BOBBY OF THE LABRADOR
Bobby of the Labrador
BY DILLON WALLACE
AUTHOR OF "THE FUR TRAIL ADVENTURERS," "THE LURE OF THE LABRADOR WILD," "THE WILDERNESS CASTAWAYS," ETC.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRANK E. SCHOONOVER
WHO KNOWS WHY
If I may call you friend, I wish you this— No gentle destiny throughout the years; No soft content, or ease, or unearned bliss Bereft of heart-ache where no sorrow nears, But rather rugged trouble for a mate To mold your soul against the coming blight, To train you for the ruthless whip of fate And build your heart up for the bitter fight.
If I may call you friend, I wish you more— A rare philosophy no man may fake, To put the game itself beyond the score And take the tide of life as it may break; To know the struggle that a man should know Before he comes through with the winning hit, And, though you slip before the charging foe, To love the game too well to ever quit.
I The Boat That Came Down from the Sea
II The Mystery and Bobby
III Skipper Ed and His Partner
IV Over a Cliff
V The Rescue
VI With Passing Years
VII The Wolf Pack
VIII The Battle
IX The Fishing Places
X A Foolhardy Shot
XI When the Iceberg Turned
XII Adrift on the Open Sea
XIII How the Good and Sure Brought Trouble
XIV Visions in Delirium
XV Marooned in an Arctic Blizzard
XVI A Snug Refuge
XVII Prisoner on a Barren Island
XVIII The Winter of Famine
XIX Off to the Sena
XX Jimmy's Sacrifice
XXI Who Was the Hero?
XXII A Storm and a Catastrophe
XXIII It Was God's Will
XXIV Under the Drifting Snow
XXV A Lonely Journey
XXVI Cast Away on the Ice
XXVII A Struggle for Existence
XXVIII The Ships That Came Down to the Ice
XXIX In Strange Lands
XXX The Mystery Cleared
It was plain that retreat was hopelessly cut off Frontispiece
"Hurry, Jimmy. I can't hang here much longer. I'm getting all numb"
Quick as a flash Bobby raised his gun to his shoulder
They ran by the side of the komatik to keep warm
"I was hunting," explained Bobby. "The ice broke loose and cut Jimmy, and me off from Skipper Ed"
Bobby of the Labrador
THE BOAT THAT CAME DOWN FROM THE SEA
Abel Zachariah was jigging cod. Cod were plentiful, and Abel Zachariah was happy. It still lacked two hours of mid-day, and already he had caught a skiffload of fish and had landed them on Itigailit Island, where his tent was pitched.
Now, as he jigged a little off shore, he could see Mrs. Abel Zachariah, the yellow sunshine spread all about her, splitting his morning catch on a rude table at the foot of the sloping rocks. Above her stood the little tent that was their summer home, and here and there the big sledge dogs, now idle and lazy and fat, sprawled blissfully upon the rocks enjoying the August morning, for this was their season of rest and plenty.
With a feeling of deep content Abel drew in his line, unhooked a flapping cod, returned the jigger to the water, and, as he resumed the monotonous tightening and slackening of line, turned his eyes again to the peaceful scene ashore.
Mrs. Abel in this brief interval had left the splitting table and had ascended the sloping rock a little way, where she now stood, shading her eyes with her right hand and gazing intently seaward. Suddenly she began gesticulating wildly, and shouting, and over the water to Abel came the words:
"Umiak! Umiak!" (A boat! A boat!)
Abel arose deliberately in his skiff, and looking in the direction in which Mrs. Abel pointed discovered, coming out of the horizon, a boat, rising and falling upon the swell. It carried no sail, and after careful scrutiny Abel's sharp eyes could discern no man at the oars. This, then, was the cause of Mrs. Abel's excitement. The boat was unmanned—a derelict upon the broad Atlantic.
A drifting boat is fair booty on the Labrador coast. It is the recognized property of the man who sees it and boards it first. And should it be a trap boat he is indeed a fortunate man, for the value of a trap boat is often greater than a whole season's catch of fish.
So Abel lost no time in hauling in and coiling his jigger line, in adjusting his oars, and in pulling away toward the derelict with all the strength his strong arms and sinewy body could muster.
Abel had wished for a good sea boat all his life. When the fishing schooners now and again of a foggy night anchored behind Itigailit Island he never failed to examine the fine big trap boats which they carried. Sometimes he had ventured to inquire how much salt fish they would accept in exchange for one. But he had never had enough fish, and his desire to possess a boat seemed little less likely of fulfilment than that of a boy with a dime in his pocket, covetously contemplating a gold watch in the shop window.
But here, at last, drifting directly toward him, as though Old Ocean meant it as a gift, propelled by a gentle breeze and an incoming tide, came a boat that would cost him nothing but the getting. Fortune was smiling upon Abel Zachariah this fine August morning.
Now and again as he approached the derelict, Abel rested upon his oars, that he might turn about for a moment and feast his eyes upon his prospective prize, and revel in the pleasure of anticipation about to be realized.
And so, presently, he discovered that the boat was not a trap boat after all, but a much finer craft than any trap boat he had ever seen. Its lines were much more graceful, it had recently been painted, and, as it rose and fell with the swell, a varnished gunwale glistened in the sunlight. It was fully four fathoms and a half in length, and was undoubtedly a ship's boat; and, being a ship's boat, was probably built of hard wood, and therefore vastly superior to the spruce boats of the fishermen.
Abel had fully satisfied himself upon these points before, keenly expectant, he at length rowed alongside the derelict. Grasping its gunwale to steady himself, he was about to step aboard when, with an exclamation of astonishment and horror, he released his hold upon the gunwale and resumed his seat in the skiff.
Stretched in the boat lay the body of a man. In the man's side was a great gaping wound, and his clothing and the boat were spattered and smeared with blood. The man was dead. In the fixed, cold stare of his wide-open eyes was a look of hopeless appeal, and the ghastly terror of one who had beheld some awful vision.
THE MYSTERY AND BOBBY
Abel had often seen death before. He had seen men drowned, men who had frozen to death, men accidentally shot to death, and men who had died naturally and comfortably in their beds. It was, therefore, not the sight of death that startled him, but the horror and tragic appeal in the dead man's staring eyes. It was uncanny and supernatural.
This, at least, was Abel's first intuitive impression. Though he could not have defined this impression or put his thoughts into words, he felt much as one would feel who had heard a dead man speak.
He pushed his skiff a few yards away and, resting upon his oars, viewed the derelict from a respectful distance. His impulse was to row back to Itigailit Island at once and leave the boat and its ghastly, silent skipper to the mercies of the sea. But the mystery fascinated him. The beseeching gaze that had met his had roused his imagination. And so for a long time he sat in silent contemplation of the boat, wondering from whence it and the thing it contained had come, and how the man had met his death.
Abel Zachariah was a Christian, but he was also an Eskimo, and he had inherited the superstitions of untold generations of heathen ancestors—superstitions that to him were truths above contradiction. He held it as a fact beyond dispute that all unnatural or accidental deaths were brought about by the evil spirits with which his forefathers had peopled the sea and the desolate land in which he lived. It was his firm belief that evil spirits remained to haunt the place where a victim had been lured to violent death, as in the present instance had plainly been the case. He had no doubt that the boat was haunted, and therefore he kept his distance, for unless by some subtle and certain charm the spirits could be driven off, none but a foolhardy man would ever venture to board the derelict, and Abel was not a foolhardy man.
These superstitions seem very foolish to us, no doubt; but, after all, were they one whit more foolish or groundless than the countless superstitions to which many educated and seemingly intelligent Christian people of civilization are bound? As, for instance, the superstition that where thirteen sit together at table one will die within the year.
And so Abel Zachariah, being a man of caution, held aloof from the boat which he had so eagerly set out to salvage; and sitting engrossed in contemplation, he in his skiff and the dead man in the derelict drifted for a while side by side toward Itigailit Island. And thus he was sitting silent and inactive when suddenly he was startled by the cry of a child in distress.
Abel for a moment was not at all certain that this was not some wicked plot of the spirits, intended to lure him within their reach, and he seized his oars, determined to increase the distance between himself and possible danger. But when the cry was repeated, and presently became a frightened wail, Abel hesitated. If it was a spirit that emitted the succeeding wails it was surely a very corporeal spirit, with well developed lungs and also a very much frightened spirit; and a frightened spirit could not be dangerous.
Abel had never heard of a spirit that cried like this one, or of a spirit that was frightened, and he rose to his feet that he might look over the gunwale and into the derelict. From this vantage he beheld the head of a little child, and he could see, also, that this very real child, and not the much feared spirits, was the source of the loud and piteous wails.
The spirit of evil, then, had not tarried after striking down the man. Doubtless God had interposed to save the child, else it, too, would have been destroyed, and no spirit of evil could remain where God exerted His power. Here was a subtle and potent charm in which Abel Zachariah had unwavering faith, for, after all, his faith in God was greater than his faith in the religion of his fathers. And so, vastly relieved and no longer afraid, he rowed his skiff alongside the boat, made his painter fast and stepped aboard.
Standing in the forward part of the boat was a little boy, perhaps three years of age. He was fair haired and fair skinned and handsome, but as a result of privations he had suffered he was evidently ill and his cheeks were flushed with fever.
Abel's great, generous heart went out to the child in boundless sympathy. He forgot the dead man aft. He forgot even the boat. The coveted prize of his ambition an hour before, had small importance to Abel now. His one thought was for this distressed little one that God had so unexpectedly sent down to him upon the bosom of the sea.
The child ceased crying, and with big blue tear-wet eyes looked with wonder upon his dusky faced deliverer.
"Oksunae" (be strong), said Abel with a reassuring smile, as he stooped and took the little one's hand into his big rough palm.
The child did not understand the word of greeting, but he did understand, with the intuition and instinct of little children and dumb creatures, that Abel was his friend.
Beneath the deck, forward, were blankets, in which the boy had doubtless been sleeping when Abel first looked into the boat and discovered the dead man. Beneath the deck Abel also found among other things, a jug partly filled with tepid water, a tin cup, and a bag containing a few broken fragments of sea biscuits. He gave the child a sip of the water and selected for it one of the larger fragments of biscuit. Then, patting it affectionately upon the cheek he tenderly tucked it among the blankets, beneath the deck, that it might be sheltered from the breeze. And the little one, content with the ministrations and attentions of his new guardian, quietly acquiesced.
