The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“The mamelukes are usually harnessed all in a line, one before the other. They are shorter-haired, more active, faster and ten times meaner than the husky – and that’s going some, let me tell you.
“Their chief delight is to get into a regular Donnybrook fight. When this happens there is only one way to stop them, and that is to club them till they are knocked insensible. Sounds brutal, doesn’t it? but it is the only way to quell one of these disturbances.
“If they get a chance to they’ll bite through their harness with one nip of their long teeth. Then, having gained their liberty, off they will gallop and sometimes not be caught again for days.
“The mameluke is an habitual thief, too. His idea of a nice little midnight repast is to pull the boots off your feet while you are asleep and indulge in a hasty lunch. His seal-hide harness, also, appeals to his epicurean tastes; in fact, he will eat anything, including his best friend, if he gets a chance!
“Besides the mameluke, the husky is an aristocrat and a highly-bred gentleman, although his manners are nothing to brag about. Another accomplishment of the mameluke is opening provision boxes and getting out the tin cans they contain.
“He carries his own can-opener in the form of his powerful teeth. His taste is not particular. Canned tomatoes, fruit, vegetables, sardines – in fact, anything a man can put into a can, a mameluke can get out of it! Any leather covered goods are also appetizing to the mameluke. Trunk covers, saddles, and so on. He’ll eat any of them without sauce, and not leave any bones either!
“It seems strange that these dogs – which are the mainstay of the traveler in the northern wilds – live through their whole lives without ever getting a kind word. They have performed wonderful feats of endurance and, with all their wolfish greed and viciousness, they have time and time again saved human lives by their wonderful stamina.
“‘A mameluke knows only one law, and that is contained in the end of a club or whip,’ an old driver told me once; and yet some, like Joe Picquet, have succeeded in getting them to do much of their work through kindness. But such cases are so very rare as to prove the rule.
“There is another remarkable difference between the husky’s character and that of his disreputable relative. Food that he has stolen tastes sweeter to the mameluke than any other delicacy. The fact that he has pilfered it from the camp or the sled appears to give it an added zest.
“The husky, however, will go off fishing or hunting for himself if given a chance. In this he shows his wild origin. Just like a wolf or a bear, he will take his place in a stream and seize any fish that may be cast up on the shallows.
“The average speed of a dog team in good condition is ten miles an hour, and, as you know, in the States we call that good ‘reading’ even for a blooded horse. The dogs travel various distances daily, depending on the state of the trail they are following.I have heard of dogs that made seventy miles a day. Such animals are very valuable and carefully watched, for there are plenty of dog-thieves in this country.
“When the thermometer drops too low for horse travel, what horses there are in the country are stabled. From then till spring the dog is the Alaskan locomotive. With the coming of the snows the dogs become the constant traveling companions of the men of this northland, and do practically all the transportation work.
“The dogs can travel in weather so terrifically cold that men would not dare to stir abroad. The lowest temperature recorded so far at Dawson was eighty-three below zero. No need for an ice-box, then, up here in the winter.
“But these great falls of temperature only occur occasionally, for which we are duly thankful. When it gets so very cold the air becomes filled with a thick fog. It is hard to see even a hundred yards. Nobody stirs outside, and it is like a dead world.
“One curious thing about the extreme cold is the tendency it has to make you want to hibernate just like a wood-chuck. We sleep sixteen and fifteen hours when we are not on the trail, and could do with more. Wouldn’t it be tough if some time we all overslept and didn’t wake up till spring! How Jack would eat! He can put away a man’s sized portion of grub now, anyhow.
“Travel up here is not usually done by a man alone. There is great danger of his eyelids becoming frozen together, and perhaps ice will form about his nostrils or mouth, half choking him and keeping him busy removing the accumulation. There is also the Arctic drowsiness to contend against, that overpowering desire to sleep that it is almost impossible to fight off. If this overtook a solitary traveler it would mean his almost certain death in some drift.
“The freezing of the waters of the rivers comes on very suddenly. Sometimes in a night. The only warning that you get is the glow of the sun-dogs – like little suns – scattered all round the central luminary.
“You have to watch out, then, if you are in a canoe or a rowboat. The water may be free from ice, but as you paddle or handle the oars, you may notice bubbles and particles of ice bobbing to the surface.
“That’s a danger signal!
“It means that the bottom of the river has begun to freeze. If you don’t make a quick landing you are soon hemmed in by ice too thick to row or paddle through, but too thin to walk on. You may be frozen before you can escape.
