Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Snow-shoes and Sledges - A Sequel to "The Fur-Seal's Tooth"
Author: Munroe, Kirk
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 "Snow-shoes and Sledges - A Sequel to "The Fur-Seal's Tooth"" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration: FOR A MOMENT THE SENSATION WAS SICKENING]



                        SNOW-SHOES AND SLEDGES


                             _A SEQUEL TO_
                       “_THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH_”


                                  BY
                              KIRK MUNROE

            AUTHOR OF THE “MATES” SERIES “DERRICK STERLING”
                 “THE FLAMINGO FEATHER” “WAKULLA” ETC.


                              ILLUSTRATED


                            [Illustration]


                          NEW YORK AND LONDON
                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                                 1903



BY KIRK MUNROE


  FORWARD, MARCH! A Tale of the Spanish:American War. Illustrated.

  THE COPPER PRINCESS. A Story of the Great Lakes.

  THE PAINTED DESERT. A Story of Northern Arizona.

  THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH. A Story of Alaskan Adventure.

  SNOW-SHOES AND SLEDGES. A Sequel to “The Fur-Seal’s Tooth.”

  RICK DALE. A Story of the Northwest Coast.

  CAMPMATES. A Story of the Plains.

  CANOEMATES. A Story of the Florida Reefs and Everglades.

  DORYMATES. A Tale of the Fishing Banks.

  RAFTMATES. A Story of the Mississippi.
    Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 25 per volume.
    (The “Mates” Series, 4 vols., in a box, $5 00.)

  WAKULLA. A Story of Adventure in Florida.

  THE FLAMINGO FEATHER. A Story of Adventure.

  DERRICK STERLING. A Story of the Mines.

  CHRYSTAL, JACK & CO. and DELTA BIXBY. Two Stories.
    Illustrated. 16mo, Cloth, 60 cents per volume.


  HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS
  NEW YORK AND LONDON


                Copyright, 1895, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

                        _All rights reserved._



ARCTIC ALASKA


    _Rivers of ice and a sea of snow,
      A wilderness frigid and white;
    Mystical skies with a tremulous glow,
      And days that are turned into night._



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                    PAGE
       I. ALLOWED TO SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES                       1
      II. A DANGEROUS BERTH OFF YUKON MOUTH                     8
     III. MEASLES AND MUTINY                                   14
      IV. PHIL ASSUMES COMMAND AND ASSERTS HIS AUTHORITY       20
       V. A PARSON AT THE WHEEL                                27
      VI. FLOATING ICE AND “CHY”                               34
     VII. THE “CHIMO” GOES INTO WINTER-QUARTERS                40
    VIII. LIFE AT AN ARCTIC MISSION                            46
      IX. PHIL’S ESKIMO MILITIA                                53
       X. A SAD ROMANCE OF THE WILDERNESS                      60
      XI. THE BOYS CARRY THEIR POINT                           67
     XII. PHIL FEEDS HIS DOGS                                  74
    XIII. MUSIC OF THE SLEDGE-BELLS                            81
     XIV. WINTER TRAVEL BENEATH THE ARCTIC AURORA              88
      XV. PHIL HEARS FROM HIS FATHER                           95
     XVI. THE MATE’S STORY                                    102
    XVII. JALAP COOMBS’S FOURTEEN PAIR OF FEET                109
   XVIII. CHRISTMAS ON THE TANANA                             116
     XIX. A BATTLE WITH WOLVES                                123
      XX. CHITSAH’S NATURAL TELEPHONE                         129
     XXI. A YUKON MINING CAMP                                 136
    XXII. THE NEW ARRIVAL AT FORTY MILE                       143
   XXIII. LAW IN THE GOLD DIGGINGS                            150
    XXIV. REAPPEARANCE OF THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH                157
     XXV. SERGE DISCOVERS A CURIOUS CAVERN                    164
    XXVI. CAMPING ’MID PREHISTORIC BONES                      171
   XXVII. LOST IN THE FOREST                                  178
  XXVIII. PHIL ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY                       185
    XXIX. A WILDERNESS ORPHAN                                 191
     XXX. JALAP AND THE DOGS SING A LULLABY                   198
    XXXI. NEL-TE QUALIFIES AS A BRANCH PILOT                  205
   XXXII. THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH CREATES A SENSATION            211
  XXXIII. LOST IN A MOUNTAIN BLIZZARD                         217
   XXXIV. COASTING FIVE MILES IN FIVE MINUTES                 223
    XXXV. HOW JALAP COOMBS MADE PORT                          230
   XXXVI. THE MOST FAMOUS ALASKAN GLACIER                     237
  XXXVII. BIG AMOOK AND THE CHILKAT HUNTERS                   244
 XXXVIII. THE TREACHEROUS SHAMAN OF KLUKWAN                   251
   XXXIX. INVADING A CAPTAIN’S CABIN                          258
      XL. IN SITKA TOWN                                       265



ILLUSTRATIONS


 FOR A MOMENT THE SENSATION WAS SICKENING            _Frontispiece_

 ESKIMO HUT, MOUTH OF THE YUKON                   _Facing page_    8

 THE NATIVE PILOT DESERTS HIS POST                    ”     ”     12

 “HERE IS THE MAN WHO DID THAT THING”                 ”     ”     18

 THE ARRIVAL OF THE UNKNOWN                           ”     ”     28

 ARRIVAL OF THE DOCTOR                                ”     ”     42

 INDIAN GIRLS, ALASKA                                 ”     ”     58

 “CAP’N PHIL’S FADDER GONE UP RIVER! YAAS, HE
     FADDER!”                                         ”     ”     66

 THE EXHIBITION DRILL AT ANVIK                        ”     ”     78

 MAKING CAMP THE FIRST NIGHT OUT                      ”     ”     86

 “YOU FADDER, YAAS”                                   ”     ”     94

 A FEW MOMENTS LATER HIS DOGS STARTED AFTER THEIR
     VANISHED COMPANIONS                              ”     ”    106

 “KIKMUK”                                             ”     ”    120

 “NOW,” CRIED SERGE, “ALL MAKE A DASH TOGETHER!”      ”     ”    126

 “WHY, MATEY, DON’T YOU REMEMBER THE OLD BRIG
     ‘BETSY’?”                                        ”     ”    140

 “THAT’S A LIE!” SHOUTED THE PRISONER, HOARSELY       ”     ”    152

 FOR A SINGLE MINUTE THEY GAZED IN BREATHLESS AWE     ”     ”    174

 “COME, MAN. COME WIF NEL-TE. MAMMA SAY COME”         ”     ”    186

 “A FLYING-FISH-CATCHER FROM OLD HONG-KONG――YO HO!
     ROLL A MAN DOWN!”                                ”     ”    202

 THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH CREATES A SENSATION             ”     ”    214

 SERGE’S METHOD OF LIGHTING A FIRE                    ”     ”    242

 JUNEAU CITY, ALASKA                                  ”     ”    248

 THEY WERE WELCOMED BY THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF
     KLUKWAN                                          ”     ”    254

 A CHILKAT “PRINCESS”                                 ”     ”    256

 GOVERNOR’S MANSION, SITKA, ALASKA                    ”     ”    266

 “AUNT RUTH, YOU’RE A BRICK! A PERFECT BRICK!”        ”     ”    268



SNOW-SHOES AND SLEDGES



CHAPTER I

ALLOWED TO SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES


Of course, if every reader of this story had also read its forerunner
there would be no need of introducing its characters, for they would
already be old friends. We would merely meet them at the place where
they have been patiently awaiting us all this time, give them an
encouraging nod of recognition, and tell them to go ahead with their
adventures as fast as they pleased. That would be well enough for us
who are acquainted with them; but to those who may chance to read this
sequel without having first read the story that gives it a reason for
being, the references to people, things, and incidents of the past
that must necessarily be made from time to time would be confusing.
Therefore it seems fitting that those characters of the previous story
who are to figure with any prominence in this one should be properly
introduced; and in order to avoid the discriminating partiality of
the author, who would be apt to say too much concerning those whom he
fancied, or too little about those whom he disliked, each one shall be
given the privilege of introducing himself. To begin with, here is our
old friend Phil Ryder.

“Yes, that is my name right enough, and I want to say first thing
that I think it is high time some notice were taken of us, after the
unsatisfactory conclusion of that other book, and the wretched state of
uncertainty in which we were all left. It seemed to me the very worst
ending to a story that I ever heard of.”

“But, Phil, it wasn’t the end. There was to be a sequel.”

“Well, you didn’t say so, and nobody knew, and I for one have been
greatly mortified ever since, without a chance to say a word on the
subject either. Now, as to myself, if any one cares to know who I am,
and where I am, and how I got here, I am the son of Mr. John Ryder,
of New London, Connecticut. He is a mining expert, and is at present
engaged to investigate some properties near Sitka, Alaska, where I was
to have joined him last May. It is now September, and I haven’t got
there yet, though I have been travelling steadily ever since April,
and trying my very best to reach Sitka. I’m sure it isn’t my fault
that things have happened to take me most everywhere else, and finally
to drop me away up here in northern Alaska, two thousand miles or
so beyond Sitka. I’m on the right track now, though, for I am on a
steamboat belonging to Mr. Hamer, bound up the Yukon River. It will
take me to the head of navigation. Then all I shall have to do will be
to cross the Divide to Chilkat, and take another steamer for Sitka,
which place I expect to reach before the winter is over. Then my
father’s anxiety will be relieved, for I suppose he is anxious, though
I can’t see why he should be. He must know that I am perfectly well
able to take care of myself, and will turn up all right some time.
Both he and Aunt Ruth seem to think that I am careless and liable to
get into scrapes, while really I never do anything important without
the most careful consideration――that is, whenever there is time for
considering.

“For instance, I didn’t decide that to go up the Yukon was the very
best and shortest way to reach Sitka until I had talked it all over
with Serge. I’m awfully glad it is the best thing to do, though, for it
is so much more interesting to travel over a new route than back by the
one you have just come. That’s one reason I wouldn’t pay any attention
to that schooner we passed soon after leaving St. Michaels, though she
did seem to be trying to signal us. I was afraid she might be bound
south to Oonalaska, or even to Sitka itself, in which case our plans
would have been all upset again. I should have hated that, for if there
is any one thing I believe in it is sticking to a plan and carrying it
out after it is once decided upon. So does Serge, who is one of the
very best fellows that ever lived, even if he is a little slow. I am
mighty glad to have him for a travelling companion, for he is true as
steel and awfully level-headed. I only wish old Jalap were with us,
for he is about the best fun of any one I know. I don’t suppose we
shall ever see him again, though; and, now that I come to think of it,
it does seem as if we ought to have made a search for him on Oonimak
before leaving in such a hurry. But as we were prisoners of war on
board the cutter, I don’t exactly see how we could have done anything
but what we did. Here comes Serge now, and you really ought to know
him; so allow me to――”

“Hold on, Phil; we are to introduce ourselves, you know, and I don’t
want to be handicapped by all the nice things you would be certain to
say about me. Yes, I am Serge――Serge Belcofsky, born in Sitka long
after Alaska became part of the United States. I went to school there,
of course, but after graduating I still longed for a better education
than Sitka afforded, so I shipped aboard a homeward-bound whaler for
New London, Connecticut, where I went to school for a year. There I
met Phil Ryder, who was not only the most popular fellow and the best
athlete in the whole school, but who became the best friend I ever had.
If he wasn’t, I should never have given him the fur-seal’s tooth which
a Chilkat chief gave to my father. On his death my mother gave it to
me, and soon after it passed into Phil’s hands he lost it. Since then
it has turned up so many times, in such mysterious ways, and has had
so much to do with shaping our fortunes, that I can’t help believing
at least part of the old tales concerning it. Anyhow, the way it has
managed to follow us right up to date is certainly wonderful. It isn’t
likely that we shall see it again, though, now that the old Eskimo has
got hold of it, for he evidently realizes its value.

“Where am I now? On a river steamer bound for Sitka by way of the
Yukon, of course. You see, I left New London almost a year ago and
started for Sitka on the schooner _Seamew_. At Victoria, British
Columbia, who should I meet but Phil Ryder, who also shipped on the
_Seamew_. She got to Sitka, but we didn’t, and though we seem to be
headed that way now, while Phil is confident that we are going straight
there, no one knows what may happen. I hope my dear mother isn’t
worrying about me. If I was only sure of that, and that I should land
Phil in Sitka some time, I know I should enjoy this trip immensely.
But, as Mr. Coombs says――”

“Hold hard there, hearty! You may allow that I’m a thousand miles away;
but I’m not. And when it comes to taking words out of my very mouth,
you’ll find that I’m right alongside. As my friend old Kite Roberson
uster say, ‘A man what can’t speak up for hisself hadn’t orter be
allowed to vote.’ My name is Jalap Coombs, half Yankee and half British
subject, late mate of the _Seamew_, now acting cap’n of the schooner
_Philomeel_, in which me and Mr. Ryder is sarching for the slippery
young chaps what has jest now interdooced theirselves. A while ago we
thought we had ’em, but things happened, and now we’re all at sea again
without an idee of how the wind’ll blow next. But as old Kite uster
offen say, ‘When you don’t know what _to_ do, the best thing is to do
nothing.’ That is what we are liable to do for some time, seeing as the
_Philomeel_ are hard and fast aground on a mud bank, with a nor’ wind
blowing all the water outer Norton Sound.”

“And to think that I, John Ryder, after spending the whole summer in
searching for my son Phil, should at length have actually got within
sight of him away up here almost to the North Pole, only to have the
young scamp sail away and disappear again, as oblivious of my presence
as though I had never existed! And now this miserable accident, that
puts an end to my following him any farther! Oh, it is too bad! too
bad! I did think that all this miscarriage of plans and getting lost
and being whisked off to all sorts of out-of-the-way places was purely
accidental, or only owing to the extraordinary carelessness for which
Phil has always been noted. Now, however, I must confess that it
really does look as though he were ready and willing to go in any
direction save towards Sitka. I can’t conceive what inducements that
trader-fellow of whom Nikrik told us can have offered to entice my son
up the Yukon at this time of the year. From all accounts the trader
must be a pretty bad lot, and I tremble to think of what may happen to
my Phil under his influence. What did Nikrik say his name was?”

“Gerald Hamer is my name, and though I have never had the pleasure of
meeting Mr. John Ryder, from what I have seen of his son I should judge
him to be a man well worth meeting. Phil is certainly a fine fellow,
as well as the best rifle shot I ever ran across, and I am more than
glad to have him join my expedition. That boy Serge, too, is a trump,
and together they make a strong team, for while the first is impulsive,
careless, and inclined to carry things with a dash, the other is cool,
steady as a rock, and slow to act, but certain to get there in the
end. As for myself, I am leading an expedition up the Yukon with the
intention of establishing a trading-post at Forty Mile, a mining camp
some two thousand miles up the river. I hope to reach there in this
steamer, the _Chimo_, before navigation closes. Then I expect to go out
over the Chilkoot Pass by snow-shoes and sledges, and so finally reach
San Francisco in time to bring up a new stock of goods for next summer.
It is now so late, though, that I begin to have my doubts as to whether
this plan can be carried out, for I fear we shall be frozen in long
before reaching Forty Mile. I heard one of the clerks at the Redoubt
bet that we would not reach Nulato.”

“Yes, I, Simon Goldollar, made that bet, and I am willing to repeat it.
I hope they won’t get to Forty Mile. If they don’t we’ll head them off
yet, and teach them that none but the company can trade on the Yukon. I
am one of the company’s most trusted clerks, and though I only came out
last summer, I think I see a way to winning promotion by breaking up
the plans of this impudent would-be trader in our territory, and I am
going to propose my scheme to the agent at once. I am the more anxious
to carry it out now that Phil Ryder, whom I hate, has turned up again,
and is evidently some sort of a partner in this new concern. He thinks
I stole his money when we crossed the continent together, but I didn’t.
Even if I had we would now be quits, for he has stolen the fur-seal’s
tooth from me. I know where it is, though, and I’ll have it back
before long. I’ll find some chance to get the best of him, too, before
he leaves the Yukon, and I’ll give him cause to regret that he ever saw
it or Redoubt St. Michaels, either. See if I don’t.”

“At last I am allowed to speak, and I must say I think I should have
been the first to be presented, for I am the Fur-seal’s Tooth. My
origin is mysterious, the wonderful carving with which I am covered is
unique, and of course my ultimate fate cannot be foretold; but whoever
has read of me in the book that bears my name must admit that I exert
a powerful influence over the affairs of men. It is said of me that he
who gives me away gives good luck with me. He who receives me as a gift
receives good luck. He who loses me loses his luck, and he who steals
me steals bad luck that will cling to him so long as I am retained in
his possession.

“Although I am now in the hands of a wretched Eskimo, I propose to
leave him very shortly, to continue my travels until I reach my proper
resting-place, and to exert a very considerable influence upon the
forthcoming story. If you doubt my word, just bear me in mind and watch
for my appearance.”



CHAPTER II

A DANGEROUS BERTH OFF YUKON MOUTH


Eighty miles south of Redoubt St. Michaels, the one lonely
trading-station of that bleak northern coast, the mighty Yukon pours
forth its turbid flood, discoloring the waters of Bering Sea for one
hundred miles off shore. In point of size, as measured by length, the
Yukon ranks seventeenth among the rivers of the world and fifth among
those of the United States, but its volume of water is computed to be
equal to that of the Mississippi, while, like the Father of Waters,
it is constantly eating away its own banks and tearing them down,
acres at a time, along its entire length. Thus it has become a shoal
stream of immense width, crowded with islands and sand-bars, on all
of which are huge stacks of bleached driftwood piled up by springtime
floods. In the neighborhood of its fan-like, many-mouthed delta the
tawny giant has deposited its muddy sediment for so many ages that it
has created hundreds of square miles of low swamp lands, on which only
coarse grasses and stunted willows grow. In the early summer these vast
swamps afford safe breeding-places for millions of swans, ducks, and
geese. Here also are produced such incredible swarms of mosquitoes that
neither human beings nor animals dare penetrate their watery solitudes.
Nor are mosquitoes confined to the Yukon delta; but its entire valley
is so infested with them that summer is a season to be dreaded by
whites and natives alike. Even the wild animals of its forests
retreat to the snow-clad mountains, so that there is little or no game
to be procured between spring and autumn. The only compensation of the
season is that it brings the finest salmon of the world into the river
in such vast shoals that every dweller within one hundred miles of its
banks may from them lay in his year’s supply of food by the labor of a
single month.

[Illustration: ESKIMO HUT, MOUTH OF THE YUKON]

In the summer, too, the four or five trade-boats――all light-draught,
stern-wheeled steamers like the _Chimo_――that ply on the river make
their annual trips, with provisions, goods, and an eight months’
accumulation of mail, carrying joy to lonely mission-stations and
trading-posts, native villages, and distant mining-camps. On their
return in the fall they are freighted with gold-dust and the spoils of
the most prolific fur-producing district now left to the world.

These things formed the principal topics of conversation in the
pilot-house of the sturdy little _Chimo_ as, aided by a strong
north wind, she swept down the desolate coast of Norton Sound. The
six-by-seven-foot enclosure was occupied by Gerald Hamer, the stalwart
leader of the expedition, by Phil and Serge, and by an Eskimo pilot,
who had been obtained at St. Michaels. The two boys were in there for
warmth, for the season was late September, which in that latitude is
very close to the beginning of winter, and the brisk north wind held so
keen an edge that no one remained on deck unless forced to do so.

Gerald Hamer was there to watch his native pilot, in whom he had
little confidence. He was also uneasy concerning his boat, which had
been put together in the greatest haste on the beach, just beyond the
Redoubt, in the face of all possible annoyance from its inmates; they
being devoted to the cause of the already established company, were
determined that no other trader should gain a foothold in the country
if they could prevent it.

Being anxious to obtain the good-will of the natives from the outset,
Gerald Hamer had allowed a number of them who dwelt in the Yukon
delta, and were desirous of returning home, to take passage on the
_Chimo_, which towed their walrus-skin bidarrahs, or open boats, behind
her. These passengers――men, women, and children, fat, greasy, and
happy――made themselves perfectly at home on the lower or cargo deck of
the steamer, sprawling over her freight, peering inquisitively at her
engine, and revelling in the combined odors of steam and oil pervading
that part of the boat.

Before half the distance down the coast was covered, mysterious
accidents began to happen to the machinery. First it came to a stop,
and the engineer reported that something had so seriously gone wrong
that it would be necessary to anchor while he made an examination.
To the horror and dismay of all hands, a gunny sack was found to be
stuffed so far into the exhaust that the pipe had to be taken apart
before the obstruction could be reached and removed. Not long after
this danger was averted, one of the pumps refused to work. It was taken
to pieces, and was found to contain a large nail, which must have been
recently dropped into it. There was no doubt but that these things had
been done intentionally; and as suspicion naturally fell on the native
passengers, some of whom were known to be in the employ of the old
company, Gerald Hamer finally ordered them to leave the steamer.

Not understanding the cause of this peremptory order, and being loath
to exchange their present comfortable quarters for the open boats, the
natives obeyed so slowly and sulkily that it almost seemed as though
they were about to insist on remaining aboard. At length, however,
all were gone except one woman, who held a child in her arms, and who
refused to leave the warm corner of which she had taken possession.

Determined to get rid of her, and despairing of moving her by other
means, Gerald Hamer suddenly snatched the child from her arms, ran
to the open gangway, and dropped it gently into a bidarrah that
still waited alongside. In an instant the mother had followed, and
could be seen as the boat was shoved off hugging the infant to her
bosom, at the same time darting furious glances after the departing
steamer. A minute later, as though in compliance with her evident
though unexpressed wish, the _Chimo_ was run hard and fast aground on
one of the innumerable bars that so jealously guard Yukon mouth. Her
native steersman had been leaning from the pilot-house door watching
the dismissal of his compatriots, and especially that of his own wife
and baby, as the last two put off afterwards proved to be, instead of
attending to his duty.

Phil, who remained in the pilot-house, saw the bank just before the
boat struck, and snatched the wheel hard over, at the same time
signalling to stop and back at full speed. But it was all too late, and
ere she could be stopped the _Chimo_ had slid half her length into the
treacherous mud. In another minute the fleet of bidarrahs swept by, and
from them came mocking laughter mingled with derisive shouts. One of
them ran alongside, and ere any one on the steamer knew what was taking
place the native pilot had deserted his post, and was being borne away
in triumph by his fellows.

[Illustration: THE NATIVE PILOT DESERTS HIS POST]

“I only hope nothing worse will come of it,” said Phil, anxiously, when
Gerald Hamer finally rejoined him in the pilot-house.

“What do you mean?”

“Why, the pilot said something about that baby having the measles,
which I understand have been pretty bad on the river this summer, and
if that is the case some of us may have caught them.”

“Oh, I guess there’s no danger,” replied the captain, carelessly, his
mind at that moment being too fully occupied with the condition of his
vessel to allow of other thoughts.

It was too late to do anything that evening, for the short Northern
day was already merged in dusk, and the next morning, though anchors
were carried out astern, they came home through the soft mud as if it
were so much water the moment a strain was put on them. Sheer-poles
were rigged, and an attempt was made to pry the boat off by means of
them; but again the mud offered so little resistance that the effort
only resulted in failure. So, after working like beavers for hours, the
_Chimo’s_ crew resigned themselves to waiting as patiently as might be
for a change of wind and higher water.

In this enforced delay three precious days were spent, and nightfall
of the third found the _Chimo_ still outside Yukon mouth instead of
one hundred miles or more inland, as had been hoped. Still, with so
energetic a leader as Gerald Hamer, those three days were by no means
wasted. He overhauled and restowed the cargo hurriedly put on board at
St. Michaels, and with the engineer made a thorough examination of the
machinery. He reorganized his slender crew, appointing Phil and Serge
first and second mates, and giving each charge of a watch.

Besides the captain, the two mates, and the engineer, there were three
other persons in the crew. Two of them were millwrights, who were going
to Forty Mile to set up the saw-mill that formed part of the _Chimo’s_
cargo, but who now served as firemen. The third was a sullen-faced
fellow named Strengel, who had been engaged from the steamer
_Norsk_, which brought the expedition to St. Michaels, to act as
assistant engineer. Phil took a dislike to this fellow from the first,
and it was strengthened by the fact that he seemed to have contracted
an intimacy with some of the inmates of the Redoubt, who were avowed
enemies of the expedition.

Besides doing the things already mentioned, the captain and his two
young mates took a small boat and staked out about ten miles of the
channel that the _Chimo_ would follow as soon as she again floated.

On the evening of the third day the wind changed, and as the steamer
would probably float during the night the captain ordered steam to be
got up and everything made ready for a start at daylight. He turned
in early, complaining of great weariness and many pains, which he
attributed to the cold and the frequent drenchings that had accompanied
his sounding of the channel.

The following morning, when Phil went to report that the steamer
was afloat, and also to make a grave charge against Assistant
Engineer Strengel, he was horrified to find the captain raving in the
delirium of a high fever. Thus to his intense dismay the young mate
suddenly found himself burdened with the entire responsibility of the
expedition, with both a mutiny and a very sick man on his hands, in an
unfriendly country, and about to be confronted with the terrors of an
arctic winter.



CHAPTER III

MEASLES AND MUTINY


As Phil realized the full gravity of the situation he instinctively
shrank from assuming the responsibility so unexpectedly thrust upon
him. One of his aunt Ruth’s long-ago stories of a poor little bear who
found himself alone in the great big world with all his troubles before
him flashed into the boy’s mind, and he said to himself, “This little
bear’s troubles have met him, sure enough, and in full force.”

But why should he assume this responsibility? This was not his
expedition, and he had no interest in it save that of a passenger. It
did not seem at all likely that it could succeed now, and as they must
apparently return to St. Michaels sooner or later, why not do so at
once, and get out of this scrape the easiest way possible. Or why not
turn the whole business over to Mr. Sims, the engineer, who was well
paid for his work, and who was supposed to have counted the cost of
failure as well as of success. Yes, that was the thing to do: shift the
responsibility to Mr. Sims, who was paid for assuming such duties.

But hold on, Phil Ryder! Have you not also been paid, at the very
highest rate too, by the man who now lies so helpless before you, and
whose fortunes are in your hands? Did he not rescue you from a certain
death out there in those cold, cruel waters, when your bidarkie was
on the point of foundering? Did you not gladly accept his offer to
accompany him on this trip when all appeared smooth sailing? Have you
not been fed and clothed at his expense? Above all, has he not proved
his confidence in you by appointing you to a position of trust? Are
such things as gratitude and loyalty unknown to you? You were proud
to be called first mate yesterday, and now you shrink from performing
the first and most evident duty of the office. You owe everything to
Gerald Hamer, and yet you would intrust his fortunes to a man whom you
know to be a drunkard whenever liquor is within his reach, and on whose
movements the captain bade you keep a close watch. Shame on you, Phil
Ryder! What would Serge say if you should do this cowardly thing? Would
you ever dare face his honest gaze again?

These thoughts, which flashed through Phil’s mind in a few seconds,
stung him as though they had been so many clearly uttered words. The
hot blood rushed to his cheeks, and with a very determined look on his
face the lad walked forward. He found Serge in the pilot-house, and at
once laid the situation before him. In conclusion, he said:

“We must make some move at once, for this westerly wind is kicking
up such a sea that our anchors won’t hold much longer. It would be
even more dangerous to attempt a return to St. Michaels than to lie
here. Besides that, to place ourselves at the mercy of our enemies
for the winter would mean the utter ruin of the expedition and the
loss to Gerald Hamer of every cent he has in the world. So, under the
circumstances, as the present command of this craft seems to devolve
on me, I propose to continue on our course, get rid of that fellow
Strengel at the first opportunity, and push on up the river until our
farther progress is barred by ice, or until we discover a good place in
which to lay the boat up for the winter. We must surely find white men
somewhere who will help us, too.”

“Yes,” replied Serge, “we are certain to if we can only get as far as
the Anvik Mission. At any rate, Phil, what you propose to do is exactly
the right thing, and you can count on me to back you up to the last
gasp.”

“I knew I could, old man,” replied Phil, warmly. “Now let’s go below
and make ready to start.”

Calling on the two millwrights to follow them, Phil and Serge made
their way to the engine-room, where they found the engineer just
rousing from a heavy sleep, which Phil strongly suspected had been
aided by liquor.

“Mr. Sims,” said he, “what would be the effect if a cylinder-head
should blow out under a full head of steam?”

“The effect?” replied the engineer, slowly, and evidently surprised
at the question. “Why, any one who happened to be in range would be
killed, all in this part of the boat would be more or less scalded,
and the chances are that this expedition would come to a very sudden
termination.”

“Of course yours is all right?”

“Certainly; I examined it only yesterday,” replied the engineer,
testily. “Now, if you are through with your foolish questions, it seems
to me you’d better notify the captain that everything is ready for a
start. I don’t want to waste steam by blowing off, and there’s more on
now than we ought to carry.”

“Would you mind stepping this way a moment?” asked Phil, taking the
engine-room lantern and holding it back of the cylinder.

Moved by curiosity as to what the young seal-hunter could be up to, the
engineer stepped forward, gave one look, and uttered a cry of horror.
More than half the bolts holding the massive cylinder-head in place
had been loosened.

“Upon my honor, I knew nothing of this thing, Mr. Ryder,” he gasped.

“Of course you didn’t,” answered Phil, grimly; “for it was done while
you were sleeping off the effect of those brandied peaches. Where is
Strengel?”

“He is aft somewhere. But surely, Mr. Ryder, you don’t suspect him of
this dastardly act?”

“Go and tell him to come here,” ordered Phil, turning to one of the
millwrights.

In a moment the man returned, and reported that Strengel claimed to be
too busy to come just then.

With an expressive glance at his friend, Phil left the engine-room, and
Serge followed him. A minute later, in the resistless grasp of the two
athletic young fellows, Mr. Strengel was being rushed along the deck
so rapidly as to suggest that he had very imperative business in the
engine-room.

“Here, gentlemen, is the man who did that thing!” cried Phil, as he
gave the breathless and trembling wretch a shove that landed him in a
corner.

[Illustration: “HERE IS THE MAN WHO DID THAT THING”]

“So help me, Mr. Ryder――” he began, abjectly.

“Shut up!” shouted Phil, “and don’t you dare speak again until you are
spoken to. There is no doubt of his guilt, gentlemen, for I saw him
loosening those bolts as plainly as I see him now, when I came down
here awhile ago to make ready for starting. He did not see me, for I
was in darkness, while he worked by lantern-light. So I watched him for
a full minute while he prepared this death-trap for the rest of us. No
wonder he has sought the most distant and safest part of the ship ever
since.

“Moreover, it is this man who, on two previous occasions, has attempted
to cripple our machinery. He is employed by the old company to injure
and delay this expedition by every possible means. From the evidence
before us it looks as though he would not hesitate to commit murder to
accomplish his designs. Now, gentlemen, what, in your opinion, ought to
be done with such a bit of scum?”

“Shoot him! Throw him overboard!” suggested two of the little group in
a breath, while Serge said nothing, but tightened his clutch of the
prisoner’s collar ominously.

“Turn him over to the captain,” said the engineer; “he’ll settle the
case in a hurry.”

“That is what I started to do, and what I am afraid of,” replied Phil.
“The captain has sworn to shoot on sight the first man he catches
tampering with the machinery of this boat, and I don’t believe he’d
hesitate a moment before doing it, either. At the same time, gentlemen,
we don’t want to have any bloodshed on the _Chimo_ if we can help it.
It would not only give her a bad name and injure our prospects on the
river, but would furnish us with a cause of regret for the rest of our
lives. So I thought I would ask your opinion before reporting this
affair to the captain.

“My plan would be to get under way as quietly as possible, which the
captain ordered me to do anyway, if we were afloat at daylight, and run
over to the Pastolik wood-yard. There we’ll give the scoundrel a chance
to slip ashore and hide himself. He’ll be picked up fast enough by the
natives who own the yard. We won’t make any stop there, but will run on
up our staked channel and be out of sight before anything is said to
the captain. Thus we shall get rid of our murderer without having his
blood on our hands, and at the same time leave him where there won’t
be the slightest chance of his troubling us any more. In fact, I’m
inclined to think that if he once gets safely out of this boat, he’ll
be wise enough never to come near her again. I shall be sorry for
him if he does, that’s all.”

After some discussion, during which the wretched prisoner watched the
faces of his judges with painful eagerness, this plan was accepted.
Under strictest supervision of the engineer, Strengel was made to
repair his own mischief. Then with Serge to keep careful watch of
affairs on the lower deck, and with Phil at the wheel, the _Chimo_
steamed away from the place of her long detention. As she neared the
Pastolik wood-yard Strengel was not only ready to leap ashore at the
first opportunity, but he was warned by the angry mutterings of those
about him that to remain on board a moment longer than was necessary
would place his life in imminent jeopardy.

So, as the steamer rubbed against the bank, he made a leap; his bag was
flung after him, and, without having come to a full stop, the _Chimo_
moved on, Phil ringing the jingle-bell for full speed the moment it was
safe to do so.

It is hard to say which was the more pleased at this successful
termination of the affair: Phil to be so easily rid of a dangerous
member of his crew, or the wretch who had so easily escaped a
well-merited punishment.

As soon as the steamer again reached the staked channel, Phil resigned
the wheel to Serge, and, calling on the two millwrights to aid him,
removed the stricken captain to the lower deck. There a bed had been
prepared for him in a warm corner, near the boiler, which was carefully
curtained by tarpaulins against any draught of cold air. Although
the young mate had but slight knowledge of sickness, and was still
uncertain as to the nature of Gerald Hamer’s illness, he knew that
warmth would do his patient no harm, and that in a case of measles it
was necessary to a successful treatment of the disease.



CHAPTER IV

PHIL ASSUMES COMMAND AND ASSERTS HIS AUTHORITY


There was much alarm among the scanty crew of the _Chimo_ when the
pitiable state of their leader was discovered, and the engineer was
especially loud in his protests against attempting to continue the
voyage under such discouraging conditions. He declared that none
but madmen would think of doing such a thing, and that unless they
immediately returned to St. Michaels they would all perish in that
wilderness of icy water and frozen mud. At first the millwrights, who
had heretofore had no experience in rough travel, were inclined to
agree with him; but Phil stated his view of the situation so clearly,
and was so sturdily supported by Serge, that they were finally won over
to his way of thinking. So the discontented engineer was forced to
yield to the wishes of the majority.

Five miles from Pastolik they stopped at the Eskimo village of
Coatlik for a supply of wood, and here Serge, with his ability to
speak Russian, proved invaluable. Not only did he conduct the wood
negotiations, but he succeeded in purchasing a number of freshly killed
wild-geese, which were at that time flying southward in vast flocks.
Above all, he secured a native pilot, who promised to go with them
until they met running ice.

Nor did the services of the young Russo-American diminish one whit in
value after Coatlik was left behind. He alone knew how to prepare the
broths which formed the sole nourishment that the sick man was able to
take. He only could converse with the native pilot, and learn from him
the mysteries of the mighty river. He it was who was always cheerful,
and could swing the lustiest axe, when, as often happened, they were
obliged to renew their supply of fuel from chance drift piles; and it
was he who must attend the sick man at night, because the faintest
murmur served to wake him. So Serge was the very life of that dreary
voyage, and but for him Phil knew it must have been abandoned long
before they reached the haven for which they were steering.

And it was a dreary voyage. Day after day witnessed the same monotony
of turbid waters, so widespread that one bank was often invisible
from the other, and a deadly level of drowned lands bounded only by
the low, far-away horizon. Day after day brought the same gray skies,
chill winds, rain squalls, and flurries of snow. Every night saw heavy
frosts, and it grew hourly more apparent that the stern reign of winter
was close at hand.

At long intervals lonely groups of sod-covered huts gave sign that
human beings dwelt even in those unlovely wastes, but save for fuel
the young commander of the _Chimo_ would not pause to make their
acquaintance. From earliest dawn until dusk he forced the little craft
at full speed against the swift current, often grounding on sand-bars
in spite of the native pilot, whose only knowledge was of the best
channel but not of its obstructions.

After two days they began to see low hills on the north, and on this
side the river-bank became noticeably higher. Although this was
encouraging, it produced but slight impression on the spirits of the
depressed crew, whose situation was indeed becoming alarming. They were
worn out with anxiety, overwork, and insufficient food, for they had
neither the time nor inclination to do any cooking except for the sick.
The captain lay in a state of semi-stupor, and another cot within the
same enclosure held one of the millwrights, who had been stricken with
the dread disease twenty-four hours later.

By the end of the first week in October they were some two hundred
miles from the mouth of the river, with nearly one hundred yet to go
before they could reach Anvik, to gain which Phil was directing all
his energies. He knew not what they would find there; but he had an
intuition that help of some kind awaited them at that point. At any
rate, he was determined to reach it somehow.

On the 7th of October ice began to run in the river, and with its
first appearance the native pilot insisted upon starting back towards
his now distant home. That night, amid the howlings of a tempest
that threatened to tear the _Chimo_ from her anchorage, the stricken
millwright died.

When Phil went to the engineer’s room to report this distressing news
he was filled with wrath to find that individual lying in his bunk and
indulging to excess in the contents of a case of brandied peaches that
he had stolen from the cargo.

Without a word Phil picked up the case and flung it into the river.
“I’ll see you again in the morning, sir, when you are sober,” he said,
as he left the room, and, locking the door, put the key in his own
pocket.

That night of storm, death, and despair was one that neither Phil nor
Serge will ever forget. For long hours they sat by the bedside of the
captain, whom they believed to be sleeping, discussing in low tones
their melancholy situation.

Suddenly they were startled by a voice from the sick man, who said,
feebly, “Get me to Anvik, boys, if you can, and you will save my life.”

It was the first time he had spoken rationally for several days, and
they had no idea that he was even conscious of their presence; but Phil
answered, promptly, “All right, captain; we’ll get you there, never
fear.”

“Yes,” added Serge, cheerily, “you may rest easy, sir, for when Phil
uses that tone he means just what he says, and I know that I’ve got to
back him up.”

Neither of the lads got more than an hour’s sleep that night, and
long before daylight they were again at work. Phil and the surviving
millwright were getting up steam, while Serge was taking unusual pains
in preparing breakfast, for they all realized that they must now lay in
an extra supply of strength.

Not until breakfast was ready was Mr. Sims released from the
confinement of his room. After eating his meal in sullen silence he
said to Phil, “Well, young man, what do you propose to do to-day?”

“I propose to push on up the river as usual.”

“And who are you going to get to run your engine?”

“I expect you to do it, sir.”

“Well, you are expecting a good deal more than you’ll get,” cried the
man, rising from the table in his excitement. “I’ve been bullied by a
parcel of boys just as long as I intend to be; so now I want you to
understand that I’ll not allow the engine of this boat to make another
turn except to run her into winter-quarters, and that’s got to be done
in a hurry, too.”

“That’s exactly what I mean to do with her,” replied Phil, quietly.

“Where?”

“At Anvik, less than one hundred miles from here.”

“Hundred nothing!” screamed the man. “You’ll put her in winter-quarters
within ten miles of this very spot or not at all; for you can’t run the
engine, and you haven’t got a man aboard except me who can, and you
know it.”

The furious man had stepped towards Phil, and was shaking a trembling
fist in the lad’s face as he shouted these last words. Serge stood
close behind him.

Just then the young mate nodded his head; both lads sprang upon the man
at once, and in spite of his fierce struggles bore him to the deck. In
another moment he was securely and helplessly bound.

“How do we generally dispose of mutineers aboard this ship?” asked
Phil, as he regained his feet.

“Set ’em ashore, sir, and leave ’em to shift for themselves,” answered
Serge, grimly.

“Very well; and as we haven’t any time to lose, you may get the dingey
overboard at once. Call Isaac to help you, and tell him the reason for
this extra work.”

“You don’t dare do it,” muttered the prostrate man, as Serge started to
obey this order.

“Don’t I?” queried Phil. “If you think so you must be ignorant of what
constitutes a mutiny, as well as of the powers vested in the captain of
a ship.”

“But you aren’t the captain of this ship.”

“Perhaps I’m not. At the same time I am acting as captain by authority
of the owner, and I am performing all of a captain’s duties; _all_ of
them, you understand.”

By this time the small boat was alongside, and leaving the bewildered
millwright in her, Serge regained the deck, where he awaited further
instructions.

“Select such of your belongings as you wish to take with you, and they
shall be put into the boat,” said Phil.

“Oh, rats!” cried the man, angrily.

“Take hold of him!” ordered the mate.

Serge obeyed, and in another minute the mutinous engineer found himself
in the small boat, which was actually being shoved off.

“Shall I hunt a native village to leave him at?” asked Serge.

“No. We haven’t time for that. Land him wherever it happens.”

“Look here, boys,” said the man, humbly, as he cast a shuddering glance
over the icy waters and at the bleak desolation of the shore beyond. “I
weaken. Take me back, and I’ll go to work.”

“Will you run the engine as far as Anvik?”

“I’ll run her till you give the word to stop.”

“And promise on your honor not to touch another drop of liquor before
this steamer is laid up in winter-quarters?”

“Yes.”

So that was the end of the mutiny, and once more the _Chimo_ held
her way up the great river, whose swift current was now covered with
floating ice as far as the eye could reach.

Late that afternoon a new bewilderment confronted the anxious lads.
They were involved in a labyrinth of channels, all of about the same
width, and apparently pouring forth equal volumes of water. But while
they all looked equally inviting, only one was that of the main river;
the others were mouths of the great Shagelook slough, which would
lead them into an unknown wilderness. One meant safety and the others
disaster. But which was which?

In this dilemma Phil decided to anchor and wait for another
daylight. While they thus waited――wearied, anxious, and wellnigh
despairing――there came a shout from out of the darkness that thrilled
them with a new life, for the words were in their own tongue.

“Steamer ahoy! ahoy! Hello on board the steamer!” rang cheerily from
off the dark waters.

“Hello! hello! Come this way!” answered Phil from the pilot-house.



CHAPTER V

A PARSON AT THE WHEEL


Phil had been sitting alone in the pilot-house, where, in the chill
darkness, the weight of his responsibility seemed almost too great to
be borne. He had held out bravely until this moment, but now it seemed
as though a great black wall of difficulty was reared against him, and
that it was gradually enclosing him on all sides. The many channels
revealed by the waning light of that day must all be explored ere the
right one could be determined. Phil dared not consider how many days
might thus be spent, for he knew he had no days nor even hours to spare.

At any moment now the river might close, and once caught in the
relentless fetters of its ice the _Chimo_ must remain motionless until
crushed and swept away by the resistless fury of the spring floods. In
the meantime what would become of her little company, stranded there in
the open river, exposed to the full fury of arctic blasts, remote from
human habitation, and equally so from any visible supply of fuel? They
had not even the fur clothing without which none may spend a winter in
that region.

To be sure, as soon as the ice would bear them they might make their
way to some wretched native village, and there drag out a miserable
existence during the long winter months. Even in that sorry retreat
there could be no hope for Gerald Hamer, who must either be left behind
to perish, or taken with them to meet an equally certain fate from
exposure. As poor Phil reflected on these things he asked himself why
he had so obstinately forced the expedition farther and farther into
the wilderness, day after day, until he had at length brought it to
this danger point. Why had he not laid the boat up in the first winter
harbor that offered? He could remember that they had passed several
very good ones, some of which were in the vicinity of Eskimo villages.

Why? Because he had made up his mind to reach Anvik, and declared his
intention of doing so, and his Yankee grit was not of the kind to be
daunted by obstacles nor turned back by them from an uncompleted duty.
Why? Because he had promised Captain Hamer to carry him to Anvik. Phil
Ryder did not often make promises, being opposed to them on general
principles, but when he did make one he kept it. Why? Because while he
was thus thinking, that cheery voice came ringing out of the darkness,
bringing with it such a thrill of hope and relief that just to hear it
was worth all the toil and anxiety expended in reaching that point.

Serge was down in the galley cooking supper, and whistling a melancholy
little tune, that tried its best to sound cheerful as he did so. Poor
Isaac, the millwright, homesick, grief-stricken, and despairing, was
working by lantern-light on a rude coffin for his dead comrade. Mr.
Sims, morose and silent, was busy with his machinery, while Gerald
Hamer tossed wearily but weakly beneath the piled-up coverings of his
narrow bed.

All heard the first shout of that unknown voice, and each suspended
operations to listen. When it came again, and they heard Phil’s
answering hail, all rushed to the gangway on that side, that is, all
except the sick man, and there, holding flashing lanterns to guide
him, they excitedly awaited the approach of the unknown.

[Illustration: THE ARRIVAL OF THE UNKNOWN]

While they peered vaguely into the gloom, listening for the slatting
of sails or the rattle of oars, he suddenly swept alongside, seated in
an Eskimo kyak or skin boat, very similar to the one in which Phil and
Serge had made their perilous voyage on Bering Sea a month before, only
much smaller.

They could see that he was a white man, wearing a thick, close-cut
brown beard; but otherwise he might easily have been mistaken for a
native, so completely was he enveloped in a kamleika. The hood of this
was drawn over his head, while its ample skirts were fastened to the
coaming of the hatch in which he sat, so as to prevent the entrance of
water.

“Well, if this isn’t a bit of good-fortune, then I don’t know what
good-fortune is!” he exclaimed, smiling up at the eager faces peering
at him from the steamer’s side. “May I come aboard?”

“May you come aboard?” cried Phil. “Well, sir, I rather think you may,
for even if you didn’t want to, I am afraid we should capture you and
drag you on board by force. Why, we couldn’t be more delighted to see
you if you were the President of the United States himself.”

“I doubt if you can be half as happy to see me as I am to meet with you
thus fortunately and unexpectedly,” laughed the stranger.

“In that case,” replied Phil, “you must be the very happiest person in
the world, for you have made me almost that.”

During this interchange of courtesies the stranger had been unlashing
his kamleika, and now, stepping lightly from his fragile craft, he
gained the deck, to which his kyak was also lifted.

