Much of the dialogue is dialect. The few spelling mistakes have been retained, including St. Johns for St. John's (Newfoundland).
Every Boy's Library—Boy Scout Edition
A Winter's Tale
Author of The Lure of the Labrador Wild
Illustrated by Samuel M. Palmer
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
To My Sisters Annie and Jessie
I. HOW BOB GOT HIS "TRAIL" 9
II. OFF TO THE BUSH 26
III. AN ADVENTURE WITH A BEAR 37
IV. SWEPT AWAY IN THE RAPIDS 50
V. THE TRAILS ARE REACHED 56
VI. ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS 68
VII. A STREAK OF GOOD LUCK 76
VIII. MICMAC JOHN'S REVENGE 87
IX. LOST IN THE SNOW 96
X. THE PENALTY 108
XI. THE TRAGEDY OF THE TRAIL 115
XII. IN THE HANDS OF THE NASCAUPEES 129
XIII. A FOREBODING OF EVIL 140
XIV. THE SHADOW OF DEATH 153
XV. IN THE WIGWAM OF SISHETAKUSHIN 171
XVI. ONE OF THE TRIBE 187
XVII. STILL FARTHER NORTH 199
XVIII. A MISSION OF TRUST 206
XIX. AT THE MERCY OF THE WIND 226
XX. PRISONERS OF THE SEA 240
XXI. ADRIFT ON THE ICE 254
XXII. THE MAID OF THE NORTH 269
XXIII. THE HAND OF PROVIDENCE 280
XXIV. THE ESCAPE 290
XXV. THE BREAK-UP 304
XXVI. BACK AT WOLF BIGHT 315
XXVII. THE CRUISE TO ST. JOHN'S 333
XXVIII. IN AFTER YEARS 341
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THREE OF THE MEN HAULED, THE OTHER WITH A POLE, KEPT IT CLEAR OF THE ROCKS Title
"BOB JUMPED OUT WITH THE PAINTER IN HIS HAND." 21
CHART OF THE TRAILS. 64
"MICMAC JOHN KNEW HIS END HAD COME." 114
"IT WAS DANGEROUS WORK." 173
"SAW HER STANDING IN THE BRIGHT MOONLIGHT." 197
"HE HELD THE VESSEL STEADILY TO HER COURSE." 298
HOW BOB GOT HIS "TRAIL"
It was an evening in early September twenty years ago. The sun was just setting in a radiance of glory behind the dark spruce forest that hid the great unknown, unexplored Labrador wilderness which stretched away a thousand miles to the rocky shores of Hudson's Bay and the bleak desolation of Ungava. With their back to the forest and the setting sun, drawn up in martial line stood the eight or ten whitewashed log buildings of the Hudson's Bay Company Post, just as they had stood for a hundred years, and just as they stand to-day, looking out upon the wide waters of Eskimo Bay, which now, reflecting the glow of the setting sun, shone red and sparkling like a sea of rubies.
On a clearing to the eastward of the post between the woods and water was an irregular cluster of deerskin wigwams, around which loitered dark-hued Indians puffing quietly at their pipes, while Indian women bent over kettles steaming at open fires, cooking the evening meal, and little Indian boys with bows shot harmless arrows at soaring gulls overhead, and laughed joyously at their sport as each arrow fell short of its mark. Big wolf dogs skulked here and there, looking for bits of refuse, snapping and snarling ill-temperedly at each other.
A group of stalwart, swarthy-faced men, dressed in the garb of northern hunters—light-coloured moleskin trousers tucked into the tops of long-legged sealskin moccasins, short jackets and peakless caps—stood before the post kitchen or lounged upon the rough board walk which extended the full length of the reservation in front of the servants' quarters and storehouses. They were watching a small sailboat that, half a mile out upon the red flood, was bowling in before a smart breeze, and trying to make out its single occupant. Finally some one spoke.
"'Tis Bob Gray from Wolf Bight, for that's sure Bob's punt."
"Yes," said another, "'tis sure Bob."
Their curiosity satisfied, all but two strolled into the kitchen, where supper had been announced.
Douglas Campbell, the older of the two that remained, was a short, stockily built man with a heavy, full, silver-white beard, and skin tanned dark as an Indian's by the winds and storms of more than sixty years. A pair of kindly blue eyes beneath shaggy white eyebrows gave his face an appearance at once of strength and gentleness, and an erect bearing and well-poised head stamped him a leader and a man of importance.
The other was a tall, wiry, half-breed Indian, with high cheek bones and small, black, shifting eyes that were set very close together and imparted to the man a look of craftiness and cunning. He was known as "Micmac John," but said his real name was John Sharp. He had drifted to the coast a couple of years before on a fishing schooner from Newfoundland, whence he had come from Nova Scotia. From the coast he had made his way the hundred and fifty miles to the head of Eskimo Bay, and there took up the life of a trapper. Rumour had it that he had committed murder at home and had run away to escape the penalty; but this rumour was unverified, and there was no means of learning the truth of it. Since his arrival here the hunters had lost, now and again, martens and foxes from their traps, and it was whispered that Micmac John was responsible for their disappearance. Nevertheless, without any tangible evidence that he had stolen them, he was treated with kindness, though he had made no real friends amongst the natives.
When the last of the men had closed the kitchen door behind him, Micmac John approached Douglas, who had been standing somewhat apart, evidently lost in his thoughts as he watched the approaching boat, and asked:
"Have ye decided about the Big Hill trail, sir?"
"And am I to hunt it this year, sir?"
"No, John, I can't let ye have un. I told Bob Gray th' day I'd let him hunt un. Bob's a smart lad, and I wants t' give he th' chance."
Micmac John cast a malicious glance at old Douglas. Then with an assumed indifference, and shrug of his shoulders as he started to walk away, remarked:
"All right if you've made yer mind up, but you'll be sorry fer it."
Douglas turned fiercely upon him.
"What mean you, man? Be that a threat? Speak now!"
"I make no threats, but boys can't hunt, and he'll bring ye no fur. Ye'll get nothin' fer yer pains. Ye'll be sorry fer it."
"Well," said Douglas as Micmac John walked away to join the others in the kitchen, "I've promised th' lad, an' what I promises I does, an' I'll stand by it."
Bob Gray, sitting at the tiller of his little punt, The Rover, was very happy—happy because the world was so beautiful, happy because he lived, and especially happy because of the great good fortune that had come to him this day when Douglas Campbell granted his request to let him hunt the Big Hill trail, with its two hundred good marten and fox traps.
It had been a year of misfortune for the Grays. The previous winter when Bob's father started out upon his trapping trail a wolverine persistently and systematically followed him, destroying almost every fox and marten that he had caught. All known methods to catch or kill the animal were resorted to, but with the cunning that its prehistoric ancestors had handed down to it, it avoided every pitfall. The fox is a poor bungler compared with the wolverine. The result of all this was that Richard Gray had no fur in the spring with which to pay his debt at the trading store.
Then came the greatest misfortune of all. Emily, Bob's little sister, ventured too far out upon a cliff one day to pluck a vagrant wild flower that had found lodgment in a crevice, and in reaching for it, slipped to the rocks below. Bob heard her scream as she fell, and ran to her assistance. He found her lying there, quite still and white, clutching the precious blossom, and at first he thought she was dead. He took her in his arms and carried her tenderly to the cabin. After a while she opened her eyes and came back to consciousness, but she had never walked since. Everything was done for the child that could be done. Every man and woman in the Bay offered assistance and suggestions, and every one of them tried a remedy; but no relief came.
All the time things kept going from bad to worse with Richard Gray. Few seals came in the bay that year and he had no fat to trade at the post. The salmon fishing was a flat failure.
As the weeks went on and Emily showed no improvement Douglas Campbell came over to Wolf Bight with the suggestion,
"Take th' maid t' th' mail boat doctor. He'll sure fix she up." And then they took her—Bob and his mother—ninety miles down the bay to the nearest port of call of the coastal mail boat, while the father remained at home to watch his salmon nets. Here they waited until finally the steamer came and the doctor examined Emily.
"There's nothing I can do for her," he said. "You'll have to send her to St. Johns to the hospital. They'll fix her all right there with a little operation."
"An' how much will that cost?" asked Mrs. Gray.
"Oh," he replied, "not over fifty dollars—fifty dollars will cover it."
"An' if she don't go?"
"She'll never get well." Then, as a dismissal of the subject, the doctor, turning to Bob, asked: "Well, youngster, what's the outlook for fur next season?"
"We hopes there'll be some, sir."
"Get some silver foxes. Good silvers are worth five hundred dollars cash in St. Johns."
The mail boat steamed away with the doctor, and Bob and his mother, with Emily made as comfortable as possible in the bottom of the boat, turned homeward.
It was hard to realize that Emily would never be well again, that she would never romp over the rocks with Bob in the summer or ride with him on the sledge when he took the dogs to haul wood in the winter. There would be no more merry laughter as she played about the cabin. This was before the days when the mission doctors with their ships and hospitals came to the Labrador to give back life to the sick and dying of the coast. Fifty dollars was more money than any man of the bay save Douglas Campbell had ever seen, and to expect to get such a sum was quite hopeless, for in those days the hunters were always in debt to the company, and all they ever received for their labours were the actual necessities of life, and not always these.
Emily was the only cheerful one now of the three. When she saw her mother crying, she took her hand and stroked it, and said: "Mother, dear, don't be cryin' now. 'Tis not so bad. If God wants that I get well He'll make me well. An' I wants to stay home with you an' see you an' father an' Bob, an' I'd be dreadful homesick to go off so far."
Emily and Bob had always been great chums and the blow to him seemed almost more than he could bear. His heart lay in his bosom like a stone. At first he could not think, but finally he found himself repeating what the doctor had said about silver foxes,—"five hundred dollars cash." This was more money than he could imagine, but he knew it was a great deal. The company gave sixty dollars in trade for the finest silver foxes. That was supposed a liberal price—but five hundred dollars in cash!
