The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
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CHAPTER I – IN THE WHITE SILENCES
The air in the valley was still as death. Not a wandering puff of wind swept the white, snow-covered slopes that shot up steeply from either side of its wide, flat floor; nor had any stirred for several days. The land was chained and fettered in icy bonds, and would be for many long weeks.
The river – the Porcupine – that, when the Bungalow Boys had first come to this valley in the Frying Pan Range, had dashed and sometimes raged along its shoaly course, was ice-fast. Occasionally from an overburdened birch or hemlock branch the accumulated snow would fall with a dull crash.
These miniature avalanches alone broke the white silence. In the dead stillness they sounded quite loud and startling when they occurred. There was no twittering of birds nor were there traces of any larger animals than field mice and small rodents. In the snow, as if it had been a white drawing-board, these tiny animals had etched their tracks everywhere as they drove their tunnels or skittered over the surface.
But from round a bend in the river’s course a column of blue smoke could be seen sagging and wavering almost straight up in the windless air toward the leaden sky.
The smoke came from an odd-looking craft tied up to the bank of the river. The boat in question was a small steamer with a single black smokestack. At her stern was a big cylindrical paddle-wheel to drive her over the shallows and shoals. For the rest she was homely in the extreme. In fact, she might not inaptly have been compared to a big floating dry goods box pierced with windows, and with a pilot house, like a smaller box, say a pill box, perched on top.
The Yukon Rover, which was the name she bore painted on her sides in big black letters, was of a type common enough along the navigable waters of Alaska, although she was smaller than most such steamers. Red curtains hung in the windows of this queer-looking specimen of the shipbuilder’s art, and the smoke, already mentioned, curled from a fat stovepipe, suggesting warmth and comfort within.
At the bow, lashed fast to a small flagstaff, was a strange-looking figure. This was Sandy MacTavish’s Mascot of the White North, the famous totem pole that the Scotch youth had purchased as a good-luck bringer when the lads, as described in the “Bungalow Boys Along the Yukon,” were on their way northward from Seattle.
A door in the forward part of the box-like superstructure suddenly opened, and out into the frozen, keen air there burst three laughing, jolly lads. All were bundled up and carried skates. However depressing the Alaskan winter might have been to many of our readers, it was plain that these healthy, happy lads were enjoying themselves to the full. They slipped and slid across the frozen decks, and then made their way down a steeply inclined sort of gangway leading to the frozen surface of the river.
Their passage down this runway was not without incident.Sandy MacTavish was behind his two chums, Tom and Jack Dacre. All were laughing and talking at a great rate, their spirits bubbling over under the stimulus of the keen air and the thought of the fun they were going to have, when a sudden yell from Sandy came as the forerunner to calamity.
“Whoop! Ow-wow! Hoot, mon!” shrilly cried the Scotch youth, as he felt his feet slide from under him on the slippery, inclined plane leading to the ice.
“What in the world – !” began Jack Dacre, the younger of the Dacre brothers, when he felt himself cannonaded from behind by the yelling Sandy.
His exclamation was echoed an instant later by Tom Dacre, who was in advance. He had half turned at the almost simultaneous outcries of his brother and Sandy.
“Gracious!” he had just time to exclaim, when it was his turn to give a shout.
As Jack had been bumped into by Sandy, so he in turn shot helplessly against his brother.
In a flash all three Bungalow Boys were shooting down the slippery gangway. They fetched up in a snow pile at the bottom, a fact which saved them a hard bump on the frozen surface of the river.
“Whoopee! Talk about shooting the chutes!” puffed Tom, scrambling to his feet and shaking the powdery snow from his garments.
“Beats the time Sandy went sky-hooting down that old glacier on the Yukon!” chimed in Jack, half angrily. “What’s the matter with you, anyhow, you red-headed son of Scotland?”
“I’m thinking I’m loocky to be alive,” muttered Sandy, feeling himself all over as if to ascertain if he had sustained any mortal injuries.
“I guess we’re the lucky ones,” laughed Tom.
“Yes, we formed a human cushion for your freckled countenance to land on,” pursued Jack, as Sandy rubbed his nose affectionately. The organ in question was of the snub variety and decorated with freckles like spots on the sun.
“Aweel, mon, dinna ye ken that you saved my beauty?” chuckled Sandy gleefully. “You ought to be glad of that.”
“I’ll fix your fatal beauty, all right!” cried Jack, and he rushed at Sandy with a whoop.
But the Scotch lad was too swift for him. He dashed off, and at a safe distance proceeded to adjust his skates.