Abel was greatly excited by his wonderful discovery, and he was eager to surprise Mrs. Abel Zachariah and to present to her the fair-skinned boy, and therefore he lost no time in further exploration of the boat. Unafraid now of evil spirits, and disregarding the dead man lying aft, he undid the painter of his skiff and secured it astern, where the skiff would tow easily. And so, with the mysterious child under the deck at his back, and the mysterious dead man lying in the boat at his feet, and his own skiff trailing behind, Abel, with a strong arm and a stout heart and a head filled with perplexing questions, rowed the mysterious boat to the low ledge of rocks that served as a landing place on Itigailit Island.
Of course Mrs. Abel Zachariah, keenly interested in his quest of the prize, was there to meet him, and looking into the boat she saw the ghastly passenger and was duly shocked.
"The man has been killed!" she exclaimed, stepping backward as though afraid the thing would injure her. "It is a boat of evil! Come away from it! Why did you bring it in from the sea?"
For answer Abel reached beneath the deck, lifted out the child, and stepping ashore placed it in Mrs. Abel's arms.
"A boy," said he. "God sent him to us and he is ours."
Mrs. Abel was taken completely by surprise. For a long moment she looked into the child's flushed and feverish face, and it looked into her round and eager face, and smiled its confidence, and from that instant she took it to her heart as her own. She pressed it to her bosom with all the mother love of a good woman, for Mrs. Abel Zachariah, primitive Eskimo though she was, was a good woman, and her heart was soft and affectionate.
The child was ill and neglected. It was evidently suffering from exposure and lack of nourishment. Mrs. Abel's instincts told her this at a glance and forgetful of all else, she hurried away with it to the tent. It drank eagerly from the cup of clear cold water which she held to its lips, and ate as much fresh-caught cod, boiled in sea water, and of her own coarse bread, as she thought well for it.
All the time she fondled the boy and talked to him soothingly in strange Eskimo words which he had never heard before, but which nevertheless he understood, for she spoke in the universal accent of the mother to her little one. And when he had eaten he nestled snugly in her arms, as he would have nestled in his own mother's arms, and with his head upon her bosom closed his eyes and sighed in deep content.
Abel when his wife had gone with the child into the tent, anchored the boat of tragedy a little way from shore, that the big wolf dogs prowling about might not interfere with the peaceful repose of its silent occupant. Then rowing ashore in his skiff, he selected a secluded spot upon the island, and dug a grave.
In the rocky soil the grave was necessarily a shallow one, and he had finished his task when Mrs. Abel reappeared from the tent to announce that the boy was sleeping and seemed much better after eating. Then while they sat upon the rocks and ate their own belated dinner of boiled cod and tea, Abel told the story of his discovery.
"What do you suppose killed the man?" Mrs. Abel asked.
"I do not know," said Abel. "It looks like a gunshot wound but I have not searched for a gun yet. It is a fine boat, and did not belong to a schooner. I never saw a boat like it and I never saw so fine a boat before. The man was not a fisherman, either."
"The boy's clothing is finer than any I ever saw," declared Mrs. Abel. "It is not like any I ever saw and is finer and prettier than the missionaries' children wear and on one of his fingers there is a beautiful ring."
"I cannot get it through my head where the boat came from," said Abel.
"It was God's messenger, and His way of sending us the boy," asserted Mrs. Abel. "He sent the boat with the boy out of the farthest mists of the sea, from the place where storms are born, and He sent the boat on a clear day, when we could see it, and He kept you near the boat when you would have gone away, until the boy cried. God meant that we should have a child."
"Yes," agreed Abel. "It was God's way of giving us a child for our own. But why did He send a man with the boy and a dead man, at that?"
"I do not know," said Mrs. Abel, "but there was some reason, I suppose. The child has a skin so white and its clothes are so fine, I am sure it must have come from Heaven. We know it came from the Far Beyond, for you say the man was not a fisherman, and the boat is not a fisherman's boat."
This was an awe-inspiring solution of the mystery, and Abel and his wife accepted it with due solemnity. A suggestion of the miraculous appealed to them, for they did not in the least believe that the days of miracles were past, as indeed they are not. They had already, with big, hospitable hearts, accepted the child as their own. Now, believing that it was a gift from Heaven, sent directly to them by God, as a token of particular favor, they would not have parted from it for all the riches in the world.
The afternoon was far spent when, at last, Abel, in his skiff, rowed out to the anchored derelict and brought it in again to the landing place. Here a search of the boat discovered, in addition to the blankets which had formed the boy's bed, the water jug, the tin cup, and biscuit bag, a quantity of loaded shotgun shells and a double-barreled shotgun. The shotgun, which had been hidden in the bottom of the boat by the folds of a sail, called forth an exclamation of delight from Abel. It was a marvel of workmanship, and its stock and lock were beautifully engraved. And with the sail, which would prove useful, was a tarpaulin and a quantity of rope.
In the pockets of the dead man were a jackknife, a small notebook, a piece of pencil, and an empty wallet. Nothing which seemed important, but all of which Abel preserved carefully as a future heritage for the boy.
There were no boards from which to fashion a coffin, so they wrapped the unknown in an old sail, and that evening, when the western sky was aglow with color buried him in the grave Abel had made. And over the grave Abel read in Eskimo a chapter from the Testament, and said a prayer, and to the doleful accompaniment of lapping waves upon the shore he and Mrs. Abel sang, in Eskimo, one of the old hymns for, as Christians, they must needs give the stranger a Christian burial, the only service they could render him.
Abel and his wife looked upon the advent of the little boy as a Divine blessing. They firmly believed that God had sent him to them to increase their happiness, and they lavished upon him all the love and affection of their simple hospitable natures. They were deeply solicitous for his health, and responding to gentle care the fever quickly left him, for he was, naturally, a strong and well-developed child.
They understood few words of English, but they soon discovered that the boy called himself "Bobby," and Bobby was accepted as his name. Bobby, on his part, spoke English indifferently, and of all other tongues and especially the Eskimo tongue, he was wholly ignorant. At that period of his life it was quite immaterial to him, indeed, what language he spoke so long as the language served to make his wants known; and he began to acquire an Eskimo vocabulary sufficient for his immediate needs, and his efforts in this direction afforded his foster parents a vast deal of pleasure.
Mrs. Abel Zachariah, considering the clothing Bobby wore quite too fine for ordinary use, and unsuited to the climate and the conditions of his new surroundings and life, fashioned for him a suit of coarse but warmer fabric. When this was finished to her liking she dressed him in it, and washed and folded and laid away in a chest the things he had worn, as a precious souvenir of his coming.
From the skins of Arctic hares, which Abel killed with the wonderful shotgun, she made him a warm little jacket with a hood; for his feet she made sealskin moccasins, with legs that reached to his knees, and sewed them with sinew to render them waterproof, that his feet might be kept quite dry when the rocks were wet with rains, or when the first moist snows of autumn fell, as they did with the coming of September. And when the great flocks of wild ducks and geese came flying out of the North, the feathers of all that Abel shot were carefully hoarded in bags for Bobby's winter bed.
And so the weeks passed until early October. The land was now white with snow, and steadily increasing cold warned them that winter was at hand and that presently the bays and sea would be frozen. It was time now for Abel to set his fox traps, and time for them to move to their winter cabin on the mainland.
This cabin was situated at the head of a deep bay which the Eskimos call "Tissiuhaksoak," but which English-speaking folk called "Abel's Bay," because Abel was the first to build a cabin there; and we, being English-speaking people, shall also call it Abel's Bay.
The bloody record of the tragedy had long since been washed from the boat. From two of the six long oars with which the boat was fitted, Abel improvised two masts. The tarpaulin was remodeled into a second sail, and, one blustery morning, with their tent and all their belongings stowed into the boat, and the dogs in the skiff, which was in tow, they set sail for Abel's Bay, and left Itigailit Island and the lonely grave to the Arctic blasts that would presently sweep down upon it from the icy seas; and late on the following afternoon they reached the cabin which for many years was to be Bobby's home.
Thus it was that Bobby, amid adventure and mystery, made his advent upon The Labrador and found a home among strange people. And in such a land it was quite plain that as the years passed he should have other adventures.
SKIPPER ED AND HIS PARTNER
On that part of the Labrador coast where Abel Zachariah lived the cabins, with small variation, are fashioned upon one general model. The model is well adapted to the needs of the people and the exigencies of the climate. At one end of the cabin is an enclosed porch which serves as a woodshed and general storage room. Here the dog harness, traps, and other tools and equipment necessary to the hunter's life are kept.
A door opens from the enclosed porch into the cabin proper, which usually consists of a single room which serves as living room, dining room, kitchen and bedroom. This room commonly has two windows, one on either side.
The floor of the cabin is of uncovered planks. In the center stands a stove shaped like a large box. In the lower half of this stove is the fire space, adapted to receive huge blocks of wood. The upper half is an oven.
Against the wall, and not far from the stove, the table stands, and built against the wall at one side of the door, the kitchen closet. In the farther end of the room are the family beds, usually built into the cabin after the fashion of ships' bunks. In Abel's cabin there was but one bed, and this of ample breadth to accommodate two. Now there was to be another for Bobby.
Home-made chests, which answer the double purpose of storage places for clothing and whatnot and seats, take the place of chairs, though sometimes there are rude home-made chairs and Abel's cabin contained two. Guns always loaded and within reach for instant use, rest upon low overhead beams, or upon pegs against the wall. On a shelf, at some convenient place, and specially built for their accommodation, the Bible and hymnal are kept. Abel's Bible and hymnal, as in all Christianized Eskimo houses, were printed in the Eskimo language.
This, then, was the kind of home that Bobby entered, and which, as the years passed, he was to love, for it was a haven of affection.
The cabin was cold and damp and stuffy now, and filled with unpleasant odors, for it had been unoccupied since early in July. But soon Abel had a roaring fire in the stove, and the things in from the boat, and Mrs. Abel had the room aired, and before the candle was lighted the room had taken on the cozy comfort of occupancy.
Then there was supper of stewed duck and hot dough-bread and tea. When Bobby had eaten heartily and his eyes grew heavy with sleep he was undressed and tucked away into bed, with Mrs. Abel lying by his side for a little, crooning an Eskimo lullaby before she washed her dishes. And at length, when the dishes were washed, and all was made snug for the night, Abel took down, as was his custom, the Bible, and read by the flickering light, and he and Mrs. Abel sang a hymn, and knelt in family devotion, before they joined the sleeping Bobby in their bed.
