back jus’ so soon find
’em pack-trail.”

The curious eyes of the boys followed the retreating figures. Now and
again, like a large fire-fly, the small electric torch flashed out. It
appeared, disappeared, re-appeared, lending reality to the illusion.

How long they watched there, Dick could not say. He was nodding again
when the two returned.

“We found it,” said Sergeant Richardson. “Follow us. Sandy, keep a good
watch of the prisoner.” The party came to a halt again at the juncture
of the two trails. The one which threaded its way on their left, led
more or less directly to Settlement Mountain.

They were now only a mile from their objective. A thrill of suppressed
excitement permeated each member of the party. Dick shook off his
drowsiness and now sat alert, every sense keyed to the highest pitch.
The policemen continued in the lead, walking forward at a brisk rate.
Toma half-swung in the saddle and asked Dick in a subdued whisper:

“You think we find ’em outlaws pretty soon?”

Dick answered hesitatingly: “Yes, I think so, Toma. It isn’t very far
now. Too bad you haven’t your rifle.”

A sudden commotion behind drew their attention. Sandy cried out in a
tremulous voice as he slid from the saddle. A moment later he was
rushing wildly away through the darkness. The snapping of dry branches,
the crackling of underbrush was succeeded by a weird, unearthly shout.

“The prisoner has escaped!” Dick exclaimed breathlessly.



                               CHAPTER XI
                         AN UNEXPECTED SETBACK


Guided by the sound at the side of the trail, Dick bounded forward to
Sandy’s assistance. In his excitement, he ran straight into a small
sapling with a force that shook the breath from his body. Dazed, he
struck forward again, tearing his face and hands in a thicket of
saskatoon. Desperately, he struggled on.

Faintly outlined in the gloom ahead, he saw two struggling forms. He
drove straight toward them, striking Sandy’s opponent with a jarring
impact. The three went to the ground in a squirming heap. The
half-breed, who was fighting for his life, struck out with arms and legs
like a madman. As Dick’s unguarded left arm swung across his adversary’s
face, the outlaw sank his teeth into it, hanging there very much after
the manner of a bull dog.

A blow in the pit of Sandy’s stomach had put that young man temporarily
out of commission. He lay groaning a few feet away. It was this
sound—more than the excruciating pain he suffered himself—that finally
induced Dick to shake his arm free and scramble dizzily to his knees.
But he got no further. The half-breed’s manacled wrists brought down
with all the strength and force of which he was capable, transferred the
temporary advantage. Dick sat down with a grunt, many brilliant,
multi-colored lights popping before his eyes.

The outlaw pushed himself back, turned on his side and rose hastily to
his feet. He had gone only a few yards, however, when Dick, somewhat
recovered from the effects of the blow, sprang up in hot pursuit. The
race was of short duration. A few moments later, Dick had seized the
stocky runner by the nape of the neck and had jerked him to a sudden
halt.

“Guess you’ll be ready to go back now,” gritted Dick. “Any more of your
funny tricks and I won’t be responsible for what happens. Come on,
now—get going!”

Sandy joined them a moment later. With the prisoner between them, they
soon reached the trail. Toma and the two policemen came hurrying up.

“So he didn’t get away after all!” Sergeant Richardson exclaimed
thankfully. “I’m mighty glad of that. But it’s my own fault. I should
have known better than to give him this chance.”

“Either one of you hurt?” Rand inquired anxiously.

“No,” Dick replied. “We were shaken up a bit—all of us. But we’re ready
to go on now.”

“Corporal Rand will take charge of the prisoner,” Richardson instructed.
“I’ll lead the way alone.”

They pushed on again, following closely and silently the tall figure of
the police sergeant. Without incident, they travelled another quarter of
a mile. Each minute was bringing them closer and closer to the outlaws’
encampment. Unknown dangers lay ahead. Dick’s heart beat quickly at the
thought of what might presently transpire.

A short time afterward Richardson called a halt. He hurried back to
confer with Corporal Rand. Then he came forward to where Dick sat and
announced briefly:

“Settlement Mountain just ahead. Two hundred yards from the outlaws’
cabin. Dismount quickly, tie your horses somewhere near here in the
underbrush. Then come back for further orders.”

The three boys complied hastily. When they returned, the sergeant spoke
again:

“Corporal Rand and I are going forward to investigate. We’ll leave the
prisoner here with you. Under no circumstances are any of you to follow
us. Remain here. We’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Another long wait. The boys stared out fearfully through the darkness.
Their pulses pounded with excitement. Impatiently, they paced back and
forth, scarcely able to endure the suspense. When finally they heard
footsteps approaching, they breathed relievedly.

It was Corporal Rand. He too was excited. When he spoke, his voice was
husky with some deep emotion.

“Richardson’s gone!” he panted.

It was a verbal thunderbolt. The boys jumped.

“What’s that?” Dick and Sandy gasped out in unison.

“Gone, I tell you!” Rand whispered hoarsely. “Gone as completely as if
the earth had swallowed him up. I think they’ve got him. We were walking
along—the sergeant about thirty feet in advance of me—when the thing
happened.”

It seemed incredible. A feeling of horror swept over Dick, while Sandy
stood, shaking like a leaf. A poignant, miserable silence ensued.

“But—but di—did you look for him?” stammered Dick.

“Yes. I looked everywhere. In the darkness, I could see nothing. I dare
not call out for fear the outlaws might be close at hand. Richardson
probably walked straight into the arms of one of La Qua’s sentries, was
struck over the head and then dumped bodily into some thicket. It was a
good thing for me that Richardson had the flashlight. I think I would
have been tempted to use it.”

“Good heavens! What are we going to do?”

Sandy had recovered the use of his vocal organs and now poured out his
plaint—a sort of wail that rang softly through the forest’s stillness.

“First Pearly and now Richardson!” groaned Dick.

“There! There!” Rand attempted to comfort them. “It’s a hard blow, I’ll
admit, but we’ll contrive to get out of this scrape somehow. You boys
will have to help me. I must rely on you. I can’t very well go on with
this thing alone. Are you with me?”

“We are!” Dick and Sandy sang out in chorus.

“And you, Toma?”

“You bet! Fight ’em all same like mad wolf.”

“That’s the spirit. The first thing to do is to find out what has become
of Richardson.”

The five minutes which passed before Rand spoke again seemed like an
eternity to the three young adventurers.

“Sandy will stay here with the prisoner and the ponies. If he attempts
another break for liberty, shoot him on the spot.”

The trembling young Scotchman made no reply.

“Did you hear me, Sandy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’ll do as I say?”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right. Now—with regard to my plan: With the exception of Toma,
we’re all heavily armed. Toma, you will take the half-breed’s rifle. The
three of us will set out at once for the outlaws’ cabin, which is
situated about two hundred yards straight ahead of us. Toma will circle
around to the left, Dick to the right, while I will proceed directly
along this trail to the place where Richardson disappeared. Neither one
of you will fire a shot unless cornered—or in self-defense. What I want
to do first of all is to try to find Richardson. If he hasn’t been taken
to the cabin, he won’t be very far from the place I saw him last.
Naturally, he’ll be heavily guarded. In some way we must secure his
release.”

Rand ceased speaking. An unearthly hush had settled around them. Dick
was shaking as if from the ague. Terror gripped him. Thankful he was
that the darkness shadowed his face. He realized that his cheeks must be
ghastly white. In spite of the cold, drops of moisture had gathered on
his forehead. He seemed to be burning up. Like Sandy, he had temporarily
lost the use of his tongue.

“Any questions to ask?” tersed Rand.

“N-n—no,” Dick heard himself stammering.

“Very well then, we’ll start. Remember—no shooting unless it is
absolutely necessary.”

They separated forthwith. Almost immediately Dick was on his way. He
moved cautiously and very slowly. His terror, the choking fear of a few
moments ago, had gone. It was relief to move his limbs. He had become
himself once more, determined to give the very best he had—to meet
danger calmly.

Off to his left he saw the twinkling lights of the cabin. He was getting
closer now; he must be still more careful, more deliberate in his
movements. Perhaps the faintest sound would betray him.

Haunting the deepest shadows, he stole furtively along, treading softly
through the snow—crouching here—hurrying forward there; in one place,
that seemed more exposed to view, creeping forward on hands and knees.

He brought up suddenly, so startled that he nearly emitted a shriek. He
stood perfectly still, his breath catching in his throat. Straight
ahead, scarcely ten feet away, he saw the silhouette of one of La Qua’s
sentries. The man was alone, a rifle slung carelessly over the crook of
his left arm. He paced silently back and forth, occasionally turning his
head in the direction of the cabin.

After a moment’s deliberation, Dick decided to steal past the sentry. At
all cost, he must go on to the cabin. Inch at a time, he wormed his way
ahead, contriving to keep a screen of underbrush between him and his
enemy. Once the sharp crackling of a twig caused his heart to leap in
apprehension. His hands shook. His breath seemed to burn in his throat.
Instinct told him to turn precipitously and take to his heels. With
difficulty was he able to steel himself for the ordeal. He was so close
to the sentry now that he actually believed he could hear the man’s deep
breathing.

For one tense moment he waited, shrinking back in the shadows, not
daring to move. The sentry had turned his head and was looking straight
in his direction. Dick thought that he could see the other’s eyes,
shining like those of a cat in the darkness. Then abruptly his heart
almost stopped beating. For the first time he became aware of another
presence. He perceived now the reason why he had not previously seen the
second outlaw. This person, short in stature—unmistakably an Indian—had
stood with his back against a large spruce, seeming to form a part of
the trunk of the tree. But he had stepped forward now, his body limned
in the half-light, and had stolen over to the right, disappearing behind
the thicket in which Dick himself stood concealed.

Dick was fully conscious of the peril of his position. The Indian was
probably stalking him, as a tiger stalks its prey. Not a moment was to
be lost. He placed one foot gingerly in front of him and started away,
quickening his pace after he had placed a few yards between himself and
the sentry. A very much frightened and trembling young man moved out to
the edge of the clearing which encircled the cabin.

What ought he to do now?



                              CHAPTER XII
                           THE OUTLAWS’ CABIN


He could hear voices now and the hurried trampling of feet. Once a husky
howled. From the open door of another building—evidently a stable—there
flickered the light of several lanterns. The stable, about fifty yards
on the north side of the house, was the center of unusual activity. Here
men called to each other in guttural Cree amid the confusion of barking
dogs and the nickering of ponies. Back and forth between the stable and
the cabin the outlaws continually hurried. Dick knew what it all meant.
La Qua was preparing for his departure, to take with him the cache of
stolen fur.

As he stood watching and waiting, a daring plan leaped into his mind.
His breath caught at the very thought of it—to walk boldly up and mingle
with the outlaws. They, in the general excitement and confusion, would
probably let him pass unnoticed. As long as he kept away from the
tell-tale lights of the lanterns or the lamps in the cabin, he would
probably be safe enough.

At any rate, he decided to do it. Thoughts of Sergeant Richardson
spurred him on. No effort or sacrifice would be too great. It was little
enough to do for the man who had befriended him on so many previous
occasions.

He walked boldly forth, swung in behind a tall figure hurrying toward
the stable. Half way there, he stopped, glancing furtively about. He
tip-toed over to the window on the side of the cabin opposite the door
and looked within.

For a moment his breath caught. He was both startled and amazed at what
he saw. The room, near the far end, was stacked with bales of fur
reaching to a height of nearly five feet. Thousands of dollars were
represented here. Wonderful black and cross-fox pelts! Rich-looking,
unplucked beaver! Lynx, marten, mink—even the glistening coat of bruin
himself, the least valuable of all. There were furs so valuable, so
precious, that a single bale would have been more than sufficient to
purchase a king’s ransom.

A steady file of men entered and departed. Each carried away a heavy
burden. Standing over them, La Qua threatened and gesticulated fearful
lest a moment might be wasted. It was evident that the outlaw was
thoroughly frightened and intended to rush through the work as quickly
as possible.

Dick’s gaze turned from the cache to the opposite end of the room in the
hope that he might see Sergeant Richardson. But, although he craned his
neck in the effort, he could discern nothing. He had decided to slip
around to another side of the dwelling, when the sound of footsteps came
from the darkness beyond. Instinctively, he flattened himself against
the wall of the cabin. The steps came closer. A vague form! A start of
surprise—Rand!

The policeman did not see him at once, but Dick drew his attention by
whistling softly and very soon the two stood close together gripping
each other’s hands.

“Lucky you’ve come,” whispered Dick. “Just take a peep inside.”

“I don’t believe that Richardson’s here,” said Corporal Rand when he had
stepped back. “As I came out to the clearing, I thought I saw two of the
outlaws carrying something between them. Possibly the sergeant. I had no
way of stealing up on them without being detected. So I decided to come
on here and await their arrival.”

“If it is Richardson, do you think we can get him away from the
outlaws?”

“We can try.”

“What plan would you suggest?”

“Wait until La Qua has taken out all of the fur and the pack-train is
ready to start. They’ll be compelled to leave Richardson here under
guard. Our chance will come then.”

Two powerful breeds appeared at the door soon after, carrying the
prostrate form of Sergeant Richardson. They dropped him, none too
gently, on the floor close to the fire-place. The prisoner’s limbs were
bound. He was unconscious, his face ghastly white except where a small
stream of blood trickled down from his forehead.

Sudden rage seared Dick’s mind. His friendship for the police sergeant
was great and he resented the malicious attack upon him. He could hardly
contain himself as the packers left their work and advanced in a curious
group, only to be driven back again by the cursing, perspiring La Qua.
Then as a vent for his outraged feelings, the outlaw kicked the
unconscious man in the ribs.

At sight of this gross treatment, Rand started forward, scarcely able to
suppress his cry of rage. He checked himself, but one hand gripped
Dick’s arm, fingers digging into the flesh.

“I could almost kill him for that!” he snarled.

The cache diminished quickly. All that remained of the bulky pile in a
few minutes more were a few scattered bales, lying on the floor at the
far end of the room. Corporal Rand and Dick were waiting impatiently for
the completion of the task, when suddenly the policeman’s sharp intake
of breath drew the other’s attention.

“Shades of Lucifer!” gasped the corporal. “Look at that!”

At first Dick did not understand, but presently he saw the cause of the
corporal’s excitement. A low cry of admiration escaped his own lips.

“Why—why, it’s Toma! The nerve of him! Can you imagine anything more
foolhardy?”