“I’ll get you yet!” cried Jack, shaking his fist, and then he and Tom Dacre sat down at the foot of the disastrous gangway and put on their ice-skimmers.
Jack looked up from his task to perceive Sandy making derisive gestures at him.
“Hoot, mon, gie me a bit chase!” yelled Sandy, hopping about nimbly and executing some gliding figures with a taunting air.
“If it’s a chase you’re looking for, that is my middle name!” exclaimed Jack, and with a shout and a whoop he was off after the other lad. The steel rang merrily on the smooth ice as Tom swung off after the other two.
The blood of all three boys tingled pleasantly in the sharp air. Their faces glowed and their eyes shone.
“You look out when I get hold of you!” exclaimed Jack, as Sandy, for the 'steenth time, eluded his grasp and swung dashingly off, skimming the ice as gracefully as the swallows soared above the river in the summer months.
“Yah-h-h-h-h-h!” called Sandy tauntingly, “want a tow-line?”
Sandy gave a loud laugh as, elated at his easy escape from his irritated chum, he gave a fancy exhibition of figure-making, and at its conclusion skimmed off again just as Jack’s fingers seemed about to close on his tormentor’s shoulder.
“I’ll wash your face in the snow when I catch you! Just you see if I don’t!” shrilly threatened Jack.
A laugh from Sandy was the only answer as he shot off under full steam. He turned his head to show his perfect command of the fine points of skating. A broad grin was on his freckled countenance.
“Catch me first, Jack! I’ll bet you – ”
“Hi! Look out!” roared Tom.
But his warning came just about the same instant that Sandy, skimming at full speed over the ice near the Yukon Rover’s hull, gave a howl of dismay as he felt the ice give way under him.
The next instant he vanished from view as the thin ice – merely a skimming over the hole chopped early that day to get drinking water out of the river – broke under his weight.
Jack, close on his heels, had just enough warning to swing aside. The last they saw of Sandy MacTavish was two hands upheld above the water as he vanished from view.
Then he disappeared totally.
“Tom! Quick! Help! He’ll be drowned,” yelled Jack at the top of his voice.
CHAPTER II – THE RESCUE OF SANDY
On the edge of the thin ice that had formed over the top of the water hole was a bucket. It was used to draw the supply of drinking water, and to its handle was attached a long rope. Jack, half beside himself with fright at the sight of Sandy’s plunge and his own narrow escape, stood as if in a trance as he watched Tom swoop down on the pail.
He had hardly done this when Sandy’s face, blue with cold, appeared above the water at the edge of the hole.
“Ouch! Ow-w-w-w-w! Fellows, canna ye get me oot of this before I freeze to death?”
“All right, Sandy old man. Hold on! We’ll get you out!” cried Tom encouragingly.
“It’s cuc-cuc-cold!” stuttered the Scotch youth, his teeth clicking like a running fish reel as he clung desperately to the solid ice at the edge of the hole.
Tom’s answer was a reassuring shout, and, aided by Jack, who had quickly recovered from his temporary paralysis, he came swiftly toward Sandy with the rope from the bucket in his hands. As he skated toward the unfortunate Caledonian youth his hands nimbly made a loop in the rope. He flung this over Sandy’s head and then, with a mighty heave and yank, the two Dacre boys succeeded in rescuing their chum from his unfortunate position.
“Now you get back to the boat as fast as you can,” ordered Tom, half angry and half amused at Sandy’s plight.
“It was Jer-Jer-Jack’s fault!” chattered the unfortunate one.
“Why didn’t you look where you were going?” demanded Jack. “You gave us the scare of our lives!”
Sandy appeared to be about to make an indignant reply, but Tom checked him.
“You two fellows fight this out another time,” he ordered sharply. “Sandy, get into the cabin right away. There’s some hot tea on the stove. While you’re getting into dry things I’ll fix something up for you. Get a move on now.”
Sandy, without a backward glance, took his way up the gangway, followed by the others. Both Mr. Chisholm Dacre, uncle of Tom and Jack, and his partner in the enterprise that had brought the party north, were away back over the snowy mountains on a trip to a distant post for provisions. The boys were not sorry for this, under the circumstances.
And now let us leave them for a time while Sandy is being half scalded to death with hot tea and vigorously rubbed with rough, scratchy towels, and explain in some detail, to those who do not already know them, who the Bungalow Boys are, and what they are doing in the frozen north in the dead of winter not long before Christmas time.
We first met the lads in the “Bungalow Boys,” a volume devoted to their doings and adventures, grave and gay, in the Sawmill Valley in Maine, where, by a series of strange events, they fell “heirs” to a cozy bungalow, which fact resulted in their being known as the Bungalow Boys. It was a name bestowed upon them after they had routed a band of counterfeiters who made their haunt in the valley and caused all sorts of trouble for the boys, whom the gang viewed as interlopers.