Abel Zachariah's nearest neighbor was Edward Norman, commonly known as Skipper Ed, a sailor-man who had come to the coast many years before in a fishing vessel, and when his vessel sailed away Skipper Ed had remained behind to cast his lot with the Eskimos. At the head of Abel's bay and a mile from Abel's home, he took up the life of hunter and fisherman, and in due time learned to speak the Eskimo language. Here Skipper Ed lived with his little partner, as he called him—Jimmy Sanderson, a husky lad of seven years.
Jimmy was an orphan. His mother died when he was so young that he could scarcely remember her at all. His father, a Newfoundland sailor and fisherman, was one of the crew of a fishing schooner that sailed regularly each summer to this part of the Labrador coast, and because there was no one at home to care for him after his mother's death, Jimmy always accompanied his father on these voyages. And thus it came about that when Seaman Sanderson fell overboard while reefing the jib, one stormy day, Jimmy was left alone in the world.
It so happened that on the day Jimmy's father was lost, the schooner, with the forlorn little boy on board, took refuge under the lee of the island upon which Skipper Ed had his fishing camp. Skipper Ed, after the manner of the Coast, rowed his boat alongside and climbed aboard, to hear such scraps of news from the outside world as the sailors might bring, and to enjoy their company for an hour. Here he met Jimmy, heartbroken and weeping at the loss of his father. Skipper Ed's sympathies went out to the wretched little boy, and placing his big hand on Jimmy's small shoulder, he comforted him.
"There, there, now, lad, don't cry," said he. "You're a wee bit of a lad to be left alone in the world I know, but by the mercy of God you'll forget your trouble, for Time's a wonderful healer. And there's better luck coming, lad, better luck coming."
Thereupon he sought out the Captain of the schooner and inquired into Jimmy's worldly prospects.
"There's none to care for him," said the Captain, "and the best prospects he have be the poor house."
"Will you leave him with me, then?" asked Skipper Ed. "I'll give the lad a good home, and teach him a bit, and he'll be fine company for me."
"O' course I'll leave he with you, Skipper, and wonderful glad I'll be too that the lad's found a good home," said the Captain.
Then Skipper Ed returned to Jimmy.
"Lad," said he, "I'm looking for a partner, and it strikes me you'll do. How'd you like to be my partner? Look me over now, and see what you think of me. How'd you like me for a partner?"
Jimmy looked him over critically, through tear-stained eyes, but said nothing.
"Come now," urged Skipper Ed, getting down on his haunches that Jimmy might look straight into his face, "here we are, you and I, both alone in the world and both wanting partners. Can't we splice up a partnership? Share and share alike, you know—you have as much as I, and I have as much as you, and we'll take the fair winds and the contrary winds together, and make port together, and sell our cargoes together, and use the same slop chest. What do you say, lad? Shall we sign on as partners?"
"Yes, sir," agreed Jimmy.
"Good! Good!" exclaimed Skipper Ed. "Here, shake hands on it, partner. Now we're friends to each other, whatever falls, good voyages and poor ones, and there's better luck coming for us both, lad, better luck."
And so Skipper Ed and Jimmy Sanderson formed their partnership, and Jimmy, with his own and his father's kits, went ashore with Skipper Ed in Skipper Ed's boat, which he insisted was half Jimmy's, under their partnership agreement, and the next day the schooner sailed away and left them. And with the passing weeks, Time, as Skipper Ed had predicted, and as he always does, healed Jimmy's sorrow, and he came to look upon Skipper Ed as the finest man and the finest partner in the world, and they two loved each other very much.
Abel and his wife and Skipper Ed and his partner lived upon terms of intimacy and good comradeship, as neighbors should. And because they had no nearer neighbors than Abraham Moses, an Eskimo ten miles to the southward, and the people of the Moravian Mission and Eskimo settlement at Nain, twenty miles to the northward, the two families were dependent upon one another for human companionship, and therefore the bond of friendship that drew them together was the stronger.
And so it happened that early on the morning following the return of Abel and Mrs. Abel with Bobby, Skipper Ed and Jimmy walked over to welcome their neighbors home, and to discuss with them the fishing season just closed, and the seal hunting and the trapping seasons which were at hand.
Abel was engaged in cutting and shaping the sticks from which he was to build Bobby's little bunk, when he heard Skipper Ed's cheery:
"Oksutingal!"[A] exclaimed Abel, delightedly, grasping Skipper Ed's hand and then Jimmy's hand and laughing with pleasure. "Oksutingai! I am glad to see you, and how have you been?"
[Footnote A: "Oksunae" is the Eskimo greeting when one is addressed, and, literally translated, means "You be strong." "Oksutingai" is addressed to two—"You two be strong." "Okiusee" to more than two—"You all be strong."]
Abel spoke his native language, for his tongue was awkward with the few English words he had learned. He and Skipper Ed, indeed, always conversed in Eskimo, and Jimmy, though he usually spoke his native English at home when he and Skipper Ed were alone, also understood the Eskimo tongue perfectly.
"We're very well," said Skipper Ed, "and glad to know you are back. We were lonely without you. How is Mrs. Abel?"
"Well. Very well. And we have something to surprise you," and Abel, laughing heartily, could hardly contain himself.
"I know what it is!" broke in Jimmy. "You've got a new boat. I saw it as we came up! It's a fine big boat, too!"
"It's a greater surprise than that," laughed Abel. "It's in the house. Come in and see him."
"A baby!" guessed the delighted Jimmy. "It's a baby!"
"Come in and see for yourselves," Abel invited, and pushing the door open he led them into the cabin, where Mrs. Abel overwhelmed them with greeting, and brought Bobby forth for introduction.
"A boy, and a white one!" exclaimed Skipper Ed in English. "Now wherever did they get him?" He took Bobby by the hand, and asked: "Can you talk, little lad?"
"Yeth, thir," Bobby admitted, respectfully, "I like to talk."
"I'll wager you do, now! Where did you live before you came here?"
"With Papa and Mamma."
"What, now, may your name be?"
"What is your papa's name?"
"What is my papa's name?"
"Yes, what is your papa's name?"
"Why, 'Papa,'" in great surprise that all the world did not know that.
Further solicitation brought from the child the statement that "Uncle Robert took me for a nice ride in a boat, but Uncle Robert got hurted, and I came here."
And this was the sum total of the information concerning Bobby's past that Skipper Ed succeeded in drawing from the child, though he questioned and cross-questioned him at length, after Abel and Mrs. Abel had told how they found him that August morning. But Abel and Mrs. Abel, considering these things of small importance, did not mention to or show Skipper Ed the packet containing the notebook found in the dead man's pocket, and which they had carefully put away.
Skipper Ed did not altogether accept the theory of Abel and Mrs. Abel that God had in a miraculous manner sent Bobby to them from heaven, directing his course from the Far Beyond, through the place where mists and storms were born. Skipper Ed in his own mind could not dismiss the subject in this casual manner. He scented some dark mystery, though he doubted if the mystery would ever be cleared.
Abel must needs exhibit to Skipper Ed and Jimmy the boat, and when Skipper Ed saw it his practiced eye told him that the finish and workmanship were far too fine and expensive for any ordinary ship's boat, and that it was the long boat of a luxuriously appointed private yacht. Of this he was well assured when he read, in gold letters on either side of its prow, the name Wanderer.
And then they must each try their hand with the beautifully engraved shotgun. Such a gun, Abel declared, had never before been seen on the coast, and was in itself a fortune. And Skipper Ed examined it critically, and agreed with Abel that it was a gun of marvelous workmanship, and had cost much money.
"None but God could have fashioned it," said Abel, reverently. "It is His gift to the boy, and it will always be the boy's. He sent it with the boy from the Great Beyond, from the place where mists and storms are born. Do you think He would mind if I used it sometimes?"
"No," answered Skipper Ed, "I think He meant you to use it to hunt food for the boy, so that the boy should never be in want. God never forgets. He always provides. Destiny is the Almighty's will, and He provides."
"The lad has come from rich people," said Skipper Ed, as he and Jimmy walked home that evening. "He's not been used to this sort of life. But Time's a great healer. He's young enough to forget the fine things he's been used to, and he'll grow up a hunter and a fisherman like the rest of us. There's better luck coming for him. Better luck. He'll be happy and contented, for people are always happy with simple living, so long as they don't know about any other kind of living."
"I thinks Abel lives fine now, and we lives fine," ventured Jimmy. "Abel's house is fine and warm, and so is ours."
"Aye," said Skipper Ed, "'tis that. 'Tis that; and enough's a-plenty. Enough's a-plenty."
They walked along in silence for a little while.
"We must always talk to the little chap in English," said Skipper Ed, presently. "We must not let him forget to speak the tongue his mother taught him."
"Yes, sir," agreed Jimmy.
"And we must teach him to read and write in English, the way I teach you," continued Skipper Ed. "Somewhere in the world his mother and father are grieving their life out for the loss of him. It's very like they'll never see him again, but we must teach him as much as we know how of what they would have taught him."
"Destiny is just the working out of the Almighty's will. And it was a part of the lad's destiny to be cast upon this bleak coast and to find a home with the Eskimos."
And so, walking home along the rocky shore, they talked to the accompaniment of lapping waves upon the shore and soughing spruce trees in the forest.
Skipper Ed, giving voice to thoughts with which he was deeply engrossed, told of the kindlier, sunnier land from which Bobby had been sent adrift—from a home of luxury, perhaps—to live upon bounty, and in the crude, primitive cabin of an Eskimo. And he thrilled his little partner with vivid descriptions of great cities where people were so numerous they jostled one another, and did not know each other's names; of rushing, shrieking locomotives; of beautiful houses which seemed to Jimmy no less than fairy palaces; of great green fields; and yellow fields of waving grain from which the flour was made which they ate; of glorious flowers; and forests of strange trees.
They reached their cabin at last, which stood in the shelter of the trees at the edge of the great wilderness, and looked out over the bay; and at the porch door Skipper Ed paused, and, gazing for a moment at the stretch of heaving water, stretched his arms before him and said:
"It's out there, Partner—the land I've told you about—out there beyond the sea—the land I came from and the land Bobby came from—and the land you came from, too, for that matter. Some time you may sail away to see it."