“Ah! but this is cosey and comfortable,” he remarked, as he entered
the well-lighted mess-room, which opened from the galley and was
warmed by its glowing stove. Serge had just finished his preparations
for supper, and the well-laden mess-table did indeed present a sight
calculated to cheer the heart of a hungry man, especially one who had
been for hours battling with the ice of an Alaskan river.

“You gentlemen seem to be travelling and living like princes,”
continued the stranger; “but I must confess to considerable surprise at
finding you on the river so late in the season. You are bound down and
out, I presume?”

“No, sir,” answered Phil, “we are bound up the river, and hope to reach
Anvik before it closes.”

“Anvik!” cried the stranger. “Why, that is the place to which I also am
going.”

“Alone, at night, and in a bidarkie?” asked Phil, incredulously.

“Yes,” laughed the other, “though I was only trying to cross the
river to-night for fear it might close before morning, and leave me
stranded on the farther bank. It was a reckless thing to undertake,
I acknowledge, and but for your timely presence I might have come to
serious grief ere this. It had grown so dark before I sighted your
lights that I could no longer avoid the floating ice, and was in great
fear that my boat would be cut open. You may believe, then, that I was
glad to see them. Now, to find myself seated among those of my own
race, and at a civilized table after a rather trying experience of
Eskimo hospitality, caps the climax and renders my content complete.”

“Are you on a hunting or fishing trip, sir?” asked Phil, anxious to
establish the status of this new acquaintance.

“Neither, just now,” was the laconic answer.

“Trading, perhaps?”

“Not exactly.”

“Travelling for pleasure?”

“Yes, so far as it is a pleasure to do my work.”

“Prospecting?”

“For some things, though not for gold.”

“In government employ?”

“No.”

“Working for the company, perhaps?”

“If you mean for the fur-trading company, I am not.”

Phil was nonplussed, and knew not what to ask next. In fact, but for
the stranger’s affable manner and quizzical smile he would not have
pushed his inquiries so far as he had. Finally he said: “I need not
ask if you are a good boatman, for any one who can manage a bidarkie
as well as you do must be that. I do want to make one more inquiry,
though, and I hope you will excuse my inquisitiveness, but we are in
distress and greatly need assistance. Are you a Yukon pilot?”

“For that part of the river lying between here and Anvik I am,” replied
the stranger. “In fact, I know it so well that I would not hesitate to
run it in the dark. Furthermore, to satisfy your very proper curiosity
concerning an utter stranger, who has forced himself upon your
hospitality, I will say that I am a trader, a prospector, a fisherman,
a hunter, a boatman, a mechanic, a writer, a teacher, something each of
a lawyer, a physician, and a surgeon; and, above all, I am a preacher
of the Word of God, for I am a missionary of the Protestant Episcopal
Church, and stationed at Anvik.”

“Oh, sir, are you, really?” cried Phil. “Then you are the very man I
have wanted most to meet. Had I not heard that you were at Anvik, and
believed you would help us, I don’t think I should have dared bring
the boat even as far as I have. I was trying to make up my mind what to
do next, and had almost decided not to attempt a further ascent of the
river, but to go into the best winter-quarters we could find to-morrow.
You see we are all mixed up as to the channels, and greatly afraid of
being caught by the ice.”

“As well you may be,” replied the missionary. “But, pardon my
curiosity, you speak of bringing the boat to this place as though you
were her captain. Is that the case?”

“No,” replied Phil, with a flush. “I am only her first mate, while
Serge here is second, and Mr. Sims is engineer. But I am acting as
captain during the illness of our real captain, Mr. Gerald Hamer, who
is down with the measles.”

“Indeed?” said the missionary, gravely. “I am very sorry to hear that,
for in this climate, especially, measles is a serious sickness and has
been a terrible scourge on the river. I have just been spending a few
days at one of the Shagelook villages installing a native teacher in
place of one who died of measles a few weeks ago. How long has your
captain been ill?”

“Since the day we entered the river.”

“And do you mean to say that you have navigated the steamer all this
distance without help?”

“Oh no, sir! I have had the help of Serge, who is a capital sailor
and can talk Russian besides, and of Mr. Sims, who is a first-class
engineer, and of Isaac, who is a millwright, but who makes one of the
best firemen I ever saw, and we had another millwright, only he died
last night, and a native pilot part of the way.”

“Well, you have certainly shown an immense amount of pluck and
perseverance,” exclaimed the missionary, “and I don’t think I know
another boy of your age who would have done as well, for you don’t
look as though you were out of your teens yet. Are you?”

“Almost,” answered Phil, again flushing. “That is, I shall be in two
years more.”

“And Serge?”

“He is almost as old as I am.”

“How about Isaac?”

“Oh, Isaac is most twenty.”

“Well, Mr. Sims,” said the missionary, turning to the engineer, “I
congratulate you on your crew.”

“Yes,” assented the man, gruffly, “they’re a pretty plucky lot of boys.
We’ve been mighty short-handed, though, since the cap’n took sick, and
Martin died, and my assistant was set ashore for mutiny, and I for one
am powerful glad to see another white man come on board, even if he is
a parson.”

Smiling at this equivocal compliment, the missionary asked if he
might visit the captain, and was conducted by Phil to the sick man’s
bedside. As they came away he said to the young mate: “Your captain is
dangerously ill, and the sooner you get him to Anvik, where there is
a doctor, the better. Therefore I would advise you to up anchor and
make the run to-night, especially as I fear the river may close before
morning.”



CHAPTER VI

FLOATING ICE AND “CHY”


Happy to share his responsibility with the stranger who had been so
providentially sent to their relief, Phil willingly agreed to his
proposal, and ordered the _Chimo_ to be again got under way. The night
was clear, cold, and still; but there was no moon, and its darkness was
only dissipated in a measure by brilliant starlight. This, however,
was sufficient to disclose the outline of the western bank, which the
new pilot kept always in sight. He seemed actually to be able to feel
his way up the mighty river, avoiding false channels and sandbars as
if by instinct, and never hesitating as to which side of an island he
ought to pass. Phil occupied the pilot-house with him, and after a
long silence he exclaimed, admiringly, “You surely must have been a
steamboat man, sir, before you became a missionary.”

“No,” laughed the other, “I never was on a river steamer until I came
out here, though as a boy I did have some experience in running up and
down Lake Champlain, near which I lived.”

“In New York State?” asked Phil.

“No; in Vermont, not very far from Burlington. So, you see, I am a
genuine Yankee.”

“I might have known it,” said Phil, “from your handiness at all sorts
of things. I wonder why it is that, as a rule, the Yankee is such a
Jack-at-all-trades?”

“I suppose it is because he is generally taught by necessity in the
shape of poverty,” replied the missionary; “and even if he were not so
taught at home, he certainly would be out here, where a man must be
able to do nearly everything for himself or leave it undone.”

“Jalap Coombs was a Yankee,” meditated Phil, “that is, when he didn’t
feel that he was a subject, and he could do more kinds of things than
any one I ever knew. How I wish he were with us at this very minute! I
don’t believe we could get into any scrape or trouble that he wouldn’t
manage to get us out of somehow.”

“Is he dead?” asked the missionary.

“No, indeed. That is, I hope not, though he might as well be so far as
we are concerned, for I don’t suppose we shall ever see him again. We
left him on Oonimak Island, Serge and I did, and now I suppose he is in
Sitka or Victoria or San Francisco, or perhaps bound for the other side
of the world.”

Being thus started on the subject of Jalap Coombs, Phil proceeded to
give his new friend an account of their recent adventures in Bering
Sea, and of the prominent part taken in them by the Yankee mate of the
sealer _Seamew_, in all of which the new-comer was deeply interested.
While Phil was in the midst of an account of how Serge obtained fire
from brimstone and feathers, the second mate himself appeared to report
that their stock of fuel was nearly exhausted.

“Then we must stop at Makagamoot for a new supply,” said the missionary
pilot, promptly, “though I fear we may have trouble in getting the
natives to turn out at this time of night; still, with your permission,
Captain Ryder, I think we would better try it.”

“Certainly, sir,” agreed Phil; and so the _Chimo_, being somewhere in
the vicinity of the invisible Eskimo settlement at that very moment,
was headed for the west bank of the river. Her whistle was sounded
vigorously at short intervals, to attract attention, and in a few
minutes her crew had the satisfaction of seeing a glow of fire-light on
the beach not more than a mile ahead. At the same time there came an
ominous crunching of ice, and all hands instantly realized that inshore
the river was already frozen over. The ice was not yet thick enough to
stop them, though it materially impeded their progress; they finally
succeeded in reaching the bank.

At first the few sleepy natives who came, out of curiosity, to witness
the unusual sight of a steamboat at that time of night and thus late
in the season, were disinclined to do any work before morning; but the
appearance among them of the missionary, and a few words from him,
produced a magical change in their attitude. Five minutes later a long
line containing every able-bodied man in the settlement was formed from
the steamer to the wood-pile, and a steady stream of cord-wood sticks,
passed from hand to hand, was flowing aboard.

Within half an hour every inch of wood room was filled, the natives
were made glad by double the pay they had ever received for a similar
amount of work, and the _Chimo_ was backing out of the channel she had
made for herself towards open water.

Only fifteen miles now lay between her and Anvik, and though the night
had grown bitterly cold, her pilot held out hopes that they might still
make the run without being nipped in the rapidly forming ice.

Under every pound of steam that her boiler would bear, the sturdy
little craft quivered to her very keel as she ploughed through the
black waters, grinding the floating ice-cakes beneath her bow, tossing
them to one side, or beating them to fragments with her powerful wheel.
Leaving the missionary alone in the pilot-house, Phil worked with Serge
and Isaac at heaving wood into the roaring furnace. In face of its
fervent heat it was hard for them to realize that the night was cold,
and much less that the mercury stood close to zero.

But the silent figure grasping the frigid spokes up in the pilot-house
knew it, and his anxiety increased with each slow-dragging hour. Was it
indeed too late to reach a safe winter haven? Had he been too officious
and self-confident? He almost feared so, and said as much to Phil when
the young mate came up to inquire how many miles more they had to go.

“Not a bit of it, sir,” cried the lad, with all his old cheery
confidence fully restored. “Why, you not only rescued us from a regular
slough of despond, but from the imminent danger of being frozen in
where we were as well. If you hadn’t come along we should certainly
have stayed there until morning, in which case it is plain enough now
that the _Chimo_ would have gone no farther this winter. Now you have
at least brought us within reach of safety even if we shouldn’t move
another yard, and you have lifted a mighty heavy load of anxiety from
my shoulders, I can tell you. But aren’t we nearly there, sir? It seems
as though we had come fifty miles instead of fifteen since we took on
that wood.”

“Yes, and if it were daylight, which it soon will be, we could see
Anvik now. When we have made a couple more miles I shall head her into
the ice. In the meantime I wish you would ask Serge to make me a pot of
his hottest _chy_, for I am nearly perished with the cold.”

“A pot of what?” asked Phil, thinking he must have misunderstood the
word.

“Of _chy_. Tell him a _chy peet_ is what I want. He will understand.”

“Aye, aye, sir! _Chy_ it is, and you shall have it if there’s a drop to
be found aboard the boat.”

Serge laughed at the order, and hastened to fill it; while Phil
followed him, curious to see what he would make.

“Why, that’s tea you are putting into the pot!” he exclaimed, a few
minutes later.

“Certainly,” replied Serge; “_chy_ is tea, and tea is _chy_, and the
teapot is _chynik_, and _chy peet_ is a lunch of tea and bread. So
there’s a lesson in Russian that I know you won’t forget in a hurry.
Now, if you will carry it up to him I will get back to the furnace
door, for poor Isaac is just about used up.”

So the young captain acted as steward, and then, taking the wheel
while his guest drank cup after cup of the scalding liquid, became
quartermaster, and was finally restored to his original rank by having
the missionary ask his permission to send the _Chimo_ into the ice. “It
may injure the hull somewhat,” he said, “and probably will; but we’ve
either got to risk it or leave her to winter out here in the middle of
the river; for we are abreast of Anvik now. You will see the houses in
a few minutes, for dawn is close at hand.”

“Of course we must put her into the ice, and rush her just as far as
she will go,” answered Phil. “We can afford to damage her hull to a
very considerable extent better than we can afford to leave her out
here to be crushed by the spring break-up of the ice.”

So in the first flush of morning the brave little boat was headed
towards the western bank, and began directly to crash through the thin
ice fringing the channel. For some distance she cut her way as though
it had been so much window-glass; then her progress became slower and
slower, until finally she came to a dead stop, though the big wheel was
still lashing the turbid waters into foam behind her.

“Stop her! Back her! Stop her! Go ahead, full speed!” were the orders
tapped out on the engine-room gong, and rushing at the ice with
gathered headway, the _Chimo_ crashed her way through it for a hundred
yards farther. Again she was backed, and again charged the enemy with
furious impetus. This time the shock was terrific, though she did not
gain more than half the former distance. Again and again was the attack
repeated, until finally she gained barely a length.

With the next shock the steamer climbed the ice, and ran nearly half
her length out of water before the barrier broke with her weight, and
set her once more afloat.

“That’s all,” said Phil, quietly. “We don’t dare try that again. If we
did we’d probably open every seam in her, even if we didn’t break her
back. So that’s all we can do, and here is where the _Chimo_ will have
to lie for the winter. It’s too bad, though, for we aren’t more than a
quarter of a mile from shore.”

“I don’t know about lying here all winter,” replied the missionary. “I
don’t like it myself, and if you would rather have the boat close to
the bank I guess we can manage to put her there.”

“How?” asked Phil.

“You wait here and get breakfast while I go ashore on the ice. I won’t
be gone more than an hour, and when I come back I’ll tell you,” was the
reply. “I shall bring the doctor with me, too.”



CHAPTER VII

THE “CHIMO” GOES INTO WINTER-QUARTERS


While Phil watched the departing missionary, who was making his way
cautiously over the newly-formed ice, the late-rising sun appeared
above the southeastern horizon, gilding a cross surmounting the tower
of a little log-church pleasantly located on a high bluff. Back of
it rose the dark-green wall of a spruce forest, while about it were
clustered a number of low but very substantial and comfortable-looking
log-houses. Near the beach at the foot of the bluff stood an Indian
village of huts whose roofs bristled with poles. In each one was left
a square hole for the egress of smoke from the open fire built on an
earthen floor beneath.

Scattered about in picturesque but hopeless confusion were long ranges
of pole frames for drying fish, many little log-houses mounted on
stilts and looking like dove-cots, the use of which Phil could not
imagine, fish-traps, boats, sledges, and everywhere dozens of yelping,
prowling, fighting, or sleeping dogs. Besides these things Phil could
see what appeared to be the black chimney-stack of some kind of a mill.

Suddenly a flag was run to the top of a tall pole on top of the bluff,
and as the Stars and Stripes streamed out bravely in the cold wind
a rattling volley of musketry rang forth its loud note of welcome
from the Indian village. To this Phil responded by a vigorous salute
from the _Chimo’s_ whistle. Then, so utterly weary from overwork,
excitement, and loss of sleep that merely to move required a strong
effort of will, he left the pilot-house and went below. He found Serge
at the captain’s bedside administering a bowl of broth and telling the
sick man of the events of the night.

As Phil entered, Gerald Hamer’s eyes rested on him with such an
expression of gratitude as the former will never forget. “I thank you
two boys,” he said, weakly, “more than I can ever tell. To you I owe
not only my life, but whatever it holds of value, and――” Here his voice
failed him, and Serge bade him not to attempt another word.

“No, indeed,” added Phil, “for you don’t owe us one cent’s worth of
thanks, Mr. Hamer. To the end of our lives we shall always be in your
debt, and in bringing you up the river to this point we have used your
boat to bring ourselves as well. So――well, that’s all there is to
it, anyway; and now if you will only hurry up and get well we shall
appreciate that more than all the thanks in the world.”

Then Serge left, and Phil, slipping into his vacated chair, almost
instantly fell into a sleep so profound that it is doubtful if a boiler
explosion or an earthquake could have aroused him.

An hour or so later he was in the midst of a very perplexing dream, in
which he seemed to be recovering from an illness, and the old family
physician at his bedside kept changing into a young woman. While in
the form of an old man he said, “Yes, there are the two captains, both
evidently sound asleep, and no wonder. This is Captain Hamer, who would
have died long ago but for the devoted care of the two lads, and this
is Captain Ryder, who brought the boat up the river in the face of all
obstacles.”

Then, presto! the old doctor changed into a young woman, who said,
“Poor boy, I don’t wonder that he has fallen asleep, and I only hope he
isn’t in for a spell of illness. He certainly appears feverish.”

With this a soft hand was laid on Phil’s forehead, and he opened his
eyes to find his dream so far a reality that there actually was a young
woman bending over him, and wearing an expression of anxiety on her
pleasant face. Behind her stood the missionary.

She stepped back as she saw that Phil was awake, and the poor boy,
recalling vividly his dishevelled appearance, struggled to his feet
with a crimson face.

“I didn’t know you were going to bring ladies to see us,” he said in a
reproachful tone to his companion of the night. “In fact, I didn’t know
there was a lady within a thousand miles of here. I’m sure you didn’t
mention the fact. You only said you were going to fetch the doctor.”

“And so I have,” laughed the missionary, “for this young lady is our
doctor, and a most excellent one she is, too, I can assure you. She was
just saying that you didn’t look at all well, and wondering if you were
going to have the measles.”

[Illustration: ARRIVAL OF THE DOCTOR]

“I had ’em long ago,” answered the lad, “and I never felt better in my
life. I was a bit sleepy.”

“Which isn’t surprising after all you have recently undergone,”
remarked the doctor, with a winning smile that served to establish
friendly relations between them at once. “You see, we have already
heard of your brave struggle against our unruly river, and that you may
be prepared for them I will tell you at once that there are two more
ladies at the station who are quite anxious to meet the hero of so many
adventures.”

“Oh!” gasped poor Phil, who had never before been called a hero.

“Yes, but you needn’t look so alarmed. They aren’t half so formidable
as I am, for they haven’t the privilege of ordering people to do
things that I obtained with my diploma.”

“Are you going to order me to do things?” asked Phil, with recovered
self-possession.

“Indeed I am; for as a doctor I dare issue orders even to a steamboat
captain,” laughed the young woman. “I am going to order you to take
sleep in big doses. It is a famous remedy in this country, for our
nights are already seventeen hours long, and steadily lengthening. But,
joking aside, I want to congratulate you, Mr. Ryder, on your skilful
care of this patient, whose life has been undoubtedly saved by your
success in keeping him warm. Although he is still a very sick man, I
believe the crisis is past, and that with the nursing he can have on
shore he will pull through all right.”

“I’m awfully glad to hear it,” said Phil, “but I’m puzzled to know how
we are to get him ashore. I shouldn’t think it would do to carry him
over the ice in the face of the wind that is blowing.”

“No, indeed,” replied the doctor.

“So we have made arrangements to carry him in this very boat,” said the
missionary, “and if you care to step outside for a moment you can see
how we propose to accomplish it.”

Phil had been wondering at the sound of many voices and busy labor
that came from without, but as he gained the deck he comprehended the
missionary’s plan at a glance. Some fifty native men and boys, directed
by a white man, were hard at work with axes, ice-chisels, poles, and
other implements opening a channel the full width of the _Chimo_ from
where she lay to the shore. As fast as a cake was loosened it was
shoved under the solid ice on the down-stream side, and already a
passage was opened for one-third of the distance.

“That is a capital idea!” exclaimed Phil, “and one that I don’t believe
I should have thought of. Even if I had I am afraid we couldn’t have
carried it out by ourselves, nor do I believe we could have induced
those natives to work for us as they seem willing to do for you.”

“Perhaps not,” replied the missionary; “but I think they are fond of
me, for when I explained to them how much I owed to my timely meeting
with you last evening they seemed only too glad of a chance to return
the favor.”

“I didn’t realize that you owed anything to us,” meditated Phil. “In
fact, I thought we had been indebted to you for favors ever since our
fortunate meeting. But it seems as though most every one was in debt to
some one else for assistance in times of trouble.”

“Ah, my boy,” replied the missionary, “that is one of the fundamental
principles of human life. From the moment we enter this world until
we leave it we are dependent upon others for everything we possess,
including life itself. Wherefore it becomes us to render unto our
fellows such services as we may, promptly and cheerfully. But here
comes Serge, and I am sure he is going to say that breakfast is ready.”

“Yes,” laughed Serge, “I am, and I should have said it long ago only
Phil was so sound asleep that I couldn’t wake him without disturbing
the captain. But now, if he is hungry――”

“If I am hungry!” cried Phil. “I honestly believe it was only my
ravenous hunger that put me to sleep. Will you join us, sir?”

“I was only waiting for an invitation,” replied the missionary, with a
smile, “for I didn’t stop ashore long enough to get anything to eat.
Nor do I believe the doctor has had her breakfast; so if Serge doesn’t
mind having a lady at his table――”

“A lady?” stammered Serge, in dismay, and gazing wildly about him. “Is
there one on board?”

“There certainly is,” laughed the missionary, “and from what she has
heard of your culinary skill she is most anxious to test it.”

A minute later they were all gathered about the _Chimo’s_ mess-table,
and the doctor was winning golden opinions by her judiciously bestowed
compliments. Even gruff Mr. Sims was induced to smile by her praise
of his polished engine, which she declared outshone any yet seen on
the Yukon; while Isaac was told that the mission saw-mill was so
frightfully out of order that the man of all men most needed there at
that moment was a millwright.

The pleasant meal was hardly finished when a great shout from outside
announced the completion of the canal. Then, with Phil at the wheel,
while the missionary and the doctor occupied the pilot-house with him,
and with flags at half-mast for the dead man in her cabin, the stanch
little _Chimo_ steamed slowly up the narrow channel to the berth she
was to occupy for the next eight months. As she reached it the mission
flag was dipped in salute, and then hoisted to half-mast in sympathy
with her sorrow.

So the eventful voyage of four hundred miles from St. Michaels was
ended; and, thanks to the lads whom Gerald Hamer had rescued from the
cruel waters of Bering Sea, he and his property were now moored in a
safe haven. And it was none too soon, for that very night the cold was
so intense that the Yukon was frozen from bank to bank.

But Phil did not care, nor did Serge. They had reached the goal towards
which they had set their faces with such sturdy determination, and for
them neither cold nor storm had any present terrors.



CHAPTER VIII

LIFE AT AN ARCTIC MISSION


The first thing to be undertaken after the _Chimo_ was safely
moored in her snug berth was the removal of Gerald Hamer to the
little log hospital that was the pride of the doctor’s heart. This
was accomplished without any danger from exposure by means of a
canvas-covered litter especially constructed for the occasion. To be
undressed for the first time in many days, given a warm bath, and
placed in a bed that was actually spread with sheets was to be so
“lapped in luxury” that, as the sick man whispered to Phil, any one who
wouldn’t get well under such conditions deserved to die.

The second duty was the burial of poor Martin, for whom a grave was
already prepared in the quaint little cemetery of the settlement. The
rude coffin was borne by his late shipmates, and the entire community
of Anvik, natives as well as whites, followed the body to its place of
final rest. Never had Phil been so impressed with the solemn beauty of
the Episcopal service as when he listened to its grand utterances amid
the surroundings of that wild Northern land. The low-hanging sun, the
moan of the wintry wind through the sombre forest, the attentive groups
of dark-skinned natives, the mighty river rolling its tawny flood at
their feet, and the encircling solitudes, vast, silent, and mysterious,
centring at that simple grave, combined to form a picture that none of
its spectators will ever forget.

When all was over the living left the dead with the dead, and returned
to their homes. Even Phil and Serge declined, on the plea of utter
weariness, the proffered hospitality of the mission for that night, and
went back to their own quarters aboard the _Chimo_, where for the next
twenty-four hours they slept almost without intermission.

Then they were ready for anything, and when they again presented
themselves at the mission, clad in new suits taken from the steamer’s
ample trade stock, the ladies found it difficult to realize that these
handsome, wide-awake young fellows were the same who, heavy-eyed,
unkempt, and ready to drop with exhaustion, had brought the _Chimo_ to
port two days before.

Nor did it seem to the boys that they could be in the same place, for
while they slept the river had frozen completely over, a fall of snow
had infolded all nature in its spotless mantle, and now the whole
world lay sparkling in unclouded sunlight. If they were amazed at the
change in the aspect of the mission they were also delighted with the
missionary’s house, which they now entered for the first time. Not
since leaving far-away New London had either of them seen anything to
compare with the prettiness and comfort displayed in this wilderness
house on the verge of arctic Alaska.

There were books, magazines, and pictures, rugs and potted ferns, a
small organ, luxurious divans and easy-chairs, a museum of native
curios, and many other noticeable objects of use or ornament. In an
immense fireplace a cheery blaze roared and crackled, and before it a
fine big cat purred forth his content. In the eyes of the boys there
was nothing lacking to the perfection of this interior. And yet it was
all very simple and inexpensive. Most of the furniture was home-made,
the divans were cushioned with feathers from native wild-fowl, and the
rugs were trophies from neighboring forest or waters.

The missionary’s family consisted of his wife, the doctor, a young lady
teacher, and a white man who had charge of the saw-mill. Besides these
there were a few bright native boys and girls who were under special
instruction.

While the lads chatted with the ladies and marvelled at their
surroundings one of the native boys was seen approaching the house,
whereupon its mistress, saying, “Ah! there comes the mail,” went to the
door. “Nothing but the paper,” she announced on her return; “but we
shall at least learn the latest news.”

“I had no idea that you had a mail service in the winter,” remarked
Phil, innocently, “nor that there was a paper published in this part of
the world.”

“Oh, dear, no! It isn’t published here,” laughed the missionary’s wife.
“It is a New York paper, and only a weekly at that; still it is better
than none, and being of this week’s date its news is quite recent. See?”

So saying she held out the paper for Phil’s inspection, and to his
amazement he saw that it was indeed a New York paper bearing the date
of October 20th. Not until Serge, to whom this harmless deception was
an old story, broke out with the laughter he could no longer restrain
did it flash into Phil’s mind that the paper was a year old, and then
he could have thumped himself for his stupidity.

“You see,” explained the missionary’s wife, “we only receive mail once
or twice a year, and then we get such a quantity of papers that we
cannot possibly read them all at once. So we lay them aside, and have
them delivered one at a time on their regular dates, by which means we
receive two or three newspapers every week during the year.”

“What a capital idea!” exclaimed Phil.

“Isn’t it? And it is such good training for the boys, who are allowed
to act as postmen. Then, too, we use the papers in school in place of
reading-books, and so have fresh topics with which to interest the
scholars every week. On this account our reading-class is so popular
that it has nearly outgrown the capacity of our school-room; but,
thanks to Captain Hamer, we are to have a new one in the spring.”

“Indeed! Is he going to build you one?”

“He is already having it built, and it is to serve as your
winter-quarters so long as you remain with us, after which it is to be
presented to the mission.”

This was so interesting a bit of news that the boys must visit the
hospital at once and learn what plans the leader of their expedition
had made. They found him so far recovered as already to take an
interest in his surroundings, and able to talk freely with them. He
told them that with a view to the future needs of the school the new
building was to be forty feet long by twenty wide, though for the sake
of present warmth and comfort it was to be divided into several small
sleeping-rooms, a large living-room for the use of the _Chimo’s_ crew,
and a store-room for such goods as it was deemed best to remove from
the steamer for safer keeping.

“In it,” explained the captain, “we will make ourselves as comfortable
as possible for the winter, and in the spring we will push on for the
diggings. With the four hundred miles’ start we have got, thanks to you
boys, we ought to reach them in time to do a rattling business before
the company’s boats get there.”

“But how about going out by way of Chilkat for your next year’s supply
of goods?” queried Phil.

“Oh, that plan must be given up, of course, and I must make up my mind
to sacrifice a year’s business for the fun I’ve had with the measles.
The trip from here in the dead of winter would be a tough one for the
strongest of men, for it must be all of two thousand miles. It will
easily take me the rest of the winter to regain strength enough to go
on with the boat in the spring, so there’s no use thinking of that trip
now. I’ll manage to send you boys out somehow next summer, which is the
nearest I can come to keeping my contract with you. In the meantime,
while I am sorry for your disappointment, I am very glad of your
company and services.”

“You don’t think, then, that it would be possible for us to go out
this winter by way of Forty Mile and the coast and make our way to
the Sound, or even to San Francisco, and order your goods for you?”
suggested Phil, in whose mind this wild scheme had suddenly assumed
shape.

“You two inexperienced boys!” exclaimed the captain, amazed at the
audacity of the proposition. “Certainly not. Why, I don’t believe
either of you knows how to use snow-shoes, or to drive a team of dogs,
or has the least idea of what fifty below zero means.”

“I think I know,” said Serge.

“Which?”

“All of those things,” replied the young Russo-American.

“You know more than I do, then, or ever expect to, for I have never
driven a dog-team. As for Phil here, I am certain that he knows nothing
about any one of the three.”

“I believe I could learn,” said the boy from New London, “and I know
I’d be glad of the chance.”

“Well, you can study those things right here, and while you are
learning what fifty below zero means you’ll be glad enough to have a
well-warmed house near by in which to study the results of your lesson.
You’ll find plenty to occupy your time in this immediate vicinity for
the next few months. So don’t think any more of the crazy scheme you
have just proposed, for I can’t possibly give my consent to it. If I
should thus lose sight of you I should spend the rest of my days in
mortal terror of meeting Mr. John Ryder and having him demand to know
what I had done with his boy. Now I shall have to ask you to leave me
for a while, as I am too tired to talk any more.”

As soon as the boys were outside Phil asked, “How do you drive dogs,
Serge? Do you have lines to each one, or only to the leader?”

“You don’t drive them with lines at all,” laughed the other. “Nor do
you go near them. You sometimes run beside the sledge, but generally
behind it, so as to push on the handle-bar over obstructions, or to
hang on and hold back in going down steep places. From there you talk
to the dogs, and encourage them with a whip of walrus-hide or seal-skin
that has a handle about sixteen inches long and a lash of about
eighteen feet. To produce the slightest effect on your team you must be
able to crack that lash with a report like a pistol-shot in either ear
of any dog, or to fleck any one of them on any designated part of the
body. You must also learn the language that your dogs are accustomed
to, for they will pay no attention to any other.”

“And are snow-shoes a necessity?”

“Certainly they are, for without them you would often sink out of
sight in drifts, while even in soft snow of moderate depth they are
indispensable.”

“Well,” sighed Phil, “it seems as though one had to learn a great deal
before he can travel far in this country; but I suppose if others have,
I can. So let’s go and borrow a pair of snow-shoes and have a lesson
at once. I suppose I might as well begin the Eskimo whip-practice and
dog-language, too; for with such a long journey ahead of us we mustn’t
waste any more time than is absolutely necessary on preliminaries.”

“What long journey?” asked Serge.

“Our journey up the river to Forty Mile, and so on to Chilkat, of
course. You didn’t imagine we were going to loaf here all winter, did
you?”

“But the captain won’t give his consent.”

“Oh, we’ll manage that. Besides, we’ve got to get to Sitka some time,
you know, or our parents will be getting anxious about us.”



CHAPTER IX

PHIL’S ESKIMO MILITIA


Phil and Serge dropped very easily into the life of the mission, and
quickly became interested in its work. The missionary had always found
more or less trouble with the older Indian boys, who were almost ready
to take their place in the tribe as hunters, and so felt themselves
rather above going to school with the children. When Phil learned of
this difficulty he conceived a plan for overcoming it, which, with the
missionary’s consent, he at once proceeded to put into execution. It
was nothing more nor less than to form the unruly boys into a military
company. He had been an officer in his own school company at New
London, and even Serge had become fairly well drilled during the year
he had spent there.

Phil and Serge had already formed the acquaintance of an intelligent
young Indian named Chitsah, son of Kurilla, who had once been in the
employ of an American exploring party, from whom he had gained a fair
knowledge of English.

Through Chitsah, therefore, Phil issued an invitation to all the Indian
lads between the ages of twelve and eighteen to meet him and Serge
in the large school-room, which was cleared of its furniture for the
purpose, that very evening, as he wanted to teach them a new game.
About one dozen boys accepted this invitation, and a disreputable,
slouchy appearing lot they were, all clad in cast-off or well-worn
garments of civilization, and looking as though half ashamed of being
there. As Phil afterwards said, he expected each moment to see them
become panic-stricken and make a break for the door.

By the aid of Serge and Chitsah, who acted as interpreters, Phil
explained that the new game was called “soldiers.” He said that all who
wanted to join his company and come to that place three nights of the
week for drill might do so, provided each would first make for himself
a wooden gun like the one he had prepared that day, and which he now
showed them. After a while they would give an exhibition drill to which
all their friends should be invited, but in the meantime everything
that took place at their meetings was to be kept secret from outsiders.
Then the young drill-master put Serge through the manual of arms and a
few marching movements to illustrate his meaning.

The boys quickly comprehended the idea, and were charmed with it. Some
of them began instinctively to stand straight and throw back their
shoulders in imitation of Serge. When Phil ranged them in a line toeing
a chalk-mark drawn across the floor, and then, stepping back a few
paces, called out, “’Tention!” every one of them assumed an attitude
bearing some resemblance to that of a soldier, and stood motionless.
Then Phil pinned a band of scarlet cloth about the left sleeve of the
largest boy, who was known as Big Sidorka, and told him he might wear
it for one week, after which it would be given to whichever one of the
company the others should decide to be the best drilled.

The next evening twenty boys appeared, and every one brought with him a
wooden gun, all neatly and some beautifully made. At this meeting they
were given their permanent positions in the ranks, taught to count
“fours” at the word of command, to hold themselves erect, to “carry”
and to “shoulder” arms. They were also given to understand that the
company was now full, and, until after the exhibition drill, no more
members would be admitted. This at once gave membership a value that
made it seem very desirable.

On this occasion, after the drill was over, Serge produced a number
of illustrated books and papers containing pictures of soldiers, the
meaning of which he explained with such success as to fully arouse the
interest of his dusky audience. As a result of this experiment the
young Russo-American, who had worked so bravely for his own education,
found himself within a week teaching an enthusiastic reading-class, in
which every member of Phil’s military company was a willing scholar.

The missionary was jubilant over these successes, and declared that
with a dozen such helpers as Phil and Serge he could have every Indian
on the Yukon in school within one year.

In the meantime our lads were not neglectful of their own affairs.
With every able-bodied Indian procurable enlisted in the work, the
new building was completed by the end of the first week, and for some
days the _Chimo’s_ crew found ample occupation in furnishing and
storing it. Then, too, under instructions from Serge, Chitsah, or
Kurilla, Phil spent every spare moment of daylight in learning the art
of snow-shoeing, mastering the terrible Eskimo whip, and acquiring a
vocabulary of dog-language.

He got many a tumble on his snow-shoes, and took ludicrous “headers”
into many a deep drift, where he would flounder helplessly until
rescued by some of the delighted spectators of his mishaps. The long
whip, too, tried its best to strangle him by winding in snaky coils
about his neck, or to tangle itself in bewildering knots around his
legs. As for his vocabulary, it was enough to provoke laughter in the
most sedate of sledge dogs, and created uproarious mirth among the
human occupants of the Indian village. In spite of all difficulties,
Phil persevered with unabated energy, until gradually his feet and the
snow-shoes began to work together. He actually succeeded in cracking
the snake-like whip so that the sound could be heard, and Kurilla’s
fine team of bushy-tailed dogs began to prick up their sharp ears
understandingly when he addressed them. Many a spin did he have on the
river behind this lively team, with Kurilla running beside the sledge
and cracking his mighty whip until its reports rattled like a fire
of musketry. When at length Phil was allowed to run with the sledge
instead of occupying it as a passenger, and the entire control of the
team was intrusted to him, he felt prouder, as Jalap Coombs used to
say, than was becoming to a mere mortal man.

But his pride was quickly humbled, for ere they had gone a mile
the dogs discovered that they had no reason to fear his whip, and
that his unintelligible commands might be treated with contemptuous
indifference. Suddenly Musky, the leader, who had a grudge of long
standing against Amook, one of the big steer-dogs, turned like a flash
and darted furiously at his enemy. In an instant the whole team was
rolling in a confused mass of yelping, snarling, snapping, and biting
fur, with traces tangled in a thousand knots, sledge going to smash,
and pandemonium reigning generally.

Phil stood by in helpless consternation, and not until Kurilla, running
up in breathless haste, flung himself bodily into the mêlée, did he
have the faintest hope that any dog would emerge alive from that savage
conflict.

Another time, as he thought he was meeting with complete success in
driving this same team, and was thoroughly enjoying a ride in the
sledge, the dogs suddenly stopped short and refused to go on. They
sat on their haunches, with wagging tails, and looked up at Phil with
pleased expressions, as though rejoicing over the discovery that they
needn’t work unless they chose. And there they sat, in spite of all
their driver’s efforts to move them, until he was in despair, when with
equal suddenness they sprang up and dashed away home with the empty
sledge, leaving him to follow on foot as best he might.

His first real journey by dog-sledge was to the Eskimo village of
Makagamoot, fifteen miles down the river, and was taken in company with
the missionary, who was accustomed to visit this place once a month.
They went in two sledges, with Chitsah as runner, and Phil took with
him a small lot of goods. For these Gerald Hamer wished him to procure
several suits of fur clothing, in making which the Eskimos greatly
excel their Indian neighbors.

While the entire coast of Alaska north of the great peninsula is
inhabited by Eskimos, they never penetrate far into the interior, and
only for short distances along the principal rivers. Nor do the Indians
of the interior ever occupy the coast territory. Thus in the present
case Makagamoot was the last wholly Eskimo settlement, and Anvik the
first in which Indians predominated, on the Yukon.

Makagamoot was a much more thrifty village than its next neighbor,
though at first sight its eight or ten large houses looked only like so
many great inverted bowls or hillocks of snow. These winter residences
are in a great part below the surface of the ground, where they are
neatly lined with wood or whalebone, and are extremely comfortable
after their fashion. Thus only their snow-covered roofs appear above
the surface, and in the centre of each is a square smoke-hole, that
admits such daylight and outer air as find their way to the interior.
Access to these dwellings is gained by means of tunnel-like approaches,
through most of which a man must crawl on hands and knees.

Back of the dwellings rose twenty or thirty of what Phil had called
log dove-cots, about six feet square and high, mounted on ten-foot
posts. He now knew them to be provision caches or store-houses for
the smoked or dried fish and meat that furnished the entire winter’s
supply of food for the village. They are thus constructed to insure
their contents against the horde of wolfish-looking dogs that ever
gaze at them with hungry longings. For the same reason all sledges and
skin-covered boats must be stored on scaffolds erected for the purpose.

Phil and the missionary received an uproarious welcome, emphasized by a
great firing of guns, at this quaint Eskimo village, and were conducted
to the kashga, or principal building, which is at once town-hall,
hotel, bath-house, and general assembly-room for the settlement, as
well as the winter residence of all unmarried men.

So great was the heat in this place, so stifling its atmosphere, and so
horrible its odors, that poor Phil gasped for breath on entering it. In
vain did he attempt to partake of some of the delicacies pressed upon
their guests by the hospitable natives. Raw seal’s liver, strips of
reindeer fat, dried fish, salmon roe that had been kept for many weeks
in a hole in the ground, and caribou bones split so that the marrow
might be sucked from them, succeeded each other in rapid succession.
Phil was hungry, but not hungry enough for any of these.

Nor could he force himself to remain in that terrible atmosphere long
enough to witness the wedding of an Eskimo girl with a white man, a
Russian ex-employé of the old fur company, which was the first duty
the missionary was called upon to perform. The mortified lad was sorry
to thus disappoint his kind-hearted and well-meaning entertainers; but
there was no help for it. So with swimming head and uneasy stomach he
made a break for the place of exit.

[Illustration: INDIAN GIRLS, ALASKA]



CHAPTER X

A SAD ROMANCE OF THE WILDERNESS


From long familiarity with such interiors as that of the kashga, and
by a powerful exercise of will, the missionary was able to remain
long after poor Phil had taken his departure, and also to partake of
several of the Eskimo dainties already mentioned. It was largely by
thus conforming in a measure to the ways of the natives when with them
that he had gained their confidence and acquired the popularity that
paved the way for future usefulness. Still, it was with a great sigh of
relief and an eager inhaling of fresh air that he finally emerged from
that fetid atmosphere.

Phil in the meantime had been amusing himself by climbing the dome-like
roofs of the houses, and obtaining such glimpses as he might of their
interiors through the smoke-holes. He never gazed long though, for the
vile odors issuing from those apertures always drove him away after a
single glance below.

“How can human beings endure such vile, disgusting smells?” he
exclaimed, as the missionary rejoined him.

“They are not vile and disgusting to them,” laughed the other. “If
noticed at all, they are extremely agreeable. You must remember that
the atmosphere which you find so unendurable is that to which the
Eskimo has always been accustomed. As soon as he is born his entire
body is liberally smeared with rancid oil, and to the day of his death
this coating of grease, frequently renewed, affords his best protection
against cold and wet.

“His staples of food are fish and meat often in a state of partial
decay, and always odorous. Thus the smells that to your unaccustomed
nostrils are so offensive, are to him associated with all that makes
life pleasant or even possible. At the same time he exhibits the
greatest aversion to those perfumes that you consider most pleasing.
A whiff of cologne will make him ill, and flowers that to us are
sweet-scented are to him unendurable. Thus you see the sense of
smell, like all other senses, can be educated to adapt itself to any
conditions, and, happily for the Eskimo, he finds nothing objectionable
in the nauseous odors surrounding him.”

“That is so,” reflected Phil, “for now I remember that the Aleuts
of the Pribyloff Islands could not understand what I meant when I
complained of the awful stench rising from the decomposing bodies of
thousands of seals lying at their very doors.”

With the aid of the missionary and Chitsah, Phil traded off the small
stock of goods he had brought with him for half a dozen parkas, or
outer garments, made from reindeer-skin with the hair still attached,
as many pairs of winter boots, and a number of other articles made
from seal-skin. Each of the parkas had a hood at the back, which could
be drawn up over the head. The edge of this hood was trimmed with
wolf-skin taken from the back, where the hair is longest. When the hood
is in use these long hairs surround the wearer’s face with a bristling
fringe that affords a surprising amount of protection from driving snow
and icy winds.

The tarbossa, or Eskimo boots, were made of the skin of reindeer legs
on which the hair is short and stiff, and were provided with soles of
seal-skin, turned up over toes and heels, where they are gathered in
little puckers that the native women chew or shape with their teeth.
The upper end of one of these boots is tied about the wearer’s knee,
while a second set of thongs at the ankle holds it in place at that
point.

Besides these things, Phil purchased a number of Eskimo wolf-traps,
the cruel ingenuity and extreme simplicity of which exceeded anything
of the kind he had ever seen. They were merely bits of stiff whalebone
about one foot long, with sharpened points, folded into the smallest
possible compass, and confined in that position by a lashing of sinew.
For use this harmless-looking affair is thrust into a piece of meat,
which is frozen and thrown down on the snow. Mr. Wolf swallows meat,
trap and all, with such relish that he at once searches for another
bit just like it. In the meantime the trap has begun its deadly work
in his stomach. Its sinew lashing softens, weakens, and finally breaks
under the steady strain of the compressed whalebone. Thus released the
bone springs into its original shape, thrusts its sharp points into the
wolf’s vitals, and often kills him instantly. If not at once, death
ensues in a very short time, and when the thrifty Eskimo cuts up his
wolf he generally recovers his trap and prepares it to be set again.

The sledge-party from Anvik had started from there before daylight of
that morning with a view to returning the same night. So as soon as the
missionary had visited every house in Makagamoot and Phil had concluded
his trading, the dogs, which Chitsah had been obliged to guard all
this time from an overwhelming onslaught by their Eskimo cousins,
were headed homeward, and the return journey was begun. Chitsah drove
the leading sledge, which was laden with the several hundred pounds
of dried fish that the missionary had received as a wedding-fee, the
missionary drove the other, which bore Phil’s purchases, and the Yankee
lad trudged beside him.

“Are you often called on to marry two people of different races?” asked
the latter, who was thinking over the events of their recent visit.

“No, not often; though it is not uncommon for white men, who have
become permanent settlers in the country, to marry native women, and I
once married a Chinese man to an Eskimo girl. My strangest experience
in that line, though, was gained some years ago, when I first came to
this country. Wishing to familiarize myself with the entire valley,
I took a trip on the company’s steamer to the head of navigation. We
stopped to trade at every Indian camp, and at one of these, near Fort
Yukon, a couple came on board to get married. The man was a tall,
good-looking fellow, but a full-blooded Cree Indian, from the distant
interior. His companion was also in Indian costume, but the moment I
looked at her face I saw, to my amazement, that she was a white girl.
She was quite young, but had the saddest face I think I ever saw. I
remonstrated with her against the step she proposed to take, but in a
perfectly calm voice, and speaking most excellent English, though with
a Scotch accent, she assured me that she was well aware of what she was
about to do, and that it was her firm resolve to marry the Indian who
stood beside her. Both he and she gave the name of McLeod, and under
that name I married them.

“After the ceremony was over she told me her story. It seems that, in
spite of her fair skin, she was a half-breed daughter of the Scotch
factor of a Hudson Bay trading-post and his Indian wife. When she was
thirteen years old her father sent her to Scotland to be educated.
She made the long trip by canoe and sledge from the distant post where
she was born to York Factory, on Hudson Bay, in safety, and there took
passage in the company’s annual ship for London. From there she was
sent to Edinburgh, where for five years she lived with relatives and
attended school. Then she received a note of recall from her father,
and was obliged to retrace the wearisome journey over thousands of
miles of sea and wilderness to her home in the far Northwest. It was
terrible for her to leave the dear friends and pleasant associations of
so many years, and hardest of all to separate from the young Scotchman
who had won her heart and her promise to marry him as soon as he should
come to claim her in her own home. While she returned to Hudson Bay
in a company’s ship, he was forced to travel by way of New York and
through the States.