“Well, I’ve told you enough to let you see that life up here is not a bed of roses, but, as my uncle says, ‘it makes men’. At any rate, no mollycoddle could get along very well in a northern winter. But we are enjoying all of it – the rough and the smooth. We have each gained in weight – and eat! – Fatty Dawkins at school was a mere invalid compared to us!”
So closed Tom’s letter and, by the time it was finished, old Joe was ready to resume the trail. The storekeeper took charge of the boys’ mail, to be delivered to the dog-teams when the post came by.
CHAPTER XVI – COMING STORM
It was after the noonday halt of the next day that the Indian’s prophecy of the coming snow was verified. All that morning they had pushed feverishly along under sullen skies. Signs were not few that the chase was drawing to a close. Old Joe’s examination of the man’s last camp-fire convinced him that it was not more than a very short time since the man had “moved on.”
Ominous slate-colored clouds began to roll up. There was a strange stillness in the air, like but very different from the hush that precedes a thunderstorm. They had about finished their noon snack when the boys noticed the dogs beginning to sniff about uneasily, elevating their noses and pacing up and down, giving from time to time short yapping barks.
“Aha!” cried old Joe as he saw this, “zee snow, he come. Beeg snow, I teenk. Malukes know. Boosh! It weel wipe out zee trail – bah!”
He knocked the ashes from his pipe disgustedly. The boys, in fact, felt equal disappointment. It appeared that the forces of nature had leagued themselves with their enemy. They pictured to themselves how the unknown fugitive must be chuckling as he saw the signs of the approaching storm which must obliterate his tracks.
“Are we going on?” asked Tom, as old Joe rose to his feet and looked about him.
“Boosh! Non, mon gar?on! It ees not well to travel in the snow. We must camp. Dat is all dere is for us to do. Maybe he not be bad. But look plenty bad now.”
“You mean to make camp, then?”
“Yes. Back by dose trees. Eet is good place. Zee wind is from zee nort’. Zee trees hold zee dreeft, bon. Eet might have come in much worse place.”
“Is the storm likely to last long?”
Joe Picquet gave one of his expressive shrugs.
“Maybe. Perhaps one day, maybe two, t’ree days. I do not know.”
Feeling rather low in spirits, the boys set about making a camp under Joe’s directions. It was the same kind as the one in which they had passed the night on a previous occasion. Great quantities of wood were chopped, and from the way Joe kept eying the sky, the boys could see that he was afraid the storm would be on them before they could get everything in readiness.
The old man himself worked like a beaver. It would have seemed impossible that a man of his age and apparently feeble frame could perform so much work. But Old Joe Picquet was capable of doing a day’s work with men of half his age, and the way he hustled about that camp showed it.
The dogs were fed, but instead of fighting as usual, they devoured their food in silence and then began looking about for places to burrow.
“Ah-ha! Mameluke, he know. He ver’ wise, all same one tree full of zee owl,” declared old Joe, noting this.
At last all was finished and they were ready to face whatever the weather was preparing to launch upon their heads. About three o’clock the sky was full of tiny flakes which came through the still, silent air with a steady, monotonous persistency that presaged a heavy downfall. By night, which closed in early, the air was white with whirling flakes. It was impossible to see more than a few feet.
“You see. She get worse before she get better,” declared Joe oracularly as, after an early supper of jerked meat and hot tea, they sought their blankets.
When morning came the worst of the storm was over. But what a scene! Every landmark was obscured. Nothing met their eyes but a broad sheet of unbroken snow. Every track was obliterated. Only some bumps in the snow, like the hummocks over graves, showed where the mameluke dogs slept, securely tucked in by a snowy blanket.
Joe shook his head despondently.
“Boosh! No good, dees!” he grumbled. “That rascal, he moost be most glad to see. ‘Ha! Ha!’ he teenk to himself, ‘now I get away.’”
“I guess he’s dead right in that, too,” muttered Tom despondently.
“Courage! Mon gar?on, we not geev up yet. We come long way get dees fellow, we get him. Get breakfast, den we open trail. Joe Picquet know dees country lak he know zee bumps in hees mattress.”
Soon afterward they took to their snowshoes, pressing forward over an unbroken expanse of white. Both boys now wore old Joe’s bark “snow glasses.” As for the old trapper himself, he had merely blackened his eyes underneath with a burned stick to relieve the glare. It gave him an odd and startling appearance, but it averted the danger of temporary sightlessness.
“Dat beeg rascal, he have to keep to dees valley,” said Joe as they pushed along. “No can get out till reach White Otter Lake. Maybe dere we strike hees trail once more.”
Encouraged by this hope, they made good progress till noon, when old Joe declared that they were within striking distance of White Otter Lake.
“But there he can take more than one road,” declared Tom, recalling what Joe had said.