In outward appearance Skipper Ed's cabin was almost the counterpart of Abel's, but within it was fitted much more completely and tastefully. On the well-scrubbed floor were rugs of dog and wolf skins, and there were three big armchairs—one for Skipper Ed, one for his partner, and one for Abel when he came to see them—and a rocker for Mrs. Abel when she called; all home-made and upholstered in buckskin. And there were four straight-backed dining chairs, and against the wall some shelves well filled with books, as well as many other conveniences and comforts and refinements not usual in the cabins of the coast. There was lacking, also, the heavy, fishy odor of seal oil, never absent from the Eskimo home, for Skipper Ed had provided a log outhouse, a little apart from his cabin, as a storehouse for seal oil and fish and pelts.
Dusk was settling. Skipper Ed lighted candles and kindled a fire in the stove, and he and Jimmy together set about preparing supper. The wind was rising and soon snow began to beat against the window pane, and when supper was eaten and the table cleared, and the two drew their armchairs up before the fire, it was very cozy sitting there and listening to the howling storm outside and the roaring fire in the stove. Jimmy, snugly curled in his chair, was so still that Skipper Ed, silently smoking his pipe, believed his little partner asleep, when he was startled out of his musings by the request:
"Partner, tell me a story."
"A story, Partner? What kind of a story? One about the sea?"
"A story about people that live out there in the country Bobby came from, and you came from."
"Oh, out there! Yes, to be sure!" Skipper Ed sat silent for a few moments, gazing at the flickering light through a crack in the stove door, while Jimmy sat expectant, gazing into Skipper Ed's face. At last he began:
"Once there were two boys who lived in a fine big house, for their father was rich. The house was in a town, and it had a great many rooms. In front of it was a beautiful green lawn, over which were scattered trees and bushes that bore flowers, and behind the house was a large garden where delicious fruits and vegetables grew, and where there were beautiful beds of bright flowers. Under the shady trees of this garden was a favorite playground of the boys."
"What were the names of the boys?" interrupted Jimmy.
"We'll call them Tom and Bill, though these may not have been their real names," explained Skipper Ed. "Tom and Bill are easy names to remember, though, don't you think so?"
"Yes, Partner, they're fine names, and easy to remember."
"Tom was two years older than Bill, and they were great chums. They not only played together but they got into mischief together, and went to school together, until Tom went to college. When they got into mischief together Tom, somehow, usually managed to escape punishment, for he was a much keener lad than Bill, and Bill, on his part, seldom failed to receive his full share of punishment."
"That weren't fair!" broke in Jimmy. "'Tweren't honest for Tom to let Bill get all the punishment!"
"He didn't mean to be dishonest, I'm sure," said Skipper Ed.
"But 'tweren't honest," insisted Jimmy.
"As I was saying," continued Skipper Ed, "Tom went to college and made new friends, and when Bill followed him to college two years later the lads saw little of each other. Tom was a brilliant fellow, and everyone liked him. He had a host of friends among the students. Bill, on the other hand, was not in the least brilliant, and he had to work hard to get his lessons, and they went with different crowds of fellows.
"Their father, as I told you, was rich, and he was also indulgent. He gave the boys a larger allowance of spending money than was good for them. There was never a month, however, that Tom did not go to Bill and borrow some of his, and even then Tom was always in debt. Bill knew it was the gay company Tom kept, and warned him against it, but Tom would laugh it off and say that a fellow in the upper classes had to keep up his end, as Bill would learn later.
"What Bill did learn later was that Tom had become an inveterate gambler, and had lost his money at cards, and went away from college leaving many debts unpaid.
"The father of the boys was a manufacturer, and was also president of the bank in the little city where they lived. A bank is a place where other people's money is kept for them, and whenever the people who keep money there need any, they come and get what they need. When Tom left college he was taken into the bank, and before Bill's graduation had been advanced to the position of cashier, and had married a very fine young woman. The cashier is the man that has charge of the money in the bank.
"It was thought best also for Bill to enter the bank, which he did a few months after his return from college, as assistant to his brother.
"Things went on very well until, one day, a man came to examine the bank and to see if all the money was safely there, and the examiner, as the man was called, discovered a shortage. That is, there was not as much money in the bank as there should have been. The shortage lay between the two brothers. Tom, in terrible distress, admitted to Bill that he had 'just borrowed' the money to invest in stocks—which is a way people speak of one kind of gambling—but that the investment had failed, and he had lost it.
"You do not know, Partner, what stocks are, but I'll tell you some other time.
"When this happened Tom had a little baby boy at home, about two months old. Bill loved his brother, and he loved his brother's baby very much.
"'Tom,' said Bill, 'I've always stood by you since we were little boys and played in the garden together, and I'm going to stand by you now. If the loss is laid to you it will ruin not only your life but the lives of your wife and your baby. I'll say that I took the money and you must not say I did not.'
"'No,' said Tom, 'I can't let you do that! It's too much! It's too big a sacrifice!'
"'Yes, you will,' said Bill. 'It will likely ruin my life, I know, but I'm only one. If it's laid on you, three lives will be ruined. Just promise me you'll live straight after this, and never gamble again.'
"Tom promised, and Bill was sure he meant it, and when their father, who had been sent for by the examiner, arrived at the bank, Bill, as agreed, told his father he had taken the money.
"Of course there was a terrible scene. Bill was not arrested for his father did not wish the family disgraced, but he was driven from home, with very little money in his pocket, and told never to return again. His mother and little sister—I forgot to tell you the boys had a little sister, who was ten years old at that time—nearly broke their hearts at his going. But his father was very harsh, and told him if he ever came back he would have him arrested and put into prison. It was not the loss of the money which angered him. That was a comparatively small amount, which he paid back to the bank and did not miss very much. It was the thought that one of his boys had taken it."
"What was the little sister's name?" asked Jimmy.
"Well, let me see," said Skipper Ed. "We'll call her Mary."
"Did Bill ever go back?"
"No, he never went back."
"Where did he go?"
"Why, he went to a seaport town and shipped as a sailor, and after knocking about the seas for a time he settled in a country much like this where we live. He liked the wild country, where he could hunt and fish, and where the people he met were true and honest, and helped each other, instead of always trying to take advantage of one another."
"I'm glad he did that," declared Jimmy. "I wish he lived near us. I don't think I'd like to live in a place like he came from, and I'm glad Bobby came away from it."
"And the fishing and hunting are better here than where he came from, too, Partner."
"I don't want to live where the fishin' and huntin' isn't fine, and it's fine here."
"Aye, 'tis fine here, and many things are fine here. Destiny is the Lord's will, and our destiny, Partner, is to live here and be as happy as we can; and now Bobby has come, it seems to be his destiny too."
And so Jimmy had his story, and bedtime had arrived, and the two partners went to bed to be lulled to sleep by the storm raging about their cabin.
OVER A CLIFF
The storm that lulled Skipper Ed and his little partner to sleep also lulled Abel Zachariah and Mrs. Abel and Bobby to sleep. Bobby's new bed was finished. It was half the width of Abel's and Mrs. Abel's bed, but it was quite as long, for Bobby was to grow tall, and to become a big and brave hunter. And, too, for present needs it must be of ample length to permit Mrs. Abel to lie down by Bobby's side of nights while she crooned him to sleep with her quaint Eskimo lullabies.
Abel had expended great care in his handicraft, and derived a vast deal of satisfaction from the result. And when Mrs. Abel fitted the bunk with a fine feather bed which she made from the duck and goose feathers which she had saved, and spread it with warm blankets and tucked Bobby away in it, he, too, seemed to find it entirely to his liking, for he went to sleep at once, and slept as soundly as he could have slept in a bed of carved mahogany, spread with counterpanes of silk and down.
Indeed, Bobby was in a fair way of being spoiled. His indulgent foster parents could deny him nothing. They gratified his every wish and whim, even to the extent of tearing from its mother a little puppy dog, to the great distress of the dumb mother, and taking it into the house for him to play with.
Since Bobby's arrival Abel, devoting his spare moments to the task, had carved from walrus tusks six little ivory dogs, an ivory sledge, and a little ivory Eskimo man, to represent the driver of the miniature team, for no dog team could be complete without a driver. Now, during the two days' enforced leisure from out-of-door activities afforded him by the blizzard, he put the finishing touches upon his work. With infinite patience he fashioned miniature harness for the ivory dogs, and, harnessing them to the ivory sledge, with due ceremony presented them to Bobby. And Bobby, who was already learning to prattle Eskimo words, received the gift with unfeigned delight. Then he must learn the name of each, which Abel patiently taught him to pronounce with proper accent and intonation: inuit—man; tingmik—dog; komatik—sledge.
This was the first of many toys that Abel made for Bobby in the weeks that followed: a small dog whip, a fathom long, an exact counterpart of Abel's own long whip, which was a full five fathoms long; a small sledge, on which he could coast, and on which pups could haul him about over the ice; bow and arrow—nearly everything, indeed, that Abel believed his childish desires could crave.
When the storm had passed Skipper Ed and Jimmy came over on snowshoes, and Jimmy stopped for a week in Abel's cabin, with Mrs. Abel and Bobby, while Abel and Skipper Ed went away to hunt for seals. This was a glorious week for both lads, and with it began a comradeship and friendship that was to last throughout their life and carry them in later years side by side through many adventures.
The seal hunt was a success, and Abel and Skipper Ed returned with the big boat loaded with seals. Then followed a season of activity. The seals were skinned and dressed, the blubber placed in barrels in the porch, and the meat elevated to a stage outside where it was well out of reach of the dogs, and was at hand to be used as dog food—and human food also during the winter.
The seal skins were turned over to Mrs. Abel, to soak and scrape and prepare for boots and other garments, which Abel and Skipper Ed and Jimmy, as well as she herself, and Bobby, would require.
Bobby developed a vast liking for the choice morsels of the seal flippers and meat, which were always reserved for him, and it was not long before he demanded his due share of the fresh blubber, too.
He loved, when Mrs. Abel was at work sewing the boots with sinew, to help her by chewing the edges of the oily leather, to soften and render it pliable for the needle. Indeed, Bobby quickly developed into an Eskimo child in all save the color of his skin, and texture and color of his hair, which persisted in remaining silky and yellow.