Adventures came thick and fast to the boys and their companion, a certain wise and lovable, though eccentric, professor. The latter, by accident, stumbled on the counterfeiters’ den, an odd, cavern-like place cunningly concealed on a cliff summit above a small lake opposite to the bungalow. The boys, too, had many thrilling experiences, the memory of one of which lingers particularly. Our readers will have no trouble in recalling Tom’s adventure in the flooded cave following his battle with the enraged moose, and his subsequent adventures with the Trulliber gang. In this volume, also, Mr. Chisholm Dacre, the Bungalow Boys’ uncle, appeared after a mysterious absence, the cause of which was fully explained in the unraveling of events.
We next encountered our fun and adventure-loving heroes down in equatorial seas. In the “Bungalow Boys Marooned in the Tropics” their experiences in search of sunken treasure were set forth in full. In an exciting narrative, warm with the color and life of the tropics, the tale of their adventures and perils below, as well as above, the ocean was told. How Tom saved Mr. Dacre’s life from a huge devilfish far under the surface of the sea was but one of the experiences that occurred on that expedition. Jack and Sandy, too, came in for stirring times, not the least of which was the incident of the haunted cabin on the desert island and their “laying of the ghost.”
The “Bungalow Boys in the Great North West” dealt with very different scenes. In this book we made the acquaintance of Mr. Colton Chillingworth, the sturdy, sterling-hearted ranchman and friend of Mr. Dacre. How the boys incurred the enmity of a band of Chinese smugglers and how they acquitted themselves in several trying situations may all be read there, together with much information about that wonderful section of our country.
The great bodies of fresh water lying on our northern boundary line provided the setting for yet another volume which was called “The Bungalow Boys on the Great Lakes.” In a Lake Huron “hummer” the boys began a series of remarkable experiences. Setting out for a pleasure cruise, they found that they were once more called upon to face difficulties and dangers. Doubtless the hardened muscles and self-reliance developed in them by their other adventures helped them to meet these with fortitude and success. The secret of Castle Rock Island was one well worth finding out, as those who have read the book in question know.
Then came a succeeding volume, “The Bungalow Boys on the Yukon.” The “Golden River” of Alaska, that vast territory “North of Fifty-three,” was traveled by the lads and their elders in the stout little craft, the Yukon Rover, which we have already encountered in “winter quarters” in the present volume. Sandy, as usual, got into many scrapes, and Tom and Jack met with an extraordinary experience at the hands of two demented gold miners, who imagined that they had discovered a new El Dorado. From these two victims of the mad lust for gold they finally made their escape with the aid of a good-hearted, though comical, negro.
Their object in navigating the Yukon was to establish winter quarters for an unique industry, namely, the trapping and breeding of the rare and expensive silver fox and black fox. The animals were to be taken alive in specially designed box-traps, and when enough had been captured they were to be shipped to Mr. Chillingworth’s ranch in the state of Washington and set at liberty to breed in a climate believed to be excellently suited to them.
Perhaps some of our young readers may think this a very queer form of enterprise. To these it must be explained that the project in which Mr. Dacre, the Bungalow Boys’ uncle, and Colton Chillingworth, the rancher, were partners was by no means a chimerical one. Good silver fox pelts bring in the open market from fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred dollars each, and black fox pelts even more than that. If it was possible, therefore, to raise them in numbers, there would be almost literally a “gold mine” in the business. At any rate, both the partners thought well enough of the idea to sink considerable capital in perfecting their plans.
An important part of their scheme was to preserve its secrecy, for rivals might prove troublesome. With this object a steamer had been chartered and the Yukon Rover, in sections, transported to the northland. She was put together at St. Michaels, near the mouth of the Yukon River, and loaded with “duffle,” traps and material for constructing a well-equipped “trapping-line,” had climbed the swift, shallow river to its junction with the Porcupine.
In the “Bungalow Boys Along the Yukon” we saw them in the earlier stages of the enterprise, which was now in active operation. The trapping season had opened, and already in several specially constructed cages close by the Yukon Rover were some choice specimens of silver and black foxes. But many more would be needed before the spring came, and the adventurers with their valuable living cargo could “go out,” as returning to civilization is called in Alaska. The enterprise had succeeded so far in a manner very gratifying to both the partners. As for the boys, they were enjoying themselves to the full. But it was not all play. They had been brought along to “make themselves useful,” as well as to have fun. Already they had become hardy snow travelers and experienced trappers, and so, when this story of their doings opens, we find them well content with their situation and delighted at the successful way in which the trapping had so far gone forward.
