The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
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CHAPTER X – THE MYSTERY SOLVED
“Ah, ha! I fancy that this is a clew to Mr. Ghost!” exclaimed Tom.
He was bending over a sort of megaphone of birch bark, which had been rolled up into a cone-shaped formation. He held it aloft triumphantly.
“So this is what your spook made those noises with, Jack, old fellow, and scared you half to death.”
“He did no such thing,” protested Jack, getting very red in the face. “I did think, though, that there must be something of this kind behind it.”
The two boys had left the hut almost as soon as it was daylight to prosecute their search for some trace of the cause of the alarm they had experienced during the night. Tom already had a theory in his head as to what it was that had made the sounds, and, deducing from the fact that the thief alone would desire to try to scare them, the first things he looked for were traces of some prowler in the vicinity of the hut.
He had discovered footprints among some trees on the edge of the clearing, the prints of a big, soft moccasin-shod man. Then came the finding of the peculiar woods-made megaphone with which, beyond doubt, the man who had tried to scare the boys off his trail had uttered the alarming sounds.
Of this they could be reasonably certain, but it was beyond their power to make out how the man had come to turn back and put his plan to frighten them off his tracks into execution. Tom was inclined to think that he must have turned back soon after he left the hut and discovered who were the occupants. Then he had secreted himself not far off till nightfall and improvised his “ghost party.”
“At any rate, he gave us a fine scare,” declared Tom, as they walked back to breakfast before taking the trail again, “for I’ll admit that I felt just as creepy as you looked.”
“And that was some creepy,” admitted Jack.
And so the matter was, for the time, dismissed from their minds, and over their breakfast they fell to discussing further plans when they should start on again.
The meal had been finished, the dishes hastily wiped and put neatly away, and a penciled note left by Tom on the table thanking the unknown owner of the hut for his hospitality, when both boys were startled at the sound of a dog whip being cracked viciously somewhere in the vicinity. Then came a voice:
“Allez! Allez vitement! Ha! Pierre! Ha! Victoire!”
Both boys ran to the door. Coming toward them at a good pace was a sled drawn by four Mameluke dogs. Seated upon it was a strange figure. It was that of a venerable-looking man with a long white beard, out of which his sun-browned face looked oddly, as if peering from a bush. He wore a bright-red “parkee,” deerskin moccasins and a heavy fur cap. In his mouth was a short clay pipe, at which he was puffing ferociously.
“Father Christmas!” cried Jack. “Santa Claus in real life!”
In fact, the old man on the sled did bear a marked resemblance to that popular Yuletide saint.
As he saw the boys, he uttered an exclamation of astonishment.He cracked his whip again, and the Mamelukes, yapping and snarling, drew the creaking sled up to the door. The old man checked the dogs with a word, and then turned to the boys.
“Ah! mes gar?ons,” he cried; “where you come from, eh? You look plantee young to be out on the trail alone.”
While the old man busied himself in unpacking the goods he had brought back from the trading post some fifty miles away, Tom told him of how they had passed the night in the hut. Then the old man told them that he was the owner of the hut, by name Joe Picquet, an old voyageur of the wilderness.
When Tom told the old fellow of the raiding of his fur treasury, Joe Picquet burst into an excitable fury. He shook his fists and swore to punish the man who had done it with all manner of torments, if he could catch him. A hasty investigation of the barrel showed, however, that the thief had only deemed two skins worth taking. One of these was a silver fox pelt, for which old Joe had counted on getting a thousand dollars, and perhaps more.
“Ah, he is a mauvais chien!” he burst out, when Tom told him how they, too, had suffered at the hands of the marauder. “Joe Picquet make it ver’ hot for him if he get hands on him. Sacre! One silver fox pelt worth all dese put togeder!”
“Possibly you may have passed him on the trail?” said Tom.
“No, I pass only one man. Li’l old man all same lak me,” said Joe positively.
“Did he have a sled with four dogs?”
“Oui, certainment. But he was harmless-looking fellow. He no would rob like the man that was here. Non, it would be impossible to teenk of eet.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” rejoined Tom dubiously. “Oh, by the way, was he smoking cigarettes?”
Old Joe knit his bushy eyebrows in deep thought.
“Oui, he was smoke. Certainment. Li’l yellow cigarettes he was smoke! Bah!”
“Then it was the same man for certain,” said Tom positively. “Look here.”
He indicated the stumps of yellow cigarettes scattered all about.
“Ah! You are right, mon gar?on. Boosh! What a bad mans he must be! So you are follow him, eh? You teenk you catch him?”
“We certainly hope to, or at any rate to get close enough to him to put the authorities on the trail,” said Tom.
“But you are only two li’l boys.”
“Not so very little,” rejoined Tom, while he could not restrain a smile, for Joe Picquet himself was shorter than either of the Dacre boys.