And thus the weeks passed. With the rapidly shortening days of November, cold increased with grim earnestness. Already the snow was gathering depth in the forest, and on the open spaces it lay frozen and hard, and the sun now had no strength to soften it. A coating of ice crusted the beach where the tide rose and fell, and this crackled and snapped as the waves broke upon it. A strange, smoky vapor lay over the sea, shifting in the east wind. The sea was "smoking," and was only waiting now, Abel said, for a calm, to freeze.
Then suddenly one night a great uncanny silence fell upon the world, and in the morning a gray level plain reached away, where the day before had been the heaving billows of the bay. The sea was frozen at last, and for many long months there would be no breaking of waves upon the rocks or lapping of tides upon the sandy beach. The Frost King, grim and inexorable, had ascended his throne, and the world, subdued into utter silence, lay prostrate and submissive at his feet.
Toward noon Jimmy came over, hauling behind him a sled, and upon it his sleeping bag of caribou skin, to say that Skipper Ed had gone that morning to his traps and would not return until the following evening, and Jimmy was to stay at Abel's over night. This was the custom when Skipper Ed was away, and of course Jimmy was more than welcome with both Abel and Mrs. Abel, and Bobby was delighted.
When dinner was over Abel, with a long stick, went down to inspect the ice. He prodded it with the stick, and finding it to his satisfaction stepped out upon it, and still prodding ahead of him made a wide circuit. The ice bent as he walked, but sea ice is tough, and may be perfectly safe though it bends. And so Abel found it, for when he came back he said "Piovok" (it is good).
Bobby was wrapped well, and out he went with Jimmy for his first winter frolic. A wonderful time they had, coasting down the steep bank and shooting far out upon the ice, or running over the ice, with Bobby on the sled and Jimmy hauling him, until at last, quite weary with the fun, they returned to the cabin to play with the ivory dogs and sledge until supper time.
After this Jimmy came often with his sled, and he and Bobby coasted the steep bank or rolled and tumbled in the snow, or built miniature snow igloos, while Bobby grew as tough and hardy as any little Eskimo boy could have been, which was very much to the satisfaction, not only of Mr. and Mrs. Abel, but of Skipper Ed, as well.
It was not long after the ice came that the missionary from Nain visited them, and met Bobby for the first time. He was a tall, jolly man, and made much of Bobby, asking many questions about the manner of Bobby's coming.
"It is very strange," said he. "Shall I not take him, Abel, to the Mission, and care for him there? You do not want a white child."
But there was such a protest from both Abel and his wife, who insisted that Bobby was their own child, sent them by God, that the missionary never again suggested taking him from them. When the mail left the coast, however, the following summer, he wrote to England a full description of the occurrence, and the fact of Bobby's rescue and whereabouts was published far and wide in British papers, but no inquiries ever came of it, and no one came to claim Bobby.
But we must not linger over this period of Bobby's life. When he was five years of age Skipper Ed began his lessons, coming over to Abel Zachariah's cabin as often as possible, for the purpose, and now and again he would take Bobby to his own cabin to stop a day or two with him and Jimmy.
He supplied Bobby with the books he needed, and Bobby studied hard and learned quickly, and was fascinated with the work, for Skipper Ed had the rare faculty of making study appear a pleasant game, and it was a game which Bobby loved to play.
There was little else, indeed, to occupy his attention during long winter evenings—no streets to play in, no parties, no theaters—and he made more rapid progress than he probably would have made had he attended school in civilization, for Skipper Ed was a good tutor and Jimmy, who was already quite a scholar, was also of great help to Bobby in preparing lessons.
And as Bobby grew and developed, Abel, on his part, taught him to be keenly alert, patient, self-reliant and resourceful—qualities that every successful hunter and wilderness dweller must possess.
He learned first with the miniature whip that Abel made him, and later with Abel's own long dog whip, to wield the long lash with precision. He and Jimmy would practice for hours at a time clipping a small bit of ice no larger than an egg from a hummock thirty feet away.
He played with the young puppies and trained them to haul him on his small sledge, and he would shout to them proudly, as large as life—and just as Abel did when he drove the big team—"Hu-it!" when he wanted them to start; "Ah!" when he wanted them to stop; "Ouk! Ouk! Ouk!" when he wanted them to turn to the right; "Ra! Ra! Ra!" for a turn to the left; "Ok-su-it!" when he wished them to hurry; and with his whip he enforced his commands.
He learned to shoot his bow and arrow, and to wield the harpoon and spear. Abel once fashioned for him, from a block of wood, a very good imitation of a small seal, and Bobby and Jimmy had unending sport casting their harpoons at it, and presently they became so expert that seldom did they fail to make a "killing" strike.
When he was old enough Bobby learned to make his hunting implements himself. Here, indeed, was required patience, perseverance, and resourcefulness, for his only tools were his knife and his ax, and his only material such as the wilderness produced; and to gain Abel's praise, which was his high ambition, he must needs do his work with care and niceness. And thus Bobby was learning to be a man and a hunter.
Bobby was still a very young lad when Abel began to teach him the signs of the wilderness and the ways of the wild things that lived in the woods. He learned to know the tracks of all the animals of the region, and even how long it had been since the animals that made the tracks had passed by. And he learned to make snares and traps, and how to handle his gun—the wonderful gun which Abel told him God had sent with him from the Far Beyond—and shoot it quickly and accurately, for the man who exists upon the wilderness must know how to do these things, and his sense of observation must be keenly trained; and he must train himself to be alert.
One other accomplishment he acquired from Skipper Ed. He learned to swim. Even in midsummer these northern waters are icy cold. From the breaking up of the ice in summer until the sea freezes again in winter, the natives spend their time upon the water or near it, yet it is rare, indeed, that one of them can swim. And so it was with Abel. He had never in his life voluntarily gone into the sea. But Skipper Ed was a mighty swimmer, and under his instruction Jimmy had learned the art, and in the fourth summer after Bobby's arrival nothing would do but he, too, must learn. Much perseverance was necessary before Abel and Mrs. Abel gave their consent, but finally it was obtained, and in a little while Bobby was as keen for a dip and a dive and a swim as were Skipper Ed and his partner, Jimmy.
And so the years passed in toil, in pleasure, and in attainment—active years that were filled with glorious doing, and with never a heavy moment or idle wasting of time or vain dawdling.
"Never waste time," said Skipper Ed, one stormy winter's day when Bobby was over there, and he and Bobby and Jimmy were luxuriating in their big chairs before the fire. "If you can't be busy with your hands, be busy with your brain. You were put into the world for some purpose, and your destiny is the will of the Almighty. But we may spoil His will by refusing to do the very best we can. The Almighty plans some fine thing for each of us, but He leaves it with us to decide whether we will have the fine things or not. What we're to be or to do comes to us gradually, just as the sun rises gradually. We never know ahead what He has planned for us. That's His big surprise.
"He may have put us into the world to do some great thing, and to become a great and useful man, or we may be intended just to help other people to be noble and honest and true, by doing our duty always, and setting an example of honesty and nobility."
"Do you think you or Jimmy or I will ever be great men?" Bobby asked in some awe.
"Partner is a great man now" declared Jimmy. "He knows most everything!"
"No, not everything," laughed Skipper Ed. "Not everything, Partner. But," and he spoke gravely again, "I've always tried to do my duty as God has pointed it out to me. Perhaps the Great Thing that I was intended to do was to teach you two chaps what I could, and perhaps your Great Thing is to teach others, and perhaps working all together in this way we may guide someone else to a great destiny.
"We are just hunters and fishermen. Aside from our own two families, we don't see many people, except the missionary down at Nain, and the Eskimos at the settlement there, and now and again in summer the fishermen on passing schooners. But that doesn't matter. Here Destiny placed us, and here is our work, and we must do it the best we can.
"We should work hard when we have work to do; we should play hard when we are at play; we should think hard when we are neither working nor playing. We should not waste time idling. We should do our level best to fit ourselves for our destiny, whatever it may be."
This was one of many conversations of the sort that Skipper Ed had with the boys. He was their comrade, their teacher, their adviser, and their inspiration. And, be it said, with the constant inspiration, also, of the great wilderness and sea, with no other youthful companions or playmates, and with little of the joy of sports with which boys in civilization are blessed, it was but natural that they should feel more deeply the responsibility of life, and should ponder and take to heart more seriously Skipper Ed's philosophy, than they would had their lot been cast in a city or a town.
It is not to be supposed, however, that they never got into mischief. They were too full of life and energy to avoid that. But they were seldom or never instructed not to do this or that, and their mischief was usually the result of indiscretion and error of judgment natural to youth, rather than disobedience. Eskimos do not whip or punish their children. They treat them rather, as comrades, and the boy's effort is to do as nearly as he can the things his elders do and in the manner in which they do them.
And this was the case with Abel and Mrs. Abel and Bobby. They never punished Bobby. It was the case also with Skipper Ed and Jimmy. Skipper Ed, from the first, called Jimmy his partner, and talked to him and treated him very much as he would have done had Jimmy been a grown-up.
From the very beginning Bobby had his escapades, which usually included adventures. During the first summer after his arrival he fell into the water with due regularity, but always, fortunately, within reach of Abel's or Mrs. Abel's strong arms. Once he climbed into the big boat, undid the painter, and the tide had carried him well out to sea before his plight was discovered and he was rescued by Abel in the skiff. And once he was lost for a day in the forest, with Abel, Mrs. Abel, Skipper Ed, and Jimmy searching frantically for him. They found him, quite tired out with his wanderings, peacefully sleeping on the forest moss.
With these escapades and a thousand others, Bobby kept his foster parents pretty constantly varying between a state of suspense and a state of joy, for they were vastly delighted when he emerged from an adventure, usually not much the worse for his experience.
Bobby's age was, of course, a matter of conjecture. Abel and Mrs. Abel must needs have a definite date set down as his birthday, in order that it might be duly and appropriately celebrated each year, and as a convenient date they chose December 1 of the year in which he came to them as his fourth birthday. This was a date when the autumn seal hunt would be finished, and the sea ice would be formed, when Abel might go to Nain with the dogs and bring back some sweets or other surprise.