Toma it was—Toma, sober and unconcerned as ever. In the guise of a
packer, he had joined the other half-breeds and Indians. He followed
closely behind two strapping natives, picked up a bale of fur and walked
out with it. Twice more in the next few minutes he repeated this
performance. On his third trip, however, all the fur had been removed.
La Qua and a somewhat short and corpulent half-breed of indeterminate
age were the only occupants of the room. These two looked up, as if
resenting Toma’s intrusion. Then they sprang back, hands high in the
air, as a dangerous-looking automatic seemed to leap into the young
guide’s hand. Calmly, Toma ordered the two men back against the wall and
disarmed them.

Dick followed Rand and the two stormed through the door, revolvers in
readiness. They called out to Toma not to shoot. The corporal yanked
down a coil of rope from a peg on the wall and proceeded to bind the
outlaws, at the same time ordering Dick to bolt and lock the door, then
to release Richardson.

La Qua was pale with fury, swearing vengeance upon the police.

“Yuh can’t get away with this,” he snarled. “You’ll pay good an’ plenty.
Jus’ remember that.”

“I’m willing to answer for my conduct here,” laughed Rand. “I’m not
frightened.”

Toma and Rand dragged the bodies across the floor, concealing them
behind a pile of blankets. Then they turned to examine the sergeant.

His injuries were not serious. Already he showed signs of returning
consciousness. Rand brought water and bathed and dressed the wound with
a skill and precision that struck Dick’s admiration.

Someone pounded on the door. Drawing his revolver, the policeman hurried
over, shot the bolt, swung open the door, concealing himself behind it.
A tall, fierce-visaged man stepped into the room, demanding harshly:

“Who locked this door? Where’s La Qua? The boys are ready to start.”

Instantly he perceived that he had committed a blunder. Dick and Toma he
had never seen before. Slightly puzzled, he took one step forward, when
he felt the steel muzzle of Rand’s revolver poking him in the ribs.

“Stand right where you are,” said the corporal pleasantly. “Glad you
came in. Permit me to relieve you of your hardware.”

One glance into the steady eyes, a look at the familiar uniform, and the
intruder saw the futility of resistance. Yet there was bluster in his
voice.

“What does this mean?”

“It means that the fun’s over,” Rand stated evenly. “Stand right where
you are! So the pack-train’s ready to start?”

The prisoner made no reply. Tall, sullen, resentful—unflinchingly he met
the cool gray eyes of the mounted policeman.

“Come, speak up! I mean business!” Rand shoved his revolver into the
man’s ribs again. There was nothing pleasant about his voice now.

“They’re ready tuh start if yuh want to know,” begrudgingly answered the
outlaw.

“Are you heading straight for the pass?”

Again the hesitation. Again the revolver fondling the man’s ribs.

“Yep.”

“All right,” said Rand, cooly deliberate. “You can go out and tell them
to start. Tell them La Qua is ready.”

The prisoner stared.

“Go out. Yuh mean that?”

“Yes, but not alone. I’ll go with you. I’ll be standing right behind you
when you give them those orders. But before we go, you might as well
understand that there’s to be no trickery. No treachery. It might prove
fatal.”

Rand opened the door, making a gesture with one arm.

“Out of here—and watch your step! I’ll have my gun on you every minute!”

The door closed softly. The sound of retreating footsteps, a pregnant
silence—a period of waiting which seemed interminable. Then the door
opened again and Rand and the prisoner appeared. In the eyes of the
policeman there sparkled a triumphant light. He turned to Dick with a
smile.

“They’ve gone. Never suspected anything. Told them that La Qua and our
friend here would follow at their leisure. Bring me the rest of that
rope, Toma.”

They trussed the man and dragged him back to the far corner of the room
to keep company with La Qua. Again they stood in front of Richardson,
who lay with half-closed eyes. He had not yet recovered consciousness.
Rand spoke quickly:

“We haven’t a minute to lose. Every moment counts. Toma, I’m going to
ask you to remain here to guard these prisoners while I hurry on after
the pack-train. You, Dick, will return to Sandy and conduct him here. As
soon as you do that, Sandy will relieve Toma. In another hour or two,
Richardson will be able to sit up. It won’t be long before he recovers
completely. You and Toma are to follow and overtake me. I may need your
help. Think you’ll be able to follow our tracks, Toma?”

“No trouble do that,” nodded the guide. “We find ’em all right.”

Dick found Sandy without much difficulty. His chum was shivering from
the cold. Also he had grown impatient and resentful, as his first words
indicated.

“Well, did you finally consent to come back and let me know how things
are? I was just getting ready to leave this place. Surely, the corporal
didn’t expect me to stay here all night.”

“I’m sorry, Sandy,” placated Dick. “We couldn’t get here any sooner. Too
bad you’re cold.” His voice rose animatedly. “And good news! We’ve found
Richardson and have taken three prisoners—one of them La Qua. Rand is
following the pack-train in the direction of the pass. We must hurry.”

“Whew! Good work! I suppose you’re one of the heroes.”

“No such luck,” Dick replied. “I didn’t do a thing. All the credit is
due Rand and Toma. Both were wonderful. I’ll tell you about it sometime.
But now we must hurry. Toma and I are to follow Rand. You’re to remain
with Richardson and the prisoners in the cabin.”

“Suits me,” Sandy’s teeth chattered. “Hope it’s warm over there. I’ve
caught a chill. Anyway, good luck to you, Dick. When do you think you’ll
be back?”

“Don’t know. It’s a long way to the coast. Hundreds of miles, I guess.”

“The coast!” almost shrieked Sandy.

“Yes,” returned Dick a little proudly, “we’re going straight through to
the Pacific!”



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            A SCOUT RETURNS


Contrary to Dick’s expectations, Sandy did not resent being left behind.
True, the young Scotchman had experienced a certain amount of regret to
learn that he was to be separated from his two chums and miss the
excitement and adventure of the western trip, yet this feeling passed
quickly. In spite of his occasional rebellious mood and seeming
stubbornness, Sandy was really a philosopher. His grumbling and
complaining seldom were taken seriously. Under the surface, somewhere
deep down within him, were the flowing springs of an unconquerable good
nature.

He knew that it was necessary for someone to stay with Sergeant
Richardson and the prisoners, and he accepted Rand’s orders
unhesitatingly. Even if he couldn’t go along with Dick and Toma, he
could at least prove his worth in other ways. He’d see this thing
through to the finish.

Shortly after the two boys had left, Sergeant Richardson completely
recovered consciousness. It was not long before he sat up and began to
ask questions. He smiled a little wanly when he had been informed of
Corporal Rand’s successful strategy.

“I’m glad they got La Qua. Tomorrow, Sandy, we’ll take these prisoners
back to Wandley’s post. Perhaps we can find a place where we can lock
them up. I’ll put a man in charge.”

“Good idea,” approved Sandy. “It isn’t far from here. At the same time,
we can find out how Pearly is getting on.”

Later, the policeman walked over, a little unsteadily, to the corner
where the prisoners lay.

“Well, La Qua, I’m glad to see you here. Have you anything to say for
yourself?”

Apparently, he had. He immediately broke forth in a storm of invective
that scorched the already overheated room. Sandy’s ears fairly tingled
as he listened to the horrible oaths and scathing denouncement.

“Mebbe yuh got me now,” he snarled, concluding his tirade, “but yuh
ain’t finished with me yet. The knock on the head yuh got a while back
won’t be nothin’ compared to what’s coming to yuh. Yuh ain’t got no call
to meddle in honest men’s business.”

“Honest men!” gasped the sergeant, plainly taken aback. “Honest men,” he
repeated, staring in a sort of grim fascination at the row of evil faces
in front of him. “Why, my good fellow, I wish you’d explain one or two
things to my satisfaction. I wish—”

Sandy’s roar of laughter interrupted him. La Qua seized the opportunity
to declare venomously:

“I don’t need to explain nothin’. If one or two o’ your men got hurt,
it’s all on account o’ their meddling.”

The policeman saw the folly of further argument. He turned back to where
Sandy stood.

“Let’s try to find something to eat,” he proposed. “A hot cup of tea
would go well right now. I’m famished. After we’ve eaten, you can roll
in, Sandy, while I stand guard.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, sergeant, but I don’t think I’ll accept. You
need the rest more than I do.”

Richardson smiled and patted Sandy’s thatch of yellow hair.

“All right, if you insist. I’ll agree to take advantage of your offer,
but only on one condition.”

“What’s that?” Sandy asked wonderingly.

“That you wake me up in three hours’ time. A sort of compromise, you
see. In that way we’ll both get a little rest.”

“I’ll accept your terms,” said Sandy with great solemnity.

A search in the cupboard behind the fireplace was rewarded by the
discovery of a small container, full of tea, sugar in an earthen jar,
and a stack of doubtful-looking bannock, piled high on a granite plate.
A kettle was soon simmering over the fire.

When they had eaten, Richardson arose and, walking over, inquired if any
of the prisoners wanted refreshments. La Qua spurned the offer with a
hair-burning oath. The others were more tractable. Yes, they were
hungry. They would consider it a great favor if monsieur would do as he
said.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the policeman unbound the arms of the
three men, while Sandy brought tea and bannock. Later, he even permitted
one of the half-breeds to smoke. Then he bound them up again.

Long before the coming of daylight, the party started back on the trail
to Wandley’s. Arriving there without incident, four hours later, Sandy
and Richardson were considerably startled when the door opened and a
stalky, well-knit figure emerged.

“As I live,” shouted Sandy, “Malemute Slade! Where did you come from?”

They shook hands with the police scout, beaming over the good fortune
that had brought them together.

“Yeh, Sandy, I kind o’ thought it was about time to come mushin’ in.
Been up in the foothills fer nearly three weeks. But by the looks o’ it,
I’m two days late. Wished I’d been here when that Nitchie took his shot
at Pearly.”

He paused as his gaze wandered in the direction of the prisoners.

“Sufferin’ pole-cats! What’s all this scum?”

Malemute Slade’s critical eye ran over them, seeming to measure each in
turn.

“Fine specimens, ain’t they?” he rumbled on, half to himself. “Looks
like the scourings from Hades. There ain’t a single one o’ them I’d
trust any further than I could see. But where did yuh get ’em all,
sergeant? An’ why did yuh leave the hungriest wolf of ’em all scot
free?”

“You mean Murky?”

“Yeh.”

Richardson smiled.

“As a matter of fact, Slade, we’re not quite ready for him yet. We
haven’t a thing thus far we can use as evidence against him. We wouldn’t
have taken these men here either, if there had been any way of getting
around it. We won’t press charges against any of them until we have
secured the fur which was cached over there at Settlement Mountain.”

“So yuh found the cache?”

“Yes,” answered Richardson. “I’ll tell you about it presently. But
first, give me a hand to look after these men.”

As he spoke, the policeman jerked his head in the direction of the door.
A steady stream of the curious were pouring out. An inquisitive throng
soon gathered around them. On every side rose guttural exclamations,
accompanied by much chattering and shaking of heads. Attracted by the
commotion, Wandley himself appeared presently.

“Why, hello, sergeant!” he hailed the policeman. “What’s up? Bring your
men inside.”

Richardson drew the free trader aside and a whispered consultation
ensued. At its conclusion, Wandley led the way to a small building,
which had previously been used for storing fur, but which, during recent
years, had become too small to accommodate the trader’s growing
business.

“You can fit up this place to suit yourself. It’s strongly built and
will probably serve your purpose. I have a padlock inside for the door.”

It was not long before La Qua and his followers were locked up and a
guard, recruited from the crowd, stationed just outside. Then Sandy
accompanied Malemute Slade and Richardson to Pearly’s room. The wounded
man smiled cheerfully as they entered.

Sandy was overjoyed at the remarkable change in Pearly’s appearance.
Although still running a high fever, he had taken a turn for the better.
The greatest danger had passed. Sergeant Richardson stood near the bed
but did not speak. A deep hush had fallen over the room. Suddenly the
grizzled veteran of a hundred trails put out one hand and permitted it
to rest for one brief moment upon the wounded man’s head. That was all.
But many of the harsh lines in the face of the police sergeant had
softened. Silently he turned away, motioning to Slade and Sandy to
follow him. They repaired to the room, which had been placed at their
disposal. Closing the door after him, Richardson lost no time in getting
down to business.

“You asked me, Slade, where we got our prisoners. Over at Murky’s cache.
We had a little trouble there. If you’ll listen closely I’ll give you
full particulars of the affair.”

When the policeman had finished his narrative, Sandy noted the
impression it had made upon the scout. Malemute’s eyes were shining with
excitement.

“So that’s where Murky had his cache. Yuh can believe it or not,
sergeant, but I passed that place not more than two days ago. I didn’t
see nothin’ that looked suspicious. Mebbe it was a good thing I didn’t
stop to investigate. It might o’ spoiled ever’thing. So Rand is
followin’ the pack-train through Blind Man’s Pass? Can yuh beat that?
Here I’ve been searchin’ fer nearly a month an’ couldn’t find it.”

Sergeant Richardson drummed softly on the table. He looked up and
smiled.

“Unless I’m badly mistaken, the exact location of the pass will soon be
public property. Perhaps tomorrow by this time, Rand and the two boys
will have entered it.”

“Wish I was with them, sergeant.”

“You can go later. Just now I have other work for you.”

“You mean the prisoners?”

“Yes.”

“Want me to take ’em back to Mackenzie barracks?”

“They’ll be safer there,” nodded the sergeant.

“You’re goin’ out after Murky then, eh?”

“No. Rand may have more to do than he’s bargained for. I think I’ll take
Sandy here and set out after them. Murky will have to wait. I don’t
believe he’ll attempt to escape. He’ll probably stay over at Good Faith
for a few weeks longer.”

“Few weeks!” sputtered Malemute. “Why, he ain’t there right now!”

“Isn’t there!”

“No. When I come in a while ago, Wandley told me he’d seen Murky again
jes’ a few hours before.”

“Great Scott! Then he didn’t go back to Fort Good Faith after all.”

“Don’t see how he could.”

“But which way did he go? Did you hear?”

“Wandley didn’t seem to know. If anyone was to ask me fer an opinion,
I’d say he’s out scouting fer more fur.”

Richardson rose thoughtfully to his feet and walked over to the window.
The bleak, cheerless landscape met his gaze. Sandy, who had a good view
of the policeman’s face, saw the jaw set grimly.

“I may be able to pick up a trace of him somewhere during the next few
days. Of course, that means that my trip through the pass must be
postponed for a short time.”

He turned and smiled at Sandy.

“While I’m out making my investigations, you’d better stay right here.
If you wish, upon my return, you can accompany me on the journey.”

“I’ll wait for you, sergeant. I’m anxious to go through Blind Man’s Pass
and join Dick and Toma.” Then more plaintively: “You won’t change your
mind, will you?”