“When the girl reached her home she immediately told her parents of her
engagement, and that her lover was even then on his way to marry her.
To her dismay her father flew into a violent rage, informed her that
he had already selected a husband for her in the person of one of the
company’s employés stationed at Fort Liard, and declared that she must
marry him at once. In vain did the girl plead with him and endeavor to
change his cruel determination, and in vain did the mother take her
part. The tyrannical father only grew the more obstinate, and when,
after months of weary wanderings, the Scotch lover appeared at the
fort, he was driven from it with bitter words. He was not allowed to
see, or even communicate with, the girl, but was ordered to leave the
country at once.

“There was nothing to do but obey. The factor was also the only
magistrate of a vast region, and ruled it with a rod of iron. None
could dwell within his jurisdiction without his knowledge, none obtain
employment without his consent. The forts held all the necessaries
of life, and none could be purchased elsewhere. A band of Indians was
ordered to convey the unfortunate youth several hundreds of miles away
and there leave him. This they did, but what afterwards became of him I
do not know.

“By some means the girl learned of her lover’s visit to the fort, of
his harsh reception, and of his cruel banishment. The knowledge broke
her heart. She became dejected and miserable, and spent her days in
weeping. At this her father became so furious that he sent for the
man to whom he had promised her to come and marry her at once. He
furthermore upbraided his daughter in the presence of all the employés
of the fort, and said such cruel things about the man she loved that,
declaring she could bear it no longer, she ran out, mounted her pony,
and fled to her mother’s tribe. There she promised to marry a young
Indian who had long admired her, and at once set out with his family
for the Yukon, where they hoped to find a priest. As it happened, I was
the first whom they encountered, and the result I have already told.”

“What became of them after that?” asked Phil, who was deeply interested
in this sad romance of the wilderness.

“I do not know. They dared not return to the territory governed by her
father, and the last I heard of them they were living by themselves
somewhere on the upper Yukon, where the man was making a precarious
livelihood by trapping. I tried to induce them to come and make their
home at the mission, but poor Ellen McLeod answered that she should
never again dwell among people of her father’s race.”

“Poor girl,” sighed Phil, who had a very tender heart for the troubles
of others. “I wonder if we should have any chance of meeting them if we
took our trip up the river? By-the-way, sir, don’t you think Serge and
I might be trusted to make that trip this winter?”

“I should not care to advise you to do it,” replied the missionary,
“knowing its dangers as I do. And certainly you could not go without
Captain Hamer’s consent, for you would require a more expensive outfit
than any one save he could furnish.”

“I suppose so,” admitted Phil, ruefully, “but I can’t help thinking
something will turn up to make it seem best to let us go.”

They were by this time nearing Anvik, and though the sun had long since
set, the river was flooded with moonlight. All at once a dark figure
darted out from the shore and came running towards them. As it drew
near, Kurilla’s well-known voice shouted, breathlessly:

“Cap’n Phil’s fadder gone up river! Yaas, he fadder!”

[Illustration: “CAP’N PHIL’S FADDER GONE UP RIVER! YAAS, HE FADDER!”]

“My father!” cried Phil. “It can’t be. You must be crazy, for my father
is thousands of miles from here.”

“True, all same. You fadder, yaas!”



CHAPTER XI

THE BOYS CARRY THEIR POINT


Never in his life had Phil Ryder been more perplexed than he was at
the astonishing statement just made by Kurilla. It was incredible that
his father should be in that country. Why should he be? There had been
barely time for him to receive the letter sent out by Nikrik, and he
could not possibly have reached the Yukon Valley since then.

“How do you know it is my father?” he demanded of the native. “Has he
been here? Did you see him? Why didn’t he wait until I came back?”

“Him no come. Him go up river. Me no see him. You fadder, yaas.”

“What can the man mean?” asked Phil, in despair of obtaining any
intelligible explanation and turning to the missionary for aid.

From that time until they reached the station, which they found in a
state of excitement over the news, the missionary questioned Kurilla
in his own tongue, and by the time they were inside the house he had
gleaned all the information the Indian possessed.

“He says,” began the missionary, turning to his eager audience, “that
he obtained his news from a Nulato Indian, who left St. Michaels only
three days ago, and came by way of the Divide and the Anvik River.
He is a friend of Kurilla, and spent a couple of hours with him this
morning, after which he continued his journey. According to him, as
understood by Kurilla, a schooner containing Phil’s father and another
white man reached the Redoubt soon after the _Chimo_ left. The other
white man was sick, so that none of the natives saw him; but Phil’s
father spent his whole time making inquiries of every one about the
boys, and where they had gone, what sort of a man they had gone with,
and what chance there was of overtaking them.”

“I am afraid he did not receive a very flattering description of the
man they had gone with,” remarked Gerald Hamer, who was by this time
out of the hospital and able to join the pleasant family circle.

“About that same time,” continued the missionary, “the revenue-cutter
_Bear_ came down from the northward, bringing the crew of a wrecked
whaler, so that for a while there were many white men and much
confusion at St. Michaels. Then both the _Bear_ and the schooner sailed
away, taking most of the white men with them, but Phil’s father stayed
behind. By-and-by news came from Nulato that the _Chimo_ had passed
that point without stopping, on her way up the river.”

“Which is news indeed,” muttered Gerald Hamer, “seeing that Nulato is a
good one hundred and fifty miles beyond here.”

“Isn’t it?” laughed the missionary. “And, to cap the climax, the
same runner that brought that information announced that you would
undoubtedly be frozen in before you had gone much farther, whereupon
Phil’s father began making preparations to follow and overtake you by
dog-sledges. He started the day before our informant left the Redoubt,
and was accompanied by two other white men, though whether one of them
was he who also came on the schooner, Kurilla did not find out. So
there you have the whole story as straight as it can be obtained; but,
considering the channels through which it has come, there is such
an opportunity for errors that I should not be at all surprised if a
number had crept into it.”

“Nor I,” admitted Phil, “though I can’t doubt that my father has
arrived in this part of the country, impossible as it may seem, for
surely no one else could have any object in announcing himself as my
father, or going to such trouble in hunting me up. Nor can I doubt
that, having conceived some absurd notion that I am likely to get into
trouble, the dear old pop has set forth on a wild-goose chase after me.
I fancy I can see him at this moment politely trying to breathe, or
to swallow raw seal, in some native hut, or careering over the river
behind a team of runaway dogs, or wrestling with the intricacies of
an Eskimo whip, or having some of the other delightful experiences
that he is certain to encounter. There is one thing that won’t bother
him, though, and that is snow-shoeing, for he learned that long ago in
Canada.”

“How fond he must be of you!” said the missionary’s wife.

“Yes, indeed, he is!” cried Phil. “And I of him, for we are everything
in the world to each other.”

“And how anxious he must be!” murmured the teacher.

“I suppose so; though I don’t see why he should be, for he taught me
to take care of myself long ago. I am beginning to get pretty anxious
about him, though, and it seems to me that it is clearly my duty to
organize a relief expedition at once and go in search of him. What do
you say to that, Serge?”

“I say I should feel exactly as you do if he were my mother,” answered
the lad from Sitka, who was immediately afterwards covered with
confusion by the outburst of merriment that greeted his remark.

“I mean――” he stammered.

“Of course,” interrupted Phil, teasingly, “we understand. You mean
that if my father were your mother, in which case you and I would
probably be brother and sister, you would feel in duty bound to go in
search of him or her, as the case might be.”

“Oh, you get out!” laughed Serge.

“The very thing I am proposing to do. And, really, Captain Hamer, now
that my father has appeared on the scene, and gone up the river, I
don’t see how you can any longer have an excuse for refusing to let
Serge and me follow after him. If we don’t overtake him this side of
Forty Mile, we shall certainly find him there. Then we can all go out
together by way of Chilkat, and I know that out of gratitude for your
kindness to me, if for no other reason, my father will gladly undertake
to place your order for goods in San Francisco.”

“Your argument is certainly a strong one,” admitted Gerald Hamer,
hesitatingly, “and it really begins to look as though you had gained
your point after all.”

“And we ought to start as quickly as we can,” urged Phil, eagerly, “in
order to relieve my father’s anxiety as soon as possible, and also to
prevent him from getting lost, which, I am sure, any one is likely to
do on the Yukon. When it comes to procuring dogs for the trip, I would
advise you to buy Kurilla’s team, if possible, for I give you my word
they are far and away the very best lot of haulers I have ever driven.
As for their feed, I was invited to a certain wedding to-day, though I
regret that I was forced to decline the invitation, that resulted in a
sledge-load of prime dog-fish――no, I don’t mean that either, for they
were salmon――which, I believe, can be bought cheap.”

Thus rattling on and unhesitatingly offering advice on all subjects
connected with dog-sledging and snow-shoeing, even going so far as
to express the opinion that for their work Norwegian skis would be
far better than the ordinary snow-shoe of the country, Phil succeeded
within a few minutes in establishing the fact that his long-cherished
expedition was really to be undertaken.

As he remarked in a low but exultant tone to Serge after they had gone
to bed that night: “Hurrah for snow-shoes and sledges, old man! We have
got them at last, as I told you we would from the very beginning.”

And Serge, who was almost asleep, roused himself sufficiently to reply:
“What did you say? Oh yes, I know. Hurrah! Good-night.”

Whereupon the Yankee lad disgustedly hurled a pillow at him with such
force as to effectually banish sleep and provoke retaliation that
resulted in Phil’s bed coming down with a crash. Upon this its occupant
remarked that he always did despise civilized beds anyhow, and that
hemlock boughs in front of a rousing camp-fire were good enough for him.

In the meantime some of the preliminaries of the tremendous journey,
to which the boys looked forward with such delight and their elders
with so many misgivings, had been arranged that very evening. The best
obtainable map of the Yukon was studied, and marked with such private
information as was possessed by the missionary.

“If you could only overtake them before reaching the Tanana River,” he
said, reflectively, “you might cut off the great arctic bend of the
Yukon, and save several hundred miles by going up the former river,
crossing a divide to a branch of Forty Mile Creek, and following it
down to the camp at its mouth. I suppose, though, they will have passed
the Tanana long before you get there, and so you will be obliged to
follow the great bend for fear of missing them.”

“I suppose so,” assented Phil, “but I don’t care. The longer the trip
the more fun we’ll have.”

“You will find it long enough before you get through,” remarked Gerald
Hamer, significantly.

“I hope so,” returned the irrepressible lad. “I like to have enough of
a good thing.”

An hour or more was devoted to making out a list of the articles
necessary for the trip. While from then until the very time of
departure Phil kept thinking of and adding new items to this list,
Serge was kept equally busy in trying to reduce its length.

Before Kurilla was dismissed that evening both he and his son Chitsah
were engaged to accompany the boys at least as far as Forty Mile, a
distance of one thousand miles, though beyond that point they would not
promise to go.

From Kurilla also Gerald Hamer agreed to purchase, at his own price,
his fine team of dogs, of which bushy-tailed Musky was leader, big
Amook and Mint were steer-dogs, and Luvtuk and Shag completed the
nimble-footed quintet. This was hereafter to be known as Phil’s team,
for, having already had some experience in driving them, it was
believed that he could manage them better than dogs unaccustomed to
his astonishing pronunciation of the native words of command. Kurilla
was to bring them to him the very next morning to be fed, for in
dog-sledging it is a rule that every driver shall feed his own team,
in order to win their regard and persuade them that he is not an
unmitigated evil.

The season was now late November, and though the morrow was Thanksgiving
day, or believed to be such in absence of any proclamation to that
effect, it was to be devoted to preparations, and the start was to be
made at sunrise of the following morning. Therefore Phil’s last words
of the night were:

“I am dead tired, old man, but I want you to wake me early all the
same, for I shall have only one day in which to feed my dogs and teach
them to know me.”



CHAPTER XII

PHIL FEEDS HIS DOGS


It did not seem to Phil that he had any more than closed his eyes
before he was awakened by such a babel of yelps and barkings as
notified him that further sleep was out of the question, and also that
his dogs were waiting to be fed. Hearty imprecations showered on the
heads of the vociferous team from the direction of Mr. Sims’s room,
and threats to treat them to a dose of duck-shot, so hastened Phil’s
movements that in a few seconds he had slipped on his seal-skin boots
and fur parka, and was outside in the stinging cold. There in the
moonlight stood Kurilla, with a broad grin on his good-humored face,
holding in leash Phil’s team. Every member of it, but big Amook loudest
of all, was vigorously demanding his three meals of the day before and
the one already due on the present morning, or four in all.

On the Yukon it is customary to feed sledge-dogs once in every
twenty-four hours, and that at night, after the day’s work is ended.
In order that Musky and Luvtuk and the others might be so unusually
hungry as to fully appreciate the first meal from the hands of their
new master, Kurilla had withheld their meal of the previous evening,
so that now they were fairly ravenous. Near at hand stood Chitsah,
restraining with the utmost difficulty another team of dogs that were
destined to be driven by Serge. As they had been regularly fed the
evening before, they could not have been so hungry as Phil’s team,
though from their howlings one would think they had not tasted food
for a week.

Appreciating the seriousness of the situation, and shouting to Serge
to come out and attend to the wants of his own team, Phil ran to the
storehouse, from which he took two dried salmon. They were so large
that he proposed to cut each into several pieces of such size as seemed
to him fitted to a dog’s throat. As he approached his team he called to
Serge to fetch him a knife; but almost as he uttered the words he was
given to understand that it was not needed.

With a savage spring Amook reached his side, seized one of the big
fish in his powerful jaws, and with a couple of convulsive gulpings
swallowed it whole. Having accomplished this feat he wagged his tail
cheerfully, and looked up into his young master’s face, as much as to
say, “That sample was so good that I think I’ll take some fish, if you
please.”

“Well, if you aren’t an ostrich!” Phil started to say; but even as
he opened his mouth to speak he was overthrown and instantly buried
beneath an avalanche of dogs. Incited by Amook’s brilliant success,
Musky, Mint, Shag, and Luvtuk followed his example, while the dogs held
by Chitsah broke loose at the same moment, and all projected themselves
with the energy of living catapults towards the single fish that Phil
still held.

Both Kurilla and Chitsah instantly flung themselves on top of the
confused mass of howling animals, and for the space of a minute the
scene enacted in full view of the aroused inmates of the station was
equal to any first-class football scrimmage. Women screamed, while men
shouted and ran towards the place of battle.

In another minute the fierce animals had been torn apart, flung this
way and that, and were sneaking off in so many different directions
with lowered tails. The two Indians were breathlessly but calmly
readjusting their disordered garments, the salmon had disappeared,
and Phil, sitting on the hard-packed snow, was tenderly feeling of
different parts of his body.

“Are you much hurt, old man?” cried Serge, anxiously, as he reached his
friend’s side.

“Serge,” replied Phil, solemnly, “did you ever happen to see a good
little book called the Franklin Primer?”

“I don’t think I ever did. Why?”

“Because it contains a picture that you would do well to study. The
picture is that of a small boy, with a very anxious expression,
hanging by his hands from the outer end of a branch that projects over
a tropical river. Immediately beneath him swim a dozen open-mouthed
crocodiles regarding him with evident expectancy. Beneath the picture
is a legend to the effect that Johnny is about to feed his pets. Now
let’s turn in again and finish out our nap.”

But there was too much to be done that day to admit of further
sleeping, and both lads quickly found themselves full of business. To
begin with, stores for the expedition were to be selected and carefully
packed. Of these the largest single item was fish, to be used as dog
food, and with this one sledge was wholly laden. Then came flour, tea,
sugar, salt, bacon, hard bread, evaporated fruit, a package of fine
pemmican――which is made of dried and pounded moose meat mixed with
berries and boiling fat in a rawhide bag, where it becomes perfectly
solid――oatmeal, a can of baking-powder, molasses, a case of canned
goods for special occasions, a quantity of reindeer-back fat, to be
used in place of butter or lard, and a few pounds of tobacco for
trading with Indians.

For cooking utensils there was first and most important of all the
chynik, or copper tea-kettle, and an extra one in case of accident.
Then came a long-handled fry-pan, a large iron pot, a brass kettle, a
saucepan, half a dozen tin plates, as many cups, spoons, and forks.
Besides these there was a wash-basin, and each man carried a knife in a
sheath attached to his belt.

At the head of the miscellaneous list came a fine rifle for Phil’s
especial use, and a double-barrelled shotgun, with an ample supply
of fixed ammunition for both. Besides these Kurilla would carry his
well-beloved old flint-lock musket. Then came three axes, one for each
sledge, two hatchets, a case of awls, another of needles, a supply of
stout thread and sinew for sewing, a thermometer, and a bolt of cotton
cloth to be used as wanted.

Most important of all for a winter journey in that region of arctic
cold was the outfit of fur clothing with which each of the boys was
liberally provided, and some of which was made that very day by the
nimble fingers of Indian women. In each case this consisted of a round,
close-fitting fur cap of marten-skin; a heavy caribou parka, or outer
shirt, trimmed with wolverene and wolf skin; an inner shirt of softest
fawn-skin, trousers of Siberian reindeer, boots of moose-shank and
seal, plenty of moccasins and fur-lined arctic socks, and two pairs
of mittens that reached to the elbow. Of these the outer pair was of
moose-hide lined with heavy flannel, while the inner pair, the right
hand of which had a trigger finger as well as a thumb, was made of
lynx, with the fur inside.

A warm sleeping-bag for each boy was made by taking a fine and extra
heavy Mackinaw blanket, lining it with marmot-skins, fur side out,
covering the other side with stout canvas as a protection against
sparks and the wet of melting snow, and sewing up the edges. This,
with a small pillow filled with geese feathers and a large bear-skin,
constituted an arctic bed in which one might sleep out-of-doors with
comfort in the coldest of weather.

These things, together with snow-shoes and native snow-goggles, made of
wood pierced with a long slit and blackened on the inside, completed
the outfit of our young travellers. They were to use the ingalik, or
regular Yukon sledge, which is much lighter than the Eskimo, or coast
sledge, but heavier and stronger than the Hudson Bay toboggan commonly
used in the interior.

The getting together of these things occupied all hands for the greater
part of the day, though after satisfying himself as to his outfit of
fur garments Phil left the rest to Serge and Gerald Hamer, for he
had another very important duty to perform. This was arranging the
exhibition drill of his native soldier boys, who had looked forward to
it with such eagerness that he could not bear to disappoint them.

[Illustration: THE EXHIBITION DRILL AT ANVIK]

Fortunately the day was fine and not very cold, for the school-room
was so utterly inadequate to the accommodation of both performers and
spectators that the drill was necessarily held outside.

Noon was the hour appointed for this most important event, and by that
hour the space reserved for spectators was occupied by every inhabitant
of the native village. Their curiosity was raised to the highest pitch
of expectation, for the boys had kept their secret so well that no one
knew anything concerning the nature of the exhibition.

For some minutes excitement was kept at fever heat by strange sounds
issuing from behind the closed school-house doors, where the company
was forming. Then the door was flung open, and to the measured beating
of a drum that gruff Mr. Sims had made for Little Sidorka, who was Big
Sidorka’s brother, and at that moment the proudest boy in Anvik, the
dusky company marched forth in single file, headed by Big Sidorka,
who still wore the badge of honor that made him the envied of all his
fellows. Phil came last, and at his command of “Company, _halt_! Right
_face_! Right _dress_! _’Tention!_” the long line stood straight and
motionless facing their awe-stricken relatives.

Then came in rapid succession the sharp, crisp orders now so familiar
to nearly every school-boy in the United States, but never before heard
by the public of Anvik: “Present _arms_! Carry _arms_! Right shoulder
_arms_!” and the rest, until every movement of the manual had been
executed with a promptness and precision that drew forth a storm of
applause from the delighted spectators. But when Phil handed his wooden
sword to Sergeant Sidorka, and the company was put through the same
drill without a mistake by one of their own number, the enthusiasm of
the onlookers knew no bounds.

Then the company was put through the few simple marching manœuvres that
it had been able to practise in the limited area of the school-room.
Finally, when, at the command “Charge _bayonets_! Double quick
_march_!” it advanced on the run with levelled guns directly towards
its admiring friends, they scurried away in every direction with
apprehensive screams as though their brothers had become sure enough
soldiers, armed with real guns, and bent upon their destruction.

At the conclusion of the exercises Phil promoted Sergeant Sidorka to a
captaincy, formally turned over the command of the company to him, and
hung about his neck a medal beaten out of a silver dollar and engraved
with the single word “Captain.” To this day if there is a prouder young
fellow in all Alaska than Big Sidorka, or a more exacting drill-master,
it would be hard to find him.

Serge bade his reading-class farewell that evening, and commended them
to the kindness of Mr. Sims, the engineer, who to the surprise of every
one had volunteered to continue the work so successfully begun by the
young Russo-American.

That evening, too, Gerald Hamer gave Phil a list of goods that the
_Chimo_ would take to the Forty Mile Mining Camp in the spring, and
the prices at which they would be sold. He also gave him money enough
to defray the expenses of a trip to San Francisco, and a long letter
of instructions to the agent of the new trading company in that city.
This Phil was to supplement by a verbal statement of the condition of
affairs in the Yukon diggings, and the class of goods most in demand.

Thus was everything made ready for the morrow, on which Phil and
Serge were to set forth on a midwinter search through the vast
Alaskan wilderness for the former’s dearly loved father, and begin
the tremendous journey which they hoped would carry them to the very
head-waters of the Yukon, and finally land them in green Sitka town.



CHAPTER XIII

MUSIC OF THE SLEDGE-BELLS


The cold winter morning that succeeded that memorable day at the Anvik
Mission witnessed an animated scene in the open space between its stout
log buildings. Fur-clad figures hurried in all directions, bringing
last things and finishing the lading of the three sledges that were
to constitute the up-river brigade. To each of these were attached
seven dogs, it having been decided at the last moment to add two extra
haulers to each team, as both dogs and fish for their feed were much
cheaper at Anvik than they would be beyond that point. Then, too, with
such strong teams a high degree of speed could be maintained, for while
two of the sledges carried six hundred pounds each, the third was
laden with but half that weight, so that if either of the boys became
exhausted he could ride, and so avoid the necessity of a halt.

Each dog’s harness was composed of three bands of seal-skin, two of
which passed over his back and were toggled or buttoned under the
belly, while the third, which was extended into traces, crossed his
chest. The leader was attached to the end of a long pulling thong of
walrus hide, while the traces of the other dogs, who ran in pairs, were
knotted and made fast to the same line at proper intervals. The two
steer-dogs were hitched directly to the hauling-bar in front of the
sledge.

The load of each sledge, enveloped in stout canvas, was immovably
bound to it by a simple but ingenious net-work of raw-hide lashing,
so that the whole might roll over and over without being loosened or
disarranged.

At ten o’clock, or just as the laggard sun of those short days was
rising, the last hearty handshakes were exchanged, the fervent “God
bless yous” and final farewells were uttered, and the start was made.

Kurilla, who was to act as runner and break a trail through the snow,
went first. Then came Phil’s team, with the string of tiny bells
attached to Musky’s harness jingling merrily in the frosty air; after
him followed Serge, whose cheery good-nature and ready helpfulness had
won for him a warm place in every Anvik heart; and the rear was brought
up by Chitsah.

On the very brow of the steep descent to the river Phil turned for a
parting wave of his hand and a last glance at the place that had grown
to seem so much like home in the past six weeks. His less sentimental
dogs sprang down the narrow track with such suddenness that poor
Phil, who still held to the sledge with one hand, was jerked abruptly
forward, threw the sledge from the path in his effort to save himself,
and plunged with it down the bank. By thus taking a header, Phil, his
dogs, and his sledge reached the bottom even in advance of Kurilla,
sadly demoralized, but except for a few bruises and a terrible snarl of
trace-lines none the worse for the accident.

When a few minutes later Serge reached the spot with his anxious and
now familiar inquiry, Phil cut him short by saying,

“No, old man, I’m not hurt, though, of course, I might have been. But I
was willing to risk it for your sake.”

“For my sake!” cried Serge, in amazement.

“Yes, to set you an example in promptness of movement. You know I have
always said we would never get to Sitka unless we took advantage of
every opportunity, and pressed forward with all possible speed.”

“Oh, pshaw!” laughed Serge. “You remind me of a story I heard in New
London. An old Quaker was driving along a country road with his boy
sitting in the back of the cart. Suddenly the horse shied, and the boy
was thrown out, whereupon the old man remarked, quietly, ‘Be thankful
for thy mercies, son, for if thee’d fell in a particellar way thee’d
broke thy neck.’”

“Well, I didn’t,” replied Phil, “though I’m sure I fell in a very
particular way――at least, it was particularly unexpected.”

In a few minutes Kurilla’s deft fingers had repaired all damages, and
disentangled the apparently hopeless snarl of dogs. Then the train was
once more set in motion, and, as it swept out on the broad surface of
the frozen river, was headed due north for the first stage of its long
journey. Fainter and fainter came the music of its sledge-bells to
those who watched its departure. Its receding figures lessened until
they were but black specks against the illimitable expanse of white,
and finally vanished in the snow glint of its wavering horizon.

To Phil Ryder, however, there was no vanishing about the seven dogs
that he was attempting to drive. They were right before his eyes,
where he was obliged to keep them pretty constantly, too; for if he
looked away for an instant they knew it, and seized the opportunity for
mischief. There was not a lump of ice, a hillock of snow, or a bit of
drift that one or all of them did not wish to smell of and investigate.
If there was an obstruction to be passed, three of them would try to go
on one side of it and four on the other. At sight of a rabbit scurrying
across the frozen field, they would give tongue and set forth in hot
pursuit. Above all, each of the five belonging to the original team was
spoiling for a fight with one or both of the new-comers, to whom Phil
had given the names of Lofter and Brassy. If he glanced back to shout
to Serge, Musky would double on his tracks and spring at the throat of
the unoffending Lofter, who would abjectly roll on his back with a howl
of apprehension; Amook would snap at his heels; Luvtuk would wheel upon
Brassy; and by the time Phil’s eye again rested on his team they would
be engaged in such a battle as would gladden the heart of a city gamin.
Then Kurilla would rush back, seize Phil’s whip, and crack it about
their ears with such frightful reports that, in their frantic efforts
to escape, the offending dogs would only entangle themselves still more
hopelessly. In the meantime, the other teams, thus forced to a halt,
would sit on their haunches, or lie in comfortable attitudes, and lift
their voices in sympathetic howls.

Finally, when this thing happened for about the tenth time, Phil
exclaimed:

“Look here, Kurilla, you and I must change places, for I can’t stand
this any longer. Besides, with the present arrangement, we are spending
more time disentangling dogs than we are in travelling. I don’t somehow
seem to have learned the A B C of sledge driving; but I am getting
along pretty well with the shoes, and believe I can walk ahead and
tread out a trail as well as any one.”

“All light,” answered the obliging fellow. “You walk, me come. Me come
fas’, you walk more fas’, yaas.” Then, with a broad grin, he whirled
Phil’s relinquished badge of authority about his head in such a manner
as gave the dogs to understand that they must now attend strictly to
business or take the consequences.

So Phil assumed the leadership of the expedition, and from that moment,
though always willing to accept advice from the others, he never
dropped it.

When, shortly after three o’clock, the sun completed its short course,
and again reached the southern horizon, he asked Kurilla if it were not
about time to make camp; but the Indian answered:

“No; go far as can make dog plenty tired. S’posin’ no git tired; night
come, run to Anvik. Bad dog, yaas. Git tired, night come, no run,
sleep; good dog, yaas.”

“Oh, that’s the scheme, is it?” laughed Phil. “Well, I guess I can
stand it as long as the rest can, though I must confess I am about
tired enough to rank with the good dogs now.”

So in spite of lame ankles, and blistering heels, and toes that were
very tender from having been repeatedly “stubbed” against the snow-shoe
bars, the young leader trudged sturdily forward, with the dog-teams
following close behind him. At length, when the dusk was merging into
darkness, Kurilla called out:

“Now camp. Plenty wood. Heap fire, yaas.”

They were passing a spruce-and-hemlock-covered point, against which
a pile of drift had lodged, and, gladly accepting the Indian’s
suggestion, Phil led the way towards it. Twenty miles of the journey
had been accomplished, which, considering the late start and that it
was the first day, was pronounced to be very good work.

For the next half-hour every one labored as though his very life
depended upon what he could accomplish during those last precious
moments of fading twilight. Phil and Kurilla made their keen axes ring
merrily in an attack on the pile of dry drift-wood. Chitsah felled
a spruce-tree, from which he cut two logs, each six feet long, and
armful after armful of small branches. Serge erected a low but stout
scaffold, on which the sledges were to be placed to keep them out of
the way of the omnivorous dogs, who in the meantime were lying down in
their harness where they had been halted.

At the end of the half-hour a great back log twelve feet long and a
smaller fore log had been placed in position, and enough dry wood
collected to last until morning. The direction of the wind was noted,
and the logs for the fire were so laid that it should blow along their
length, instead of across them from either side. While Serge split
kindlings and started his fire, the two Indians unharnessed the patient
dogs. The harness, and especially the whips, were hung well beyond
their reach, for they will eagerly chew at the former and invariably
destroy the latter if by any means they can get at them. Then the
hungry animals were fed, Serge leaving the fire to feed his own team,
and Phil rejoicing that he had escaped this dangerous duty. Each dog
was given a salmon weighing from one pound and a half to two pounds,
and each, as he received his ration, gulped it down exactly as Amook
had done on a previous occasion. They followed their meal with copious
mouthfuls of snow that served instead of water.

Serge, who naturally slipped into the position of cook for the party,
returned to the fire, which was now blazing finely and sending a stream
of sparks dancing among the dark tree-tops. Phil busied himself with
the bed that he and Serge were to share, while Kurilla and Chitsah
would make theirs on the opposite side of the fire. He rolled one of
the green logs into position close beside the fire for its foot-board,
and then covered a space some six feet square behind it with flat
spruce boughs, over which he spread a thick layer of hemlock tips.
Above all he laid the two great bear-skins, and on them threw the two
sleeping-bags, each of which had its owner’s name done in black
paint on its white canvas, and contained his personal belongings.

[Illustration: MAKING CAMP THE FIRST NIGHT OUT]

Everything needed for the night being now taken from the sledges,
the Indians lifted them, with the remainder of their loads, to
the scaffold, on which were also placed the snow-shoes. Then they
made their own bed――a very simple affair as compared with the one
constructed by Phil. With this the work of preparing camp was finished,
for in that far north land there is no pitching of tents by winter
_voyageurs_. These are considered useless encumbrances in sledge
travel, where every pound of weight must be considered. They are not
needed as a protection against rain, for it is certain that no rain
will fall with the mercury below zero, and they would be liable to
catch fire from the roaring blaze that is kept up all night.

So in the present case there was nothing more to be done save wait as
patiently as might be for supper――and this Phil declared to be the
hardest job he had tackled that day.



CHAPTER XIV

WINTER TRAVEL BENEATH THE ARCTIC AURORA


With the advent of darkness and the dying out of the wind there came
such an increase of cold that from all parts of the forest were heard
sharp, crackling sounds caused by the cruel pinchings of a bitter
frost. Phil had thrust his thermometer into the snow at the head of
his bed, and was surprised to find, on looking at it, that it already
registered fifteen degrees below zero. He had been so warmed with
violent exercise that it had not seemed so very cold; but now he
shivered and drew closer to the fire.

For his cooking, Serge was first obliged to melt snow in order to
obtain water; but now the teakettle was singing merrily, bacon and
dried venison were sizzling together in the capacious fry-pan; and on
the opposite side of the fire the two Indians were rapturously sniffing
the delicious odors that came from it. They were toasting a fat salmon
impaled on a slender stick, and at the same time whetting their
appetite by frequent bites from a lump of pemmican that was handed from
one to the other.

Phil asked for a bit of this when Serge took it from its bag, for, he
said, “I have read of pemmican all my life, and from the amount of
praise bestowed on it by the writers, think it must be pretty fine
eating.” So he tried it, took one mouthful, and flung the rest to
Musky, who had drawn close to him, and was watching his experiment with
undisguised interest.

“Whew-w!” sputtered Phil, ejecting the tasteless morsel from his mouth.
“If that’s pemmican, then those who like it may keep it to themselves;
but I certainly don’t want any more of it. I suppose, though, it is
because my taste has not been cultivated to appreciate it any more than
it has raw seal’s liver and similar dainties.”

Before supper both Phil and Serge afforded the Indians considerable
amusement by devoting a basin of the precious water to a thorough
cleansing of their faces and hands. Kurilla and Chitsah not only
considered this a waste of time, water, and soap, but, as the former
remarked, with an expressive shake of his head:

“No good. More clean, more quick git dirty, yaas.”

“Which sentiment,” said Phil, in a low tone, to Serge, “explains why
Indians and Eskimos and the like generally sit on one side of the fire
when white men occupy the other.”

Throwing a handful of tea into the chynik, lifting it from the fire the
moment it again came to a boil, and then setting it in a warm place to
“draw,” Serge next removed the cooked meat from the fry-pan to a heated
plate. Into the hot grease that remained he placed a double handful
of broken biscuit, previously soaked for a few minutes in the brass
kettle. When this had absorbed every drop of grease and begun to brown,
it was ready to be eaten with molasses as a dessert.

“One of the very best dinners I ever ate in all my life, old man!”
declared Phil, after half an hour of uninterrupted devotion to plate
and cup. “I believe it is fully equal to that gorgeous spread you had
ready for me on Oonimak after my experience with the sea-otter hunters.
As for the tea! Well, I never realized before what a good thing tea
is, and how much a fellow can drink of it. Have I had six or twenty
of those big tin cups full? No matter, it’s either one or the other,
and every one of them has gone right to the spot where it will do the
most good. Wouldn’t my Aunt Ruth be horrified, though, if she could
see us dispose of that amount of straight tea? She used to consider
one small cup, with plenty of milk in it, about the proper thing for a
boy’s daily allowance. But then Aunt Ruth never enjoyed the advantage
of drinking her tea out-of-doors, with the mercury away down below
freezing.”

“Don’t you mean below zero?” suggested Serge, who was refilling the
chynik with hot water, and setting it on to boil, that what virtue
still remained in the tea-leaves might be extracted for the use of the
Indians.

“Certainly not!” retorted Phil. “Why, it has grown at least twenty
degrees warmer during the past half-hour.” So saying, he reached for
the thermometer and held it to the light, where, to his disgust, he saw
that it registered three degrees lower than when he last looked, or
eighteen degrees below zero.

“You prevaricating old tin villyan!” he cried. “You are away off, and
you know it. Oh, if I could only get one cup of that tea inside of you!
It would bring you to your senses quick enough.”

The Indians had their own wooden bowls, or “kantags,” horn spoons, and
tin cups, and while they ate their supper they were again amused by
seeing Serge wash all his dishes and cooking utensils with hot, soapy
water. They allowed their favorite dogs to lick their kantags clean,
and it must be admitted that the operation was quickly and thoroughly
performed.

After supper a line was rigged, and on it were hung mittens,
travelling-boots, and the pads of dry grass that are worn inside of
them as insoles. Serge set a big kettle of deer meat, pemmican, and
oatmeal on the fire to simmer into a stew for breakfast and lunch
the next day. He also fixed a slab of snow where, as it melted, it
would drip into the teakettle. By his advice Phil bathed his swollen
ankles with water as hot as he could bear it and rubbed tallow on
the blistered places. This treatment was to be followed by a dash of
ice-water and a brisk rubbing the first thing in the morning.

On the other side of the fire the Indians indulged in the long-pipe
smoke that after a hard day’s work affords the chief enjoyment of their
monotonous lives. When it was finished Kurilla went out for a final
look at the sledges and dogs, and threw a couple more logs on the fire.
Then he rolled up in his rabbit-skin robe for as many hours of sleep
as he could obtain before it would be necessary to again replenish the
fire and incidentally to take another smoke.

Removing only their heavy outer parkas, with their feet incased in
soft arctic sleeping-socks, their heads protected by close-fitting fur
caps, and sheltered from the cold by the triple thickness of their
fur-lined sleeping-bags, Phil and Serge lay on their bear-skins, feet
to the fire, and slept the untroubled sleep of tired and healthy youth.
About them clustered the solemn trees of that Northern forest, just
beyond lay the river frozen into white silence, and above all glowed
the exquisite mysterious sky-tintings of an aurora, pervading all space
with its flashing brilliancy quivering with ceaseless motion, though
giving forth neither heat nor sound and but little light. With the
rising moon frost crystals glistened in the air, and the long-drawn
howl of a wolf echoed mournfully through the forest. Every dog in the
camp promptly answered it, while Kurilla arose with a shiver and mended
the fire; but of all this the two lads lying side by side on their rude
couch knew nothing.

It was Phil who first awoke and looked out from his warm nest. With a
shudder at the bitterness of the air he would have withdrawn his head
and snuggled down for another nap, but for two thoughts that just then
flashed into his mind. One was of his father, whom he believed to be
encamped within one hundred miles or so of him on that very river, and
whom he was bound to overtake. The second thought was that as leader
of the expedition it was his place to set the others an example. It
would be pleasant to lie there and sleep until sunrise, but braver
to set forth at once. In another minute he had struggled from the
sleeping-bag, pulled on his heavy parka, and was shouting, cheerily:

“Come, wake up! wake up! Tumble out, all hands! Don’t you see the sun
a-shining, and hear the little birds a-singing?”

“Looks more like the moon, and sounds like dogs,” growled Serge,
sleepily, as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. “My! but it _is_ cold!”

“Yes,” admitted Phil. “Fifty below at least, and more, I’ll be bound.”

It really seemed as cold as that, and when his thermometer showed only
twenty degrees below zero he declared it to be a fraud, and unworthy
of further consideration. None but those who have experienced similar
conditions can imagine the misery of that camp-breaking and getting
under way. The hunting from their snowy lairs and harnessing of
unwilling dogs, the lashing of loads and the tying of knots with numbed
fingers, the longing to hug the fire in one’s arms, and the hundred
other forms of torture incident to the relentless cold, all combined to
give Phil a rude foretaste of what that journey was to be. Amid all the
wretchedness Serge was, as usual, the comforter, and with his smoking
stew and hot tea did much towards restoring cheerfulness.

It wanted some hours to sunrise when the sledges pulled out from
camp, regained the river, and resumed their northward journey. The
sky was overcast, and an ominous moaning sounded through the forest.
Soon a breeze began to blow in angry gusts full in the faces of our
travellers, and by sunrise it was sweeping furiously down the river,
whirling the dry snow in blinding clouds and driving the icy particles
with stinging force into face and eyes. Noses and cheeks became white
and numb, the deadly cold was driven through fur and flannel until it
penetrated the very marrow. Even the dogs plodded on with lowered heads
and pitiful whimperings, while their masters were obliged to turn their
backs to the gale every few minutes for breath and a momentary respite
from the fierce struggle.

“’Tis _poorga_――yaas!” shouted Kurilla.

“Aye, _poorga_!” answered Serge, and for the first time Phil
comprehended the full significance of the terrible word which means the
wind of death.

By noon human endurance could hold out no longer, and, ready to drop
with cold, pain, and exhaustion, Phil led his train to camp in a belt
of timber so thick that even that fierce wind could not penetrate it,
though among the tree-tops it shrieked and howled with demoniac fury.

Thus from camp to camp, through sunshine and darkness, storm and calm,
stinging cold and whirling snows, the little party toiled onward,
making twenty, thirty, and as high as forty miles a day. They passed
the Indian settlement of Nulato, once a noted Russian trading-post,
at the end of ten days’ travel, and a week later gained the mission
station of old Fort Adams, four hundred miles from their point of
departure. At several Indian villages they had heard of the party in
advance of them, whose camps they also sometimes found. The trail
was growing fresh, and at Fort Adams they expected to gain definite
information of those whom they sought, if indeed they did not overtake
them at that point. At any rate, they would find a missionary there
from whom they would surely receive news.

The first word obtained by Kurilla from the mission Indians, who
swarmed forth to greet them, was that the missionary was absent, and
that those whom they sought had passed only the day before. The second
was that one of that party had returned but an hour previous, and was
even now in the missionary’s house.

“You fadder, yaas,” added Kurilla, reassuringly, with a grin of
delight, as he led Phil in that direction.

[Illustration: “YOU FADDER, YAAS”]

With a loudly beating heart the excited lad opened the door. There sat
a man――a white man――in an attitude of the deepest dejection. He was
long and lank. His fur garments ill became him. Phil’s heart sank; for
in this uncouth figure there was no trace of his own dear father. Then,
as the woe-begone face was slowly turned to meet his, he uttered a
gasping shout of amazed recognition.

“Jalap Coombs, by all that is wonderful!”



CHAPTER XV

PHIL HEARS FROM HIS FATHER


Months before Phil and Serge had bidden farewell to Jalap Coombs in
an ancient barrabkie on Oonimak Island. They believed they were only
leaving him for a short time, but on their return he had disappeared,
nor from that day to this had they learned anything concerning him.
Now, to have him reappear in this mysterious manner in an Indian
village hundreds of miles up the Yukon River, apparently friendless
and alone, was so incredible that, after his first exclamation, Phil
stepped closer and took another look at the weather-beaten face to
establish its identity beyond a doubt.

“Oh, it’s me, son! It’s me, fast enough!” cried the ex-mate of the
_Seamew_, in a voice that trembled with joyful emotion, as he sprang to
his feet and grasped Phil’s hand in his. At the same time a suspicious
dimness came into his eyes that he brushed away hastily.

“It’s the same old Jalap,” he continued, “and only one minute ago
he were about as forlorn _and_ miserable a sailor-man as ever were
stranded a thousand miles from salt water. Now, seeing that in sich a
short space of time he’s been h’isted from the hold of grief to the
main-r’yal mast-head of happiness by the sight of your blessed phiz,
ye mustn’t be surprised to find his rigging at loose ends and decks
ginerally cluttered up. But the squall’s blown over, lad. You’ve
brought fair weather, and I’ll have the old packet ship-shape _and_
Bristol fashion again in a shake. What I sartainly orter done was to
remember my old friend Kite Roberson’s advice consarning squalls, I’ve
spoke to ye of old Kite afore, hain’t I?”

“The name sounds familiar,” replied Phil. “But how in the name of――”

“Waal, ef I didn’t I’d orter, for Kite were one of the finest of men.
Why, me and him――”

“Oh yes, now I remember,” assented Phil. “What did he say about
squalls?”

“That in all his experience he never see a squall so heavy but what
fair weather’d come after it sooner _or_ later. But Phil, my son, where
hev you dropped from? Where’s your shipmate? And where’s that bloomin’
shark of a cap’n what carried ye off right from under your own father’s
very eyes?”

“My father!” shouted Phil. “What do you know about my father? Have you
ever seen him? Where is he? Has he gone on up the river?”

“Yes,” cried Serge, entering at that moment and greeting his old
friend with extended hand; “that is what we want to know first of all.
Where is Mr. Ryder? They told me he was in here with Phil, so I waited
outside until certain that the only other voice was yours, and then I
ventured in.”

“Of course ye did, and I’m prouder to see you than ef ye were the King
of all the Rooshias _and_ Chiny to boot. But consarning your father,
Phil. Have I ever seed him, say you? Waal, occasionally, considering as
me and him cruised together for nigh two months in Bering Sea sarching
for you boys. When we finally come up with ye in Norton Sound and see
that you were steaming right ahead, paying no attention to signals,
it mighty nigh broke your father’s heart. It stopped a bit short of
that, though, and only broke his leg instead, at which the swab as were
steering run the schooner aground on a mud bank. Then by the time I’d
got Mr. Ryder below and come on deck again you were hull down.”

“Do you mean that my father actually broke one of his legs?” queried
Phil, who could not believe he had heard aright.

“Sartain I do,” was the answer. “You see, we were aboard an old tub
named _Philomeel_, which we had chartered her in Oonalaska for a cruise
to Oonimak to pick you up. Thar we fell in with a revenoo-cutter, and
she sent us up to the islands.”

“Not the _Phoca_?”

“The very same, with Miss May and Cap’n Matthews in command. At the
islands we heerd of ye through an Injin chap who had piloted your ship.”

“Nikrik!” exclaimed Serge.

“Nikrik were his name,” assented Jalap Coombs. “So we give chase, laid
a course for St. Michaels, and got there in time for Mr. Ryder to make
you out through his glass. Then he thought he had ye for sure, though
I give him one of old Kite Roberson’s warnings. But he didn’t take no
notice, and were climbing the main rigging to make a signal for ye to
heave to, when a ratlin’ give way and dropped him on deck. The man at
the wheel jumped to save him, and so did I, but it warn’t no use. He’d
broke his leg, and the old _Philomeel_ took a sheer into the mud.”

“Poor father!” sighed Phil. “Now I know why I’ve been worrying about
him. I can’t understand, though, how he could undertake such a terrible
journey with a broken leg.”

“Why not? They made him as comfortable as ef he were in his own home.
Besides, there warn’t nothing else to be did.”

“Comfortable! with a broken leg, on a dog-sledge trip of a thousand
miles through an arctic wilderness in midwinter!” cried Phil. “Seems
to me any one who could find comfort under those conditions might live
in luxury on an iceberg in the Polar Sea.”

“Which it has been did,” replied the mate, gravely. “But it begins to
look as ef me and you was sailing on different tacks. Where is it that
you suppose your father to be at this blessed minute?”

“Somewhere on the Yukon, not more than a day’s journey from here,
though when I entered this room just now I fully expected to see him,”
replied Phil, who had so long cherished the hope of a speedy meeting
with his father that he could not even relinquish the idea of his
proximity.

“Yes,” added Serge, “that is what we were told, and we have come nearly
four hundred miles up the river in search of him.”

It was now Jalap Coombs’s turn to stare in amazement. At length he
said: “So you’re spending the winter up here hunting him, be ye, while
he spent the best part of the summer down there hunting you? Seems to
me it’s a leetle the most mixed-up hunting I ever were consarned in.
But it only goes to prove what my old friend Kite Roberson useter offen
say. He useter say, Kite did, that the best way to find a man is to set
still in some likely place till he comes by; but I never could hardly
believe it till this minute. Now I can see that ef Phil had set in
Victoria his father would have found him. Ef he’d set on the _Seamew_
he’d found his father in Sitka. Ef he’d set on the cutter they’d met at
Oonimak. Ef he’d set at the islands he’d seen his father come that way
afore long, and the same at the Redoubt. Likewise ef Mr. Ryder had set
at St. Michaels in place of going to San Francisco on the _Bear_, Phil
would find him there when he goes back from here. Yes, old Kite were a
wiser man than most, though you’d never believe it to see him.”