The little old man kept his eyes on his dogs in a speculative mood for a few seconds. The boys did not disturb him. At last he broke out with an exclamation.
“Boosh! How you lak it I go long wid you hunt dees bad man?”
“Why, it would be the very thing! But are your dogs fit for a long journey?”
Old Joe laughed scornfully.
“Mon gar?on, attendez. Dey are the finest team of malukes in whole Yukon country. Old Joe is poor, but he wouldn’t tak one, two, t’ree hundred dollar for one of dem. I feed dem, den we start back again. The man I passed go slowly. Maybe he teenk he scare you away. Ha! ha! He badly fooled. Boosh! I go feed dem now.”
He made a peculiar sound with his lips, and instantly the dogs began jumping about in great excitement.
“Attendez, mes gallons,” said the old man, holding up a forefinger impressively; “do not touch dem now. Dey are good dogs, but all malukes plenty mean. You got beat, beat them all time or dey teenk dey boss and bite you plentee hard, I bet you.”
The boys had heard before of the savage, intractable natures of mameluke dogs and how they can be kept submissive to their owners only by harsh treatment. A mameluke is practically a wild beast broken to harness. They are swift and sure over the frozen lands, but there their association with man ends. They do not wish to be petted, and are likely to retaliate with their teeth on anyone who attempts friendly relations with them.
Muttering angrily to himself, old Joe pottered off to a barrel in the rear of his hut where he kept a plentiful provision of fish for the dogs. Presently he reappeared, and began throwing it among them, cracking his big black-snake whip in a regular fusillade as the dogs fought and snarled furiously over their food.
“Ah, Pierre! mauvais chien! Allez! Hey, Victoire! Wha’ for you bite ole Pete, hey! Boosh! Take your time!”
But the old man’s cries as he darted here and there among them had no effect on the dogs, who finished their meal with frenzied snappings and one or two fights which had to be broken up by main force.
“Now, I go get few teengs an’ we start,” said old Joe, when the animals had lain down in the snow to digest their not over-plentiful meal.
“Boosh! We geev that feller warm reception when we find him, I bet you.”
When old Joe reappeared from the hut, he carried with him a long, wicked-looking old squirrel gun. Its barrel was almost six feet long and it was of a dark, well-worn brown color.
“What are you going to do with that?” asked Tom, as the old man tenderly fumbled with the lock.
“Maybe have use heem. Boosh! No can tell,” he replied oracularly.
“Jiminy!” whispered Jack to Tom, as with their new ally they set out once more along the trail, “old Santa Claus can look positively ferocious when he wants to, can’t he?”
“Yes, but I’ve got a notion that he carries that funny old shooting iron more for effect than anything else. Still, I’m glad we have him along; he may prove a valuable ally,” surmised Tom.
“Well, with Santa Claus on our side we ought to have better luck along the trouble trail,” agreed Jack.
Crack! crack! went the dog whip.
“Boosh!” cried the old man, with whom the exclamation appeared to serve all purposes.
The dogs sprang forward, and Tom and Jack, relieved of their burdens which now lay on the sled, sped after them on rapidly moving snowshoes. Their chase of the unknown thief now began to look like business.
CHAPTER XI – THE NEW-FOUND FRIEND
Old Joe Picquet came to an abrupt halt. All that morning they had followed the trail of the thief and had now arrived at a small lake, Dead Rabbit Lake.
“Boosh!” exclaimed the old man angrily, “I am one fool. Someteeng I jus’ see I nevaire notice before.”
He pointed down at the trail of the man they were pursuing.
“You look! You see something funny 'bout dat snowshoe?” he asked.
Both Tom and Jack examined the footmarks without seeing anything odd in them. It was then that Joe gave them an exhibition of his skill in trailing.
“His toe turn oop,” he said. “Dese snowshoes mooch broader, too, than dose we wear here. Dese shoes made in some factory. See! They no good.”
“Like the man that wears them,” sniffed Jack. “Then you think, Joe, that he must be a stranger up here?”
“I not know,” rejoined Joe with a shrug, “no can tell. But dose snowshoes no made oop here. Come from south, maybe. Boosh!”
“If he is a stranger, he is a good traveler anyhow,” was Tom’s comment.
Not long after, they came upon a spot where the man had halted and built a fire. Joe Picquet felt the ashes, running them slowly through his gnarled fingers.
“Boosh! He still long way in front of us,” he said disgustedly. “Dis fire been cold long time. He keel his dogs, he no look out. Boosh! Allez, Pete! Hey, Dubois!”
On they went again on the monotonous grind of the chase. They passed small lakes, sections of muskegs, swamps, rocky hillsides and deep valleys. But all lay deep under snow and ice. The sun beat down, and the glare from the snow began to affect Jack’s eyes.
“I soon feex that,” said old Joe.