He looked longingly towards the blue hills that held their heads against the distant sky line. Behind those hills was a great wilderness rich in foxes and martens—but no man of the coast had ever dared to venture far within it. It was the land of the dreaded Nascaupees, the savage red men of the North, who it was said would torture to a horrible death any who came upon their domain.
The Mountaineer Indians who visited the bay regularly and camped in summer near the post, told many tales of the treachery of their northern neighbours, and warned the trappers that they had already blazed their trails as far inland as it was safe for them to go. Any hunter encroaching upon the Nascaupee territory, they insisted, would surely be slaughtered.
Bob had often heard this warning, and did not forget it now; but in spite of it he felt that circumstances demanded risks, and for Emily's sake he was willing to take them. If he could only get traps, he would make the venture, with his parents' consent, and blaze a new trail there, for it would be sure to yield a rich reward. But to get traps needed money or credit, and he had neither.
Then he remembered that Douglas Campbell had said one day that he would not go to the hills again if he could get a hunter to take the Big Hill trail to hunt on shares. That was an inspiration. He would ask Douglas to let him hunt it on the usual basis—two-thirds of the fur caught to belong to the hunter and one-third to the owner. With this thought Bob's spirits rose.
"'Twill be fine—'twill be a grand chance," said he to himself, "an Douglas lets me hunt un, an father lets me go."
He decided to speak to Douglas first, for if Douglas was agreeable to the plan his parents would give their consent more readily. Otherwise they might withhold it, for the trail was dangerously close to the forbidden grounds of the Nascaupees, and anyway it was a risky undertaking for a boy—one that many of the experienced trappers would shrink from.
The more Bob considered his plan with all its great possibilities, the more eager he became. He found himself calculating the number of pelts he would secure, and amongst them perhaps a silver fox. He would let the mail boat doctor sell them for him, and then they would be rich, and Emily would go to the hospital, and be his merry, laughing little chum again. How happy they would all be! Bob was young and an optimist, and no thought of failure entered his head.
It was too late the night they reached home to see Douglas but the next morning he hurried through his breakfast, which was eaten by candle-light, and at break of day was off for Kenemish, where Douglas Campbell lived. He found the old man at home, and, with some fear of refusal, but still bravely, for he knew the kind-hearted old trapper would grant the request if he thought it were wise, explained his plan.
"You're a stalwart lad, Bob," said Douglas, looking at the boy critically from under his shaggy eyebrows. "An' how old may you be now? I 'most forgets—young folks grows up so fast."
"Just turned sixteen, sir."
"An' that's a young age for a lad to be so far in th' bush alone. But you'll be havin' somethin' happen t' you."
"I'll be rare careful, sir, an' you lets me ha' th' trail."
"An' what says your father?"
"I's said nothin' to he, sir, about it yet."
"Well, go ask he, an' he says yes, meet me at the post th' evenin' an' I'll speak wi' Mr. MacDonald t' give ye debt for your grub. Micmac John's wantin' th' trail, but I'm not thinkin' t' let he have un."
At first Bob's parents both opposed the project. The dangers were so great that his mother asserted that if he were to go she would not have an easy hour until she saw her boy again. But he put forth such strong arguments and plead so vigorously, and his disappointment was so manifest, that finally she withdrew her objections and his father said:
"Well, you may go, my son, an Douglas lets you have th' trail."
So Bob, scarcely sixteen years of age, was to do a man's work and shoulder a man's burden, and he was glad that God had given him stature beyond his years, that he might do it. He could not remember when he had not driven dogs and cut wood and used a gun. He had done these things always. But now he was to rise to the higher plane of a full-fledged trapper and the spruce forest and the distant hills beyond the post seemed a great empire over which he was to rule. Those trackless fastnesses, with their wealth of fur, were to pay tribute to him, and he was happy in the thought that he had found a way to save little Emily from the lifelong existence of a poor crippled invalid. His buoyant spirit had stepped out of the old world of darkness and despair into a new world filled with light and love and beauty, in which the present troubles were but a passing cloud.
"Ho, lad! so your father let ye come. I's glad t' see ye, lad. An' now we're t' make a great hunt," greeted Douglas when the punt ground its nose upon the sandy beach, and Bob jumped out with the painter in his hand to make it fast.
"Aye, sir," said Bob, "he an' mother says I may go."
"Well, come, b'y, an' we'll ha' supper an' bide here th' night an' in th' mornin' you'll get your fit out," said Douglas when they had pulled the punt up well away from the tide.
Entering the kitchen they found the others still at table. Greetings were exchanged, and a place was made for Douglas and Bob.
It was a good-sized room, furnished in the simple, primitive style of the country: an uncarpeted floor, benches and chests in lieu of chairs, a home-made table, a few shelves for the dishes, two or three bunks like ship bunks built in the end opposite the door to serve the post servant and his family for beds, and a big box stove, capable of taking huge billets of wood, crackling cheerily, for the nights were already frosty. Resting upon crosspieces nailed to the rough beams overhead were half a dozen muzzle loading guns, and some dog harness hung on the wall at one side. Everything was spotlessly clean. The floor, the table—innocent of a cloth—the shelves, benches and chests were scoured to immaculate whiteness with sand and soap, and, despite its meagre furnishings the room was very snug and cozy and possessed an atmosphere of homeliness and comfort.
A single window admitted the fading evening light and a candle was brought, though Douglas said to the young girl who placed it in the centre of the table:
"So long as there's plenty a' grub, Bessie, I thinks we can find a way t' get he t' our mouths without ere a light."
The meal was a simple one—boiled fresh trout with pork grease to pour over it for sauce, bread, tea, and molasses for "sweetening." Butter and sugar were luxuries to be used only upon rare festal occasions.
After the men had eaten they sat on the floor with their backs against the rough board wall and their knees drawn up, and smoked and chatted about the fishing season just closed and the furring season soon to open, while Margaret Black, wife of Tom Black, the post servant, their daughter Bessie and a couple of young girl visitors of Bessie's from down the bay, ate and afterwards cleared the table. Then some one proposed a dance, as it was their last gathering before going to their winter trails, which would hold them prisoners for months to come in the interior wilderness. A fiddle was brought out, and Dick Blake tuned up its squeaky strings, and, keeping time with one foot, struck up the Virginia reel.
The men discarded their jackets, displaying their rough flannel shirts and belts, in which were carried sheath knives, chose their partners and went at it with a will, to Dick's music, while he fiddled and shouted such directions as "Sashay down th' middle,—swing yer pardners,—promenade."
Bob led out Bessie, for whom he had always shown a decided preference, and danced like any man of them. Douglas did not dance—not because he was too old, for no man is too old to dance in Labrador, nor because it was beneath his dignity—but because, as he said: "There's not enough maids for all th' lads, an' I's had my turn a many a time. I'll smoke an' look on."
Neither did Micmac John dance, for he seemed in ill humour, and was silent and morose, nursing his discontent that a mere boy should have been given the Big Hill trail in preference to him, and he sat moody and silent, taking no apparent interest in the fun. The dance was nearly finished when Bob, wheeling around the end, warm with the excitement and pleasure of it all, inadvertently stepped on one of the half-breed's feet. Micmac John rose like a flash and struck Bob a stinging blow on the face. Bob turned upon him full of the quick anger of the moment, then, remembering his surroundings, restrained the hand that was about to return the blow, simply saying:
"'Twas an accident, John, an' you has no right to strike me."
The half-breed, vicious, sinister and alert, stood glowering for a moment, then deliberately hit Bob again. The others fell back, Bob faced his opponent, and, goaded now beyond the power of self-restraint, struck with all the power of his young arm at Micmac John. The latter was on his guard, however, and warded the blow. Quick as a flash he drew his knife, and before the others realized what he was about to do, made a vicious lunge at Bob's breast.
OFF TO THE BUSH
On the left breast of Bob's woollen shirt there was a pocket, and in this pocket was a small metal box of gun caps, which Bob always carried there when he was away from home, for he seldom left home without his gun. It was fortunate for him that it was there now, for the point of the knife struck squarely over the place where the box lay. It was driven with such force by the half-breed's strong arm that it passed clear through the metal, which, however, so broke the blow that the steel scarcely scratched the skin beneath. Before another plunge could be made with the knife the men sprang in and seized Micmac John, who submitted at once without a struggle to the overpowering force, and permitted himself to be disarmed. Then he was released and stood back, sullen and defiant. For several moments not a word was spoken.
Finally Dick Blake took a threatening step towards the Indian, and shaking his fist in the latter's face exclaimed:
"Ye dirty coward! Ye'd do murder, would ye? Ye'd kill un, would ye?"
"Hold on," said Douglas, "'bide a bit. 'Twill do no good t' beat un, though he's deservin' of it." Then to the half-breed: "An' what's ailin' of ye th' evenin', John? 'Twas handy t' doin' murder ye were."
John saw the angry look in the men's eyes, and the cool judgment of Douglas standing between him and bodily harm, and deciding that tact was the better part of valour, changed his attitude of defiance to one of reconciliation. He could not take revenge now for his fancied wrong. His Indian cunning told him to wait for a better time. So he extended his hand to Bob, who, dazed by the suddenness of the unexpected attack, had not moved. "Shake hands, Bob, an' call it square. I was hot with anger an' didn't know what I was doin'. We won't quarrel."
Bob, acting upon the motto his mother had taught him—"Be slow to anger and quick to forgive," took the outstretched hand with the remark,
"'Twere a mighty kick I gave ye, John, an' enough t' anger ye, an' no harm's done."
Big Dick Blake would not have it so at first, and invited the half-breed outside to take a "licking" at his hands. But the others soon pacified him, the trouble was forgotten and dancing resumed as though nothing had happened to disturb it.
As soon as attention was drawn from him Micmac John, unobserved, slipped out of the door and a few moments later placed some things in a canoe that had been turned over on the beach, launched it and paddled away in the ghostly light of the rising moon.