Both Richardson and Malemute Slade laughed at the young man’s
earnestness.

“No, Sandy, a promise is a promise. I’ll not go back on my word.”
Richardson turned and addressed Slade. “You’d better make arrangements
to take the prisoners over to barracks as quickly as possible. I’d
suggest that you start tomorrow.”

“I’ll start this afternoon if you say the word, sergeant.”

“No. You need a few hours in which to rest up. Tomorrow will do almost
as well.”

With a nod and a smile for both of them, the policeman turned quickly
and strode out of the room.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                        FOLLOWING THE PACK-TRAIN


Through an opaque darkness filled with the oppressive silence of Arctic
night, Dick and Toma made their way. A few stars had come out like
wayward wanderers. On every side were gray, unfamiliar shapes. Objects
were shadowy and indistinct. Wolves and coyotes made the only sound
heard across that weird and mysterious wilderness.

“We ought to find him pretty soon, Toma,” Dick broke forth. “We’ve been
travelling for an hour now, and I’m sure we’ve been making better
progress than the pack-train.”

They came to the foot of a slope and started up, side by side, their
moccasined feet swishing through the freshly fallen snow. Gaining the
summit of the hill, they paused for breath. Then the quick ears of the
guide, straining always for some sound that might be significant,
detected a faint rustling ahead.

“I hear him. We go careful now. Mebbe him Corporal Rand. But no take
chances. Not always be too sure.”

Rand it was. He stood waiting for them, one hand on his hip, the other
raised in a warning gesture.

“They’re ahead—not more than a few rods. Listen, and you can hear them.”

“Yes, I can hear something,” whispered Dick. “Did you think we were
never coming, corporal?”

“As a matter of fact,” Rand answered him, “I didn’t expect you for
another half hour. You’ve made good time.”

The three started forward slowly, keeping always within sound of the
cavalcade in front. Sometimes they approached so closely that they could
hear the voices of the packers and occasionally the snarling of the
dogs. Soon they had learned something of importance: La Qua’s pack-train
consisted both of ponies and dog teams. There were seven or eight
horses, in addition to four teams of huskies.

“You see,” explained Rand, “La Qua was in a predicament. The snow storm
interfered with his plans. His original intention, evidently, was to
take only pack-horses. The heavy snow made this inadvisable. But he
didn’t have as many dog teams as he required to move away the cache. So
he was forced to use the ponies as well.”

Just before daybreak, the pack-train halted in the lee of a small
mountain. From a position a few hundred yards away, concealed by rocks,
Rand and the two boys watched it. Breakfast was soon in progress. Smoke
curled up from several campfires. It was not an altogether unpleasant
scene and Dick’s mouth watered at the thought of the nourishing meal,
piping hot, the outlaws would presently sit down to. He even imagined he
could smell the appetizing odor of frying bacon and the pungent aroma of
coffee. A little crestfallen, he nibbled at his own emergency rations,
huddling down against a flat surface of rock.

Later, Dick looked out again, eyes bleared and bloodshot. Every muscle
in his body ached. Lack of sleep had induced a strange condition—an
overpowering lassitude he could not shake off. The rustling of a pine
tree near by had become a sing-song, half-musical chant, which
momentarily grew louder. His vision played him false. Objects around him
were distorted, sometimes grotesque. His mind had lost its function.
Nothing was real. Nothing mattered. He fell asleep, sitting up—a sleep
so sound, so intense, so deep that Rand saw the uselessness of
attempting to wake him.

When he recovered consciousness, he heard the corporal speaking:

“He’s coming to, Toma. Give him another shake.”

Dick stared about him guiltily. He surmised that he had slept only a few
minutes but the sight of the round orb of the sun, high above the
horizon, quickly disillusioned him.

“Why—why didn’t you wake me?” he gasped. “How long have I been here?
What time is it, corporal?”

“Nine o’clock. You’ve slept four hours.”

“I did?” Dick’s eyes were wide with dismay.

“Yes, you did. But don’t think I blame you,” Rand laughed. “You couldn’t
help it. It was inevitable. No person can manage without sleep. I had a
little doze myself. We can’t lose the pack-train now. It will be easy to
follow their tracks in broad daylight. We’ll catch up to them again
before nightfall.”

All day they travelled, passing through a country of hills and rocks,
with mountain peaks towering above them. The summits of the mountains
were lost in an enveloping, vaporous mist. Shaggy heights were
resplendent in rainbow garb. The deep brown of rock surfaces was a
decided contrast to the scintillating white of the trail.

Late in the afternoon the tracks led them across a wind-swept plateau,
thence down to a narrow defile which ran uninterruptedly westward for a
distance of four or five miles. As they approached its end, Corporal
Rand was surprised into a quick ejaculation.

“Can’t see how we can get out of this. Surely they didn’t climb those
slippery rocks.”

A few yards further on, they found the solution to the mystery. On the
left they saw an opening in the rocks, scarcely more than four feet
wide—in reality a wide crack that split the immense formation of rock
from top to bottom. Passing through it, they emerged into what appeared
to be a wide valley, stretching far ahead. The corporal gasped in
amazement. Dick stood bewildered. Even Toma so far forgot himself as to
cry out in wonder.

“Blind Man’s Pass!” exclaimed the two boys.

“Blind Man’s Pass,” replied the policeman. “At last a reality!
Wonderful! I can scarcely credit my senses. Beautiful, isn’t it, Dick?”

Dick nodded. “I was never more astonished in my life. No wonder the
entrance to the pass is so hard to find. Even now I doubt if I could go
back eight or ten miles and find my way here again.”

A strange far-away look flecked the eyes of the policeman. He glanced up
at the receding walls of the valley. Up, up, up, hundreds, thousands of
feet through an amber haze of sunlight, streaked here and there with
bright tints and shades. Magic seemed to touch everything. Dick was
obsessed with a sense of unreality, of majestic heights, of vague
distances.

Along the comparatively level floor of the valley lay only a few inches
of snow. The tracks of the pack-train could easily be seen. They were
not difficult to follow. There was no danger now of wandering afield and
losing their bearings. The mountains shut them in—completely encompassed
them. Neither they nor the outlaws could clamber up the unscalable
heights.

Their onward trek had assumed something of the nature of an outing, a
mysterious adventure through unfamiliar scenes. In the hours that passed
never once did Dick lose interest in his surroundings. Sleep had revived
him and his spirits had risen accordingly. He and his two companions
hurried on, conversing as gaily as if they were going to a holiday
festival.

Day ended with startling suddenness. But the gloomy, threatening
darkness of the preceding night did not come. It was more radiant,
softly nocturnal—a half-moon riding across a bedecked, star-sprinkled
sky. Crackling northern lights. Clear, crisp, exhilarating air. The only
obscurities lay along the shadowed walls of the valley, in the deep
recesses and fissures of the rocks.

Day after day, they fared westward amid scenes of grandeur and
magnificence. Never did they approach closer than a mile or two to the
outlaws. At night very often they could see twinkling campfires ahead.
Frequently, on clear days, they perceived the pack-train itself—tiny
black dots, crawling like ants over sugar or white sand. Once, climbing
to the commanding position of a huge crag, for nearly an hour Dick
watched the progress of the cavalcade.

Outside of these minor incidents, there was little of importance to
distinguish one day from another. Fortunately, there had been no marked
change in the weather. They were forced to conserve their supplies, but
now and again ptarmigan were secured, making a much appreciated change
in the monotony of their diet. On the morning of the tenth day the
valley widened out and by evening they had made their way out of the
pass into a country of rugged and broken contours. Soon the forest
encroached. Then the topography of the land became less undulating, less
forbidding. In the breath of the wind they could smell the unmistakable
tang of the Pacific. It was shortly after this that a most mysterious
incident occurred.

It was afternoon, of a calm, sunshiny day, and only a few hours previous
they had picked up a well-marked trail, leading to the westward. The
pack-train—they had good reason to believe—was less than a mile ahead;
and Dick and his two companions were moving along slowly, when,
unexpectedly to their right, scarcely a hundred yards back from the
trail, they perceived a log cabin. Upon closer approach, they saw that
the place was inhabited. A thin spiral of smoke curled up from the mud
chimney. Outside, stretched on convenient drying-frames, were pelts of
various wild animals.

Invariably cautious, Rand decided not to go in, even though his visit
might have been rewarded by a goodly supply of fresh meat.

“I hate to risk it,” he informed the boys. “No telling who lives there.
I’ve no desire to advertise my presence. We’d better conquer our
curiosity and our appetites and keep right on.”

They were now directly opposite the cabin. Dick and Toma turned longing
eyes in its direction.

“Look! Ponies!” exclaimed Toma.

“Where?” sharply demanded Rand.

The guide pointed. Back in the heavy underbrush, near the edge of a
natural clearing, were three ponies staked out in the snow. The
policeman’s face instantly became serious, though for what reason Dick
could not decide. From that moment, he grew more and more thoughtful.
Once or twice, as Dick looked his way, he saw Rand shake his head. But
in the interest of new scenes, Dick quickly forgot the incident. It was
fully an hour later before it was brought again to his attention.

“Queer thing about those ponies,” Rand mused aloud. “Seldom that these
trappers keep any around. It puzzles me.”

“It does seem strange,” agreed Dick. “Can’t imagine what use a trapper
would have for them.”

A few miles farther on they passed a second cabin, almost identical to
the first. Here too was the same phenomenon—except that at this place
there were two ponies instead of three. So amazed was Rand that he
stopped short and scratched his head in perplexity.

“This is a new one on me,” he scowled. “I’ve travelled thousands of
miles through the North, met every type of trapper, both Indians and
white men, but this is the first time I have ever witnessed this
incongruity. Trappers with ponies! Dog teams—yes! But ponies never! Can
you explain it, Toma?”

“No. I not understand, corporal.”

Twice, during the next two days, the incident was repeated. They passed
other trappers’ shacks where there were ponies. However, now the thing
had become such a commonplace occurrence that they ceased to marvel at
it. New interests occupied their attention. The trail had widened and
had become almost a road. Indian villages were passed. They saw totem
poles. They crossed a river. Obliterated now were the tracks of the
pack-train. More and more traffic with each succeeding day. One morning
Dick made a suggestion.

“Don’t you think we ought to hurry along and catch up to them, corporal?
They may be travelling faster now and may give us the slip. We can slow
down again as soon as we catch sight of them.”

“Good idea,” responded Rand.

There ensued a long period of forced marching, during which the little
party hardly took time to eat or sleep. Hour after hour, they hurried
on. The pace began to tell. Nearly fifty-four hours later, climbing to a
height of land, they saw stretching out before them, perhaps not more
than ten miles away, the huge, broad expanse of the ocean. But nowhere
along the trail ahead was there a sign of the pack-train. Corporal
Rand’s face shadowed with apprehension.

“Something mighty queer about this,” he pronounced. “I can’t understand
it. I’m beginning to feel like a fool.”

“But what do you mean, corporal?”

“The pack-train—” the policeman’s voice caught.

“Yes. Yes,” persisted Dick. “What about it?”

Rand rubbed a hand across his troubled forehead.

“Just this, Dick: I can’t believe that the outlaws have been able to
gain so quickly on us. I wonder what has happened.”

“They must be ahead somewhere. We’ve followed them all the way. They
couldn’t just disappear in thin air.”

Before replying, the corporal brushed the snow from a flat rock and sat
down.

“That’s the natural hypothesis. But the facts don’t seem to bear it
out.”

“You mean—”

“I mean,” said the policeman, “that we’ve been hoodwinked. They’ve
contrived somehow to give us the slip. I’m positive we won’t find them
ahead. Do you suppose we passed their camp during the night?”



                               CHAPTER XV
                     THE CORPORAL UPBRAIDS HIMSELF


During the ensuing consultation there appeared to be a diversity of
opinion. Toma thought that they ought to retrace their steps in an
attempt to find out where the outlaws had turned off the trail, while
Dick still held to the belief that the pack-train must be somewhere
ahead. As for Rand, he did not immediately declare himself. Sitting on
the rock, his chin resting in his hands, he was immersed in deep
thought. Nearly ten minutes elapsed before he looked up and addressed
his two companions.

“I might as well be perfectly frank. I’m stuck. I must confess that I
don’t know where the pack-train is. It may be behind or it may be ahead.
If they—the outlaws—are ahead, I will say they’ve been moving faster
than at any time since we left Settlement Mountain.”

Dick stood impatiently, hands on hips, one moccasined foot tracing
patterns and queer hieroglyphics in the soft snow at the side of the
trail. Toma’s face was inscrutable. What lay behind his mask-like
features no one might guess. Another interval of silence—of inactivity.
Finally Rand rose to his feet.

“We’ll go on,” came his decision. “I doubt if we’ll find them ahead, but
we can search for the cabin in which the furs are stored. The cache must
be there somewhere.”

Later in the day, they came out upon a tree-covered plain close to the
Pacific. They camped within a thick shelter of pines, rolled in their
blankets, and on the following morning inaugurated a careful,
painstaking search.

Weary and discouraged, almost out of food, at the end of the second day
they found themselves on the south side of a tiny inlet.

“We seem to be getting nowhere,” Rand confessed. “I believe now that if
there is a cache, it’s farther back from the coast. We’ll skirt this
inlet and then return inland to see if by any chance we can find a trace
of the pack-train.”

Doggedly, in silence, the boys trailed along after Rand. Half an hour
later they broke through a tangle of underbrush to a clearing beyond.
Their hearts leaped with joy. Built out from the shore was a crudely
constructed landing wharf, fashioned entirely from pine and spruce
timbers with a covering of hewed poles. Close to the wharf—and what
struck their attention still more forcibly—stood a large log building
without windows—and with only one door. It was a warehouse—nothing else!
Probably the cache itself!

“Hurray!” shouted Dick, as he broke into a run. “We’ve found it!”

They brought up before the door of the building, panting breathlessly.
The door was padlocked. In feverish haste, Toma secured a couple of
sharp rocks and commenced hammering upon the clasp. Rand was smiling now
for the first time in many hours. When the efforts of Toma had been
rewarded, he stepped forward and yanked open the barrier.

“Murky Nichols has been storing fur in here for the past three or four
years,” he told the boys. “This will be the largest cache of stolen fur
ever seized by the police. It will mark the end of a series of lawless
depredations by the cleverest gang of crooks that has ever operated in
the North.”

When he had ceased speaking, the corporal stepped inside. The place was
dank, dark, evil-smelling. It was impossible to see anything. Standing
just behind him, Toma struck a match. The tiny flame flared up, but
failed to light the mysterious, dark recesses of the room. Dick and Toma
alternated in lighting matches. They pushed their way farther into the
darkness, groping about like ghouls in some subterranean passage.