Upon this reckoning Bobby was eight and Jimmy was twelve years of age when the two lads had their first real adventure together. It was in the spring. A westerly wind had cleared the bay of ice, and Abel and Skipper Ed had gone north in the big boat two days before for the spring seal hunt, and were not expected back for a fortnight. Jimmy, during Skipper Ed's absence, was stopping with Bobby and Mrs. Abel as usual, and the two boys were out bright and early to haul a trout net which was set in the mouth of a river which flowed into the bay not far away.
It was one of those ideal days which come now and again to that northern country in spring, as though to emphasize by contrast the fact that the long bleak winter is over. The sun shone brilliantly and the rippling waves of the nearly placid bay sparkled and glinted alluringly, spicy odors of the forest perfumed the air, and birds twittered gleefully.
"Let's go egging, Bobby," Jimmy suggested, as the boys, pulling leisurely back from the river, turned Abel's old skiff to the beach landing place below the cabin.
"All right," agreed Bobby, "let's do, as soon as we take care of the trout. Mother said last night she'd like some eggs. We haven't had any yet this year." Bobby always called Abel "Father," and Mrs. Abel "Mother."
"I'm sure there must be lots of ducks and gull and tern eggs out on the islands, and puffin and auk eggs on the cliffs along the shore. It's lots of fun!" said Jimmy enthusiastically.
So they hurried in with the trout, which they dressed, washed, and finally salted down in a barrel. This required but a few minutes, and while they worked Mrs. Abel prepared a simple luncheon of bread, sufficient tea for a brewing, and a bottle of molasses for sweetening, and these, with their tea pail and cups and hunting bags, they carried down to the skiff, followed by Mrs. Abel's wishes for a pleasant day, and her "Oksutingae."
And so they set off down the bay to the islands, each pulling at a pair of oars and chatting gaily as they rowed, in fine spirits at the prospect, and enjoying their outing as only youth with enthusiasm can enjoy itself.
At the end of a three hours' row they turned the skiff to the sloping rock of an island shore, and landing, tied the painter to a big bowlder.
"This is a fine egg island," said Jimmy, as they set out with their bags. "Partner brought me out here last year."
Squawking birds rose in every direction as they approached, and clouds of gulls circled around crying the alarm. Down in rock crevasses along the shore they saw many sea pigeon eggs, and Bobby wanted to get them, but they were generally well out of reach.
"They're too small to bother with anyway," said Jimmy. "Come on."
"There! There!" shouted Bobby. "There goes an eider duck! And another! And another! Their eggs are fine and big! Let's find the nests!"
Presently they discovered, under a low, scrubby bush, a down-lined nest containing eight greenish-drab eggs.
"There's one!" shouted Jimmy. "This is an eider's nest."
And so, hunting among the bushes and rocks, they soon had their bags filled with eider duck, tern, gull, and booby eggs, while the birds in hundreds flew hither and thither, violently protesting, with discordant notes, the invasion and the looting. But the eggs were good to eat, and the boys smacked their lips over the feasts in store—and Mrs. Abel wanted them; that was the chief consideration, after all.
"Now," said Jimmy, "let's go over to the mainland and boil the kettle. It's away past dinner time and I'm as hungry as a bear."
"All right," agreed Bobby. "I'm so hungry I've just got to eat. Where'll we go?"
"I know a dandy place over here, and there's a brook coming in close to it where we can get good water. It's just a few minutes' pull—just below the ledges."
Ten minutes' strong rowing landed them on a gravelly beach near the mouth of a brook, which rushed down to the bay through a deep gulch. To the eastward the gulch banks rose into high cliffs which overhung the sea. Kittiwakes, tube-nosed swimmers, ivory gulls, cormorants, little auks and other birds were flying up and down and along the cliff's face, or perching upon ledges on the rock, and, like the birds on the island, making a great deal of discordant noise.
"It seems as though there were no end of birds," said Bobby, as they secured their boat. "I'd like to see what kind of nests those make up there, and after we eat I'm going to look at some of them."
"You can't get up there," said Jimmy. "I've tried it lots of times. They take good care to leave their eggs where nobody can get at them."
"Well, I'm going to try, anyhow," Bobby declared, as he turned to the brook for a kettle of water.
"I wish we had something to boil eggs in," said he, as he set the kettle of water down by Jimmy, who was whittling shavings for the fire.
"What's the matter with the old tin bucket we use for bailing the skiff?" Jimmy suggested. "I don't believe it leaks enough to hurt."
"That's so!" said Bobby. "We can boil 'em in that."
With the ax—in this country men never venture from home without an ax, for in wilderness traveling it is often a life saver—Jimmy split some sticks, and then with his jackknife whittled shavings from the dry heart. He stopped his knife just short of the end of the stick, until six or eight long, thin shavings were made, then, with a twist of the blade, he broke off the stub with the shavings attached to it. Thus the shavings were held in a bunch.
Several of these bunches he made, working patiently, for patience and care are as necessary in building a fire as in doing anything else, and Skipper Ed had taught him that whatever he did should be done with all the care possible. And so in making a fire he gave as much care to the cutting of shavings and placing of sticks as though it had been something of the highest importance, and doing it in this way he seldom failed to light his fire, rain or shine, with a single match. Fire making in the open is a fine art.
When Jimmy had collected enough shavings for his purpose, he placed two of his split sticks upon the ground at right angles to each other, an end of one close up to the end of the other. Then, holding a bunch of shavings by the thick, or stub, end, he struck a match and lighted the thin end, and when it was blazing well placed the unlighted end upon the two sticks where they met. Other bunches of shavings he laid on this, the thin ends in the blaze, the thick ends elevated upon the sticks. Then came small splits, and bigger splits, and in a moment he had a crackling fire.
He now secured a pole six or seven feet in length, and fixed one end firmly in the ground, with the other end sloped over the fire. On this he hung first, by its bale, the old bailing kettle, filled with water, and then the tea pail, in such a way as to bring them directly over the blaze, and though the fire was a small one, it was not many minutes before the kettles boiled. Then while Bobby dropped half a dozen eggs into the bailing kettle, Jimmy lifted the tea pail off, put some tea into it, and set it by the fire to brew.
"Now," said Jimmy, presently, "let's go for it."
And they ate, as only hungry boys can, and with the keen relish of youths who live in the open.
"Let's see if we can't get some of the eggs off the cliff now," suggested Bobby, when they were through. "I know I can climb down there."
"I've tried it plenty of times," said Jimmy, "and I don't believe it can be done. You can't get in from this end, and the top hangs over so you can't get in from the top."
"Let's go up on top and try to get down, anyhow," insisted Bobby. "I know what! There's a harpoon line in the skiff. Father always keeps it stuffed in under the seat aft. We can tie an end of it under my arms and you can let me down, and then pull me back."
And so without loss of time the young adventurers secured the harpoon line, and climbing out of the gully followed the top of the cliff to a place where birds were numerous.
Jimmy tied a bowline knot at the proper distance from one end of the line, passed the line around Bobby's body under the arms, ran the end of the line through the loop, and secured it. With this arrangement the line could not tighten and pinch, and still was tight enough to hold Bobby securely.
"Now," said Jimmy, indicating a high bowlder, "I'll bring the line around this rock, so I'll have a purchase on it and it can't slip away from me, and let it out as you climb down. You holler when you want to stop and holler when you want to come up."
The plan worked admirably for a while. Very slowly Bobby descended, calling out now and again for Jimmy to "hold" while he picked eggs from nests on shelving rocks.
At last his bag was full, and he was ready to ascend.
"All right, Jimmy. Pull up now," he called.
Jimmy pulled, but pull as he would he could not budge Bobby one inch. He did not dare release the line where it made its turn around the bowlder, for without the leverage he feared the line would get away from him, in which case Bobby would crash to the bottom of the cliff. So Jimmy pulled desperately. But it was of no avail, and presently he took another turn of the line around the bowlder, and secured it so that it could not slip, and ran forward.
Bobby was shouting to be drawn up, and Jimmy, throwing himself upon his face and peering down over the edge of the cliff, saw Bobby dangling in mid air some forty feet below him and thirty feet above the deep black water. He also saw that, supported only by the line, Bobby was in a strained and perilous as well as most uncomfortable position.
His first impulse was to lower Bobby to the base of the cliff, and let him wait there until he could get the boat, bring it around and take him off. But he saw at a glance that at its foot the rocky cliff rose out of the deep water in a perpendicular wall, so smooth that there was not even a hand hold to be had, and this was its condition for a considerable distance on either side. Neither was there hope that, in the strong outgoing tide, and encumbered by clothing, Bobby could swim in the icy waters to a point where a footing could be had.
"Hurry, Jimmy; I can't stand this much longer! I can't stand it much longer!" Bobby shouted, as he caught a glimpse of Jimmy's head.
Jimmy in return shouted reassurance to Bobby, and ran back for another effort to pull him out. But again he pulled and pulled in vain. With all the strength he had he could not pull Bobby up a single inch. With a sickening dread at his heart, he refastened the line.
Jimmy realized that there was no help to be had from outside. There was no one at home but Mrs. Abel, and rowing the skiff alone against the tide fully four hours would be consumed in reaching there and another three hours in coming back. Then it would be well past dark. An easterly breeze was springing up, and a chop was rising on the bay. This easterly wind was likely to bring with it a cold storm, and Bobby, suspended thirty feet above the water, and not warmly dressed, might perish.
"Yes," said Jimmy, "he might perish! He might perish! And it would be my fault!"
The thought brought a cold perspiration to Jimmy's forehead, and a cold, unnatural feeling to his spine, and in desperation he tried the line again. But it was useless effort. He could not pull it up. And again he ran to the cliff, crawled out and peered over at the dangling and by no means silent Bobby.
"Hey there, Jimmy! Pull me up! Hurry!" shouted Bobby.
"I can't! I can't budge you! Oh, Bobby, what are we going to do?"
"If you can't pull me up, let me down!" Bobby was growing impatient. "I can't stand this much longer. The line is cutting me in two."
"Try to climb up the line," suggested Jimmy, the idea striking him as a bright one. "Just climb up, and when you get up here where I can reach you I'll pull you over."
Bobby tried the experiment, but the line was oily, and in spite of his best efforts he could climb only a little way, when he would slide back again.
"I can't do it," he shouted up to Jimmy, after several vain efforts. "The line is too greasy. I can't get a good hold."
"I don't know what to do!" said the distressed Jimmy. "I don't know what to do!"