The dancing continued until eleven o'clock, then the men lit their pipes, and after a short smoke and chat rolled into their blankets upon the floor, Mrs. Black and the girls retired to the bunks, and, save for a long, weird howl that now and again came from the wolf dogs outside, and the cheery crackling of the stove within, not a sound disturbed the silence of the night.
As has been intimated, Douglas Campbell was a man of importance in Eskimo Bay. When a young fellow he had come here from the Orkney Islands as a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company. A few years later he married a native girl, and then left the company's service to become a hunter.
He had been careful of his wages, and as he blazed new hunting trails into the wilderness, used his savings to purchase steel traps with which to stock the trails. Other trappers, too poor to buy traps for themselves, were glad to hunt on shares the trails Douglas made, and now he was reaping a good income from them. He was in fact the richest man in the Bay.
He was kind, generous and fatherly. The people of the Bay looked up to him and came to him when they were in trouble, for his advice and help. Many a poor family had Douglas Campbell's flour barrel saved from starvation in a bad winter, and God knows bad winters come often enough on the Labrador. Many an ambitious youngster had he started in life, as he was starting Bob Gray now.
The Big Hill trail, far up the Grand River, was the newest and deepest in the wilderness of all the trails Douglas owned—deeper in the wilderness than that of any other hunter. Just below it and adjoining it was William Campbell's—a son of Douglas—a young man of nineteen who had made his first winter's hunt the year before our story begins; below that, Dick Blake's, and below Dick's was Ed Matheson's.
In preparing for the winter hunt it was more convenient for these men to take their supplies to their tilts by boat up the Grand River than to haul them in on toboggans on the spring ice, as nearly every other hunter, whose trapping ground was not upon so good a waterway, was compelled to do, and so it was that they were now at the trading post selecting their outfits preparatory to starting inland before the very cold winter should bind the river in its icy shackles.
The men were up early in the morning, and Douglas went with Bob to the office of Mr. Charles McDonald, the factor, where it was arranged that Bob should be given on credit such provisions and goods as he needed for his winter's hunt, to be paid for with fur when he returned in the spring. Douglas gave his verbal promise to assume the debt should Bob's catch of fur be insufficient to enable him to pay it, but Bob's reputation for energy and honesty was so good that Mr. McDonald said he had no fear as to the payment by the lad himself.
The provisions that Bob selected in the store, or shop, as they called it, were chiefly flour, a small bag of hardtack, fat pork, tea, molasses, baking soda and a little coarse salt, while powder, shot, bullets, gun caps, matches, a small axe and clothing completed the outfit. He already had a gray cotton wedge-tent. When these things were selected and put aside, Douglas bought a pipe and some plugs of black tobacco, and presented them to Bob as a gift from himself.
"But I never smokes, sir, an' I 'lows he'd be makin' me sick," said Bob, as he fingered the pipe.
"Just a wee bit when you tries t' get acquainted," answered Douglas with a chuckle, "just a wee bit; but ye'll come t' he soon enough an' right good company ye'll find he of a long evenin'. Take un along, an' there's no harm done if ye don't smoke un—but ye'll be makin' good friends wi' un soon enough."
So Bob pocketed the pipe and packed the tobacco carefully away with his purchases.
After a consultation it was decided that the men should all meet the next evening, which would be Sunday, at Bob's home at Wolf Bight, near the mouth of the Grand River, and from there make an early start on Monday morning for their trapping grounds. "I'll have William over wi' one o' my boats that's big enough for all hands," said Douglas. "No use takin' more'n one boat. It's easier workin' one than two over the portages an' up the rapids."
When Bob's punt was loaded and he was ready to start for home, he ran to the kitchen to say good-bye to Mrs. Black and the girls, for he was not to see them again for many months.
"Bide in th' tilt when it storms, Bob, an' have a care for the wolves, an' keep clear o' th' Nascaupees," warned Bessie as she shook Bob's hand.
"Aye," said he. "I'll bide in th' tilt o' stormy days, an' not go handy t' th' Nascaupees. I'm not fearful o' th' wolves, for they's always so afraid they never gives un a chance for a shot."
"But do have a care, Bob. An'—an'—I wants to tell you how glad I is o' your good luck, an' I hopes you'll make a grand hunt—I knows you will. An'—Bob, we'll miss you th' winter."
"Thank you, Bessie. An' I'll think o' th' fine time I'm missin' at Christmas an' th' New Year. Good-bye, Bessie."
The fifteen miles across the Bay to Wolf Bight with a fair wind was soon run. Bob ate a late dinner, and then made everything snug for the journey. His flour was put into small, convenient sacks, his cooking utensils consisting of a frying pan, a tin pail in which to make tea, a tin cup and a spoon were placed in a canvas bag by themselves, and in another bag was packed a Hudson's Bay Company four-point blanket, two suits of underwear, a pair of buckskin mittens with a pair of duffel ones inside them, and an extra piece of the duffel for an emergency, six pairs of knit woollen socks, four pairs of duffel socks or slippers (which his mother had made for him out of heavy blanket-like woollen cloth), three pairs of buckskin moccasins for the winter and an extra pair of sealskin boots (long legged moccasins) for wet weather in the spring.
He also laid aside, for daily use on the journey, an adikey made of heavy white woollen cloth, with a fur trimmed hood, and a lighter one, to be worn outside of the other, and made of gray cotton. The adikey or "dikey," as Bob called it, was a seamless garment to be drawn on over the head and worn instead of a coat. The underclothing and knit socks had been purchased at the trading post, but every other article of clothing, including boots, moccasins and mitts, his mother had made.
A pair of snow-shoes, a file for sharpening axes, a "wedge" tent of gray cotton cloth and a sheet iron tent stove about twelve inches square and eighteen inches long with a few lengths of pipe placed inside of it were likewise put in readiness. The stove and pipe Bob's father had manufactured.
No packing was left to be done Sunday, for though there was no church to go to, the Grays, and for that matter all of the Bay people, were close observers of the Sabbath, and left no work to be done on that day that could be done at any other time.
Early on Sunday evening, Dick and Ed and Bill Campbell came over in their boat from Kenemish, where they had spent the previous night. It had been a short day for Bob, the shortest it seemed to him he had ever known, for though he was anxious to be away and try his mettle with the wilderness, these were the last hours for many long weary months that he should have at home with his father and mother and Emily. How the child clung to him! She kept him by her side the livelong day, and held his hand as though she were afraid that he would slip away from her. She stroked his cheek and told him how proud she was of her big brother, and warned him over and over again,
"Now, Bob, do be wonderful careful an' not go handy t' th' Nascaupees for they be dreadful men, fierce an' murderous."
Over and over again they planned the great things they would do when he came back with a big lot of fur—as they were both quite sure he would—and how she would go away to the doctor's to be made well and strong again as she used to be and the romps they were to have when that happy time came.
"An' Bob," said Emily, "every night before I goes to sleep when I says my 'Now I lay me down to sleep' prayer, I'll say to God 'an' keep Bob out o' danger an' bring he home safe.'"
"Aye, Emily," answered Bob, "an' I'll say to God, 'Make Emily fine an' strong again.'"
Before daybreak on Monday morning breakfast was eaten, and the boat loaded for a start at dawn. Emily was not yet awake when the time came to say farewell and Bob kissed her as she slept. Poor Mrs. Gray could not restrain the tears, and Bob felt a great choking in his throat—but he swallowed it bravely.
"Don't be feelin' bad, mother. I'm t' be rare careful in th' bush, and you'll see me well and hearty wi' a fine hunt, wi' th' open water," said he, as he kissed her.
"I knows you'll be careful, an' I'll try not t' worry, but I has a forebodin' o' somethin' t' happen—somethin' that's t' happen t' you, Bob—oh, I feels that somethin's t' happen. Emily'll be missin' you dreadful, Bob. An'—'twill be sore lonesome for your father an' me without our boy."
"Ready, Bob!" shouted Dick from the boat.
"Don't forget your prayers, lad, an' remember that your mother's prayin' for you every mornin' an' every night."
"Yes, mother, I'll remember all you said."
She watched him from the door as he walked down to the shore with his father, and the boat, heavily laden, pushed out into the Bay, and she watched still, until it disappeared around the point, above. Then she turned back into the room and had a good cry before she went about her work again.
If she had known what those distant hills held for her boy—if her intuition had been knowledge—she would never have let him go.
AN ADVENTURE WITH A BEAR
The boat turned out into the broad channel and into Goose Bay. There was little or no wind, and when the sun broke gloriously over the white-capped peaks of the Mealy Mountains it shone upon a sea as smooth as a mill pond, with scarcely a ripple to disturb it. The men worked laboriously and silently at their oars. A harbour seal pushed its head above the water, looked at the toiling men curiously for a moment, then disappeared below the surface, leaving an eddy where it had been. Gulls soared overhead, their white wings and bodies looking very pure and beautiful in the sunlight. High in the air a flock of ducks passed to the southward. From somewhere in the distance came the honk of a wild goose. The air was laden with the scent of the great forest of spruce and balsam fir, whose dark green barrier came down from the rock-bound, hazy hills in the distance to the very water's edge, where tamarack groves, turned yellow by the early frosts, reflected the sunlight like settings of rich gold.
"'Tis fine! 'tis grand!" exclaimed Bob at last, as he rested a moment on his oars to drink in the scene and breathe deeply the rare, fragrant atmosphere. "'Tis sure a fine world we're in."
"Aye, 'tis fine enough now," remarked Ed, stopping to cut pieces from a plug of tobacco, and then cramming them into his pipe. "But," he continued, prophetically, as he struck a match and held it between his hands for the sulphur to burn off, "bide a bit, an' you'll find it ugly enough when th' snows blow t' smother ye, an' yer racquets sink with ye t' yer knees, and th' frost freezes yer face and the ice sticks t' yer very eyelashes until ye can't see—then," continued he, puffing vigorously at his pipe, "then 'tis a sorry world—aye, a sorry an' a hard world for folks t' make a livin' in."