But already there were signs that what Mr. Dacre and Mr. Chillingworth had feared, namely, the enmity of the professional trappers of the country had been aroused. As small clouds precede a mighty storm, so slight signs may indicate coming trouble. Mr. Chillingworth had himself been a trapper when younger and he knew the wild, half-savage traits of most of this class of men well.
Jealous of intrusion on what they deem their rights to the wild lands, distrustful as wild animals and vengeful, and experienced in the ways of the silent places, they make enemies not to be despised. This fact the boys were closer than they thought to discovering, and that before many hours had elapsed.
CHAPTER III – THE THIEF IN THE NIGHT
The elder of the Dacre boys awakened with a start from a sound sleep to find his brother Jack bending over him. That is, he knew it was Jack from the lad’s voice, but, as for seeing him, that was impossible, for the cabin of the Yukon Rover was pitchy dark.
“What’s up, Jack? What’s the trouble?” “It’s something over by the fox cages.” Jack’s voice was vibrant with anxiety. As for Tom, he was up in a jiffy. In the cages, as has been mentioned, were some half dozen silver foxes and one black one. In all, about seventy-five hundred dollars’ worth of pelts “on the hoof,” as it were, were confined in the big wooden cribs.
That night before they had turned in, Tom and Jack, leaving Sandy in his bunk recuperating from his ducking of the afternoon, had visited the cages and fed their valuable charges with the fish which formed their main article of diet.
“It is really like being left as watchmen in a bank,” Tom had laughingly remarked as they saw to it that all was secure for the night.
“Well, I don’t think it is likely that anyone would care to tackle valuables like these foxes,” Jack had rejoined, as the animals sprang snapping and snarling viciously at the fish, “that is, unless they were like the Spartan boy in the old reader come to life again.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” had been Tom’s grave reply. “Before Uncle Dacre and Mr. Chillingworth left, they warned me to be constantly on the lookout for trouble, and to spare no pains in watching the foxes at every possible opportunity.”
“But who in the world can they be afraid of up here in this desolate, uninhabited part of the world?” Jack had asked, gazing about at the solitary, snow-covered slopes, the drooping balsams and the long stretch of empty, frozen valley.
“As for its being uninhabited, I’m not so sure of that,” Tom had replied. “You remember those two miners 'way back in the hills where we thought no human being had penetrated; and at this time of year, Mr. Chillingworth said the trappers are ranging all through this part of the country.”
“You mean that you imagine they thought there would be danger of somebody bothering our foxes?” Jack had inquired anxiously.
“That is just what I mean,” Tom had said. “Of course they didn’t say so in so many words, but I’ll bet that was what was on their minds. To lots of trappers there’s a fortune right here in these cages.”
This was food for reflection, and Jack had been in a wakeful mood all that night. What the hour was he could not imagine, but a short time before he aroused Tom, he had heard a soft crunching on the snow outside in the direction of the fox cages, followed by a sound as if the pens themselves were being tampered with.
He had leaped from his bunk with a bound and made for his brother’s, Tom being the accepted leader of the Bungalow Boys.
“Close the shutters!” were the first orders Tom gave.
“What for?” Jack could not refrain from asking.
“So that no light can get outside” was Tom’s reply, “while we jump into some clothes and see what’s up.”
The shutters he referred to were used when an unusually heavy wind came up. They were felt lined and excluded every bitter draft. At such times ventilation was obtained from a device in the roof of the cabin. Jack soon had the solid blinds closed and fastened, and then he struck a match and lit the hanging lamp. The next task was to arouse Sandy while they hastily dressed. The Scotch lad was hard to awaken, but at length he sat up blinking and drowsy, and Tom rapidly informed him of what Jack had heard.
“Huh! I’ll bet it was nothing but just a wolverine,” spoke Sandy scornfully.
Wolverines, the gluttons of the northland, had assailed the fox pens quite frequently, being attracted by the odor of fish. In one instance the black fox’s pen had been almost demolished by the steel-clawed, truculent robber of the northern woods.
“Maybe that’s what it was,” said Jack anxiously, inwardly much relieved. As a matter of fact he had not much relished the notion of creeping out into the night upon possible human intruders.
“Well, if it is wolverines, we’ll have a chance to nail them red-handed,” said Tom, “so get a move on and jump into your ‘parkee’.”
Sandy saw from Tom’s face that there was no use delaying any longer and he lost no time in obeying. Then, armed with rifles, having carefully extinguished the light, the boys crept softly out into the night.
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