Moisture had sprung out upon Dick’s forehead. He was trembling and hot.
Each tiny taper carried them farther and farther on their round of
exploration. Finally, Corporal Rand stopped short and threw up his hands
in an exasperated gesture.

“Shades of a purple skunk!” he cried out angrily. “There’s nothing here!
Pshaw! The place is as clean and bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.”

The disappointment succeeding this announcement was keen. Dick’s
shoulders slumped and his head drooped as he turned dejectedly and made
his way back to the door. Toma was the only one who had anything to say.

“I tell you something, corporal. Mebbe no fur here now, but all same
Murky Nichols use this place to make ’em cache. I know that.”

“How do you know it?” growled Dick.

“I tell by smell,” answered the guide.

“He’s right,” broke forth the corporal. “Fur has been stored here. I can
detect a familiar odor myself.”

“But how do you explain it?” asked Dick. “You were under the impression
that Nichols had a two-year supply of stolen fur here. What has become
of it?”

“Unfortunately, I’m no wizard,” Rand answered a little testily, “or I
might be able to answer your question. All I know is that Nichols has
been shipping fur for the last three or four years. As I told you once
before, we believe that a large shipment was taken from here to Seattle
by someone, who either purchased the fur in good faith or who is a
confederate of Murky’s. Perhaps this person comes up here oftener than
we surmised. It may be that he has just recently cleaned out this cache
and will return later for the fur now being brought here by pack-train.
Of only one thing am I reasonably sure, and that is that this is the
place where Nichols sends his shipments.”

“If we wait here, pretty soon pack-train will come. What you think?”
Toma raised questioning eyes to the mounted policeman.

“Yes,” said Rand, “the pack-train will come here. We can’t miss it.”

“But what I don’t understand,” Dick spoke hesitatingly, “is why the
outlaws haven’t arrived days ago. They were ahead of us when we started.
Now we’re ahead of them. How do you explain it, corporal?”

“I can think of only one explanation. The boat from Seattle may not be
due here for a week or two. In the interim, the outlaws are putting up
somewhere along the trail, where there are better facilities for feeding
the men and caring for the dogs and ponies. We must have passed them in
the dark.”

“What will we do?” asked Dick. “Go back and try to find them or stay
here?”

Rand made his decision promptly. “We might as well stay here. They’ll
have to come sooner or later. All we can do now is to wait.”

Considerably cheered, the three walked out of the building and made
their way over to the landing wharf. As they stood there, a
disconcerting thought occurred to Dick.

“The outlaws will be sure to see our tracks around the warehouse when
they come with the fur,” he pointed out.

“Don’t worry about that,” said Rand. “They don’t know yet that they’ve
been followed by the police. I doubt if they have a single suspicion.
However, when we go back, we’d better repair the damage to the lock and
door.”

Standing there, Dick half-expected to see at any moment a vessel round
the heavily wooded point and come steaming toward them. He thought about
the boat from Seattle. Wouldn’t it be great sport if the ship would
arrive ahead of its schedule? If this happened, would they drop anchor
in the deep waters of the inlet and wait for the coming of the outlaws?
What action would Rand take? Would he attempt to capture the vessel, or
would he fall back out of sight to lay in concealment until the arrival
of the pack-train?

The first light of oncoming dawn struck Dick’s eyes on the following
morning when he peeped out from between his Hudson’s Bay blankets. It
was really still too early to get up and it provoked him to find that he
had awakened so soon. Neither Toma nor the corporal would be astir for
another two hours. What had aroused him? He sat up impatiently, tucked
the blankets around his feet. Then he heard a voice:

“What a fool I am. I must be suffering from a mental relapse. What is
the matter with me? A blind bat! A nincompoop! Honestly, I need a
guardian.”

The assertions were made with such deliberateness, with such sincerity,
that Dick grinned in spite of himself. He turned his head quickly in the
direction of Rand’s bed and discovered that person sitting up like
himself, and staring moodily out through the thick obstruction of trees.
Rand’s back was towards him. Apparently, the policeman believed that his
remarks had fallen upon heedless ears. Naturally he supposed that the
boys still slept.

“What’s wrong, corporal?” pleasantly inquired the eavesdropper.

Rand started and half-turned. His manner was a little sheepish, like
that of a boy caught in some foolish prank.

“So you heard me?” Rand turned completely around and grinned. “Well,
anyway, you know now what I think of myself. When you have finished
dressing, Dick, come and clout me over the head. You have my permission.
I’ve been guilty of blithering idiocy. How I ever contrived to persuade
the R. N. W. M. P. to take me into the service will always remain an
unsolved mystery.”

Dick laughed outright. “I don’t think you do yourself justice, corporal.
What makes you say that?”

“My conscience hurts me. I’m an ass. When I awoke about twenty minutes
ago, it suddenly dawned on me how completely we’ve been fooled.”

“By whom?” inquired Dick, wondering if the policeman had taken leave of
his senses.

“By the outlaws.”

“You mean when they gave us the slip?”

“Yes. That’s it exactly.”

“That wasn’t your fault. We’ve been careful enough.”

Corporal Rand threw back his blankets and commenced to dress.

“Do you remember, Dick,” he resumed, “when we passed the first trapper’s
shack on the trail this side of Dominion Range, and Toma called our
attention to the three ponies?”

Dick nodded.

“You may recall,” Rand went on, “that the presence of the ponies there
puzzled me. Subsequently the thing was repeated at other trappers’
cabins along the route we were travelling. Now, as I look back upon it
all, I’m ashamed of my stupidity, I should have known right away what
was taking place.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”

“The ponies were part of the pack-train. The furs were unloaded at
various places along the line. As the pack-train progressed, it became
smaller, until, finally, nothing was left of it. That explains many
things. It explains why we have been unable to overtake the outlaws.
Murky’s precious shipment is scattered along the trail over a distance
of twenty miles.”

“What a trick!” Dick exclaimed. “Pretty clever ruse, wasn’t it? The
outlaws must have known all the time that we were following them. It
took a genius to think of a plan like that.”

“I don’t believe they knew we were following them,” stated the corporal.
“It’s probably the usual procedure, inaugurated by Murky himself.
Nichols does not feel safe with all of his eggs in one basket. He
doesn’t believe in taking unnecessary risks. The trappers who live along
the trail, where we saw the ponies, are probably in his employ—really
not trappers at all. They guard the caches of stolen fur.”

Rand paused for a moment, then continued:

“Do you remember, Dick, how many of those trappers’ shacks there were
where we saw ponies?”

“Three,” answered Dick quickly.

“But we went past several where we saw none. Do you recall whether there
were dogs around these places?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

Rand mumbled something which Dick did not catch. Then—

“Well, I’ve come to this conclusion: Those five or six places harbour
the outlaws—all of them, every member of the pack-train. I’m convinced
that if we went back there tomorrow we’d also find the fur.”

“If Murky has five or six separate caches, why did he build the
warehouse?”

“Couldn’t very well get along without it. Consider his position. The
boat from Seattle may on occasion be two or three days late. What is to
be done with the fur? It is too valuable to be piled up on the landing
wharf in all kinds of weather. The warehouse would be—”

Corporal Rand did not complete the sentence. Dick had jumped to his feet
and was waving his arms about wildly.

“There it comes! There it comes!” he shouted. “The boat! It has entered
the inlet. Look, corporal!”



                              CHAPTER XVI
                             MURKY NICHOLS!


The vessel came to anchor not far from the landing wharf. The throb of
her engines ceased. Immaculate in fresh paint—a dull gray—she rode
prettily in the water. Her graceful lines resembled those of a yacht. It
was evident that she had been built for speed. Slung out over port and
starboard, were two small boats, one of which, judging from the
plaintive creaking of ropes, was about to be lowered. The three watched
her for a while, endeavoring to make out some of the figures on board.

“She must be days ahead of her schedule,” surmised Rand. “The outlaws
would never have cached the fur along the line if they had known she was
coming in so soon. What’s that?”

They heard rather than saw the oncoming figure—someone trampling along
through the brush. Then the newcomer broke into the clearing and for the
first time his form stood revealed.

Dick’s throat contracted. He shrank back against the thicket, reaching
out for support. A faintly audible exclamation rose to his lips.

“Murky Nichols!”

The silence that fell over the little party was so deep, so breathless
that they could hear the thicket rustling in the faint breeze. Corporal
Rand stared at Dick, and that young man returned the gaze with an
expression that was indescribable. Toma whispered hoarsely:

“How him get here? I thought he go back to Fort Good Faith.”

“Apparently not!” Rand gritted from between set teeth. “A ruse, a
trick—he’s full of them. One never knows what Nichols is planning, or
where he is likely to be at any stated time. He bobs up everywhere. It
has always been difficult to follow his movements. He’s here now. It’s
something I hadn’t bargained for.”

The lanky, indolent figure slumped past the warehouse, heading for the
wharf. A gray felt hat was pulled down over his forehead, the brim
almost resting upon his shaggy eyebrows. Reaching his objective, he
pulled a knife and plug of tobacco from his pocket and lazily sliced off
a generous hunk. Having completed this important operation, he glanced
up, slowly raised his arm and began signalling the vessel.

There sounded the creaking of hawsers, then a low splash as the boat hit
the water. Two men, one of them in a blue cap and uniform, rowed for the
shore. They reached the landing wharf, clambering up with the assistance
of Murky.

Although they could see everything that happened, Rand and the two boys
were unable to catch more than a low murmur of sound coming from the
conspirators. Once the voice of the man in uniform rose appreciably, but
even then they could not catch what was said.

“I’d give my right arm to be able to sit under that wharf and listen to
them,” Rand whispered eagerly.

“What you think them fellows do?” Toma wished to know.

“Can’t imagine. Something’s up. I wonder why Murky didn’t bring along
his pack-train. What’s the reason for the delay?”

Scarcely had the words left the policeman’s mouth, when he jumped back,
nerves taut, eyes shining. A perfect bedlam of sound arose. It drifted
across to them through the trees, disturbing the stillness, the calm of
the forest’s solitude. They could hear the voices of men, the whinnying
of ponies, the guttural shouts of packers, the swishing and snapping of
underbrush. Dick seized Toma’s arm and held it in a vise-like grip. In a
sort of stupor, he noticed that Rand was filling a rifle-clip with
cartridges. The pack-train came into view at the edge of the
clearing—ten horses, four dog teams and six men. They gathered about the
warehouse, a confused mass of horses, dogs and men, seeming to hesitate,
in reality waiting for a signal from Nichols.

It was a crucial moment. Dick knew that the time had come for action,
yet the thought terrified him. What chance had they against so many? Not
counting Nichols, there were six of the outlaws and probably as many
more sailors aboard the yacht. Chills, like tiny currents of ice,
coursed down Dick’s spine.

The policeman seemed to sense Dick’s feelings, almost to read his
thoughts. He reached over and patted the younger man affectionately on
the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Dick, we’ll come out all right. Just keep cool. You’ve
been anxious to join the Royal Mounted—now show me the stuff you’re made
of. You too, Toma.”

“Yes sir, corporal, I stick by you when we make ’em big fight. You just
tell ’em Toma what to do.”

“What’s our first move?” asked Dick. “Do you intend to meet the outlaws
face to face? Aren’t there too many for us?”

“The best way to defeat a gang like this is to capture its leader.
That’s what I propose to do now. Murky Nichols is the man I want. He’s
the directing force here, the brains behind every move. The others are
mere chessmen. He’s the player. I intend to walk right over in the
presence of every one of his men and take him prisoner.”

“What!” gasped Dick.

“I can do it.” Rand’s voice was calm.

It was a breathless, incredible thing that Rand proposed. A desperate
plan indeed—seemingly foolhardy! It required bravery of the deepest
brand—nerves of steel and a courage that would never falter.

“You can’t make it,” almost whimpered Dick. “A bullet will bring you
down before you go fifty yards.”

“I don’t think so,” the corporal answered, only a slight tremor in his
voice. “There’s a psychology about this thing, Dick, that neither you
nor I understand. At first, they’ll be too startled to do anything. By
the time they have recovered from their surprise, they won’t be able to
shoot without endangering the lives of Nichols and the two sailors. At
any rate, I’m willing to take the chance.”

“It isn’t fair!” Dick protested hotly. “Why should you run all the risks
alone? Corporal Rand, I won’t permit it. If you’re going to walk over
there, I’m going with you.”

The suspicion of a twinkle showed in Rand’s unwavering gray eyes. But
his voice was stern.

“Who’s in command here?”

“Yes, I know,” argued Dick. “But just the same—”

“You and Toma will stay here. That’s final. By doing that, you can serve
me better than by going along with me.”

“How?”

“In various ways. I could tell you better if I knew exactly what is
going to happen. I may not capture Nichols at all; he may capture me. If
he does, there is the chance that you may be able to rescue me. It may
be that I am wrong too about the outlaws being too astonished to fire at
me while I am crossing the clearing. If I am wrong, you may be able to
draw their fire and give me a chance to escape.”

Without once faltering, Corporal Rand struck boldly out into the
clearing and headed straight for the wharf. His course would take him
about forty yards west of the warehouse on the side opposite the door.
The outlaws completely encircled the building. Dick thought at first
that it was their purpose to unload the furs, placing them in the
building, but on second thought, he realized that this would not be the
case. With the yacht riding at anchor in the inlet, it stood to reason
that the furs would be placed on the landing wharf, thereby saving a
second handling. In fact, the corporal had proceeded scarcely twenty
feet on his way, when Murky raised one arm as a signal for the
pack-train to come closer. Fortunately, no one had as yet noticed the
policeman.

Dick was rapidly losing control of his nerves. The tension was terrible.
He experienced a feeling similar to that of being smothered under a
blanket. His gaze was fairly riveted on the retreating figure. Every
step that the corporal took positively hurt him.

He closed his eyes for a moment. He felt dizzy and weak. He could hear
Toma’s breathing—choking and asthmatic. He reached out and grabbed
convulsively for a branch that drooped down in front of him. A wail of
terror issued from his lips. A crash, a puff of smoke! Corporal Rand
stumbled a little, as if his toe had caught in some obstruction
underfoot. Dick saw Murky wheel in surprise, his hand fumbling at his
belt, face white and tense. But Rand had already pulled his gun and
though still thirty feet away, he had the drop on his opponent. Murky’s
hand and those of the two sailors went up, clawing the air. A few more
steps, and Rand stood amongst them.

