The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
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“What do they do with such fellows?” asked Jack.
“Hang dem!” burst out old Joe.
“Oh, not quite as bad as that!” exclaimed Tom.
“Boosh! To hang, it ees too good for dem.”
They journeyed on for some time in silence. Then Joe told them that he was building his hopes on finding some of his Indian friends, from whom they could get meat of some kind. For they had no rifles and no means of procuring food, and their supply, except for flour and salt, was running low.
He hoped, he said, to make an Indian encampment, possibly the one where they had last stopped, before the next night. About midnight they paused near one of the numerous, small, unnamed lakes that are frequent in that part of the country. At one place in it was a hole which the Indians had chopped to spear fish. This was skimmed over with ice which, however, Joe surmised could be easily broken through.
The old trapper had in one of his numerous pockets the head of a fish spear. Cutting a stick, he soon fitted a handle to this head and Jack, with the lantern to act as a lure and make the fish rise, was despatched to the ice hole to catch all he could. It was important that the dogs should be fed without delay, for they were getting hungry, the fish at the Wolf’s camp having been sufficient only for his own mamelukes.
Spearing fish is work that calls for an adept hand. But the boys had had plenty of practice at their own camp, for the silver foxes had not lost their appetites with captivity and would greedily eat all that they could get. This had kept the boys busy securing fish and they were all experts at the work. Jack, especially, liked it, and was exceptionally good at it.
After he had fished less than half an hour he had speared a good number of fine fresh fish. The dogs, who appeared to guess what was going forward, barked shrilly and appealingly as he started back toward the spot where the sled had been halted.
“Got any?” hailed Tom, as he saw the lantern Jack carried come bobbing toward him.
“I should say I had.”
“They’ll stuff the dogs full and give us a meal besides.”
“That’s the stuff, the mamelukes are very hungry.”
“So they are saying.”
“We’ll have to hurry up and feed them while Joe gets something to eat.”
“I guess we are as famished as they are. I know I – ”
Jack, who had been hurrying forward with his fish, uttered a sharp cry of pain and fell to the ground.
At the same time Tom heard a clicking sound not unlike the sliding back of a rifle magazine, only louder. He rushed forward to where Jack lay upon the ground.
The boy was writhing with pain and Tom could not make out what had happened.
“Jack! Jack, old fellow, what is it?” he cried.
“I – I don’t know. Something gripped my foot – as I was hurrying back.”
“It’s got hold of it now?”
“Yes.” Jack’s voice was very faint. It was apparent that he was suffering great pain.But he tried to bear up manfully and steady his voice while Tom bent over him.
“Can’t you move?”
“No, I’m caught fast.”
“Let me look. Great Scott, no wonder!”
Tom’s voice was vibrant with sympathy. The next instant he set up a shout.
“Joe! Oh, Joe!”
“Oui, mon gar?on! What ees mattaire?” came Joe’s voice.
“Come here, quick. It’s Jack!”
“Wha’s happen heem?” cried old Joe, dropping what he was doing and running through the snow toward the boys.
“His foot. It’s – it’s caught in an old trap, and – and, Joe, I’m afraid that it has bitten to the bone!”
But of all this Jack heard nothing. He had fainted under the excruciating pain of the pressure of the steel jaws that gripped him fast like a helpless animal.
CHAPTER XXIX – SANDY HAS A NIGHTMARE
As the ruddy glow of the flames lighted up the rift in Sandy’s rock castle, the boy looked about him curiously before he began work on his scant stock of food. The place was about forty feet in length and not more than five in height, sloping down at each end like the roof in an old-fashioned farm bedroom.
He noted with some satisfaction that near the entrance there were masses of dead and dried up bushes, from which he thought he could contrive a mattress later on. But for the present he devoted himself to his meal.
Luckily, he had brought along a pannikin, and in this, when he had melted some snow for water, he made tea, without a small package of which the true adventurer of the northern wilds never travels. The hot liquid did him almost as much good as the food, and, as Sandy remarked as he gulped it down, it was “main filling.”
His supper disposed of, Sandy sat for some little time in front of the fire.
“Heaven be praised, there are no dishes to wash,” he said to himself in his whimsical way.
The time was a favorable one for thinking, and many thoughts ran through Sandy’s mind as he sat watching the flames. His chums, what were they doing? How little they imagined his predicament at that particular moment. Sandy found himself wondering whether he would ever see them again. The warmth of the fire circulated pleasantly through his veins. A delightful glow crept over him.