“How?” asked Jack, winking and blinking, for everything looked blurred and distorted.
“I get you pair of snow-glasses. Boosh.”
“Snow-glasses. Have you got some with you?” asked Tom.
Old Joe shook his head.
“Non. But I get some vitement. Very quickly.”
“Are we near to a store, then?” asked Jack.
“No, Otter Creek is twenty miles away.”
“Then I don’t see – ”
“One second, mon ami. You shall see. Old Joe live long in the woods. He can do many teeng. You watch.”
Near the trail they were still following with the same pertinacity stood a white birch clump. Old Joe called a halt, and with his knife stripped off a big slice of bark from one of them. This he fashioned into a kind of mask. But instead of cutting the eye-holes all round, he left part to stick out like shelves under the orifices. These were to prevent the light being reflected from the snow directly into Jack’s eyes. A bit of beaver skin from the load formed a string to tie the odd-looking contrivance on, and from that moment Jack was not bothered with his eyes.
“In wilderness men do widout many teengs; except what dey make for demself,” quoth old Joe, as they took up the trail once more.
Soon after noon they stopped to eat. It was a hasty meal, for they felt that they could ill afford to waste any of the daylight. Then on again they went, old Joe urging his dogs along remorselessly.
“They look pretty tired,” suggested Tom once.
Old Joe gave one of his shrugs and took his pipe from his mouth.
“Dey what you call beeg bluff,” said he. “All time dey play tired. Boosh! Dey no can fool me. Allez!”
Crack went the whip, and the cavalcade moved on as briskly as before.
It was twilight when, on rounding a turn in the trail in a deep valley, they suddenly heard the barking of dogs. Those of their own team answered vociferously, old man Picquet yelling frantically at them above the din.
The cause of the noise ahead of them was soon apparent. From the midst of a clump of second growth Jack-pine proceeded a glow of firelight. It was a camp. They soon saw that it consisted of one tepee. From the opening in the roof of this, sparks were pouring and smoke rolling out at a great rate, telling of a good fire within.
The barking dogs rushed at them savagely, and old Joe had all he could do to keep his own from attacking the strangers. In the melee that would have been sure to follow such an attack, the sled would certainly have been upset even if one or two of the dogs had not been killed; for when mamelukes fight, they fight to the death.
In the midst of the uproar, the flap of the tepee was thrust aside and a figure came toward them. It was an Indian. He called to his dogs, who instantly crept back toward the tent, growling and snarling and casting backward glances at the invaders.
“Boosh!” exclaimed old Joe as he saw the Indian coming toward them, “dat Indian my fren’ long time! Bon jour, Pegic. How you do to-day?” Then followed some words in the Indian dialect which, of course, the boys did not understand.
The Indian invited them into his tepee. He was camping alone and had killed a small deer that morning. The meat hung in the tepee, and as soon as his guests were seated, he set about cutting steaks and frying them over the fire.
Then, on tin plates, he handed each of the boys and old Joe a portion, accompanied by a hunk of baking powder bread. The long day’s journey in the cold, nipping air had made them ravenously hungry. They fell to with wolfish appetites on Pegic’s fare. The Indian, his jaws working stolidly, watched them eat. He was a small man and rather intelligent-looking.
After the meal, the dogs were fed and old Joe told the boys that they would stay with Pegic for the night. As both lads were just about tired out, this arrangement suited them down to the ground, and in the glow of Pegic’s fire they lay down and were soon asleep.
Then old Joe began to ask the Indian questions. Indians must be dealt with calmly and above all slowly, and in a roundabout way. Haste or undue curiosity upsets them. To ask an Indian a brief question is in all probability to have it unanswered. Hence old Joe proceeded with caution. The conversation was carried on in Pegic’s dialect, which the old French-Canadian understood perfectly.
First of all he asked the Indian how long he had been camped there.
“Two days,” was the reply.
“To-day a man passed here?”
The Indian nodded gravely, staring into the fire.
“It is even so. Just as you say, my friend.”
CHAPTER XII – THE FRIENDLY INDIAN
“I am teenking dat perhaps he stopped at your tepee. Is dat so?” inquired old Joe, wise in the way of Indians.
Pegic nodded gravely.
“It is even so, my white brother.”
“Bon. And he was a small man and gray?”
“And carried skins on his sled?”
“Yes. Many skins and one he showed to me. It was the skin of a black fox. Truly a fine pelt, my brother. You are wise in the ways of trapping, but your eyes would have glittered and your fingers itched had you beheld it.”
Old Joe nodded his satisfaction. Clearly, then, they were on the right trail and the man had the skin with him.
“So de man showed you de skins? Yes?”
“He did. He was swollen with pride. But to Pegic he looked like a man who is sick.”
“Yes, my brother. His eyes were overbright and his skin was flushed. He was sick.”