"If you can't pull me up, let me down," directed Bobby.
"That won't do any good," said Jimmy. "You'll only go into the water and drown, for there's no place for you to stand."
"Well," Bobby insisted, "let me down nearer the water. I feel all the time as though the line was going to break, and I'm so high up from it that it makes me dizzy swinging around this way."
"Holler when you want me to stop," shouted Jimmy, rising and running back.
But Jimmy found that after all he could let Bobby down only a very little way when he came to the end of the line. So he fastened it again.
"That's as far as it will go!" he called, lying down on his face again to look over the cliff at Bobby, who was now about twenty feet above the water.
"Then go and get the boat and fetch it down," shouted Bobby. "Hurry, Jimmy. I can't hang here much longer. I'm getting all numb."
That was a solution of the difficulty that had not occurred to Jimmy, and without delay he ran away along the cliff top and down to the skiff, which was lying a half mile above, and, undoing the painter, rowed with all his might toward Bobby, until presently he drew up directly beneath the swinging lad.
"Can you unfasten the line and drop into the boat, Bobby?" he asked, gazing up.
"No," decided Bobby, glancing at the skiff, which rose and fell on the swell, and which Jimmy was holding dangerously near the breaking waves on the cliff base. "I might hit the boat but I'd break my neck, and maybe tip you over. Stand her off a little, and I'll show you."
He felt in his pocket for his jackknife, drew it out and opened it. Then with his left hand he succeeded, after several attempts, in lifting himself sufficiently to relieve the strain of his body, and with the jackknife in his right hand cut the line where it circled his body below the arms.
Hanging now by his left hand he deliberately and coolly closed the knife by pushing the back of the blade against his leg, and restored it to his pocket. This done he grasped the line with his right hand just above the bowline knot, where he had a firm hold, slipped his other hand down to it, and began swinging in toward the cliff and out over the waves, and then on an outward swing, let go. Down he went, well away from the rocks, feet first into the deep water, and, a moment later, appearing on the surface, swam to the skiff, grasped it astern, and climbed aboard, shivering from his icy bath.
"Oh, Bobby, you're a wonder!" exclaimed Jimmy. "I never would have thought of that way of your getting off that line!"
"'Twasn't anything," declared Bobby, deprecatingly, as he seated himself and picked up his oars. "Now let's pull back where we can put on a fire. I'm freezing cold."
"I was scared when I found I couldn't pull you up," said Jimmy, as they rowed back to the gully. "Wasn't you?"
"No, I wasn't scared," boasted Bobby. "I was just getting cold and numb. The worst of it is I had to drop my bag with all the eggs I picked off the cliff. I had some dandies, too! Two of them were the prettiest eggs I ever saw—real small at one end and big at the other, and all colored and marked and spotted up. They were different from any eggs I ever saw, too."
"Did you find 'em together, or separate?"
"Found 'em separate, on different ledges."
"I know what they were! They were murre eggs. Murre eggs are different from any other kind. They've got more colors and marks on 'em. Partner found some last year."
"There were some murres down on the water, but I never thought they'd go up to lay their eggs in places like that. The eggs were right on the bare rock, and weren't in a nest at all, and if it wasn't for their shape they'd have rolled off."
"It's a strange place for any bird to leave eggs, but that's where the kittiwakes, auks and swimmers and some of the gulls and lots of birds make nests and lay eggs. I suppose it's so as to make it hard to find them when folks go egging. Partner tells me lots, and I ask lots of questions, because he says the more I know about the way birds and animals live and the things they do, the better I'll be able to hunt and take care of myself."
In spite of his exertion at the oars, Bobby's teeth were chattering when they landed at the place where they had cooked their dinner. But it was not long before Jimmy had a roaring fire and the kettle over for some hot tea, and then, leaving Bobby to dry his clothes, Jimmy climbed up again over the cliff to recover Abel's harpoon line, which was much too valuable to be left behind.
At this season of the year the days are long in Labrador, and though it was nearly eleven o'clock at night when the boys reached home, it was still twilight. Mrs. Abel was on the lookout for them, and had a fine pan of fried trout and steaming pot of tea waiting on the table, for she knew they would be hungry, as boys who live in the open always are. And she praised them for the fine lot of eggs they brought her, and laughed very heartily over Bobby's adventure, for in that land adventure is a part of life, and all in a day's work.
WITH PASSING YEARS
Bobby's adventure on the cliff was, after all, but typical of the adventures that he was regularly getting into, and drawing Jimmy into, but somehow coming out of unscathed, during these years of his career. Though he was nearly four years Jimmy's junior, he was invariably the instigator of their escapades.
Jimmy was inclined to cautiousness, while Bobby had a reckless turn, or rather failed to see danger. Bobby was naturally a leader, and in spite of his youth Jimmy instinctively recognized him as such. He could always overcome Jimmy's scruples and cautions, and with ease and celerity lead Jimmy from one scrape into another.
But Bobby invariably kept a cool head. He had a steady brain and nerve and the faculty of quick thought and prompt decision, with a practical turn of mind. If he got Jimmy and himself into a scrape, he usually got them out of it again not much the worse for their experience.
Jimmy was imaginative and emotional, and when they were in peril he could see only the peril, and picture the possible dire results. Bobby, on the other hand, concentrated his attention upon some practical method by which they might extricate themselves, losing sight, seemingly, of what the result might be should they fail to do so.
Bobby had doubtless inherited from his unknown ancestors the peculiar mental qualities that made him a leader. From Abel he had absorbed the Eskimo's apparent contempt of danger. Abel, like all Eskimos, was a fatalist. If he was caught in a perilous position he believed that if the worst came it would be because it was to be. If he escaped unharmed, so it was to be. Therefore why be excited? Bobby had as completely accepted this creed as though he, too, were an Eskimo, for his life and training with Abel was the life and training of an Eskimo boy.
And so the years passed, and Bobby grew into a tall, square-shouldered, alert, handsome, self-reliant youth. He was in nearly every respect, save the color of his skin and the shade of his hair, an Eskimo. He spoke the language like an Eskimo born, his tastes and his life were Eskimo, his ambition to be a great hunter—the greatest ambition of his life—was the ambition of an Eskimo, and he bore the hardships, which to him were no hardships at all, like an Eskimo. He was much more an Eskimo, indeed, than the native half-breeds of the coast farther south.
In one respect, however, Bobby was highly civilized. He was a great reader and an exceptional student. Skipper Ed had seen to this with singleness of purpose.
To him and Jimmy study was recreation. Mathematical problems were interesting to them, just as the solution of puzzles interests the boy in civilization. Just as the boy in civilization will work for hours upon the solution of a mechanical puzzle, they worked upon problems in arithmetic and geometry, and with the same gusto. They studied grammatical construction much as they studied the tracks and the habits of wild animals. They read the books in Skipper Ed's library with the feelings and sensations of explorers. In the first reading they were going through an unknown forest, and with each successive reading they were retracing their steps and exploring the trail in minute detail and becoming thoroughly acquainted with the surrounding country.
This may seem very improbable and unnatural to the boy whose studies are enforced and, because they are compulsory, appeal to him as tedious duties which he must perform. But nevertheless it was very natural. Human nature is obstinate and contrary. Tom Sawyer's friends derived much pleasure from whitewashing the fence, and even paid for the privilege. Had their parents set them to whitewashing fences they would have found it irksome work, and anything but play.
Bobby, indeed, had developed two distinct personalities. In his every-day living he was decidedly an Eskimo; but of long winter evenings, reading or studying Skipper Ed's books, at home in Abel's cabin, or in one of the easy chairs in Skipper Ed's cabin, when Skipper Ed explained to him and Jimmy the things they read, Bobby was as far removed from his Eskimo personality as could be.
Abel and Mrs. Abel never wavered in their belief that God had sent Bobby to them from the Far Beyond, through the place where mists and storms were born. They believed he had been sent to them direct from heaven.
But Bobby was very human, indeed. No one other than Abel and Mrs. Abel would ever have ascribed to him angelic origin, and as he developed it must have caused a long stretch of even their imagination to continue the fiction. There was nothing ethereal about Bobby. His big, husky frame, his abounding and never-failing appetite, and his high spirits, were very substantial indeed.
And as Bobby grew, and more and more took part in the bigger things of life, his adventures grew from the smaller adventures of the boy to the greater ones of the man.
In this wild land no one knows when he will be called upon to meet adventure. The sea winds breathe it, it stalks boldly over the bleak wastes of the barrens, and in the dark and mysterious fastnesses of the forest it crouches, always ready for its chance to spring forward and meet you unawares. Adventure, ay, and grave danger too, are wont to show themselves unexpectedly. And so, one winter's evening, they came to Skipper Ed and Bobby and Jimmy.
THE WOLF PACK
In seasons when caribou were plentiful along the coast, wolves were also plentiful, for it is the habit of wolves in this land to follow the trail of the caribou herds and prey upon the stragglers. And so it was that sometimes of a winter's night the silence of the hills was startled by the distant howl of wolves. And always Skipper Ed's dogs and Abel's dogs would answer the wild, weird cries of their untamed kin of the hills with equally weird cries, their muzzles in the air and the long-drawn notes rising and falling in woful and dismal cadence.
Perhaps the dogs were possessed of an uninterpreted longing to join their brothers of the wilderness in their care-free wanderings, and be forever free themselves from the yoke of sledge and whip and the toil and drudgery of the trail. But so like men were the beasts that they never had the courage to cast themselves free from the shackles of their man-master, though it required but a resolution and a plunge into the hills.
"So it is with many a man," said Skipper Ed one evening when Bobby was stopping for the night with him and Jimmy, and a wolf howl was followed by the answering howl of dogs. "Many and many a man that has the power and strength within him, and the brains too, if he but knew it, to go out into the broad world of endeavor and do great things, simmers his life away in the little narrow world into which he has grown, expending his energies as a servant when he might be a master. He keeps his eyes to the ground and never looks out or up, and so he never knows how big the world is or how much it holds for him.
"It takes courage sometimes to break loose from old things. But it's the man that dares to break loose, and hit a new trail, and try his hand at new things, that wins. The man that never takes a chance, never gets anywhere, and then he says that luck has been against him. I speak of luck sometimes, but I don't mean it in that way. There is no such thing as luck. What we call luck is the Almighty's reward when we've done the best we can."
"Did you ever try new things?" asked Bobby.