He was just about dozing off when a noise near the cave mouth startled him.
He looked up, but could see nothing. He thought, however, that in the darkness he could detect the sound of a furtive footfall.
It was creeping away as if in fear of him.
Sandy came back into the warmth and fire-glow of the rift and lay down at full length in front of the blaze. How long he lay there before he was again disturbed he had no means of knowing.
But suddenly he was attracted to the mouth of the rift once more by a recurrence of the noise. Once more he hastened to investigate, but with the same results as before.
He began to grow nervous. Although he could see nothing, he was sure that he had heard some mysterious sounds out there in the darkness. But when he got up to look nothing was to be seen. It was very perplexing and, considering his situation, not a little alarming. Lying down again by his fire, the boy made a determined effort to compose his nerves. But try as he would, he found his mind focused upon one subject, and one only: the wolves.
From time to time the night was tortured by their howls. It was as if they were trying to show the boy that although he was in hiding they had not forgotten him; that they would wait until he was forced to come off the rocks and make a final dash for freedom before they devoured him.
The soft footfalls that he was sure he had heard outside the rift, he was now almost certain had been made by the wolves. Some of the stronger of the pack had scrambled up on the rocks and were waiting outside his place of refuge till a favorable moment presented itself for an attack.
Sandy clutched his rifle nervously. He was determined when the moment came to sell his life as dearly as possible. How many in number his foes would be he had no means of telling. But he knew full well that his cartridges were all too few.
With his weapon gripped ready for instant action, Sandy waited the next move on the part of his implacable foes. But minute succeeded minute and the sounds from without the rift were not repeated.
The boy began to think that he might have been mistaken. Perhaps, after all, it was his excited imagination that had conjured up the sounds.
He rose and looked outside once more. It was a clear, starlit night. The rocks towered up blackly like some giant’s castle amidst the bluish-whiteness of surrounding snow wastes. A sensation of terrible loneliness ran through Sandy as he reflected that he was the only human being for miles and miles in that immense solitude. Probably the party in search of the thief were the nearest of his own kind within a great distance.
It was small wonder that the boy trembled a little as out there under the stars he revolved the situation. There was no use evading it, if help did not arrive, or the wolves retreat, he was doomed either to die by starvation on the rocks, or be rent by the teeth of the pack in the event of his attempting to escape.
Seasoned men of the northland might well have been dazed by such a prospect. There did not appear to be one chance in a hundred for the boy. Sandy looked the question fairly and squarely in the face. It is to his credit that by a supreme effort of pluck and grit he averted a second breakdown and retained a grip upon his nerves and courage.
As he stood there, the pack below him rent the air with their wild hunting cry. The sound chilled him to the marrow, and trembling despite himself, he crept back into the rift and sought the companionship of the fire.
About five minutes later there came a sort of scraping noise from the mouth of the rift. Sandy gazed up, and there, confronting him, with hungrily gaping jaws, and great, yellow, signal-lamps of eyes that flashed evilly in the firelight, were three huge wolves – the leaders of the pack. With a wild cry, Sandy sprang up with his rifle in his hand. He was ready for the fight.
The wolves dashed forward, and as he aimed and fired – !
The rifle turned into a stick of firewood. The wolves into three black rocks piled at the mouth of the rift.
Sandy had been dreaming. But it was a dream that might come true, as he realized with a sensation of helplessness.
CHAPTER XXX – THE LAW OF THE NORTH
Jack lay upon the snow with the ground about him dyed red from a badly crushed ankle. Tom and old Joe Picquet bent over him doing what they could to ease his pain, for he had now regained consciousness.
It was a wolf trap that the boy had blundered into; a cruel, ponderous affair with massive steel jaws, from whose grip it had been hard to release him.
“Is the ankle broken, do you think?” asked Tom of old Joe.
“Tiens! I can no say now. But I teenk not. Zee trap was old, zee spring was weak. Dat is good. Eef eet had been new, eet would have broken zee bone lak you break zee pipe stem. Voila!”
“How do you feel now, Jack?” asked Tom.
Jack made a brave effort to disguise his pain.
“I’ll soon be all right, I guess,” he said, “but, Tom, I’ll tell you one thing.”
“What is that?”
“I’ll never set another trap for a wild animal as long as I live. I know now how they must suffer.”
After a brief consultation, Tom and old Joe lifted the suffering boy and carried him back to the sled. A “snow-camp” had already been devised and Jack was made as comfortable as possible in this.
