The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
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CHAPTER XXXII – A PROVIDENTIAL MEAL
Sandy’s nightmare had the effect of keeping him awake, save for spells of uneasy dozing, for the remainder of the night. It was one that he never forgot. There were times when he sank into a half waking stupor and allowed the fire to die low. Then, waking up, he would see crouching in the dark corners of the rift all sorts of fantastic shapes. At such times he hastened to hurl on more wood, and then, as the bright flames crackled up, the shadows fled away and he breathed more freely again.
Sometimes he would creep to the mouth of the rift and gaze down upon the snowy flat beneath. Each time he had a faint hope in his heart that the dark shapes that he knew were the watching wolves might have abandoned the siege and gone away.
But every time he was disappointed. Every fresh inspection showed him the dark forms massed beneath him. They were gazing upward at the glow of fire proceeding from the rift. Once Sandy hurled down a red-hot brand among them. With yelps and cries those whom it touched loped away from the main body, but they soon joined them again. As for the others, they never moved. There was something uncanny in this immobility. It expressed a calm determination to see the matter through to the bitter end, be that what it might, which was far from comforting to one in Sandy’s predicament.
At last, somehow, the night wore itself out. In the east, on one of his visits to the entrance of his hiding place, Sandy descried a faint gray light.
The coming of the day inspired him with a fresh hope. Perhaps with the light of day the wolves would betake themselves elsewhere. Night is their favorite hunting time and they do not usually go much abroad till at least the afternoon.
But as the light grew stronger, Sandy saw that hope, too, fade away. Far from expressing any intentions of deserting their posts, the wolves greeted the slow rise of the sun with a howl that echoed up to the heavens. It sent a shudder through Sandy as he stood there looking down upon the massed gray backs and the hungry upturned faces.
“Is this the end?” he found himself thinking.
But just then something occurred to divert his thoughts. Across the snow came winging, in full flight, a flock of fine, plump snow-grouse. The plumage of these birds changes in winter from its summer russet and brown to a snowy white. Except when in flight it is almost impossible to distinguish them against a white background.
The flight of the birds inspired Sandy with a sudden interest. And it was no wonder that it did, for grouse are excellent food and not wild or hard to shoot. If they landed upon his rocky fortress he was reasonably sure of being able to get one or two of them.
The wolves, too, saw the coming of the grouse, and watched them with almost equal interest. Wolves by no means despise grouse, and sometimes stalk a flock miles in the snowy wastes, seeking a chance to pounce on them.And so, as the flight came on, they were watched by the boy and his besiegers with equal interest.
Sandy ran within his shelter so as not to frighten the birds from alighting on the rocks, which appeared to be their intention. Some stunted bushes, covered with a sort of hard, red berry must have attracted them, so Sandy guessed, or perhaps the rocks were a regular feeding ground on account of these same berries. From the mouth of his rift Sandy could command a view of a patch of the berry-bearing bushes. If only the grouse would alight in that particular patch he would be sure of a good shot or two. But would they?
He watched their maneuvers with feverish interest. His very life might depend upon their actions within the next few minutes. On came the flock, and at last they were above the rock fort in which the boy had taken refuge. With burning eyes and rifle in hand, Sandy watched them from his place of concealment.
But they flew on over the mouth of the rift to alight in some other feeding place. Sandy might have risked a shot as they passed over him. But to hit a bird on the wing with a rifle is a feat so seldom performed as to be noteworthy, and Sandy did not dare risk frightening them away altogether by sending a useless shot among them.
After all, he conjectured, they would probably come to the patch he was watching in the course of their wanderings about their feeding grounds. Throughout a great part of the morning he watched for the birds, but none appeared. Below, the wolves from time to time gave tongue. Sandy would have liked to creep out and try the effect of a shot among them, but he did not dare to risk showing himself for fear of alarming any of the grouse that might be approaching.
All at once he noticed among the brush patch some white moving objects. He knew that these must be the grouse. They had wandered around below him without his seeing them and were now feeding in the patch upon which he had his rifle sights trained.
But there was a long wait, severely trying to the patience, before the grouse began to move upward, making their way toward the rift and approaching a position in which it would be possible to fire at them with a reasonable prospect of success. Sandy’s hands trembled with excitement as the grouse fluttered and stepped daintily among the berries, pecking them off right and left.
At last one of them, a fine, fat fellow, came into full view. Against the dark brown of the dead brush his body made a splendid target. Sandy set his teeth, steadied his aim and fired.