"Yes, yes, lad! Long ago," and a shadow fell upon Skipper Ed's face, to pass in a moment, however, as he added, "I think I did what the Lord Almighty intended me to do."
"What was it?" asked Bobby, ever curious.
"To come here, and be Jimmy's partner, and to be a friend to both of you young scalawags, I think," and Skipper Ed smiled.
"Didn't you ever ask the Lord to let you do some big, big things?" insisted Bobby.
"Partner does big things all the time," protested Jimmy. "He's a fine shot, and there isn't a better hunter on The Labrador."
"Yes," said Skipper Ed, "I've asked the Lord, and I think the big thing He's given me to do is to teach you chaps the best I can, and maybe my teaching will help one of you to do the big, big thing."
And then a wolf howled again, not far away this time, and out in front of the cabin Skipper Ed's dogs howled an answer, and down from Abel's cabin came the long, weird cry of woe from Abel's dogs; and the three sat silent for a little, and listened.
"The wolves are growing bold," remarked Skipper Ed presently. "That last fellow that howled was just above here in the gulch."
"I'd like to see one running loose," said Bobby, "but they don't like to show themselves to me, and I never saw but one in my life."
Skipper Ed arose, and donning his adikey went out of doors, soon to return followed by a breath of the keen, frosty air of the winter night.
"It's bright moonlight," said he, rubbing his hands briskly to warm them, for he had worn no mittens. "The wind is nor' nor'west, and if you chaps feel like an adventure we'll take a walk around and up the s'uth'ard side of the gulch, where he won't get a smell of us, and maybe we'll have a look at that old rounder that's howling, and who knows but we might get a shot at him and his mates. What do you say?"
"Fine!" agreed the boys in unison, springing eagerly up from their chairs.
"Well, hustle into your adikeys, then, and we'll try to get to leeward of the old fellow," directed Skipper Ed.
"I hope there'll be a chance for a shot!" Bobby exclaimed excitedly, as they shouldered their rifles and slung cartridge pouches over their shoulders.
"So do I!" agreed Jimmy.
"Just a bare chance," said Skipper Ed, as they passed out into the porch shed and took their snowshoes from the pegs. "It depends upon which way they're traveling."
"Do you think there's more than one?" asked Bobby in an excited undertone, as they swung away on snowshoes.
"Yes, but we'd better not talk now. They're keen, and shy old devils, and they might hear us," warned Skipper Ed.
Cautiously but swiftly they stole out and into the moonlit forest and up into the gulch and along the southern banks of a frozen brook. Now and again Skipper Ed halted, stooping to peer about and along the open space that marked the bed of the stream. Presently he held up his hand as a sign of caution, and crouched behind a clump of brush, motioning the boys to follow his example.
"They're just above us," he whispered. "I saw them moving among the trees, above the bend. They're coming down this way, and they'll come out in that open just ahead of us. Don't shoot till I tell you, but be ready for them, lads."
"How many are there?" Bobby whispered excitedly.
"I can't tell yet. But I saw them move, and there's more than one," answered Skipper Ed.
A moment later the blood-curdling howl of a wolf broke the forest stillness. It was answered by the distant howl of the dogs, and then near at hand the night was startled by the defiant howl of many wolves, long, loud and terrible in unexpected suddenness, and so close that the boys involuntarily rose from their crouch.
"A pack!" whispered Skipper Ed, "and a big pack! See them coming there! Too many for us to tackle, lads! Keep quiet, now, lads, and don't lose your heads and don't shoot! We must keep to leeward of them so they won't get our scent, and we must get back to the cabin. They're too many for us to tackle."
As he spoke the leaders of the pack—great, fearsome creatures looming big on the glistening white of the moonlit snow—straggled leisurely around the bend of the frozen stream—one—two—three—Skipper Ed counted until more than twenty had appeared, and still others were coming. It was a pack large enough to be fearless of any enemy and to attack boldly any prey that crossed its path.
Leading the way, and keeping under cover of trees, with Bobby and Jimmy close at his heels, Skipper Ed turned and ran down the gulch toward the cabin, which was not above a mile distant. The gulch ended in an open space, which was a marsh in summer but was now a white expanse of hard-beaten snow. Between this open space and the bay shore a hedge of thick brush grew. On its northern and southern sides the open was flanked by the forest, extending from the gulch mouth to the shore of the bay, and on the northern side it continued to Skipper Ed's cabin and beyond.
Skipper Ed led the way into the forest to the southward of the open, that they might keep well to leeward of the pack, and thus avoid so far as possible danger of the wolves getting their scent. He hoped that this maneuver might permit them to circuit back to the cabin under the protecting cover of the brush fringe along the shore and the forest to the northward. To have crossed the open would have been to invite discovery, for it was evident the wolves would follow the bed of the stream through the gulch and into the open.
Whether they would answer the call of the dogs and turn northward, or whether they would range southward in quest of prey, was uncertain. If to the southward they would be very sure to catch the wind of Skipper Ed and the boys almost immediately, and be upon them before they could reach safety. If they answered the dogs, there would still be danger, but the three in that case would be enabled to keep on the lee side of the pack with the probability of detection considerably lessened. Therefore Skipper Ed hoped and trusted that the wolves would answer the challenge of the dogs.
Even then there was still the danger that the trail made by them on their way up the gulch would be discovered, and unless the dogs proved a greater attraction Skipper Ed knew that the moment the wolves came upon the trail they would take up the fresh scent, and might overtake them before they could gain the shelter of the cabin.
As it came about, they were behind the brush hedge, running up the shore, when the wolves wound out of the gulch and into the open. Through a break in the brush Skipper Ed saw them dimly, in the distance. The leaders stopped and sniffed. Suddenly came the howl of pursuit—the awful, terrifying cry of the wolf pack fresh upon the heels of quarry. The wolves had turned on the trail and were off up the gulch.
"Run!" commanded Skipper Ed, half under his breath, but still in a tone so loud and tense that the boys heard. "Run! We must run now for our lives!"
And they did run, but had scarcely gained the cover of the woods on the northern side of the open when wolf cries left no doubt that the animals had discovered the return trail and were hot upon it. It seemed now that nothing but an intercession of Providence could save them. The wolf pack would surely overtake them before they could attain the protection of the cabin.
Now they could hear the pack yelping down through the forest! Already it had reached the brush hedge by the shore! It had made its turn northward, the yelps increasing in volume as it approached! Now the leaders were in sight!
"Go on! Go on!" yelled Skipper Ed, himself lagging in order that he might fall in the rear of the boys and take a position between them and the wolves, and as he did so he turned quickly and fired a random shot at the leader of the pack.
The cabin had just loomed into view dimly through the trees, and the wolves, almost upon their expected prey, were sounding the wild, fierce cry of triumph, when another pack, like phantoms in the forest shadows, coming from the direction of the cabin, swept down past Skipper Ed and the boys, suddenly breaking forth as they ran into a fierce howl of defiance.[B]
[Footnote B: A few years ago Job Edmunds, a native acquaintance of the author, was saved from a pack of wolves in just this manner by his dogs.]
"Thank God!" exclaimed Skipper Ed. "The dogs! The dogs will help us! Run, lads, and get to the door! I'll stop and help hold them with my rifle till you get in!"
But Bobby and Jimmy would not have it so. They, too, turned, and in the dim light of the shadowed forest the three fired into the face of the pack until their rifles were empty. Whether or not any of the animals fell they could not see, but the pack paused for a moment in surprise. Then the dogs charged them, and as the three reached the cabin door yelps and snarls told of the clash as the dogs met their wild kin of the hills in battle.
"Thank God!" again breathed Skipper Ed when the three, panting for breath, were safe in the cabin, a moment later, with the good stout door between them and the ravenous pack, which presently came snapping and snarling around the cabin. "I never saw such a pack of wolves before. I never knew that they gathered in such numbers in these days. There must be at least thirty of them."[C]
[Footnote C: Not many years ago a pack of upwards of thirty of these great northern wolves appeared a few miles to the southward of this point. One of my friends was driven to the shelter of his cabin to escape them.—Author.]
"The dogs! Partner, what will become of our dogs?" exclaimed Jimmy. "They'll kill our fine dogs!"
"I'm afraid they will," agreed Skipper Ed, who had lighted a lamp and was loading the magazine of his rifle. "Load up, partner. Load up, Bobby. We'll see what we can do from cover."
"We must have killed some of them!" Bobby exclaimed excitedly. "I know I did! I saw three fall when we shot!"
"Yes, of course we did," agreed Skipper Ed, "but there are enough of them we didn't kill. Here, you chaps," he added, raising a window three or four inches. "You should get some good shots from here. I'll try my luck from the shed door."
They had turned the lamp low, that they might see the better what was going on out of doors. The wolves, baffled by the sudden disappearance of their quarry, were ranged a little distance from the porch door, save two or three of the bolder ones, which were sniffing at the door itself. The dogs were nowhere to be seen.
"Look out!" called Bobby to Skipper Ed, who was about to open the porch door. "Some of them are right at the door!"
Then he and Jimmy began shooting. The wolves at the door fell, and Skipper Ed, opening the door a little way, joined in a fusillade at the main pack. The rapid reports of the rifles at close range, together with the flashes of fire from an unseen source, struck panic to the heart of the pack. A slightly wounded one turned and ran. That was a signal for panic, as is the way of men and beasts, and the whole pack followed in a mad, wild rush to the cover of the woods.
An instant and the last of the pack had faded into the shadows among the trees—all save those left sprawling and limp upon the snow, which would never roam the hills again, and one or two of the wounded, which were whining, like whipped dogs, and the clearing about the cabin was as deserted as ever it was.
"I'll go out," said Skipper Ed, "and end the suffering of those wounded brutes. Build up the fire, partner, and put the kettle on, and we'll have some tea. Then if there's no sign of what's left of the pack returning, we'll haul the carcasses into the shed, where we can skin them tomorrow."
There was a roaring, cheerful fire in the stove when Skipper Ed returned a few minutes later to report that twelve wolves lay dead outside.
"There must be some more down where we shot them at first," said he, as he drew off his adikey, "and some of those that got away were wounded, no doubt. At any rate we've cut the pack down so far in numbers that it won't be a menace any longer."
"What'll they do now?" asked Bobby, as the three settled into their easy chairs to wait for the kettle to boil.