Murky shrieked out something in Cree, which resulted in immediate
confusion around the warehouse. Packers sprang to their ponies, whips
cracked—hurried calls and frenzied oaths. Figures darted back and forth
as though daft. Presently out of the confusion came some semblance of
order. The pack-train started away in full retreat—a retreat that was
almost a rout.

Dick knew now what Murky’s command had been: Unable to save himself,
only one chance was left him—to send away the pack-train, to get rid of
the tell-tale evidence. Occupied as he was, Corporal Rand was powerless
to prevent it.

The packers had drawn their guns and were herding the ponies across the
clearing, shouting hoarsely at the top of their lungs. Dick saw Toma
leap past him, rifle held in readiness. For a split-second he stood
undecided, then he too turned and rushed frantically away to head off
the retreating party. Panting, they circled around to the far side of
the clearing, just as the head of the column entered the woods. Toma’s
rifle spurted fire and Dick followed his example. The rout became a
stampede. Ponies broke away from their packers and rushed away at a mad
gallop. Dog teams snarled and fought. Taken completely by surprise, the
outlaws huddled together, firing volley after volley at the place where
the boys lay concealed.

From that time on, at least as far as Dick was concerned, things became
blurred, hazy—unreal. Bullets flew in the brush everywhere. The
pack-train had stampeded, but the outlaws still remained. Most of
Murky’s adherents had now taken to cover and were offering a most
stubborn resistance. It was plain that Dick and Toma had failed in their
efforts.

There came suddenly a lull in the firing. In a choked, excited voice,
Dick spoke to Toma:

“This is a terrible mess. We haven’t succeeded in accomplishing
anything. First thing we know, one of these outlaws will get a pot-shot
at Rand—and then all will be over.”

“Corporal no fool,” Toma replied. “Things not so bad what you think.
Here come policeman now.”

It was true. With the prisoners walking ahead of him, Rand came straight
toward the place of the recent skirmish. This was the reason why the
firing had ceased. The outlaws were waiting for Murky. As the policeman
and his three prisoners came directly opposite Dick heard Rand giving
orders. Then Nichols called out in a trembling voice:

“Come out of it, boys. It’s all over. Come out, I tell yuh. If any o’
yuh shoot, I’m a dead man!”

One or two at a time, the outlaws came out, dropped their guns and moved
forward to Murky’s side, hands held high. Seeing the turn affairs had
taken, Dick and Toma also lost no time in joining the group.

“Well, Murky, I guess it’s all over,” Rand stated evenly. “We haven’t
seized your fur yet, but that won’t take long. Have you anything to say
for yourself?”

“Nothin’ at all, corporal,” Nichols answered insolently. “But mebbe we
ain’t through yet—you an’ me.”

Rand ignored the threat.

“You can dispatch two of your men to overtake the stampeded ponies and
find the dog teams. Toma will go along with them.”

Murky issued the orders, but the young guide stepped forward and
exclaimed:

“Men not all here, corporal. First time over at warehouse I count six
packers. Only four here.”

Dick confirmed Toma’s statement.

“That’s right. There were six. I counted them myself. We’d better be
careful.”

“Is this true, Murky?” Rand scowled.

“Yep.”

“Where are they?”

“How should I know? I wasn’t here. Yuh oughta know that.”

“You’ll be responsible if anything happens,” warned the policeman.

Not long afterward, Toma and two of the outlaws went out in search of
the stampeded ponies, while Rand and Dick took the remaining men—with
the exception of the uniformed sailor and Murky—and locked them in the
warehouse. Then Rand turned to the officer in charge of the yacht:

“You’d better order your vessel in, captain.”

“I’ll try, but I don’t know whether they’ll come,” trembled the sailor.

“They’ll save themselves a lot of trouble if they do. I have the name
and description of your vessel. Remember you’re dealing with the
Canadian government now.”

But the captain was right. Signalling from the wharf proved of no avail.
There came derisive shouts from the men aboard, and not long afterward
the sailors hoisted the anchor and the yacht steamed out of the inlet.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                        DICK GOES TO THE RESCUE


The escape of the outlaws from the warehouse during the night was one of
those regrettable happenings that come occasionally when least expected.
On the following morning as Dick opened the door a deep silence greeted
him. The prisoners had gone. Investigation showed that part of the
flooring had been removed and that the outlaws had dug their way out
during the night. The shock of this discovery staggered Dick, who lost
no time in reporting to Constable Rand. The policeman received the news
calmly.

“Well, there’s no use worrying about it. I’m sorry, but it can’t be
helped. We have the ring-leaders—which is much more important. The
police will retake the others in the course of time. Right now, I’m
worrying more about Toma and the pack-ponies. What has become of the
fur? If we lose the fur, we’ll have no direct evidence against Murky.”

“Why,” said Dick in surprise, “I should think you could convict him
easily. What about the shooting of Pearly and the assault upon
Richardson?”

“True enough. But Murky didn’t commit these crimes.”

“No; but he ordered them done. He’s the person responsible.”

“Unfortunately, that may be rather hard to prove. It all depends upon
what attitude the other outlaws take.”

The forenoon was long and tedious. Lines of worry began to crease the
corporal’s forehead. Dick was driven to the verge of desperation. The
pack-train had not yet returned. Sitting in front of the campfire,
opposite the sailor and Nichols, with Rand pacing nervously back and
forth behind him, Dick pictured a hundred imaginary perils and disasters
that had befallen Toma. Sometimes he saw him languishing in a dark, foul
room, suffering all the tortures of imprisonment; and again he
visualized a limp, lifeless form, crumpled in the snow in the depth of
some forest solitude, around him the leering, grinning faces of the
outlaws. By three o’clock in the afternoon, Dick had become almost
desperate. He rose to his feet and drew the corporal aside.

“I can’t endure this much longer. Let’s do something.”

The policeman took the younger man’s arm affectionately.

“What would you suggest?”

“I don’t know,” wailed Dick.

“There is only one thing that I can propose—and you may not like that.”

“What is it?”

“You can stay here and watch these two vultures while I go out and try
to find Toma.”

Moisture had gathered in Dick’s eyes. Through a glistening film, he
looked up at the corporal.

“Will you let me go? This inactivity, this suspense is killing me by
inches. Corporal, I’ll promise to be very careful. But please let me
go.”

“All right, Dick, you can start. Take your blankets and a few
supplies—if you can find any. If you have not discovered any trace of
him by noon tomorrow, come back and report to me.”

Dick lost no time in making his departure. All that afternoon he trudged
through the snow, sometimes picking up the track of a pony and losing it
again, on other occasions, coming across human footprints or the charred
remains of a campfire. When darkness descended, he was miles back from
the coast, with nothing more encouraging to buoy up his spirits than the
thought that he must soon reach the main-travelled trail. His aching
legs carried him along the slope of a hill—up, up interminably; then he
struck out north by east in the direction he knew must eventually lead
him to the place he sought. But as the miles slipped past, he grew so
weary and footsore that he decided to make camp for the night. Just
ahead he could see what appeared to be the edge of a coulee—and he
struggled on with the intention of entering it, thereby gaining
protection from the chill, moist wind that blew in from the sea.

Imagine his surprise, upon approaching closer, to discover that it was
not a coulee at all, but a deep-set basin, looking somewhat like the
ancient bed of a lake. It was nearly three miles across, several hundred
feet deep, and thickly overgrown with red willow. Near its center, he
saw the twinkling light of a cabin.

An hour later, he approached the cabin and knocked timidly at the door.
A squint-eyed native, so old that his yellow face was a curious net-work
of wrinkles, admitted him.

“I want drink and food,” Dick informed the man, stumbling over the
Indian words.

The old man nodded acquiescence, leading the way into the house. He
clapped his hands together sharply and waited. From the loft above,
there came immediately the sound of shuffling feet, then a form, even
more senile than that of Dick’s host, slowly descended a rickety ladder,
emitting as it came a series of rheumatic groans. The woman, following
instructions from her husband and a half-timid stare at Dick, hobbled
into the adjoining room and returned presently, carrying an earthern
pot, which she placed upon the floor in front of her visitor. It was a
cold but not unsavory mixture of fish and vegetables and Dick, weak from
hunger, carried the food to a bench at one side of the room and began
eating with avidity.

Thus far, he had not been successful in finding any trace of Toma.
Neither had he seen any of the outlaws, although he was sure they must
be somewhere in the vicinity. Probably a few of them had even passed by
this cabin. Dick had learned a little Cree and he decided to question
the old Indian. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally gained
the information that a number of pack-horses, in charge of three men,
had crossed the basin only a few hours previous.

Dick received the news with a joyous quickening of the heart. From the
native’s description, Toma was one of the party.

“Which way were they travelling?” came his next eager question.

He expected, of course, to hear that they were going east in search of
the remainder of the ponies, but to his surprise the Indian pointed
westward. This meant that he and Toma had passed each other only a short
time before. The guide, having completed a successful search, was
returning to the coast.

It was cheering information and Dick decided that as soon as he had
finished his welcome repast and had rested for a short time, he would
retrace his steps and rejoin his friends. Putting aside the empty dish,
he turned eagerly upon his host, just as that worthy stepped back from
his place by the door, fear and dismay depicted in his watery old eyes.
Almost simultaneously, there fell across Dick’s sensitive ears the sound
of approaching footsteps, then a voice that caused him to experience a
momentary sensation of chill.

With a finger on his lips as a warning to the native, Dick scurried up
the ladder, pulling it up after him. His hands were shaking. He
deposited the ladder on the floor, tiptoed across the loft and lay down
with his eyes at a crack.

The door of the room below was pushed rudely open, without even the
formality of a knock, and three men—all of them outlaws—entered. Of the
three, one was a white man—the sailor who had come ashore with the
captain of the yacht. He wore a gray cap and a much-soiled suit of
clothes—apparel too thin for that climate! He sat down shivering close
to the fireplace, extending his blue, unmittened hands toward the blaze.
He did not even look up as one of the other outlaws called loudly for
food and growled unpleasantly when it did not appear forthwith.

While they ate, Dick lay watching them. He hoped that none of the
outlaws would make a search of the house. Even if they did—now that the
ladder was pulled up—he was fairly sure they would not come to the loft.
He was feeling comparatively safe, until he became conscious of a step
behind him. Then he became panic-stricken. His tongue clove to the roof
of his mouth. He had hardly the strength to turn his head as the
apparition passed, a young Indian girl not over seventeen or eighteen
years of age. She had paused, looked at him in a sort of bewildered
manner, then moved forward, picked up the ladder, let it slip through
the hole in the floor, and proceeded to climb down to the room below.

Dick’s breath caught as he thought about the ladder projecting there
through the aperture, where the Indian girl had left it. It was a
strange trick of fate that had been played upon him at a most
inopportune time. The outlaws now had easy access to the loft. It would
be simple enough indeed to come up and take him like a rat in a trap.

Also, there was another horn to the dilemma. Unwittingly, the girl might
blurt out something about his presence there. And if she did, the
outlaws would hear it immediately and the game would be up. The very
imminence of the thing was not conducive to Dick’s peace of mind. Lying
there, not daring to stir, expecting at any moment to hear the ladder
creak under the weight of one or more of his enemies, he sweated in an
agony of apprehension. He had left his rifle below and, unfortunately,
his revolver was empty. Desperately, he looked about him for some sort
of weapon that he might use in his own defense. He could see nothing.
Except for the blankets in the far corner, the loft was bare. A small
pocket-knife was the only thing he had that would be of the slightest
service in a hand-to-hand encounter.

Soon afterward, one of the outlaws turned upon the Indian woman and
demanded more food. She shook her head, informing him in Cree that there
was nothing more in the house. The outlaw apparently did not believe
this and, in a sudden burst of anger, advanced and shook her roughly by
the shoulder.

The girl intervened. With a tiger-like spring, she bounded forward,
slapping him across the face. In a blind fury now, he attempted to
retaliate, but she eluded him and ran to the center of the room. Here he
caught her, but released her with a snarl, as her teeth sank into his
arm. Eyes blazing, he grabbed for her again, but she dodged past. His
long fingers caught in a string of beads, tearing it from her neck. Then
Dick’s heart seemed to stand still. She had started up the ladder, the
outlaw in hot pursuit.

During the next few moments Dick’s movements were performed
subconsciously—and with the speed of desperation. The girl’s head had
appeared in the aperture, when he jumped past her. Feet foremost, he
crashed into the repulsive up-turned face; crashed into it, then went
down—girl, outlaw and ladder together—landing with a terrific impact
that shook the house.

Stunned, he and the girl separated themselves from the confused muddle
and struggled to their feet. The outlaw, however, did not stir. When
Dick sprang forward and seized his rifle, the man still lay there, one
brown, claw-like hand still retaining three or four unstrung beads.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                             A DUSKY FRIEND


No sooner had Dick picked up his rifle than he realized that he could
not possibly escape the second half-breed and the sailor who stood by
the fireplace. The odds were against him. The sailor had covered him
with an ugly-looking automatic, while the breed’s rifle was held at a
threatening angle. He put down his gun as quickly as he could, deciding
to face the situation squarely. Reaction from his first spasm of fear
had left him calm and cool, his mind on the alert.

“You’re too many for me. I’ll give up.”

“You showed a lot of good sense there,” approved the sailor. “We sure
would o’ drilled you, Buddy, if you’d made another move. Looks as if
you’d done about enough damage now.”

Dick turned his head and looked again at the crumpled form of the girl’s
assailant.

“I’m sorry this had to happen. I guess he’ll recover.”

“Playing the hero stuff, eh?” leered the sailor. “She ought to feel
pretty proud o’ your work. I must say you made a good job o’ it.”

Dick flushed, but did not reply. He was watching the half-breed, who had
advanced upon the old Indian and had demanded a rope with which to bind
his prisoner. He saw the old man shake his head. The watery old eyes,
set in the curious net-work of wrinkles, roved fearfully from face to
face. Would the outlaw please believe him? He spoke the truth. God was
his witness.

The half-breed considered the problem for a short space, his crafty gaze
darting here and there around the room. In spite of his host’s assertion
to the contrary, he was sure that the old man was not telling the truth.
He walked into the kitchen and came back, shaking his head. He scrambled
up to the loft, where Dick heard him prowling around, muttering to
himself. He reappeared, at length, carrying a thick woolen blanket,
which he had taken from the girl’s bed. Producing a hunting knife, he
cut this into strips about two inches wide, and in a short time had Dick
bound as securely as if he had used moosehide thongs or manilla rope.