The grouse fluttered into the air and then fell back upon the snow, dead. The boy had time for one more shot before the flock took wing.
He could not refrain from a cry of joy as he dashed down the rocks to secure his game. For a time at least he could sustain life, even pent-up as he was in his rocky prison.
CHAPTER XXXIII – OVER THE CREVASSE!
For one moment Tom beheld the tableau that had his helpless brother for its central figure.
Then with a hideous roar, like that of an express train rushing at top speed through a tunnel, the boulder crashed downward and upon the trail. Like figures that are wiped from a slate the mamelukes vanished, their lives crushed out in a flash under the huge rock.
“Jack!” shrieked Tom, as he saw.
“Sacre nom!” roared old Joe. “See!”
As the boulder flashed downward, rumbling into the crevasse at the side of the trail, the sled followed it!
In a small avalanche of snow and loosened shale Tom beheld his brother being swept over the brink to what appeared certain annihilation.
Tom reeled back against the inner wall of the trail. He felt sick and dizzy. For some moments he knew nothing. The world swam in a dizzy merry-go-round before his eyes.
Then he was conscious of somebody plucking at his sleeve. It was old Joe.
“Courage, mon enfant!” the old man was saying. “Eet may not be zee end. Wait here. Do not move. I weell go see. Whatever eet ees, I weell tell you zee truth.”
Tom could say nothing in reply. All he could see or think of was that terrible picture. The downward rush of the loosened boulder, the sight of the obliterated mamelukes and then the last glimpse of the sled as, with Jack clinging helplessly to it, it had plunged over the brink in a swirl of loosened snow! The injured boy had not even had time to cry out or to utter a word. He had been carried to his doom in absolute silence. In fact, the whole thing had happened so quickly that only the horror of the sight had etched its every detail indelibly upon Tom’s mind.
Old Joe cautiously approached the edge of the crevasse. He did not know but that there might be a treacherous “lip” of snow overhanging the brink. In that case, if he went incautiously he might share Jack’s fate. For, although he had tried to instill courage into Tom, the old trapper hardly entertained a doubt but that Jack’s dead body lay at the foot of the precipice.
As he made sure of his ground and then thrust his head over the edge, he received a joyful shock. Below him, in a deep snow, lay Jack and what was left of the sled.
Joe’s voice stuck in his throat, but at length he mustered up his courage and hailed the boy lying beside the crushed and broken sled.
“Hullo! mon ami!”
He paused while his heart beat thickly. And then a yell of joy burst from his lips.
The figure lying below him moved painfully and the boy waved an arm. Then, as if the effort had been too much, he collapsed again.
But Joe was jubilant. He sang and shouted his delight and hailed Tom in stentorian tones.
“He lives! Le gar?on, he lives!”
Tom, his face as white as a sheet, came to Joe’s side. Together they gazed downward at the form of the boy on the snow bank below. It was a spot where the drifting snow, forced up the narrow canyon by some wild wind, had been piled within fifty feet of the trail. It was to this fact undoubtedly that Jack owed his life.
Beside him, and not very far away, was a huge hole in the snow like the crater of a volcano. It showed where the great boulder had bored its way into the soft snow with the velocity of a bullet. That hole gave them some idea of the mighty force that had wiped out the lives of the mamelukes.
Till the moment that Joe knew that Jack was alive he had given no thought to his precious dogs. But now he ran toward their mangled bodies and bent over them, the tears running down his old cheeks and his voice uplifted in lamentation.
He called to each dead beast by name and dwelt upon its particular virtues. His grief was so genuine and so heartfelt that Tom, urgent though the occasion was, yet felt some hesitancy in disturbing him until some minutes had passed.
Then the boy drew the old trapper’s attention to the necessity of devising some means of rescuing Jack from the snow bank below the trail. As Tom addressed him the old man sprang to his feet. The tears still streamed down his cheeks and his face was working with grief. But he burst into a flood of self-reproach.
“Ah! I was forget zee enfant, zee brave gar?on who lies below. Forgive me, please. My heart ees veree seeck. I love my malukes lak I love my children. Now eet ees ovaire. We must work. Afterward I bury my dog. En avant! Vitement! Courage!”
The old man smote himself upon the chest with each word as if to instill action and courage into his breast.
“We must have a rope,” he said at length.
“Of course. We can do nothing without one. But where can we obtain one?”
They looked at each other despairingly. Without a rope they could do nothing. Yet Jack lay there below them, possibly in instant need of attention, and they were compelled to stand there helpless, unable to aid him.