“You say that my father has gone to San Francisco. Why did he do that?”
queried the still bewildered boy.

“To dock for repairs. You see, the _Bear_ were the last ship of the
season to go out, and so she were his only chance. She had a wracked
crew aboard as were willing to carry the _Philomeel_ back to Oonalaska,
and that left me free to continue the search for you boys.”

“Well,” said Phil, “of course it’s an awful disappointment to find that
I’m not to meet my father――at least, not for some months to come――after
all the trouble I’ve taken to find him. At the same time I am glad to
know that he is safely out of this country for the winter, even if it
did take a broken leg to persuade him of the foolishness of hunting for
me. I should think he might have found out long before that, though,
how well able Serge and I were to take care of ourselves. Poor dear
pop! How he must have suffered! I only hope he will stay quietly in San
Francisco until I can get to him. Did he say how long he would wait
there?”

“Only till sich time as he got his leg spliced and is able to travel.
Then he’s got to come back to Sitka and settle up his business.”

“In that case things are working out all right, after all,” said Phil,
“for Sitka is the very place we are bound for at this very minute.”

“But he warn’t going to stop there,” continued Jalap Coombs, “only till
the first spring ship left for St. Michaels, when he reckoned to take
passage on her and come up after you.”

“But how did he expect to find us at St. Michaels in the spring when he
knew we left there in September?”

“Because the very cruise I’m shipped for is to find you, pilot you back
there, and moor alongside of ye till he heaves in sight again. You see,
he’s taken a notion that he’d like to come up the river and have a
look at the diggings, which he don’t feel that he can till he has you
once more in tow. So, seeing as I were out of a berth for the winter,
and we heerd as you were froze in somewheres up here on the river, I
took the contract to hunt ye and fetch ye back. I’ll allow, though,
that things was looking pretty dubious for me awhile ago, and ef you
hadn’t hove in sight as ye did I’d been all at sea without compass or
yet a chart. Now, though, it’s all plain sailing again, and――”

“Is it?” interrupted Phil. “Seems to me this whole affair is about as
completely snarled as any I ever had anything to do with, unless it was
a fighting dog-team. To begin with―― But, I say, suppose we have supper
first and discuss the situation afterwards. I for one am too hungry to
think.”

“If you are any more hungry than I am you are hungry enough to be
dangerous,” laughed Serge; while Jalap Coombs remarked that supper was
the very thing he was considering when Phil entered the room. “And a
mighty poor lookout it were,” he added, “for I hadn’t any grub, nor
didn’t know the best place to steal any, nor yet warn’t quite hungry
enough to steal a supper anyway. So I were jest concluding to go
without, same as I did for dinner. But ef you boys has got anything to
eat――”

“Have we?” cried Phil; “you just wait and see. Serge, did you know this
was Christmas Day?”

“No,” laughed Serge, “for it isn’t.”

“Well, it is so near to it, and this meeting is such a joyous occasion,
that I move we trot out our mince-pies, and plum-puddings, and roast
turkeys, and pemmican, and things, and have a regular Christmas
blowout. That is, always supposing that Mr. Coombs will loan us the use
of his house. This is your house, is it not, Mr. Coombs?”

“Sartain it is,” replied the mate, with a grin, and entering fully
into Phil’s absurdities. “Leastways, there ain’t no one come to turn
me out of it yet. So you’re as welcome to it as I be. For, as old Kite
Roberson useter say――”

“Let’s have him for dessert,” laughed Phil, as he started outside to
discover what had become of the sledges.



CHAPTER XVI

THE MATE’S STORY


It is doubtful if there was a happier party in the Yukon Valley, or
even in all Alaska, than that which unbidden, though none the less
certain of their welcome, took possession of the mission-house at old
Fort Adams that roaring December night. Certainly no one could be
happier than was Jalap Coombs at this meeting with the boys in whose
fortunes his had become so strangely involved. At the time of their
opportune appearance he was in one of the most unhappy and perplexing
predicaments of his whole checkered career; but now his troubles were
blown away like a morning mist, and already wellnigh forgotten.

When the schooner _Philomel_, finally released from the bank on
which she had grounded, reached St. Michaels, Mr. Ryder was greatly
distressed by the accounts given him of the expedition on which Phil
and Serge had embarked. Knowing nothing of the conditions under which
they had been so glad to accept the friendly offer of a roundabout
passage to Sitka, and receiving a cruelly false impression of Gerald
Hamer’s character as well as of his objects in ascending the Yukon, he
concluded that the boys had been trapped into a reckless venture, which
could only lead them to disaster and suffering. In fancy he saw them
imprisoned by an arctic winter on a wretchedly constructed and poorly
equipped boat, as the _Chimo_ was described to him, or in some squalid
Indian village, confronted by freezing, starvation, and disease,
remote from human aid and without the means of escape.

Bitterly did he deplore the accident that prevented him from organizing
a relief party and going in person to their rescue. When, on the
day after his own arrival, the revenue-cutter _Bear_ touched at St.
Michaels on her way south and her commander offered him a passage to
San Francisco, where he could receive the surgical attendance he so
greatly needed, he at first refused, declaring that nothing would
induce him to leave the country without his boy Phil.

Then it was that Jalap Coombs offered to remain in his place, make
an overland trip to the Yukon as soon as winter travel should be
practicable, find the boys, and bring them back to St. Michaels, there
to await Mr. Ryder’s return in the spring.

“But you know nothing of the country nor of sledge travel,” objected
the latter. “You will not even know on what portion of the river to
look for the boys. And, besides, what shall we do with the _Philomel_,
which has already cost me more than I can well afford?”

“It is true, sir, as you say, that I am ignorant of the
cruising-ground,” replied Jalap Coombs, “but I’d be a poor sailor-man
ef with chart and compass I couldn’t make out to lay a course. Also,
I’ve heerd of a party as expects to start from here on a visit to
all the up-river trading-stations as soon as the season for sledge
navigation opens, and I reckon there wouldn’t be no difficulty about me
shipping with them as extry hand.

“As for driving dogs, my old friend Kite Roberson useter say that a man
can l’arn any trade ef he has to. At the same time I’m considerable
handy with both belaying-pins and rope-ends, which, I take it, would be
jest as improving to the usefulness of dogs as to a crew of swabs. When
it comes to getting the bearings of the port in which the lads are
laid by for the winter, that would seem to be a case of the plainest
kind of sailing. They’re bound to be friz in afore long, even ef their
old kettle doesn’t break down and leave ’em stranded, which it’s likely
it will. Waal, then, I strikes across country from here to the river,
and says to the natyves what lives on its banks: ‘Has sich and sich a
steamer gone up stream?’ says I; which ef they answers _si_, or _oui_,
or _ja_, or whatever stands for yes in their lingo, I likewise goes on
up. Ef they shakes their heads, which is ‘No’ the world over, then I
naturally goes down, and keeps on down till I meets her.”

In spite of his present pain and mental distress Mr. Ryder could not
help smiling at the readiness with which the simple-minded sailor
thus disposed of difficulties that to most people would appear
insurmountable. “But what shall we do with the _Philomel_?” he asked,
after a few moments’ consideration.

“Send her back to Oonalaska in charge of the wracked whaling cap’n what
has just come in on the _Bear_. He’ll take her and be glad of the job,
for I’ve already sounded him.”

The more Mr. Ryder thought over the plan thus proposed by the man who
had already proved himself so capable, so loyal, and so stanch a friend
of the lost boys, the more favorably he was inclined towards it, and at
length he decided to accept the mate’s proffered services. So with many
parting injunctions, and leaving with him a sum of money sufficient to
defray his share of expenses in the proposed expedition, Phil’s father
sailed away on the _Bear_ in search of the medical aid that should
enable him to return a few months later, and undertake, in company
with his boy, a long-cherished scheme of exploration among the fabled
gold-fields of the interior.

Some six weeks later Jalap Coombs also set forth from St. Michaels in
company with two white men, both of whom expressed an ardent admiration
for Phil Ryder, and great joy at the prospect of assisting in his
rescue from the wiles of the unprincipled trader who had lured him
away. Under their direction the confiding sailor invested the entire
sum left him by Mr. Ryder in dogs, sledges, and provisions. He was
amazed at the exorbitant prices charged him for these things, and was
still more so to discover, when a few days out from the fort, that
with all his outlay he was credited with but one team and a single
sledge-load of provisions, which he soon found himself exchanging for
fish with which to feed his dogs.

Furthermore, as he had been unable to master the art of dog-driving,
his obliging friends had engaged for him an Indian, who began to demand
his wages at the end of the first week, refused to work unless he was
paid in advance, and persisted in his demands with such insolence that
the mate finally felt himself obliged to administer what he called a
dose of belaying-pins and rope-ends. The effect of this was a future
obedience to orders, accompanied by a sullen hatred, which Jalap’s
white companions seemed to take a malicious delight in encouraging.

This sledge party went north along the coast from St. Michaels to the
mouth of the Unalaklik River, and followed up that stream for several
days. Then, crossing a divide, they struck the Yukon at a point near
Nulato. Here they were told that a steamer, supposed to be the _Chimo_,
had passed on her way up the river several days before the close of
navigation.

By this time the relations between poor Jalap and his companions had
become so very unpleasant that he had hoped for an excuse to leave
them, and go down the river from Nulato. As it was, he now felt
obliged to continue in their company until the _Chimo_ should be
overtaken.

At old Fort Adams, after conferring with the natives, his
fellow-travellers informed him that the steamer was frozen in about
one day’s march above that place, and with a lighter heart than he had
known since beginning the weary journey, he again set forth with them,
filled with eager anticipations. When just at dusk of that same day
they discovered a steamer snugly moored to the bank, he read her name
with a sinking heart, for, instead of _Chimo_, it was _St. Michaels_,
which he knew to be the name of a boat belonging to a Catholic mission
on the lower river. Moreover, she was boarded up and deserted.

As Jalap’s companions noted his expression of dismay, they uttered
shouts of mocking laughter, and asked what else he had expected when
the Fort Adams Indians had mentioned that very name so plainly that a
deaf man ought to have understood it.

In camp that night the sailor announced his intention of starting
back down the river at daybreak, at which the others only exchanged
significant glances, but said nothing. In the morning, after the
sledges were loaded and the dogs harnessed, it was discovered that the
driver of his sledge was missing. Telling him that he was thus rightly
served for chastising the poor man, the others cracked their whips
and started off up the river, leaving poor Jalap standing on its bank
helpless and alone. A few moments later, at the sound of a familiar
whistle from the direction they had taken, his dogs started after their
vanished companions, carrying with them his entire outfit.

[Illustration: A FEW MOMENTS LATER HIS DOGS STARTED AFTER THEIR
VANISHED COMPANIONS]

With feet so badly used up from weeks of unaccustomed snow-shoeing that
every step was torture, the deserted man at once realized the folly of
pursuit, and with a heavy heart began to retrace his slow way to
old Fort Adams. Reaching the mission completely exhausted, and unable
to proceed farther, he had taken possession of the missionary’s house.
Here, suffering, penniless, friendless, and almost hopeless, he was
trying to form some plan for the future, when the door opened, and, as
he afterwards quaintly said, “Ef the good little cherub what sets up
aloft watching over poor Jack at sea had flowed in at that minute, I
couldn’t been better pleased than I were to sight the blessed phiz of
that precious young rascal, Phil Ryder.”

Such was the tale related by Jalap Coombs to Phil and Serge after the
three had finished a dinner that included every luxury in the outfit
of our young travellers, and between long, grateful pulls at “old
comfort,” his pipe, which they had also provided with tobacco.

When the story was ended, Phil indignantly demanded to know the names
of the two white men who claimed acquaintance with him and at the same
time dared treat his old friend so shamefully.

“Simon Goldollar were the name of one.”

“I might have known it――the sneak!” broke in Phil.

“And the other are called Strengel.”

“The very scoundrel that I set ashore from the _Chimo_ for trying to
blow her up!” cried Phil. “You remember, Serge?”

“I should rather say I did!” replied the young Russo-American, his
honest face flushing with anger.

“But what are they going up the river for, Mr. Coombs?”

“To spile Cap’n Hamer’s chance of doing any trading at Forty Mile, as
fur as I could make out,” replied the mate.

“Oh, the villains!” exclaimed Phil. “And they have got two days’ start
of us, too, while you are almost unfit for travel. Hold on, though!
I have it! We can do the trick yet, and give them a lesson in minding
their own business. Hurrah for our side, after all! Serge, hurrah!
quick, before I fling something at you.”



CHAPTER XVII

JALAP COOMBS’S FOURTEEN PAIR OF FEET


“Of course, Mr. Coombs, you can’t expect us to go back to St. Michaels
now,” began Phil, as a preliminary to unfolding his scheme for the
discomfiture of Simon Goldollar and his unprincipled companion.

“Why not?” demanded the sailor, who had not for a moment expected
anything else. “As soon as I found ye I were to bring ye to St.
Michaels, and keep ye there till your father comes. Them’s orders, and
to disobey ’em would be mutiny, nigh as I kin make out.”

“That would be all right if you had found us; but you haven’t.”

“Eh?” queried Jalap Coombs. “I hain’t found ye?”

“Certainly not,” laughed Phil. “Instead of you finding us, we have
found you. If you had struck us at Anvik, it is possible that we might
have gone back with you, but as we have found you some four hundred
miles from there, we shall certainly do nothing of the kind. You see,
to begin with, we are under the greatest of obligations to Captain
Hamer, who, by-the-way, is one of the finest men I ever met.”

Here Phil told of the terrible experience he and Serge had undergone in
Bering Sea, and of their gallant rescue by Gerald Hamer, all of which
the absorbed listener now heard for the first time.

“Now,” continued the lad, “we have left him just recovering from a
dangerous illness, and unfitted to travel for some months. If he can’t
get word out to the coast before spring he will be a heavy loser. So
Serge and I have undertaken to carry and deliver the message for him.
Our entire outfit, down to the very clothing we wear, was furnished by
him on that condition. It is also our duty to try and defeat the plans
of his enemies, who are also our enemies, and now seem to have become
yours as well. So you see we are in honor bound to push on with all
speed. Besides all this, we certainly ought to be able to reach Sitka
long before my father can get away from there, and so save him a long,
tedious, and useless journey.”

“I’m not so sartain of that,” demurred Jalap Coombs. “For ye’ve been
trying to make Sitka long’s ever I’ve knowed ye, which is going on
a year now, and hain’t come anywhere nigh to it yet. Still, as my
old friend Kite Roberson useter say, ‘Jalap, my son, allers steer
by sarcumstances; for as a gineral thing they’ll p’int straighter’n
a compass,’ and I am free to admit that your present sarcumstances
is p’inting pretty direct towards Sitka. But how do ye propose to
sarcumvent the villyans what run off with my dogs?”

“Now you are talking straight business,” laughed Phil. “As I understand
it, the main object of those fellows is to capture the next season’s
trade of the Yukon Valley, and especially of the diggings at Forty
Mile, by taking advance orders at lower rates than the old company
has ever before offered. Even then their prices are certain to be
exorbitant, and with Gerald Hamer’s list I am certain I can underbid
them. But that won’t be of any use unless we can be first in the field,
for after the orders are given and contracts signed those other chaps
could laugh at us and our prices. So our only hope is to reach Forty
Mile ahead of them.”

“Which ye can’t do it without wings or steam,” objected Jalap Coombs,
“seeing as they has got two good days’ start on ye.”

“I wouldn’t care if they had six days’ start,” answered Phil. “I am
confident that we could still beat them with just ordinary snow-shoes
and sledges and plain every-day North American dogs. They have gone
around the great arctic bend of the Yukon, haven’t they? And so have a
journey of at least seven hundred miles ahead of them before they reach
Forty Mile.”

“Yes,” replied Jalap. “They said as it were the only navigable channel.”

“Well, it isn’t, for I know of another that is equally good, and two
hundred miles or so shorter. You see, there is a big river coming from
the southeast and emptying into the Yukon somewhere in this vicinity,
called the Tanana.”

“That’s right,” assented the sailor, “for I’ve already passed its mouth
twice about half-way between here and where the _St. Michaels_ is friz
in.”

“Good enough,” said Phil. “Now by following this Tanana for two or
three hundred miles, and taking up one of its eastern branches that is
called the Gheesah, or some such name, and crossing a divide, we can
strike the headwaters of Forty Mile Creek.”

“And sail down with the current, run into port under a full press
of canvas, and capture the market afore the enemy heaves in sight!”
exclaimed Jalap Coombs, enthusiastically, his practical mind quick to
note the advantages of Phil’s scheme. “But what’s to become of me?” he
added, anxiously. “Kin ye fit me out with a new pair of feet?”

“Certainly we can,” replied Phil, promptly. “We can fit you out with
fourteen new pair, and will guarantee that, thus provided, you will be
able to travel as fast as the rest of us.”

“Fourteen pair o’ feet?” repeated Jalap Coombs, reflectively, “and
slow-shoes on every pair? Seems to me, son, you must be calkilating
to run me under a kind of a santipede rig, which it looks like the
strain on the hull would be too great. As for navigating fourteen pair
of slow-shoes all to once, I don’t reckin old Kite hisself could do
it. Still, if you think it can be did, why go ahead and try it on. I’m
agreeable, as the cat said after he’d swallowed the cap’n’s wife’s
canary.”

So Phil’s plan was adopted without a dissenting voice, and from that
moment Jalap Coombs said nothing more about a return to St. Michaels.

That very evening, leaving Serge to see what could be done for
the sailor-man’s lameness, and taking Kurilla with him to act as
interpreter, Phil visited several Indian huts. At these he finally
succeeded in purchasing enough furs and moose-hide for a huge
sleeping-bag, which the several squaws, who, under promise of a liberal
recompense in tea, undertook its construction, promised should be ready
by morning. Phil also bought an immense pair of arctic sleeping-socks
and an extra supply of snow-goggles.

When he told Kurilla of their change of plan, and that they intended
going up the Tanana, the latter replied, dubiously, “Me plenty don’t
know um. Maybe git lose. Yaas.”

“Oh, that’ll be all right,” answered Phil, cheerfully. “You’ll plenty
know um before we get through with um, and whenever you don’t know
which way to go, just come and ask me.”

When he returned to the house he found Serge boiling with indignation.
“Do you know,” he cried, “that Mr. Coombs has walked all the way from
St. Michaels without pads in his boots, because those other fellows
told him his feet would toughen quicker if he didn’t use them? The
consequence is they are simply raw from blisters, and every step he
takes must be like treading on knives.”

“It has been tedious at times,” admitted Jalap Coombs. “And under the
sarcumstances I don’t know but what I’d ruther have one pair of feet
than fourteen, or even half the number.”

“Isn’t it good to have old Jalap with us once more?” asked Phil of
Serge, after they had turned in that night.

“Indeed it is; but do you notice how he has changed?”

“I should say I had. He is like a salt-water fish suddenly dropped into
a fresh-water pond. He’ll come out all right, though, especially if we
can only get his feet into shape again.”

That night the mercury fell to fifty-nine degrees below zero, and the
next morning even Phil, impatient as he was to proceed, had not the
heart to order men and dogs out into that bitter air before sunrise.
With that, however, the mercury began slowly to rise, and when it
had crept up nineteen degrees, or to only forty degrees below, the
young leader declared the weather to be warm enough for anybody. So
he ordered the sledges to be got ready, and when the one drawn by his
own team came dashing up to the door, he announced that Mr. Coombs’s
fourteen pair of feet were at his service. He also politely requested
the sailor-man to crawl into a big fur-lined bag with which the sledge
was provided, and make himself comfortable.

“But, Phil,” demurred the other, “I ain’t no passenger to be tucked up
in a steamer-cheer on deck. I’m shipped for this v’y’ge as one of the
crew.”

“Very well,” replied Phil. “Then of course you will obey orders without
a murmur, for I remember hearing you say, when we were aboard the
_Seamew_, that even if a captain were to order his whole crew to knit
bedquilts or tidies, they’d be bound to obey to the best of their
ability.”

“Sartain,” admitted the other. “I got that from old Kite Roberson,
which bedquilts _and_ tidies were his very words.” Then, without
further remonstrance, the crippled sailor stepped to the sledge, slid
feet first into the big bag, and lay there like an animated mummy, with
the hood of his parka drawn close about his face. Its encircling fringe
of long wolf-hair, added to his preternatural gravity of countenance,
gave him such a comical expression that the boys could not help
shouting with laughter as Kurilla cracked his great whip and the dogs
sprang away with their new burden.

Phil took the lead, as usual, and when they reached the mouth of the
Tanana, which, on account of its broad expanse, there was no chance of
mistaking, he turned into it without hesitation, and in a few minutes
they had taken their last view of the Yukon for many a long day.

At its mouth the Tanana is nearly three miles broad, or as wide as
the Yukon itself, and is filled with islands, on which are stranded
quantities of uprooted trees of greater size than any seen on the Yukon
above that point.

The bitterness of the cold continued unabated, and the sledge party
had hardly lost sight of the Yukon ere the young leader heard himself
hailed from the rear, and paused to learn what was wanted.

“I say, Cap’n Phil,” began Jalap Coombs, with chattering teeth, “is it
your orders or desire that your men should freeze to death?”

“Certainly not,” laughed the lad.

“Then, sir, I has the honor to report that this member of the crew
is already froze solid half-way up, with ice making fast through the
remainder of his system.”

“That is entirely contrary to orders,” replied Phil, sternly, “and must
be stopped at once. So, sir, put your helm to port, and run for yonder
timber.”

Half an hour later poor Jalap was being outwardly thawed by a roaring
fire of great logs, and inwardly by cupful after cupful of scalding
tea, which moved him to remark that, according to his friend Kite
Roberson, tea and coffee were the next best things to observations of
the sun for determining latitude.



CHAPTER XVIII

CHRISTMAS ON THE TANANA


“Look here,” said Phil, referring to the mate’s last surprising
statement, “wasn’t your friend Mr. Roberson in the habit of drawing the
long bow?”

“No,” replied Jalap Coombs, in surprise at the question; “he couldn’t
abide ’em.”

“Couldn’t abide what?”

“Bows, nor yet arrers, since when he were a kid some boys put up a game
on him that they called William Tell, which allers did seem to me the
foolishest game, seeing that his name warn’t William, but Kite, and he
warn’t expected to tell anything, only just to stand with a punkin on
his head for them to shoot their bow-arrers at. Waal, the very fust one
missed the punkin and plunked poor Kite in the stummick, after which he
didn’t have no use for a long bow nor a short bow, nor yet a bow of any
kind.”

“I don’t blame him,” laughed Serge. “But we would very much like to
know how he determined latitude by tea and coffee.”

“Easy enough,” was the reply. “You see, tea is drunk mostly in cold
latitoods similar to this, and coffee in warm. The higher the latitood,
the hotter and stronger the tea, and the less you hear of coffee. At
forty-five or thereabouts they’s drunk about alike, while south of
that coffee grows blacker and more common, while tea takes a back seat
till you get to the line, where it’s mighty little used. Then as you
go south of that the same thing begins all over again; but there’s not
many would notice sich things, and fewer as would put ’em to practical
use like old Kite done.”

“Mr. Coombs,” said Phil, “you sound pretty well thawed out, and if that
is the case we’ll get under way again.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” responded the mate, thrashing his long arms vigorously
across his chest to restore circulation, and then slipping resignedly
into his fur bag. “Anchor’s apeak, sir.” And away sped the sledges up
the broad level of the Tanana.

Every member of the party had by this time become so thoroughly broken
in to his duties that when they made camp that night the promptness
with which it was prepared, as well as the ensuing comfort, was a
revelation to Jalap Coombs, who declared that there had been nothing
like it in the camps of the other party.

“Of course not,” said Phil, “for they haven’t got Serge Belcofsky
along, so how could their comfort equal ours?”

At this Serge, covered with confusion, replied, “Nonsense, Phil! You
know it is because we have got such capital campmen as Kurilla and
Chitsah with us.”

At this the face of the elder Indian beamed with pleasure. He did not
exactly understand the conversation; but believing that he ought to
make some reply, he pointed to Jalap Coombs, and, looking at Phil,
remarked:

“You fadder. Yaas.”

But the journey up the Tanana was by no means an unbroken record of
swift movings from one comfortable camp to another, or of jokes and
pleasantries. The days were now at their shortest, so that each could
boast only about four hours of sunlight, and even that was frequently
obscured by fierce storms, when the howling winds cut like knives,
and it required every ounce of Phil Ryder’s pluck as well as Serge
Belcofsky’s dogged determination to keep the little party in motion.
The feet of the poor dogs were often so pierced by ice slivers that
their tracks were marked with blood. The older and more experienced
would bite at these and pull them out. Others would howl with pain,
while some would lie down and refuse to work until they were put in
boots, which were little bags of deer-hide drawn over their feet and
fastened with buckskin thongs.

It was a journey of constant and painful struggle and of dreary
monotony, each day being only the same endless succession of ice-bound
river, snow-covered hills, and sombre forest. Especially depressing
was the night of the 24th of December, when, with an icy wind moaning
through the tree-tops of the subarctic forest, and the shivering dogs
edging towards the fire for a share of its grateful warmth, Phil and
Serge and Jalap Coombs reminded each other that this was Christmas Eve.
Never before had Phil spent one away from home, nor had the others ever
been so utterly removed from the cheering influences of the joyous
season. So Phil described what he knew was taking place in far-distant
New London at that very hour, and Serge told of merry times in quaint
old Sitka, while Jalap Coombs recalled many a noble plum-duff that had
graced Christmas feasts far out at sea, until they all grew homesick,
and finally crawled into their sleeping-bags to dream of scenes as
remote from those surrounding them as could well be imagined.

As they always selected a camping-place and prepared for the long night
by the last of the scanty daylight or in the middle of the afternoon,
so they always resumed their journey by the moonlight or starlight,
or even in the darkness of two or three o’clock the next morning. On
Christmas morning they started, as usual, many hours before daylight,
and, either owing to the vagueness of all outlines, or because his
thoughts were far away, the young leader mistook a branch for the main
river, and headed for a portion of the mighty wilderness that no white
man had ever yet explored.

About noon they passed a forlorn native village of three or four
snow-covered huts, the occupants of which gazed at the unaccustomed
sight of white travellers in stolid amazement. They had gone nearly a
mile beyond this sole evidence of human occupation to be found in many
a weary league when Phil suddenly stopped.

“Look here!” he exclaimed, “what do you two say to going back, making
a camp near that village, and having some sort of a Christmas, after
all? It doesn’t seem right for white folks to let the day go by without
celebrating it somehow.”

As the others promptly agreed to this proposition the sledges were
faced about, and a few minutes later the music of Musky’s jingling
bells again attracted the wondering natives from their burrows.

Camp was made on a wooded island opposite the village, and while the
others were clearing the snow from a space some fifty feet square, and
banking it up on the windward side, Phil took his gun and set forth to
hunt for a Christmas dinner. An hour later he returned with four arctic
hares and a brace of ptarmigan, or Yukon grouse, whose winter plumage
was as spotless as the snow itself.

He found Serge and Jalap Coombs concocting a huge plum-duff, while
from the brass kettle a savory steam was already issuing. Kurilla and
Chitsah had chopped a hole through four feet of ice and were fishing,
while a few natives from the village hovered about the outskirts of
the camp, watching its strange life with curious interest. They were
very shy, and moved away when Phil approached them, seeing which he
called Kurilla and bade him tell them that a present would be given to
every man, woman, and child who should visit the camp before sunset.

At first they could not comprehend this startling proposition, but
after it had been repeated a few times the youngest of them, a mere
boy, uttered a joyous shout and started on a run for the village. A
few minutes later its entire population, not more than twenty-five
in all, including babes in arms, or rather in the hoods of their
mother’s parkas, came hurrying over from the mainland filled with eager
expectancy.

To every man Phil presented a small piece of tobacco, to every woman
a handful of tea, and to every child a biscuit dipped in molasses.
With each present he uttered, very distinctly, the word “Christmas.”
At length one child――though whether it were a boy or a girl he could
not make out, for their fur garments were all exactly alike――looked up
with a bashful smile and said “Kikmuk.” In a minute all the others had
caught the word, and the air rang with shouts of “Kikmuk,” mingled with
joyous laughter.

[Illustration: “KIKMUK”]

Then they all trooped back to the village, shouting “Kikmuk” as they
went; and so long as they live the word will be associated in their
minds with happiness and good-will. Three of them, a man and two women,
afterwards returned, bringing with them a pair of dainty moccasins, a
fox-skin, and an intestine filled with melted fat, which they timidly
presented to Phil, Serge, and Jalap Coombs respectively. The last named
regarded his gift rather dubiously, but accepted it with a hearty
“Kikmuk,” and remarked that it would probably be good for his feet,
which it afterwards proved to be.

These three were invited to dine with Kurilla and Chitsah, an
invitation which they accepted, and so became the guests of the
Christmas dinner. On their side of the fire the feast consisted
largely of the fish the Indians had just caught, to which were added
unstinted tea and a liberal supply of the plum-duff. On the other side
were mock-turtle soup _à la can_, baked fish, rabbit fricassee, roast
grouse, plum-duff, hard bread, tea, and cocoa; all of which combined
to form what Phil pronounced to be the very best Christmas dinner he
had ever eaten, in which sentiment Serge and Jalap Coombs heartily
concurred.

Even the dogs were given cause to rejoice that Christmas had at length
come to their snowy land by receiving a double ration of dried fish,
which put them into such good spirits that they spent the greater part
of the night in a rollicking game of romps.

On the Indian side of the fire the unwonted good cheer so overcame
the shyness of the villagers that the man ventured to ask questions
regarding the intentions and destination of this sledge party of
strangers. When these were stated by Kurilla, he remained silent for a
minute. Then he delivered a long and animated speech.

As a result of this, and when it was finished, Kurilla left his own
side of the fire and, approaching Phil, said:

“You go Forty Mile?”

“Yes. We are going to Forty Mile, of course.”

“No like um Tanana?”

“Certainly, I like the Tanana well enough. I shall like it better,
though, when we have seen the last of it.”

“No can see um now.”

“Why not? There it is right out yonder.”

“No. Him Kloot-la-ku-ka. Tanana so” (pointing to the way they had
come). “You go so way” (pointing up-stream), “get lose; mebbe no fin’;
plenty bad. Yaas!”

So, all on account of keeping Christmas and trying to bring a little
of its joy into the hearts of those children of the wilderness, Phil’s
mistake was discovered before its consequences became disastrous, and
he was once more enabled to place his little party on the right road to
Sitka.



CHAPTER XIX

A BATTLE WITH WOLVES


The remainder of the journey up the Tanana was uneventful, but so
long that the new year was well begun ere the sledge party left it
and turned up the Gheesah branch, which flows in from the east. An
Indian guide, procured at the last village by the promise of a pound of
tobacco for his services, accompanied them on their four days’ journey
up this river, and to the summit of the bleak, wind-swept divide, five
hundred feet above timber-line. This gave the dogs a hard pull, though
Jalap Coombs insisted upon lightening their load by walking; nor from
this time on would he again consent to be treated as an invalid.

The summit once passed, they plunged rapidly down its farther side,
and into the welcome shelter of timber fringing a tiny stream
whose course they were now to follow. Their guide called it the
Tukh-loo-ga-ne-lukh-nough, which, after vain attempts to remember, Phil
shortened to “Tough Enough.” Jalap Coombs, however, declared that this
was not a “sarcumstance” to the names of certain down-East streams
among which he was born, and to prove his assertion began to talk
glibly of the Misquabenish, the Keejimkoopic, the Kashagawigamog, the
Kahwahcambejewagamog, and others of like brevity, until Phil begged him
to take a rest.

That night, while the camp was buried in the profound slumber that
followed a day of unusually hard work, and the fire had burned to a
bed of coals, the single, long-drawn howl of a wolf was borne to it
with startling distinctness by the night wind. As though it were a
signal, it was answered from a dozen different directions at once. The
alert dogs sprang from their snowy beds with bristling crests, and
hurled back a challenge of fierce barkings; but this, being an incident
of nightly occurrence, failed to arouse the tired sleepers.

Within a few minutes the dread howlings had so increased in volume that
they seemed to issue from scores of savage throats, and to completely
encircle the little camp. It was as if all the wolves of the forest,
rendered desperate by famine, had combined for a raid on the supply of
provisions so kindly placed within their reach. Nearer and nearer they
came, until their dark forms could be seen like shadows of evil omen
flitting among the trees and across the open moonlit spaces.

The dogs, at first eager to meet their mortal foes, now huddled
together, terrified by overwhelming numbers. Still the occupants of the
camp slept, unconscious of their danger. Suddenly there came a rush,
an unearthly clamor of savage outcry, and the sleepers were roused to
a fearful wakening by a confused struggle within the very limits of
the camp, and over their recumbent forms. They sprang up with yells
of terror, and at the sound of human voices the invaders drew back,
snapping and snarling with rage.

“Timber wolves!” shouted Serge. “Your rifle, Phil! Quick!”

Emboldened by this reinforcement, the dogs advanced to the edge of
the camp space, but with low growls in place of their former defiant
barkings.

Phil was trembling with excitement; but Serge, steady as a rock,
was throwing the No. 4’s from the double-barrel and reloading with
buckshot, at the same time calling to Chitsah to pile wood on the fire,
and to the other Indians not to fire until all were ready. Jalap Coombs
seized an axe, and, forgetful of the bitter cold, was rolling up his
sleeves as though he purposed to fight the wolves single-handed. At
the same time he denounced them as pirates and bloody land-sharks, and
dared them to come within his reach.

“Are you ready?” cried Serge; “then fire!” And with a roar that woke
the forest echoes for miles, the four guns poured their contents into
the dense black mass that seemed just ready to hurl itself for a second
time upon the camp.

With frightful howlings the pack scattered, and began to gallop swiftly
in a wide circle about the fire-lit space. One huge brute, frenzied
with rage, leaped directly towards the camp, with gleaming eyes and
frothing mouth. Ere a gun could be levelled, Jalap Coombs stepped
forward to meet him, and, with a mighty, swinging blow, his heavy axe
crushed the skull of the on-coming beast as though it had been an
eggshell. Instantly the dogs were upon him, and tearing fiercely at
their fallen enemy.

With the first shot Phil’s nervousness vanished, and as coolly as Serge
himself he followed, with levelled rifle, the movements of the yelling
pack in their swift circling. At each patch of moonlit space one or
more of the fierce brutes fell before his unerring fire, until every
shot of his magazine was exhausted.

“Now,” cried Serge, “we must scatter them. Every man take a firebrand
in each hand, and all make a dash together.”

[Illustration: “NOW,” CRIED SERGE, “ALL MAKE A DASH TOGETHER!”]

“Yelling,” added Jalap Coombs.

“Yes, yelling louder than the wolves themselves.”

The plan was no sooner proposed than adopted. Musky, Luvtuk, big
Amook, and the rest, inspired by their masters’ courage, joined in
the assault; and before that fire-bearing, yelling, on-rushing line of
humanity and dogs the gaunt forest raiders gave way and fled in all
directions.

The whole battle had not lasted more than five minutes, but it resulted
in the death of nineteen wolves, six of which were despatched by the
sailor man’s terrible axe after the fight was over and they, more or
less wounded, were slinking away towards places of hiding. But the dogs
found them out, and they met a swift fate at the hands of Jalap Coombs.

As he finally re-entered the camp, dragging the last one behind him, he
remarked, with a chuckle,

“Waal, boys, I ruther guess our boat’s ‘high line’ this time, and I’m
free to admit that this here wolf racket beats most kinds of fishing
for genuine entertainment, onless it’s fishing for sharks, which
is exciting at times. I’m pleased to have met up with this school,
though, for it’s allers comforting to run across fresh proofs of my
friend old Kite Roberson’s knowingness. He useter say consarning the
critters, Kite did, that wolves was sharks and sharks was wolves, and
that neither of ’em warn’t no fit playthings for children; which it now
seems to me he were correct, as usual.”

“He certainly was,” replied Phil, who, leaning on his rifle, was
thoughtfully regarding the shaggy beast that Kite Roberson’s friend
had just dragged into camp. “But aren’t these uncommonly big wolves? I
never knew they grew so large.”

“They don’t generally,” answered Serge; “but these are of the same
breed as the great Siberian wolves, which, you know, are noted as being
the largest and fiercest in the world.”

“I don’t wonder now that the dogs were frightened,” continued Phil,
“for this fellow looks twice as big as Amook, and he’s no puppy.
But I say, Serge, you’re an awfully plucky chap. As for myself, I must
confess I was so badly rattled that I don’t believe I should have even
thought of a gun before they were on us a second time.”

“If they had made a second rush not one of us would be alive to talk
about it now,” remarked Serge, soberly; “and it was only the promptness
of our attack that upset their plans. In dealing with wolves it is
always safest to force the fighting; for while they are awful bullies,
they are cowards at heart, like all bullies I ever heard of.”

“Captain Duff, for instance,” said Phil, with a reminiscent smile.
Then he added: “Anyhow, old man, you got us out of a bad scrape, for
it isn’t every fellow who would know just how to deal with a pack of
wolves, especially when wakened from a sound sleep to find them piling
on top of him.”

“I don’t believe it was quite as bad as that,” objected Serge. “I
expect only the dogs piled on top of us when they were driven in.
By-the-way, did you know that four of them were killed, and several
others pretty badly hurt?”

“No, I didn’t,” cried Phil, in dismay. “What ones are killed?”

“Two from my team, one from yours, and one from Chitsah’s.”

“Oh, the villains!” exclaimed the young leader. “Another victory like
that would cripple us. Do you think there is any danger of them coming
back?”

“Not just now; but I shouldn’t be surprised to hear from them again
to-morrow night.”

“All right. I’m glad you mentioned it. Now we’ll see if we can’t have
an interesting reception prepared for them.”

“Pizen?” queried Jalap Coombs, who had lighted his pipe and was now
complacently watching the skinning of the dead wolves, which had been
undertaken by the three Indians.

“Worse than that,” answered Phil, significantly.

By the time the Indians had finished their task and breakfast had been
eaten the usual starting-hour had arrived. Two of the wolf-skins were
allotted to the guide, who was to leave them at this point, and he
set forth on his return journey with them on his back. Rolled in them
were the single dried salmon which would form his sole sustenance on
the journey, and the cherished pound of tobacco, for which he had been
willing to work so hard. In his hand he bore an old flintlock musket
that was the pride of his heart, not so much on account of its shooting
qualities, which were very uncertain, as by reason of its great length.
It was the longest gun known to the dwellers of the Tanana Valley, and
consequently the most valuable; for the Hudson Bay Company’s method
of selling such guns was to exchange one for as many marten, fox, or
beaver skins as could be piled from stock to muzzle when it stood
upright.

“I hope the wolves won’t attack his camps,” remarked Phil, as they
watched the lonely figure pass out of sight on the back trail.

“Him no camp,” declared Kurilla.

“But he must. Why, it’s a four-days’ journey to his home.”

“No; one day, one night. Him no stop. Wolf no catch um. Yaas.”

And Kurilla was right, for the Indian would push on over mile after
mile of that frozen solitude without a pause, save for an occasional
bite from his dried salmon, and a handful of snow to wash it down,
until he reached his own far-away home.



CHAPTER XX

CHITSAH’S NATURAL TELEPHONE


Seventeen green wolf-skins formed a heavy sledge-load, especially for
the weakened dog-teams; but fortunately Jalap Coombs’s feet were again
in condition for walking, and snow on the river was not yet deep. So it
was determined to carry them――at least, for the present. On the evening
following that of the encounter with the wolves, Phil, leaving the
work of preparing camp to the others, unpacked the Eskimo wolf-traps
of compressed whalebone that he had procured at Makagamoot. He had
twenty of the ingenious little contrivances, and wrapped each one in a
strip of frozen wolf-meat that he had saved and brought along for the
purpose. When all were thus prepared, he carried them about a quarter
of a mile from camp, and then dropped them at short intervals in a
great circle about it. He knew the dogs would not stray that far since
their experience of the night before, and so felt pretty certain that
the traps would only find their way to the destination for which they
were intended.

The first blood-chilling howl was heard soon after dark, and a few
minutes later it was apparent that wolves were again gathering from all
quarters. Then the anxious watchers caught occasional glimpses of dim
forms, and sometimes of a pair of gleaming eyes, that invariably drew
a shot from Phil’s rifle. Still the wolves seemed to remember their
lesson, or else they waited for the occupants of the camp to fall
asleep, for they made no effort at an attack.

As time passed the wolf tones began to change, and defiant howlings
to give place to yelps and yells of distress. Soon other sounds were
mingled with these――the fierce snarlings of savage beasts fighting
over their prey. The traps were doing their work. Those wolves that
had eagerly gulped them down were so stricken with deadly pains that
they staggered, fell, and rolled in the snow. At the first symptoms of
distress others sprang upon them and tore them in pieces, at the same
time battling fiercely over their cannibal feast. So wolf fed wolf,
while the night echoed with their hideous outcries, until finally the
survivors, gorged with the flesh of their own kind, slunk away, and
after some hours of bedlam quiet once more reigned in the forest.

So Phil’s scheme proved a success, and for the remainder of that night
he and his companions slept in peace. At daylight they visited the
scenes of wolfish feasting, and found everywhere plentiful evidence
of what had taken place; but this time they gathered in neither rugs
nor robes, for only blood-stains, bones, and tattered shreds of fur
remained.

Phil’s only regret was that he had not a lot more of those same useful
traps, though, as was afterwards proved, they were not needed, for
never again during their journey did wolves appear in sufficient
numbers to cause them any alarm.

For another week did the sledge party journey down the several streams
that, emptying one into another, finally formed the Conehill River, or,
as the gold-diggers call it, Forty Mile Creek, because its mouth is
forty miles down the Yukon from the old trading-post of Fort Reliance.
As the first half of their long journey drew towards a close they
became anxious as to its results and impatient for its end. When would
they reach the settlement? and could they get there before their rivals
who had followed the Yukon? were the two questions that they constantly
asked of each other, but which none could answer.

Phil grew almost despondent as he reflected upon the length of time
since they left old Fort Adams, and gave it as his opinion that the
other party must have reached Forty Mile long since.

Serge also feared they had, though he didn’t see how they could.

Jalap Coombs was firm in his belief that the other party was still far
away, and that his would be the first in; for, quoth he, “Luck allers
has been on my side, and I’m going to believe it allers will be. My
old friend Kite Roberson useter say, speaking of luck, and he give it
as his own experience, that them as struck the best kinds of luck was
them as worked the hardest for it; and ef they didn’t get it one way
they was sure to another. Likewise he useter say, Kite did, consarning
worriments, that ef ye didn’t pay no attention to one ’twould be mighty
apt to pass ye by; but ef ye encouraged it by so much as a wink or a
nod, ye’d have to fight it to git red of it. So, seeing as they hain’t
no worriments hove in sight yet, what’s the use in s’arching for ’em?”

As for Kurilla, whenever his opinion was asked, he always grinned and
returned the same answer:

“You come pretty quick, mebbe. Yaas.”

So each day of the last three or four brought its fresh hope; at each
succeeding bend of the stream all eyes were strained eagerly forward
for a sight of the expected cluster of log-huts, and each night brought
an added disappointment.

At length one evening, when Phil, who had pushed on longer than usual,
in an effort to end their suspense, was reluctantly compelled, by
gathering darkness, to go into camp, Chitsah suddenly attracted
attention to himself by running to a tree and pressing an ear to its
trunk. As the others stared at him, a broad smile overspread his
face, and he said something to his father, which the latter instantly
interpreted.

“What?” cried Phil, incredulously. “He thinks he hears the sound of
chopping?”

“Yaas,” answered Kurilla. “Axe, chop um, white men, plenty. Yaas.”

“I, too, can hear something!” exclaimed Serge, who had imitated
Chitsah’s movements, “though I wouldn’t swear it was chopping.”

“Hurrah! So can I!” shouted Phil, after a moment of intent listening
at another tree. “First time, though, I ever knew that the public
telephone service was extended to this country. The sound I heard
might be a train of cars twenty miles away, or a woodpecker somewhere
within sight. No matter. If Chitsah says it’s chopping, it must be, for
he ought to know, seeing that he first heard it with the aid of the
tree-telephone. So let’s go for it. We can afford to travel an hour or
two in the dark for the sake of meeting the white man who is swinging
that axe, can’t we?”

“Of course we can,” replied Serge.

“Aye, aye, sir!” answered Jalap Coombs.

“Mebbe catch um. Yaas,” added Kurilla, sharing the general enthusiasm.

Even the tired dogs barked, pricked up their sharp ears, sniffed the
air, and did not, seemingly, object to moving on.

So the long teams were again swung into line, the pistol-like reports
of the three sledge-whips rang sharply through the keen air, and the
whole party swept on down the darkening river at a greater speed than
they had made that day.

An hour later, as they rounded a projecting point, Phil uttered an
exulting shout. A cluster of twinkling lights shone dead ahead, and our
travellers knew that their goal was won.

“Let’s give them a volley,” suggested Serge. “It’s the custom of the
country, you know.”

So the guns were taken from their deerskin coverings, and at Phil’s
word of command a roar from double-barrel, flintlock, and Winchester
woke glad echoes from both sides of the broad valley and from the
rugged Yukon cliffs beyond. Then, with whoopings and cheers and frantic
yelpings of dogs, the sledge brigade dashed on towards the welcoming
lights.

“Hello the camp!” yelled Phil, as they approached the dark cluster of
cabins.

“On deck!” roared Jalap Coombs, as though he were hailing a ship at sea.

“Hello yourself!” answered a gruff voice――the first hail in their own
tongue that the boys had heard in many a week. “Who are you? Where do
you come from? And what’s all this racket about?”