“Kind o’ hard on you, ain’t it, Buddy,” sympathised the sailor. “If it
was me now, running this show, I’d let you go free. ’Cause we ain’t got
no particular quarrel with you. But his nibs here seems to think that
you require special attention.”

Dick and the sailor kept up a desultory conversation for the next two or
three hours, the sailor doing most of the talking. He bitterly regretted
the circumstances that had brought him here. He spoke contemptuously of
his two companions. They were not his sort. He liked neither of them.
During the day he had suffered from cold and exposure and had undergone
a terrible agony caused by blistered feet. This was no country for a
white man.

“If I had my wish right now, Buddy, I’d be aboard the ‘Elenore,’
steamin’ down along the coast,” he declared presently.

“You should have remained behind when the outlaws broke out of the
warehouse,” Dick reminded him.

“What! Stay there, an’ later on get throwed into jail? I should say not.
Even if I do have to suffer now, I can mebbe make my way back to the
States somehow.”

“They’ll get you sooner or later,” Dick argued.

“Mebbe so, but I’ll take my chances.”

The room became more quiet. The old Indian and his wife and daughter
retired to the loft, leaving the outlaws in full charge. The man, whom
Dick had hurt in his leap from the top of the ladder, had recovered
consciousness, but was as yet too dazed and shaken to do more than lie
groaning in the corner, where he had been carried. His friend—he who had
bound Dick—paid little attention either to this manifestation of
suffering or to the conversation between Dick and the sailor. In a short
time he had begun to drowse, chin on his chest, eyes half open. With a
friendly nod to Dick, the sailor rose from his place by the fire, and,
using his coat as a pillow, lay down upon the hard floor.

Two candles furnished light for the room. One had been placed on a shelf
on the wall, the other on a small table by the door, leading to the
kitchen. Except for the ruddy glare from the fireplace, there was no
other light. When the other occupants of the room had fallen asleep,
Dick rolled restlessly from side to side. Occasionally, his gaze fell
upon the candles. Both had burned low, now flickering and fluttering
eerily. The shadows deepened. When he awoke, following a fitful nap, one
of the candles had gone out. The fire also had burned low. Its feeble
red glow cast a weird and ghastly shaft of light across the floor. As
Dick turned his face to the wall, the remaining taper sputtered and
burned down.

Again sleep claimed him—this time deep and unbroken for several hours.
He was startled into wakefulness by a loud banging at the door. A match
flared through the darkness, footsteps sounded across the floor, the
bolt was slid back to admit two muffled forms. The two newcomers,
accompanied by the man who had bound Dick, strode over to the fireplace
and piled on more fuel. In the ruddy glow that sprang up shortly
afterward, Dick recognized them both—two more of the packers who had
escaped from the warehouse.

For nearly an hour, the three jabbered unabatingly in Cree. Dick was
able to understand a good deal of what was said. He followed their long,
rambling discourse with increasing interest. Here was news indeed! A
plot! The eavesdropper caught his breath, felt his pulses leap quickly.

They proposed on the following morning to set out for the warehouse to
rescue Murky and the others. But it was more than a mere rescue. It was
to be an ambuscade. From different directions they would creep up within
rifle range of the policeman and, when the first opportunity presented
itself, would riddle his body with bullets. Later on, they would shoot
Toma. As soon as Murky had been released, they would recover the fur and
travel south.

Then, with a start, Dick heard them mention him. He too would meet the
same fate as the others—only much sooner. Was it not a tedious business
to drag along a prisoner? Much more simple to dispatch him with a knife
or bullet before starting. Anyway, it was no more serious an offense to
kill three men than two. The punishment would be the same if they got
caught. But that was unthinkable. They would escape easily this time. It
would be very simple.

“Is not all this true, brothers?” inquired the chief conspirator.

There came guttural assent. Emphatic nods of confirmation.

“Is there anything to eat in the house of this doddering old spy?” one
of the newcomers wished to know.

The answer came in the negative.

“Or drink?”

“There is nothing, my brother.”

“Then we will sleep.”

They proceeded to do this with a celerity that was astonishing. Soon
their heavy snoring rumbled across the stillness of the room.

The hours passed slowly, seeming interminable. Dick slept by fits and
starts. Once he awoke, conscious of a strange feeling. Had he heard
someone moving about? He lay very still, endeavoring to catch the sound
again, but although he listened for a long time, it was not repeated. He
was almost asleep again when soft footfalls issued from the loft. A
faint cushion-like tread, a creak of the ladder, then a vague form
groping about the room.

The person, whoever it was, paused and remained perfectly still for
several tense moments. Again the soft footfalls. Another pause. The
ghostly visitor was getting closer now—almost within reach of Dick’s
arm, had he been able to use it. The figure advanced another step; a
hand groped forth experimentally. Dick’s heart almost stopped beating.
Dark as it was, he caught the gleam of a knife.

The Indian girl! A surge of elation swept over him. She stooped down and
a moment later his bonds were cut. He was free! It seemed incredible. He
was free! He could move his numb and aching limbs. Under the stress of a
great emotion, he reached up and patted his rescuer’s soft cheek. Just
then he could have shed tears of happiness.

Not even a whisper had passed between them. The girl pressed the knife
in his hand, and then, to his utter astonishment, a bulky object, which
he knew immediately was his own automatic. Abruptly she left him. The
soft footfalls across the floor, the faint creak of the ladder, a rustle
in the loft above—followed by a deep, unearthly silence. Dick lay, eyes
open wide, staring out across the room. The girl had not been heard. The
whilom packers still slept, as their deep breathing attested. His chance
had come!

He sat up cautiously, his gaze turned in the direction of the door. It
was about twelve feet away. To reach it, it would be necessary to pass
the sleeping form of the half-breed who had bound him. Trembling, he
arose, feeling his way ahead but had gone only a few steps when he
stopped short in uncertainty. No longer could he hear the man’s deep
breathing. Was he awake? Fully five minutes passed before Dick again
essayed to move, to dare take the risk. Then, gaining more confidence,
he tiptoed straight to the door, one hand reaching out to shoot the
bolt.

Two spurts of flame stabbed the dark, a hurtling form missed him by a
scant three inches as he swung open the door. He leaped outside and
started away on a run. The wind tore at his clothes. His parka slipped
from his head and fell to the ground. Through the smothering obscurity
of the night he raced wildly, in his terror imagining that he could hear
plainly the patter of footsteps behind. Never once did he slacken his
speed until he had reached the foot of the slope, leading up from the
ancient bed of the lake. Here he stopped short, choking for breath,
listening fearfully for the sound of his pursuers.

Dick did not deceive himself in believing that no attempt would be made
to recapture him. Even now the outlaws had probably left the cabin and
were in swift pursuit. He paused in the shelter of a bush to strike a
match and consult his watch. To his surprise, it was now nearly six
o’clock. Dawn would soon break and it behooved him to put as many miles
between him and his pursuers, as possible.

He went on through the pitchy darkness that obscured the earth. He had a
fair sense of direction, but at length he became confused. For all he
knew, he might be travelling miles off his course. When the first faint
light of day streaked the east, he paused in dismay. His fears were
confirmed. He had been walking south instead of west, and it would be
necessary to retrace his steps. His heart was heavy as he turned to the
right and struck off through a wilderness of rocks and trees that
encompassed him on every side.

Daylight found him on the shore of a small river, not yet frozen over,
whose icy waters cascaded down from the hills. He knew that if he
followed this stream, it would lead him eventually to the ocean. He
struggled on, conscious of fatigue and hunger. His feet were blistered
and sore. His clothing was torn. An unexpected fall on a slippery rock
had wrenched his right wrist, causing him excruciating pain. He was
moving slowly along, wondering how much farther he would be compelled to
go before he reached the coast, when a tall figure stepped out from its
concealment of rocks, less than fifty yards ahead. It was one of the
outlaws.

For a time despair choked him. Then he jumped quickly to cover and
hurried back over the selfsame route he had come.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                        A GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK


During the next few hours, Dick engaged in a grim and desperate game of
hide-and-seek with the outlaws. On several occasions he escaped death
narrowly. He turned hither and thither, like a hunted animal, only to
find his path barred by one or more of his enemies. Finally, in a last
despairing effort to save himself, he struck off toward a high hill, on
the crest of which were lofty rocks and towering pinnacles—broken and
jagged slabs of granite. Here he would make his stand. Even though
surrounded, he would have a chance to ward off attack. If necessary, he
would remain here all day and make another break for freedom with the
coming of darkness.

Climbing up, he reached the natural fortress and breathed a sigh of
relief. He had neither food nor water. From a bush, which grew in a
crevice in the rocks, he gathered fuel with which to start a fire. Then
he sat down to wait.

In all his experience, he had never suffered more than upon this
occasion. His stomach gnawed with hunger. He shook from exhaustion.
Bareheaded, moccasins almost cut from his feet, clothing soiled and
tattered, hands and face scratched—his appearance beggared description.
His cheeks were hollow, while his eyes shone with a feverish, almost
insane light.

After two hours of inaction, squatting miserably in front of his fire,
he began to wonder if, after all, the outlaws had not abandoned the
chase. In an effort to find out, he slipped gingerly over his barricade
and scrambled down to the ledge below. He could command a good view
here. His eyes roved the surrounding woodland. Everywhere he looked—but
he could see no one. The silence was intense, deep, a sort of rhythmical
beat pulsating through dead space under the vast dome of the sky.

His heart leaping with joy, he decided to quit his post and resume his
journey. But something made him hesitate. An almost indiscernible
movement along the slope below attracted his attention. He ducked
quickly. A bullet whistled over his head. Angry and disappointed, he
climbed back to the safety of the rocks.

How he would ever manage to endure the long and tedious wait for the
coming of night, he did not know. The strain was so great that he
decided more than once to walk boldly out and give himself up. Even
death was preferable to this. Time after time, he rose and with
bloodshot eyes stared out toward the west—to the broad, green expanse of
the Pacific. If only Corporal Rand or Toma knew of his trouble, they
would come to him. Sometimes, sitting moodily, chin resting in his
hands, he thought of Sandy back at Settlement Mountain and wished that
he were with him. Why had he been so eager to come in pursuit of the
pack-train?

Night came as slowly as a limping beggar to a gate. Shadows deepened.
Strange silhouettes appeared along the slope. Not a breath of wind
stirred the trees below. The sounds of the forest were buried in the
evening’s hush.

One hour more—and he would make his final break for safety. Impatiently,
he rose and began pacing back and forth in the narrow, confining space,
swinging his numb arms against his shivering body.

Suddenly, Dick’s hand went to his automatic in a quick, convulsive
movement. But he did not draw his gun. Instead, he grinned sheepishly,
staring at the dusky face which peered up from below.

“Hello,” he sang out.

The Indian girl smiled and clambered up to the perch beside him. She
spoke in Cree:

“They did not see me come. I will help you. Does monsieur know where he
is?”

With the few Indian words at his disposal, Dick endeavored to explain
his case. He admitted that he had become confused. He could see the
ocean, but it was still a long way off. In an attempt to escape his
pursuers, he had been forced to travel in the wrong direction. How far
was he now from her home?

“You are very close,” replied the girl. “If it were not for the heavy
woodland just over there, in the light you would be able to see it.”

“How did you find out I was here?” queried Dick.

“From your enemies,” the girl answered unhesitatingly. “One of them came
to my father’s house a short time ago and asked for food. I overheard
him tell my father that you had sought concealment on this hill. So I
came at once to help you, monsieur.”

“Where are the outlaws now?”

“One is hiding in the tree below, waiting for you to come out. Very soon
this one will be joined by the man who went to see my father. Three
others have gone down to the coast to intercept you, should you escape.”

“Did I understand you to say that your home is not very far from here?”

“Yes, monsieur. Less than two miles.”

Two miles! Dick’s mouth set in a grim, hard line. All day long he had
been scrambling, struggling, fighting his way through trees and
underbrush, over tortuous rocks—and yet had proceeded no farther than
that. The thought galled him, made him feel a little foolish.

The girl spoke again. In her excitement, she spoke so rapidly now that
he found it almost impossible to understand her. However, there was one
word she emphasized, frequently reiterated. The boat! She would lead him
thither. Monsieur would row the boat. She knew exactly where to find it.
His escape would be certain. They must hurry before the other outlaw
came back.

“She intends to accompany me all the way to the coast,” thought Dick, a
flush of embarrassment suffusing his cheeks.

He attempted to voice a protest, exhausting his complete stock of words
in an endeavor to make her understand. But to no avail. She repeated the
word, pointing away to the south.

“The boat is three miles from here. I will take you there,” she
explained to him.

The fugitive scratched his head in perplexity. What did she mean? A boat
three miles away. Why, there wasn’t even water over there. The ocean lay
to the west—ten or twelve miles distant. The thing was absurd,
preposterous!

Then, suddenly, there came to him a glimmering of the truth. He thought
he knew now. She referred, no doubt, to some sort of navigable stream,
along the shore of which was moored a boat, belonging to her father.

With a nod to the girl that he understood and was ready to start, he
jumped quickly to the level surface of the rocks above, took her hand
and helped her down to the ledge. From there they set out through the
rapidly gathering darkness. An hour later, without mishap, they pushed
their way through the pines to the edge of a wide stream, where, sure
enough, they found the boat. Hurriedly, Dick made ready for his
departure. Arctic night had fallen. Above them, through a rift in the
heavy clouds, a few faint stars were visible.

He turned for a last look at the little Indian girl who had brought him
there. A few yards away she proceeded through the pines and presently
her dark silhouette became lost to view. With a slight constriction of
the throat, Dick swung about and pushed off, his pulses quickening again
at the thought of the danger which might lay ahead. In two hours he had
floated along the swift current and had entered a narrow arm of the sea.

Thus far he had drifted leisurely along, every sense alert, endeavoring
to make as little noise as possible. If he could negotiate a mile or two
from shore he would feel comparatively safe. After that there was little
likelihood that the outlaws would ever overtake him. Paddling north, he
would enter the inlet. He hoped he would arrive in time to warn Corporal
Rand and Toma.

As the minutes went by, hope grew in his breast. Conditions, he
perceived, were ideal for his escape—almost complete darkness and a
stretch of smooth water ahead. Every little while he paused to look
around in apprehension. Once, with a quick start, he thought he had
heard something. Paddle raised, he permitted the boat to drift for a
moment or two, panic in his heart. But the sound was not repeated.

Pursuit, he felt, would come from behind; the outlaws might secure boats
somewhere and attempt to overtake him. Looking for pursuit from the
shore, he was wholly unprepared for what actually happened. A little
later, just as he had begun to believe that he was out of danger,
unexpectedly through the velvety gloom that had settled about him,
ahead—not behind—there loomed a shape, a dark smear across his troubled
vision.