“Boosh! He’ll be seecker yet when we find him, myself and de two gar?ons. Pegic, dose skins were stolen!”
“Stolen, do you say, my brother?”
“Yes, Pegic, it is even so. And how long ago was he here?”
“About two hours before the dropping of the sun. I urged him to stay, but he would not. He said he was in much haste, and truly his dogs showed signs of being hard pressed.”
Old Joe chuckled grimly.
“Bon, so we close up the gap. Boosh! Mon ami, we shall meet before very long. Voila!”
“It was while I was cutting up the deer,” volunteered Pegic, his reserve now thawed by old Joe’s skillful way of leading him on. “I sat on my blanket – so. My dogs barked, and, going to the door of the tepee, I saw this white man coming. He wished food for himself and his dogs. I gave to him, and then he asked the way to the nearest trading post. I told him, and then he inquired for the one even beyond that.”
“For which he had good reason,” muttered old Joe. “He wished to gain on us a good distance before he traded in his furs – bien!”
“His talk was smooth and without stoppage, like a deep stream,” went on the Indian, “but he would ever and anon arise and go to the door of the tepee and look back along his trail. Then I wondered much at this, but now I know why this was so. Then he left, after pressing some silver upon me which I would not have taken but for owing Jumping Rabbit much money, which I lost when we did last play at ‘chuckstones.’ After he had left I lay on my blankets, thinking of many things. But chiefly of how my brother, Walking Deer, was killed at Old Squaw Rapids when his paddle did break and left him to the mercy of the waters. If you like, I will tell the tale to you. I am thinking that it is a story that would delight you much.”
But old Joe, who well knew how an Indian can drag out a story to interminable lengths, diplomatically pleaded fatigue and sought his blankets. Long after he slept the Indian sat motionless, squatting on his haunches, smoking without ceasing and gazing into the fire. Then he, too, curled himself up, and the firelight in the tepee glowed upon four slumberers.
Bright and early the next morning they took up the trail. Old Joe was in high spirits. He flourished his aged rifle vindictively. He belabored his dogs without mercy.
“Courage, mes camarades!” he kept crying to the boys. “Before long we catch up by dis robber, for he is seeck and his dogs are weary. Bien. Before long, we shall have a reckoning.”
At noon they stopped and ate a hasty lunch. A few miles back they had passed the ashes of a cooking fire. Old Joe declared that the embers were not more than a few hours cold. They were gaining on the man. The boys began to feel the excitement of the chase gripping them more and more every instant. The meal was eaten almost in silence. Then – on again.
The day died out; but allowing only a halt for supper and to rest the dogs, old Joe insisted on pressing on. It was a brilliant, starry night, and onward over the creaking snow under the twinkling luminaries of the sky the relentless pursuers of the man with the black fox skin pressed steadily on. Had their excitement been less, or their frames more unused to hardship and long “treks,” the boys might have felt the pace. As it was, they hardly noticed the fatigue that was slowly but surely creeping over them till it was almost midnight.
Old Joe was quick to notice the first signs of flagging. He called a halt.
“Mes enfants, you are tr?s fatigu?,” he exclaimed, “we must rest and sleep.”
“We’re all right,” protested Tom, but his objections were feeble and were not seconded by Jack, who, now that they had actually stopped, felt about ready to drop in his tracks.
“Non, we will stop and camp here and you must get some sleep,” insisted old Joe. “Let me see. We are now near end of Spoon Island. Bien! Just below is Hawk Island. Many times have I camped dere, and dere I have a petit cache in a tree. We will go on as far as dat and den rest and eat.”
Two or three miles below the end of Spoon Island lay Hawk Island. They took to the frozen surface of the river and soon reached it. It was a small, rocky speck of land thickly wooded with balsam, spruce and poplar.
“Long time ago many t’ous’and hare live here,” said Joe, “now not so good. But I like camp here. Boosh! So now we will stop.”
While the old voyageur unharnessed his ravenous dogs and fed them, the boys looked about them. Sticking up from the snow they could see the ends of some poles set in a quadrangular form. This marked the site of one of Joe’s former camps. Having unharnessed the dogs and left them to fight and snarl over their supper, old Joe next set about making a camp.
The boys watched him with interest. It was the first camp of the kind they had ever seen.
“Come help me dig,” admonished the old trapper. “Do like I do. Soon we have fine camp. Warm and snug – bien!”
He set to work digging with a snowshoe, and the boys followed his example, working under his directions. Before long they had excavated a square hole some four feet deep in the snow. By the time they had banked and patted it smooth they stood in a pit which reached about to their shoulders.
This done, old Joe wetted his finger and held it up. The side to the wind immediately grew cold and indicated to him from which direction the light breeze came.
“Bien!” he exclaimed, when he had done this, “now four poles from dose trees, mes amis, and we are snug lak zee bug in zee rug, – n’est-ce pas?”
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