By the firelight old Joe examined his injury. The flesh was badly crushed and bruised, but so far as the old trapper could see there were no bones broken.
“Sacre! I weesh dat eet was summer!” breathed the old man. “In summer grow many herbs are good for heal. Zee Indians teach me many. But in winter dere ees notheeng lak dat. Moost use what we can.”
With bandages made out of a flour sack, which, luckily, was almost empty, old Joe dressed Jack’s injury after carefully bathing it. The boy declared that he felt better almost at once after Joe had completed his woodland surgery.
“It’s too bad that I should be giving all this trouble, especially right now,” muttered Jack as he lay back.
“Say, if you say anything like that again, I’ll forget you are sick and punch your head,” said Tom, with a look of affection, however, that belied his words.
After supper old Joe announced that he had decided on a plan that he thought would fit the exigencies of the situation. About ten miles from where they then were a friend of his, Pierre La Roche, like himself a trapper, had a hut. They must make their way there as quickly as possible and leave Jack in La Roche’s care till he was fit to travel, which might not be for some time. This done, they would go back to the camp of the Yukon Rover, tell what had happened, and seek the advice of Mr. Dacre and Mr. Chillingworth.
Tom felt that this was the best plan that could be evolved. After all, they had done all they could to recover the skins, and if he was blamed for not maintaining a better watch on the fox kennels, why he must face the music. Jack, too, thought the plan a good one, so that they were all satisfied, and, despite Jack’s injury, he slept as well that night as his two companions.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. They were up and about early, and Tom caught a good meal of fish for the dogs through the hole in the ice. When he returned to the camp he carried with him the old rusty trap that had caused Jack’s injury.
“Thought you might like this bit of jewelry for a souvenir,” he said dryly.
“So far as I am concerned you can throw it into the next county,” was the rejoinder.
No time was lost in despatching breakfast and getting an early start. The way to La Roche’s cabin was what is known as a “bad trail.” In fact, it would be necessary to break a path for a great part of the way. Jack was made as snug as possible on the top of the sled, and when old Joe’s whip cracked, he declared that he felt as luxurious as if he were riding in his own automobile.
Not long after leaving the night camp the party found themselves beginning to climb a steep and stony trail. It lay on the weather side of a small range of hills remarkable for their ruggedness, and in places where the wind had swept the snow clear, jagged masses of rock peeped blackly out of the prevailing whiteness.
It was rough traveling, with a vengeance. From time to time they had to stop and rest the dogs. By noon they had hardly made five miles and, according to old Joe, the worst still lay before them. However, bad as the trail was, it was preferable to taking Jack all the way back to Yukon Rover camp. That, in fact, would have been impossible, for the extra weight on the sled was already telling on the mamelukes. They went forward with drooping tails and sagging flanks.
But over that cruel road they showed how well old Joe’s faith in them was justified. Fagged as they were, they did not falter, and when they slacked pace a little the crack of old Joe’s whip in the frosty air never failed to send them forward once more at their ordinary pace.
Tom began to have an immense respect for the mameluke. He understood how it was that men paid large sums for such capable beasts. Savage, intractable, and, as a rule, responding to none but the harshest treatment, the mameluke dog is faithful unto death in only too many instances. A halt was made at midday to eat a hasty snack and to feed and rest the dogs. Then the journey was resumed once more.
It was not so cold as it had been, and in places the snow had softened, affording only a treacherous foothold for the animals. Now and then, too, the boys observed old Joe glancing upward at the precipitous walls that began to tower above the trail.
At length his observations grew so frequent that Tom had to ask him what it was that interested him so on the precipitous heights that overhung their path.
Old Joe shook his head.
“Zee snow, he soft. Dat plenty bad. Snow soften, rocks loosen. Bimeby maybe, one beeg rock come toomble down.”
“Gracious, one of those big fellows up there?” And Tom’s eyes roved upward to where huge black rocks, shaped in some instances like monstrous animals, could be seen sticking out of the snow field.
“Yes; eef no watch, one of dem might heet us when zee soft snow loosens zee earth,” declared Joe, without any more concern in his voice than if he were speaking of what they would have for supper.
“Well, if one of those ever struck this outfit, it would be the last of it,” declared Tom, alarmed at the prospect.
“Weezout doubt,” rejoined old Joe, with a shrug of his shoulders, “but for dat we moost watch all zee time. Dat ees zee law of zee north, to watch always.”
CHAPTER XXXI – A BOLT FROM THE BLUE
“To watch always!”