“White men,” replied Phil, “with dog-sledges, up from Yukon mouth.”

“Great Scott! You don’t say so! No wonder you’re noisy! Hi, boys!
Here’s the first winter outfit that ever came from Yukon mouth to Forty
Mile. What’s the matter with giving them a salute?”

“Nothing at all!” cried a score of voices, and then volley after volley
rang forth, until it seemed as though every man there must have carried
a loaded gun and emptied it of all six shots in honor of the occasion.

Men came running from all directions, and before the shooting ceased
the entire population of the camp, some three hundred in number, were
eagerly crowding about the new-comers, plying them with questions, and
struggling for the honor of shaking hands with the first arrivals of
the year.

“Are we really the first to come up the river?” asked Phil.

“To be sure you are. Not only that, but the first to reach the diggings
from any direction since navigation closed. But how did you come? Not
by the river, I know, for when I heard your shooting ’twas clear away
up the creek.”

“We came by the Tanana and across the Divide,” answered Phil. “There is
another party coming by way of the river, though, and we were afraid
they might get in ahead of us.”

“Hark to that, boys! One train just arrived, and another coming!
I tell you, old Forty Mile is right in it. Daily express from all
points, through tickets to Europe, Arup, and Arrap; morning papers and
opera-houses, circus and theaytres. Looks like the boom had struck us
at last. But say, stranger, what _is_ the news from below?”

“New steamer on her way up the river, with saw-mill, mining machinery,
and best stock of goods ever seen in Alaska,” replied Phil, quick to
seize the opportunity, and anxious to make his business known while he
still had the field to himself. “We have come from her, and are on our
way to San Francisco to send up a new stock for next season. So we have
only stopped to take your orders and find out what will be the most
acceptable.”

“Hurrah!” yelled the crowd, wild with excitement. “Send us a
brass-band,” shouted one. “In swaller-tails and white kids,” added
another. “What’s the matter with moving the Palace Hotel up here?”
suggested a third, “seeing as San Francisco isn’t in it any longer with
Forty Mile. Especially send along the café.”

“Come, fellows, let up,” cried the man who had been the first to
welcome the new arrivals, and whose name was Riley. “We mustn’t keep
these gentlemen standing out here in the cold any longer. I reckon
they’re hungry, too, and wondering why we don’t invite ’em to grub. So,
men, just come into my shebang and make yourselves at home. There isn’t
much to it, but such as it is it’s yours, so long as you’ll honor yours
truly.”

“No, come with me,” cried another voice. “I’ve got beans, Boston baked,
fresh from the can.” “I’ve got molasses and soft-tack,” and “I’ve just
made a dish of scouse,” “Come with us,” shouted others.

“No, you don’t!” roared Mr. Riley. “They’re my meat, and they are going
to bunk in with me. But, boys, you can send along your beans and your
dope and your scouse, and whatever else comes handy, for I’ve only got
roast beef and chicken-salad and a few terrapin, and we want to do this
thing up in style. So, ‘all small contributions thankfully received’
is the word, and if we don’t scare up just the niftiest spread on the
coast this night then my name isn’t Platt Riley, that’s all.”



CHAPTER XXI

A YUKON MINING CAMP


The supper provided by the hospitable miners was a good one, and
heartily did our travellers enjoy it; but while they are appeasing the
extraordinary appetites that they acquired somewhere in the Alaskan
wilderness, let us take a look at this most northern of American mining
camps.

To begin with, although it is at the junction of Forty Mile Creek and
the Yukon River, it is not in Alaska, but about twenty miles east of
the boundary in Northwest Territory, which is one of the subdivisions
of Canada. The most recent name of this camp is “Mitchell,” but all old
Yukon miners know it as Camp Forty Mile. At the time of Phil Ryder’s
visit it contained nearly two hundred log-cabins, two stores, including
the one that he established in the name of his friend Gerald Hamer, two
saloons, both of which were closed for the season, and a small cigar
factory. Although the winter population was only about three hundred,
in summer-time it is much larger, as many of the miners come out in the
fall and return before the 15th of June, at which date, according to
Yukon mining law, every man owning a claim must be on the ground, or it
may be “jumped.”

Forty Mile is what is known as a placer camp, which means that its
gold is found in minute particles or “dust” in soft earth, from which
it can be washed in sluices or rockers. Into one of these a stream of
water is turned that sweeps away all the dirt and gravel, allowing
the heavier gold to sink to the bottom, where it is caught and held by
cross-bars or “riffles.”

Although gold has been discovered at many points along the Yukon and
its branches, the deposit at Forty Mile is the richest yet worked,
and has paid as high as three hundred dollars to a man for a single
day’s labor. Twelve thousand dollars’ worth of gold was cleared by one
miner in a three months’ season, and a five-hundred-dollar nugget has
been found; but most of the miners are content if they can make “ounce
wages,” or sixteen dollars per day, while the average for the camp is
not over eight dollars per day during the short season of that arctic
region.

Sluices can only be worked during three or four months of summer-time;
then come the terrible eight or nine months of winter when the mercury
thinks nothing of dropping to sixty or seventy degrees below zero, and
the whole world seems made of ice. Strange as it may appear, the summer
weather of this region is very hot, eighty-five degrees in the shade
and one hundred and twelve degrees in the sun being frequently reached
by the mercury. During the summer months, too, the entire Yukon Valley
is as terribly infested with mosquitoes as is any mangrove swamp of the
tropics. Thus the hardy miner who penetrates it in his search for gold
is made to suffer from one cause or another during every month of the
year.

In spite of the summer heat the ground never thaws to a depth of
more than five or six feet, below which it is solidly frozen beyond
any point yet reached by digging. Under the dense covering of moss,
six to eighteen inches thick, by which the greater part of Alaska is
overspread, it does not thaw more than a few inches. Consequently the
most important item of a Yukon miner’s winter work is the stripping of
this moss from his claim in order that next summer’s sun may have a
chance to thaw it to working depth.

There were no women nor children at Forty Mile, and there were very
few amusements, but there is plenty of hard work in both summer,
when the sun hardly sets at all, and in the winter, when he barely
shows his face above the southern horizon. Besides the laborious task
of moss-stripping, the miner must saw out by hand all lumber for
sluices and rockers. He must build his own cabin and fashion its rude
furniture, besides doing all of his own house-work and cooking. He
also expects to do a certain amount of hunting and trapping during
the winter months, so that his time, unless he be very lazy, is fully
occupied. But lazy men are not apt to reach Forty Mile, for the journey
from Juneau, in southern Alaska, which is the largest city in the
Territory, as well as the nearest outfitting point for the diggings, is
so filled with peril and the roughest kind of hard work as to deter any
but men of the most determined energy.

At Juneau, Yukon travellers provide themselves with an outfit of
snow-shoes, sledges, tents, fur clothing, provisions, and whatever else
seems to them necessary. Starting in the early spring, they proceed by
boat to the Chilkat country, seventy miles distant, and to the head
of Chilkoot Inlet. From there they set forth on a terrible mountain
climb over snow many feet in depth, where they are in constant danger
from avalanches, and cross the coast range by a pass that rises three
thousand feet above timber-line. On the opposite side they strike the
head-waters of the Yukon, which they follow through a series of six
lakes, sledging over their still ice-bound waters, and rafting down
their connecting links, in which are seething rapids, dark gorges, and
roaring cañons, around which all goods must be carried on men’s backs.
After some two hundred miles of these difficulties have been passed,
trees must be felled, lumber sawed out, and boats constructed for the
remaining five hundred miles of the weary journey.

As it would not pay to transport freight by this route, all provisions
and other supplies for the diggings are shipped from San Francisco
by sea to St. Michaels, where they are transferred to small river
steamers like the _Chimo_, and so, after being many months on the way,
finally reach their destination. By this time their value has become
so enhanced or “enchanted,” as the miners say, that Phil Ryder found
flour selling for $30 per barrel, bacon at 35 cents per pound, beans at
25 cents per pound, canned fruit at 60 cents per pound, coarse flannel
shirts at $8 each, rubber boots at $18 per pair, and all other goods
at proportionate rates. Even sledge dogs, such as he had purchased at
Anvik for $5 or $6 each, were here valued at $25 apiece.

In view of these facts it is no wonder that the news of another steamer
on the river bringing a saw-mill to supply them with lumber, machinery
with which to work the frozen but gold-laden earth of their claims,
and a large stock of goods to be sold at about one-half the prevailing
prices, created a very pleasant excitement among the miners of that
wide-awake camp.

On the day following his arrival, and after a careful survey of the
situation, Phil rented the largest building in the place, paying one
month’s rent in advance, and giving its owner an order on Gerald Hamer
for the balance until the time of the _Chimo’s_ arrival. This building
had been used as a saloon, and was conveniently located close by the
steamboat-landing facing the river. Into it the sledge party moved
all their belongings, including the seventeen wolf-skins, which now
formed rugs for their floor as well as coverings for several split-log
benches. Serge and the two Indians at once started up the river with
the sledges for a supply of firewood, which was a precious article in
Forty Mile at that time, leaving Phil and Jalap Coombs to clean the new
quarters and render them habitable. While the latter, with a sailor’s
neat deftness, attended to this work, Phil busied himself with a pot of
black paint and a long breadth of cotton cloth. At this he labored with
such diligence that in an hour’s time a huge sign appeared above the
entrance to the building and stretched across its entire front. On it,
in letters so large that they could be plainly read from the river, was
painted the legend, “Yukon Trading Company, Gerald Hamer, Agent.”

This promise of increased business facilities was greeted by a round
of hearty cheers from a group of miners who had assembled to witness
the raising of the new sign, and when Jalap Coombs finished tacking up
his end one of these stepped up to him with a keen scrutiny. Finally he
said, “Stranger, may I be so bold as to ask who was the best friend you
ever had?”

“Sartain you may,” replied the sailor-man, “seeing as I’m allers proud
to mention the name of old Kite Roberson, and likewise claim him for a
friend.”

“I thought so!” cried the delighted miner, thrusting out a great hairy
paw. “I thought I couldn’t be mistook in that figger-head, and I knowed
if you was the same old Jalap I took ye to be that Kite Roberson
wouldn’t be fur off. Why, matey, don’t you remember the old brig
_Betsy_? Have you clean forgot Skiff Bettens?”

[Illustration: “WHY, MATEY, DON’T YOU REMEMBER THE OLD BRIG ‘BETSY’?”]

“Him that went into the hold and found the fire and put it out, and was
drug up so nigh dead from smoke that he didn’t breathe nateral agin fur
a week? Not much I hain’t forgot him, and I’m nigh about as glad to
see him as if he were old Kite hisself!” exclaimed Jalap Coombs, in
joyous tones. Then he introduced Mr. Skiff Bettens, ex-sailor and now
Yukon miner, to Phil, and pulled him into the house, and there was no
more work to be got out of Jalap Coombs that day.

Phil had also been recognized. That is, Mr. Platt Riley had asked
him if he were the son of his father, and when Phil admitted the
relationship, told him that he had a father to be proud of every minute
of his life. Didn’t he know? for hadn’t he, Platt Riley, worked side by
side with Mr. John Ryder prospecting in South Africa, where every ounce
of grit that a white man had in him was bound to show itself? “To be
certain he had,” and now he was proud to shake the hand of John Ryder’s
son, and if there was anything John Ryder’s son wanted in that camp,
why he, Platt Riley, was the man to get it for him.

So our sledge travellers found that even in that remote mining camp,
buried from the world beneath the snows of an arctic winter, they
were among friends. This, coupled with all that they had undergone in
reaching it, made it seem to them a very pleasant and comfortable place
in which to rest awhile.

And it was necessary that they should stay there for a time. They must
cultivate friendly business relations with the miners on Gerald Hamer’s
account, and find out what class of goods were most in demand; for
never until now had Phil realized the responsibility with which he had
been intrusted. He must prepare a full report to send back by Kurilla
and Chitsah, who could not be tempted to venture any farther away from
their homes. The dogs must be well rested before they would be fitted
for the second and most difficult half of the long journey. Above all,
Phil felt that, as representative of the Yukon Trading Company, he
must be on hand to meet the agents of its old-established rival, and
defend his far-away friend from the false reports they were certain to
spread concerning him.

He wondered why Goldollar and Strengel did not appear, and dreaded
to meet them, but at the same time longed to have the disagreeable
encounter over with as quickly as possible. So, many times each day did
he gaze long and fixedly across the broad white plain of the Yukon. At
length, on the eighth day after their arrival at Forty Mile, his eye
was caught by some moving black dots that he felt certain must be the
expected sledges.



CHAPTER XXII

THE NEW ARRIVAL AT FORTY MILE


The man known as Strengel was probably as great a rascal as could be
found in all Alaska. His sole object in shipping aboard the steamer
_Norsk_ at San Francisco had been to make his way, by fair means or
foul, to the Yukon gold-fields, of which he had gained extravagant
ideas. On the night before the _Norsk_ left St. Michaels he stole from
the chests of several of his shipmates such small sums of money as they
contained, slipped into a canoe, and deserted the ship. He remained in
hiding until she sailed, and then, claiming to have been discharged at
his own request, offered his services to Gerald Hamer in exchange for
a passage to Forty Mile. This proposition being accepted, and Strengel
regularly shipped as one of the _Chimo’s_ crew, he made a secret
proposal to the old company through one of its clerks, who happened to
be Simon Goldollar, to so delay and cripple Gerald Hamer’s expedition
that he should be forced to abandon it. In attempting to carry out this
programme he was foiled by Phil Ryder’s quick wit and prompt action.

Making his way back to St. Michaels, after Phil set him ashore at the
Pastolik wood-yard, Strengel fell in with Jalap Coombs, and, in company
with Goldollar, so managed the money affairs of that unsuspecting
sailor that he was unwittingly made to defray all their expenses
to Forty Mile, though he only expected to accompany them a short
distance up the river. Strengel’s sole object was still to reach the
gold-fields, while Goldollar was intent on winning a reputation for
himself by forestalling Gerald Hamer at Forty Mile, and at the same
time inflicting what injury he could on Phil Ryder. From the outset
they agreed to rid themselves of Jalap Coombs at some point so far up
the river that he must necessarily remain where they left him for the
rest of the winter. They learned at Nulato that the _Chimo_ was frozen
in at Anvik, but took care that this information should not reach Jalap
Coombs, whom they soon afterwards so cruelly deserted.

As they travelled beyond the point where they left him, the well-mated
pair had such frequent and bitter quarrels that, when Simon Goldollar
fell seriously ill, Strengel did not hesitate to rob him of what money
he carried and desert him at a native village near the abandoned
trading-post of Fort Yukon. Before doing this he discharged the Indians
who had come with them from Nulato, and sent them back, telling them
that he should remain with his sick friend until he recovered or died.
As soon as they were gone he engaged other natives, and set out for the
diggings that had for so long been the goal of his desires.

He planned to enter Forty Mile under a new name, and as a traveller
from one of the interior Hudson Bay trading-posts, who was ignorant of
the lower Yukon, its people, and its happenings. He was confident that
Jalap Coombs would never appear to contradict him, and almost equally
certain that Simon Goldollar would never reach Forty Mile. If by a
miracle he should recover from his illness, he was helpless to continue
his journey before the boats came up in the summer, by which time the
man who had robbed and deserted him would be lost to sight amid the
season’s rush of prospectors. In the meantime he had plenty of money
to live on until he should meet with an opportunity for making a strike
of some kind.

Thus it was that on a pleasant day of late January Mr. Strengel
approached the mining camp of Forty Mile, riding comfortably in
Jalap Coombs’s own sledge, with a light heart and no intimation of
aught but an agreeable reception by its citizens. But in all his
carefully-worked-out plans he had made several miscalculations.

It had never occurred to him that there was any other route than the
one he had followed by which this point might be reached from the lower
river. Nor did he believe it possible that any word of Gerald Hamer’s
expedition could have come up the river unknown to him. Finally, his
gravest mistake lay in supposing the population of this camp to be of
the same lawless class as is to be found in most Western mining camps,
and believing that here he should meet only with as great rascals as
himself. In this he displayed great ignorance of Forty Mile, which
was wholly in the hands of honorable old-time miners, who had framed
a simple set of laws for the regulation of their isolated little
community that they were determined should be respected. They had
chosen one of their own number as judge, and from his decisions they
allowed no appeal. They had also elected a marshal, whom they loyally
assisted in the discharge of his duties. Several lawless characters
had already been driven from the camp, and many others warned not to
venture within its limits.

As Forty Mile had received warning of the expected coming of Goldollar
and Strengel, and had learned many interesting things concerning
the previous history of these gentlemen, their arrival was eagerly
anticipated. Thus, upon Phil Ryder’s announcement that sledges were
coming up the river, an expectant throng was quickly gathered at the
landing.

Mr. Strengel fired several shots from his rifle as he drew near,
and was surprised that his salute was not answered in kind. He was,
of course, gratified to observe the sensation that his approach was
creating, and undertook to arouse some enthusiasm among the silent
spectators by yelling, “Hurrah for Forty Mile! Hurrah for the diggings!
Hurrah for our side!” Then, as his sledge reached the bank and he
sprang out, he cried, in tones meant to convey hearty good-fellowship:

“How are you, boys? You bet I’m mighty glad to see white men again
after camping with a lot of low-lived Injuns for more than two months.
You see, I’ve just come down from Pierre’s House on the Porcupine. My
name’s Bradwick, and――”

Here the speaker’s fluent words seemed suddenly to fail him, his face
turned pale, and his eyes were fixed in a bewildered stare. He had
caught sight of the Yukon Trading Company’s sign.

“Ha, ha!” he laughed, recovering himself with an effort. “Seeing the
name of an old friend who’s long since dead kinder give me a turn. But,
as I was saying――”

“Yes, you were just about to tell us what had become of Goldollar,”
interrupted Mr. Platt Riley, who had received word from Phil that the
new-comer was Strengel.

“Goldollar!” stammered the stranger, at the same time starting as
though he had been shot. “Goldollar!” he repeated, reflectively; “I
don’t know the name; never heard it before in my life. I think I
mentioned that I’d just come down from Pierre’s House on the Porcupine,
and hadn’t seen a white man since leaving there. There wasn’t no one
of that name at Pierre’s House when I left. What do you mean? Who is
Goldollar, anyhow?”

“He’s a feller that we heard was coming up from below with a dog
train,” replied Mr. Riley, deliberately, at the same time gazing full
in Strengel’s face. “And we didn’t know but what you and him might have
met up and concluded to travel together.”

“How could you hear of him?” inquired the new-comer. “I didn’t know
there was any way for news to reach Forty Mile in the winter.”

“Oh, we might have heard by mail, or telegraph, or seen it in the daily
papers, or a dozen other ways. Anyhow, we did hear it, and that another
feller was along with him. So of course when we saw you coming up the
river――”

“You didn’t hear that the other fellow’s name was Bradwick, did you?”
interrupted the stranger.

“No, that wasn’t the name. It wasn’t so good a name as that.”

“Well, then, you didn’t hear that I was coming with him; for Bradwick’s
my name, and I don’t know nothing about any Goldollars, though I hope
to find out something about them right here in these diggings,” replied
Mr. Strengel, boldly, and with attempted jocularity. “Now, seeing that
I’m tired, and cold, and hungry,” he added, “supposing we adjourn to
some place that’s warmer than out here in the snow, and better suited
for making acquaintances.”

“All right,” replied Mr. Platt Riley, who, possessed of a keen sense
of humor, was disposed to prolong the farce that promised so much
entertainment. “We don’t know much about Goldollars ourselves, but
we’ll try and teach you all we do know, and at the same time put you in
the way of meeting acquaintances. As you say, though, this is a cold
place for talking, so I suppose you might as well come up to my select
family boarding-house for the night, seeing as it ain’t overcrowded
just at present. Then in the morning we’ll look round for a place
that’ll suit you better.”

So the new-comer walked away with Mr. Platt Riley, while the spectators
of this interesting meeting chuckled and winked significantly, poked
each other in the ribs, and remarked:

“Ain’t the jedge a honey-cooler, though? He ain’t the kind that’ll hang
a man first and try him afterwards. Not much; that ain’t his style.
Fair play’s his motter, and turn the rascals out every time.”

It is needless to say that during the interview just described Phil,
Serge, and Jalap kept themselves out of sight; nor had any one let fall
an intimation of their presence in the camp.

All that evening a constant stream of visitors flowed in and out of
Mr. Platt Riley’s cabin. Each wore an expression of expectancy and
suppressed mirth, and each bowed gravely, without trusting himself to
speak, when introduced to Mr. “Bradwick.” It was also to be noticed
that none of them shook hands with him. When he complained of this to
his host he was gravely informed that hand-shaking was not one of the
customs of the camp. All the visitors listened with great interest to
his glib talk of the Porcupine and of other regions to the eastward,
while some even went so far as to express regret that he had not met
their friend Goldollar.

He always turned the conversation at this point; nor did he again refer
to the name of his dead friend that had confronted him on the sign of
the Yukon Trading Company. At the same time it caused him a great deal
of uneasiness, and led him to think seriously of shortening his stay in
the camp to a single night.

When he, in turn, inquired about the prospects of the diggings, and
learned that most claims had to be stripped of frozen moss and thawed
out before they could be worked, he declared that he’d see the whole
country and its gold in Jericho before he’d strip moss, which he
denounced as work only fit for “Injuns” and convicts.

On the whole, his impressions of Camp Forty Mile were so unpleasant
that he fully determined to get his dog teams in motion the very next
day, and push on farther up the river. It was only upon the urgent
request of Mr. Platt Riley that he consented to delay his departure
long enough to attend a public meeting of the greatest interest to all
Yukon miners, that was to be held the first thing in the morning.



CHAPTER XXIII

LAW IN THE GOLD DIGGINGS


The latest comer to Camp Forty Mile was not particularly anxious
to attend the public meeting to which he was invited by Mr. Platt
Riley. Still he thought it better to do so rather than run the risk
of offending his host, who was evidently a man of influence in the
diggings. His overnight reflections having convinced him that this camp
was not such a place as he had expected, and also that he might find
greater safety elsewhere, his first act in the morning was to order his
Indian drivers to harness the dogs and be prepared for a start within
an hour.

Kurilla, who was with them under instructions not to lose sight of
them, grinned when he heard this, for he had picked up an inkling of
what was going on, and felt pretty certain that the order need not be
obeyed.

When Mr. Riley’s reluctant guest entered the store of the Yukon Trading
Company, in which, on account of its size, the meeting was to be held,
he fully intended to take a back seat and slip out as soon as he could
do so unnoticed. The place was so filled with miners, however, that
there were no back seats, and, to his surprise, the crowd pressed aside
as he and Mr. Riley entered, so as to leave a passage to the farther
end of the room. A moment later, without knowing just how it had been
done, he found himself seated beside Jalap Coombs’s friend, Skiff
Bettens, who obligingly made a place for him. He noticed, with some
curiosity, that twelve men were seated on benches directly opposite to
him, while all the rest of the crowd were standing. Between him and
these men was an open space, at the upper end of which were a table and
a chair raised on a rude platform.

To this platform Mr. Platt Riley made his way, and seating himself in
the chair, rapped on the table for silence. Then rising, he said:

“Gentlemen of the jury and fellow-citizens,――This court is now open for
business, and I as its judge, elected by your votes, am prepared to
administer justice in accordance with your laws and such verdicts as
may be rendered by your jury.”

“It is a court,” thought Strengel, with a shiver.

“The case to be tried this morning,” continued the judge, “is one that
touches the pocket, the life, and the honor of every miner in the Yukon
Valley, for the prisoner at the bar is indicted on three separate
counts as a thief, a murderer, and an unmitigated scoundrel. He has
come into our camp under a false name and with a false story, after
having attempted the destruction of a steamer that is bringing goods
and machinery of which we are greatly in need.

“He is charged with robbing and leaving helpless in the wilderness a
man whom we all know and respect, and also with robbing and deserting
while seriously ill his own companion, who was on his way to visit us
in behalf of our old-established trading company.”

Strengel listened to these terrible words with an ever-increasing
paleness and visible agitation. Finally, clapping a hand to his face,
as though seized with a sudden illness, he started to rise and leave
the room.

“Sit down,” ordered Skiff Bettens in a low tone, at the same time
jerking him back to his seat. Then the man knew that he was indeed a
prisoner.

“To prove these serious charges,” continued the judge, “I am about to
call several witnesses. At the same time the prisoner will be given the
privilege of cross-questioning them, and of pleading in his own behalf.
Mr. Philip Ryder.”

At this summons Phil advanced from the farther end of the room, and the
prisoner regarded him with undisguised amazement.

After answering the usual questions regarding his personality and
business, Phil was asked if he knew the prisoner.

“I do,” he answered.

“What is his name?”

“I understand that he now calls himself Bradwick, but a few months ago
he went by the name of Strengel.”

“That’s a lie!” shouted the prisoner, hoarsely.

[Illustration: “THAT’S A LIE!” SHOUTED THE PRISONER, HOARSELY]

“Silence!” commanded the judge. “Now Mr. Ryder, tell the jury what you
know concerning the accused from the time of your first meeting with
him up to the present.”

This Phil did as briefly as possible, and when he had finished the
prisoner sprang to his feet, his face black with rage, and exclaimed:
“Why should this fellow’s story be believed rather than mine? Who knows
anything about him, or even who he is? He was picked up in Bering Sea,
drifting about in a stolen canoe. At St. Michaels he was known as a
thief and a brawler. I happen to know that he has been locked up in a
Victoria police-station, and I demand that his evidence be thrown out.”

“That will do, sir,” said the judge. “I happen to know this young man
and his family so well that I am willing to vouch for him if necessary.
Do you wish to question him? No? Then we will proceed. Mr. Serge
Belcofsky.”

Serge, of course, identified the prisoner as Strengel, and corroborated
Phil’s story in every detail.

“This ends the testimony on the first charge,” announced the judge when
Serge had finished, and the prisoner sullenly declined to question him.
“In proof of the second charge, that of robbery and desertion, I call
as witness Mr. Jalap Coombs.”

As the ex-mate of the _Seamew_ advanced to the stand the prisoner
stared at him as though he were a ghost, nor could he imagine by what
miracle this witness had reached Forty Mile in time to appear against
him.

Jalap Coombs told his story in his own picturesque language, but in a
perfectly straightforward manner, and without the slightest hesitation.

When he finished, the judge questioned him very closely as to the
amount of money given him by Mr. John Ryder, and the prices paid for
various articles of his outfit at St. Michaels.

As a defence against this charge the prisoner claimed that Jalap
Coombs had not been deserted by Simon Goldollar and himself, but had
voluntarily turned back, and that the dogs they had left with him had
run away to follow them much against their wishes. He also stated that
they had taken the dogs and sledge back to the place where they last
saw Jalap Coombs, but that they could not find him.

“They were not his dogs, anyway, judge,” he continued, “nor did he
furnish any of our outfit except a few provisions, most of which he
traded to the Indians on his own account. This man Coombs was a sailor,
supposed to be a deserter from some ship, and was loafing around St.
Michaels half starved when we picked him up. He claimed to have some
friends on the river who would help him, and so we brought him along
out of charity.”

“May I toot a horn, jedge?” asked Mr. Skiff Bettens, rising as the
prisoner concluded his remarks.

“Certainly you may, marshal.”

“Waal, I only wanted to say that I’ve knowed Mr. Jalap Coombs off and
on for a good many years, and in all that time I’ve never knowed him to
tell a lie nor yet do a mean thing. Moreover, I’m willing to stake my
pile on his honesty agin that of any living man, for a better sailor, a
squarer man, and a truer friend never trod a deck.”

This sincere tribute so affected the simple-hearted sailor-man that he
could only stare open-mouthed at the speaker, as though he were talking
in some mysterious language, though in after-years he often referred to
this as the proudest moment of his life. The remainder of the audience
greeted the marshal’s little speech with an outburst of applause, which
the judge was finally obliged to check.

“Letting charge number two rest with the testimony taken,” said the
judge, when quiet was restored, “we will take up charge number three,
which is the most serious of all. We have already learned that the
accused, under the name of Strengel, passed old Fort Adams about a
month ago, bound for this place in company with a man named Goldollar,
who appears to be a pretty tough character himself, though that of
course has nothing to do with this case. The accused at that time had
little or nothing of his own, either in the way of money or outfit,
while Goldollar appears to have been well fixed with both. Now this
man turns up in this place alone under the name of Bradwick, telling
a story about having come from up the Porcupine that he has since
admitted to be false, and in possession of the outfit formerly owned by
Mr. Coombs and Simon Goldollar. Of course, under the circumstances, the
question naturally to be asked is, what has become of Goldollar?”

“He got sick of the trip and turned back from Yukon,” explained the
prisoner, sulkily.

“Yes, we’ve heard he took sick,” replied the judge; “but whether he
turned back or was left to die in an Indian rancheria is another
question. Mr. Coombs, will you please take the stand again?”

This time Jalap Coombs testified that he had carefully examined the
outfit brought into camp the night before by the prisoner, and found
it to contain the same number of sledges, the same number of dogs, and
the identical articles, with the exception of a certain quantity of
provisions, that had composed it at old Fort Adams.

“We will now call on one other witness,” announced the judge, and the
prisoner started as though he expected to see Simon Goldollar himself
appear on the stand. What he did see was one of his own native drivers
from Fort Yukon, with Kurilla to act as interpreter.

“Do you admit Injun testimony in this court?” he asked, disgustedly.

“Certainly we do,” replied the judge.

“If I’d known that,” he muttered, “I’d have bought a dozen or so to
testify on my side.”

The Indian’s testimony was to the effect that this white man had left
another white man in a native hut at Fort Yukon so sick that all the
Indians thought he would die.

“Of course I can’t buck agin Injun testimony,” growled the prisoner;
“but I say it’s a lie, all the same, and don’t prove nothing.”

“There is one thing that we must not neglect,” said the judge.
“Marshall, you may search the prisoner.”

The latter struggled furiously, but was overpowered and held by strong
hands while the marshall searched his pockets. From these were produced
a number of articles, including a wallet, which the judge opened,
spreading its contents on the table before him.

“Do you recognize anything here?” he asked of Jalap Coombs.

“I can identify this as having been in Goldollar’s possession,”
answered the mate, picking up one of the articles that had dropped from
the wallet, and holding it so that all might see.

Both Phil and Serge uttered exclamations of amazement, for the object
thus exhibited was nothing more nor less than the mysteriously carved
and almost forgotten fur-seal’s tooth that had already exerted so great
an influence upon their fortunes.



CHAPTER XXIV

REAPPEARANCE OF THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH


“What do you know about this thing?” asked the judge of Jalap Coombs,
taking the fur-seal’s tooth from him and examining it curiously.

“I know that there were an old Eskimo at St. Michaels what were shipped
by Goldollar to go with us to Nulato as dog-driver. He wore this bit
of ivory hung about his neck, and seemed to set a heap by it. One
time when he were looking at it I heerd Goldollar say that by rights
it belonged to him, seeing as he got it from some natyve, and it were
afterwards stole from him. He didn’t say nothing to the Husky about
it, but when we got to Nulato he give him so much liquor that in the
morning the old chap couldn’t be woke up. Goldollar fooled round him a
while, and then saying he’d have to give up the job of waking him, left
him, and ordered the teams to pull out. I afterwards seen Goldollar
take that very identical tooth outen his pocket several times and look
at it like it were a diamond or some sich, and heerd him tell Strengel
that any man as owned it would surely have luck. It didn’t seem to
bring him none, though. Leastways no good luck, for he hain’t had
nothing but bad luck sence.”

“Was it your impression that you could win good luck by stealing this
tooth?” inquired the judge of Strengel.

“I didn’t steal it,” answered the prisoner, sullenly.

“How did you get it, then?”

“Goldollar give it to me.”

“Where did you leave Goldollar?”

“At Fort Yukon.”

“Was he in good health when you last saw him?”

“I refuse to answer any more questions,” replied the prisoner, suddenly
realizing how deeply he was committing himself.

“Very well,” said the judge. “I think you have already told enough to
give us a pretty fair idea of the particular kind of a scoundrel you
are. So, if you have nothing more to say, I declare this case closed
and in the hands of the jury. Gentlemen, the court awaits your verdict.”

As there was no room to which the jury could retire, they put their
heads together and consulted in whispers, during which time Phil told
the judge what he knew about the fur-seal’s tooth, together with the
legend of good and bad luck supposed to accompany its possession. The
spectators of the trial buzzed like a swarm of angry hornets, and cast
wrathful glances at the prisoner who had just been proved so worthy of
their contempt.

In a few minutes the jury ended their conference and resumed their
places. Then, as order was restored, the foreman, standing up,
announced that they were unanimous in finding the prisoner guilty on
all three of the charges preferred against him, and recommended that he
be so punished as to afford a warning to others of his kind who might
be contemplating a visit to the Yukon diggings.

“Hang him!” cried some one in the crowd.

“Shoot him!” shouted another.

“Drive him out of camp, and set him adrift like he done to Jalap
Coombs,” suggested a third.

“Silence!” roared Judge Platt Riley, standing in his place and gazing
sternly about him. “You forget, gentlemen, that this is a court of
law, and though maybe it isn’t run with all the frills of some, it’s
bound to be respected. Likewise, it proposes to pronounce its own
decisions. In regard to the prisoner now awaiting sentence, he has
been proved by the testimony of reputable witnesses, and by his own
admissions, to be a liar, a traitor, a dog-stealer, which in this
country is the same as a hoss-thief in the States, and a robber of his
travelling companion under circumstances that make him at the same time
come pretty near to being a murderer. For such as he hanging would be
none too severe. But we have never yet hanged a man in Forty Mile, and
we don’t want to begin if we can help it. The prisoner has expressed a
desire to learn something of our methods of working these diggings, and
we promised to teach him. He has also remarked that moss-stripping was
a job well suited to convicts. So be it. Prisoner at the bar, stand up
and receive your sentence.”

When the wretched man, who had fancied himself in a country where he
could commit any crime without fear of punishment, had been assisted to
his feet by Marshal Bettens and a volunteer deputy, the judge said:

“By a fair trial, according to Yukon law, you are convicted of crimes
such as this community does not allow to go unpunished. On account of
them you are hereby sentenced to strip moss from the several claims of
this camp during every working-hour of every working-day from now until
such time as the first steamer reaches here from the lower river and is
ready to return. Then you will be allowed to work your way on her to
St. Michaels, where may the agent have mercy upon you.

“In the meantime, when not at work, you will be closely confined in the
camp lock-up, under guard of the marshal, who shall be entitled to your
services for two days in every week for his trouble. On other days he
will hire you out to any miner who has moss to be stripped, and who
will pay for your keep during such time as you may work for him.”

This unique but just sentence was greeted with a murmur of approval
from the spectators; but this was quickly silenced by a frown from the
judge, who continued:

“All the property that you brought into this camp, including money and
outfit, excepting your personal clothing, is hereby confiscated, to be
disposed of as follows: One team of dogs, one sledge, and half the cash
found in your possession shall be restored to Mr. Jalap Coombs, from
whom you helped to steal them. The remainder of the money, after the
Indian drivers who came with you have been paid, and one dog team shall
be devoted to the relief of Simon Goldollar, who, though he seems to
be a pretty bad lot, is still a white man, and so must not be allowed
to perish if it can be helped. The third dog team shall become the
property of Marshal Bettens in place of a fee for his services. The
remainder of the property, provisions, and so forth, shall be devoted
to the support of the prisoner during such times as he is working for
the marshal. Mr. Bettens will now remove his prisoner, and I hereby
declare this court adjourned.”

This triumph of the law and Judge Riley’s decision gave such universal
satisfaction to the spectators of that trial that they yelled with
delight as they poured from the court-room door. They congratulated one
another on the perfection of their home-made code, and the promptness
with which its provisions were dealt out to evil-doers.

From that day on every man in camp exhibited such a lively interest in
the moss-stripping operations of Mr. Bradwick-Strengel that many times
when, thinking himself unobserved, he attempted to shirk his work he
was roused to renewed industry by the playful pop of a gun, and the
warning note of a bullet in close proximity to his place of business.
Thus was he given such ample experience of gold-mining on the Yukon
that when, some months later, a boat arrived from the lower river, he
thankfully departed from Camp Forty Mile, mentally vowing never to
return.

After consulting with Phil, Serge, and Jalap Coombs, Mr. Platt Riley,
who objected to being called “judge” outside of court, decided to
intrust Simon Goldollar’s rescue from the Indian village in which he
had been left to Kurilla and Chitsah, who were persuaded by a liberal
payment to return home that way. Another Indian was hired to accompany
them as far as Fort Yukon, and bring back word to Forty Mile of their
success. If they found him alive and able to travel, they were to carry
him with them to Anvik.

Phil wrote and sent him a letter, in which he apologized for having
accused him of stealing his money or the fur-seal’s tooth, Jalap Coombs
having told him the facts concerning these things, and hoped he would
return to St. Michaels in safety. Long afterwards he learned that
Simon Goldollar did make his way down the river, aided by Kurilla and
Chitsah, and was sent on by Gerald Hamer from Anvik to St. Michaels.
There he was discharged from the company’s employ on account of the
failure of his expedition, and finally left Alaska in the same ship
that bore ex-convict Strengel from its shores. An amusing feature of
it all was that both these rascals attributed the ill success of their
undertakings to the unlucky influence of the fur-seal’s tooth.

This industrious bit of ivory, which exhibited such a fondness for
interfering with the affairs of men and boys, as well as such activity
in rapid travel and change of ownership, reposed for several days in
Mr. Platt Riley’s vest-pocket, where it had been unconsciously thrust
and forgotten. Finally, tired of being thus neglected, it worked a hole
through the pocket and fell to the floor. From there it was snapped
up by Mr. Riley’s favorite dog, who lay at his feet, and doubtless
imagined it to be a choice morsel provided for him by his indulgent
master. A moment later the judge was aroused from a reverie by the
frantic struggles of his dog, who seemed on the point of strangulation.
When he succeeded, by prompt effort, in removing the obstruction from
the animal’s throat, and, with a feeling of superstitious amazement,
discovered its nature, he started at once for the store of the Yukon
Trading Company, determined to be rid of the uncanny object as quickly
as possible.

It so happened that none of the three occupants of the premises
was at home, nor were they to be seen in any direction. They had
been preparing for departure, and many articles ready for packing
on the sledges lay scattered about the room. Among these was a fur
sleeping-bag, on which Mr. Riley’s eye no sooner rested than he thrust
the magic tooth into it and shook it to the very bottom.

“There!” he exclaimed, “they are sure to take it with them; one of them
will find it sooner or later, and maybe it will bring him good luck. At
any rate, I hope it will.”

It was now the month of February, and high time for our travellers to
be on their way if they wished to have snow to the end of their sledge
journey. Phil had made most satisfactory business arrangements for
Gerald Hamer, had sent that gentleman a long report of their progress
to date by Kurilla, who also bore letters from himself and Serge to
their kind friends at Anvik, and was now impatient to push forward.

So on the morning of the 5th of February, although the thermometer
registered forty-eight degrees below zero, the little party set forth
from Forty Mile with three sledges and seventeen dogs. Above the first
sledge fluttered a small flag, on which appeared the magic letters “U.
S. M.,” signifying that Phil had undertaken to deliver on the coast a
large packet of letters, the first mail ever sent out from Forty Mile
in winter.

The entire population of the camp was assembled to see them off; and
amid sincere expressions of good-will, a round of hearty cheers, and a
ringing volley the sledges dashed away up the Yukon, with seven hundred
miles of their journey still to be accomplished.



CHAPTER XXV

SERGE DISCOVERS A CURIOUS CAVERN


At the point where our travellers had again struck the Yukon, nearly
fifteen hundred miles from its mouth, it was still a mighty stream two
miles wide. Above this they found it bounded on both sides by mountains
that often approached to its very waters, where, in sheer precipices
hundreds of feet high, they form gigantic palisades similar to those of
the Hudson, which are known as the “Upper Ramparts.” On the lower river
the sledge party had journeyed over a smooth surface, offering but few
obstructions. Their course from Anvik had at first been due north, then
northeast, then east, and was now due south, the source of the Yukon
towards which they were travelling being some ten degrees south of its
great arctic bend.

Owing to this they now found themselves confronted by the hardest kind
of sledging over rough, hummocky ice that was often piled in chaotic
ridges twenty and thirty feet high. As the river freezes first at its
most northerly point, and this belt of solid ice is gradually extended
south, or back towards its source, the floating cakes of its upper
reaches, borne by the swift current, are piled on the ever-advancing
barrier in confused masses that stretch across the river like windrows.

In the spring, when the ice breaks up and is hurled irresistibly down
stream on the swollen current, the same effect is reproduced on a
vastly increased scale. Then the upper river breaks first, and a sudden
rise of water from some great tributary starts the ice over the still
solid barrier below. The huge cakes slide, jam, push, and crash over
the still unbroken ice sheet, until they are piled in a vast gleaming
mass seventy or eighty feet in height, from a quarter of a mile to one
mile in length, and extending from bank to bank.

This mighty gorge must give way at length, and when it does it goes
with a roaring fury that is terrifying and grand beyond description.
After grinding and tearing onward for several miles, or perhaps less
than one, the furious impulse is again checked by another solid
barrier, which must in turn be broken down and swept away, its added
weight giving increased energy to the mighty force.

So the ice crashes its resistless way down the whole Yukon Valley to
Bering Sea, two thousand miles distant, sweeping everything before
it, mowing down vast areas of forest, submerging islands, tearing
out banks, and leaving everywhere traces of its terrible progress in
the shape of huge ice cakes, weighing many tons, stranded high above
ordinary water-level.

Although Phil Ryder and his companions were not to witness this grand
exhibition of one of nature’s mightiest forces, they were sadly
inconvenienced and delayed by the uncomfortable fashion in which their
frozen highway had been constructed some months earlier. If they could
have left the river and followed along its banks they would have done
so; but this was out of the question, not only on account of their
rugged character, but because on their timbered portions the snow lay
many feet in depth, while from the river it had been so blown by strong
north winds that for long stretches the ice was barely covered. This
enabled the sledge men to walk without snow-shoes, which was a great
comfort to all three, but especially to Jalap Coombs, who had not yet
learned to use the netted frames with “ease and fluency,” as Phil said.

To this light-hearted youth the sight of his sailor friend wrestling
with the difficulties of inland navigation as practised in arctic
regions afforded a never-failing source of mirth. A single glance at
Jalap’s lank figure enveloped in furs, with his weather-beaten face
peering from the recesses of a hair-fringed hood, was enough at any
time to make Phil laugh. Jalap on snow-shoes that, in spite of all his
efforts, would slide in every direction but the one desired, and Jalap
gazing at a frosty world through a pair of wooden snow-goggles, were
sights that even sober-sided Serge found humorous.

But funniest of all was to see Jalap drive a dog team. This he was
now obliged to do, for, while they still had three sledges, they had
been unable to procure any Indians at Forty Mile to take the places of
Kurilla and Chitsah. So while Phil, who was now an expert in the art
of dog-driving, and could handle a six-yard whip like a native, took
turns with Serge in breaking the road, Jalap was always allowed to
bring up the rear. His dogs had nothing to fear from the whip, except,
indeed, when it tripped him up so that he fell on top of them, but they
cringed and whined beneath the torrent of incomprehensible sea terms
incessantly poured forth by the strange master, who talked to them as
though they were so many lubberly sailors.

“Port your hellum! Hard a-port!” he would roar to the accompaniment
of flying chunks of ice that he could throw with amazing certainty of
aim. Then, “Steady! So! Start a sheet and give her a rap full. Now
keep her so! Keep her so! D’ye hear? Let her fall off a fraction of
a p’int and I’ll rake ye fore and aft. Now, then, bullies, pull all
together. Yo-ho, _heave_! No sojering! Ah, you will, will ye, ye furry
sea-cook! Then take that, and stow it in your bread-locker. Shake your
hay-seed and climb――_climb_, I tell ye! Avast heaving!” And so on,
hour after hour, while the dogs would jump and pull and tangle their
“running-rigging,” as Jalap named the trace-thongs, and the two boys
would shout with laughter.

But while the journey thus furnished something of merriment, it was
also filled with tribulations. So bitter was the cold that their
bloodless lips were often too stiff for laughter or even for speech. So
rough was the way that they rarely made more than eight or ten miles
in a day of exhausting labor. Several dogs broke their legs amid the
chaotic ice blocks of the ever-recurring ridges, and had to be shot.
Along the palisaded Ramparts it was difficult to find timbered places
in which to camp. Their dog feed was running low, and there was none
to be had in the wretched native villages that they passed at long
intervals.

At length the setting sun of one evening found them at a point where
the river, narrowed to a few hundred yards, was bounded on one side
by a lofty precipice of rock, and on the other by a steeply sloping
bank that, devoid of timber, seemed to descend from an open plateau.
They halted beside a single log of drift that, half embedded in ice,
was the only available bit of firewood in sight. It was a bleak and
bitter place in which to spend an arctic night, and they shivered in
anticipation of what they were to suffer during its long hours.

“I am going to climb to the top of the bank,” said Serge, “and see if I
can’t find some more wood. If I do, I’ll roll it down; so look out!”

Suiting his action to his words, the active lad started with a run that
carried him a few yards up the steep ascent. It was so abrupt that he
was on the point of sliding back, and dug his feet sharply into the
snow to secure a hold. At the same instant he uttered a cry, threw up
his arms, and dropped from the sight of his astonished companions as
though he had fallen down a well.

Before they could make a move towards his rescue, they were more
astounded than ever to hear his voice, somewhat muffled, but apparently
close beside them.

“I’m all right!” he cried, cheerily. “That is, I think I am, and I
believe I can cut my way out. Don’t try to climb the bank. Just wait a
minute.”

Then the bank began to tremble as though shaken by a gentle earthquake,
and suddenly a hand clutching a knife shot out from it so close to
Jalap Coombs that the startled sailor leaped back to avoid it, stumbled
over a sledge, and plunged headlong among his own team of dogs, who
were lying in the snow beyond, patiently waiting to be unharnessed. By
the time the yelling, howling mass of man and dogs was disentangled
and separated, Serge had emerged from the mysterious bank, and stood
looking as though he did not quite understand what had happened. Behind
him was a black opening into which Phil was peering with the liveliest
curiosity.