It was one of the most trying moments of Tom’s life.
CHAPTER XXXIV – A BATTLE ROYAL
Sandy cooked and ate one of his grouse and resumed his watching. The cooking, thanks to his training in the ways of woodcraft, was an easy matter for him. He had a small, telescopic cleaning rod with him for his rifle. Having plucked and split the grouse, he impaled it on this and cooked it over the embers.
He would have liked bread and salt, but was in no mood to grumble over his meal. He was only too thankful to have secured it at all. He noted with delight that the wolves were beginning to get uneasy. The hunger that was gnawing at them was beginning to work upon their patience. As soon as they saw Sandy they set up a chorus of howls and yapping barks and once more tried to scale the rocks. One almost succeeded in doing this, but Sandy shot it before it had gained a foothold. It shared the fate of the dead leader, the ravenous pack leaving absolutely nothing of its remains.
It was well on in the day when the pack began to raise their nostrils and sniff the wind. Plainly something was in the air that Sandy knew nothing about. The wolves, however, appeared greatly excited. They got on their feet and began to mill about, barking and yapping in bewildering discord.
“I wonder what is the matter with them,” thought Sandy, as he watched, and then it began to dawn upon him that something that either alarmed or excited the wolves must be approaching the rocks.
“Perhaps it is a man,” thought Sandy, with a thrill of pleasurable anticipation. The next minute he almost began to hope that no human being was near unless there were several of them in a large party, for a lone hunter or trapper would be able to make only a feeble stand against the pack.
At length, far out on the snow fields, he made out a dark form lumbering along toward the rocks. For some time he could not think what it was, but at last he made out the nature of the creature.
It was a bear, and a big one, too. It was probably one of those surly old fellows that refuse to hibernate like most of their kind and stay out the winter through, hunting what they can and maintaining a scanty living till spring comes again.
A sensation by no means pleasurable possessed Sandy at the idea of such company on the rocks. The wolves were bad enough; but a bear! However, he reflected, his rifle was of good heavy caliber and he had plenty of ammunition left to dispatch the bear if it should prove troublesome. Moreover, as Sandy knew, bear meat is good meat when one is hungry; and although the bear now approaching the rocks was undoubtedly poor and thin, its carcass would have at least some meat upon it.
But now his attention was distracted from the bear by the actions of the pack. They set up their hunting cry, which differs from their ordinary yapping accents very widely. In fact, wolves appear to have a rudimentary language of their own.
The constant milling round and round and up and out ceased. A sudden hush settled down over the pack and then, like one wolf, they were off. Sandy saw, with a thrill, what was coming. Their game was the bear! A battle royal hung upon the issue.
With an interest which swallowed up all other considerations, Sandy watched as the pack swept down on the bear. The big, clumsy creature had already seen them coming and had quickened his pace to a lumbering gallop, which yet brought him over the snow at a good speed. He was heading directly for the rocks, where he could make a stand. His instinct must have told him that out in the open he would have but a poor chance against his savage opponents.
Sandy felt a flash of sympathy for the great bear as the pack made a detour and were on his heels. He saw one chisel-clawed foot shoot out and a big wolf leap high and fall down, rent from shoulder to thigh. The killing gave the bear a breathing space, for the pack fell on their comrade with hideous yelps. Their cannibal feast gave the bear time to increase the distance between himself and his swarming foes.
He reached the rocks with the pack close on his heels, and then seeing that he could not scale the rocks, the huge creature upreared himself against the boulders and prepared to battle for his life.
With a yelp the leader of the pack flung himself at the great hairy animal’s throat. With one glancing sweep of his huge paw the bear disposed of him. One after another the wolves attacked their foe, only to be felled, wounded and bleeding, and to become victims to their own hunting mates.
“Good boy!” Sandy found himself saying. “Hit ’em again!”
His sympathies were all with the bear, making the fight of his life.
The wolves fell back. But the bear was not deceived. He maintained his stand against the rocks. The wolves crouched, glaring hatred and defiance at him. The ground about the battlefield was red now. Ten wolves had given up their lives. But the bear, too, showed marks of the combat. More than one pair of gleaming white fangs had met in his skin.
Sandy watched with the interest of someone who has a personal stake in a battle royal.
The wolves did not long remain quiescent This time they tried new tactics. They attacked en masse. Like a swarm of bees they flung themselves on the great monarch of the northern forests. His steel-shod paws swept right and left. Yelping and howling the wolves fell before him. But as fast as some fell, others took their places.