Old Joe’s words echoed in Tom’s mind. Yes, that was the law of the northland, and in some parts of it all the law that there was. Constant watchfulness was necessary to life itself in the frozen regions.
Tom’s cheeks flushed as he thought that if constant watchfulness had been observed at Camp Yukon Rover there would have been no necessity for their journey and all that it had led to.
The trail wound upward into country that grew more and more gloomy and dispiriting. There was something about the great rock masses poised above the trail, the slaty, leaden sky and the occasional gusts of wind-blown snow that struck a chill to Tom’s heart.
There was little to break the monotony of precipice and sky on the one side, while beside the trail on the other was a deep crevasse, and beyond another wall of rock. Tom peered over into the depths from time to time and thought, with a shudder, of the consequences of a fall. And that possibility was by no means remote. One slip on the treacherous foothold of the path that hung on the mountainside like an eyebrow on a face, and the victim of the accident would go sliding and plunging down the slippery slopes into that forbidding pit.
It was not a thought to inspire cheerfulness, and Tom refrained from speaking of it to his companions. But it might have been noticed that he kept to the inside of the trail. The mameluke dogs, too, by instinct avoided the outer edge and kept hugging the inside wall of the trail as far as possible from the gaping chasm.
It must have been toward mid-afternoon, as time is reckoned in those latitudes, that old Joe paused with a worried look on his face.
“Attendez!” he cried, holding up one finger.
The mamelukes stopped, their red tongues lolling out and their breath coming in long heaves. They were glad of the respite, whatever had caused it.
Tom halted behind the sled, and Jack turned his eyes on old Joe, whose face betokened the most eager attention. His body was tense with concentrated energy, as if he were putting every fiber of his being into what he was doing, which was listening.
Tom thought of the old man’s watchword, “To watch always.”
For some minutes they stood like this, and then old Joe signified that all was well and they went forward again. But ever and anon the old man cast an uneasy eye about him. It was plain that he was worried and wished the long trail were at an end.
In that gloomy canyon between the beetling walls that rose on either side seemingly straight up to the gray sky, the old trapper’s voice rang stridently as he called to his dogs or cracked his whip with loud words of encouragement.
“Courage, mes enfants!” he would cry to his struggling team. “Soon we be at Pierre La Roche’s; den plentee feesh for you – bien – Boosh! En avant!”
His words always had a magical effect on the drooping mamelukes. With stubborn determination they bent again to their task, their flagging spirits revivified by the cries of their owner.
Jack turned to Tom after one of these intervals.
“Gee whiz! but I feel like a useless log,” he exclaimed, “lolling here on a pile of soft blankets while those poor beasts are pulling me along at the expense of almost all their strength.”
“It can’t be helped,” rejoined Tom briefly. “No one supposes that you walked into that trap deliberately.”
“It’s just one of those accidents that have been happening to us right along,” rejoined Jack irritably. “We have had nothing but bad luck so far on this trip. It is too bad.”
“I agree with you,” rejoined Tom, “but, after all, whose fault is it?”
“Nobody’s, that I can see.”
“What’s on your mind?”
“Just this, that it all comes from our not having forced ourselves, to use Joe’s words, ‘to watch always.’”
“Great Scott! we couldn’t have sat up all night to watch those foxes!”
“One of us could. We might have taken it in turns. However, it is too late to worry about that now. But we will have to face the music when we meet Uncle Chisholm and Mr. Chillingworth. I fancy they will have something to say on the subject.”
“Ouch! The thought of that hurts me worse than my foot,” exclaimed Jack. “I don’t much care about the idea of the explanations that will be up to us to make.”
“Yet they have to be made.”
“I fancy that is just the usual result of neglected duty,” responded Tom. “It is part of the price you have to pay for not being on the job.”
“Goodness, are you turning into a moralizer?”
“No. I’ve just been thinking things over. Somehow this canyon – ”
Above them there was a sudden sharp crackling sound, like the trampling of a thicket full of twigs. It was followed, or rather accompanied, by a yell from old Joe.
“Back! Get back!”
The next instant Tom echoed his cry.
Simultaneously old Joe sprang forward and tried to turn the mamelukes, but they, maddened by fright, plunged forward.
From above, loosened from its foundation by the softened snow, a huge rock was bounding down upon them. Had the mamelukes stopped where they were they might have been saved. As it was, their plunge forward had brought them directly in the path of the great boulder. The destruction of the sled appeared certain.
And on the sled was Jack, crippled and unable to make a move to save himself from the impending doom.
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