“Of all the miracles I ever heard of, this is the strangest!” he cried.
“What does it mean, old man?”

“I don’t exactly know,” answered Serge. “But I rather think it is a
moss blanket. Anyhow, that’s an elegant place to crawl into out of the
cold. Seems to be plenty of wood, too.”

Serge was right in his conjecture. What appeared to be the river-bank
was merely a curtain of tough, closely compacted Alaskan moss, closely
resembling peat in its structure, one foot thick, and reaching from
the crest of an overhanging bank to the edge of the river. It had
thus held together, and fallen to its present position when the river
undermined and swept away the earth from beneath it. That it presented
a sloping surface instead of hanging perpendicularly was owing to a
great number of timbers, the ends of which projected from the excavated
bank behind it. Serge had broken through the moss curtain, fallen
between these timbers to the beach, and then cut his way out. Now, as
he suggested, what better camping-place could they ask than the warm,
dry, moss-enclosed space from which he had just emerged?

“I never saw nor heard of anything so particularly and awfully jolly in
all my life,” pronounced Phil, after the three travellers had entered
this unique cavern, and started a fire by which they were enabled to
see something of its strange interior. “And, I say, Serge, what a
thoughtful scheme it was on your part to provide a chimney for the fire
before you lighted it! See how the smoke draws up? If it wasn’t for
that hole in the roof I am afraid we should be driven out of here in
short order. But, hello, old man! Whew-w! what are you throwing bones
on the fire for? It reminds me of your brimstone-and-feather experiment
on Oonimak.”

“Bones!” repeated Serge, in surprise. “Are those bones? I thought they
were dry sticks.”

“I should say they were bones!” cried Phil, snatching a couple of the
offending objects from the fire. “And, sure as I live, this log I am
sitting on is a bone, too. Why, it’s bigger than I am. It begins to
look as though this place were some sort of a tomb. But there’s plenty
of wood. Let’s throw on some more and light up.”

“Toughest wood to cut I ever see,” growled Jalap Coombs, who was
hacking away at another half-buried log. “’Pears to be brittle, though,
and splits easy,” he added, dodging a sliver that broke off and flew
by his head.

“Hold on!” cried Phil, picking up the sliver. “You’ll ruin the axe.
That’s another bone you’re chopping. This place is a regular giants’
cemetery.”



CHAPTER XXVI

CAMPING ’MID PREHISTORIC BONES


So strange and uncanny was the place in which our sledge party thus
unexpectedly found themselves that Phil was for exploring it and
attempting to determine its true character at once; but practical Serge
persuaded him to wait until they had performed their regular evening
duties and eaten supper. “After that,” he said, “we can explore all
night if we choose.”

So Phil turned his attention to the dogs, which he unharnessed and fed,
while Serge prepared supper, and Jalap Coombs gathered a supply of
firewood from the bleached timber ends projecting from the bank behind
them. He tested each of these before cutting into it to make certain
that it was not a bone, quantities of which were mingled with the
timber.

The firewood that he thus collected exhibited several puzzling
peculiarities. To begin with, it was so very tough and thoroughly
lifeless that, as Jalap Coombs remarked, he didn’t know but what bones
would cut just as easy. When laid on the fire it was slow to ignite,
and finally only smouldered, giving out little light, but yielding a
great heat. As Serge said, it made one of the poorest fires to see by
and one of the best to cook over that he had ever known.

Although in all their experience they had never enjoyed a more
comfortable and thoroughly protected camping-place than this one, the
lack of their usual cheerful blaze and their mysterious surroundings
created a feeling of depression that caused them to eat supper in
unusual silence. At its conclusion Serge picked up a freshly cut bit of
the wood, and, holding it in as good a light as he could get, examined
it closely.

“I never saw nor heard of any wood like this in all Alaska,” he said at
length. “Do you suppose this can be part of a buried forest that grew
perhaps thousands of years ago?”

“I believe that’s exactly what it is,” replied Phil. “I expect it was
some awfully prehistoric forest that was blown down by a prehistoric
cyclone, and got covered with mud somehow, and was just beginning to
turn into coal when the ice age set in. Thus it has been preserved in
cold storage ever since. It must have grown in one of the ages that
one always likes to hear of, but hates to study about――a palæozoic or
silurian or post-tertiary, or one of those times. At any rate, I expect
it was a tropical forest, for they all were in those days.”

“Then like as not these here is elephants’ bones,” remarked Jalap
Coombs. “I were jest thinking as how this one had a look of ivory about
it.”

“They may be,” assented Phil, dubiously, “but they must have belonged
to pretty huge old elephants; for I don’t believe Jumbo’s bones
would look like more than toothpicks alongside some of these. It is
more likely that they belonged to hairy mammoths, or mastodons, or
megatheriums, or plessiosauruses, or fellows like that.”

“I don’t know as I ever met up with any of them, nor yet heerd tell
of ’em,” replied Jalap Coombs, simply, “onless what you’ve jest said
is the Latin names of rhinocerosses or hoponthomases or giraffles, of
which my old friend Kite Roberson useter speak quite frequent. He allus
said consarning ’em, though, that they’d best be let alone, for lions
nor yet taggers warn’t a sarcumstance to ’em. Now ef these here bones
belonged to any sich critters as them, he sartainly knowed what he were
talking about, and I for one are well pleased that they all went dead
afore we hove in sight.”

“I don’t know but what I am too,” assented Phil, “for at close range
I expect it would be safer to meet one of Mr. Robinson’s taggers.
Still, I would like to have seen them from a safe place, like the top
of Groton Monument or behind the bars of a bank vault. Where are you
going, Serge?”

“Going for some wood that isn’t quite so prehistoric and that will
blaze,” answered the other lad, who had picked up an axe and was
stepping towards the entrance to the cavern.

“That’s a scheme! Come on, Mr. Coombs. Let’s help him tackle that
up-to-date log outside, and see if we can’t get a modern illumination
out of it,” suggested Phil.

So they chopped vigorously at the ice-bound drift-log that had induced
them to halt at that point, and half an hour later the gloom of their
cavern was dispelled by a roaring, snapping, up-to-date blaze. By its
cheerful light they examined with intense interest the great fossil
bones that, in various stages of preservation, lay scattered about them.

“I should think a whole herd of mammoths must have perished at once,”
said Phil. “Probably they were being hunted by some antediluvian Siwash
and got bogged in a quicksand. How I wish we could see a whole one!
But, great Scott! now we have gone and done it!”

Phil’s final exclamation was caused by a crackling sound overhead.
The sloping moss roof had caught fire from the leaping blaze, and
for a moment the dismayed spectators of this catastrophe imagined
that their snug camping-place was about to be destroyed. They quickly
saw, however, that the body of the moss was not burning; it was too
thoroughly permeated with ice for that, and that the fire was only
flashing over its dry under surface.

As they watched these fitful flames running along the roof and
illuminating remote recesses of the cavern, all three suddenly uttered
cries of amazement, and each called the attention of the others to
the most wonderful sight he had ever seen. Brilliantly lighted and
distinctly outlined against the dark background of a clay bank, that
held it intact, was a gigantic skeleton complete in every detail, even
to a huge tusk that curved outward from a massive skull. For a single
minute they gazed in breathless awe. Then the illuminating flame died
out, and like a dissolving picture the vast outline slowly faded from
view and was lost in the blackness.

[Illustration: FOR A SINGLE MINUTE THEY GAZED IN BREATHLESS AWE]

“Was that one of ’em?” gasped Jalap Coombs.

“I expect it was,” answered Phil.

“Waal, then, old Kite didn’t make no mistake when he said a tagger
warn’t a sarcumstance.”

“It must have been all of twenty feet high,” remarked Serge,
reflectively.

For more than an hour they talked of the wonderful sight, and Phil told
what he could remember of the gigantic hairy mammoth discovered frozen
in a Siberian glacier, and so perfectly preserved that sledge-dogs were
fed for weeks on its flesh.

As they talked their fire burned low, and the outside cold creeping
stealthily into camp turned their thoughts to fur-lined sleeping-bags.
So they slept, and dreamed of prehistoric monsters; while Musky,
Luvtuk, Amook, and their comrades restlessly sniffed and gnawed at the
ancient bones of this strange encampment, and wondered at finding
them so void of flavor.

Glad as our sledge travellers would have been to linger for days and
fully explore the mysteries of that great moss-hidden cavern, they
dared not take the necessary time. It was already two weeks since they
had left the mining camp, winter was waning, and they must leave the
river ere spring destroyed its icy highway. So they were off again with
the first gray light of morning, and two days later found them at the
mouth of the Pelly River, the upper Yukon’s largest tributary, and two
hundred and fifteen miles from Forty Mile.

The last half of this distance had been traversed amid scenes of the
same stupendous grandeur that attracts thousands of tourists to the
Yosemite and Yellowstone. But our travellers only shuddered at its
wind-swept silence and terrible loneliness. The latter was increased
by the melancholy ruins of old Fort Selkirk, whose three gaunt
chimneys still stand, about one mile below the mouth of the Pelly, on
the opposite side of the Yukon. That evening in the snug quarters of
Harper, the Pelly River trader, who was the last white man they could
hope to meet before reaching the coast, they listened to the story of
Fort Selkirk.

It was established in 1850 by the Hudson Bay Company, and was their
remotest post. So far removed was it from the base of supplies that
goods destined for it were two full years in making the journey from
London by ship and across the great northern wilderness by river and
portage. Previous to that time the Indian trade of the Yukon valley
had been monopolized by the Chilkats, wealthiest, most enterprising,
and most warlike of Alaskan natives. Securing goods from the Russians
at Sitka, they would carry them to their distant villages in canoes,
and transport them across the mountains to Yukon head-waters on their
backs. There they would be met by the interior Indians, whom they never
allowed to visit the coast.

The Chilkats were shrewd enough to reap enormous profits from this
trade, and to fully appreciate its value. As soon, therefore, as they
learned of the establishment of Fort Selkirk, and realized that it
meant the overthrow of their lucrative business, they resorted to the
only method of trade competition of which they had any knowledge. They
organized a war party, crossed the mountains, descended the Yukon
nearly five hundred miles, and wiped Fort Selkirk out of existence,
seizing its goods in payment for their trouble.

From the Pelly River trader our travellers gained much valuable
information concerning the routes they might pursue and the difficulties
they had yet to encounter. They had indeed heard vaguely of the great
cañon of the Yukon, through which the mad waters are poured with such
fury that they can never freeze, of the rocky Five Fingers that obstruct
its channel, the Rink and White Horse rapids, and the turbulent open
streams connecting its upper chain of lakes; but until this time they
had given these dangers little thought. Now they became real, while some
of them, according to the trader, were impassable save by weary détours
through dense forests and deep snows that they feared would delay them
beyond the time of the river’s breaking up.

“What, then, can we do?” asked Phil.

“I’ll tell you,” replied the trader. “Leave the Yukon at this point, go
about fifty miles up the Pelly, and turn to your right into the Fox.
Ascend this to its head, cross Fox Lake, Indian Trail Lake, Lost Lake,
and three other small lakes. Then go down a creek that empties into
the Little Salmon, and a few miles down that river to the Yukon. In
this way you will have avoided the Five Fingers and the Rink Rapids,
and found good ice all the way. After that keep on up the main river
till you pass Lake Le Barge. There again leave the Yukon, this time
for good, by the first stream that flows in on your right. It is the
Tahkeena, and will lead you to the Chilkat Pass, which is somewhat
longer, but no worse than the Chilkoot. Thus you will avoid most of the
rough ice, the great cañon, and all the rapids.”

“But we shall surely get lost,” objected Phil.

“Not if you can hire Cree Jim, who lives somewhere up on the Fox River,
to go with you, for he is the best guide in the country.”

So the next morning Phil and his companions again set forth, this time
up the Pelly River, with all their hopes for safety and a successful
termination to their journey centred upon the finding and hiring of
Cree Jim, the guide.



CHAPTER XXVII

LOST IN THE FOREST


It was not difficult to find the Fox River, for it was the first stream
flowing into the Pelly on the right, and as the ice in the latter river
was much smoother than it had been on the Yukon, our sledge travellers
turned into it on the second day after leaving Harper’s.

“Now,” said Phil, “we must keep a sharp lookout for Cree Jim’s cabin;
for as no one seems to know exactly where it is located, we may find it
anywhere between here and the head of the stream. At any rate, we can’t
afford to miss it.”

They did miss it though, and, after camping one night on the river,
reached its head in a lake that they knew must be the Fox. Although the
day was but half spent, Phil decided to camp at that point.

“You and I, Serge,” he said, “must go back down the river, one on each
side, making long détours away from it, in hopes of finding either
the cabin or some trail leading to it. At the same time we must keep
a sharp lookout for game. Anything from a bear to a rabbit would be
acceptable now, for if we don’t replenish our stock of meat pretty soon
we shall lose our dogs.”

“All right,” replied Serge; “only, Phil, do be careful and not get
lost.”

“Never you fear on that score,” laughed the young leader; “I’ll look
out for myself, but see that you do the same.”

So the two lads set forth, leaving Jalap Coombs to prepare camp and
boil the oatmeal porridge, which, mixed with a small quantity of fish,
now formed the dogs’ daily meal.

Phil plunged directly into the forest, deciding to start out with one
of the détours that he had planned. Once within shelter of the trees,
he found the snow so deep that but for his snow-shoes he could have
made no progress. By their aid he was able to push forward at a fair
rate of speed, which he determined to maintain on as straight a line as
possible until within half an hour of sunset. Then he would bend to the
left until he reached the river, which he was certain could not be very
far away, and which he could follow back to camp even in the dark.

So for several hours he plodded sturdily forward, keeping a sharp
lookout for any trail of man or beast, and making as little noise as
possible, in the hope of surprising something worthy of a shot. All
at once the surprise came from the other side; for, with a rush from
behind a clump of young hemlocks, a huge brown animal, with great
palmated horns, crossed his path only a few rods ahead, and dashed away
at right angles, flinging the snow to both sides like a rotary railroad
plough. Rapid as were his movements, Phil got in one flying shot just
as he disappeared.

“It was a moose!” thought the excited lad; “biggest one I ever saw. And
I hit him!” he cried aloud, a minute later, as he examined the broad
trail left by the flying beast. “Hit him hard, too!” he added, as,
noting blood-stains on the snow, and forgetful of everything else, he
set forth in hot pursuit of his stricken game. “He can’t hold that pace
long, wounded, and through snow as deep as this,” he reflected, “and I
shouldn’t be surprised if I found him at bay inside of a mile. Oh, if I
can only get him, it will settle the food question for the rest of the
trip!”

So, with high hopes, and with all his hunting instincts fully aroused,
Phil followed that blood-stained trail, not only for one mile, but for
several more, though without catching another glimpse of the flying
moose. Nor could he discover any sign of slackened speed or diminished
strength on the part of his huge quarry. The strides were just as long
as at first, and the snow was flung just as far on either side of the
trail. But for the crimson stains betokening a steady loss of blood,
Phil would long since have given up the chase. They encouraged him
to keep on, “For surely,” he said to himself, “no animal, not even a
moose, can stand a drain like that forever.”

All at once he stopped short, and gazed about him with startled
glances. The trail was growing dim; stealthy shadows were creeping
through the forest. The day was spent and night was at hand. “Now I
_am_ in for it!” he cried, bitterly. “Here I am miles from camp without
an idea of its direction or that of the river. My only guide to either
is the trail by which I have just come, and I should lose that in the
darkness before I had gone half a mile. The only thing to do is to make
a hungry camp, and make it quick, too, before the light is wholly gone.”

Thus deciding, Phil left the trail and hastened towards a bunch of
dead timber that stood a short distance to one side. He scraped the
snow from a prostrate log, and then, using one of his snow-shoes as a
shovel, dug out a small space down to the ground beside it. A little
pile of dry twigs and bark, and a few sticks of larger wood, were
hastily collected and heaped against the log. When he got his fire well
started he would gather more. Now to whittle a handful of shavings, and
then for a blaze. Oh, how good it would seem! How it would drive away
the horrid loneliness, push back the encroaching shadows, and replace
the deadly chill of the on-coming night with its own genial warmth! It
could not furnish food, of course, and he must endure long hours of
hunger, but even that could be borne with its cheery aid.

And now to light it. Phil had a match-safe in one of his inner pockets,
where he always carried it for just such emergencies as this, and at
length, after a struggle with his close-fitting parka, he drew it
forth. As he opened it, and gazed into its empty interior, a chill
penetrated his very marrow.

“What a fool I am! what a miserable, careless fool!” he cried, in tones
of despair. “I knew it was empty two days ago, and meant to refill it;
but I didn’t, and now I must suffer the consequences. What shall I do?
what shall I do? A night in this place without a fire will drive me
crazy, even if I don’t freeze to death before morning.”

As Phil gazed about him in a very agony of apprehension, his glance
rested on his rifle leaning against a tree, and a ray of hope entered
his heart. There was fire if he could only capture and control it. How
was it that wrecked sailors, and lost hunters, and all sorts of people
always managed to obtain fire from a gun, or rather from a pistol,
which was practically the same thing? He tried to recall what he had
read of such experiences. Oh yes! It was by flashing powder in the pan.
But his gun hadn’t any pan. He had never seen one that had, unless it
was Kurilla’s flintlock. Of course, now he remembered, it did have a
place into which the Indian used to pour a little powder every time he
wanted to fire his old blunderbuss. How Phil wished his Winchester were
a flintlock musket just at that moment! But it wasn’t, and it didn’t
have any pan, and loose powder was not used in connection with it. But
there was plenty of powder incased in its metallic cartridges if only
he could get at it, and could contrive some plan for adapting it to his
purpose.

All these ideas passed like a flash, and Phil had hardly thought of
powder before he was examining one of his cartridges, and trying to dig
the bullet out of its metal shell with the point of his knife. But it
was held too tightly, and he only pricked his fingers.

Then another plan came into his mind. He laid his rifle on the ground;
over its stock he spread a square of cotton cloth such as he and Serge
were accustomed to tear from the great piece provided among their
stores whenever they needed clean handkerchiefs. On the cloth Phil
laid a cartridge, that he held in position with the sharp edge of
his knife-blade, placed so that it would cut just at the base of the
bullet. Then he struck the back of the blade a smart blow with a billet
of wood, and the job was done. He had got at the powder.

He poured out two-thirds of the precious mixture, and rubbed it well
into one side of the cloth, which he doubled twice and fixed against
the log. Then, after stopping the open end of the shell with a tiny
wad of lint to keep the remainder of the powder from running out, he
inserted it in the chamber of his rifle. Aiming it at the cloth, with
the muzzle about one foot away, and trembling with cold, or excitement,
or anxiety, or with all three, he pulled the trigger.

The report that followed was hardly as loud as that of a small
fire-cracker, but the success of the scheme was instant. The little
flame poured from the muzzle of the rifle into that powder-impregnated
square of cotton cloth ignited it at once. A moment later it was
nestled amid the bundle of twigs and shavings, while Phil, on hands and
knees, was puffing at it like a pair of bellows.

In two minutes more his fire was a certainty, the black shadows were
already beginning to retreat before its cheery attack, and Phil Ryder’s
spirits had jumped from zero almost to the figure that represents
light-heartedness.

Throwing off his fur parka, that he might the better appreciate its
warmth later, and seizing a snow-shoe, he cleared the whole space
between the first log and another that lay a few yards beyond. Into
this opening he dragged all the logs and dead branches he could find,
working with such energy that at the end of an hour he had a fine large
pile, and was in a glow from the exercise. Now he built another fire
against the farther log, and piled his spare wood so that it was beyond
reach of either flame.

He next spread a few spruce and hemlock boughs on the ground between
the two fires, selected a medium-sized chunk of wood for a pillow,
donned his parka, drew its great hood over his head, and, with his
rifle by his side, lay down on a much warmer and more comfortable couch
than he had dared anticipate a couple of hours before.

Phil meant to keep awake so as to tend his fires, but instead of so
doing he fell asleep within an hour, and slept soundly right through
the night. When he at length awoke and sat up, he was chilled and stiff
with cold, for the fires were very nearly extinguished by a fall of
snow that had sifted down through the forest while he slept. As the
poor lad discovered this he became filled with terror, for he knew that
the back trail was obliterated, and that all hope of regaining camp by
its means was cut off. Now he was indeed lost. As he gazed hopeless and
bewildered about him he caught sight of something that he at first took
to be a dog sitting only a few yards away, and regarding him hungrily.
He spoke to it, and the animal started to sneak away. Then he saw that
it was a wolf, and he hastened its movements with a rifle-shot.

As it was not yet light enough to commence his search for the river,
or for some stream that would lead him to it, he began to throw wood
on the fires, that he might at least get warm before starting. While
thus engaged he was startled by a cry apparently in the voice of a
child that rang dolefully through the silent forest. Again he heard
it, plaintive and long-drawn, and this time nearer than before. It
was so weird a cry to be heard in that place and at that time that he
shuddered as he listened for its repetition. Its very humanness added
to its terror. At its third utterance Phil seized his rifle, cocked it,
and faced the direction of the sound, expecting in another moment to be
confronted by the tawny form of a mountain-lion.



CHAPTER XXVIII

PHIL ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY


Phil had never met nor even seen a mountain-lion, but he had often
heard that its cry sometimes imitates that of a child so closely as to
deceive the most expert of hunters. He had heard, too, of its ferocity,
its boldness in attacking human beings, and its terrible strength. In
some respects it is even more to be feared than that monarch of the
North American wilderness the grizzly bear, for the former, belonging
to the cat family, is a famous tree-climber, which the latter is not.

These thoughts, together with all the stories he had ever read of
mountain-lions, flashed through the lad’s mind in the few minutes that
elapsed between the first and third of those terrible cries. Before it
could utter another the fearful beast would be upon him, and with tense
muscles he braced himself for the coming conflict. He would not have a
chance for more than one shot. If it failed him, all would be lost.

The sound of the third wailing cry had hardly died away when, with a
gasp half of relief that the suspense was ended, half of dread, Phil
caught a momentary glimpse of a brown furry object moving through the
trees. It would next appear from behind yonder clump of bushes. The
rifle was slowly lifted, a deliberate sight was taken along its shining
barrel, and then, as the furry object appeared at the precise point
where it was expected, the forest echoed with its ringing shot. But the
bullet had not been allowed to fulfil its fatal mission. One blessed
instant had been granted, even as the trigger was pressed, in which to
give the barrel a slight upward jerk, and deflect the leaden messenger
from its deadly course.

The rifle fell from Phil’s nerveless hand, as weak and faint he leaned
against a friendly tree trunk. As he stood there, staring with still
unbelieving eyes, a little fur-clad child, not more than four years
old, walking on the tiniest of snow-shoes, came close to him, smiled
trustfully up in his face, and, holding out a small mittened hand, said:

“Come, man. Come wif Nel-te. Mamma say come.”

[Illustration: “COME, MAN. COME WIF NEL-TE. MAMMA SAY COME”]

If Phil had been nearly paralyzed with horror to discover, as his eye
glanced along the levelled rifle-barrel, that he was aiming at a human
being, he was almost equally staggered at hearing the fur-clad atom
who called himself Nel-te address him in English. How could it be? Who
was he? How came he there, alone in that vast wilderness of trackless
forest, ice, and snow? Where had the child spent the night just passed,
that had been so filled with terrors to him? How had he lived through
it? Where _was_ his mother?

All these questions and more he asked the child as he sat on a log,
and, drawing the little one to him, gazed at him as though he were
unreal, and might at any moment vanish as mysteriously as he had come.

But the child evidently had neither the time nor the inclination for
explanations. He gravely repelled all the lad’s friendly advances, and
turned to go away, as though confidently expecting him to follow. As
Phil hesitated for a moment he looked back, and in a voice that had a
slight tremble, together with a lower lip that quivered just a little,
he repeated:

“Come. Mamma say come.”

And Phil, picking up his rifle, followed after the unique little
figure like one who is dazed. A happy smile lighted the child’s face
at this compliance with his wish, and after that he plodded sturdily
onward without turning his head, as though satisfied that his mission
was accomplished. After thus going something less than a quarter of a
mile, they emerged from the forest, and came to a log-cabin standing on
the bank of a small stream.

Though fairly well built, this cabin did not differ in outward
appearance from ordinary structures of its kind in that country, save
that its single glass window was hung with white curtains. These
caught Phil’s eye at once, but ere he had time to speculate concerning
them his little guide had reached the door. Slipping off the small
snow-shoes, he pushed it open and entered. Phil followed, but had not
taken a single step into the interior ere he started back in dismay.

On the floor close beside the threshold lay an Indian――a tall, handsome
fellow, but with a terrible gash in his side. From it his life’s blood
had evidently drained some time before, for it needed but a glance to
show that he was dead.

From this startling sight the lad’s gaze wandered across the room. It
caught the white curtains, a few poor attempts at ornamentation of the
walls, an empty hearth, on which was no spark of fire, and then rested
on a rude bed in one corner, to which the child had just run with a
joyful cry.

On the bed lay a woman, and, to Phil’s utter amazement, she was a white
woman, who was feebly speaking to him in English. Her bloodless face,
terribly emaciated, was surrounded by a wealth of dark-brown hair, and
her great eyes were fixed on him with a pitiful eagerness.

“Thank God! thank God, sir!” she said, in a voice so near a whisper
that Phil was obliged to bend his head to catch the words. “Now that
you’ve come, I can die in peace, for my Nel-te will be cared for. I
prayed, oh, how I prayed! But it seemed as if my prayers were to be of
no avail, until at length the answer came in the report of your gun.
Then I sent the child to find you. And oh, sir, I do thank you for
coming! I do thank my Heavenly Father for sending you. And you will
care for my baby? You will take him far from here, where he may grow to
be a good and useful man? You will, won’t you, sir? Promise me! Promise
me you will.”

“But you mustn’t die,” answered poor Phil, who was so bewildered by the
perplexities of the situation that he knew not what to say. “I have two
companions who will know what to do for you, and we will stay until you
get stronger. What does it all mean, anyway? Are you wounded? Did that
Indian attack you?”

“He was my husband, my Jim,” answered the woman, again opening her
eyes, which had closed wearily after her recent effort at talking. “He
died for me, and I am dying for him.”

Here she was interrupted by a terrible fit of coughing and a gush of
blood from some internal hemorrhage.

After a few minutes she continued: “He shot a moose, and with its
last strength it charged on him. When he did not come home I went
in search of him. I found them lying together. Jim still breathed.
Somehow I managed to bring him home on my back. But he was dead when I
got him here, and the strain had been too great for me. I had burst a
blood-vessel, and had barely strength to crawl to the bed. That was two
days ago. I should have died that first night, but fought with death
for Nel-te’s sake. Now I can go, and I am glad, for I am so weary――so
weary.”

This pitiful story was told in whispers, with many pauses and many
struggles for breath. When it was finished the great pleading eyes
again closed, and the woman lay so still that Phil thought she must be
dead. He tried to feel of her pulse, but started at the touch of her
hand, for it was like ice. The chill of it seemed to reach his very
heart, and he shivered in the deadly cold of the room.

“I can at least make a fire,” he thought, and he began to search for
matches. There were none, and finally bethinking himself of the blaze
he had left in the woods, he set forth to fetch fire from it. In a few
minutes he returned with a couple of burning brands. Then he brought in
wood, and after a little the great fireplace was filled with leaping
flames.

Nel-te came to him and begged for water. Phil had noticed several
times that the child was eating snow, and now berated himself for
not realizing that the little fellow was thirsty. He melted snow in
a kettle, and the boy drank eagerly. Then from some hiding-place he
produced a smoked salmon, that he began to eat ravenously. After a
little he paused, looked hesitatingly at Phil, and then shyly, but
with inborn hospitality, held out the fish to his guest, saying, “You
hungry?”

“Indeed I am, little chap,” answered Phil, who was just remembering
how very hungry he was, “and I shall be only too glad to take a bite
with you.” So he cut off a piece of the fish, and as the two ate their
strange meal in company Phil knew that the little stranger had won his
heart; for never had he felt so drawn to any child as to this one.

While they were thus engaged the woman again unclosed her eyes, and
made a slight movement. Phil held a cup of water to her lips, and she
drank thirstily. It seemed to give her strength, for she said, and this
time in clearer tones than before:

“You have not promised me, lad. But you will――I know you will; for God
has sent you in answer to my prayers. You will care for my baby, and
try to love him, and never let him forget his mother. You will promise,
and I know I can trust you, for you have a brave face and honest. You
will promise me?”

“I do promise,” said Phil, solemnly, “that if you are taken from your
boy I will care for him to the best of my ability, and be to him a
brother and――”

“That’s enough, lad. Now hand him to me, for I canna see him. His name
is Nelson McLeod.”

This last came in so faint a whisper that Phil barely caught the words;
but as he lifted the little one to the bed the woman seemed to gain a
new strength, for she flung her arms about the child, strained him to
her breast, and kissed him.

Then the wasted arms unclosed. She fell back, a smile glorified her
face, and the great brown eyes opened for one parting look at her boy.
In another moment, with a sigh of content, she fell into the sleep
that knows no waking; and Phil, recalling the long-ago story of the
missionary, knew that the sorrows of Ellen McLeod were ended.



CHAPTER XXIX

A WILDERNESS ORPHAN


The position in which Phil now found himself was certainly a perplexing
one. By the very simple process of getting lost he had discovered Cree
Jim’s cabin, but was appalled to consider what else he had found at the
same time. He now knew that the remainder of their journey, its most
difficult and dangerous portion, must be undertaken without a guide.
Not only this, but they must be burdened with a child so young as to
be practically helpless. In the meantime, what was to be done with
those silent and motionless forms whose dread presence so pervaded that
lonely cabin? And how was he to communicate with his friends? There was
no back trail to follow, for the snow had wiped it out. He did not even
know in which direction camp lay, for, in the ardor of his chase the
evening before, he had taken no note of course nor distance.

There was the stream, though, on whose bank the cabin was perched. It
must flow into the river. Yes, that was his only hope. But the river
might be miles away, and the camp as much farther off; if, indeed, it
could still be found where he had left it. But of course it would be!
So long as Serge Belcofsky and Jalap Coombs had life and strength to
search for him that camp would remain a permanent fixture until he
returned to it. Phil was absolutely sure of that, and he now realized,
as never before, the priceless value of a friendship whose loyalty is
beyond doubt.

So the plan was formed. He would go down the stream and up the river
until he found camp. Then he would bring Serge and a sledge back with
him. In the meantime the child must be left where he was, for Phil
doubted if he could carry him over the weary miles that he knew must
lie between the cabin and camp, while for the little fellow to walk
that distance was out of the question.

Phil sat on a stool before the fire while doing all this thinking. As
he rose to carry out his plan, Nel-te, who was becoming terrified at
his mother’s silence in spite of his efforts to attract her attention,
slipped from the bed, ran to his new friend, and thrusting a cold
little hand into one of his, looked up with a smile of such perfect
trust that Phil snatched him in his arms and kissed him, at the same
time giving him a great hug.

Then he said: “Now, Nel-te, Brother Phil is going away for a little
while to get some doggies for you to play with, and you must stay here
like a good boy, and not open the door until he comes back. Do you
understand?”

“Yes; me go get doggies. Nel-te like doggies. Good doggies!” And almost
before Phil knew what the child was about, he had slipped from his
arms, run to the door, and was putting on the tiny snow-shoes that had
been left outside. Then, with an engaging smile, he called, cheerily,
“Come. Nel-te say come. Get doggies.”

“All right, little chap. I expect your plan is as good as mine, after
all,” replied Phil, into whose mind had just flashed the promise made
to that dead mother――never to desert her baby. “And here I was about
to begin by doing that very thing,” he reflected as he glanced at the
marble face overspread by the expression of perfect content that his
promise had brought.

Moved by a sudden impulse he picked up the boy, and, bringing him back,
held him so that he might kiss the peaceful face. This the child did
with a soft cooing that served to convey both love and pity. Then he
ran to the stalwart figure that still lay on the floor, and, patting
its swarthy cheek, said something in the Cree tongue that Phil did not
understand.

After that Phil carefully closed the door to prevent the intrusion
of wild beasts, and the two, whose fortunes had become so strangely
interwoven, set forth together down the white surface of the
forest-bordered stream, on whose bank Nel-te had been born and passed
his few years of life. He was happily but unconsciously venturing
on his first “little journey into the world,” while his companion
was filled with a sense of manliness and responsibility from the
experiences through which he had just passed that the mere adding of
years could never have brought.

Phil wondered at the ease with which the little fellow managed his
snow-shoes, until he reflected that the child had probably been taught
to use them from the day of taking his first step. So the two fur-clad
figures, ridiculously contrasted in size, trudged along side by side
down the winding stream, the one thoughtfully silent and the other
chattering of “doggies” until he began to lag behind and give signs
that the pace was telling on his slender strength.

“Poor little chap!” said Phil. “But I have been expecting it, and now
we will try another scheme.” So, slinging the tiny snow-shoes across
the child’s back, he picked him up and set him astride his own broad
shoulders, where Nel-te clutched his head, and shouted with glee at
this delightful mode of travel.

After they had gone a mile or so in this fashion they rounded a sharp
bend, and came so suddenly upon poor Serge, who was making his way up
the stream in search of some trace of his friend, that for a moment he
stood motionless and speechless with amazement. He could make nothing
of the approaching apparition until Phil shouted, cheerily:

“Hurrah, old man! Here we are, safe and sound, and awfully glad to see
you.”

“Oh, Phil!” cried Serge, while tears actually stood in his honest
blue eyes, “I can hardly believe it! It seems almost too good to be
true. Are you sure you are not wounded nor frozen nor hurt in any way?
Haven’t you suffered terribly? If you haven’t, we have. I don’t believe
Mr. Coombs slept a wink last night, and I know I didn’t. But I am happy
enough at this minute to make up for it all, a hundred times over. Oh,
Phil!”

“I have suffered a little from anxiety, and been a trifle hungry, and
had some sad experiences, but I haven’t suffered half so much as I
deserved for my carelessness in getting lost. I found Cree Jim, though;
but――”

“And brought him with you?” interrupted Serge, smiling for the first
time in many hours, as he glanced at the quaint little figure perched
on Phil’s shoulders.

“Not exactly,” replied the other, soberly. “You see this little chap is
his son, and I’ve adopted him for a sort of a brother, and he is going
with us.”

“You’ve done what?” cried Serge.

“Adopted him. That is, you see I promised my aunt Ruth to bring her
something from Alaska that was unique in the way of a curio, and it
seems to me that Nel-te here will please her about as well as anything.
Don’t you think so?”

“Perhaps so,” assented Serge, doubtfully. “But was his father willing
that you should have him?”

“Oh yes, perfectly. That is, you know, he is dead, and so is the
mother; but I promised her to take care of the little chap, and as
there wasn’t anything else to be done, why, here we are.”

“Of course it’s all right if you say so,” agreed Serge, “and I don’t
care, so long as you are safe, if you carry a whole tribe back to your
aunt Ruth; but now don’t you think we’d better be getting along to
camp? It was all I could do to persuade Mr. Coombs to stay behind and
look out for things; he is so anxious. The only way I could induce him
to stay was by suggesting that you might come in tired and hungry, and
would feel awfully if no one was there to welcome you. But he is liable
to set out on a hunt for you at any moment.”

“Certainly, we must get there as quickly as possible,” replied Phil.
“How far is it?”

“Not more than one mile up the river from the mouth of this creek,
which is only a few rods below here. But oh, Phil, to think that I have
found you! When I had almost given up all hope of ever again seeing
you alive, too. I have been down as far as our first camp on the river
this morning, and this creek was my last hope. I wouldn’t have left the
country without you, though, or at any rate without knowing what had
become of you. Neither would Mr. Coombs. We settled that last night
while we talked over what had best be done.”

“I was sure you wouldn’t, old fellow,” replied Phil, with something
like a choke in his voice. “I knew that as well before you said it as I
do now, and it was the thing that kept me up most of all.”

The two boys had so much to tell, and so many proofs of loving
confidence to exchange, that, before they realized they were anywhere
near camp they came upon it, and were hailed by Jalap Coombs, who
almost hugged Phil in his revulsion of feeling and unaffected joy at
the lad’s return.

“But you don’t do it again, Philip, my son!” he cried. “That is, the
next time you feel inclined to wander from home and stay out nights,
you may go, of course, but you’ll have to take me along. So ef you gits
lost, I gits lost likewise; for, as my old friend Kite Roberson useter
say consarning prodegal sons, ‘It’s allus toughest on them as is left
behind.’ But, Phil, what be ye doing with that furry little beggar? Is
he the pilot ye went sarching for?”

“Yes,” laughed Phil, lifting Nel-te down from his shoulders. “He is
the pilot who is to lead us from this wilderness, and if you have got
anything to eat, you’d better give it to him before he devours one of
the dogs, which he seems inclined to do. I can answer for it that he
has been on short rations for several days and is properly hungry.”

“Have I got anything to eat?” cried the other. “Waal, rather! How does
fresh steaks, and roasts, and chops, and stews strike your fancy?” With
this he pointed to one side of the camp, where, to their astonishment,
the boys saw a quantity of fresh meat, much of which was already cut
into thin strips for freezing and packing.

“Where did it come from?” queried Phil, looking at Serge; but the
latter only shook his head, evidently equally puzzled.

“It’s jest a bit of salvage that I raked in as it went drifting by,”
explained Jalap Coombs, his face beaming with gratified pride. “It’s
some kind of deer meat, and _for_ a deer he were pretty nigh as big as
one of them elephants back yonder in the moss cave. You see, he came
cruising along this way shortly after Serge left, and the dogs give
chase and made him heave to. When I j’ined ’em he surrendered. Then I
had my hands full in a hurry, driving off the dogs and lashing ’em fast
so as they couldn’t eat him, horns and all, and cutting of him up. I
hain’t more’n made a beginning with him either, for there’s pretty nigh
a full cargo left.”

“But how did you kill him? There wasn’t any gun in camp?” asked Phil,
utterly bewildered.

“Of course there warn’t no gun,” answered Jalap Coombs, “and likewise I
didn’t need one. Sich things I leave for boys. How did I kill him, say
you? Why, I jest naterally harpooned him like I would any other whale.”



CHAPTER XXX

JALAP AND THE DOGS SING A LULLABY


“Harpooned a moose!” cried Phil and Serge together; for they had by
this time discovered the nature of the sailor’s “big deer.” And “Where
did you get the harpoon?” asked the former.

“Found it leaning agin a tree while I were out after firewood,” replied
Jalap Coombs, at the same time producing and proudly exhibiting a heavy
A-yan spear, such as were formerly used by the natives of the Pelly
river valley. “It were a trifle rusty, and a trifle light in the butt,”
he added, “but it come in mighty handy when it were most needed, and
for an old whaler it aren’t a bad sort of a weepon. I’m free to say,
though, that I might have had hard luck in tackling the beast with it
ef he hadn’t been already wounded. I didn’t know it till after he were
dead; but when I come to cut him up, I saw where he’d been bleeding
pretty free, and then I found this bullet in his innards. Still, I
don’t reckin you’d have called him a mouse, nor yet a rat, if ye’d
seed him like I did under full sail, with his horns set wing and wing,
showing the spread of a fifty-ton schooner. Ef I hadn’t had the harpoon
I’d left him severely alone; but I allowed that a weepon as were good
enough for a whale would do for a deer, even ef he were bigger than the
run.”

“It’s a rifle-bullet, calibre forty-four,” said Phil, who was examining
the bit of lead that Jalap Coombs had taken from his “big deer.” “I
wonder if it can be possible that he is the same moose I wounded, and
without whose lead I should never have found Cree Jim’s cabin. It seems
incredible that he should have come right back to camp to be killed,
though I suppose it is possible. Certainly good fortune, or good luck,
or whatever else you choose to call it, does seem to be pretty steadily
on our side, and without the aid of the fur-seal’s tooth either,” he
added, with a sly glance at Serge.

The latter was already hard at work cooking a bountiful supply of the
meat so wonderfully provided for them, while Nel-te, who had been
left to his own devices for several minutes, had made his way to the
“doggies,” and was rolling over and over in the snow with Musky and
Luvtuk and big Amook. They were treating him exactly as they would
a frolicsome puppy, and their joyous barkings were mingled with his
shrill screams of delight in a happy chorus. The little chap could
hardly be persuaded to leave his new playmates long enough to eat
dinner, and returned to them the moment his appetite was satisfied.

As soon as the meal was finished Phil and Serge slipped away, taking
a sledge, to which was lashed a couple of axes, with them. They were
going back to bury the parents of the child, who was so happily
oblivious of the sad nature of their errand that he did not even take
note of their departure.

The lads had no idea of how they should accomplish their sorrowful
task. Even with proper tools they knew it would be impossible to dig
a grave in the frozen ground, and, as they had only axes with which
to work, this plan was dismissed without discussion. They talked of
building a tomb of logs, but decided that to make it proof against wild
beasts would take more time than they could afford. Serge suggested
a scaffold, on which the bodies might be placed, in Indian fashion,
while Phil thought that, by taking up the floor of the cabin, they
might find earth in which they could dig. He could not bear the thought
that one who had been brought up in the ways of civilization, and who
had moreover suffered as had poor Ellen McLeod, should have aught save
a Christian burial; and when he told Serge the sad story of her life as
he had learned it from the missionary at Anvik, the latter agreed with
him.

So they had not settled on any plan when they rounded the last bend of
the little stream and gained a point from which the cabin should have
been visible. Then they saw at a glance that the task they had been
dreading had been accomplished without their aid. There was no cabin;
but a cloud of smoke rising from its site, as from an altar, gave ample
evidence of its fate. A blazing log from the fire Phil left on its
hearth must have rolled out on the floor directly after his departure.
Now only a heap of ashes and glowing embers remained to mark the site
of Nel-te’s home.

“It is best so,” said Phil, as the two lads stood beside the
smouldering ruins of what had been a home and was now become a
sepulchre. “And oh, Serge! think of what might have been the child’s
fate if I had left him behind, as I at first intended. Poor little
chap! I realize now, as never before, how completely his past is wiped
out, and how entirely his future lies in our hands. It is a trust
that came without our seeking, but I accepted it; and now, beside his
mother’s ashes, I swear to be true to the promise I gave her.”

“Amen!” said Serge, softly, as though at the conclusion of a prayer,
and Phil knew that the little wilderness orphan had found another
friend who would be as loyal as himself.

They planted a rude wooden cross, the face of which was chipped to a
gleaming whiteness, close in front of the smouldering heap, and near
it Serge fastened a streamer of white cloth to the tip of a tall young
spruce. Cutting off the limbs as he descended, he left it a slender
pole, and thus provided the native symbol of a place of burial.

Having thus done all that was left them to do, the boys retraced their
way down the little stream and up the river, through the gathering
dusk, to the camp that to them was home.

As they approached it they were astonished to hear Jalap Coombs singing
in bellowing tones the rollicking old sea chanty of “Roll a Man Down!”

    “A flying-fish-catcher from old Hong-Kong――
       Yo ho! roll a man down――
     A flying-fish-catcher comes bowling along;
       Give us some time to roll a man down,
       Roll a man up and roll a man down,
       Give us some time to roll a man down.
       From labbord to stabbord away we go――
       Yo ho! roll a man down.”

[Illustration: “A FLYING-FISH-CATCHER FROM OLD HONG-KONG――YO HO! ROLL A
MAN DOWN!”]

Jalap’s voice was not musical, but it possessed a mighty volume, and
as the quaint sea chorus roared and echoed through the stately forest,
the very trees appeared to be listening in silent wonder to the
unaccustomed sounds. Even Musky, Luvtuk, big Amook, and the other dogs
seemed by their dismal howlings to be expressing either appreciation or
disapprobation of the sailor-man’s efforts.

The performers in this open-air concert were too deeply intent on
their own affairs to pay any heed to the approach of the returning
sledge party, who were thus enabled to come within full view of a most
extraordinary scene unnoticed. Just beyond the camp, in a semicircle,
facing the fire, a dozen dogs, resting on their haunches, lifted both
their voices and sharp-pointed noses to the sky. On the opposite side
of the fire sat Jalap Coombs, holding Nel-te in his arms, rocking him
to and fro in time to the chorus that he was pouring forth with the
full power of his lungs, and utterly oblivious to everything save his
own unusual occupation of putting a baby to sleep.

“Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho!” roared Phil and Serge, unable to restrain
their mirth a moment longer. “Oh my! oh my! Oh, Mr. Coombs, you’ll be
the death of me yet! Whatever are you doing? Didn’t know you could
sing! What a capital nurse you make! What a soft voice for lullabies!
The dogs, too! Oh dear! I shall laugh at the thought of this if I live
to be a hundred! Don’t mind us, though. Keep right on. Please do!”

But the concert was ended. Jalap Coombs sprang to his feet with a
startled yell, and dropped the child, who screamed with the fright
of his sudden awakening. The dogs, whose harmonious howlings were so
abruptly interrupted, slunk away with tails between their legs, and hid
themselves in deepest shadows.

“There, there, little chap! Don’t be frightened,” cried Phil, darting
forward and picking up the child, though still shaking with laughter.
“It’s all right now. Brother Phil will protect you, and not let the big
man frighten you any more.”

“I frighten him indeed!” retorted Jalap Coombs, indignantly. “He was
sleeping quiet and peaceful as a seal pup; and I were jest humming a
bit of a ditty that useter be sung to me when I were a kid, so’s he’d
have something pleasant to dream about. Then you young swabs had to
come creeping up and yell like a couple of wild hoodoos, and set the
dogs to howling and scare the kid, to say nothing of me, which ef I
had ye aboard ship I’d masthead ye both till ye larnt manners. Oh, ye
may snicker! But I have my opinion all the same of any man as’ll
wake a sleeping child, specially when he’s wore out with crying, all on
account of being desarted. And I’m not the only one nuther. There was
old Kite Roberson useter clap a muzzle onto his wife’s canary whenever
she’d get the kids to sleep, for fear the critter’d bust into singing.
But it’s all right. You’ll know how it is yourselves some day.”

