The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
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“We are going to try to. Can you fasten this rope around you?”
As he spoke, Tom held up the bark rope.
“Easily. Lower it away. If it wasn’t for this ankle of mine I might have tried climbing out, but I have had to cross that sort of exercise off my list.”
The rope was sent snaking down to Jack, and was found to be amply long, for the steep bank was not more than forty feet high instead of the fifty they had estimated.
As its end came within his grasp, Jack seized the improvised rope and made a loop in it which he knotted under his arm-pits.
“All ready?” hailed Tom.
“Then hold tight and help yourself all you can.”
“I sure will. But please don’t let go!”
“Not if we have to go over ourselves,” Tom assured him.
A stunted “rampick” grew close to the edge of the trail. The rope was passed around this, one turn being taken so that they could rest and still keep their grip on the rope if they desired. Then the long haul began.
Inch by inch, resting at times when they were out of breath, the two, the boy and the old trapper, hauled Jack up to a point where they were able to knot the rope about the “rampick” and lift their comrade up to safety with their hands.
Thanks to the softness of the snow bank into which he had been hurled, Jack had not received additional injury, except for a few bruises. They rested for a time and then old Joe and Tom resumed the tramp to La Roche’s place. Carrying Jack between them and making frequent stops, it was dark when they reached there and found a warm welcome.
Tom promised La Roche liberal pay to take them back to Camp Yukon Rover, and after some demur the trapper consented. The next day he hitched up his dog sled for Jack’s convenience, and they started on again under his guidance. They paused on the homeward trail to bury old Joe’s faithful mamelukes, who had proven themselves, as have many others of the kind, faithful unto death.
Then the journey was resumed, for old Joe had promised to accompany the boys to their camp. Tom wanted his uncle and Mr. Chillingworth to meet the old man who had been such a good friend to them and helped them over so many stumbling blocks.
On their second day on the trail they espied an Indian coming toward them. It proved to be Pegic, the friendly Indian with whom they had camped. He set up a shout on seeing them.
“That Injun sure has suth’in on his mind,” said La Roche, noticing such unusual signs of excitement in the son of a stoical race.
A few moments later the mystery was explained. Pegic, with some others of his tribe, had the day before found a white man with a broken neck at the foot of a precipice.
It had proved to be the “little gray man,” whom they all had seen and of whose flight and theft they knew. Pegic, recalling the story of his friend, Joe Picquet, had searched among the dead man’s effects, which lay scattered about him. Among them were a black fox skin of shimmering beauty, which the Indian gravely handed to the delighted Tom, and many other skins, including those nicked from old Joe.
How the Wolf had met his death was never discovered, nor did his companions ever appear to explain the mystery.One explanation was that he fell from the precipice during a fight, a theory which some marks on his body served to support.
With frontier justice, old Joe Picquet awarded to Pegic for his honesty the skins unclaimed by himself or by the boys. They amounted in value to a considerable sum, and the Indian was delighted with the gifts of his white friends.
The next day they reached the camp of the Yukon Rover, where they found Mr. Dacre, Mr. Chillingworth and Sandy. How much they all had to tell each other and how many hours of the night were consumed in the telling, you may imagine. Tom and Jack did not receive the scolding they had contemplated getting for the loss of the black fox. Their recovery of the skin and the hardships they had undergone on the trail, in the opinion of both their elders, more than counterbalanced any carelessness they might have shown.
The remainder of the winter was spent in trapping with old Joe Picquet, who was retained at a good salary as chief trapper. The old man, too, not long afterward, bought himself a new team of mamelukes, but fine as they are he declares that no sledge animals will ever be seen in the north country to equal his lost team, for which he mourned for many months.
When Jack’s ankle healed, he took as active a part as any in the work and play of the Yukon Rover camp. In due course, spring came over the icy regions North of Fifty-three. The rivers were opened, and one fine day the Yukon Rover slipped her moorings and with a valuable cargo of live foxes – destined to start the first enterprise of its kind in the United States – she dropped down the Porcupine to the Yukon. On the bank a sorrowful figure stood waving goodbye. It was Joe Picquet. Long after a bend of the river shut him out from view, the boys could see him in their mind’s eyes standing there, motionless as a figure of stone, calling:
“Good-bye! Come back some day!”
“I wonder if we ever will?” mused Sandy as they stood on the foredeck beneath the “Totem of the Frozen North.”
“Who can tell?” rejoined Tom. “But whatever happens, we shall never forget our adventures up here.”
“I shan’t for one,” said Jack with conviction.
“Nor I,” echoed Sandy. “I feel different, somehow, bigger and older for it all.”
“And so say we all!” cried Jack.
And here we must bid good-bye to the Bungalow Boys, leaving them, as Sandy expressed it, “bigger and older” and better equipped to meet life’s trials and battles for the experiences that they had faced “North of Fifty-three.”
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