“Dat ees so. Two valley branch off dere, one to zee north, zee ozeer to zee south.”
“Then it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Jack disgustedly.
Old Joe looked up quickly.
“Maybe we find heem, maybe not,” he said; “all we can do is try. No good get sore, mon gar?on. Boosh!”
Jack looked rather abashed, but said nothing, and they went on again in silence. Late in the afternoon, when near White Otter, they came upon two Indians fishing through the ice. They had a decoy, one of the oddest of its kind the boys had ever seen. It was a fish skin blown out like a bladder and anchored at the edge of the ice. They seemed to have had good luck, for a big pile of fish lay beside them.
Old Joe bought a good supply of these for the dogs, whose food was beginning to run low. Then, after the usual palaver, the Indians were asked about other passers along the trail. But they had not been there long, they said. Their camp lay to the south. Since they had been fishing they had seen no one.
The trapper paid for the fish, gave some of it at once to the dogs, and then they went on again. It was a monotonous journey, trying to the body and the spirits. A silence, tragic, gloomy and sinister hung over everything. Although the snow had ceased and the sky was clear, the going was heavy and tiring, and the uncertainty of picking up the thief’s trail again added to their depression.
But the silence did not always hang heavy, brooding and unshattered.
From time to time a cry like the scream of a banshee would split the air, startling the boys, used as they were to it. The cry was that of the hunters of the north, the gaunt, gray rangers of the wilds – the wolves.
CHAPTER XVII – THE LOUPS GALOUPS
At such times old Joe would shrug his shoulders and say:
“Zee wolves, hey? Les Loups Galoups? Ever you heard of zee Loups Galoups, mes enfants?”
“The galloping wolves?” said Tom, more for the sake of breaking the silence than for any great curiosity he felt. “No, what are they?”
Old Joe looked mysterious.
“We do not lak to talk of zem,” he said. “Dey are not of zee earth, comprenez vous? Dey are from above.”
He pointed upward at the heavens.
“Above?” repeated Tom, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Dat at night, when you hear dem rush tru zee air, howling and crying, you know dat you hear noteeng dat is of dees eart’. Dey are what you call zee ghosts, are zee Loups Galoups. Always before a pairson ees to die you hear dem rush tru zee air ovair zee house.”
“What a queer notion!” laughed Tom, although Jack’s face was long and serious. “Have you ever heard them?”
Joe Picquet’s face looked serious. Then he spoke slowly.
“Once, long time ago in Quebec Province, I hear zee Loups Galoups,” he said slowly. “My wife was ver’ seeck. She sit up in zee bed one night and call to me:
“‘Joe! Oh, Joe! allez vous ici!’
“I run queeck, and she hold oop her fingaire – so – and say to me:
“I leesten, an’ pretty soon I hear noise passing ovair zee house. Eet sound lak zee galloping of someteengs tru zee air. Den I hear zee howl of zee pack. Den I know dat I have hear zee Loups Galoups. Zee next day my wife die, and I – I come away. I have nevaire been back. Dat long time ago, when Joe Picquet, who is old, was yoong man, strong and full of life. But old Joe nevaire forget zee Loups Galoups. Always when you hear dem, dey mean death.”
Had the boys listened to such a fantastic bit of superstition in any other surroundings, they would have laughed at it as ridiculous. But hearing it as they did in that forlorn, man-forsaken waste, and told so solemnly by the old trapper, it took a singular hold on their imaginations. The Loups Galoups legend, which comes from old France, is one of the most widely spread superstitions of the French Canadians. To hear the Flying Wolves is to be certain that death or serious misfortune is at hand.
Not long after Joe had concluded his story a large white Arctic hare limped across their trail a few rods ahead. As it paused and gazed back for an instant, Tom’s rifle jerked up to his shoulder, and the next instant the hare lay kicking in the snow.
“Bon! Good shot, mon gar?on!” cried old Joe. “To-night we have fine stew for suppaire. Dat bettaire dan all zee time eat jerk meat.”
Darkness overtook them that night near to Otter Lake. They made camp in an abandoned shanty of some gold-seeker or hunter on the banks of the frozen river. It had once been quite a pretentious cabin, but had fallen into disrepair. Among other of its unusual features was an open fireplace set in a big chimney.
They did not light a fire in this, however, preferring to camp outside, for the cabin was musty and damp and the floor had given way in many places. Joe declared that it was certain to be infested with rats, and they could see how the creatures had gnawed the timbers. Instead, they established comfortable quarters outside the abandoned hut, and sat late around the fire, talking over their strange quest and the ill fortune of the snowstorm which had overtaken them.