It was mid-forenoon when they reached Rabbit Island—a small wooded island where the passing dog drivers always stop in winter to make tea and snatch a mouthful of hard biscuit while the dogs have a half hour's rest.
"An' here we'll boil th' kettle," suggested Dick. "I'm fair starved with an early breakfast and the pull at the oars."
"We're ready enough for that," assented Bill. "Th' wind's prickin' up a bit from th' east'rd, an' when we starts I thinks we may hoist the sails."
"Yes, th' wind's prickin' up an' we'll have a fair breeze t' help us past th' Traverspine, I hopes."
The landing was made. Bob and Ed each took an axe to cut into suitable lengths some of the plentiful dead wood lying right to hand, while Dick whittled some shavings and started the fire. Bill brought a kettle (a tin pail) of water. Then he cut a green sapling about five feet in length, sharpened one end of it, and stuck it firmly into the earth, slanting the upper end into position over the fire. On this he hung the kettle of water, so that the blaze shot up around it. In a little while the water boiled, and with a stick for a lifter he set it on the ground and threw in a handful of tea. This they sweetened with molasses and drank out of tin cups while they munched hardtack.
Bill's prophecy as to the wind proved a true one, and in the half hour while they were at their luncheon so good a breeze had sprang up that when they left Rabbit Island both sails were hoisted.
Early in the afternoon they passed the Traverspine River, and now with some current to oppose made slower, though with the fair wind, good progress, and when the sun dipped behind the western hills and they halted to make their night camp they were ten miles above the Traverspine.
To men accustomed to travelling in the bush, camp is quickly made. The country here was well wooded, and the forest beneath covered with a thick carpet of white moss. Bob and Bill selected two trees between which they stretched the ridge pole of a tent, and a few moments sufficed to cut pegs and pin down the canvas. Then spruce boughs were broken and spread over the damp moss and their shelter was ready for occupancy. Meanwhile Ed had cut fire-wood while Dick started the fire, using for kindlings a handful of dry, dead sprigs from the branches of a spruce tree, and by the time Bob and Bill had the tent pitched it was blazing cheerily, and the appetizing smell of fried pork and hot tea was in the air. When supper was cooked Ed threw on some more sticks, for the evening was frosty, and then they sat down to luxuriate in its genial warmth and eat their simple meal.
For an hour they chatted, while the fire burned low, casting a narrowing circle of light upon the black wilderness surrounding the little camp. Some wild thing of the forest stole noiselessly to the edge of the outer darkness, its eyes shining like two balls of fire, then it quietly slunk away unobserved. Above the fir tops the blue dome of heaven seemed very near and the million stars that glittered there almost close enough to pluck from their azure setting. With a weird, uncanny light the aurora flashed its changing colours restlessly across the sky. No sound save the low voices of the men as they talked, disturbed the great silence of the wilderness.
Many a time had Bob camped and hunted with his father near the coast, in the forest to the south of Wolf Bight, but he had never been far from home and with this his first long journey into the interior, a new world and new life were opening to him. The solitude had never impressed him before as it did now. The smoke of the camp-fire and the perfume of the forest had never smelled so sweet. The romance of the trail was working its way into his soul, and to him the land seemed filled with wonderful things that he was to search out and uncover for himself. The harrowing tales that the men were telling of winter storms and narrow escapes from wild animals had no terror for him. He only looked forward to meeting and conquering these obstacles for himself. Young blood loves adventure, and Bob's blood was strong and red and active.
When the fire died away and only a heap of glowing red coals remained, Dick knocked the ashes from his pipe, and rising with a yawn, suggested:
"I 'lows it's time t' turn in. We'll have t' be movin' early in th' mornin' an' we makes th' Muskrat Portage."
Then they went to the tent and rolled into their blankets and were soon sleeping as only men can sleep who breathe the pure, free air of God's great out-of-doors.
Before noon the next day they reached the Muskrat Falls, where the torrent, with a great roar, pours down seventy feet over the solid rocks. An Indian portage trail leads around the falls and meets the river again half a mile farther up. At its beginning it ascends a steep incline two hundred feet, then it runs away, comparatively level, to its upper end where it drops abruptly to the water's edge. To pull a heavy boat up this incline and over the half mile to the launching place above, was no small undertaking.
Everything was unloaded, the craft brought ashore, and ropes which were carried for the purpose attached to the bow. Then round sticks of wood, for rollers, were placed under it, and while Dick and Ed hauled, Bob and Bill pushed and lifted and kept the rollers straight. In this manner, with infinite labour, it was worked to the top of the hill and step by step hauled over the portage to the place where it was to enter the water again. It was nearly sunset when they completed their task and turned back to bring up their things from below.
They had retraced their steps but a few yards when Dick, who was ahead, darted off to the left of the trail with the exclamation:
"An' here's some fresh meat for supper."
It was a porcupine lumbering awkwardly away. He easily killed it with a stick, and picking it up by its tail, was about to turn back into the trail when a fresh axe cutting caught his eye.
"Now who's been here, lads?" said he, looking at it closely. "None o' th' planters has been inside of th' Traverspine, an' no Mountaineers has left th' post yet."
The others joined him and scrutinized the cutting, then looked for other human signs. Near by they found the charred wood of a recent fire and some spruce boughs that had served for a bed within a day or two, which was proved by their freshly broken ends. It had been the couch of a single man.
"Micmac John, sure!" said Ed.
"An' what's he doin' here?" asked Bill. "He has no traps or huntin' grounds handy t' this."
"I'm thinkin' 'tis no good he's after," said Dick. "'Tis sure he, an' he'll be givin' us trouble, stealin' our fur an' maybe worse. But if I gets hold o' he, he'll be sorry for his meddlin', if meddlin' he's after, an' it's sure all he's here for."
They hurried back to pitch camp, and when the fire was made the porcupine was thrown upon the blaze, and allowed to remain there until its quills and hair were scorched to a cinder. Then Dick, who superintended the cooking, pulled it out, scraped it and dressed it. On either side of the fire he drove a stake and across the tops of these stakes tied a cross pole. From the centre of this pole the porcupine was suspended by a string, so that it hung low and near enough to the fire to roast nicely, while it was twirled around on the string. It was soon sending out a delicious odour, and in an hour was quite done, and ready to be served. A dainty morsel it was to the hungry voyageurs, resembling in some respects roast pig, and every scrap of it they devoured.
The next morning all the goods were carried over the portage, and a wearisome fight began against the current of the river, which was so swift above this point as to preclude sailing or even rowing. A rope was tied to the bow of the boat and on this three of the men hauled, while the other stood in the craft and with a pole kept it clear of rocks and other obstructions. For several days this method of travel continued—tracking it is called. Sometimes the men were forced along the sides of almost perpendicular banks, often they waded in the water and frequently met obstacles like projecting cliffs, around which they passed with the greatest difficulty.
At the Porcupine Rapids everything was lashed securely into the boat, as a precaution in case of accident, but they overcame the rapid without mishap, and finally they reached Gull Island Lake, a broadening of the river in safety, and were able to resume their oars again. It was a great relief after the long siege of tracking, and Ed voiced the feelings of all in the remark:
"Pullin' at th' oars is hard when ye has nothin' harder t' do, but trackin's so much harder, pullin' seems easy alongside un."
"Aye," said Dick, "th' thing a man's doin's always the hardest work un ever done. 'Tis because ye forgets how hard th' things is that ye've done afore."
"An' it's just the same in winter. When a frosty spell comes folks thinks 'tis th' frostiest time they ever knew. If 'twere, th' winters, I 'lows'd be gettin' so cold folks couldn't stand un. I recollects one frosty spell——"
"Now none o' yer yarns, Ed. Th' Lord'll be strikin' ye dead in His anger some day when ye're tellin' what ain't so."
"I tells no yarns as ain't so, an' I can prove un all—leastways I could a proved this un, only it so happens as I were alone. As I was sayin', 'twere so cold one night last winter that when I was boilin' o' my kettle an' left th' door o' th' tilt open for a bit while I steps outside, th' wind blowin' in on th' kettle all th' time hits th' steam at th' spout—an' what does ye think I sees when I comes in?"
"Ye sees steam, o' course, an' what else could ye see, now?"
"'Twere so cold—that wind—blowin' right on th' spout where th' steam comes out, when I comes in I looks an' I can't believe what I sees myself. Well, now, I sees th' steam froze solid, an' a string o' ice hangin' from th' spout right down t' th' floor o' th' tilt, an' th' kettle boilin' merry all th' time. That's what I sees, an'——"
"Now stop yer lyin', Ed. Ye knows no un——"
"A bear! A bear!" interrupted Bob, excitedly. "See un! See un there comin' straight to that rock!"
Sure enough, a couple Of hundred yards away a big black bear was lumbering right down towards them, and if it kept its course would pass a large boulder standing some fifty yards back from the river bank. The animal had not seen the boat nor scented the men, for the wind was blowing from it towards them.
"Run her in here," said Bob, indicating a bit of bank out of the bear's range of vision, "an' let me ashore t' have a chance at un."
The instant the boat touched land he grabbed his gun—a single-barrelled, muzzle loader—bounded noiselessly ashore, and stooping low gained the shelter of the boulder unobserved.
The unsuspecting bear came leisurely on, bent, no doubt, upon securing a drink of water to wash down a feast of blueberries of which it had just partaken, and seemingly occupied by the pleasant reveries that follow a good meal and go with a full stomach. Bob could hear it coming now, and raised his gun ready to give it the load the moment it passed the rock. Then, suddenly, he remembered that he had loaded the gun that morning with shot, when hunting a flock of partridges, and had failed to reload with ball. To kill a bear with a partridge load of shot was out of the question, and to wound the bear at close quarters was dangerous, for a wounded bear with its enemy within reach is pretty sure to retaliate.
Just at the instant this thought flashed through Bob's mind the big black side of the bear appeared not ten feet from the muzzle of his gun, and before the lad realized it he had pulled the trigger.