Phil, seeing that, for the first time since he had known him, the mate
was thoroughly indignant, set out to smooth his ruffled feelings.

“Why, Mr. Coombs,” he said, “we didn’t mean to startle you, but those
wretched dogs kept up such a howling that we couldn’t make ourselves
heard as we neared camp. I’m sure I don’t see how you could think we
were laughing at you. It was those absurd dogs, and you’d have laughed
yourself if you’d looked up and seen them. I’m sure it was awfully good
of you to take so much trouble over this little fellow, and put him
so nicely to sleep with your sing――I mean with your humming, though I
assure you we didn’t hear a hum.”

“Waal,” replied Jalap Coombs, somewhat mollified by Phil’s attitude, “I
warn’t humming very loud, not nigh so loud as I had been at fust. Ye
see, I were kinder tapering off so as to lay the kid down, and begin to
get supper ’gainst you kim back.”

“Yes, I see,” said Phil, almost choking with suppressed laughter. “But
how did it happen that you were compelled to act as nurse? The little
chap seemed happy enough when we went away.”

“So he were, till he found you was gone. Then he begun to pipe his eye
and set storm signals, and directly it come on to blow a hurricane with
heavy squalls. So I had to stand by. Fust off I thought the masts would
surely go; but I took a reef here and there, and kinder got things
snugged down, till after a while the sky broke, the sun kim out, and
fair weather sot in once more.”

“Well,” said Phil, admiringly, “you certainly acted with the judgment
of an A No. 1 seaman, and I don’t believe even your esteemed friend
Captain Robinson could have done better. We shall call on you whenever
our little pilot gets into troubled waters again, and feel that we are
placing him in the best possible hands.”

At which praise Jalap Coombs was greatly pleased, and said as how he’d
be proud at all times to stand by the kid. Thus on the same day that
little Nel-te McLeod lost his parents he found a brother and two stanch
friends.



CHAPTER XXXI

NEL-TE QUALIFIES AS A BRANCH PILOT


Although disappointed of their guide, there was nothing for the sledge
party to do but push on and trust to their own good judgment to carry
them safely to the end of their journey. So as much of the moose meat
as could be loaded on a sledge, or several hundred pounds in all, was
prepared and frozen that evening. Both then and in the morning the dogs
were given all they could eat――so much, in fact, that they were greatly
disinclined to travel during most of the following day.

The latest addition to the party, after being rudely awakened from
the slumber into which Jalap Coombs’s singing had lulled him, called
pitifully for his mother, and, refusing to be comforted, finally sobbed
himself to sleep on Phil’s bear-skin in front of the fire. Here he
spent the night, tucked warmly in a rabbit-skin robe, nestled between
Phil and Serge with all his sorrows forgotten for the time being. In
the early morning he was a very sober little lad, with a grievance that
was not to be banished even by the sight of his beloved “doggies,”
while the advances of his human friends were met by a dignified
silence. He was too hungry to refuse the food offered him by Serge; but
he ate it with a strictly business-like air, in which there was nothing
of unbending nor forgiveness. To Phil’s attempts at conversation he
turned a deaf ear, nor would he even so much as smile when Jalap
Coombs made faces at him, or got down on hands and knees and growled
for his special benefit. He was evidently not to be won by any such
foolishness.

He was roused to an exhibition of slight interest by the tinkling music
of Musky’s bells when the dogs were harnessed; and when, everything
being ready for a start, Phil lifted him on the foremost sledge, and
tucked him into a spare sleeping-bag that was securely lashed to it, he
murmured: “Mamma, Nel-te go mamma.”

The loads having been redistributed to provide for the accommodation of
the young passenger, this foremost sledge bore, besides Nel-te, only
the Forty Mile mail, the sleeping equipment of the party, and their
extra fur clothing, the chynik, in which was stored the small quantity
of tea still remaining, what was left of the pemmican, and an axe. As,
with its load, it did not weigh over two hundred pounds, its team was
reduced to three dogs, Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook. Serge still drove
seven dogs, and his sledge bore the entire camp equipment and stock of
provisions, except the recently acquired moose meat. This was loaded
on the last sledge, which was drawn by five dogs, and driven by Jalap
Coombs according to his own peculiar fashion.

As soon as the sledges were in motion, and Nel-te conceived the idea
that he was going home, his spirits revived to such an extent that he
chirruped cheerfully to the dogs, and even smiled occasionally at Phil,
who strode alongside.

They crossed Fox Lake, passed up the stream that connected it with
Indian Trail Lake, and finally went into camp on the edge of the forest
at the head of the latter earlier than usual, because they could not
see their way to the making of any further progress. Although they
felt certain that there must be some stream flowing into the lake by
which they could leave it, they could discover no sign of its opening.
So they made camp, and, leaving Jalap Coombs to care for it, Phil and
Serge departed in opposite directions to scan every foot of the shore
in search of a place of exit.

On reaching this camping-place Nel-te looked about him inquiringly
and with evident disappointment, but he said nothing, and only gazed
wistfully after the two lads when they set forth on their search. For
a time he hung about the camp-fire watching Jalap Coombs, who was too
busily engaged in cooking supper and preparing for the night to pay
much attention to him. At length the little chap strolled over to the
sledges, and engaged in a romp with the three dogs who dragged his
particular conveyance. Every now and then his shrill laughter came to
Jalap’s ears, and assured the latter that the child was safe.

After a while the explorers returned, both completely discouraged and
perplexed.

“I don’t believe there is any inlet to this wretched lake!” cried Phil,
flinging himself down on a pile of robes. “I’ve searched every foot of
coast on my side, and am willing to swear that there isn’t an opening
big enough for a rabbit to squeeze through, so far as I went.”

“Nor could I find a sign of one,” affirmed Serge, “though perhaps in
the morning――”

“Hello! Where’s Nel-te?” interrupted Phil, springing to his feet and
gazing about him anxiously.

“He were about here jest as you boys kim in,” replied Jalap Coombs,
suspending operations at the fire, and gazing about him with a startled
expression. “I heered him playing with the dogs not more’n a minute
ago.”

“Well, he isn’t in sight now,” said Phil, in a voice whose tone
betrayed his alarm, “and if we don’t find him in a hurry there’s a
chance of our not doing it at all, for it will be dark in fifteen
minutes more.”

As he spoke, Phil hastily replaced the snow-shoes that he had just laid
aside. Serge did the same thing, and then they began to circle about
the camp with heads bent low in search of the tiny trail. At short
intervals they called aloud the name of the missing one, but only the
mocking forest echoes answered them.

Suddenly Serge uttered a joyful shout. He had found the prints of small
snow-shoes crossed and recrossed by those of dogs. In a moment Phil
joined him, and the two followed the trail together. It led for a short
distance along the border of the lake in the direction previously taken
by Phil, and then, making a sharp bend to the right, struck directly
into the forest.

When the boys reached the edge of the timber they found a low opening
so overhung by bushes as to be effectually concealed from careless
observation. The curtaining growth was so bent down with a weight of
snow that even Nel-te must have stooped to pass under it. That he had
gone that way was shown by the trail still dimly visible in the growing
dusk, and the lads did not hesitate to follow. Forcing a path through
the bushes, which extended only a few yards back from the lake, they
found themselves in an open highway, evidently the frozen surface of a
stream.

“Hurrah!” shouted Phil, who was the first to gain it. “I believe this
is the very creek we have been searching for. It must be, and the
little chap has found it for us.”

“Yes,” replied Serge. “It begins to look as though Cree Jim’s son had
taken Cree Jim’s place as guide.”

Now the boys pushed forward with increased speed. At length they heard
the barking of dogs, and began to shout, but received no answer. They
had gone a full quarter of a mile from the lake ere they caught sight
of the little fur-clad figure plodding steadily forward on what he
fondly hoped to be his way towards home and the mother for whom his
baby heart so longed. Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook were his companions,
and not until he was caught up in Phil’s arms did the child so much as
turn his head or pay the slightest heed to those who followed his trail.

As he was borne back in triumph towards camp his lower lip quivered,
and two big tears rolled down his chubby cheeks, but he did not cry nor
utter a complaint; nor from that time on did he make further effort to
regain his lost home. The boys had hardly begun to retrace their steps
when another figure loomed out of the shadows and came rapidly towards
them. It looked huge in the dim light, and advanced with gigantic
strides.

“Hello!” cried Phil, as he recognized the new-comer. “Where are you
bound?”

“Bound to get lost along with the rest of the crew,” replied Jalap
Coombs, stoutly. “Didn’t I tell ye I wouldn’t put up with your gettin’
lost alone ag’in?”

“That’s so; but you see I forgot,” laughed Phil. “Now that we are all
found, though, let’s get back to the supper that you were cooking
before you decided to get lost. By the way, Mr. Coombs, do you realize
that this is the very stream for which we have been hunting? What do
you think of our young pilot now?”

“Think of him!” exclaimed Jalap Coombs. “I think he’s jest the same as
all in the piloting business――pernicketty. Knows a heap more’n he’ll
ever tell, and won’t ever p’int out a channel till you’re just about to
run aground. Then he’ll do it kinder keerless and onconsarned, same as
the kid done jest now. Oh, he’s a regular branch pilot, he is, and up
to all the tricks of the trade.”

Bright and early the following morning, thanks to Nel-te’s pilotage,
the sledges were speeding up the creek on their way to Lost Lake. By
nightfall they had crossed it, three other small lakes, descended
an outlet of the last to Little Salmon River, and after a run of
five miles down that stream found themselves once more amid the ice
hummocks of the Yukon, one hundred and twenty miles above the mouth of
the Pelly. Of this distance they had saved about one-third by their
adventurous cut-off.

The end of another week found them one hundred and fifty miles farther
up the Yukon and at the mouth of the Tahkeena. It had been a week of
the roughest kind of travel, and its hard work was telling severely on
the dogs.

As they made their last camp on the mighty river they were to leave for
good on the morrow, they were both glad and sorry. Glad to leave its
rough ice and escape the savage difficulties that it offered in the
shape of cañons and roaring rapids only a few miles above, and sorry to
desert its well-marked course for the little-known Tahkeena.

Still, their dogs could not hold out for another week on the Yukon,
while over the smooth going of the tributary stream they might survive
the hardships of the journey to its very end; and without these
faithful servants our travellers would indeed be in a sorry plight.
So, while they reminisced before their roaring camp-fire of the many
adventures they had encountered since entering Yukon mouth, two
thousand miles away, they looked hopefully forward to their journey’s
end, now less than as many hundred miles from that point. To the
dangers of the lofty mountain range they had yet to cross they gave but
little thought, for the mountains were still one hundred miles away.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH CREATES A SENSATION


One evening late in March the smoke of a lonely camp-fire curled above
a fringe of stunted spruces forming the timber-line high up on the
northern slope of the Alaskan coast range. Kotusk, the natives call
these mountains. Far below lay the spotless sheet of Takh Lake, from
which the Tahkeena winds for one hundred miles down its rugged valley
to swell the Yukon flood. From the foot of the mountains the unbroken
solitude of the vast northern wilderness swept away in ice-bound
silence to the polar sea. Far to the westward St. Elias and Wrangel,
the great northern sentinels of the Rocky Mountain system, reared their
massive heads nearly twenty thousand feet above the Pacific. From them
the mighty range of snow-clad peaks follows the coast line eastward,
gathering with icy fingers the mist clouds ever rising from the warm
ocean waters, converting them with frigid breath into the grandest
glaciers of the continent, and sending these slowly grinding their
resistless way back to the sea.

On one side of this stupendous barrier our sledge party from the Yukon
was now halted. On the other lay the frontier of civilization, safety,
and their journey’s end. Between the two points rose the mountains,
calmly contemptuous of human efforts to penetrate their secrets of
avalanche and glacier, icy precipice and snow-filled gorge, fierce
blizzard and ice-laden whirlwind, desolation and death. It is no
wonder that, face to face with such things, the little group, gathered
about the last camp-fire they might see for days or perhaps forever,
should be unusually quiet and thoughtful.

Still clad in their well-worn garments of fur, they were engaged in
characteristic occupations. Phil, looking anxious and careworn, was
standing close to the fire warming and cleaning his rifle. Serge was
making a stew of the last of their moose meat, which would afterwards
be frozen and taken with them into untimbered regions where camp-fires
would be unknown. Jalap Coombs was thoughtfully mending a broken
snow-shoe, and at the same time finding his task sadly interrupted
by Nel-te, who, nestled between his knees, was trying to attract the
sailor-man’s undivided attention.

The little chap, with his great sorrow forgotten, was now the life and
pet of the party. So firmly was his place established among them that
they wondered how they had ever borne the loneliness of a camp without
his cheery presence, and could hardly realize that he had only recently
come into their lives. Now, too, half the anxiety with which they
regarded the perilous way before them was on his account.

“I’m worrying most about the dogs,” said Phil, continuing a
conversation begun some time before, “and I am afraid some of them will
give out before we reach the summit.”

“Yes,” agreed Serge; “to-day’s pull up from the lake has told terribly
on them, and Amook’s feet have been badly cut by the crust ever since
he ate his boots.”

“Poor old dog!” said Phil. “It was awfully careless of me to forget and
leave them on him all night. I don’t wonder a bit at his eating them,
though, considering the short rations he’s been fed on lately.”

The dogs were indeed having a hard time. Worn by months of
sledge-pulling over weary leagues of snow and ice, their trials only
increased as the tedious journey progressed. The days were now so long
that each offered a full twelve hours of sunlight, while the snow
was so softened by the growing warmth that in the middle of the day
it seriously clogged both snow-shoes and sledges. Then a crust would
form, through which the poor dogs would break for an hour or more,
until it stiffened sufficiently to bear their weight. Added to these
tribulations was such a scarcity of food that half-rations had become
the rule for every one, men as well as dogs, excepting Nel-te, who had
not yet been allowed to suffer on that account. Of the many dogs that
had been connected with the expedition at different times only nine
were now left, and some of these would evidently not go much farther.

As the boys talked of the condition of these trusty servants, and
exchanged anxious forebodings concerning the crossing of the mountains,
their attention was attracted by an exclamation from Jalap Coombs.
Nel-te had been so insistent in demanding his attention that the
sailor-man was finally obliged to lay aside his work and lift the child
to his knees, saying,

“Waal, Cap’n Kid, what’s the orders now, sir?”

“Cap’n Kid” was the name he had given to the little fellow on the
occasion of the latter’s début as pilot; for, as he said, “Every branch
pilot answers to the hail of cap’n, and this one being a kid becomes
‘Cap’n Kid’ by rights.”

For answer to his question the child held out a small fur-booted foot,
and intimated that the boot should be pulled off.

“Bad foot, hurt Nel-te,” he said.

“So! something gone wrong with your running rigging, eh?” queried
Jalap Coombs, as he pulled off the offending boot. Before he could
investigate it the little chap reached forward, and, thrusting a
chubby hand down to its very toe, drew forth in triumph the object
that had been annoying him. As he made a motion to fling it out into
the snow, Jalap Coombs, out of curiosity to see what had worried the
child, caught his hand. The next moment he uttered the half-terrified
exclamation that attracted the attention of Phil and Serge.

As they looked they saw him holding to the firelight between thumb and
finger, and beyond reach of Nel-te, who was striving to regain it, an
object so strange and yet so familiar that for a moment they regarded
it in speechless amazement.

“The fur-seal’s tooth!” cried Phil. “How can it be?”

[Illustration: THE FUR-SEAL’S TOOTH CREATES A SENSATION]

“It can’t be our fur-seal’s tooth,” objected Serge, in a tone of
mingled incredulity and awe. “There must be several of them.”

“I should think so myself,” replied Phil, who had taken the object in
question from Jalap Coombs for a closer examination, “if it were not
for a private mark that I scratched on it when it was in our possession
at St. Michaels. See, here it is, and so the identity of the tooth is
established beyond a doubt. But how it ever got here I cannot conceive.
There is actually something supernatural about the whole thing. Where
did you say you found it, Mr. Coombs?”

“In Cap’n Kid’s boot,” replied the mate, who had just restored that
article to the child’s foot. “But blow me for a porpus ef I kin
understand how ever it got there. Last time I seen it ’twas back to
Forty Mile.”

“Yes,” said Serge, “Judge Riley had it.”

“I remember seeing him put it into a vest-pocket,” added Phil, “and
meant to ask him for it, but forgot to do so. Now to have it appear
from the boot of that child, who has never been to Forty Mile, or
certainly not since we left there, is simply miraculous. It beats any
trick of spiritualism or conjuring I ever heard of. The mystery of the
tooth’s appearing at St. Michaels after my father lost it, only a short
time before at Oonalaska, was strange enough; but that was nothing to
this.”

“There must be magic in it,” said Serge, who from early associations
was inclined to be superstitious. “I don’t care, though, if there is,”
he added, stoutly. “I believe the tooth has come to us at this time of
our despondency as an omen of good-fortune, and now I feel certain that
we shall pull through all right. You remember, Phil, the saying that
goes with it: ‘He who receives it as a gift receives good-luck.’”

“Who has received it as a gift this time?” inquired the Yankee lad.

“We all have, though it seems to have been especially sent to Nel-te,
and you know he is the one we were most anxious about.”

“That’s so,” assented Phil, “and from this time on Nel-te shall wear
it as a charm, though I suppose it won’t stay with him any longer than
suits its convenience. I never had a superstition in my life, and
haven’t believed in such things, but I must confess that my unbelief is
shaken by this affair. There isn’t any possible way, that I can see,
for this tooth to have got here except by magic of some kind.”

“It beats the _Flying Dutchman_ and merrymaids,” said Jalap Coombs,
solemnly, as he lighted his pipe for a quieting smoke. “D’ye know,
lads, I’m coming to think as how it were all on account of this ’ere
curio being aboard the steamer _Norsk_ that she stopped and picked you
up in Bering Sea that night.”

“Nonsense!” cried Phil. “That is impossible.”

Thus purely through ignorance this lad, who was usually so sensible and
level-headed, declared with one breath his belief in an impossibility,
and with the next his disbelief of a fact. All of which serves to
illustrate the folly of making assertions concerning subjects about
which we are ignorant. There is nothing so mysterious that it cannot be
explained, and nothing more foolish than to declare a thing impossible
simply because we are too ignorant to understand it.

In the present case Serge and Jalap Coombs, and even Phil, who should
have known better, were ready to believe that the fur-seal’s tooth
had come to them through some supernatural agency, because, in their
ignorance, they could not imagine how it could have come in any
other way. We laugh at their simplicity because of our wisdom. We
saw Mr. Platt Riley drop the tooth into one of their sleeping-bags
at Forty Mile. Knowing this, it is easy to understand how that same
sleeping-bag, which happened to be the extra one acquired by the
turning over to Jalap Coombs of Strengel’s stolen property, should be
selected as Nel-te’s travelling-bag, and lashed to a sledge for his
occupancy in the daytime. In his restlessness he had kicked the tooth
about until it finally worked its way into one of his little fur boots,
and that is all there was to the mystery.

Still, it afforded a fertile topic for conversation around that lonely
mountain-side camp-fire long after Phil had strung it on a buckskin
thong and hung it about the child’s neck, at the same time taking the
precaution to tuck it snugly inside his little fur parka. All agreed
that they were glad to have the fur-seal’s tooth in their possession
once more; and on account of its presence among them they were ready
to face the difficulties that would confront them on the morrow with a
cheerful confidence.



CHAPTER XXXIII

LOST IN A MOUNTAIN BLIZZARD


Tired as were the occupants of that lonely camp after a day of
exhausting climbing up through the timber, their slumbers were broken
and restless. The uncertainties of the morrow, the peculiar nature of
the road they had yet to travel, and the excitement consequent upon
nearing the end of their journey, which none of them believed to be
over fifty miles away, all combined to render them wakeful and uneasy.
So they were up by the first sign of daylight, and off before sunrise.

As there were now but three dogs to a sledge, the load of the one
driven by Serge was divided between it and the one that brought up the
rear in charge of Jalap Coombs. A few sticks of dry wood were also
placed on each sledge, so that in crossing the upper ice-fields they
might at least be able to melt snow for drinking purposes.

“Now for it!” cried Phil, cheerfully, as they emerged from the scanty
timber, and shivered in the chill blast that swept down from the
towering peaks above them. Between two of these was a saddle-like
depression that they took to be the pass, and to it the young leader
determined to guide his little party.

“Up you go, Musky!” he shouted. “Pull, Luvtuk, my pigeon! Amook, you
old rascal, show what you are good for! A little more work, a little
more hunger, and then rest, with plenty to eat. So stir yourselves and
climb!”

With this the long whip-lash whistled through the frosty air and
cracked with a resounding report that would have done credit to the
most expert of Eskimo drivers, for our Phil was no longer a novice in
its use, and with a yelp the dogs sprang forward.

Up, up, up they climbed, until, as Phil remarked, it didn’t seem as
though the top of the world could be very far away. The sun rose and
flooded the snowfields with such dazzling radiance that but for their
protecting goggles our travellers must have been completely blinded
by the glare. The deep gulch whose windings they followed held in
summer-time a roaring torrent; but now it was filled with solidly
packed snow from twenty-five to one hundred feet deep.

As they advanced the gulch grew more and more shallow, until at length
it was merged in a broad, uniform slope so steep and slippery that they
were obliged to cut footholds in the snow, and at frequent intervals
carve out little benches two feet wide. From one of these to another
they dragged the sledges, one at a time, with rawhide ropes. Even the
dogs had to be assisted up the glassy incline, on which they could
gain no hold. So arduous was this labor that three hours were spent in
overcoming the last five hundred feet of the ascent. Thus it was long
past noon when, breathless and exhausted, the party reached the summit,
or rather a slope so gentle that the dogs could once more drag the
sledges.

Here, at an elevation of nearly five thousand feet above the sea,
they paused for breath, for a bite of lunch, and for a last look back
over the way they had come. From this elevation their view embraced
a sweep of over one hundred miles of mountain and plain, river and
forest. It was so far-reaching and boundless that it even seemed as
if they could take in the whole vast Yukon Valley, and locate points
that common-sense told them were a thousand miles beyond their range
of vision. Grand as was the prospect, they did not care to look at
it long. Time was precious; the air, in spite of its sunlight, was
bitterly chill, and, after all, the mighty wilderness now behind them
held too many memories of hardship, suffering, and danger to render it
attractive.

So, “Hurrah for the coast!” cried Phil.

“Hurrah for Sitka!” echoed Serge.

“Hooray for salt water! Now, bullies, up and at ’em!” roared Jalap
Coombs, expressing a sentiment and an order to his sailor-bred dogs in
a breath.

In a few moments more the wonderful view had disappeared, and the
sledges were threading their way amid a chaos of gigantic bowlders and
snow-covered landslides from the peaks that rose on both sides. There
was no sharp descent from the summit, such as they had hoped to find,
but instead a lofty plateau piled thick with obstructions. About them
no green thing was to be seen, no sign of life; only snow, ice, and
precipitous cliffs of bare rock. The all-pervading and absolute silence
was awful. There was no trail that might be followed, for the hardiest
of natives dared not attempt that crossing in the winter. Even if they
had, their trail would have been obliterated almost as soon as made by
the fierce storms of those altitudes. So their only guide was that of
general direction, which they knew to be south, and to this course Phil
endeavored to hold.

That night they made a chill camp in the lee of a great bowlder; that
is, in as much of a lee as could be had, where the icy blast swept in
circles and eddies from all directions at once. They started a fire,
but its feeble flame was so blown hither and thither that by the time a
kettle of snow was melted and the ice was thawed from their stew, their
supply of wood was so depleted that they dared not use more. So they
ate their scanty supper without tea, fed the dogs on frozen porridge,
and, huddling together for warmth during the long hours of bleak
darkness, were thankful enough to welcome the gray dawn that brought
them to an end.

For three days more they toiled over the terrible plateau, driven to
long détours by insurmountable obstacles, buffeted and lashed by fierce
snow-squalls and ice-laden gales, but ever pushing onward with unabated
courage, expecting with each hour to find themselves descending into
the valley of the Chilkat River. Two of the dogs driven by Serge broke
down so completely that they were mercifully shot. The third dog was
added to Jalap Coombs’s team, and the load was divided between the
remaining sledges, while the now useless one was used as firewood.
After that Phil plodded on in advance, and Serge drove the leading team.

The fourth day of this terrible work was one of leaden clouds and
bitter winds. The members of the little party were growing desperate
with cold, exhaustion, and hunger. Their wanderings had not brought
them to a timber-line, and as poor Phil faced the blast with bowed head
and chattering teeth it seemed to him that to be once more thoroughly
warm would be the perfection of human happiness.

It was already growing dusk, and he was anxiously casting about for the
sorry shelter of some bowlder behind which they might shiver away the
hours of darkness, when he came to the verge of a steep declivity. His
heart leaped as he glanced down its precipitous face; for, far below,
he saw a dark mass that he knew must be timber. They could not descend
at that point; but he thought he saw one that appeared more favorable a
little farther on, and hastened in that direction. He was already some
distance ahead of the slow-moving sledges, and meant to wait for them
as soon as he discovered a place from which the descent could be made.

Suddenly a whirling, blinding cloud of snow swept down on him with
such fury that to face it and breathe was impossible. Thinking it but
a squall, he turned his back and stood motionless, waiting for it to
pass over. Instead of so doing, it momentarily increased in violence
and density. A sudden darkness came with the storm, and as he anxiously
started back to meet the sledges he could not see one rod before him.
He began to shout, and in a few minutes had the satisfaction of hearing
an answering cry. Directly afterwards Serge loomed through the driving
cloud, urging on his reluctant dogs with voice and whip. The moment
they were allowed to stop, Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook lay down as
though completely exhausted.

“We can’t go a step farther, Phil! We must make camp at once,” panted
Serge. “This storm is a regular _poorga_, and will probably last all
night.”

“But where can we camp?” asked Phil, in dismay. “There is timber down
below, but it looks miles away, and we can’t get to it now.”

“No,” replied Serge; “we must stay where we are, and burrow a hole in
this drift big enough to hold us. We’ve got to do it in a hurry, too.”

So saying, Serge drew his knife, for the outside of the drift close
to which they were halted was so hard packed as to render cutting
necessary, and outlined a low opening. From this he removed an unbroken
slab, and then began to dig furiously in the soft snow beyond.

In the meantime Phil was wondering why Jalap Coombs did not appear, for
he had supposed him to be close behind Serge; but now his repeated
shoutings gained no reply.

“He was not more than one hundred feet behind me when the storm began,”
said Serge, whose anxiety caused him to pause in his labor, though it
was for the preservation of their lives.

“He must be in some trouble,” said Phil, “and I am going back to find
him.”

“You can’t go alone!” said Serge. “If you are to get lost I must go
with you.”

“No. One of us must stay here with Nel-te, and it is my duty to go; but
do you shout every few seconds, and I promise not to go beyond sound of
your voice.”

Thus saying, Phil started back, and was instantly swallowed in the
vortex of the blizzard. Faithfully did Serge shout, and faithfully
did Phil answer, for nearly fifteen minutes. Then the latter came
staggering back, with horror-stricken face and voice.

“I can’t find him, Serge! Oh, I can’t find him!” he cried. “I am afraid
he has gone over the precipice. If he has, it is my fault, and I shall
never forgive myself, for I had no business to go so far ahead and let
the party get scattered.”

Serge answered not a word, but fell with desperate energy to the
excavating of his snow-house. His heart was near breaking with the
sorrow that had overtaken them, but he was determined that no other
lives should be lost if his efforts could save them. The excavation was
soon so large that Phil could work with him, but with all their furious
digging they secured a shelter from the pitiless _poorga_ none too
soon. The sledge was already buried from sight, and poor little Nel-te
was wellnigh smothered ere they lifted him from it and pulled him into
the burrow.



CHAPTER XXXIV

COASTING FIVE MILES IN FIVE MINUTES


In spite of their faintness and weakness from hunger and exhaustion,
Phil and Serge were so stimulated by the emergency that within half
an hour they had dug a cavity in the great drift sufficiently large
to hold the three dogs as well as themselves. The excavation was
driven straight for a few feet, and then turned to one side, where it
was so enlarged that they could either lie down or sit up. Into this
diminutive chamber they dragged their robes and sleeping-bags. The
shivering dogs crept in and curled up at their feet. The sledge was
left outside, and the opening was closed as well as might be by the
slab of compacted snow that had been cut from it.

Poor little Nel-te, who was numbed and whimpering with cold and hunger,
was rubbed into a glow, comforted, and petted, until at length he fell
asleep, nestled between the lads, and then they found time to talk over
their situation. For a while they had no thought save for the dear
friend and trusty comrade who, alive or dead, was still out in that
terrible storm, and, as they believed, lost to them forever.

“I don’t suppose there is the faintest hope of ever seeing him again,”
said Phil. “If he went over the precipice he must have been killed,
and is buried deep in the snow by this time. Even if he did not, and
is still wandering somewhere in this vicinity, he must perish before
morning. Oh, Serge, can’t we do anything for him? It makes me feel
like a cowardly traitor to be sitting here in comfort while the dear
old chap may be close at hand, and perishing for want of our help.
And it is my fault, too! The fault of my inexcusable carelessness. It
seems, old man, as if I should go crazy with thinking of it.”

“But you mustn’t think of it in that way, Phil,” answered Serge,
soothingly. “As leader of the party it was your duty to go ahead and
pick out the road, while it was ours to keep you in sight. If either
of us is to blame for what has happened, I am the one. I should have
looked back oftener, and made sure that he was still close behind me.
Now there is nothing we can do except wait for daylight and the end of
the storm. We have our parents, this child, and ourselves to think of
first. Nor could we accomplish anything even if we tried. The storm
has doubled in fury since we halted. A foot of snow must already have
fallen, and to venture a single rod outside of this place would serve
to lose us as certainly as though we went a mile. We mustn’t give up
all hope, though. Mr. Coombs is very strong, and well used to exposure.
Of course, if he has gone over the precipice there is little chance
that we shall ever see him again; but if he escaped it, and has made a
burrow for himself like this one, he will pull through all right, and
we shall find him in the morning.”

“Why haven’t we dug places like this before?” asked Phil. “It is
actually getting warm and comfortable in here. We might have had just
such a warm cave every night that we have been in the mountains and
spent so miserably.”

“Of course we might,” agreed Serge, “and we would have had but for my
stupidity in not thinking of it sooner. While I never took refuge in
one before, I have often heard of them, and ought to have remembered.
I didn’t, though, until this storm struck us, and I knew that without
shelter we must certainly perish.”

“If you hadn’t thought of a snow-burrow,” said Phil, “it is certain I
never should. It is snug, though, and if only poor Jalap were with us,
and we had food and a light of some kind, I wouldn’t ask for a better
shelter. I can understand now how an Eskimo stone lamp, with seal-oil
for fuel and a wick of moss, can give out all the heat that is needed
in one of their snow-huts, and I only wish we had brought one with us.”

After this the boys grew drowsy, their conversation slackened, and
soon all their troubles were forgotten in sleep. Outside, through the
long hours, the gale roared and shrieked with impotent rage at their
escape from its clutches. It hurled its snow legions against their
place of refuge until it was deep buried, and then in a frenzy tore
away and scattered the drifted accumulation, until it could once more
beat directly upon their slender wall of defence. But its wiles and its
furious attacks were alike in vain, and at length its fierce ravings
sank into whispers. The _poorga_ spent its force with the darkness, and
at daylight had swept on to inland fields, leaving only an added burden
of a million tons of snow to mark its passage across the mountains.

When the boys awoke a soft white light was filtering through one side
of their spotless chamber, and they knew that day had come. They
expected to dig their way to the outer air through a great mass of
snow, and were agreeably surprised to find only a small drift against
the doorway. As they emerged from it they were for a few minutes
blinded by the marvellous brilliancy of their sunlit surroundings.
Gradually becoming accustomed to the intense light, they gazed eagerly
about for some sign of their missing comrade, but there was none. They
followed back for a mile over the way they had come the evening before,
shouting and firing their guns, but without avail.

No answering shout came back to their straining ears, and there was
nothing to indicate the fate of the lost man. Sadly and soberly the
lads retraced their steps, and prepared to resume their journey.
To remain longer in that place meant starvation and death. To save
themselves they must push on.

They shuddered at the precipice they had escaped, and over which they
feared their comrade had plunged. At its foot lay a valley, which,
though it trended westward, and so away from their course, Phil
determined to follow; for, far below their lofty perch, and still miles
away from where they stood, it held the dark mass he had seen the night
before, and knew to be timber. Besides, his sole desire at that moment
was to escape from those awful heights and reach the coast at some
point; he hardly cared whether it were inhabited or not.

So the sledge was dug from its bed of snow, reloaded, and the dogs were
harnessed. Poor little Nel-te, crying with hunger, was slipped into his
fur travelling-bag, and a start was made to search for some point of
descent. At length they found a place where the slope reached to the
very top of the cliff, but so sharply that it was like the steep roof
of a house several miles in length.

“I hate the looks of it,” said Phil, “but as there doesn’t seem to
be any other way, I suppose we’ve got to try it. I should say that
for at least three miles it is as steep as the steepest part of a
toboggan-slide, though, and I’m pretty certain we sha’n’t care to try
it more than once.”

“I guess we can do it all right,” replied Serge, “but there’s only one
way, and that is to sit on a snow-shoe and slide. We couldn’t keep on
our feet a single second.”

They lifted Nel-te, fur bag and all, from the sledge, tightened the
lashings of its load, which included the guns and extra snow-shoes, and
started it over the verge. It flashed down the declivity like a rocket,
and the last they saw of it it was rolling over and over.

“Looks cheerful, doesn’t it?” said Phil, grimly. “Now I’ll go; then do
you start the dogs down, and come yourself as quick as you please.”

Thus saying, the plucky lad seated himself on a snow-shoe, took Nel-te,
still in the fur bag, in his lap, and launched himself over the edge
of the cliff. For a moment the sensation, which was that of falling
from a great height, was sickening, and a thick mist seemed to obscure
his vision. Then it cleared away, and was followed by a feeling of the
wildest exhilaration as he heard the whistling backward rush of air,
and realized the tremendous speed at which he was whizzing through
space. Ere it seemed possible that he could have gone half-way to the
timber-line, trees began to fly past him, and he knew that the worst
was over. In another minute he was floundering in a drift of soft snow,
into which he had plunged up to his neck, and the perilous feat was
accomplished.

Poor Serge arrived at the same point shortly afterwards, head first,
and dove out of sight in the drift; but fortunately Phil was in a
position to extricate him before he smothered. The dogs appeared a
moment later, with somewhat less velocity, but badly demoralized, and
evidently feeling that they had been sadly ill-treated. So the sledge
party had safely descended in five minutes a distance equal to that
which they had spent half a day and infinite toil in ascending on the
other side of the mountains.

When Nel-te was released from the fur bag and set on his feet he was
as calm and self-possessed as though nothing out of the usual had
happened, and immediately demanded something to eat.

After a long search they discovered the sledge, with only one rail
broken and its load intact.

“Now for a fire and breakfast!” cried Phil, heading towards the timber
as soon as the original order of things was restored. “After that we
will make one more effort to find some trace of poor Jalap, though I
don’t believe there is the slightest chance of success.”

They entered the forest of wide-spreading but stunted evergreens, and
Phil, axe in hand, was vigorously attacking a dead spruce, when an
exclamation from his companion caused him to pause in his labor and
look around.

“What can that be?” asked Serge, pointing to a thick hemlock that stood
but a few yards from them. The lower ends of its drooping branches
were deep buried in snow, but such part as was still visible was in a
strange state of agitation.

“It must be a bear,” replied Phil, dropping his axe and springing to
the sledge for his rifle. “His winter den is in there, and we have
disturbed him. Get out your gun――quick! We can’t afford to lose him.
Meat’s too scarce in camp just now.”

Even as he spoke, and before the guns could be taken from their
moose-skin cases, the motion of the branches increased, there came a
violent upheaval of the snow that weighted them down, and the boys
caught a glimpse of some huge shaggy animal issuing from the powdered
whiteness.

“Hurry!” cried Phil. “No, look out! We’re too late! What? Great Scott!
It can’t be! Yes, it is! Hurrah! Glory, hallelujah! I knew he’d pull
through all right, and I believe I’m the very happiest fellow in all
the world at this minute.”

“Mebbe you be, son,” remarked Jalap Coombs, “and then again mebbe
there’s others as is equally joyful. As my old friend Kite Roberson
useter say, ‘A receiver’s as good as a thief,’ and I sartainly received
a heap of pleasure through hearing you holler jest now.”



CHAPTER XXXV

HOW JALAP COOMBS MADE PORT


The things on which we are apt to set the highest value in this world
are those that we have lost, and even our friends are as a rule most
highly appreciated after they have been taken from us. Thus, in the
present instance, Phil and Serge had so sincerely mourned the loss of
their quaint but loyal comrade that his restoration to them alive and
well, “hearty _and_ hungry,” as he himself expressed it, filled them
with unbounded joy. They hung about him, and lovingly brushed the snow
from his fur clothing, and plied him with questions, and made so much
of him that he finally exclaimed:

“Avast, lads, and let up! Ye make me feel like I were reading my own
obituary in print, which my old friend Kite Roberson were the only
mortal man ever I knowed as had that onhappy pleasure. It happened when
he were lost at sea, with his ship and all hands, in latitood 24.06
nothe, and longitood 140.15 west, ’cording to the noosepapers; while,
’cording to Kite’s log, he were cutting in of a fin-back and having
the best of luck at that very place _and_ hour. Anyway, whether he
were drownded or no, he kim back in time to enjoy the mortification of
reading the notice of his own taking off, which he said it made him
feel ashamed to be alive, seeing as he were a so much better man after
he were dead. Them’s about the size of my feelings at the present hour
of observation. So ef you boys don’t let up I reckon I’ll have to
crawl back in the snow _and_ stay there.”

Even Nel-te showed delight at the return of his playmate by cuddling up
to him, and stroking his weather-beaten cheeks, and confiding to him
how very hungry he was.

“Me, too, Cap’n Kid!” exclaimed Jalap Coombs; “and I must say you’re
a mighty tempting mossel to a man as nigh starved as I be. Jest about
broiling age, plump _and_ tender. Cap’n Kid, look out, for I’m mighty
inclined to stow ye away.”

“Try this instead,” laughed Phil, holding out a chunk of frozen
pemmican that he had just chopped off. “We’re in the biggest kind of
luck to-day,” he continued. “I didn’t know there was a mouthful of
anything to eat on this sledge, and here I’ve just found about five
pounds of pemmican. It does seem to me the very best pemmican that ever
was put up, too, and I only wonder that we didn’t eat it long ago. I’m
going to get my aunt Ruth to make me a lot of it just as soon as ever I
get home.”

By this time the fire was blazing merrily, and the chynik was beginning
to sing. Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook had each received a portion of
the precious pemmican, swallowed it at a gulp, and were wagging their
bushy tails in anxious expectation of more, while the spirits of the
whole party were at the top-notch of contentment.

As they sat before the fire on a tree felled and stripped of its
branches for the purpose, and munched frozen pemmican, and took turns
in sipping strong unsweetened tea from the only cup now left to them,
Jalap Coombs described his thrilling experiences of the preceding night.

According to his story, one of his dogs gave out, and he stopped to
unharness it with the hope that it would still have strength to follow
the sledge. While he was thus engaged the storm broke, the blinding
rush of snow swept over the mountains, and as he looked up he found to
his dismay that the other sledge was already lost to view. He at once
started to overtake it, urging on the reluctant dogs by every means
in his power; but after a few minutes of struggle against the furious
gale, they lay down and refused to move. After cutting their traces
that they might follow him if they chose, the man set forth alone, with
bowed head and uncertain steps, on a hopeless quest for his comrades.
He did not find them, as we know, though once he heard a faint cry from
off to one side. Heading in that direction, the next thing he knew he
had plunged over the precipice, and found himself sliding, rolling, and
bounding downward with incredible velocity.

“The trip must have lasted an hour or more,” said Jalap Coombs,
soberly, in describing it, “and when I finally brung up all standing,
I couldn’t make out for quite a spell whether I were still on top of
the earth or had gone plumb through to the other side. I knowed every
rib and timber of my framing were broke, and every plank started; but
somehow I managed to keep my head above water, and struck out for
shore. I made port under a tree, and went to sleep. When I woke at the
end of the watch, I found all hatches closed and battened down. So I
were jest turning over again when I heerd a hail, and knowed I were
wanted on deck. And, boys, I’ve had happy moments in my life, but I
reckon the happiest of ’em all were when I broke out and seen you two,
with the kid, standing quiet _and_ respectful, and heerd ye saying,
‘Good morning, sir, and hoping you’ve passed a quiet night,’ like I
were a full-rigged cap’n.”

“As you certainly deserve to be, Mr. Coombs,” laughed Phil, “and as I
believe you will be before long, for I don’t think we can be very far
from salt water at this moment.”

“It’s been seeming to me that I could smell it!” exclaimed the
sailor-man, eagerly sniffing the air as he spoke. “And, ef you’re
agreeable, sir, I moves that we set sail for it at once. My hull’s
pretty well battered and stove in, but top works is solid, standing
and running rigging all right, and I reckon by steady pumping we can
navigate the old craft to port yet.”

“All aboard, then! Up anchor, and let’s be off!” shouted Phil, so
excited at the prospect of a speedy termination to their journey that
he could not bear a moment’s longer delay in attaining it. At present
he cared little that they had evidently wandered far from the Chilkat
trail, as was shown by the westward trend of the valley in which they
now found themselves. That it still descended sharply, and by following
it they must eventually reach the ocean, was enough.

So they set merrily and hopefully forth, and followed the windings of
the valley, keeping just beyond the forest edge. In summer-time they
would have found it filled with impassable obstacles――huge bowlders,
landslides, a net-work of logs and fallen trees, and a roaring torrent;
but now it was packed with snow to such an incredible depth that all
these things lay far beneath their feet, and the way was made easy.

By nightfall they had reached the mouth of the valley, and saw, opening
before them, one so much wider that it reminded them of the broad
expanse of the frozen Yukon. The course of this new valley was almost
north and south, and they felt certain that it must lead to the sea. In
spite of their anxiety to follow it, darkness compelled them to seek a
camping-place in the timber. That evening they ate all that remained of
their pemmican, excepting a small bit that was reserved for Nel-te’s
breakfast.

They made up, as far as possible, for their lack of food by building
the most gorgeous camp-fire of the entire journey. They felled several
green trees close together, and built it on them so that it should not
melt its way down out of sight through the deep snow. Then they felled
dead trees and cut them into logs. These, together with dead branches,
they piled up, until they had a structure forty feet long by ten feet
high. They set fire to it with the last match in their possession, and
as the flames gathered headway and roared and leaped to the very tops
of the surrounding trees, even Phil was obliged to acknowledge that at
last he was thoroughly and uncomfortably warm. The contrast between
that night and the previous one, passed in a snow burrow high up on the
mountains, amid the howlings of a furious gale, without food, fire, or
hope, was so wonderful that all declared they had lived months since
that dreadful time instead of only a few hours.

The following morning poor Jalap was so stiff and lame that his face
was contorted with pain when he attempted to rise.

“Never mind,” he cried, cheerily, as he noted Phil’s anxious
expression, “I’ll fetch it. Just give me a few minutes’ leeway.”

And, sure enough, in a few minutes he was on his feet rubbing his legs,
stretching his arms, and twisting his body “to limber up the j’ints.”
Although in a torment of pain, he soon declared himself ready for
the day’s tramp, and they set forth. Ere they had gone half a mile,
however, it was evident that he could walk no farther. The pain of the
effort was too great even for his sturdy determination, and when he
finally sank down with a groan, the boys helped him on the sledge, and
attached themselves to its pulling-bar with long thongs of rawhide.

The two stalwart young fellows, together with three dogs, made a strong
team, but the snow was so soft, and their load so heavy, that by noon
they had not made more than ten miles. They had, however, reached the
end of their second valley, and come upon a most extraordinary scene.
As far as the eye could reach on either side stretched a vast plain of
frozen whiteness. On its farther border, directly in front of them, but
some ten miles away, rose a chain of mountains bisected by a deep, wide
cut like a gateway.

“It must be an arm of the sea, frozen over and covered with snow,” said
Phil.

“But,” objected Serge, “on this coast no such body of salt water stays
frozen so late in the season; for we are well into April now, you know.”

“Then it is a great lake.”

“I never heard of any lake on this side of the mountains.”

“I don’t reckon it’s the sea; but salt water’s mighty nigh,” said Jalap
Coombs, sniffing the air as eagerly as a hound on the scent of game.

“Whatever it is,” said Phil, “we’ve got to cross it, and I am going to
head straight for that opening.”

So they again bent to their traces, and a few hours later had crossed
the great white plain, and were skirting the base of a mountain that
rose on their left. Its splintered crags showed the dull red of iron
rust wherever they were bare of snow, and only thin fringes of snow
were to be seen in its more sheltered gorges.

Suddenly Phil halted, his face paled, and his lips quivered with
emotion. “The sea!” he gasped. “Over there, Serge!”

Jalap Coombs caught the words and was on his feet in an instant, all
his pains forgotten in a desire to once more catch a glimpse of his
beloved salt water.

“Yes,” replied Serge, after a long look. “It certainly is a narrow
bay. How I wish we knew what one! But, Phil! what is that down there
near the foot of the cliffs? Is it――can it be――a house?”

“Where?” cried Phil. “Yes, I see! I do believe it is! Yes, it certainly
is a house.”



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE MOST FAMOUS ALASKAN GLACIER


That little house nestling at the base of a precipitous mountain, and
still nearly a mile away, was just then a more fascinating sight to
our half-starved, toil-worn travellers than even the sea itself, and,
filled with a hopeful excitement, they hastened towards it. The way
led down a steep incline, and along a shallow, treeless valley, shut
off from the water on their right by a ridge a hundred feet or so in
height. From this depression the house was hidden until they were
directly upon it; but the knowledge that it was there filled them with
cheerful anticipations of food, warmth, rest, and a hearty welcome from
people of their own race. It was probably a salmon cannery or saltery,
or a trading-post. At any rate, the one house they had discovered was
that of a white man; for it had a chimney, and none of the Tlingits or
natives of southern Alaska build chimneys.