It was just about as they were getting ready to turn in that Jack, who was sitting nearest the hut, started and turned pale. He held up one hand to command attention, and then he cried out:
“Gracious! Hark at that! What is it?”
What was it, indeed? Not the cry of the wolf pack, although that had come closer. Nor did it resemble anything else earthly. It was a booming sound like that produced by a giant bass fiddle and appeared to come from the air.
Old Joe crossed himself as he heard it.
“Sacre!” the boys heard him exclaim.
Again came the booming sound. It appeared to fill the air, to come from all directions. Mingled with it there burst suddenly on their ears a series of appalling shrieks, which also seemed to come from above.
Startled beyond power of controlling themselves, the boys jumped to their feet.
“It’s there! Up in the air!” cried Tom excitedly.
“But what can it – ” began Jack, but he broke off suddenly. Into his mind, as well as into his brother’s, and, to judge by his expression, old Joe’s, there had burst simultaneously a sudden explanation.
The Flying Wolves!
At almost the same instant old Joe fell on his knees in the snow.
“Les Loups! Les Loups Galoups!” he burst out.
Jack’s teeth fairly chattered. But Tom grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and shook him vigorously.
“Don’t be a chump!” he remonstrated. “Remember the last scare you had, and how simply it was explained.”
Jack turned red and rallied his fears.
“Do you think it is the thief trying to scare us again?” he asked in rather quavery tones.
“I don’t know. But, by hookey! I’ll find out and – ”
Over their heads came a rush like the sweeping of a hundred wings. A big white form flew downward, almost striking the old guide in the face. With a howl he rolled over, scattering the ashes of the fire right and left.
Jack also uttered a shout.
“Ow-ow! Did you see that?” he gasped.
“I did,” said Tom sternly, “and unless you also want to see stars you had better dry up, Jack Dacre. There’s some excuse for old Joe, but none for you.”
“Ber-ber-but these woods seem full of ghosts!” complained poor Jack.
“And cowards,” supplemented Tom dryly.
Old Joe got to his feet. A strong smell of scorching pervaded the camp. Some coals, too, had lodged in his white whiskers, singeing those venerable appendages. In spite of the scare he had got, Jack couldn’t help laughing at the old man’s woebegone appearance.
“Oh, mes enfants!” wailed the old trapper, “les Loups Galoups have passed ovair us!”
“Rot!” snapped Tom. “Your Loop of Glue was only an old white owl. As for the other noises, I have a theory which I will prove in the morning. Now let’s turn in.”
CHAPTER XVIII – TOM PLAYS DETECTIVE
While the others were getting things in readiness for resuming the march the next day Tom began an investigation. He had at first thought that the mysterious noises of the night had been caused by their old enemy, but some reflection made him believe that he was mistaken.
In the first place the thief, having had the good fortune to have his trail wiped out by the snow, was not likely to be foolish enough to come back and leave a fresh one. In the second, he was probably aware that his first attempt had failed to scare the boys off his track. At any rate, his continued haste along the trail appeared to conduce to such a belief.
Tom had noticed that the white object which swooped down on old Joe, scaring him almost into a fit, was a big white owl, in all probability bewildered and blinded by the fire glow. He had observed, also, that the mysterious noises appeared to come from the old hut, and the strange “booming” sounds, as nearly as he could make out, had also emanated from the same quarter.
The hut, then, appeared to be the logical place in which to look for the origin of the series of happenings that had so alarmed the venerable and superstitious Joe Picquet.
The first thing that Tom noticed when he entered the hut was something white lying on the hearthstone of the chimney. On closer inspection this proved to be the body of an Arctic hare. It was badly mangled and torn, as if something had been eating it. Tom stooped and peered up the chimney.
“Who-oo-oo-oo!” he shouted, at the same time beating the sides of the smoke shaft with a stick that he had selected from a pile of firewood laid in by the former occupant of the ruined hut.
His voice rang up the chimney like the noise of a train in a tunnel. At the same instant there came a thunderous booming sound and the rush and roar of wings. Tom had just time to dodge back before there came flopping and scratching and squeaking down the chimney the body of a huge white owl.
Tom fell upon it, but before he could secure the bird it had dug into his arm with beak and talons, and then, with a weird shriek, blundered across the hut and out through an unglazed window into the open air.
“Gone!” exclaimed Tom as he saw this. “And,” regretfully, “it would have made a bully trophy stuffed, too. However, the mystery of the Flying Wolves is explained. That booming sound was made by the flapping of the owl’s wings in the wide chimney as it flew down there with that white hare it had caught. I’ve heard that chimney swallows make the same booming in chimneys at home as they enter and leave their nests.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî