The Young Treasure Hunter
Fred Stanley's Trip to Alaska
FRANK V. WEBSTER
AUTHOR OF "ONLY A FARM BOY," "THE NEWSBOY PARTNERS," "THE BOY FROM THE RANCH," "BOB THE CASTAWAY," ETC.
NEW YORK CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY PUBLISHERS
BOOKS FOR BOYS
By FRANK V. WEBSTER
12mo. Illustrated. Bound in cloth.
ONLY A FARM BOY, Or Dan Hardy's Rise in Life TOM THE TELEPHONE BOY, Or The Mystery of a Message THE BOY FROM THE RANCH, Or Roy Bradner's City Experiences THE YOUNG TREASURE HUNTER, Or Fred Stanley's Trip to Alaska BOB THE CASTAWAY, Or The Wreck of the Eagle THE YOUNG FIREMEN OF LAKEVILLE, Or Herbert Dare's Pluck THE NEWSBOY PARTNERS, Or Who Was Dick Box? THE BOY PILOT OF THE LAKES, Or Nat Morton's Perils TWO BOY GOLD MINERS, Or Lost in the Mountains JACK THE RUNAWAY, Or On the Road with a Circus
Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York
Copyright, 1909, by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
* * * * *
THE YOUNG TREASURE HUNTER
Printed in U. S. A.
I. IN NEEDY CIRCUMSTANCES 1 II. SEEKING A JOB 9 III. THE BURIED TREASURE STORY 18 IV. FRED HAS HOPES 24 V. MRS. STULTS CONSENTS 30 VI. THE OLD GOLD HUNTER 38 VII. OFF FOR ALASKA 45 VIII. AMID FROST AND ICE 53 IX. INTO THE INTERIOR 61 X. ATTACKED BY WOLVES 71 XI. SHOOTING A MOOSE 78 XII. LOST IN THE SNOW 86 XIII. IN THE WILDERNESS 92 XIV. THE LOST MAP 100 XV. IN THE CAVE 108 XVI. DIGGING FOR TREASURE 116 XVII. THE SPYING INDIAN 125 XVIII. FOLLOWED BY THE ENEMY 131 XIX. THE ATTACK 137 XX. BURYING THE TREASURE 146 XXI. CAPTURED 153 XXII. ANXIOUS HOURS 161 XXIII. CALLACK'S CRUEL THREAT 168 XXIV. DOUBLE HARDSHIP 174 XXV. THE RESCUE—CONCLUSION 193
The Young Treasure Hunter
IN NEEDY CIRCUMSTANCES
"How are you feeling this morning, father?" asked Fred Stanley as his parent came slowly into the dining-room, leaning heavily on a crutch.
"Not so well, Fred. My leg pained me considerable last night, and I did not sleep much. You are up early, aren't you?"
"Yes. I am going over to the new diggings and see if I can't get a job, so I want to start soon."
"Where are the new diggings, Fred? I hadn't heard of any. But that is not surprising, as I don't hear news as I used to before the accident, when I could get around among the miners."
"Why, there is a rumor that several prospectors have struck it rich near Cartersville. They've formed a settlement and called it New Strike. I heard they wanted boys to drive the ore carts, and I thought I'd go over and try for a place."
"It's too bad you have had to stop school, Fred, and go to work. If I wasn't crippled I could make lots of money at mining."
"Never mind, father. When you get well again you'll make more than ever. And I don't mind giving up school—very much."
The last words Fred added in a lower tone of voice, for the truth was, he greatly liked his studies, and it had been quite a sacrifice for him to stop going to school. But when his services were needed at home he did not complain.
Norman Stanley, Fred's father, had been injured in a mining accident about six months before this story opens, and, though he was now somewhat improved, he could not walk without the aid of a crutch. The physician said he would eventually get entirely well, but the process seemed very slow, and at times Mr. Stanley was almost discouraged.
The Stanley family, of which Fred was the only child, lived in the town of Piddock, California. It was not far from a mining region, and within a short distance of the coast. Mr. Stanley had been in good circumstances when he was able to work, but since his accident, having a large doctor bill to pay, his savings had been used up. As he could not earn any more, the family was in needy circumstances, though, occasionally, Fred was able to make small sums by doing odd jobs here and there. Mrs. Stanley took in sewing, and they just managed to get along, paying a small rent, and eating only the most common food, though the doctor had said Mr. Stanley would recover more quickly if he could have a special diet.
"Well, Fred," went on Mr. Stanley, "I hope some day I can send you back to school, and perhaps to college. If only my leg would get better," and he uttered a sigh.
"Don't worry, father. We'll get along somehow. But where is mother? I would like to get my breakfast and hurry over to New Strike. All the best jobs may be taken, and I'll only get a chance to be superintendent, or something like that," and he laughed at his joke, for Fred was not a gloomy-spirited boy.
"Your mother is not up yet, Fred," said Mr. Stanley. "She was sewing quite late last night, and I told her to take a rest this morning. She needed it. I thought maybe you and I could get our own breakfast."
"Of course we can, dad. It won't be the first time I have done it, for when I went camping with the fellows I used to be cook part of the time."
"And I haven't forgotten the time when I was prospecting in the mountains and used to have to get my own flapjacks and coffee," added the former miner. "I guess we can make out all right, and then you can go see if you can strike a job. If they insist on making you part owner, or manager of a good mine, I suppose you will have to take it."
He smiled at his son in spite of his rather gloomy feelings. But he was sad at the thought of how hard his wife had to work to earn a little money, while he, a strong man, save for his injured leg, could do next to nothing.
"Oh, I guess I can stand it to take half shares in a new lead," replied Fred. "Now if you'll set the table, dad, I'll put the kettle on, make coffee and fry some eggs."
Mr. Stanley could manage to move slowly about the room with the aid of his crutch, and by degrees he had the table set. Meanwhile Fred had made a fire in the kitchen stove, and the kettle was soon humming, while he ground the coffee, cut some slices of bacon, and got the fresh eggs from the cupboard.
In the midst of these operations Mrs. Stanley, a little woman with slightly gray hair, but a sweet face and kindly, laughing blue eyes, came downstairs.
"Well!" she exclaimed. "You're ahead of me this morning, aren't you?"
"I thought you would like to rest a bit," said her husband. "That is why I did not call you."
"Oh, I'm not so tired. I slept well, and I wanted to be up early and get Fred's breakfast, for he has quite a journey ahead of him."
"I wish he didn't have to take it," murmured Mr. Stanley to his wife when Fred was out of the room. "If I only could get back to work myself."
"Now, Norman, I thought you promised me you wouldn't worry."
"I'm not, but——"
"Yes, you are. Now please don't do it any more. We are getting on very nicely, and I think Mrs. Robinson will pay me well for the sewing I did for her last night. She is very much pleased with my work."
"I wish you didn't have to work."
"Oh, my! I don't! What a queer world it would be if no one had to work. I just love to be busy," and she laughed joyously, though, to tell the truth, she was still weary from her toil of the night before. Fred heard his mother's voice and looked in from the kitchen.
"Breakfast will soon be ready, Mrs. Stanley," he said in imitation of a servant girl they had had when they were in better circumstances. "The water is jest comin' on to a bile, ma'am, an' the eggs am almost done, ma'am."
"That's just what Sarah used to say," remarked Mrs. Stanley. "It sounds quite natural. Now, Fred, you come in and sit down and I'll finish getting the meal."
"No, indeed, mother, let me do it. Pretend you are a visitor, and I'll bring the eggs and toast in, piping hot for you."
"No, Fred. I'll do it."
The boy was so much in earnest that his mother gave in, and with a laugh seated herself by her husband's side, while Fred rattled away among the dishes out in the kitchen as if he was a regular Chinese cook, which many families in California keep in preference to a woman.
"Do you feel any better this morning, Norman?" asked Mrs. Stanley.
"Not much. Perhaps a little. It is very slow."
In spite of herself tears came into the eyes of Mrs. Stanley at her husband's misfortune, but she turned her head away so he would not see them.
"Here we are!" cried Fred suddenly, as he came in with a platter of bacon and eggs in one hand, and some nicely browned toast, on a plate, in the other.
"Grub call!" he added, in imitation of the camp cry.
"Well, you did get up a nice breakfast," complimented his mother.
"I'll bring the coffee in a minute," added the boy as he went back to the kitchen. "You dish out, mother."
The little family gathered around the table, and soon Mr. Stanley had temporarily forgotten about the pain in his leg, while he told Fred something of how to drive an ore cart.
"Perhaps I'll not get a chance at one, dad."
"Oh, yes, you will. If you see any old miners there, at the new diggings, just mention my name, and they'll help you. They all know me, for I've prospected with a number of them, and grub-staked lots of 'em. Yes, and some of them have grub-staked me."
Grub-staked, it may be explained, means that a man with money provides a poor miner with food or "grub" and an outfit to hunt and dig for gold. If the miner finds a good lead, or mine, a large share of it goes to the man who grub-staked him.
Mrs. Stanley placed two eggs and some toast on her husband's plate, and was about to help Fred to the same quantity, when she noticed that her son was engaged on a big dish of oatmeal.
"Don't you want some eggs?" she asked.
"Don't care for 'em," replied Fred quickly. "I'd rather have oatmeal. It will stick by me longer, if I get a job to-day."
The truth was there were only four eggs in the house, and no money to send out and buy more. And Fred wanted his mother to have the remaining two. So he took oatmeal, though he did not like it.
"Why, Fred!" exclaimed his mother. "You always used to like eggs. Why don't you take them? I don't feel very hungry."
"Those eggs were cooked especially for you, mother," said the boy. "If you don't eat them I'll think you don't like my way, and I'll leave."
His mother laughed, but, once more, there came a mist of tears to her eyes. Slyly she tried to put one of the eggs on Fred's plate, but he would not let her.
"This toast is fine, if I did make it myself," said Fred, "and the bacon isn't half bad," he added as he took several slices, for there was plenty of that. "Guess I'll take some along for my dinner, as I'll not come back until night—if I get a job."
"That's so, Fred, I must see if there is anything in the house for your lunch. I—I don't believe I'll have any money until Mrs. Robinson pays me. I'll take her work home right after breakfast."
"A light lunch will do for me, mother. I can get some grub from one of the miners, if I run short."
This was true enough, for the gold-diggers would share their last crust with a hungry traveler.
The meal was soon over, and, with a small package of bread and bacon, and a piece of pie, saved from the day before, Fred Stanley started off to look for work.
SEEKING A JOB
From Piddock, where Fred lived, to New Strike was about eight miles, over the mountains. It was a hard journey, but the boy set off on it with a light heart, whistling merrily, for he was hopeful of getting a job, and he knew that if he did, there would be more happiness at home, since there was a dire shortage of money.
"I ought to get at least five dollars a week and my board," thought Fred. "If I do, I can save nearly four and send it home, and that will help out a lot. Poor dad, it's hard for him to be crippled the way he is. And I wish mother didn't have to work so hard. She is getting more gray than she ought to. I wish there was some work in Piddock. If I get a job over here I'll have to stay all the week, and can only go home Saturday night. But there's not much doing in Piddock."
This was true. The town had once been quite an important one, but the diggings near it had been exhausted, and the mining population had, in a large part, moved away. There were some mines in the vicinity, that were still worked, but they did not pay very well.
Shortly after Mr. Stanley's accident Fred had secured a place in the general store in Piddock, but, when the population diminished there was hardly enough work for the proprietor himself, and he had to discharge Fred, though he regretted it, for the boy was bright and quick, and a great help to him.
After that Fred tried in vain to get a steady position. He worked for a few days driving a team for a man, and occasionally did odd jobs for one of the merchants in town, or for some of the residents, but the pay was poor, and he seldom had three full days' work a week.
He had heard of the unexpected prosperity that had come to New Strike, and, knowing that there is usually plenty of work in a new mining camp, he determined to go there and see what he could find.
As Fred reached the mountain trail, leading to New Strike, he saw that it had been well traveled. On both sides of the narrow road were evidences that many teams had passed that way recently, for the refuse of camp stuff, broken boxes and barrels, and things that the miners had thrown away as useless, littered the ground.
As Fred made a turn in the road, he saw, just ahead of him, an old man, mounted on a small donkey. The man's legs were so long, and the donkey so little, that the rider's shoes nearly touched the ground.
Either the animal was lazy, or it was unable to carry the load on its back,—for the man had a big bundle on the saddle before him,—and the donkey went at a very slow pace. So slow, in fact, that Fred soon caught up to the rider.
"Good-morning," the boy said.
"Ah, stranger, good-morning," was the man's answer. "I see you are headed for the same place I am."
"I don't know whether it's the same place or not, but I'm going to New Strike," said Fred.
"So am I, if this donkey lasts the trip out. He's awful slow, stranger. What might your name be?"
"Where you from?"
"Hum. Well I'm Bill Gardner. Old Bill Gardner, they mostly calls me."
"And where are you from?" asked Fred, thinking it only polite to manifest some interest in the rider.
"Me? Oh, I ain't from nowhere in particular. I make my home wherever I happen to drop my pick and shovel. I'm a prospector," and Fred noticed that, in addition to his bundle, the old man had a set of mining tools.
"Are you going to locate at New Strike?" asked Fred.
"That's what I am. I heard there was some rich pockets there, and I want to get my share. G'lang there, you jack rabbit!" and the man jerked the donkey's reins.
"That's a queer name for a donkey," commented Fred.
"Well, this is a queer donkey. I call him a jack rabbit because he's so different. He wouldn't jump if you fired a cannon off right under him."
"Did you ever try it?"
"No, but he stood right near a blast one day, when it went off before I was ready for it, and all he done was to wiggle one ear a bit, as though a fly had bit him. Oh, he's the slowest donkey I ever saw, and I've seen some pretty lazy ones. But do you expect to do any prospecting in New Strike? Where's your outfit?"
"I haven't any."
"Guess you'll find it pretty hard to pick up one in the camps. Every man'll want his own."
"Oh, I don't expect to look for gold."
"What are you going to look for then?"
"A job. I heard they wanted drivers for the ore carts at the stamp mills, and I thought I might fill the bill."
"I guess you could, if the places aren't all taken. But, why don't you try mining?"
"I don't believe I'm old enough."
"Oh, yes, you are. I came to California, 'way back in '49, when I was only a boy, and I've been mining ever since."
"My father was a miner," said Fred.
"Was he? What's his name?"
"What! Norman Stanley, who used to work in the Eagle's Claw mine?"
"Yes," replied the boy, who had often heard his father speak of the mine mentioned.
"Well, well! I know him like a brother. Just tell him you met old Bill Gardner, and he'll remember me all right."
"And I'll speak a good word for you when we get to the new diggings," went on the old man. "I know every miner in these parts worth knowing. G'lang there, Kangaroo."
"I thought you said the donkey's name was Jack Rabbit."
"No, that's not his name. You see I call him something different every time."
"Why?" inquired Fred.
"Well, I think one name gets sort of tiresome for an animal. And then I think, if I call him a different name every time, he'll think maybe I'm somebody else, and he'll go faster. He knows me so well he won't pay any attention to me, and he knows I won't hit him. But if I call him a different name, he may think there's a different man on his back, and he may run a bit."
"He doesn't seem to be going to."
"No, I guess not. G'lang there, Hippopotamus!"
That name seemed to have no effect, either, and, with an exclamation of disgust, the old miner settled back in the saddle and let the donkey take its own time.
Fred found he could easily keep up with the small animal, and the miner chatted pleasantly until they came to New Strike. Then, at the suggestion of Mr. Gardner, the boy went to the superintendent of the stamp mills, to apply for a job.
"Let me know how you make out," said the miner, as he was about to part from the boy.
"Where will I find you?"
"Oh, I'm going to put up at the hotel. There's only one, so you won't have much trouble finding me. Just ask for Old Bill Gardner, and anybody'll point me out. Well, good luck."
"Thank you," answered Fred, as he started toward the stamping mills, the thundering noise of which could be heard for a long distance.
"Well, what can I do for you?" asked the superintendent sharply, as Fred entered the office.
"Do you want any boys to drive ore carts? I heard you did."
"We did, but we filled the last place about an hour ago."
Fred's heart sank. If he had been a little earlier, or if he had started sooner, he might now have had a good job.
"Is there anything else to do around here?" he asked. "I would be glad to get work of any kind."
"I'm afraid I haven't anything for any one as young as you."
"I am quite strong, though I am only seventeen years old."
"Yes, I must admit you seem a sturdy lad, but, I am sorry to say, I can't give you any work. If you leave your name and address I'll send for you, when there is anything."
"Thank you," replied Fred, and he wrote them on a piece of paper the manager gave him.
"If you were a man now, I could give you work in the mine. But I can't put boys in there. Have you had any experience in mining?"
"No, but I know something about it from hearing my father tell about it. He is a miner."
"What is his name?"
Fred told him, and found that, while the manager did not know Mr. Stanley, he had heard of him.
"I wish, for your father's sake, I could give you work," he said. "I'll keep you in mind, and you shall have the first job that is open."
"Thank you. I shall try some other places here."
"I would, if I were you, and you can refer to me."
"That is very kind of you."
Fred bade the manager good-morning, and started off to see if there was not work elsewhere for him. But he found that either all the places were filled, or that, when there was work, it was of such a nature that he could not do it.
Somewhat discouraged, he sat down in a shady place to eat his simple lunch, and, after a drink from a spring, he felt refreshed.
Early that afternoon he had exhausted the possibilities of work in New Strike.
"I think I'll start back home," he said. "There's no use bothering to look up Mr. Gardner."
The truth was he disliked to tell the old miner he had not succeeded in getting work. So Fred started off on his long tramp back to Piddock.
But, as he was passing along the main, and, in truth, the only street of the town, a voice hailed him.
"Hold on there, Fred," was the cry, and he turned to see the old miner beckoning to him, from in front of the "Imperial Hotel," as a sign in front of the one-storied building indicated it to be. "Wait a minute. I want to speak to you!"
THE BURIED TREASURE STORY
Fred turned and walked toward the hotel, the old miner advancing to meet him.
"Well," asked Mr. Gardner, "how'd you make out?"
"I didn't make out at all."
"Pshaw! That's too bad. What are you going to do now?"
"Go back home."
"I wish I could help you. Do you need work very much?"
"Well, I have to help support the house since my father met with that accident."
"That's so. Shucks! Why ain't I rich? Then I could help my old friend."
"I don't think my father would take money that he or I did not earn."
"No, that's right, he wouldn't. But if I was rich I could give you a job. As it is I can't do any more than offer to grub-stake you, or let you come prospecting with me."
"Thank you very much for the offer, but I don't believe I could do it. We need money right away, and I must earn it—somehow."
"But how are you going to?"
"That's what I don't know," and Fred spoke a little discouragedly. "I must try some other camp, I suppose."
"Yes, I guess that's the only way. But say, won't you come in and have some lunch with me? I'm just going to sit down."
"No, thank you. I must be getting home. I have quite a long walk."
"Oh, come on. It won't take long, and you'll feel all the better for having eaten something. They don't set a very good table here. Everyone is too busy thinking about gold mines, to care much about grub. I'd lend you my elephant to get home on, only you can walk faster than he'll carry you."
"Yes, that's my latest name for the donkey."
"Oh, I understand."
"Come on in and have lunch," insisted the old miner again.
Fred did not need much urging. The truth was he was quite hungry, for he had not eaten a hearty breakfast, and his lunch was not very substantial. So he followed Mr. Gardner into the hotel, or what answered for one, and soon they were seated at a rough table, where the food, if not very dainty, was good, and there was enough of it.
"So your folks need money, do they?" asked Mr. Gardner when they were drinking their coffee.
"Well, I fancy it would come in handy in 'most any family," answered Fred with a smile.
"That's what it would. I could use a bit more myself. But I may strike it rich here. If I don't, I may have a try for the Stults treasure. I sure would, without stopping here, if I wasn't so old and stiff, and wasn't afraid of the cold."
"The Stults treasure?" asked Fred. "What's that, and where is it? Is there any chance of me getting a share?"
"I don't know. There might be," replied the miner, more seriously than Fred thought he would answer, for, at first, the boy thought his companion was joking.
"Is there really a treasure hidden around here, Mr. Gardner."
"Around here? No, only the gold in the mines, and that is hard to get out. The Stults treasure, that I referred to, is many miles away."
"Where is it?"
"Yes, and the coldest part, too. I'll tell you what I know of it, but don't hold me responsible."
"Very well then. The story is more or less known, but I can't say as much for the location of the treasure. Several have tried their hand at locating it, but had to give it up.
"It appears that an old miner, named Max Stults, went to Alaska, in the early days of the gold discoveries there, with a few companions. They made their way up the Yukon river as far as where Circle City now is. Then they went off into the mountains, for, it seems, the old man had a curious dream that he would find gold in a certain place.
"His companions laughed at him, for it was outside the gold-bearing region, and, finally, they all deserted him. Nothing more was heard of Stults for a long time. One day, so the story goes, a man, half dead from exposure, staggered into the camp, which was the beginning of what is now Circle City.
"This man, who turned out to be Stults, told a strange story. He said he had discovered a wonderful treasure of gold, in the bed of a river that had changed its course. There were many big nuggets of the pure metal he had picked up, he said."
"Why didn't he bring it with him?" asked Fred.
"He tried to, but he was attacked by a band of savage Alaskan Indians, who tried to get the gold away from him. He had it in the mountains, and managed to escape, coming to the camp for help."
"Did they give it to him?"
"They would have, but, unfortunately, just as they were setting out to find the buried treasure, Stults died."
"And they never found the gold?"
"They never found it. Stults had a sort of map, showing the location of it, but no one could make head or tail of that map after he was dead. Several parties made the attempt, but they all failed. Some were frozen to death, and others were driven from the country by the savage Indians. So, up to the present time, no one has found the Stults treasure, as far as I know."
"What became of the map?"
"Oh, that, and a few personal belongings of the old German gold hunter, were sent to his widow. I heard that she raised money and sent out an expedition after the gold, for she was familiar with her husband's handwriting and understood what certain words on the map meant, which was more than those who first saw it knew. But it fared no better than the others. So the treasure must be there still. Now if you only had a share of that, you and your folks wouldn't have to worry."
"No, indeed, but I guess the chances are very small for me finding that gold, even if I could go to Alaska, which is impossible."
"Yes, I am afraid so. Still, when you grow up you may want to have a try for it. I think Mrs. Stults is living yet, and, I understand, she has a standing offer of half the treasure to whoever will find it."
"Is that so? Where does Mrs. Stults live?"
"The last I heard she was in Denville, California."
"Denville? Why that is not more than twenty-five miles from Piddock!" exclaimed Fred, a sudden idea coming into his mind.
"So near as that? Well, why don't you go and see her, get a copy of the map, and hunt for the gold?" and the old miner laughed as if it was a joke.
"Maybe I will," replied Fred, in a curiously quiet voice, as he rose to leave the dining-room of the hotel.
FRED HAS HOPES
"How long will it take you to get home?" asked Mr. Gardner of Fred, as he accompanied him toward the street.
"Oh, about three hours. I'm a pretty fast walker, and it's mostly down hill."
"Then you'd better take my tame snake."
"Your snake? Oh, you mean the donkey."
"Yes, I think he would go pretty well down hill. He could slide most of the way. Better let me get him for you. You can send him back whenever you get ready. I shan't want him for a week or so."
"Thank you very much, but I think I'll walk."
"Well, maybe you'll get home a little sooner, even if it is down hill. Stop and see me whenever you're in this direction. I don't expect to go to prospecting right away, and I'm going to make this hotel my headquarters."
"Thank you, Mr. Gardner, I will."
"And give my regards to your father. I'd like to see him."
"I will do so, but I'm afraid you can't see him unless you call. He is not able to get very far from the house."
"Then I'll try to call. Don't forget to say that Old Bill Gardner was asking for him. And if he wants to have a try at the Stults treasure, why, I'll give him a letter of introduction to the widow. I know her."
"Do you?" asked Fred eagerly. "Then perhaps you would give me a letter?"
"Give you one? Why, you don't expect to have a try for it; do you?"
"I don't know," replied the boy seriously. "I would like to talk to my father about it. But I have another scheme in mind. If I had a letter to Mrs. Stults, she might be able to tell me where I could get work. I believe you said she had an interest in some mines."
"She has, and she might be able to get you a place. I did not think of that. But Denville is quite a way off."
"Well, I may have to go quite a distance before I can get a job."
"All right. Wait a few minutes and I'll write you a letter of introduction to Mrs. Stults. She is rather a peculiar German woman, slow-going, and she doesn't make her mind up in a hurry."
"Then I will give her plenty of time to consider matters, Mr. Gardner."
In a little while, charged with messages of remembrance to his father, and bearing the letter of introduction to the widow, Fred was on his way home. He stepped out at a quick pace, for in spite of his long walk that morning he did not feel tired, as he was busy thinking of a certain matter.
You have probably guessed that it was the buried treasure, though Fred had only the most hazy notion where it was, and he knew that it was almost entirely out of the question for him to go in search of it. Nevertheless, as do all lads, he had hopes, and it was these hopes which made the way seem short to him, so that he did not mind the long mountain trail.
"Well, Fred, any luck?" asked his father, when he got home, about dusk.
"No, dad," yet the answer was not given in a despondent tone.
"I was afraid you wouldn't have. A new digging is usually quickly overrun with miners, and there are two applicants for every place."
Fred described the incidents of the day, and gave his father the message from Mr. Gardner.
"Yes, I remember him very well," said the miner. "He was a peculiar man."
"He is yet," and Fred told of the various names applied to the little donkey.
"That's just like Old Bill Gardner," commented Mr. Stanley.
"You'll not have to go without your supper, Fred," said his mother, coming in at that moment. "I have a nice meal for you."
"That's good. I have a fine appetite."
"I'm glad of it. Mrs. Robinson paid me more for the sewing than I expected, and I got a little treat for you. I made some tapioca pudding. We haven't had any in a long time."
"That's so, mother, but I can get along without it."
"You'll not have to, to-night."
Mr. Stanley's face flushed. He keenly felt the position he was in—that of a man unable to support himself, much less his family. If only his lameness would leave him! For there was no work for a lame man in Piddock.
During the meal Fred was so busy thinking that several times his mother had to ask him the same question twice. When this occurred, after she had asked him if he was ready for the pudding, a dish of which he was very fond, she exclaimed:
"Well, Fred! Something must be the matter. You are not ill; are you?"
"Then of what are you thinking?"
"I'll tell you," said Fred, with sudden determination. "I am thinking of a curious story I heard to-day."
"A story? What about?"
"About treasure, buried in the mountains of Alaska."
Then Fred told what Mr. Gardner had related to him about the gold left by Stults.
"I have heard that story several times," said Mr. Stanley, when Fred had finished the account, "but it was always from men in whom I could place no confidence."
"Do you think Mr. Gardner is telling the truth, father?"
"I place more reliance on the story now than I ever did before," replied the old miner. "You can generally depend on what Old Bill tells you."
"Then you think there might be treasure there?"
"I believe there might have been. Whether it is there still is another question. Why, Fred, you weren't thinking of going after it; were you?"
"I was, father."
Though the boy spoke quietly the words startled his parents.
"You were!" exclaimed Mr. Stanley.
"What, Fred! Go away off to Alaska, and freeze to death on an iceberg?" asked his mother.
"Oh, I guess I could stand the cold, mother. I could wear a fur suit, like the Eskimos. But whether I could find the gold is, as father says, another question. How much do you think would be there, dad?"
"It is utterly impossible to say. I have heard various amounts mentioned, from as high as a million to as low as a thousand dollars. But I think, from the stories current at the time of the death of Stults, that it must be many thousands of dollars."
"So do I, father, and I would like to go after it."
"You don't appreciate what that means, Fred," said Mr. Stanley. "In the first place the treasure, if there is any, is in a desolate place, hard to get at, once you are in Alaska. Then Alaska is no easy place to reach, and it takes more money to get there than we shall ever have, I'm afraid. Another thing: you would have no right to go after the treasure. It belongs to the widow of Stults."
"I would have a right to search for it, if she gave me permission, as she has others."
"Yes, but you do not know her, and I doubt if any one knows where she is. No, Fred, it is out of the question."
Fred drew something from his pocket.
"I admit it may be impossible for me to go after the treasure," he said, "but part of the objections can be overcome. I know where Mrs. Stults is now, and I have a letter of introduction to her," and he showed the epistle given him by Mr. Gardner.
MRS. STULTS CONSENTS
Fred's announcement took his parents completely by surprise. Mr. Stanley extended his hand for the letter, and read it over slowly.
"That ought to get you a hearing, at any rate," he said at length. "I understand that Old Bill Gardner is quite well acquainted with the widow of the man who buried the fortune to save it from the Alaskan Indians. But, Fred, don't build your hopes too high. I don't see how you are going to get to Denville, and, even if Mrs. Stults should consent to allow you to hunt for the treasure, how are you going to do it?"
"I thought I might get some of your friends interested, father, and we could form an expedition to go to Alaska."
"But that will take considerable money."
"So it does to start a mine, and this is just as sure as a mine is."
"I admit that. But whom could you get?"
"I thought you might be able to propose some one. You see, father, there is no use of me staying around here. There is no work to be had in Piddock, and if I have to go off some distance to look for a job, I might as well go a little farther, and hunt for the treasure."
"But Alaska is a good way off."
"Not so very far."
"You'd think so, if you had to walk," added his mother. "Besides, Fred, I hate to think of you going off to that terrible place."
"But think of it, mother! I might come home with a fortune in gold! Then you wouldn't have to work any more, and dad could have better treatment, so he would get well."
Fred spoke earnestly, and there were tears in the eyes of his father and mother at his words. He wanted so much to help them, yet he could do so little.
"It might be done," said Mr. Stanley, musingly, after a pause. "I suppose I could talk to some old miners I know, and get them interested. They place a good deal of confidence in me, and they would believe anything Old Bill Gardner said. But I don't see, at present, Fred, how you are going to get to see Mrs. Stults. The railroad fare costs more than we can afford."
"I can walk it, father."
"What? Walk twenty-five miles—yes, fifty, for it would mean that."
"Oh, I could do it. But I may be able to get some work, and earn my car-fare."
"Well," said Mr. Stanley, after thinking it over, "the matter will have to be discussed considerably more at length, before I can consent to let you do anything."
"May I go see Mrs. Stults, dad?"
"Yes, if you can arrange it. I have been promised a little job as watchman at the old Owl mine. There is a lawsuit over it, and the court has ordered that it be guarded, pending a settlement. The wages are not much, but it is about all I can do. The offer only came to me this afternoon. With what I can earn there, and with what your mother takes in, I think we can spare you for a few days, if you want to try and see Mrs. Stults. But, if you walk, you must take at least two days at it. I don't want you to get sick."
"I don't either, dad. I'll go slow, so I'll be in good shape to start for Alaska with the expedition."
"I'm afraid it will be a good while before the expedition starts, my son."
But Fred had no doubts to worry him. He felt confident that he would succeed, and he did not consider the many obstacles in the way. He only looked ahead, and saw himself, in fancy, bringing home a great treasure, to delight his father and mother.
Fred mapped out a plan for himself. Now that his father had a little work, the boy did not worry so much about matters at home. He decided he would try, harder than ever, to get odd jobs to do, so that he might earn money enough for his railroad fare to Denville. In this he was more successful than he hoped. In about a week he had the necessary cash, and then, on second thoughts, as there was no great hurry, he decided to walk after all.
So, taking only part of the money he had earned, and giving the rest to his mother, he set out, one fine morning, on his long walk.
He had cash enough to buy his meals, and he knew he could find sleeping places in the mining camps, where he would have to pay nothing. In this way, should his mission prove a failure, as far as the widow was concerned, he would not be out much.
Fortunately for Fred the weather continued good, and, in less time than he had calculated, he arrived at Denville. Everyone knew where Mrs. Max Stults lived, and, after having had his breakfast, on the third day after leaving home, Fred called at the house.
"Vell, vot it is?" asked Mrs. Stults, when he introduced himself.
"I have a letter of introduction from Mr. William Gardner," said Fred, extending the missive.
"I don't knows such a man as dot."
"Don't know Mr. Gardner—Old Bill Gardner?" and Fred began to feel disappointed, thinking he had made a mistake.
"Oh, so! You means dot Old Bill! Ach! Yah! I knows him vell. Vot you say, he has wrotten me a letters?"
"It's about that Alaska treasure."
"Oh, dot treasure! I wish I never hear of him! He kill mine poor husband, und he is more bodders to me as everyding; dot treasures! Vait; I reads der letter."
Slowly adjusting a large pair of glasses, she carefully spelled out the missive. Her face took on a more kindly look, and, when she had finished it, she said:
"Vell, Fred, I do 'most anyding for you, after I read dot letter from Old Bill. My husbands vos very fond of Bill. Vot it is you vants?"
"I would like to get a map of where the treasure is buried, and have you tell me all you can about it."
"So? Vell, I don't know vere it is, only vot der map says. But listen, how is a boy like you going to hunt for dot treasure? Maybe it don't be dere no more. Maybe dose Indians vos took it. Ach! My poor husband! Dot treasure vos der death of him, und I don't vant to see it kills any more beples."
"Well, I shall have to take that chance, I suppose," said Fred. "But are you willing I should hunt for it?"
"How can a boy like you vos, all alone, find somedings vot lots of mens has failed to find?"
"I expect to have some men help me. My father is an old miner, and he will advise me. Probably he would go, only he is lame."
"So? Dot's different alretty yet, if your fader vos a miner. Den you knows somedings about der trouble. Und maybe you could get a party to hunt it, only der last party vot vent for it vos frozen prutty bad, und dey comes back midout der gold."
"Have you the map?" asked Fred, anxious to see the document.
"Yah, but if I consents to let you search, I vill only give you a copy. If you don't come back, my map vould be lost. Maybe it vould be better if it vos lost, den noboddies vould try for dot treasure, any more."
"If it's there it ought to be found, Mrs. Stults. The gold is no good buried out of sight."
"Dot's so. Vell, maybe I gives you a copy of der map. I have to dink it ofer. You comes back in an hour, und I lets you know."
Fred was anxious to know right away, but he could not very well urge the widow to hasten her decision. So he went out and wandered about the streets, occasionally looking at a clock in a jeweler's window, to see if the hour was not up. He was back probably a minute or so ahead of the time.
"Vell," said Mrs. Stults slowly, after she had admitted him, "I haf considered it, und I am villing dot you should haf a try for der treasure."
"And can I have a copy of the map?"
"Yah. Widout it you could do noddings. I vill haf my lawyers draw up a copy for you, und you also has to sign a papers."
"What kind of a paper?"
"You must promise to bear all of der expenses of der expedition, you und your friends, und I must have half der treasure, if you finds him. Vill you do dot?"
"That I will, Mrs. Stults."
"Den come here dis afternoon, und I vill haf der map copy und der papers ready for you. You vos a smart boy. Maybe you vos succeed vere der oders fail. Anyhow I trust you, because of der letter from Old Bill. Now come back dis afternoon. Good-by, Willy. Vos dot your name?"
"No, my name is Fred—Fred Stanley."
"Vell, Fred, den. Vos you any relations to dot man vot discovered many t'ings in Africa?"
"You mean Henry M. Stanley?"
"No. I think not."
"Vell, anyhow, maybe you vos be as better a discoverer as him. Come dis afternoon."
THE OLD GOLD HUNTER
Fred thought the hour would never arrive when he might again call on Mrs. Stults. But, of course, it came around in due course, and he was there on time. He found the widow seated in her parlor, with a bundle of papers on a table near her, and a man sitting in a chair by a window.
"Here is dot Fred boy, vot I tell you about," said Mrs. Stults to the man.
"Ah, yes. He seems quite young to undertake such work as hunting for the lost treasure."
"Dot's vot I tells him."
"I'll grow older," remarked Fred, with a smile, "and I am used to hard work and exposure. I have done considerable camping out."
"Yes, but not in such a cold country as Alaska, young man."
"No, sir, but I expect to prepare for it."
"Dis is mine lawyer," explained Mrs. Stults, "Mr. Ackerman. He vill make out der papers."
"Mrs. Stults has told me what you want to do," went on Mr. Ackerman. "I see no objection to it, provided you can get your father or some other men interested. I have drawn up an agreement by which you are required to give Mrs. Stults half the gold you discover."
"I am willing to do that."
"Then if you will sign it, I will give you a copy of the map, and such directions as the late Mr. Stults left. I must warn you that they are not very clear, and, even with the aid of the map, many men have tried to find the gold, but have failed."
"I may fail also," admitted Fred, "but I am going to try."
"That is the right spirit. I wish you all success."
The papers were signed, a duplicate being given Fred. Mrs. Stults affixed her name, the lawyer put his down as a witness, and Fred received a copy of the map, and some directions how to find the gold. He glanced over the latter, and had to admit that they were rather vague. He hoped, however, when he was on the scene, to make them available.
"I'll let you know when we start, Mrs. Stults," he said. "I can't tell how soon I can get some men interested."
"Oh, dot's all right," replied the German widow. "It don't make so much difference ven you vos start, as it does ven you comes back. Dot's vot I vant to know—ven you comes back, mit der gold."
"Yes, that is the main part," added the lawyer. "Mrs. Stults has allowed several persons to hunt for the gold, but, so far, not one has come anywhere near finding it."
"Maybe I'll have better luck," said Fred, as he bade the lawyer and the widow good-by, and took his departure for home.
He had been more successful than he dared to hope, in getting the map, and his first thought was that he would use what little remaining money he had, and ride as far on the railroad as it would take him. He wanted to get home quickly with the news.
Then he reflected that there was no special hurry; that it would take some little time to organize an expedition, and he would need all the money he had. So he decided to walk back, taking his time, so as to arrive in good condition.
But, unconsciously, perhaps, the thought of the treasure and the fact that he was now in a position to start after it, quickened his steps, and he made the return trip in much less time than he had spent on the first half of his journey.
"Well, Fred!" exclaimed his father, as his son entered the house, "we didn't expect you until to-morrow. I suppose you couldn't reach any agreement with the widow, and had to come back."
"No, dad, I was successful."
"You don't mean to say she gave you the map?"
"Not exactly the map, but a copy of it, which is just as good."
"And permission to hunt for the treasure?"
"Oh, Fred! Are you going off to that terrible cold country?" asked his mother, who came into the room just then, and heard the closing part of the conversation.
"Well, mother, don't you think it's worth trying for? Think of getting thousands of dollars in gold!"
"Yes, but it wouldn't make up for being frozen to death."
"No, mother—but I don't expect to freeze to death. We will take fur-lined clothes along."
"Where are you going to get them? I used to have a fur-lined cloak once, but the moths ate it up."
"I'm afraid it would hardly have answered, if you had it now, mother. But of course that's a part I've got to talk over with father—about fitting out the expedition."
"And I'm afraid you'll have trouble," remarked Mr. Stanley. "Oh, if I was only well and strong I'd ask nothing better than to go along!"
His words caused a little feeling of sadness, but it soon passed away, and Fred's father and mother listened with interest to his account of the trip to Denville.
"Now, father, what would you advise me to do?" asked Fred, when he had concluded. "We need to get some man, who has money, interested in this venture, for it will cost something to fit out the expedition. Do you know of any one among your acquaintances, who would take the risk?"
Mr. Stanley was silent for several seconds. He was in deep thought. Then he suddenly exclaimed:
"Fred! I believe I know the very man."
"Simon Baxter. He is an old gold hunter, as well as a miner. He has gone on several expeditions of this kind, and he has traveled in the far north. He would be the very man."
"Is he well off?"
"Yes, he is quite rich."
"Do you think he would go; and provide the money?"
"Ah, that is another question. But it would do no harm to see him, and find out. He lives about five miles from here, with his son Jerry, who is about your age, Fred."
"Perhaps Jerry would go along. Then he and I could have a good time together."
"He might. He is a strong, hearty lad, about your build. I will write a letter to Mr. Baxter, and you can take it to him. You were so successful with the widow Stults, where I did not think you would be, that, perhaps, you can prevail on this old gold hunter to finance the expedition. He and I are old friends, though I have not seen him in some time."
"Write the letter at once, dad, and I'll take it to him."
"Aren't you tired, after your long tramp?"
"No. Besides, I am so anxious that I can't rest."
"Very well. I'll write the letter at once."
After dinner Fred started out, this time on a shorter journey, bearing a letter to Mr. Baxter, explaining matters.
Fred found the old gold hunter in his garden, pulling weeds from an onion patch.
"Well?" he asked, as Fred came up the walk.
"Here is a letter for you, Mr. Baxter."
The old miner read it through slowly. Then he started on it a second time. Finally, when he had again gotten to the end, he asked:
"Are you Fred Stanley?"
"I am, sir."
"And you want me to leave my quiet life here, let my garden all grow up to weeds, and go chasing off to Alaska after a lot of gold that we'll probably never find."
"We might find it; and, as for the garden, isn't there some one you can leave in charge?"
"Nobody knows how to take care of my garden but myself," said the man. "Especially my onion bed. I'm very fond of onions. Are you?"
"No, sir, I don't like them."
"Great mistake! Great mistake! Everyone ought to eat onions. They're the healthiest vegetable that grows. Guess I'll have one now," and he pulled a green one from the ground, wiped the earth from it, and chewed it with every indication of satisfaction.
"But—about the gold expedition," said Fred, thinking the old man had forgotten all about it.
"The gold? Oh, yes. I was thinking whether I hadn't better plant more onions. It hardly seems enough to tide me over the winter, but I'll have to make 'em do. The gold, hum—let me see."
He got up from his knees, read Mr. Stanley's letter over again, folded it carefully, placed it in the envelope, placed the envelope in his pocket, and then said:
"Come into the house, young man."
OFF FOR ALASKA
Striding on ahead, Mr. Baxter led the way to the porch of a fine country house. Fred followed, hardly knowing what to think. Certainly the man's manner was not very encouraging, but the boy had not yet lost hope.
"Sit down," said the old gold hunter, indicating a big chair on the porch. Fred took it, and Mr. Baxter seated himself near the boy. Then he read the letter over again.
"How's your father?" he asked suddenly, as though that was the chief matter in his mind.
"Not very well."
"I'm sorry to hear that. He's a fine man."
Then Mr. Baxter seemed lost in thought.
"How much gold did Stults bury?" he asked at length.
"I don't know, sir."
"Hum. I'm glad you said that. I was afraid you might have an idea that it was a million or more. I've heard all sorts of stories about the Stults treasure, but I never took any stock in 'em. Now it begins to look as if there was something in it. Tell me all you know about it."
Fred did so to the best of his ability, taking in from the time Mr. Gardner first related the story to him to his interview with Mrs. Stults.
"And you want me to finance the expedition, eh?" asked the old gold hunter.
"My father hoped you might be willing to."
"What was your idea of how much my share should be in case we found the gold, young man?"
"I hadn't thought of that. Of course Mrs. Stults will get her half."
"Yes. And how much would you get?"
"I'd be willing to leave that to you."
"You wouldn't want all the other half then?" asked Mr. Baxter, but, by the smile on his face, Fred knew the old man was only joking.
"I'll leave it to you," he repeated.
"Hum. Well, I've been thinking this thing over in the last few minutes, and I don't know but what I'll go in with you."
At these words Fred's heart gave a bound. He already saw himself possessed of several thousand dollars, and his father and mother placed beyond the necessity of worrying over money matters.
"Thank you!" he exclaimed.
"Wait a bit," advised Mr. Baxter. "I haven't finished. I am willing to finance the expedition and go after the gold. I think I'll take my son Jerry along, and we'll need another man, or maybe two."
"Can't I go?" asked Fred, fearing he was to be left behind.
"Yes, I am coming to that. You can go along, and your share will be one-third of half the treasure."
"I'm satisfied with that."
"It may seem that I am taking the larger part," went on Mr. Baxter, "but that is not so. It will cost quite a sum to fit out the expedition, and then there is the risk of failure. If we find the gold we will set aside one-half for the widow of the man who hid it. The remainder we will divide into three parts, and you shall have one. I calculate another third will pay for the expedition, and cover my expenses and the hire of whatever men I may have to engage. That will leave one-third clear for me, so, you see, I am really going shares with you. Is that satisfactory?"
"Indeed it is, Mr. Baxter."
"I am glad you think so. Of course, there is a big risk involved. We may fit out an expensive expedition and end up in failure. But I am willing to take that chance. I have hunted for buried treasure before. Sometimes I have been successful, and more often I have failed. I am getting along in years, but I don't want to retire just yet. So we will go to Alaska for the gold."
"Hurrah!" cried Fred, unable to restrain his feelings.
"Hello, dad! What's up? Fourth of July celebration?" asked a lad, coming around the corner of the porch. Fred looked at the newcomer. The youth was about his own age, perhaps a bit bigger and stronger.
"No, Jerry, it isn't Fourth of July," replied Mr. Baxter. "This is Fred Stanley, son of an old friend of mine. I have just made a contract with him to go treasure hunting up in Alaska."
"Treasure hunting! In Alaska! Oh, dad! Can I go?"
"I expected that," said Mr. Baxter dryly. "Do you think you can stand the pace, Jerry?"
"Of course, dad. Wasn't I with you in Hudson Bay last year?"
"That's so; you were. Well, I reckon you can go. Now let's get down to business."
Mr. Baxter introduced his son to Fred, and the three were soon deeply interested in arranging for the prospective expedition. As an old miner and hunter, Mr. Baxter knew just how to set about fitting out the party and about what it would cost.
"Are we three the only ones going?" asked Jerry.
"No, I think we'll need another man," said his father. "We'll have hard work, and those Alaskan Indians are not the most pleasant customers in the world. With another man I'll feel safer. But leave that to me.
"Now, Fred, I think the best thing for you to do would be to go home and get your outfit ready. I'll tell you what you'll need in the way of clothing. That is, the ordinary garments. Of course, those for use in the cold—the fur garments—I'll supply with the rest of the things. I'll get the guns, ammunition, picks, shovels and all that. We'll have to take a warm tent along, for I think we'll have to do some camping out."
"When can we start?" asked Fred.
"It will take about two weeks to get everything in shape. In the meanwhile don't talk too much about the trip. The fewer that know about it the better it will be."
"I'll be careful."
"Now I'll write a list of what you can take from home and then you can go. I'd ask you to stay and spend a few days with us, only I'm going to be so busy that you wouldn't enjoy yourself. Give my regards to your father."
Fred promised to do this, and then, with a list of the things he would need (none of which would have to be bought, he was glad to note, for he had them all at home) he took his departure.
"Take good care of that map," cautioned Mr. Baxter. "If that's lost the whole expedition will be up the flume, as we miners used to say."
"I'll be careful of it," replied Fred.
Mr. Stanley was delighted with the success of Fred's visit to the old gold hunter. Then, for the first time, he really began to look on the trip to Alaska as a settled thing. Mrs. Stanley, also, who had been hoping that nothing would come of it, began to be alarmed. She spoke seriously to her husband when Fred was out of the house.
"Do you really think, Norman," she said, "that it will be safe to let Fred make this trip?"
"Well, my dear, why not?"
"Oh, there are so many dangers. Think of the icebergs, the polar bears, the great sea lions, the terrible cold, and all that."
"There are no icebergs to be met with on land, and I don't believe they'll meet with any wild animals worse than wolves or wild dogs. They're not to be feared as long as one has a gun. Of course it's bound to be cold, but Fred is hardy, and, with plenty of fur garments, he can be almost as comfortable as here at home. Then, my dear, you must think of the chance for making a large sum of money, and we need it very badly. It grieves me very much to see you sewing so often."
"I shouldn't mind that in the least, Norman, if only we could keep Fred home."
"Aside from the chance of finding the treasure, I am not sure but what it will be a good thing for the boy to go. It will teach him to rely on himself, and he will gain many new and valuable experiences. I know I can trust Mr. Baxter, who will take as good care of Fred as if he was his own son."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Positive. Besides, Fred and Jerry will be together, and they can help each other."
"Well, I suppose he'll have to go then, but I wish he was safe back."
"So do I, and with the treasure in gold. But don't worry."
"I'll try not to, but I can't help it."
Fred got his clothes together, and was waiting word from Mr. Baxter. The latter, as he informed Mr. Stanley in a letter, had not been idle. He had arranged for the passage of himself, his son, Fred, and a big colored man, named George Johnson, on a steamer sailing from San Francisco to an Alaskan port, and they were to start soon. Such supplies as they would have to take on the steamer were purchased, the remainder it was planned to buy in Alaska.
Fred had told none of his acquaintances about the trip, merely stating that he was going on a journey. Mr. Baxter, on his part, was equally reticent, so, aside from the immediate families, and Mrs. Stults and her lawyer, no one was aware of the gold-hunting expedition.
On the appointed day Mr. Baxter and his son Jerry called for Fred at the latter's home. George Johnson had gone on ahead to San Francisco in charge of the baggage.
"Well, are you all ready?" asked the old gold hunter of Fred after greeting Mr. Stanley.
"All ready, sir."
"So are we. Our passage is booked in the steamer Sea Lion, a good name, I think. So, if you have everything packed, we'll start for San Francisco."
Good-bys were said, Mrs. Stanley clasped her son in her arms and shed a few tears, though she tried to bear up, and then, with a waving of hands, the little party of adventurers was off for Alaska.
AMID FROST AND ICE
The railroad journey to San Francisco did not occupy a great while, and that same day Fred and his friends went aboard the Sea Lion as she lay at her dock, waiting the stowing of the cargo before putting off for the frozen north.
There was a big crowd aboard, for the stories of gold being found in that wonderful northern land were wilder than ever, and many thought they had but to take a trip there, walk along the coast, stuff their pockets with yellow nuggets and return wealthy forever. How different it was from this they soon found to their sorrow.
But our young treasure hunter and his friends had no such delusions. Mr. Baxter was an old hand at the game, and, though he had been in Alaska but once before, he knew that any gold that was to be obtained by miners would be found only after hard work and much suffering. Hunting a treasure was different, and probably more hazardous and uncertain.
George Johnson proved to be a big jolly colored man, used to hardships of all sorts, though he had never been very far north. He was of immense strength, which was the principal reason why Mr. Baxter had selected him.
The ship was almost overcrowded, so great was the rush to the gold fields. On all sides was heard only talk of great "strikes," of finds of fabulous wealth, and of how men who barely had enough to buy an outfit and pay their way to Alaska had become millionaires in a night.
"Don't believe all you hear," cautioned Mr. Baxter to his son and Fred. "If you do you'll go half crazy dreaming of gold."
"Johnson is taking it all in," remarked Jerry.
"Yes! If his eyes get much bigger they'll fall out of his head," added Fred. "One miner told him the streets in Nome were paved with gold, and he thinks all he has to do is to take up a few of the yellow blocks to make him rich."
"That's the trouble with a new gold field," said Mr. Baxter. "They circulate wild stories about it. Of course there's lots of gold in Alaska. The thing is to find it. Fred, I hope you have that map safe?"
"Better let me have it. I think I can take better care of it than you can. If some one should steal it and get ahead of us we'd be in a queer pickle."
"That's so, dad," spoke up Jerry. "I wonder how soon this steamer sails?"
"Early to-morrow morning. That's why we came on board to-day. I don't like to get up early to catch a boat and run the chances of getting left."
The four treasure hunters occupied one stateroom with four berths, as they wanted to be together.
Fred was awakened in his berth the next morning by an uneasy motion. At first he could not understand what it was, but he soon knew that it was caused by the action of the waves on the ship.
"Are we off?" he cried.
"That's what we are," replied Mr. Baxter.
Fred and Jerry dressed and hurried out on deck. They were out of sight of land, for the steamer had sailed before daybreak, and it was now about eight o'clock.
"We're headed for Alaska!" cried Fred enthusiastically.
"Aye, aye!" answered Jerry, sailor-fashion. "And there's no telling when we'll be coming back."
"I don't want to until we get that treasure," went on Fred.
"Hush! Don't speak about it," cautioned Jerry.
At that moment a man, who, from a peculiarity in his look, was seen to have one glass eye, passed the two lads. He glanced sharply at Fred, and the boy regretted he had mentioned the treasure.
"Do you think he heard me?" he asked Jerry in a low tone.
"I'm afraid so. But I guess it doesn't matter. He can't know what you meant, and there is any amount of treasure in Alaska. Still, it's better not to speak of it on the ship."
"I'll not after this. Say, this air makes me hungry."
"Same here. Let's go to breakfast."
Little happened on the days that followed. The Sea Lion steamed steadily north, and the boys were not the only ones counting the days until they should arrive on the Alaskan coast, for there were many who were taking the voyage in the hope of bettering their fortunes.
The man with the glass eye was frequently seen on deck, but, as Fred and Jerry were careful not to mention the treasure again, they paid little attention to him. Once the man, whose name Fred learned was Jacob Callack, tried to get into conversation with the lad.
"You and your friends going to prospect or buy up some claims?" asked Callack.
"Prospecting," replied Fred, for surely hunting for a buried treasure was "prospecting" for gold if anything was.
"We haven't quite decided," said Fred, truthfully enough, and then, seeing Mr. Baxter coming, he went to join him.
"Oh, you think you'll throw me off the track," murmured the man with the glass eye as Fred left him. "But I'll find out yet. Jake Callack can see more with his one eye than some folks can with two. You can't lose me so easily as all that."
As the days passed there was a noticeable change in temperature. The winter was just setting in, and winter in the northern regions means something very different from what it does in the United States.
When Fred and Jerry came on deck one morning there was a sharper tang than usual in the air.
"We'll sight ice to-day," remarked one of the sailors.
"Do you mean an iceberg?" asked Fred.
"That's what. I can tell by the smell. We'll sight a big one before night."
The sailor proved a good prophet, and that afternoon the steamer passed an immense berg, the glittering pinnacles of which towered high into the air. The presence of it added to the cold, which was becoming sharper every hour.
"Time to get out our fur garments, I guess," said Mr. Baxter that night, and from the baggage he had Johnson take out thick fur coats, caps and mittens, while heavy fur-lined boots were gotten in readiness for the journey on land, which would soon begin.
If there had been confusion on the dock in San Francisco over the sailing of the ship, there was more when she arrived at her destination and proceeded to land the passengers and stores. The Sea Lion went up the Yukon River as far as it was navigable for her and there docked.
There was a settlement on shore, but even in the wildest mining region of California there was nothing to equal it.
A fierce snowstorm the day before the ship arrived had covered everything with a coat of white. The cold was bitter, and even in their fur garments the little party of adventurers felt it keenly.
On every side there was a rush and confusion. Almost as many as had come on the ship wanted to take passage back in her. Some had made their fortunes and were returning happy. Others had failed to find any gold, or had lost it by theft or gambling. Some had barely enough to pay their way home.
There were only the rudest kind of shacks, which served for houses, stores and hotels.
With the help of Johnson, whose great strength stood the travelers in good stead, the baggage of the four gold hunters was landed. It was piled up on the wharf, together with that of scores of other adventurers, for so great was the gold rush that there were no facilities for caring for freight as it should be.
"What are we going to do, dad?" asked Jerry as he and Fred gazed in wonder at the scene of confusion about them.
"Well, we'll see if we can't find quarters in some hotel, or what passes for one here. Then I'll have to see about getting guides and dog teams."
"Are we going to travel with dogs and sledges like the Eskimos?" asked Fred.
"That's about the only way we can travel where we're going," replied Mr. Baxter.
"Let's discover the north pole while we're at it," suggested Jerry jokingly.
"I'd rather discover a warm place where I could get something to eat," remarked Fred.
"Come along," invited Mr. Baxter. "If we don't hurry all the places in the hotels will be taken, and we'll have to camp out our first night here."
Fred was scarcely able to realize that he was really in Alaska; that wonderful land of gold, of which he had heard so much, and which might hold for him a great treasure. Would they find it? Would they get it safely home?
These were questions that came to the young treasure hunter, and he tried to find a hopeful answer to them as he followed Mr. Baxter and Jerry. As they turned away from the wharf, leaving Johnson in charge of their goods, the man with the glass eye arose from behind a pile of boxes.
"I must keep my one good optic on you," he muttered. "I think you're up to something besides prospecting."
INTO THE INTERIOR
With all the assurance of an old campaigner Mr. Baxter made his way through the throng of miners and others, down the single street of the settlement which ran along the river until he saw a hotel he thought would answer. On making inquiries he found that there was only one room left.
"We'll take it," he said promptly.
"But, dad, can we four sleep in one room?" objected Jerry.
"We'll have to, son, and we ought to be glad to get it. Many persons will have to sleep in tents while this rush is on. How much is the room?" he asked the clerk.
"Thirty dollars a day."
"Thirty dollars a day!" exclaimed Fred.
"Yes, and if you don't want it say so," snapped the clerk. "There are plenty that do."
"Oh, we'll take it," said Mr. Baxter quickly. "That's cheap, according to some prices they're asking," he added. "When ordinary meals are five dollars each, the cost of living soon runs up."
"But if our expenses are going to be so high, how can we stand it until we discover the——" began Jerry.
"Hush!" interrupted Mr. Baxter. "Don't say a word about what we're after. There are too many rascals in this locality. I'll manage about the expenses."
"But meals at five dollars each!"
"Don't worry. We'll not pay that long. The prices are high because there is a big crowd just in off the steamer, and the dealers want to make hay while the sun shines. Things will go down in a day or so, when the miners begin to travel into the interior."
"But won't it cost a lot to buy our provisions at that rate?"
"It would if we had to buy them, but I brought them along with me. We will have to buy very little. The principal things we will need are dogs, sledges and guides for a certain distance. We will stay here a day or so until I can arrange about them, and then we will start for the interior."
Mr. Baxter had signed his own name and those of the two boys on the hotel register, and had taken them into a comparatively quiet corner to impart this information.
"Now, Jerry," he said, "if you and Fred will go help Johnson get our stuff up here to our room, I'll go see if I can hire some guides and sledges. Pile the stuff right in our room. That's the only place it will be safe. We'll have to rough it for a night or so, but we can stand it, I guess. My, but it's getting cold out," he added as he glanced from the window at a thermometer hanging on the side of the hotel.
"How much?" asked Fred.
"Twenty-two degrees below zero."
"That's nothing. Wait until it goes to forty and fifty below. Then the mercury in the ordinary thermometer freezes solid, and only spirit gauges are of any use. Then you'll feel the cold. There is no wind, fortunately, or you'd notice it even in here, with the big stove going."
They had taken off their fur garments while in the warm hotel, but, as Fred and Jerry had to go out to see about their goods, they donned them again.
It was getting dark, for, though it was early, the winter season had begun, when the sun would shine but for a little time each day, and farther north not at all for six long months.
"I should say it was cold!" exclaimed Fred when he and Jerry were outside. The keen air cut his face like a knife, and he was thankful for the thick fur garments, the heavy fleece-lined boots, and the big mittens he wore. Burying his face down below the collar of his coat, an example which Jerry followed, Fred started back to the steamer dock, while Mr. Baxter went off to see about getting guides and sledges.
The boys found Johnson still on guard, but the colored man was racing up and down to get warm, and whipping his long arms about his body to keep up the circulation.
"What's the matter?" asked Jerry with a laugh.
"Matter, Massa Jerry? Why, it feel laik somebody done gone an' stick a icicle down mah back, that's what it do, fo' suah! It suttinly am terrible cold."
"Well, you'll soon be warm," spoke Fred. "We're going to take the things to a hotel."
"A real hotel, where dey has real things t' eat, Massa Fred?"
"Yes, real things to eat. They charge five dollars a meal."
"Five dollars a meal! Den I reckon dis coon'll git a small po'tion ob dessert fo' his share," and the colored man laughed so heartily that he felt no necessity of whipping his arms about.
"Well, come on, let's see if we can't hire a small truck and wheel our stuff up," suggested Jerry. They were able to, but they had to pay a good price for the little vehicle, which they got from one of the men on the dock. Indeed, it seemed that you had almost to pay the weight of anything in gold in Alaska, as there were so many who wanted the same article.
It took several trips by the boys and Johnson to get all the things to the hotel. There was quite a quantity of canned stuff, plenty of bacon, sugar and tea, for those are staple articles of diet in cold countries, arms and ammunition for all four, an extra supply of fur garments and sleeping bags, a heavy tent, a portable alcohol stove, cans of alcohol for fuel, and other needful supplies.
It was quite dark when they had everything in their room, and there was little space left to lie down. There were four cots in the apartment, and no bedclothes of any kind, but they expected to sleep in most of their clothes because of the cold. Mr. Baxter came back in time for supper, and it must be said, in spite of the high prices for meals, they were not very good. There was no use of finding fault, however, as there were others only too anxious to get the accommodations our travelers had secured at the hotel.
"Did you get the dogs, sleds and guides, dad?" asked Jerry when they had gathered to look over their supplies that night in their room.
"Yes, but I had to pay higher than I calculated on. It seems there has been a new strike made, and there is a great rush of miners to it. Guides can get whatever pay they ask, and as for dogs and sleds, you might almost as well buy them as hire them, only no one will sell. But I guess we'll get along."
"When do we start for the for——" began Fred.
"Fred, you must be more careful," cautioned Mr. Baxter in a whisper. "Don't mention the word treasure," he added in a low voice. "These hotels are constructed in a very flimsy manner, and what is said in one room can be heard in another. If any one gets an idea we are after a store of hidden gold we may be followed by some rascals who would try to steal it from us. There is practically no law in this country yet. We'll have to wage our own battles, and I don't want to get into a fight with any desperadoes, of whom there are many here, only too anxious to take advantage of any one who has gold."
"I'll be more careful," Fred promised. "When are we to start for the interior?"
"To-morrow afternoon. It will take us until then to get the dogs and sleds here and have our stuff packed for the trip. I have also to buy a few more supplies. Now I advise you three to stay in the room until I return. I have to go out to transact a little business, and this settlement is not a nice place for boys after dark. I'll leave you in Johnson's care."
"An' if anybody tries t' do any funny work, I'll squeeze 'em laik a grizzly bear!" threatened the colored man, stretching out his long, powerful arms.
The cold to which they had been exposed made the boys sleepy, and they soon dozed off. Johnson likewise fell into a slumber, from which he was awakened by a pounding on the door.
"Who's dat?" he asked suspiciously.
"It's me. Mr. Baxter," answered the old gold hunter. "I guess I'll turn in now. Everything is all ready for to-morrow."
They all slept soundly, though there was much noise and excitement all night, for a lawless element was abroad, and there were several shooting affrays among the gamblers and miners, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.
Soon after breakfast, which was not much of an improvement on the supper, a sled arrived with some supplies which Mr. Baxter had purchased at one of the stores. The things were piled up outside the hotel, together with the goods they had brought from San Francisco, and a little later several Alaskan Indians, driving four dog teams, attached to long, low wooden sleds, came down the snow-covered street.
"That's our outfit," announced Mr. Baxter. "I see Holfax is on time."
"Who's Holfax?" asked Fred.
"He's the chief guide, and seems a fairly decent chap. I can't say as much for the others."
Certainly none of them would have taken a prize in a beauty contest. They were typical Alaskan Indians, short and stout, not too clean, but of that one could not judge very well, for they were so wrapped up in furs that only their noses and eyes were visible.
There were eight Indians, two in charge of each sled, to each of which was fastened eight dogs by thongs of reindeer hide. The animals were snarling and snapping in an ugly manner, and the Indian drivers called harsh words to them, or struck them with the long lash of the whip, which they used with great skill, being able to touch a particular dog on any available spot from the farthest end of the sled.
"Load up, Holfax," ordered Mr. Baxter, indicating the goods.
"We load. Pretty soon go quick," replied the head Indian. Then he called something to his companions in the native tongue, and they began to lash the supplies on the sleds.
"Are we going to ride or walk?" asked Fred.
"Ride," answered Mr. Baxter. "There are only four Indians going with us. The rest came merely to help load, as that is a matter which must be carefully attended to. The dogs will be able to pull two persons on each sled, in addition to the load. I am afraid we are going to be in for some cold weather. The thermometer is still going down. It's thirty below zero now. Be careful not to expose your fingers, boys, or they'll be frozen inside of five minutes. And look out for the end of your nose."
The loading was rapidly proceeded with, quite a crowd of men gathering to see the expedition leave. It was no great novelty, but one so well equipped and so large did not often start from that settlement. When the last package had been lashed on the sleds, and when Mr. Baxter, Johnson and the boys, with their rifles under their arms, were ready to get on, a man came strolling up the street. He was the man with a glass eye, though his face was so deep down in his fur collar that this defect could hardly be seen.
"Off for the gold region?" he asked Mr. Baxter, and at the sound of the voice Fred knew the man was the same one who had questioned him on the ship—Jake Callack.
"Yes, we're off prospecting, stranger."
"Well, good luck."
"Get on, boys," said Mr. Baxter, taking his place.
Fred, Jerry and Johnson sat on the big sleds in little hollows left at the rear when the goods were packed on. Mr. Baxter did likewise. The Indian drivers sitting in front yelled to the dogs and cracked their long whips. At that moment the man with the glass eye leaned over and said something in a whisper to Zank, one of the guides, the one on the leading sled, on which rode Johnson.
The Indian looked up, nodded, and then, with a louder yell to his dogs, set them off at a fast pace. The treasure hunters were on their way to the interior after the store of buried gold.
ATTACKED BY WOLVES
After a careful examination of the map, which he had studied while aboard the ship, Mr. Baxter decided that the treasure had been hidden by Stults in a certain mountain range about three hundred miles away from the settlement where they had outfitted. These mountains lay in a northwesterly direction from the town, and were in a desolate region, where, now that winter had set in, there was much snow and ice.
It was Mr. Baxter's plan to proceed to this mountain range by the most direct way and then to make a camp. From this camp, after a more careful study of the map, while actually in the region it referred to, he could start out after the treasure. Just where it was located of course he did not know. The map showed a small stream flowing down the side of the mountain, and there was a waterfall about midway of the course. It was near this fall that Stults said he had hidden the gold in a natural cave.
But, as he had buried it during the summer, and as a winter scene is very different from a summer one, and as the stream would be frozen and probably covered from sight with snow, finding the gold was not going to be a very easy task, Mr. Baxter feared.
The dogs drew the party swiftly onward, for, though the sleds were heavily laden, the runners slipped easily over the frozen surface. It was becoming colder, and the wind created by their speed cut into the faces of the travelers.
The Indians did not seem to mind the wind, but kept yelling and shouting to their dogs, urging them to still faster speed. Perhaps this shouting and the swinging of the long whips kept the Alaskans warm. But Mr. Baxter, the boys and the colored man felt the cold very much in spite of their thick garments as they sat on the sleds.
"I should think those Indians would freeze down inside, they keep their mouths open so much, shouting," remarked Fred.
"It is a wonder they don't," agreed Jerry. "Whenever I open my mouth it feels as if some one had stuffed an icicle in."
"By the way, boys," said Mr. Baxter as his sled came opposite Fred's and Jerry's, "did it strike you that there was anything familiar about that man who wished us good luck as we were coming away?"
"Yes, he's the man with the glass eye who tried to get some information from me while we were on the ship," answered Fred.
"I thought so."
"And I think he said something to the driver of Johnson's sled," went on Fred.
"That's what I thought, too," said Jerry's father. "I wonder what it meant? I don't like that man's actions. I hope we can trust our guides."
"Why, are they liable to do us any harm?" asked Fred.
"Well, there are good Alaskan Indians and bad ones. I tried to hire good ones, but there are many thieves among them, and, now that they know the value of gold, they are as wild after it as any white men."
"Do you think you can trust our men?"
"I hope so. I am sure Holfax is all right, for he was recommended to me by an old miner whom I know. As for the others, I'll have to be on the lookout."
"Johnson's driver seems to be hanging back, as if he wanted to find out what we are talking about," said Fred suddenly.
"So he does. Holfax," said Mr. Baxter quickly, "make go fast—run dogs," and he motioned to Zank, whose team of snarling animals was going very slowly.
Holfax, who was in charge of the other Indians, called out something. Zank answered in what seemed to be angry tones, but he shouted to his dogs, and once more they took the lead.
"We'll have to watch that fellow," murmured Mr. Baxter.
Their way now lay over a small range of hills, and as they got on top the cruel cold smote them more and more. The day was a cloudy one, and the wind sprang up, sending the dry snow in stinging particles into their faces.
"My feet haven't any more feeling in them," said Fred at length, "and my hands are like wooden ones."
"Is that so?" asked Mr. Baxter quickly. "Then you must get off and run a bit. Your circulation is going back on you, and you'll be frost-bitten if you don't look out. We'll all get off and run beside the sleds. That will warm us up. In about an hour we will stop and have tea."
"I should think coffee would be better," suggested Fred.
"Tea is the best drink in all cold countries," replied the old gold hunter. "Coffee is too stimulating, but tea warms you up without doing any harm. In Russia, when a man gets chilled through, he will often drink seventeen or eighteen glasses of hot tea, one right after the other. They use glasses instead of cups there."
"I guess one or two will be all I can stand," replied Jerry. "I'm no great hand for tea."
"You'll like it up here," said his father, and he was right.
Mr. Baxter called to Holfax to stop the dog teams, and the four travelers got off. They were all so cold and stiff they could hardly stand, but a little motion soon started the blood to circulating, and they felt better. The dogs were driven at a slower pace, and the gold hunters ran alongside of the sleds.
When thoroughly warmed through Mr. Baxter called a halt and got out the alcohol stove to make tea. For water they used melted snow, and then Mr. Baxter cautioned the boys and Johnson against ever eating snow or ice when thirsty. It would cause sore mouths, he said, and they would suffer great pain.
It seemed rather strange to sit down out of doors in that icy region and drink hot tea, but every one admitted that it was an excellent drink. Then the journey was resumed until a sudden increase in the gloom warned the travelers that night was coming on.
"We'll make camp now," said Mr. Baxter, and he gave the orders to Holfax.
The Indians drew the sleds up in the form of a square, and when robes were spread over them, this would form their shelter. As for the others, the tent was erected, snow being piled around the bottom to keep out the wind. Then, when the alcohol stove was set up inside and a simple meal started, the place was more warm and cozy than one would at first suppose was possible.
"Why, I believe it's warm enough to take off our fur coats," said Fred.
"Yes, you can do that," spoke the old miner. "We'll get into our sleeping bags soon."
The Indians were expert in making camp, and soon the dogs were tethered off to one side, and were snarling and snapping over their supper of frozen seal blubber. After that they burrowed down under the snow to keep warm.
"I guess we're in for a cold spell," remarked Mr. Baxter as he looked at the thermometer he had hung outside the tent. "It's forty-one below now, but the wind doesn't blow, and that makes it better. With a stiff gale now we'd be in a bad way."
"Is it liable to get any colder?" asked Fred.
"It's liable to, but I hope it doesn't. This is all I want."
There was nothing to do but to go to bed, which they were glad enough to do, as they would be warm in the sleeping bags. Seeing that the tent was securely fastened, and that their rifles were ready at hand, Mr. Baxter turned in. The boys were already asleep, for cold has the effect of making one drowsy.
It was long after midnight when Fred was awakened by a series of loud howls outside the tent. At the same time Mr. Baxter and Jerry sat up.
"What's that?" asked Fred.
"The dogs must have gotten loose and want something to eat," said Jerry.
"Those are not dogs," replied Mr. Baxter. "I know those howls only too well."
"What are they?" asked Fred.
"A pack of wolves. Boys, get your rifles ready. Unless I'm mistaken we're going to have trouble. The animals are probably wild with hunger, and have gotten scent of our camp."
SHOOTING A MOOSE
It was the work of but an instant for the travelers to slip on their big fur coats, and they were ready to go outside, for going to bed in the arctic regions is more a process of dressing than undressing, and they had lain down with even more clothes on than they wore during the day.
Mr. Baxter, kicking his sleeping bag to one side, loosed the fastenings of the tent and stepped out. He was followed by Fred and Jerry, Johnson coming last.
Fred was not prepared for the wonderful sight that met his gaze. At first he thought he had been transported back to his own home, and that a Fourth of July celebration was in progress. The sky was streaked with long streamers of colored fire that waved and undulated to and fro, beginning at the horizon and extending to the zenith.
"The Northern Lights!" exclaimed Mr. Baxter.
Then Fred understood that he had looked for the first time on the wondrous and beautiful Aurora Borealis.
Suddenly the peacefulness of the night was once more broken by the fierce howls, and this time they were answered by the sled dogs, who, raising their sharp muzzles in the air, sent their answering challenge to the wolves.
"There they are!" cried Fred, pointing to a dark mass on the white, snowy expanse. "They're headed this way."
"Are your rifles ready?" asked Mr. Baxter. "We'll probably have to fight them off."
"Will they attack us?" asked Jerry.
"Wolves have to be in large numbers or desperate with hunger before they will tackle a man," said his father. "Especially where there is such a large number as there are of us. But they may fight with our dogs and injure them, and that would be the worst thing that could happen to us, as we have to depend entirely on the dogs for traveling here."
"They are coming closer," remarked Fred.
"Yes. It's curious the Indians don't awaken. I think I'll call them."
Mr. Baxter stepped toward the enclosure of sleds, tipped on their sides, which formed the Indians' camp. There was a small fire burning in the center, and grouped around it, with their feet toward the embers, were the dog-drivers. They were huddled up in their fur blankets, sound asleep. Holfax said afterward that it takes more than the howling of wolves to awaken an Alaskan Indian tired out with a day's work.
But at a call from Mr. Baxter the four guides sat up suddenly. They did not need to be told what the matter was, for the wolves were now quite close, and were howling fiercely, while the dogs were trying to break the thongs that held them, so that they might seek a place of safety.
For, though an Alaskan or Eskimo dog is really a species of wolf, it is no match in a fight for the wilder creature.
In a few minutes the Indians had the dogs safely inside the square of sleds, and not a moment too soon, for the foremost of the pack of wolves snapped at the heels of Holfax as he led the last dog in.
"Now, boys, let them have it!" exclaimed Mr. Baxter as he fired his repeating rifle several times into the midst of the ravenous pack. There were howls of pain, and several forms stretched out on the snow told how effective had been his aim.
Jerry and Fred fired together, and Johnson coming to their help, they had four rifles to turn against the savage creatures.
It was a wild scene, encamped there as they were on that dreary expanse of snow, with the mysterious Northern Lights flashing overhead, giving a weird illumination, the snarling wolves fairly surrounding the tent, and the frightened Indians guarding the whimpering dogs.
It did not need an expert marksman to find a target in that pack. There must have been at least fifty wolves in it, and their hunger had made them exceedingly daring. They leaped against the sleds, and tried with their keen teeth to bite through the lashings to get at the frozen fish and seal blubber which formed the rations for the dogs.
"Give 'em some more!" cried Mr. Baxter. "They are coming closer!"
Indeed some of the wolves had actually invaded the tent, hoping to find something to eat there. The rifles cracked, the wolves howled and the dogs yelped, while the Indians called to one another in their harsh tongue, asking if their white masters would be able to drive off the foe.
Fred and Jerry were firing as fast as they could work the ejection levers and triggers of their guns. At first they did not notice the cold, but after a few shots the piercing frost began to numb their fingers, for they had taken off their big, heavy mittens, which made it impossible to work their guns, and had on only light gloves.
"My fingers are too stiff to pull the trigger!" exclaimed Fred as he vainly tried to fire another shot. "They feel like pieces of ice."
"So do mine," added Jerry.
"Give 'em one more volley and I think we'll scatter 'em," called Mr. Baxter as he and Johnson fired again.
The boys managed to do it, though the cold, which was intense, was making itself felt more and more. But the tide had turned. More than half the wolves had been killed and a number wounded, for it was impossible to miss, firing into the midst of the pack as they did. With snarls of baffled rage the remainder of the fierce creatures withdrew to some distance, and, sitting down on their haunches, howled dismally, with their muzzles lifted in the air toward the flickering Aurora Borealis. The dogs howled back in answer, and then, after a few shots at long distance, the battle was ended. The wolves turned tail and trotted off across the snow-covered waste.
"It's lucky we heard them in time," commented Mr. Baxter, "or they might have been the means of depriving us of all our dogs. Then we would have had to give up the expedition for the time being."
As it lacked several hours to morning, and as every one was cold, Mr. Baxter had Johnson make a big pot of tea, some of which was served to the Indians. The beverage warmed every one up, and then the treasure hunters once more crawled into the sleeping bags, where they remained until the sun, coming just a little way up, told them another day had begun. The sun did not rise very high, and the day was of short duration, but the Aurora Borealis at night partly made up for the short visits of Old Sol.
Breakfast was a short meal, as indeed were all the ones that they had in that cold clime, for it is not pleasant to linger sitting down with the thermometer hovering around thirty below zero. The dogs, who always seemed ravenous, were tossed some frozen whitefish, which they bolted almost whole. Then the harness was adjusted, the sleds looked to and the start made.
Though the dogs were capable of great speed and endurance, even while pulling the heavy sleds, which each contained a load of over four hundred pounds, Mr. Baxter had given orders that the animals were not to be driven to their utmost. He wanted to be sure of reaching his destination and getting back.
It was about noon when, having passed through a gloomy stretch of woodland, they came out on a vast, level snow-plain which seemed to stretch away for many miles. At the farther end was a low range of mountains.
"Those are the mountains we are headed for," said Mr. Baxter in a low voice to the two boys. "There is where we will begin to search."
They knew by that he meant that was where the treasure might be hidden.
Suddenly Fred, whose sled was in advance, uttered a cry, and pointed to what seemed like a black rock on the snow.
"What is it?" called Mr. Baxter.
"A moose! A big moose! I'm going to have a shot at it!"
As he spoke Holfax gave a cry, and the dogs of all the sleds stopped. Fred was busy loosening the fur robe that covered him in order to get up.