Bob did not stop to see the result of the shot, but ran at full speed towards the boat. The bear gave an angry growl, and for a moment bit at the wound in its side, then in a rage took after him.
It was not over fifty yards to the boat, and though Bob had a few seconds the start, the bear seemed likely to catch him before he could reach it, for clumsy though they are in appearance, they are fast travellers when occasion demands. Half the distance was covered in a jiffy, but the bear was almost at his heels. A few more leaps and he would be within reach of safety. He could fairly feel the bear's breath. Then his foot caught a projecting branch and he fell at full length directly in front of the infuriated animal.
SWEPT AWAY IN THE RAPIDS
When Bob went ashore Dick followed as far as a clump of bushes at the top of the bank below which the boat was concealed, and crouching there witnessed Bob's flight from the bear, and was very close to him when he fell. Dick had already drawn a bead on the animal's head, and just at the moment Bob stumbled fired. The bear made one blind strike with his paw and then fell forward, its momentum sending it upon Bob's sprawling legs, Dick laughed uproariously at the boy as he extricated himself.
"Well, now," he roared, "'twere as fine a race as I ever see—as I ever see—an' ye were handy t' winnin' but for th' tumble. A rare fine race."
Bob was rather shamefaced, for an old hunter would scarcely have forgotten himself to such an extent as to go bear hunting with a partridge load in his gun, and he did not like to be laughed at.
"Anyhow," said he, "I let un have un first. An' I led un down where you could shoot un. An' he's a good fat un," he commented kicking the carcass.
Ed and Bill had arrived now and all hands went to work at once skinning the bear.
"Speakin' o' bein' chased by bears," remarked Ed as they worked, "onct I were chased pretty hard myself an' that time I come handy t' bein' done for sure enough."
"An' how were that?" asked Bob.
"'Twere one winter an' I were tendin' my trail. I stops at noon t' boil th' kettle, an' just has th' fire goin' fine an' th' water over when all t' a sudden I hears a noise behind me and turnin' sees a black bear right handy t' me—th' biggest black bear I ever seen—an' makin' fer me. I jumps up an' grabs my gun an' lets un have it, but wi' th' suddenness on it I misses, an' away I starts an' 'twere lucky I has my racquets on."
"Were this in winter?" asked Dick.
"It were in winter."
"Th' bears as I knows don't travel in winter. They sleeps then, leastways all but white bears."
"Well, this were in winter an' this bear weren't sleepin' much. As I was sayin'——"
"An' he took after ye without bein' provoked?"
"An' he did an' right smart."
"Well he were a queer bear—a queer un—th' queerest I ever hear tell about. Awake in winter an' takin' after folks without bein' provoked. 'Tis th' first black bear I ever heard tell about that done that. I knows bears pretty well an' they alus takes tother way about as fast as their legs 'll carry un."
"Now, if you wants me t' tell about this bear ye'll ha' t' stop interruptin'."
"No one said as they wanted ye to."
"Now I'm goin' t' tell un whatever."
"As I were sayin', th' bear he takes after me wi' his best licks an' I takes off an' tries t' load my gun as I runs. I drops in a han'ful o' powder an' then finds I gone an' left my ball pouch at th' fire. It were pretty hard runnin' wi' my racquets sinkin' in th' snow, which were new an' soft an' I were losin' ground an' gettin' winded an' 'twere lookin' like un's goin' t' cotch me sure. All t' onct I see a place where the snow's drifted up three fathoms deep agin a ledge an' even wi' th' top of un. I makes for un an' runs right over th' upper side an' th' bear he comes too, but he has no racquets and th' snow's soft, bein' fresh drift an' down he goes sinkin' most out o' sight an' th' more un wallers th' worse off un is."
"An' what does you do?" asks Bob.
"What does I do? I stops an' laughs at un a bit. Then I lashes my sheath knife on th' end o' a pole spear-like, an' sticks th' bear back o' th' fore leg an' kills un, an' then I has bear's meat wi' my tea, an' in th' spring gets four dollars from th' company for the skin."
In twenty minutes they had the pelt removed from the bear and Dick generously insisted upon Bob taking it as the first-fruits of his inland hunt, saying: "Ye earned he wi' yer runnin'."
The best of the meat was cut from the carcass, and that night thick, luscious steaks were broiled for supper, and the remainder packed for future use on the journey.
Fine weather had attended the voyageurs thus far but that night the sky clouded heavily and when they emerged from the tent the next morning a thick blanket of snow covered the earth and weighted down the branches of the spruce trees. The storm had spent itself in the night, however, and the day was clear and sparkling. Very beautiful the white world looked when the sun came to light it up; but the snow made tracking less easy, and warned the travellers that no time must be lost in reaching their destination, for it was a harbinger of the winter blasts and blizzards soon to blow.
Early that afternoon they came in view of the rushing waters of the Gull Island Rapids, with their big foam crested waves angrily assailing the rocks that here and there raised their ominous heads above the torrent. The greater length of these rapids can be tracked, with some short portages around the worst places. Before entering them everything was lashed securely into the boat, as at the Porcupine Rapids, and the tracking line fastened a few inches back of the bow leaving enough loose end to run to the stern and this was tied securely there to relieve the unusual strain on the bow fastening. Ed took the position of steersman in the boat, while the other three were to haul upon the line.
When all was made ready and secure, they started forward, bringing the craft into the heavy water, which opposed its progress so vigorously that it seemed as though the rope must surely snap. Stronger and stronger became the strain and harder and harder pulled the men. All of Ed's skill was required to keep the boat straight in the treacherous cross current eddies where the water swept down past the half-hidden rocks in the river bed.
They were pushing on tediously but surely when suddenly and without warning the fastening at the bow broke loose, the boat swung away into the foam, and in a moment was swallowed up beneath the waves. The rear fastening held however and the boat was thrown in against the bank.
But Ed had disappeared in the fearful flood of rushing white water. The other three stood appalled. It seemed to them that no power on earth could save him. He must certainly be dashed to death upon the rocks or smothered beneath the onrushing foam.
For a moment all were inert, paralyzed. Then Dick, accustomed to act quickly in every emergency, slung the line around a boulder, took a half hitch to secure it and, without stopping to see whether it would hold or not, ran down stream at top speed with Bob and Bill at his heels.
THE TRAILS ARE REACHED
Ed had been cast away in rapids before, and when he found himself in the water, with the wilderness traveller's quick appreciation of the conditions, he lay limp, without a struggle. If he permitted the current to carry him in its own way on its course, he might be swept past the rocks uninjured to the still water below. If one struggle was made it might throw him out of the current's course against a boulder, where he would be pounded to death or rendered unconscious and surely drowned. He was swept on much more rapidly than his companions could run and quite hidden from them by the big foam-crested waves.
It seemed ages to the helpless man before he felt his speed slacken and finally found himself in the eddy where they had begun to track. Here he struck out for the river bank only a few yards distant, and, half drowned, succeeded in pulling himself ashore. A few minutes later, when the others came running down, they found him, to their great relief, sitting on the bank quite safe, wringing the water from his clothing, and their fear that he was injured was quickly dispelled by his looking up as they approached and remarking, as though nothing unusual had occurred,
"Bathin's chilly this time o' year. Let's put on a fire an' boil th'kettle."
"I don't know as we got a kettle or anythin' else," said Dick, laughing at Ed's bedraggled appearance and matter-of-fact manner. "We better go back an' see. I hitched th' trackin' line to a rock, but I don't know's she's held."
"Well, let's look. I'm a bit damp, an' thinkin' I wants a fire, whatever."
A cold northwest wind had sprung up in the afternoon and the snow was drifting unpleasantly and before the boat was reached Ed's wet garments were frozen stiff as a coat of mail and he was so chilled through that he could scarcely walk. The line had held and they found the boat in an eddy below a high big boulder. It was submerged, but quite safe, with everything, thanks to the careful lashings, in its place, save a shoulder of bear's meat that had loosened and washed away.
"I thinks, lads, we'll be makin' camp here. Whilst I puts a fire on an' boils th' kettle t' warm Ed up, you pitch camp. 'Twill be nigh sun-down afore Ed gets dried out, an' too late t' go any farther," suggested Dick.
In a few minutes the fire was roaring and Ed thawing out and drinking hot tea as he basked in the blaze, while Dick chopped fire-wood and Bob and Bill unloaded the boat and put up the tent and made it snug for the night.
Heretofore they had found the outside camp-fire quite sufficient for their needs, and had not gone to the trouble of setting up the stove, but it was yet some time before dark, and as the wet clothing and outfit could be much more easily and quickly dried under the shelter of the heated tent than in the drifting snow by the open fire, it was decided to put the stove in use on this occasion. Bob selected a flat stone upon which to rest it, for without this protection the moss beneath, coming into contact with the hot metal, would have dried quickly and taken fire.
When everything was brought in and distributed in the best place to dry, Bob took some birch bark, thrust it into the stove and lighted it. Instantly it flared up as though it had been oil soaked. This made excellent kindling for the wood that was piled on top, and in an incredibly short time the tent was warm and snug as any house. Ed left the open fire and joined Bob and Bill, and in a few minutes Dick came in with an armful of wood.
"Well, un had a good wettin' an' a cold souse," said he, as he piled the wood neatly behind the stove, addressing himself to Ed, who, now quite recovered from his chill, stood with his back to the stove, puffing contentedly at his pipe, with the steam pouring out of his wet clothes.
"'Twere just a fine time wi' th' dip I had ten year ago th' winter comin'," said Ed, ruminatively. "'Twere nothin' to that un."
"An' where were that?" asked Dick.