It was so close that escape seemed absolutely out of the question.
Notwithstanding this, Dick turned and started back. Frantically his
paddle cut the water for ten or fifteen yards, then a guttural voice
rang out and immediately the night became a medley of sound; rifles
cracked forth, oars splashed, vivid spurts of red flame flashed through
the dark, while all around him the water hissed and sputtered where
struck the lead from Murky’s murderous crew.

A bullet whistled close to his ear. Another tore through the loose
sleeve of his coat. At this juncture, he dropped his paddle, and, in an
effort to retrieve it, nearly capsized. As he came back to a sitting
position, his craft rocking perilously, a small piece of wood, torn from
the side of the boat, struck him full in the mouth. Dazed, he put up one
hand to his face, feeling the warm blood trickling down through his
fingers.

In desperation, Dick abandoned all hope of escape, deciding to sell his
life as dearly as possible. Revolver in hand, he crouched in the stem.
The outlaws’ boat was closer now, sweeping down upon him at top speed.
He had barely time to empty his revolver at the oncoming craft before it
crashed into him. They had deliberately run him down. He was in the icy
water now, coughing, choking, attempting to dodge the bullets of the
half-breeds by diving under the surface.

It would be more difficult to see him now. He would fight to the last.
Thank God, he could swim!



                               CHAPTER XX
                              THE INVALID


Strong arms raised him up and carried him tenderly along the beach as
one might have carried a child. Anxious eyes peered down at the placid
face; voices, subdued and solicitous, murmured around him. Near at hand,
the river fretted against its shores, its gurgling song more melancholy
than the plaintive dirge of the pines.

Wading ashore, following his last encounter with the outlaws, Dick had
collapsed, and, when found later by the rescue party, lay with his feet
in the water and his arms flung out above his head. At first, they had
believed him dead. No senseless, inanimate thing cast up by the sea,
ever presented a more bedraggled appearance. The stubborn spark of life,
which still glowed feebly within him, was not manifest. Corporal Rand,
who had elected to carry him back to the shelter of trees, where Toma
had already kindled a fire, could have sworn that his young friend had
fought his last fight.

The sound of firing had carried to the inlet, and had been the cause of
much concern and conjecture on the part of Dick’s companions. Both
surmised that the youthful adventurer was in trouble and they had come
expecting to find him in some tight corner, hotly besieged, yet
valiantly holding his own. They were wholly unprepared and not a little
mystified, when after a painstaking search, they finally stumbled upon
his body.

Neither could explain how Dick had come there nor exactly what had
happened to him. The nearest approach to a reasonable solution was that
Dick in some unaccountable manner had been knocked unconscious and then
thrown into the water—left there by the outlaws to drown. The cold
plunge had partly revived him and he had contrived somehow to swim or
crawl ashore.

“I doubt if he’ll live,” Rand’s voice was sepulchral.

For hours they employed restorative measures. Toma went back to the
warehouse to fetch a blanket. They chafed his limbs; built up a huge
bonfire; worked desperately over him. Just before morning Dick lay in a
comatose state, his pulse more steady, his condition considerably
improved. Faint color began to tinge his cheeks. After a time, his eyes
opened dazedly and with much wrinkling and puckering of his brow he
endeavored to fill in his gaps of memory.

Wraiths and shadows of once familiar things drifted across his mental
vision. Through the darkness and obscurity of his mind, not in orderly
sequence, but in a provoking, mysterious fashion, there flashed
haphazardly half-familiar scenes of the past.

Toma, stooping to smooth back the rumpled hair, glanced sombrely at the
policeman opposite.

“You think him better?” he demanded in a strained, cracked voice.

“Much better,” answered the corporal.

“I glad to hear that. You think pretty soon we be able to move him over
to warehouse?”

“Perhaps—but not yet. He’s still too dazed and weak. He needs rest and
quiet. But he’s doing nicely.”,

They left him while they went to prepare breakfast. When Toma returned
to the place where the patient lay, he was greeted with a wan smile of
recognition. The Indian lad cried out jubilantly. Hearing him, Rand
rushed over.

“Thank the good Lord you’re coming round,” he cried out. “I can’t begin
to tell you how happy I am.”

They made Dick a light broth and towards noon he was feeling so well he
was able to sit up. Always there was one of the two near him. They were
compelled to make frequent trips to and from the warehouse. In addition
to caring for Dick, they had the prisoners to look after. On the
previous night, before starting out, they had bound the four men hand
and foot. There were now extra meals to prepare, increasing
responsibility. The larder required replenishing. During his spare time,
Toma went out to hunt for rabbits and ptarmigan.

Shortly before two o’clock, the policeman, who had been busy gathering
fuel for the fire, came over and sat down by Dick’s side.

“Do you feel strong enough now to tell me all about it?” he asked. “How
did you get here? How many of the outlaws were in the party which
attacked you?”

“Before I do that,” Dick spoke up, rubbing one shaky hand across his
forehead, “I want to warn you, corporal, that those packers may return.
They were planning to rescue Murky and the others and to murder you and
Toma. It’s queer they haven’t already come. You must be very careful.”

“Are you quite sure about this, Dick?”

“Yes,” the other answered. “An ambuscade! A treacherous, cowardly thing!
They planned to secrete themselves in the brush and take pot-shot at
you. Later, when they had released Murky and the prisoners, they
intended to go south with the fur.”

Then Dick recounted his adventures. When he had finished, the corporal
exclaimed:

“You’ve certainly had your share of trouble. It must have been a
terrible ordeal.”

He rose hesitatingly to his feet.

“Will you think that I am inconsiderate if I leave you for a time
alone?”

“Why, no,” quickly responded the invalid. “I’m all right. Don’t worry
about me.”

“You see,” Rand hesitated, “after what you’ve told me, I feel a little
apprehensive. I must go over and warn Toma. The warehouse will be the
point of danger.”

Dick smiled weakly. “Certainly, go ahead. It’s the only thing to do.”

Rand threw more wood on the fire and departed. It was nearly two hours
before he returned. The moment Dick saw him, he noted immediately that a
marked change had come over the policeman. He was more lighthearted than
before. He smiled frequently. He joked and laughed, regaling Dick with
stories of the service—amusing anecdotes and breathless escapades. While
he was preparing lunch, he looked up and grinned across at Dick.

“I suppose you’ll be sorry when this thing is over and we return to Fort
Good Faith?”

Dick laughed outright. “Well, not exactly, although I wouldn’t have
missed the experience for anything. By the way, corporal, how much of
the fur did you recover?”

“All of it.”

“That’s fine. Then all that remains to be done is to capture the four
packers and the sailor. Do you think we’ll be able to do that?”

“Yes,” smiled Rand, “I have two young but very capable assistants.
Tomorrow you’ll be on your feet again, while Toma is feeling as fit as a
fiddle.”

“Toma is wonderful,” said Dick. “You can always rely on him. I don’t
believe he knows what fear means.”

“You’re right,” approved the other. “He’d make an exceptionally good
scout, a splendid partner for Malemute Slade. He may get the chance too.
When the Inspector receives my report, there’ll be several persons I
know who’ll receive laudatory mention.”

Dick gazed dreamily into the fire.

“Then they may send Toma to the training barracks at Regina this
winter?”

“Yes, very probably—and another young man, too, if he cares to go
along.”

“You mean me?” gasped Dick, blinking suddenly, a queer tugging at his
heart.

“Well, it’s within the realm of reason,” Rand looked up mischievously.
“But are you sure you haven’t had enough of this sort of thing?”

“No, corporal, I’d like to go.”

“It isn’t an easy life,” Rand informed him. “The pay is small. One never
knows what tomorrow may bring forth. Your greatest reward will be the
satisfaction of knowing that you have strived to do your duty. If I were
you, I’d think long and seriously before I took the step.”

“But you took it. Do you mean to say that you regret your move? Would
you change places with someone else?”

The corporal’s face had become very sober. He too stared dreamily into
the fire. In the steel-gray eyes was a look Dick had never seen before.
There was a catch in the policeman’s voice when he spoke again:

“It’s too late to think about that now. I’ve crossed my Rubicon. It was
my own choice—but I’m not sorry. I think I’ve run the gamut of human
emotion. I’ve experienced every phase of physical suffering. On the
other hand, there have been times when the mere joy of living
paramounted every other thing. The rugged life that we lead gets into
the blood. Even if I should return to civilization, I doubt very much
whether I would ever be happy or satisfied.”

Dick smiled reminiscently.

“That reminds me of what Sergeant Richardson told me about a year ago,
just before he received his promotion. He said that there were times
when he gloried in the service; at other times he positively hated it.
When he first came to this region, the Inspector sent him out to arrest
an Eskimo murderer. It took him eight months. In all that time never
once did he see the face of a white man. The memory of that exploit
still haunts him. He weighed a hundred and seventy-eight pounds when he
set out on that trip and one hundred and fifty when he returned with his
prisoner. All that remained of his uniform was his service hat. His hair
and beard were so long that he looked like a wild man. Habit was so
strong that when the Inspector addressed him, he answered in Eskimo.”

Corporal Rand laughed, but made no comment.

Not long afterward, Toma appeared. His usually expressionless face
radiated good nature. He too seemed to be very happy. He sat down in
front of the fire, pulled an harmonica out of his pocket and commenced
to play. Rand leaned back against a convenient tree trunk and filled and
lit his pipe. As time passed, Dick began to wonder if it were good
policy to leave the prisoners so long alone. Under no circumstances,
ought they to trust Murky.

“Will the prisoners be all right, corporal?” Dick finally blurted out.
“Isn’t there danger that one of them may become untied?”

Rand shook his head complacently and winked covertly at Toma.

“There! I’ve caught you, corporal. Something has happened. Have the
prisoners already escaped?”

“No, they still here,” Toma denied the allegation.

Dick was not convinced. Although the high spirits of his two companions
belied the supposition, he could not help feeling that something was
amiss. The more he thought about it, the more perplexed he became. It
was not like Corporal Rand to be so careless. Surely experience had
taught him better than this.

“Corporal,” said Dick, “I think you must be keeping something from me.
What is it?”

The policeman feigned annoyance.

“You’re mistaken. I can’t remember that I’ve ever given you cause to say
that.”

The invalid flushed and averted his gaze. He had been sitting up,
wrapped in blankets, his shoulders resting against a tree. Just then he
felt sheepish and wished that he had held his tongue. He was depressed.
But his mood changed suddenly—first to amazement, then to joy. He raised
one trembling hand and rubbed his eyes. One long, glad cry rang from his
lips:

“Sandy!”



                              CHAPTER XXI
                             CAMPFIRE SMOKE


Dick’s eyes were shining as Sandy strode up.

“The last person on earth I expected to see!” he shouted. “When did you
get here?”

“A few hours ago,” replied Sandy, releasing Dick’s hand and standing up
to look curiously about him. “Corporal Rand was over at the warehouse
when we arrived.”

“We!” exclaimed Dick.

“Yes. Do you think I came alone? Sergeant Richardson and I left
Settlement Mountain a week ago, and I want to tell you we’ve made quick
time.”

“But what did you do with your prisoners?”

“Took them back to Wandley’s post. Had ’em locked up. While we were
there we saw Pearly. He’s very much improved.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Dick. “Well, how did you like the trip? I
suppose you had difficulty in finding the entrance to Blind Man’s Pass.”

“We were afraid we would, but fortunately everything turned out all
right. You see, Dick, there hasn’t been a heavy snow storm since that
day we started out with Pearly. We were able to follow your tracks most
of the way. The only place, where we had any trouble at all, was just
east of that long ravine. Here the wind had drifted in your trail. We
were delayed several hours before we found it again—about a mile farther
on.”

“I’m anxious to see Sergeant Richardson. How is he?”

“As fit as ever.”

There ensued a short interval of silence. Sandy gazed down at his chum,
sympathy and commiseration in his eyes.

“I guess you’ve had a pretty tough time of it. Do you think you’ll be
able to be around soon? Over at the warehouse, Toma told me all about
your experiences.”

At the memory, Dick’s face shadowed.

“I wouldn’t care to go through it all again. I’m glad you weren’t here,
Sandy. You might not have been so fortunate.”

Sandy grinned to himself. “Well, we’ve had a few exciting moments
ourselves. Early this morning we discovered the packers. I suppose Rand
told you.”

“Packers! What do you mean? Both the corporal and Toma have been as
secretive as clams. But once or twice I almost caught them. Tell me
about it, Sandy.”

The young Scotchman pulled forward a block of wood and sat down.

“It isn’t a very long story, Dick. I think our meeting with the packers
was as much a surprise to us as it was to them. You see, all day
yesterday we had been hurrying along, anxious to get down here to the
coast. We were not sure where we would find you. Sergeant Richardson was
always looking for the smoke of a campfire. When we were still ten or
twelve miles back along the trail, every chance he got he’d climb some
hill and scan the surrounding country with his field-glasses.

“We passed several cabins, but he thought it would be better not to make
inquiries there. Last night, just before we made camp, he shinned up a
tall tree and looked everywhere. He thought he could see the distant
glow of a fire, but he was not sure. This morning we rose early. It was
still dark when we started out. Sergeant Richardson was in the lead.
When daylight came, I remember he turned to tell me that we were not
more than four miles from the ocean.”

Sandy paused and smiled reminiscently.

“Not long after that we smelled smoke. It was faint, yet one could
detect the odor. The sergeant said:

“‘We’re pretty close to them now, Sandy. When we find the source of this
smoke, I think we’ll find them.’

“A little farther on, we saw a blue spiral, twisting and curling up
among the trees. We were very close now. Naturally, I was very anxious
to see you all again, and started forward on a run, but the sergeant
overtook me, seizing me by the collar. He yanked me into the bush.

“‘Don’t be a fool!’ he said.

“I thought he was unduly cautious. He warned me to be quiet, to follow
him. We advanced toward that smoke spiral as stealthily as a couple of
Bengal tigers. I’m here to tell you, Dick, that I’m mighty glad now that
we did.

“I guess you can imagine our surprise. Not you at all—not any of you!
Instead four dirty half-breeds and a queer-looking duffer of a white
man. I was disappointed. I didn’t have the least idea who they were, and
supposed, of course, that we would leave them and proceed on our
journey. I recall plucking at the sergeant’s sleeve and whispering
something about hurrying along on our way.

“But for some reason, Richardson was suspicious. He instructed me to
remain there while he crawled closer. The men were eating their
breakfast and talking amongst themselves. Richardson wanted to hear what
they said.