While Phil and Jalap Coombs were full of confidence that a few minutes
more would find them in a settlement of white men, Serge was greatly
puzzled, and, though he said little, kept up a deal of thinking as
he tugged at the rawhide sledge-trace. He felt that he ought to know
the place, for he did not believe they were more than one hundred
miles from Sitka; but he could not remember having heard of any white
settlement on that part of the coast, except at the Chilkat cannery,
and this place did not correspond in any particular with what he had
heard of that.

At length they rounded the last low spur of the ridge, and came
upon the house only a few rods away. For a few moments they stood
motionless, regarding it in silence, and with a bitter disappointment.
It was roughly but substantially constructed of sawed lumber, had a
shingled roof, two glass windows, a heavy door, and a great outside
chimney of rough stone. But it was closed and deserted. No hospitable
smoke curled from its chimney, there was no voice of welcome nor sign
of human presence. Nor was there another building of any kind in sight.
The little cabin in the now distant wilderness from which Phil had
taken Nel-te had not been more lonely than this one.

“I suppose we may as well keep on and examine the interior now that
we’ve come so far,” said Phil, in a disgusted tone that readily
betrayed his feelings. “There doesn’t seem to be any one around to
prevent us. I only wish there was.”

So they pushed open the door, which was fastened but not locked, and
stepped inside. The cabin contained but a single large room furnished
with several sleeping-bunks, a stout table, and a number of seats, all
home-made from unplaned lumber. Much rubbish, including empty bottles
and tin cans, was scattered about; but it was evident that everything
of value had been removed by the last occupants. The chief feature of
the room was an immense and rudely artistic fireplace at its farther
end. Above this hung a smooth board skilfully decorated with charcoal
sketches, and bearing the legend “Camp Muir.”

As Serge caught sight of this he uttered an exclamation. “Now I know
where we are!” he cried. “Come with me, Phil, and I will show you one
of the grand sights of the world.”

With this he dashed out of the door, and ran towards the beach ridge
behind which the cabin stood. Phil followed, wondering curiously what
his friend could mean. As they reached the low crest of the ridge he
understood; for outspread before him, bathed in a rosy light by the
setting sun, was a spectacle that tourists travel from all parts of the
world to gaze upon.

A precipitous line of ice-cliffs of marble whiteness or heavenly blue,
two miles long and hundreds of feet in height, carved into spires,
pinnacles, minarets, and a thousand other fantastic shapes, rose in
frozen majesty at the head of a little bay whose waters washed the
beach at their feet. Ere either of the boys could find words to express
his delight and wonder, a huge mass of the lofty wall broke away and
plunged into the sea, with a thunderous roar that echoed and re-echoed
from the enclosing mountains. For a moment it disappeared in a milky
cloud of foam and spray. Then it shot up from the depths like some
stupendous submarine monster, and, with torrents of water streaming
from it in glittering cascades, floated on the heaving surface a
new-born iceberg.

“It must be a glacier,” said Phil, in an awe-stricken tone.

“It is a glacier,” answered Serge, triumphantly, “and one of the
most famous in the world, for it is the MUIR, which is larger and
contains more ice than all the eleven hundred glaciers of Switzerland
put together. That cabin is the one occupied by John Muir and his
companions when they explored it in 1890. To think that we should have
come down one of its branches, and even crossed the great glacier
itself, without knowing what it was! I believe we would have known it,
though, if the snow hadn’t been so deep as to alter the whole character
of its surface.”

“If this is the Muir Glacier,” reflected Phil, “I don’t see but what
we are in a box. We must be to the westward of Chilkat.”

“Yes,” said Serge. “It lies to the eastward of those mountains.”

“Which don’t look as though they would be very easy even for us to
climb, while I know we couldn’t get Jalap and Nel-te over them. I don’t
suppose any tourist steamers will be visiting this place for some time,
either.”

“Not for two months at least,” replied Serge.

“Which is longer than we can afford to wait without provisions or
supplies of any kind. So we shall have to get away, somehow, and pretty
quickly too. It doesn’t look as though we could follow the coast any
farther, though; for just below here the cliffs seem to rise sheer from
the water.”

“No,” said Serge, “we can’t. We can only get out by boat or by scaling
the mountains.”

“In which case we shall starve to death before we have a chance to do
either,” retorted Phil, gloomily, “for we are pretty nearly starved
now. In fact, old man, it looks as though the good-fortune that has
stood by us during the whole of this journey had deserted us at its
very end.”

By this time the boys had strolled back to the cabin, which was left
by the setting sun in a dark shadow. As they turned its corner they
came upon Nel-te standing outside clapping his chubby hands, and
gazing upward in an ecstasy of delight. Following the child’s glance
Phil uttered a startled exclamation, and sprang through the doorway. A
moment later he emerged, rifle in hand.

High up on a shoulder of the mountain, hundreds of feet above the
cabin, sharply outlined against the sky, and bathed in the full glory
of the setting sun, a mountain goat, with immensely thick hair of snowy
white, and sharp black horns, stood as motionless as though carved
from marble. Blinded by the sunlight, and believing himself to be
surrounded by a solitude untenanted by enemies, he saw not the quietly
moving figures in the dim shadows beneath him.

Twice did Phil raise his rifle and twice did he lower it, so tremulous
was he with excitement and a knowledge that four human lives depended
on the result of his shot. The third time he took a quick aim and
fired. As the report echoed sharply from the beetling cliffs, the
stricken animal gave a mighty leap straight out into space, and came
whirling downward like a great white bird with broken wings. He struck
twice, but bounded off each time, and finally lay motionless, buried in
the snow at the very foot of the mountain that had been his home.

“Hurrah!” shouted Phil. “No starvation this time! Luck _is_ still with
us, after all. That is, Nel-te is still with us, and he seems to carry
good luck; for we certainly should not have seen that fellow but for
the little chap. So, hurrah, old man!”

But Serge needed no urging this time to shout as loudly as Phil, though
while he shouted he got the sledge ready for bringing in their game.

“Seeing as how we hain’t got no fire nor no matches, I reckon we’ll eat
our meat raw, like the Huskies,” said Jalap Coombs, dryly, a little
later, as they began to skin and cut up the goat.

“Whew!” ejaculated Phil. “I never thought of that. But I know how to
make a fire with the powder from a cartridge, if one of you can furnish
a bit of cotton cloth.”

“It seems a pity to waste a cartridge,” said Serge, “when we haven’t
but three or four left, and a single one has just done so much for us.
I think I can get fire in a much more economical way.”

“How?” queried Phil.

“Ye won’t find no brimstone nor yet feathers here,” suggested Jalap
Coombs, with a shake of his head.

“Never mind,” laughed Serge; “you two keep on cutting up the goat, and
by the time your job is completed I think I can promise that mine will
be.” So saying, Serge entered the cabin and closed the door.

In a pile of rubbish he had noticed several small pieces of wood and
a quantity of very dry botanical specimens, some of which bore fluffy
seed-vessels that could be used as tinder. He selected a bit of soft
pine, and worked a small hole in it with the point of his knife. Next
he whittled out a thick pencil of the hardest wood he could find,
sharpened one end and rounded the other. In a block of hard wood he dug
a cavity, into which the rounded top of the pencil would fit. He found
a section of barrel hoop, and strung it very loosely with a length
of rawhide from a dog harness, so as to make a small bow. Finally he
took a turn of the bow-string about the pencil, fitted the point into
the soft pine that rested on the floor, and the other end into the
hard-wood block, on which he leaned his breast.

With one hand he now drew the bow swiftly to and fro, causing the
pencil to revolve with great rapidity, and with the other he held a
small quantity of tinder close to its point of contact with the soft
pine. The rapid movement of the pencil produced a few grains of fine
sawdust, and this shortly began to smoke with the heat of friction.
In less than one minute the sawdust and tinder were in a glow that a
breath fanned into a flame, and there was no longer any doubt about a
fire.[1]

    [1] This is the Eskimo method; and I have seen a Norton Sound
    Eskimo woman obtain fire by this simple means inside of ten
    seconds.――K. M.

[Illustration: SERGE’S METHOD OF LIGHTING A FIRE]

That evening, as our friends sat contentedly in front of a cheerful
blaze, after a more satisfactory meal than they had enjoyed for many a
day, Jalap Coombs remarked that he only wanted one more thing to make
him perfectly happy.

“Same here,” said Phil. “What’s your want?”

“A pipeful of tobacco,” replied the sailor, whose whole smoking outfit
had been lost with his sledge.

“All I want,” laughed Phil, “is to know how and when we are to get out
of this trap, and continue our journey to Sitka. I hate the thought of
spending a couple of months here, even if there are plenty of goats.”

“I can’t think of anything else we can do,” said Serge, thoughtfully.

And yet those who were to rescue them from their perplexing situation
were within five miles of them at that very moment.



CHAPTER XXXVII

BIG AMOOK AND THE CHILKAT HUNTERS


“A goat is a good thing so far as it goes,” remarked Phil, gravely,
“but one goat divided among one man, two boys, a little chap, and three
awfully hungry dogs isn’t likely to last very long. With plenty of
goats ready to come and be killed as we wanted them we might hold out
here, after a fashion, until the arrival of a tourist steamer. Wouldn’t
that be fun, though? And wouldn’t we astonish the tourists? But how
we should hate goat by that time! Still, I don’t think there is the
slightest chance of our having that experience, for I understand that
mountain goats are among the shyest and most difficult to kill of all
wild animals.”

“That’s right,” said Serge, “and your chance for that shot was one of
the luckiest things I ever heard of. You might hunt goats for years,
and not have it happen again.”

“Which being the case,” continued Phil, “it won’t do for us to live
as though we had goats to squander. Consequently, we must make an
effort to get out of here before our provision is exhausted. As we
have no boat in which to go to Sitka, and the nearest point at which
we can obtain one is Chilkat, that is the place we have got to reach
somehow. So I propose that Serge and I take a prospecting trip into
the mountains to-morrow, and see what chance there is for our crossing
them. We will be back by dark, and, with the knowledge thus gained,
perhaps we can decide to-morrow evening what is best to be done.”

As no better plan than this was offered, Phil and Serge started early
the following morning on their tedious climb. Each carried a gun, and
they took Musky and Luvtuk with them in the hope of getting a bear, as
Serge had heard that bears were plentiful in those mountains. Nel-te
was left to take care of the hospital, in which Jalap Coombs, with his
many aches, and Amook, with his cut feet, were the patients.

That afternoon was so warm that the door of the little cabin stood
wide open. Before a fire that smouldered on the broad hearth Jalap
Coombs dozed in a big chair, while Nel-te romped with Amook on the
floor. Now the little chap was tantalizing the dog with the fur-seal’s
tooth, which, still attached to its buckskin thong, he had taken from
his neck. He would dangle it close to Amook’s nose, and when the dog
snapped at it snatch it away with a shout of laughter.

While the occupants of the cabin were thus engaged the heads of several
Indians were suddenly but cautiously lifted above the beach ridge.
After making certain that no one was in the vicinity of the house,
one of their number swiftly but noiselessly approached it. Crouching
under a side wall, he slowly raised his head. A single glance seemed to
satisfy him, for he immediately began to retrace his steps as quietly
as he had come.

This Indian was one of a party of Chilkat hunters who had come to
Glacier Bay in pursuit of hair seals, which in the early spring delight
to float lazily about on the drifting ice-cakes. They had camped at the
mouth of Muir Inlet the night before, and during the day had slowly
hunted their way almost to the foot of the great glacier. While there
they discovered a thin spiral of smoke curling from the cabin chimney.
This so aroused their curiosity that they determined to investigate
its cause. They imagined that some of the interior Indians, who were
strictly forbidden by the Chilkats to visit the coast, had disobeyed
orders, and come to this unfrequented place to surreptitiously gather
in a few seals. In that case the hunters would immediately declare war,
and the prospect of scalps caused their stolid faces to light and their
dull eyes to glitter.

When it was discovered that a white man was in the cabin, the Indians
were greatly disappointed, but concluded to withdraw without allowing
him to suspect their presence, for the Chilkats have no love for white
men. But for Nel-te and Amook they would have succeeded in this, and
our travellers would never have known of their dusky visitors, or the
chance for escape offered by their canoes.

If the fur-seal’s tooth had been able to speak just then it would have
said, “I am disgusted with the ways of white people. In their hands
I am treated with no respect. They lose me and find me again with
indifference. They even give me to children and dogs as a plaything.
How different was my position among the noble Chilkats! By their
Shamans and chiefs I was venerated; by the common people I was feared;
while all recognized my extraordinary powers. To them I am determined
to return.”

With this the fur-seal’s tooth, which was at that moment dangling from
Nel-te’s hand, gave itself such a vigorous forward swing that Amook
was able to seize the buckskin thong, which immediately slipped into
a secure place between two of his sharp teeth. As Nel-te attempted to
snatch back his plaything, the dog sprang up and darted from the open
doorway.

At that moment the Indian who had inspected the cabin was just
disappearing over the beach ridge. At sight of him Amook uttered a
yelp, and started in pursuit. The Indian heard him, and ran. He sprang
into the canoe, already occupied by his fellows, and shoved it off as
Amook, barking furiously, gained the water’s edge. Lying a few feet
away, and resting on their paddles, the Indians taunted him. Suddenly
one of their number called attention to the curious white object
dangling from the dog’s mouth. They gazed at it with ever-increasing
excitement, and finally one of them began to load his gun with the
intention of shooting the dog, and so securing the coveted trophy that
so miraculously appeared hanging from his jaws. Ere he could carry
out his cruel intention little Nel-te appeared over the ridge in hot
pursuit of his playmate. Without paying the slightest heed to the
Indians, he ran to the dog, disengaged the buckskin thong from his
teeth, slipped it over his own head, tucked the tooth carefully inside
his little parka, and started back towards the cabin. Amook followed
him, while the Indians regarded the whole transaction with blank
amazement.

Both Nel-te and Amook regained the cabin, and were engaged in another
romp on its floor before Jalap Coombs awoke from his nap. A little
later, when he was surprised by the appearance of half a dozen Indians
before the door, he thrust the child and dog behind him, and standing
in the opening, axe in hand, boldly faced the new-comers. In vain did
they talk, shout, point to Nel-te, and gesticulate. The only idea they
conveyed to the sailor-man was that they had come to carry “Cap’n Kid”
back to the wilderness.

“Which ye sha’n’t have him, ye bloody pirates! Not so long as old Jalap
can swing an axe!” he cried, at length wearied of their vociferations
and slamming the door in their faces.

In spite of this the Indians were so determined to attain their object
that they were planning for an attack on the cabin, when all at once
there came a barking of other dogs, and, looking in that direction,
they saw two more white men, armed with guns, coming rapidly towards
them.

“Hello in the house! Are you safe? What is the meaning of all this?”
cried Phil, in front of the closed door.

“Aye, aye, sir!” replied Jalap Coombs, joyfully, flinging it open.
“We’re safe enough so far; but them black swabs overhauled us awhile
ago, and gave out as how they’d got to have Cap’n Kid. I double-shotted
the guns, stationed the crew at quarters, and returned reply that
they couldn’t have him. Then they run up the black flag and allowed
they’d blow the ship out of water. With that I declined to hold further
communication, cleared for action, and prepared to repel boarders.”

In the meantime Serge was talking to the natives in Chinook jargon.
Suddenly he exclaimed:

“They are Chilkats, Phil, and they want something that they seem to
think is in Nel-te’s possession.”

“In Nel-te’s possession?” repeated Phil, in a puzzled tone. “What can
they mean? I don’t see how they can know anything about Nel-te, anyway.
They can’t mean the fur-seal’s tooth, can they?”

“That is exactly what they do mean!” replied Serge, after asking the
natives a few more questions. “They say it is hanging about his neck,
inside of his parka.”

“How long have these people been here, Mr. Coombs?” queried Phil.

“Not more’n ten minutes.”

“Have they seen Nel-te?”

“No, for he hain’t been outside the door.”

“Could they have seen him at any time during the day?”

“Not without me knowing it; for he hain’t left my side sence you boys
went away.”

“Then it is more certain than ever that there is magic connected with
the fur-seal’s tooth, and that the Chilkats are in some way involved
in it. How else could they possibly have known that it was in our
possession, just where to find us, and, above all, the exact position
of the tooth at this moment?”

“It surely does look redicerlous,” meditated Jalap Coombs; while Serge
said he was glad Phil was becoming so reasonable and willing to see
things in a true light.

“How did these fellows get here?” asked Phil.

“They say they came in canoes,” replied Serge.

“Ask them if they will take us to Sitka, provided we will give them the
fur-seal’s tooth?”

“No; the Indians could not do that.”

“Will they give us a canoe in exchange for it?”

“They say they will,” replied Serge, “if we will go with them to their
village and allow their Shaman (medicine-man) to examine the tooth, and
see whether or not it is the genuine article.”

“Won’t that be awfully out of our way?”

“Yes, I should think about seventy-five miles; but then we may find a
steamer there that will take us to Juneau, or even to Sitka itself.”

[Illustration: JUNEAU CITY, ALASKA]

“It would certainly be better than staying here,” reflected Phil. “And
I know that neither Serge nor I wants to try the mountain trail again
after what we have seen to-day. So I vote for going to Chilkat.”

“So do I,” assented Serge.

“Same here,” said Jalap Coombs; “though ef anybody had told me half
an hour ago that I’d been shipping for a cruise along with them black
pirates before supper-time, I’d sartainly doubted him. It only goes to
prove what my old friend Kite Roberson useter say, which were, ‘Them as
don’t expect nothing is oftenest surprised.’”



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE TREACHEROUS SHAMAN OF KLUKWAN


So delighted were the Chilkat hunters to know that they were to have
the honor of conveying the fur-seal’s tooth back to their tribe that
they wished to start at once. The whites, however, refused to go
before morning, and so the Indians returned down the inlet to their
camp of the preceding night, where they would cache what seals they
had obtained in order to make room in the canoes for their unexpected
passengers. They agreed to be back by daylight.

After they were gone, and our travellers had disposed of their simple
but highly appreciated meal of goat meat and tea, they gathered about
the fire for the last of those “dream-bag talks,” as Phil called them,
that had formed so pleasant a feature of their long journey. Without
saying a word, but with a happy twinkle in his eyes, Jalap Coombs
produced a pipe and a small square of tobacco, which he began with
great care to cut into shavings.

“Where on earth did you get them?” asked Phil.

“Found the pipe in yonder rubbish,” replied the sailor-man; “and Cap’n
Kid give me the ’baccy just now.”

“Nel-te gave you the tobacco? Where did he get it?”

“Dunno. I were too glad to get it to ask questions.”

“Well,” said Phil, “the mysteries of this place are beyond finding
out.”

“This one isn’t,” laughed Serge, “though I suppose it would be if I
hadn’t happened to see one of the Indians slip that bit of tobacco into
Nel-te’s hand.”

“What could have been his object in giving such a thing as that to a
child?”

“Oh, the Chilkat children use it as well as their elders; and I suppose
he wanted to gain Nel-te’s good-will, seeing that he is the guardian of
the fur-seal’s tooth. I shouldn’t be surprised if he hoped in some way
to get it from the child before we reached the village.”

“Which suggests an idea,” said Phil, removing the trinket in question
from Nel-te’s neck and handing it to Serge. “It is hard to say just who
the tooth does belong to now, it has changed hands so frequently, but
it will be safer for the next day or two with you than anywhere else.
Besides, it is only fair that, as it came directly from the Chilkats to
you, or, rather, to your father, you should have the satisfaction of
restoring it to them.”

So Serge accepted from Phil the mysterious bit of ivory that he had
given the latter more than a year before in distant New London, and
hung it about his neck.

“Last night,” said Phil, after this transfer had taken place, “Mr.
Coombs and I only needed a pipeful of tobacco and a knowledge of how we
were to escape from here to make us perfectly happy. Now we have both.”

“The blamed pipe won’t draw,” growled Jalap Coombs.

“While I,” continued Phil, “am bothered. I know we must go with those
fellows, but I don’t trust them, and shall feel uneasy so long as we
are in their power.”

“Do you think,” asked Serge, “that these things go to prove that there
isn’t any such thing in this world as perfect happiness?”

“No,” answered Phil; “only that it is extremely rare. How is it with
you, old man? Does the approaching end of our journey promise you
perfect happiness?”

“No, indeed!” cried Serge, vehemently. “In spite of its hardships, I
have enjoyed it too much to be glad that it is nearly ended. But most
of all, Phil, is the fear that its end means a parting from you; for
I suppose you will go right on to San Francisco, while I must stay
behind.”

“I’m afraid so,” admitted Phil. “But, at any rate, old fellow, this
journey has given me one happiness that will last as long as I live,
for it has given me your friendship, and taught me to appreciate it at
its true worth.”

“Thank you, Phil,” replied Serge, simply. “I value those words from
you more than I should from any one else in the world. Now I want to
tell you what I have to thank the journey for besides a friendship.
I believe it has shown me what is to be my life-work. You know that
missionary at Anvik said he was more in need of teachers than anything
else. While I don’t know very much, I do know more than those Indian
and Eskimo boys, and I did enjoy teaching them. So, if I can get my
mother to consent, I am going back to Anvik as soon as I can, and offer
my services as a teacher.”

“It is perfectly splendid of you to think of it,” cried Phil, heartily;
“and all I can say is that the boys who get you for a teacher are to be
envied.”

So late did the lads sit up that night talking over their plans and
hopes that on the following morning the Indians had arrived and
were clamorous for them to start before they were fairly awake. By
sunrise they, together with the three dogs, were embarked in a great
long-beaked and marvellously carved Chilkat canoe, hewn from a single
cedar log and painted black. Two of the Indians occupied it with them;
while the others and the sledge went in a second but smaller canoe of
the same ungraceful design as the first.

As with sail set and before the brisk north breeze that ever sweeps
down the glacier, the canoes sped away among the ice floes and bergs of
the inlet, our boys cast many a lingering backward glance at the little
cabin that had proved such a haven to them, and at the stupendous
ice-wall gleaming in frozen splendor on their horizon. Under other
conditions they would gladly have stayed and explored its mysteries.
Now they rejoiced at leaving it.

So favoring were the winds that they left Glacier Bay, passed Icy
Strait, and headed northward as far as the mouth of Lynn Canal before
sunset of that day. During the second day they ran the whole fifty-mile
length of the canal, which is the grandest of Alaska’s rock-walled
fiords, entered Chilkat Inlet, passed the canneries at Pyramid Harbor
and Chilkat, which would not be opened until the beginning of the
salmon season in June, entered the river, and finally reached Klukwan,
the principal Chilkat village.

Here, as the smaller canoe had preceded them and announced their
coming, our travellers were welcomed by the entire population of the
village. These thronged the beach in a state of the wildest excitement,
for it was known to all that the long-lost fur-seal’s tooth was at
last come back to them. Even the village dogs were there, a legion of
snarling, flea-bitten curs. Ere the canoe touched the beach, Musky,
Luvtuk, and big Amook were among them, and a battle was in progress
that completely drowned the cries of the spectators with its uproar.
The fighting was continued, with only brief intervals, throughout the
night; but in the morning the three champions from the Yukon were
masters of the situation, and roamed the village with bushy tails
proudly curled over their backs and without interference. “For all the
world,” said Phil, “like the Three Musketeers.”

[Illustration: THEY WERE WELCOMED BY THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF KLUKWAN]

The guests of the village were escorted to the council-house, to which
were also taken their belongings. Here they were supplied with venison,
salmon, partridges, and dried berries; and here, after supper, they
received many visitors, all anxious for a sight of the magic tooth.
Most prominent of these were the head Shaman of the village, and the
principal woman of the tribe, whose name was so unpronounceable that
Phil called her “The Princess,” a title with which she seemed to be
well pleased.

[Illustration: A CHILKAT “PRINCESS”]

She was the widow of Kloh-kutz, most famous of Chilkat chiefs, and the
one who had presented the fur-seal’s tooth to Serge Belcofsky’s father.
On the occasion of this visit she wore a beautifully embroidered dress,
together with a Chilkat blanket of exquisite fineness thrown over
her shoulders like a shawl, and fastened at the throat with a stout
safety-pin. The Princess devoted herself to Serge, whom she evidently
considered the most important person in the party, and to little
Nel-te, who took to her at once. While she pronounced the fur-seal’s
tooth to be the same that had belonged to her husband, the Shaman shook
his head doubtfully. Then it was handed from one to another of a number
of lesser Shamans and chiefs for inspection. Suddenly one of these
dropped it to the floor, and, when search was made, it could not be
found.

Phil was furious at the impudence of this trick. Even Serge was
indignant; while Jalap Coombs said it was just what might be expected
from land-sharks and pirates.

The Shaman insisted that the tooth was not lost, but had disappeared
of its own accord. If it were not the same fur-seal’s tooth that
belonged to their tribe in former years, it would not be seen again.
If it were, it would appear within a few days attached to a hideously
carved representative of Hutle, the thunder-bird that stood in one of
Kloh-kutz’s houses, now used as a place for incantation.

“We don’t care anything about all that!” exclaimed Phil, when this was
translated to him. “Tell him he can do as he pleases with the tooth, so
long as he gives us the canoe we have bargained for.”

To this the Shaman replied that they should surely have a canoe as soon
as the tooth proved its genuineness by reappearing. In the meantime,
if they were in such a hurry to get away that they did not care to
wait, he had a very fine canoe that he would let them have at once in
exchange for their guns and their dogs.

“You may tell him that we will wait,” replied Phil, grimly, “but you
need not tell him what is equally true――that we shall only wait until
we find a chance to help ourselves to the best canoe in the village and
take French leave.”

So they waited, though very impatiently, in Klukwan for nearly a week,
during which time Phil had ample opportunities for studying Chilkat
architecture and totem poles. The houses of the village were all built
of heavy hewn planks set on end. They had bark or plank roofs, with a
square opening in each for the egress of smoke. Many of them had glass
windows and ordinary doors; but in others the doors were placed so high
from the ground as to be reached by ladders on both outside and inside.
The great totem poles that stood before every house were ten, twenty,
or thirty feet tall, and covered with heraldic carvings from bottom to
top.

During this time of waiting the Shaman made repeated offers to sell
the strangers a canoe, all of which were indignantly declined. That
they did not appropriate one to their own use was for the very simple
reason that all, except a few very small or leaky canoes, mysteriously
disappeared from the village that first night.

At length the tricky medicine-man was forced to yield to the threats of
the Princess, who had taken the part of our travellers from the first,
and to popular clamor. He therefore announced one evening that he had
been informed during a vision that the fur-seal’s tooth would reappear
among them on the morrow.

On the following morning Phil and his companions were aroused by a
tremendous shouting and firing of guns, all of which proclaimed that
the happy event had taken place.

“Now,” cried Phil, “perhaps we will get our canoe.”

But there were no canoes to be seen on the beach, and the Shaman coolly
informed them that, though the precious tooth had indeed come back to
dwell with the Chilkats, they would still be obliged to wait until some
of the canoes returned from the hunting expeditions on which they had
all been taken.

At this Phil fell into such a rage that, regardless of consequences, he
was on the point of giving the old fraud a most beautiful thrashing,
when his uplifted arm was startlingly arrested by the deep boom of a
heavy gun that seemed to come from the mouth of the river.



CHAPTER XXXIX

INVADING A CAPTAIN’S CABIN


An earthquake could hardly have caused greater consternation in the
village of Klukwan than did the boom of that heavy gun as it came
echoing up the palisaded valley of the Chilkat. Not many years before
the Indians of that section had defied the power of the United States,
and killed several American citizens. A gunboat, hurried to the scene
of trouble, shelled and destroyed one of their villages in retaliation.
From that time on, no sound was so terrible to them as the roar of a
big gun.

While Phil and his companions were chafing at the delay imposed upon
them by the greed of the Chilkat Shaman, a government vessel arrived in
the neighboring inlet of Chilkoot, bearing a party of scientific men,
who were to cross the mountains at that point for an exploration of the
upper Yukon, and the locating of the boundary-line between Alaska and
Canada.

The Princess, learning of its presence, and despairing of assisting her
white friends in any other way, secretly despatched a messenger to the
captain of the ship with the information that some Americans were being
detained in Klukwan against their will. Upon receipt of this news the
captain promptly steamed around into Chilkat Inlet, and as near to its
head as the draught of his vessel would allow. As he dropped anchor,
there came such a sound of firing from up the river that he imagined
a fight to be in progress, and fired one of his own big guns to give
warning of his presence.

The effect of this dread message was instantaneous. Phil Ryder
dropped his uplifted arm. The Chilkat Shaman scuttled away, issued an
order, and within five minutes a new and perfectly equipped canoe was
marvellously produced from somewhere and tendered to Serge Belcofsky.
Five minutes later he and his companions had taken a grateful leave of
the Princess, and were embarked with all their effects, including the
three dogs.

Phil stationed himself in the bow, Serge tended sheet, and Jalap Coombs
steered. As before the prevailing northerly wind their long-beaked
canoe shot out from the river into the wider waters of the inlet,
and they saw, at anchor, less than a mile away, a handsome cutter
flying the United States revenue flag, the three friends uttered a
simultaneous cry of:

“The _Phoca_!”

“Hurrah!” yelled Phil.

“Hurrah!” echoed Serge.

“Bless her pretty picter!” roared Jalap Coombs, standing up and waving
the old tarpaulin hat that, though often eclipsed by a fur hood, had
been faithfully cherished during the entire journey.

Even Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook caught the prevailing excitement, and
gave vent to their feelings in loud and joyous barkings.

At that moment one of the cutter’s boats, in command of a strange
lieutenant, with a howitzer mounted in its bows, and manned by a dozen
heavily armed sailors, hailed the canoe and shot alongside.

“What’s the trouble up the river?” demanded the officer.

“There isn’t any,” answered Phil.

“What was all the firing about?”

“Celebrating some sort of native Fourth of July. Is Captain Matthews
still in command of the _Phoca_?”

“Yes. Does he know you?”

“I rather guess he does, and, with your permission, we’ll report to him
in person.”

With this the canoe shot ahead, leaving the lieutenant greatly puzzled
as to whether he should follow it or continue up the river, though he
finally concluded to adopt the former course.

“Pull up the hoods of your parkas,” said Phil to his companions, “and
we’ll give the captain a surprise-party.”

A minute later one of the _Phoca’s_ quartermasters reported to the
captain that a canoe-load of natives was almost alongside.

“Very well; let them come aboard, and I’ll hear what they have to say.”

In vain did the quartermaster strive to direct the canoe to the
port gangway. The natives did not seem to understand, and insisted
on rounding up under the starboard quarter, reserved for officers
and distinguished guests. One of them sprang out the moment its bow
touched the side steps, clambered aboard, pushed aside the wrathful
quartermaster, and started for the captain’s door with the sailor in
hot pursuit.

“Hold on, you blooming young savage! Ye can’t go in there,” he shouted,
but to heedless ears.

As Phil gained the door it was opened by the commander himself, who was
about to come out for a look at the natives.

“How are you, Captain Matthews?” shouted the fur-clad intruder into the
sacred privacy of the cabin, at the same time raising a hand in salute.
“It is awfully good of you, sir, to come for us. I only hope you didn’t
bother to wait very long at the Pribyloffs.”

“Eh? What? Who are you, sir? What does this mean? Phil Ryder! You
young villain! You scamp! Bless my soul, but this is the most wonderful
thing I ever heard of!” cried the astonished commander, staggering back
into the cabin, and pulling Phil after him. “May, daughter, look here!”

At that moment there came a yelping rush, and with a chorus of excited
barkings Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook dashed pell-mell into the cabin.
After them came Serge, Jalap Coombs, and the horrified quartermaster,
all striving in vain to capture and restrain the riotous dogs. As if
any one could prevent them from following and sharing the joy of the
young master who had fed them night after night for months by lonely
camp-fires of the Yukon Valley!

So they flung themselves into the cabin, and tore round and round, amid
such a babel of shouts, laughter, barkings, and crash of overturned
furniture as was never before heard in that orderly apartment.

Finally the terrible dogs were captured, one by one, and led away. May
Matthews emerged from a safe retreat, where, convulsed with laughter,
she had witnessed the whole uproarious proceeding. Her father, still
ejaculating “Bless my soul!” at intervals, gradually recovered
sufficient composure to recognize and welcome Serge and “Ipecac”
Coombs, as he persisted in calling poor Jalap. The upset chairs were
placed to rights, and all hands began to ask questions with such
rapidity that no one had time to pause for answers.

From the confusion Captain Matthews finally evolved an understanding
that the boys were still desirous of reaching Sitka, whereupon he
remarked:

“Sitka! Sitka! It never occurred to me that you had any desire to visit
Sitka. I thought your sole ambition was to attain the North Pole. If
you had only mentioned Sitka last summer I might have arranged the trip
for you; but now I fear――”

At this moment there came a knock at the door, and when it was opened
the quartermaster began to say, “Excuse me, sir, but here’s another――”
Before he could finish his sentence a small furry object jerked away
from him with such force that it took a header into the room, and
landed at the feet of the commander on all fours, like a little bear.

“Bless my soul! What’s this?” cried Captain Matthews, springing to one
side in dismay.

“It’s a baby!” screamed Miss May, darting forward and snatching up the
child. “A darling little Indian in furs. Where did it come from?”

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Phil, remorsefully. “To think that we should
have forgotten Nel-te!”

“Are there any more yet to come?” demanded the captain.

“No, sir; the whole ship’s company is present _and_ accounted for,”
replied Jalap Coombs. “But with your leave, sir, I’ll just step out and
take a look at our boat, for she’s a ticklish craft to navigate, and
might come to grief in strange hands.”

So saying, the honest fellow, glad of an excuse to escape from the
cabin, where he felt awkward and out of place, as well as uncomfortably
warm in his fur garments, pulled at the fringe of long wolf’s hairs
surrounding his face, and shuffled away. A few minutes later saw him
in the forecastle, where, divested of his unsailor-like parka, puffing
with infinite zest at one of the blackest of pipes filled with the
blackest of tobacco, and the centre of an admiring group of seamen, he
was spinning incredible yarns of his recent and wonderful experiences
with snow-shoes and sledges.

In the meantime May Matthews was delightedly winning Nel-te’s baby
affections, while Phil and Serge were still plying the captain with
questions.

“Were you saying, sir, that you feared you couldn’t take us to Sitka?”
inquired Serge, anxiously.

“Not at all, my lad,” replied the captain. “I was about to remark that
I feared you would not care to go there now, seeing that there is
hardly any one in Sitka whom you want to see, unless it is your mother
and sisters and Phil Ryder’s father and aunt Ruth.”

“What!” cried Phil, “my Aunt Ruth! Are you certain, sir?”

“Certain I am,” replied Captain Matthews, “that if both the individuals
I have just mentioned aren’t already in Sitka, they will be there very
shortly, for I left them in San Francisco preparing to start at once.
Moreover, I have orders to carry your father to St. Michaels, where he
expects to find you. So now you see in what a complication your turning
up in this outlandish fashion involves me.”

“But how did my aunt Ruth ever happen to come out here?” inquired Phil.

“Came out to nurse your father while his leg was mending, and
incidentally to find out what had become of an undutiful nephew whom
she seems to fancy has an aptitude for getting into scrapes,” laughed
the captain.

“Has my father recovered from his accident?”

“So entirely that he fancies his leg is sounder and better than ever it
was.”

“And are you bound for Sitka now, sir?”

“To be sure I am, and should have been half-way there by this time if
I hadn’t been delayed by a report of some sort of a row between the
Chilkats and a party of whites. Now, having settled that difficulty
by capturing the entire force of aggressors, I propose to carry them
to Sitka as legitimate prisoners, and there turn them over to the
authorities. So, gentlemen, you will please consider yourselves as
prisoners of war, and under orders not to leave this ship until she
arrives at Sitka.”

“With pleasure, sir,” laughed Phil. “Only don’t you think you’d better
place us under guard?”

“I expect it will be best,” replied the captain, gravely, “seeing
that you are charged with seal-poaching, piracy, defying government
officers, and escaping from arrest, as well as the present offence of
making war on native Americans.”



CHAPTER XL

IN SITKA TOWN


The long-beaked and wonderfully carved Chilkat canoe was taken on the
_Phoca’s_ deck, the anchor was weighed, and, with the trim cutter
headed southward, the last stage of the adventurous journey, pursued
amid such strange vicissitudes, was begun. As the ship sped swiftly
past the overhanging ice-fields of Davidson Glacier, out of Chilkat
Inlet into the broad, mountain-walled waters of Lynn Canal, and down
that thoroughfare into Chatham Strait, Captain Matthews listened with
absorbed interest to Phil’s account of the remarkable adventures that
he and Serge had encountered from the time he had last seen them at the
Pribyloff Islands down to the present moment.

“Well,” said he, when the recital was finished, “I’ve done a good bit
of knocking about in queer places during thirty years of going to sea,
and had some experiences, but my life has been tame and monotonous
compared with the one you have led for the past year. Why, lad, if an
account of what you have gone through in attempting to take a quiet
little trip from New London to Sitka was written out and printed in a
book, people wouldn’t believe it was true. They’d shake their heads and
say it was all made up, which only goes to prove, what I never believed
before, that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, after all.”

“Yes,” replied Phil; “and the strangest part of it all is the way that
fur-seal’s tooth has followed us and exerted its influence in our
behalf from the beginning to the very end. Why, sir, if it hadn’t been
for that tooth you wouldn’t have come to Chilkat, and we shouldn’t be
in the happy position we are at this very moment.”

“You don’t mean to say,” cried Captain Matthews, “that it turned up
again after your father lost it?”

“Oh yes, sir, and it’s been with us, off and on, all the time.”

“Then at last I can have the pleasure of showing it to my daughter.
Would you mind letting me have it for a few minutes?”

“Unfortunately, sir――”

“Now don’t tell me that you have gone and lost it again!”

“Not exactly lost it,” replied Phil. “At the same time, I don’t know
precisely where it is nor what has become of it, only it is somewhere
back in Klukwan, where it originally came from, and I have every reason
to believe that it is in possession of the principal Chilkat Shaman.”

“I declare, that is too bad!” exclaimed the captain. “If I had known
that sooner I believe I should have kept right on and shelled the
village until they gave me the tooth, so strong is my desire to get
hold of it.”

“And so secured to yourself the ill-luck of him who steals it,” laughed
Phil.

That afternoon the _Phoca_ turned sharply to the right, and began
to thread the swift-rushing and rock-strewn waters of Peril Strait,
the narrow channel that washes the northern end of Baranoff Island,
on which Sitka is situated. Now Serge stood on the bridge beside his
friend, so nervous with excitement that he could hardly speak. Every
roaring tide rip and swirling eddy of those waters, every rock with its
streamers of brown kelp, every beach and wooded point, were like
familiar faces to the young Russo-American, for just beyond them lay
his home, that dear home from which he had been more than three years
absent.

Suddenly he clutched Phil’s arm and pointed to a lofty, snow-crowned
peak looming high above the forest and bathed in rosy sunlight.
“There’s Mount Edgecumbe!” he cried; and a few minutes afterwards,
“There’s Verstovoi!” Phil felt the nervous fingers tremble as they
gripped his arm; and when, a little later, the cutter swept from a
narrow passage into an island-studded bay, he could hardly hear the
hoarse whisper of: “There, Phil! there’s Sitka! Dear, beautiful Sitka!”

And Phil was nearly as excited as Serge to think that, after twelve
months of ceaseless wanderings, the goal for which he had set forth was
at last reached.

Serge pointed out in rapid succession the picturesque Greek church,
the quaint little house known as the Governor’s Mansion, the marine
barracks, the solid log structure of the old Russian trading company,
the long, straggling Indian village, and the fine “Governor’s Walk”
leading to beautiful Indian River. But he looked in vain for the
most conspicuous landmark of all; for old Baranoff Castle, crowning
Katlean’s Rock, had been destroyed by fire since he left home.

[Illustration: GOVERNOR’S MANSION, SITKA, ALASKA]

The _Phoca_ had hardly dropped anchor before another ship appeared
entering the bay from the same direction. “The mail-steamer from Puget
Sound,” announced Captain Matthews.

This boat brought but few passengers, for the season was yet too early
for tourists; but on her upper deck stood a gentleman and a lady, the
former of whom was pointing out objects of interest almost as eagerly
as Serge had done a short time before.

“It is lovely,” said his companion, enthusiastically, “but it seems
perfectly incredible that I should actually be here, and that this is
the place for which our Phil set out with such high hopes a year ago.
Do you realize, John, that it is just one year ago to-day since he left
New London? Oh, if we only knew where the dear boy was at this minute!
And to think that I should have got here before him!”

“Now he will probably never get here,” replied Mr. Ryder; “for, on
account of that California offer, I shall be obliged to return directly
to San Francisco from St. Michaels without even a chance of going up
the Yukon, which I know will be a great disappointment to Phil. But
look there, Ruth. You have been wanting to see a canoe-load of Indians,
and here comes as typical a one as I ever saw. A perfect specimen of
an Alaskan dug-out, natives in full winter costume, Eskimo dogs, and
a sledge, I declare! They must have just come back from a hunting
expedition to the mainland. See the snow-shoes slung on their backs,
and how gracefully they handle their paddles! Even Phil might take a
lesson from them in that.”

“And, oh!” cried Miss Ruth, “there is a tiny bit of a child, all in
furs, just like its father. See? Nestled among the dogs, with a pair of
wee snow-shoes on his back too. Isn’t he a darling? How I should love
to hug him! Oh, John, we must find them when we get ashore; for that
child is the very cutest thing I have seen in all Alaska.”

“All right,” replied Mr. Ryder, smiling good-naturedly at his sister’s
enthusiasm. “We will watch and see where they make a landing.”

By this time the steamer was made fast, and the passengers were already
going ashore. When Mr. Ryder and his sister gained the wharf they were
surprised to see that the very canoe in which they were interested
had come to the landing-stage, where its occupants were already
disembarking.

“What fair complexions they have for Indians,” said Miss Ruth, stopping
to watch the natives. As the foremost of them ran up the steps, she
moved aside to let him pass. The next moment she uttered a shriek of
horror, for he had suddenly thrown his arms about her neck and kissed
her.

“Aunt Ruth, you’re a brick! a perfect brick!” he cried. “To think of
you coming away out here to see me!” Then turning to Mr. Ryder, and
embracing that bewildered gentleman in his furry arms, the excited boy
exclaimed: “And pop. You dear old pop! If you only knew how distressed
I have been about you! If you hadn’t turned up just as you have, I
should have dropped everything and gone in search of you.”

[Illustration: “AUNT RUTH, YOU’RE A BRICK! A PERFECT BRICK!”]

“Oh, Phil, how could you?” gasped Aunt Ruth. “You frightened me almost
to death, and have crushed me all out of shape. You are a regular
polar-bear in all those furs and things. What do you mean, sir? Oh,
you dear, dear boy!” At this point Miss Ruth’s feelings so completely
overcame her that she sat down on a convenient log and burst into
hysterical weeping.

“There, you young scamp!” cried Mr. Ryder, whose own eyes were full
of joyful tears at that moment. “See what you have done! Aren’t you
ashamed of yourself, sir?”

“Yes, pop, awfully. But I’ve got something that will cheer her up and
amuse her. And here’s Serge and―― No he isn’t, either. What has become
of Serge? Oh, I suppose he has gone home. Don’t see why he need be in
such a hurry, though. No matter; here’s Jalap Coombs. You remember
Jalap, father? And here, Aunt Ruth, is the curio I promised to bring
you from Alaska. Look out; it’s alive!”

With this the crazy lad snatched Nel-te from the arms of Jalap Coombs,
who had just brought him up the steps, and laid him in Miss Ruth’s lap,
saying, “He’s a little orphan kid that I found in the wilderness, and
adopted for you to love.”

Miss Ruth gave such a start as the small bundle of fur was so
unexpectedly thrust at her that poor Nel-te rolled to the ground. From
there he lifted such a pitifully frightened little face, with such
tear-filled eyes and quivering lips, that Miss Ruth snatched him up and
hugged him. Then she kissed and petted him to such an extent that by
the time he was again smiling he had won a place in her loving heart
second only to that occupied by Phil himself.

In the meantime Musky, Luvtuk, and big Amook were tearing madly up and
down the wharf, yelping and barking their joyful recognition of the
fact that the long journey, with its months of hard work, was ended,
and for them at least play-time had come.

With this journey’s end also came the partings that always form so sad
a feature of all journeys’ ends. Even the three dogs that had travelled
together for so long were separated, Musky being given to Serge, Luvtuk
to May Matthews, to become the pet of the _Phoca’s_ crew, and big Amook
going with Phil, Aunt Ruth, Nel-te, the sledge, the snow-shoes, and the
beautiful white, thick-furred skin of a mountain goat to distant New
London.

Mr. Ryder and Jalap Coombs accompanied them as far as San Francisco.
Dear old Serge was reluctantly left behind, busily making preparations
to carry out his cherished scheme of returning to Anvik as a teacher.

In San Francisco Mr. Ryder secured for Jalap Coombs the command of a
trading schooner plying between that port and Honolulu. When it was
announced to him that he was at last actually a captain, the honest
fellow’s voice trembled with emotion as he answered:

“Mr. Ryder, sir, _and_ Phil, I never did wholly look to be a
full-rigged cap’n, though I’ve striv and waited for the berth nigh on
to forty year. Now I know that it’s jest as my old friend Kite Roberson
useter say; for he allus said, Kite did, that ‘Them as waits the
patientest is bound to see things happen.’”


THE END



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 ――Except for the frontispiece, illustrations have been moved to
   follow the text that they illustrate.

 ――Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 ――Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 ――Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

 ――The author’s em-dash style has been retained.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Snow-shoes and Sledges - A Sequel to "The Fur-Seal's Tooth"" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home