"I were out o' tea in March, an' handy to havin' no tobaccy, an' I says t' myself, 'Ed, ye can't stay in th' bush till th' break up wi' nary a bit o' tea, and ye'd die wi'out tobaccy. Now ye got t' make th' cruise t' th' Post.' Well, I fixes up my traps, an' packs grub for a week on my flat sled (toboggan) an' off I goes. 'Twere fair goin' wi' good hard footin' an' I makes fine time. Below th' Gull Rapids, just above where I come ashore th' day, I takes t' th' ice thinkin' un good, an' 'twere lucky I has my racquets lashed on th' flat sled an' not walkin' wi' un, for I never could a swum wi' un on. Two fathoms from th' shore I steps on bad ice an' in I goes, head an' all, an' th' current snatches me off'n my feet an' carries me under th' ice, an' afore I knows un I finds th' water carryin' me along as fast as a deer when he gets th' wind."
"An' how did un get out?" asked Bob in open-mouthed wonder.
"'Twere sure a hard fix under th' ice," remarked Bill, equally interested.
"A wonderful hard fix, a wonderful hard fix, under th' ice, an' I were handy t' stayin' under un," said Ed, taking evident delight in keeping his auditors in suspense. "Aye, a wonderful hard fix," continued he, while he hacked pieces from his tobacco plug and filled his pipe.
"An' where were I?" asked Dick, making a quick calculation of past events. "I were huntin' wi' un ten year ago, an' I don't mind ye're gettin' in th' ice."
"'Twere th' winter un were laid up wi' th' lame leg, an' poor Frank Morgan were huntin' along wi' me. Frank were lost th' same spring in th' Bay. Does un mind that?"
"'Twere only nine year ago I were laid up an' Frank were huntin' my trail," said Dick.
"Well, maybe 'twere only nine year; 'twere nine or ten year ago," Ed continued, with some show of impatience at Dick's questioning. "Leastways 'twere thereabouts. Well, I finds myself away off from th' hole I'd dropped into, an' no way o' findin' he. The river were low an' had settled a foot below th' ice, which were four or five feet thick over my head, an' no way o' cuttin' out. So what does I do?"
"An' what does un do?" asked Dick.
"What does I do? I keeps shallow water near th' shore an' holdin' my head betwixt ice an' water makes down t' th' Porcupine Rapids. 'Twere a long an' wearisome pull, an' thinks I, 'Tis too much—un's done for now.' After a time I sees light an' I goes for un. 'Twere a place near a rock where th' water swingin' around had kept th' ice thin. I gets t' un an' makes a footin' on th' rock. I gets out my knife an' finds th' ice breaks easy, an' cuts a hole an' crawls out. By th' time I gets on th' ice I were pretty handy t' givin' up wi' th' cold."
"'Twere a close call," assented Dick, as he puffed at his pipe meditatively.
"How far did un go under th' ice?" asked Bill, who had been much interested in the narrative.
"Handy t' two mile."
For several days after this the men worked very hard from early dawn until the evening darkness drove them into camp. The current was swift and the rapids great surging torrents of angry water that seemed bent upon driving them back. One after another the Horseshoe, the Ninipi, and finally, after much toil, the Mouni Rapids were met and conquered.
The weather was stormy and disagreeable. Nearly every day the air was filled with driving snow or beating cold rain that kept them wet to the skin and would have sapped the courage and broken the spirit of less determined men. But they did not mind it. It was the sort of thing they had been accustomed to all their life.
With each morning, Bob, full of the wilderness spirit, took up the work with as much enthusiasm as on the day he left Wolf Bight. At night when he was very tired and just a bit homesick, he would try to picture to himself the little cabin that now seemed far, far away, and he would say to himself,
"If I could spend th' night there now, an' be back here in th' mornin', 'twould be fine. But when I does go back, the goin' home'll be fine, an' pay for all th' bein' away. An' the Lard lets me, I'll have th' fur t' send Emily t' th' doctors an' make she well."
One day the clouds grew tired of sending forth snow and rain, and the wind forgot to blow, and the waters became weary of their rushing. The morning broke clear and beautiful, and the sun, in a blaze of red and orange grandeur, displayed the world in all its rugged primeval beauty. The travellers had reached Lake Wonakapow, a widening of the river, where the waters were smooth and no current opposed their progress. For the first time in many days the sails were hoisted, and, released from the hard work, the men sat back to enjoy the rest, while a fair breeze sent them up the lake.
"'Tis fine t' have a spell from th' trackin'," remarked Ed as he lighted his pipe.
"Aye, 'tis that," assented Dick, "an' we been makin' rare good time wi' this bad weather. We're three days ahead o' my reckonin'."
How beautiful it was! The water, deep and dark, leading far away, every rugged hill capped with snow, and the white peaks sparkling in the sunshine. A loon laughed at them as they passed, and an invisible wolf on a mountainside sent forth its long weird cry of defiance.
They sailed quietly on for an hour or two. Finally Ed pointed out to Bob a small log shack standing a few yards back from the shore, saying:
"An' there's my tilt. Here I leaves un."
Bill Campbell was at the tiller, and the boat was headed to a strip of sandy beach near the tilt. Presently they landed. Ed's things were separated from the others and taken ashore, and all hands helped him carry them up to the tilt.
There was no window in the shack and the doorway was not over four feet high. Within was a single room about six by eight feet in size, with a rude couch built of saplings, running along two sides, upon which spruce boughs, used the previous year and now dry and dead, were strewn for a bed. The floor was of earth. The tilt contained a sheet iron stove similar to the one Bob had brought, but no other furniture save a few cooking utensils. The round logs of which the rough building was constructed, were well chinked between them with moss, making it snug and warm.
This was where Ed kept his base of supplies. His trail began here and ran inland and nearly northward for some distance to a lake whose shores it skirted, and then, taking a swing to the southwest, came back to the river again and ended where Dick's began, and the two trappers had a tilt there which they used in common. Between these tilts were four others at intervals of twelve to fifteen miles, for night shelters, the distance between them constituting a day's work, the trail from end to end being about seventy miles long.
The trails which the other three were to hunt led off, one from the other—Dick's, Bill's and then the Big Hill trail, with tilts at the juncture points and along them in a similar manner to the arrangement of Ed's, and each trail covering about the same number of miles as his. Each man could therefore walk the length of his trail in five days, if the weather were good, and, starting from one end on Monday morning have a tilt to sleep in each night and reach his last tilt on the other end Friday night. This gave him Saturday in which to do odd jobs like mending, and Sunday for rest, before taking up the round again on Monday.
It was yet too early by three weeks to begin the actual trapping, but much in the way of preparation had to be done in the meantime. This was Tuesday, and it was agreed that two weeks from the following Saturday Ed and Dick should be at the tilt where their trails met and Bill and Bob at the junction of their trails, ready to start their work on the next Monday. This would bring Dick and Bill together on the following Friday night and Bob and Ed would each be alone, one at either end of the series of trails and more than a hundred miles from his nearest neighbour.
"I hopes your first cruise'll be a good un, an' you'll be doin' fine th' winter, Bob. Have a care now for th' Nascaupees," said Ed as they shook hands at parting.
"Thanks," answered Bob, "an' I hopes you'll be havin' a fine hunt too."
Then they were off, and Ed's long winter's work began.
The next afternoon Dick's first tilt was reached, and a part of his provisions and some of Ed's that they had brought on for him, were unloaded there. Dick, however, decided to go with the young men to the tilt at the beginning of the Big Hill trail, to help them haul the boat up and make it snug for the winter, saying, "I'm thinkin' you might find her too heavy, an' I'll go on an' give a hand, an' cut across to my trail, which I can do handy enough in a day, havin' no pack."
An hour before dark on Friday evening they reached the tilt. Dick was the first to enter it, and as he pushed open the door he stopped with the exclamation:
"That rascal Micmac!"
ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS
The stove and stovepipe were gone, and fresh, warm ashes on the floor gave conclusive proof that the theft had been perpetrated that very day. Some one had been occupying the tilt, too, as new boughs spread for a bed made evident.
"More o' Micmac John's work," commented Dick as he kicked the ashes. "He's been takin' th' stove an' he'll be takin' th' fur too, an' he gets a chance."
"Maybe 'twere Mountaineers," suggested Bill.
"No, 'twere no Mountaineers—them don't steal. No un ever heard o' a Mountaineer takin' things as belongs to other folks. Injuns be honest—leastways all but half-breeds."
"Nascaupees might a been here," offered Bob, having in mind the stories he had heard of them, and feeling now that he was almost amongst them.
"No, Nascaupees 'd have no use for a stove. They'd ha' burned th' tilt. 'Tis Micmac John, an' he be here t' steal fur. 'Tis t' steal fur's what he be after. But let me ketch un, an' he won't steal much more fur," insisted Dick, worked up to a very wrathful pitch.
They looked outside for indications of the course the marauder had taken, and discovered that he had returned to the river, where his canoe had been launched a little way above the tilt, and had either crossed to the opposite side or gone higher up stream. In either case it was useless to attempt to follow him, as, if they caught him at all, it would be after a chase of several days, and they could not well afford the time. There was nothing to do, therefore, but make the best of it. Bob's tent stove was set up in place of the one that had been stolen. Then everything was stowed away in the tilt.
The next morning came cold and gray, with heavy, low-hanging clouds, threatening an early storm. The boat was hauled well up on the shore, and a log protection built over it to prevent the heavy snows that were soon to come from breaking it down.
Before noon the first flakes of the promised storm fell lazily to the earth and in half an hour it was coming so thickly that the river twenty yards away could not be seen, and the wind was rising. The three cut a supply of dry wood and piled what they could in the tilt, placing the rest within reach of the door. Then armfuls of boughs were broken for their bed. All the time the storm was increasing in power and by nightfall a gale was blowing and a veritable blizzard raging.
When all was made secure, a good fire was started in the stove, a candle lighted, and some partridges that had been killed in the morning put over with a bit of pork to boil for supper. While these were cooking Bill mixed some flour with water, using baking soda for leaven—"risin'" he called it—into a dough which he formed into cakes as large in circumference as the pan would accommodate and a quarter of an inch thick. These cakes he fried in pork grease. This was the sort of bread that they were to eat through the winter.