“I was annoyed over the delay. I wasn’t the least bit interested in
those half-breeds.

“‘We’re just wasting valuable time,’ I told myself.

“After a time, a rabbit hopped up close to where I was sitting and I
became interested in him. I had just chucked a piece of bark at him,
when I heard a sudden commotion. Someone was talking in a loud voice.

“It was the sergeant. There he stood with a gun in his hands, bawling
out orders. The half-breeds and the funny duffer in the gray cap were
huddled in front of him like a flock of frightened sheep.

“Even then it didn’t occur to me that they were Murky’s packers. I guess
I was a little bewildered. The thing had happened so suddenly. I heard
Richardson calling me.

“It was the white man who told us the story. He said he was sick of the
whole business and was ready to quit. He said he hadn’t done anything
wrong anyway, but even if he had, he preferred jail to another day in
that wilderness. He was only a common sailor, he told us, and would be
mighty glad to get back to his ship. Until just recently, neither he nor
any of the other sailors knew that the fur had been stolen. Captain
Reynolds, master of the yacht, had told them a very plausible story and
they had believed it.”

Sandy paused again.

“There isn’t much more to tell. We reached the warehouse less than an
hour later, where we found Corporal Rand and his prisoners. Maybe you
think I wasn’t glad.”

Dick looked up into his chum’s face and smiled.

“I’m glad too. This surely came as a surprise to me. It won’t be long
now until we can return to Fort Good Faith.”

Sandy rose to his feet. He stretched his arms above his head, yawning
lazily. Suddenly his hands dropped and he stared in surprise.

“Look, Dick! Here comes Sergeant Richardson. He’s bringing all the
prisoners.”



                              CHAPTER XXII
                           MURKY’S CONFESSION


Murky Nichols was a changed man. His spirit had been broken. No longer
he assumed his defiant attitude, his blustering, cock-sure manner. His
sins had found him out. He had been caught in the toils of the
long-reaching arm of the police.

Whenever he was spoken to, he answered in monosyllables. For the most
part, he sat brooding, eyes downcast, tormented by his thoughts. A short
time before the police party prepared for its departure, he stirred from
his lethargy and beckoned to Sergeant Richardson.

“There’s a few things I’d like to tell yuh. I know what yuh all
think—that I’ve always been a bad egg an’ a crook. Yuh believe I’ve been
runnin’ stolen fur through to the coast here fer a good many years. But
that ain’t the truth.”

“What is the truth?” inquired Richardson.

“First, Sergeant, I’d like tuh ask yuh a question. How long do yuh think
it’s been since I found out about the pass?”

“I can’t imagine, Murky. Tell me.”

“Eight years,” replied the outlaw. “It was eight years ago that I found
it.”

“_You_ found it?”

“Yeh,” drawled Nichols. “It was me. I was prospectin’ then an’, whether
yuh believe it or not. I’d always been honest—never done a wrong thing.
It was in the spring o’ the year. I’d been havin’ some hard luck the
previous summer, pannin’ gold up along the Lobstick River. I was broke
all the followin’ winter an’ when spring come Wandley staked me to a
grubstake fer another try at gettin’ back what I’d lost.

“Durin’ the winter I had talked with an ol’ Indian, who used to live on
Settlement River. He told me that about twenty years before a white
prospector had made a big strike in the foothills west o’ Settlement
Mountain. I decided to go there, though as a usual thing I don’t put
much stock in these yarns o’ the Nitchies.

“So jus’ before the first big thaw, I slips out there, while the frost
is still in the ground an’ builds me a small shack. Mebbe yuh saw it—a
little way back from the ravine that yuh come into before reachin’ the
pass. Well, I prospected through that country an’ one day I struck it
rich. Nothin’ very big, sergeant, but it looked good to me then. I had
nearly two thousand in gold by midsummer. I was able to square my
account with Wandley, an’ I had a nice little nest egg to keep me goin’.

“One day, lookin’ for new pockets, I slipped down into the ravine an’
begins to follow it up. I kept movin’ westward an’ after a while I
reached the end an’ saw that big crevice in the rock. Bein’ kind o’
curious, I walked through an’ came out into the pass.”

The gloomy face of the big prospector brightened perceptibly. He paused,
mumbling to himself. Just then he was living in the past.

“At first, I couldn’t hardly believe what I seen. Here was a big valley
in the very heart o’ the mountains. I remembered the ol’ Nitchie yarn
about Blind Man’s Pass. I began wonderin’ if this was it. I made up my
mind that it wouldn’t do no harm to investigate. I spent two weeks out
there an’ finally when I went back to Wandley’s, I had a secret. I knew
that ’most everybody would be glad to hear the good news.

“The first man I see at Wandley’s is O’Connell. He’s been busy all
summer freightin’ supplies. I guess he’d about cornered ever’ available
pack-horse in the country. Him an’ Hart, ’count o’ the bad condition of
the trails, wasn’t makin’ very good headway. O’Connell tells me he has
thousands o’ pounds to take out, an’ no way to do it. He has a big
shipment ready to send ’round to the coast but don’t durst tackle it.

“‘Which way yuh going?’ I asks.

“‘Yellowhead Pass,’ he answers.

“‘Kind o’ long trip,’ I says.

“‘Yeh, it sure is,’ O’Connell shoot back. ‘An’ I dread it. The trails
down that way is mighty near impassable.’

“It was jus’ on the tip o’ my tongue to tell him about my discovery,
when somethin’ makes me change my mind. There’d be nothin’ in it fer me
if I tells what I knew, an’ besides I figgered I ought to be paid fer
all the trouble I’d been put to. So I says to him:

“‘O’Connell, what’ll yuh give me if I take that stuff through fer yuh?’

“He didn’t answer right away, ’cause he thought I was jokin’. He winked
at Wandley an’ laughed.

“‘Yuh wouldn’t get very far,’ he tells me.

“‘Mebbe not,’ I says to him, ‘but I’m willin’ to take the chance. Jus’
name your price.’

“‘If yuh really mean it,’ O’Connell gasps, ‘yuh can have the whole
blamed contract an’ good luck to yuh. The summer rains have made the
trails so bad that I won’t be able to get through fer another month.’

“We talked an’ figgered fer a while an’ finally I gets the contract. I’m
to get nine hundred dollars an’ keep seven hundred fer myself. I could
tell by the way he acted that he thought he’d beat me pretty bad in the
deal. So did everybody else. They was all laughin’ up their sleeves,
thinkin’ about what a fool I had made o’ myself. Wandley calls me to one
side.

“‘Murky,’ he says, ‘yuh jus’ made a hasty contract. Yuh better change
your mind before it’s too late. You’ll lose all the money yuh made up in
the hills this summer an’ mebbe a lot more besides. O’Connell knows he
can’t make a cent on that west coast shipment, an’ you’re playin’ right
in his hands. Yuh better see him now before he leaves an’ tell him
you’ve changed your mind.’

“‘What would you like to bet I can’t make it?’ I asks him.

“‘You may be able to make it, but you’ll lose money. Don’t try it,
Murky. Yuh ain’t no packer to begin with. It stands to reason that if
O’Connell is afraid o’ it, it’s no good.’

“I thanked him, but I stuck to the contract in spite of what everybody
said. I bought some pack-horses an’ O’Connell lent me five o’ his. My
greatest trouble was to find packers I could trust to keep their mouths
shut about the pass. You see, I wanted to keep that a secret. It took me
nearly two weeks to get my crew together an’ load up the stuff.

“In order to deceive everybody,” Murky resumed after a short pause, “we
started out in broad daylight over the regular trail leading to the
Yellowhead. They all jeered at us when we left Wandley’s. Two days out,
we left the trail, circled back, an’ then one dark night slipped down
into the ravine an’ entered the pass.”

At this point, Sergeant Richardson interrupted the narrator.

“To whom was the shipment consigned?” he asked.

“To a free trader named Bentley,” Nichols promptly replied. “He was jus’
opening up a new tradin’ post in the Goose Lake country.”

“Well,” Murky continued, “we made a quick trip. I was able to pay my
packers almost double what they generally got. Comin’ back, we took
plenty o’ time so as to make it appear that we had gone by the
Yellowhead route. But even at that, we was weeks ahead o’ the schedule.
O’Connell nearly fell out o’ his skin. He didn’t know what to say an’
neither did Wandley. O’Connell offered me other contracts an’ fer two
years I made some easy money. Then one day he comes to me, an’ by the
look on his face, I could see somethin’ was up.

“‘Look here, Murky,’ he says, ‘there’s somethin’ wrong about all this.
I’ve been watchin’ yuh. Yuh ain’t been takin’ none o’ the stuff through
the Yellowhead. What yuh been doin’ with it?’

“‘I don’t know as that’s any o’ your business,’ I comes back. ‘As long
as the shipments reaches their destination, yuh ain’t got no kick.’

“‘Yuh’ve found a shorter route,’ accused O’Connell.

“‘Well, what if I have?’

“‘It ain’t fair to the shipper,’ he says. ‘Suppose it leaks out that
he’s payin’ all this extra mileage. What’ll happen to me?’

“‘It don’t never need to leak out,’ I said.

“But O’Connell is hot-headed, an’ he informs me that he’s through. He
goes away in a huff, an’ I don’t see him again fer nearly a week. Then
he comes over an’ tries to make a dicker with me.

“‘How much cash money will yuh take to show me your route?’ he says,
fingerin’ a roll o’ bills. ‘This thing has gone far enough.’

“‘I ain’t in the markey today,’ I told him a little huffy. ‘Yuh can do
your own west coast packin’ over any route that yuh like. I won’t even
listen to yuh.’

“He offered me fifteen hundred dollars but I refused. Finally he goes
away, an’ fer nearly a year packs his own stuff through the Yellowhead,
nursin’ a sore spot in his chest. In a way, it was kind o’ hard on me
too. It had got so that I depended on the money I received from him fer
the work I did. After a while, my capital dwindled down to jus’ a few
hundred dollars. I could see I had to go back to work.

“Along about that time, a Nitchie breaks into the warehouse at Fort
Point o’ Call an’ steal a lot of valuable fur. One o’ my packers heard
it. The thief was a friend o’ his. He had the stuff cached up in the
foothills but was afraid to move it for fear he’d get caught.”

Murky ceased speaking and sat for several minutes deep in thought. Then
he turned upon Sergeant Richardson.

“Yuh see, I was gettin’ kind o’ desperate, sergeant. This was a big
temptation. My money was runnin’ low. I thought it over fer a long time
an’ finally made a dicker with the thief. I agreed to take the fur off
his hands an’ dispose of it, gettin’ one-third o’ the money fer my
trouble.

“We didn’t have no difficulty at all takin’ the fur through the pass,
an’ less than three weeks later I had the money it brought safe in my
pocket. The man what bought the fur was a free trader who had been in on
some shady deals before, an’ I knew he’d keep his mouth shut.

“I guess the money sort o’ turned my head. It was all so easy an’
simple, that I encouraged the half-breed to try his luck again. The
second time we was successful. Then I went into the business wholesale.
I got my packers to steal too. Ever’ man I hired was a crook. I needed a
good confederate so I made a proposition to La Qua an’ he accepted it.
Pretty soon I had agents all over the country.

“My business grew like a snowball rollin’ down hill. It seemed like I
couldn’t stop it. I laid my plans so well, it was pretty hard fer yuh
fellows to catch me. I made friends with Hart an’ O’Connell again,
agreein’ to take out their shipments at a reduced rate. When they
accepted my offer, they didn’t know I was usin’ them as a sort o’ screen
to hide my real work—to keep yuh mounties guessin’.

“In the last two years I’ve made close to two hundred thousand dollars.
I was takin’ out stolen fur on such a big scale that it didn’t seem wise
to sell to the free traders any longer. It was too dangerous. So I went
to Seattle an’ made arrangements with Captain Reynolds to come up here
with his yacht several times durin’ the year. I built the wharf an’
warehouse. I think ever’thing would be all right today if—if—”

“Yes,” encouraged the policeman. “If—”

“If it hadn’t been fer Daddy McInness,” Nichols concluded.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Corporal Rand cut in. “We’ve been
suspicious of you for a long time, Murky. The death of Daddy Mclnness
merely brought matters to a head. Murder is a terrible thing, Nichols.”

At mention of the word, the prospector went suddenly deathly white.

“I didn’t kill him!” he croaked. “Before God, I tell yuh—”

The sentence ended in a groan. Murky turned his head guiltily and looked
into the slowly dying fire. For a long time he sat, eyes fixed sombrely
on the darkening mass. It was symbolic of his own case—charred hopes and
the ashes of defeat, where once had burned brightly the consuming flames
of avarice.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                        BACK AT FORT GOOD FAITH


Months later, at Fort Good Faith, Dick and Sandy sat in the trading room
engaged in a game of cribbage, when Factor MacClaren strode over to
their table, carrying in one hand a month’s old copy of an Edmonton
newspaper. He interrupted the game by spreading out the paper between
them, and turning the pages until he came to the particular item he had
just read.

“I knew you boys would be interested,” he said, indicating the place at
the bottom of the column. “Yesterday when the mail came in, I looked
over this copy of the Bulletin, but missed it somehow. Read it.”

“All right, Dick,” commanded Sandy, “read it aloud.”

Dick picked up the somewhat crumpled sheet and commenced breathlessly:

  “Seattle, Washington, Dec. 3.—When the yacht, Elenore, put into harbor
  this morning at eight o’clock, she was met at the wharf by Revenue
  Officer Charles M. Steele and Corporal Dickinson, the latter a member
  of the Canadian Royal Northwest Mounted Police, with papers for the
  arrest and detention of the crew. The captain of the vessel, Silas
  Reynolds, and one sailor were missing.

  “It is alleged that the Elenore has been engaged in running contraband
  and stolen fur from various Canadian points to this port. It is
  understood that Captain Reynolds is under arrest in British Columbia.”

“The long arm of the law,” commented Sandy, as he glanced over Dick’s
shoulder. “I suppose it would have been just the same if they had
steamed into Rangoon. In the end, they always get caught.”

“Just like Murky did,” added Dick.

“Yes, just like Murky. You can’t fool the police.”

“Especially the Canadian Royal Mounted,” appended the other proudly.

In truth, Dick had every reason to be proud. In the inside pocket of his
coat there reposed the most priceless of all his possessions—a letter
from the commissioner at Ottawa.

His application had been approved. Next spring he and Toma would report
to the adjutant at the mounted police training barracks at Regina!



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

--Silently corrected obvious typographical errors; left
  non-standard (or amusing) spellings and dialect unchanged.

--Added a Table of Contents based on chapter headings.





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