The bear was bleeding now. Wounded in a score of places, he fought on against his overwhelming foes with royal courage. To the boy watching from the rocks above, there was something almost sublime in the fight for life that the great creature was making against such overwhelming odds. But plainly the contest could not last much longer.
Like great waves of gray the wolves were hurling themselves forward. They fought blindly and desperately and the bear’s blows were growing weaker.
“I’ll help you, old fellow!” breathed Sandy. “I’ll take a hand in this myself. I’ve no more reason to love your enemies than you have.”
He reached out to the rocks and secured his rifle. When he turned back he was just in time to see a gray form at the bear’s throat. The wolf hung on while the big animal beat the air helplessly with his paws.
Sandy’s rifle cracked and the wolf dropped to the ground. But the others hardly seemed to notice the intervention of the bear’s ally. So numerous were they, that their ranks appeared to be hardly thinned by their losses.
Again and again, unbaffled by the tremendous courage and the sweeping blows of their adversary, they returned to the attack. Again and again, too, did Sandy’s rifle crack, and each time a wolf drew his last breath. The battle was beginning to tell on the wolves as well as on the bear. Their leaders were gone. The pack began to fight in desultory fashion.
The bear’s blows were feebler, but since that desperate assault on his throat, the wolves had not had the courage to close with him. Sandy’s rifle completed their rout. At last they appeared to realize that they were pitted against the terrible fire tube of the white man as well as the steel-shod paws of the bear. They wavered, broke ranks and then, as if by a concerted resolution, they turned tail.
Straight for the forest they sped, while the bear, flinging his big bulk down on the snow began licking his wounds. Sandy looked down upon him. The big creature was an easy shot, pitifully easy, and his skin would make a fine trophy. Sandy raised his rifle to his shoulder and aimed it. He put it down and raised it again. But again his resolution failed him. “No, old fellow,” he exclaimed aloud, “you helped me fight those gray demons and for all of me, you shall go where you like unharmed.”
It was late afternoon before the wounded bear rose slowly to his feet, and without a backward glance shuffled off toward the south. Sandy watched him going across the snows for a long time. He was glad he had not shot him.
He turned from the trail of the wounded bear toward the north once more, and as he did so a shout burst from his lips.
Coming toward him over the snow were the figures of two men. With them was a dog sleigh, and they were traveling fast on a course that would bring them past the rocks.
Ten minutes later Sandy recognized in the travelers his uncle and the latter’s partner, Mr. Colton Chillingworth.
CHAPTER XXXV – THE DEATH OF “THE WOLF.”
Old Joe looked about him with despair in his eyes. When the sled had gone over the edge of the cliff, the ropes that bound the load to it and the harness of the dogs had gone with it. There was not so much as a foot of rope left by which they might devise a means of reaching Jack.
“What are we to do?” he demanded.
“We moost keep on and get help from La Roche. Eet ees not far now, mon gar?on.”
“But by the time we get back, Jack may be – may be – ”
Tom could not complete the sentence.
For lack of something to say, old Joe gazed about him. Suddenly he gave a cry of delight. On a ledge not far above the trail there were growing a thick clump of cedar trees.
“Bien! I get rope queeck! Watch, mon gar?on!” he cried.
“But how in the world!” began Tom.
“Nevaire min’. Len’ me you’ hunting knife. Eet ees bettaire dan mine. Bien! Now ole Joe, he get rope vitement.”
The old trapper stuck Tom’s knife in his belt and clambered up to the steep plateau where grew the cedar trees. He ascended one after the other, peeling off long strips of bark from each. At length he had a big pile of long, pliant, tough strips collected on the ground. He brought these down to where Tom stood watching him with puzzled interest, although he had an idea of the object of Joe’s labors.
“Voila! Behold, mon ami! Now we soon have rope.”
“You mean to make one out of these?”
“Oui! Many a time have I make rope lak dat.”
“A strong rope?”
“A rope dat would hold a wild buffalo. Oui!”
“It was fortunate that those cedars were there, then.”
“Mon gar?on,” solemnly spoke old Joe, “le bon Dieu put dem dere to remain till dere appointed time came.”
The old trapper set Tom to work plaiting the ropes in strands of three lengths of bark. These were knotted together till they made a strong, pliable rope of the required length.
Then they went to the edge of the crevasse. Jack was sitting up with one of the blankets from the sled drawn about him for warmth. He looked up as they shouted down to him.
“Jack,” hailed Tom, “do you feel all right now?”
“Sound as a bell, but I wish you could get me out of here.”
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