The meal was a cozy one. Outside the wind shrieked angrily and swirled the snow in smothering clouds around the tilt, and rattled the stovepipe, threatening to shake it down. It was very pleasant to be out of it all in the snug, warm shack with the stove crackling contentedly and the place filled with the mingled odours of the steaming kettle of partridges and tea and spruce boughs. To the hunters it seemed luxurious after their tedious fight against the swift river. Times like this bring ample recompense to the wilderness traveller for the most strenuous hardships that he is called upon to endure. The memory of one such night will make men forget a month of suffering. Herein lies one of the secret charms of the wilds.
When supper was finished Dick and Bill filled their pipes, and with coals from the stove lighted them. Then they lounged back and puffed with an air of such perfect, speechless bliss that for the first time in his life Bob felt a desire to smoke. He drew from his pocket the pipe Douglas had given him and filled it from a plug of the tobacco. When he reached for a firebrand to light it Dick noticed what he was doing and asked good naturedly,—
"Think t' smoke with us, eh?"
"Yes, thinks I'll try un."
"An' be gettin' sick before un knows it," volunteered Bill.
Disregarding the suggestion Bob fired his pipe and lay back with the air of an old veteran. He soon found that he did not like it very much, and in a little while he felt a queer sensation in his stomach, but it was not in Bob's nature to acknowledge himself beaten so easily, and he puffed on doggedly. Pretty soon beads of perspiration stood out upon his forehead and he grew white. Then he quietly laid aside the pipe and groped his way unsteadily out of doors, for he was very dizzy and faint. When he finally returned he was too sick to pay any attention to the banter of his companions, who unsympathetically made fun of him, and he lay down with the inward belief that smoking was not the pleasure it was said to be, and as for himself he would never touch a pipe again.
All day Sunday and Monday the storm blew with unabated fury and the three were held close prisoners in the tilt. On Monday night it cleared, and Tuesday morning came clear and rasping cold.
Long before daylight breakfast was eaten and preparations made for travelling. Bob lashed his tent, cooking utensils, some traps and a supply of provisions upon one of two toboggans that leaned against the tilt outside. The other one was for Bill when he should need it. Dick did up his blanket and a few provisions into a light pack, new slings were adjusted to their snow-shoes and finally they were ready to strike the trails.
The steel-gray dawn was just showing when Dick shouldered his pack, took his axe and gun and shook hands with the boys.
"Good-bye Bob. Have a care o' nasty weather an' don't be losin' yourself. I'll see you in a fortnight, Bill. Good-bye."
With long strides he turned down the river bend and in a few moments the immeasurable white wilderness had swallowed him up.
The Big Hill trail was so called from a high, barren hill around whose base it swung to follow a series of lakes leading to the northwest. Of course as Bob had never been over the trail he did not know its course, or where to find the traps that Douglas had left hanging in the trees or lying on rocks the previous spring at the end of the hunting season. Bill was to go with him to the farthest tilt on this first journey to point these out to him and show him the way, then leave him and hurry back to his own path, while Bob set the traps and worked his way back to the junction tilt.
Shortly after Dick left them they started, Bill going ahead and breaking the trail with his snow-shoes while Bob behind hauled the loaded toboggan. On they pushed through trees heavily laden with snow, out upon wide, frozen marshes, skirting lakes deep hidden beneath the ice and snow which covered them like a great white blanket. The only halts were for a moment now and again to note the location of traps as they passed, which Bob with his keen memory of the woods could easily find again when he returned to set them. Once they came upon some ptarmigans, white as the snow upon which they stood. Their "grub bag" received several of the birds, which were very tame and easily shot. A hurried march brought them to the first tilt at noon, where they had dinner, and that night, shortly after dark, they reached the second tilt, thirty miles from their starting point. At midday on Thursday they came to the end of the trail.
When they had had dinner of fried ptarmigan and tea, Bill announced: "I'll be leavin' ye now, Bob. In two weeks from Friday we'll be meetin' in th' river tilt."
"All right, an' I'll be there."
"An' don't be gettin' lonesome, now I leaves un."
"I'll be no gettin' lonesome. There be some traps t' mend before I starts back an' a chance bit o' other work as'll keep me busy."
Then Bill turned down the trail, and Bob for the first time in his life was quite alone in the heart of the great wilderness.
A STREAK OF GOOD LUCK
When Bill was gone Bob went to work at once getting some traps that were hanging in the tilt in good working order. He set them and sprang them one after another, testing every one critically. They were practically all new ones, and Douglas, after his careful, painstaking manner, had left them in thorough repair. These were some additional traps that no place had been found for on the trail. There were only about twenty of them and Bob decided that he would set them along the shores of a lake beyond the tilt, where there were none, and look after them on the Saturday mornings that he would be lying up there. The next morning he put them on his toboggan, and shouldering his gun he started out.
Not far away he saw the first marten track in the edge of the spruce woods near the lake. Farther on there were more. This was very satisfactory indeed, and he observed to himself,
"The's a wonderful lot o' footin', and 'tis sure a' fine place for martens."
He went to work at once, and one after another the traps were set, some of them in a little circular enclosure made by sticking spruce boughs in the snow, to which a narrow entrance was left, and in this entrance the trap placed and carefully concealed under loose snow and the chain fastened to a near-by sapling. In the centre of each of the enclosures a bit of fresh partridge was placed for bait, to reach which the animal would have to pass over the trap. Where a tree of sufficient size was found in a promising place he chopped it down, a few feet above the snow, cut a notch in the top, and placed the trap in the notch, and arranged the bait over it in such a way that the animal climbing the stump would be compelled to stand upon the trap to secure the meat.
All the marten traps were soon set, but there still remained two fox traps. These he took to a marsh some distance beyond the lake, as the most likely place for foxes to be, for while the marten stays amongst the trees, the fox prefers marshes or barrens. Here, in a place where the snow was hard, he carefully cut out a cube, making a hole deep enough for the trap to set below the surface. A square covering of crust was trimmed thin with his sheath knife, and fitted over the trap in such a way as to completely conceal it. The chain was fastened to a stump and also carefully concealed. Then over and around the trap pieces of ptarmigan were scattered. This he knew was not good fox bait, but it was the best he had.
"Now if I were only havin' a bit o' scent 'twould help me," he commented as he surveyed his work.
Foxes prefer meat or fish that is tainted and smells bad, and the more decomposed it is, the better it suits them. Bob had no tainted meat now, so he used what he had, in the hope that it might prove effective. A few drops of perfumery, or "scent," as he called it, would have made the fresh meat that he used more attractive to the animals, but unfortunately he had none of that either.
As he left the marsh and crossed from a neck of woods to the lake shore he saw two moving objects far out upon the ice. He dropped behind a clump of bushes. They were caribou.
His gun would not reach them at that distance, and he picked up a dried stick and broke it. They heard the noise and looked towards him. He stood up, exposing himself for the fraction of a second, then concealed himself behind the bushes again. Caribou are very inquisitive animals, and these walked towards him, for they wanted to ascertain what the strange object was that they had seen. When they had come within easy range he selected the smaller one, a young buck, aimed carefully at a spot behind the shoulders, and fired. The animal fell and its mate stood stupidly still and looked at it, and then advanced and smelled of it. Even the report of the gun had not satisfied its curiosity.
It would have been an easy matter for Bob to shoot this second caribou, but the one he had killed was quite sufficient for his needs, and to kill the other would have been ruthless slaughter, little short of murder, and something that Bob, who was a true sportsman, would not stoop to. He therefore stepped out from his cover and revealed himself. Then when the animal saw him clearly, a living enemy, it turned and fled.
Bob removed the skin and quartered the carcass. These he loaded upon his toboggan and hauled to his tilt. The meat was suspended from the limb of a tree outside, where animals could not reach it and where it would freeze and keep sweet until needed. A small piece was taken into the tilt for immediate use, and some portions of the neck placed in the corner of the tilt where they would decompose somewhat and thus be rendered into desirable fox bait. The skin was stretched against the logs of the side of the shack farthest from the stove, to dry. This would make an excellent cover for Bob's couch and be warm and comfortable to sleep upon. The sinew, taken from the back of the animal, was scraped and hung from the roof to season, for he would need it later to use as thread with which to repair moccasins.
Now there was little to do for two or three days, and Bob began for the first time to understand the true loneliness of his new life. The wilderness was working its mysterious influence upon him. It seemed a long, long while since Bill had left him, and he recalled his last Sunday at Wolf Bight as one recalls an event years after it has happened. Sometimes he longed passionately for home and human companionship. At other times he was quite content with his day to day existence, and almost forgot that the world contained any one else.
Early the next week he visited the traps. In one he found a Canada jay that had tried to filch the bait. In another a big white rabbit which had been caught while nibbling the young tops of the spruce boughs with which the trap was enclosed. A single marten rewarded him. The pelt was not prime, as it was yet early in the season, but still it was fairly good and Bob was delighted with it.
The fox traps had not been disturbed, but a fox had been feeding upon the caribou head and entrails, where they had been left upon the ice, and one of the traps was taken up and reset here. The others he also put in order, and returned to the tilt with the rabbit and marten. The former, boiled with small bits of pork, made a splendid stew, and the skin was hung to dry, for, with others it could be fashioned into warm, light slippers to wear inside his moccasins when the colder weather came.
The marten pelt was removed from the body by splitting it down the inside of the hind legs to the trunk, and then pulling it down over the head, turning it inside out in the process. In the tilt were a number of stretching boards, that Douglas had provided, tapered down from several inches wide at one end until they were narrow enough at the other end to slip snugly into the nose of the pelt. Over one of these, with the flesh side out, the skin was tightly drawn and fastened. Then with his knife Bob scraped it carefully, removing such fat and flesh as had adhered to it, after which he placed it in a convenient place to dry.
Bob felt very much elated over this first catch of fur, and was anxious to get at the real trapping. It was only Tuesday, and Bill would not be at the river tilt until Friday of the following week, but he decided to start back the next morning and set all his traps. So on Wednesday morning, with a quarter of venison on his flat sled, he turned down over the trail.
Everything went well. Signs of fur were good and Bob was brimming over with anticipation when a week later he reached the river.
Bill did not arrive until after dark the next evening, and when he pushed the tilt door open he found Bob frying venison steak and a kettle of tea ready for supper.
"Ho, Bob, back ahead o' me, be un? Where'd ye get th' deer's meat?"
"Knocked un over after you left me. 'Tis fine t' be back an' see you, Bill. I've been wonderful lonesome, and wantin' t' see you wonderful bad."
"An' I was thinkin' ye'd be gettin' lonesome by now. You'll not be mindin' bein' alone when you gets used to un. It's all gettin' used t' un."
"An' what's th' signs o' fur? Be there much marten signs?"
"Aye, some. Looks like un goin' t' be some. An' be there much signs on th' Big Hill trail? Dick says there's a lot o' footin' his way."
"I has one marten," said Bob proudly, "an' finds good signs."
"Un has one a'ready! An' be un a good un?"
"Not so bad."
"Well, you be startin' fine, gettin' th' first marten an' th' first deer."
Bill had taken off his adikey and disposed of his things, and they sat down to eat and enjoy a long evening's chat.
With every week the cold grew in intensity, and with every storm the snow grew deeper, hiding the smaller trees entirely and reaching up towards the lower limbs of the larger ones. The little tilts were covered to the roof, and only a hole in the white mass showed where the door was.
The sun now described a daily narrowing arc in the heavens, and the hours of light were so few that the hunters found it difficult to cover the distance between their tilts in the little while from dawn to dark. On moonlight mornings Bob started long before day, and on starlight evenings finished his day's work after night. His cheeks and nose were frost-bitten and black, but he did not mind that for he was doing well. Two weeks before Christmas he brought to the river tilt the fur that he had accumulated. There were twenty-eight martens, one mink, two red foxes, one cross fox, a lynx and a wolf. These last two animals he had shot. Bill was already in the tilt when he arrived, and complimented him on his good showing.
Christmas fell on Wednesday that year, and Bill brought word that Dick and Ed were coming up to spend the day with him and Bob. They would reach the tilt on Tuesday night and use the remainder of the week in a caribou hunt, as there were good signs of the animals a little way back in the marshes and they were in need of fresh meat.
"An' I'll not try t' be gettin' here on Friday," said Bill. "I'll be waitin' till Tuesday."
"I'll be doin' th' same, but I'll be here sure on a Tuesday, an' maybe Monday," answered Bob.
So it was arranged that they should have a holiday, and all be together again. It gave Bob a thrill of pleasure when he thought of meeting Dick and Ed and proudly exhibiting his fur to have them examine and criticise the skins and compliment him. It would make a break in the monotonous life.
The day after Bob left the river tilt on his return round, the great dream with which he had started out from Wolf Bight became a reality. He caught a silver fox. It was almost evening when he turned into a marsh where the trap was set. He had caught nothing in it before, and he was thinking seriously of taking it up and placing it farther along the trail. But now in the half dusk, as he approached, something moved. "Sure 'tis a cross," said he. When he came closer and saw that it was really a silver he could not for a moment believe his good fortune. It was too good to be true. When he had killed it and taken it out of the trap he hurried to the tilt hugging it closely to his breast as though afraid it would get away.
In the tilt he lighted a candle and examined it. It was a beauty! It was worth a lot of money! He patted it and turned it over. Then—there was no one to see him and question his manhood or jibe at his weakness—he cried—cried for pure joy. "Tis th' savin' o' Emily an' makin' she well—an' makin' she well!" He had prayed that he would get a silver, but his faith had been weak and he had never really believed he should. Now he had it and his cup of joy was full. "Sure th' Lard be good," he repeated to himself.
It was starlight two evenings later when he neared his last tilt. Clear and beautiful and intensely cold was the silent white wilderness and Bob's heart was as clear and light as the frosty air. When the black spot that marked the roof of the almost hidden shack met his view he stopped. A thin curl of smoke was rising from the stovepipe. Some one was in the tilt! He hesitated for only a moment, then hurried forward and pushed the door open. There, smoking his pipe sat Micmac John.
MICMAC JOHN'S REVENGE
"Evenin', Bob," said Micmac.
"Evenin', John. An' where'd you be comin' from now?"
"Been huntin' t' th' suth'ard. Thought I'd drop in an' see ye."
"Glad t' see ye, John."
After an awkward pause Bob asked:
"What un do wi' th' stove, John?"
"From th' river tilt. Ye took un, didn't ye?"
"No, I didn't take no stove. I weren't in th' river tilt, an' don't know what yer talkin' about," lied the half-breed.
"Some one took un an' we was layin' it t' you. Now I wonders who 'twere."
"Well, I wouldn't take it. Ye ought t' known I wouldn't do a thing like that," insisted Micmac, with an air of injured innocence. "Maybe th' Mingen Injuns took it. There's been some around an' they says they'll take anything they find, an' fur too, if they find any in th' tilts. These are their huntin' grounds an' outsiders has no right on 'em. They gave me right t' hunt down t' th' suth'ard."
"Who may th' Mingen Injuns be, now?"
"Mountaineers as belong Mingen way up south, an' hunts between this an' th' Straits."
"I were thinkin' 'twere th' Nascaupees took th' stove if you didn't take un."
"Th' Nascaupees are back here a bit t' th' west'ard. I saw some of 'em one day when I was cruisin' that way an' I made tracks back fer I didn't want t' die so quick. They'll kill anybody they see in here, an' burn th' tilts if they happen over this way an' see 'em. Ye have t' be on th' watch fer 'em all th' time."
"I'll be watchin' out fer un an' keep clear if I sees their footin'," said Bob as he went out to bring in his things.
What Micmac said about the Nascaupees disturbed him not a little. Bob was brave, but every man, no matter how brave he may be, fears an unseen danger when he believes that danger is real and is apt to come upon him unexpectedly and at a time when no opportunity will be offered for defense. It was evident that these Indians were close at hand, and that he was in daily and imminent danger of being captured, which meant, he was sure, being killed. But he was here for a purpose—to catch all the fur he could—and he must not lose his courage now, before that purpose was accomplished. He must remain on his trail until the hunting season closed. He must be constantly upon his guard, he thought, and perhaps after all would not be discovered. No, he would not let himself be afraid.
When he returned to the tilt Micmac John asked:
"Gettin' much fur?"
"Not so bad," he replied. "I has one silver, an' a fine un, too."
The half-breed showed marked interest at once.
"Let's see him. Got him here?"
"No, I left un in th' third tilt. That's where I caught un."
"Where's yer other fur?"
"I took un all down t' th' river tilt There's a cross among un an' twenty-eight martens."
Micmac John knew well enough the fur had been taken to some other tilt, for when he arrived here early in the afternoon his first care was to look for it, but not a skin had he found, and he was disappointed, for it was the purpose of his visit. Bob, absolutely honest and guileless himself, in spite of Dick's constant assertion that Micmac was a thief and worse, was easily deceived by the half-breed's bland manner. Unfortunately he had not learned that every one else was not as honest and straightforward as himself. Micmac's attempt upon his life he had ascribed to a sudden burst of anger, and it was forgiven and forgotten. The selfish enmity, the blackness of heart, the sinister nature that will never overlook and will go to any length to avenge a real or fancied wrong—the characteristics of a half-breed Indian—were wholly beyond his comprehension. He had never dissembled himself, and he did not know that the smiling face and smooth tongue are often screens of deception.
"We'll be havin' supper now," suggested Bob, lifting the boiling kettle off the stove and throwing in some tea. "I'm fair starved."
After they had eaten Micmac filled his pipe and lounged back, smoking in silence for some time, apparently deep in thought. Finally he asked, "When ye goin' back t' th' river, Bob?"
"I'm not thinkin t' start back till Wednesday an' maybe Thursday, an' reach un Monday or Tuesday after. Bill won't be gettin' there till Tuesday, an' Dick an' Ed expects t' be there then t' spend Christmas an' hunt deer."
"They're needin' fresh meat, an' deer footin's good in th' meshes."
"The's fine signs to th' nuth'ard from th' second lake in, 'bout twenty mile from here. You could get some there. If ye ain't goin' back till Wednesday why don't ye try 'em? Ye'd get as many as ye wanted," volunteered Micmac.
"Where now be that?"
"Why just 'cross th' first mesh up here, an' through th' bush straight over ye'll come to a lake. Cross that t' where a dead tree hangs out over th' ice. Cut in there an' ye'll see my footin'; foller it over t' th' next lake, then turn right t' th' nuth'ard. The's some meshes in there where th' deer's feedin'. I seen fifteen or twenty, but I didn't want 'em so I let 'em be."
"An' could I make un now in a day?"
"If ye walk sharp an' start early."
"I thinks I'll be startin' in th' mornin' an' campin' over there Sunday, an' Monday I'll be there t' hunt. Can't un come 'long, John?"
"No, I'd like t' go but I got t' see my traps. I'll have t' be leavin' ye now," said Micmac, rising.
"Yes, it's fine moonlight an' I can make it all right."
"Ye better stay th' night wi' me, John. There'll be no difference in a day."
"No. I planned t' be goin' right back I seen ye. Good evenin'."
"Good evenin', John."
Micmac John started directly south, but when well out of sight of the tilt suddenly swung around to the eastward and, with the long half-running stride of the Indian, made a straight line for the tilt where Bob had left his silver fox. The moon was full, and the frost that clung to the trees and bushes sparkled like flakes of silver. The aurora faintly searched the northern sky. A rabbit, white and spectre-like, scurried across the half-breed's path, but he did not notice it. Hour after hour his never tiring feet swung the wide snow-shoes in and out with a rhythmic chug-chug as he ran on.
It was nearly morning when at length he slackened his pace, and with the caution of the lifelong hunter approached the tilt as he would have stalked an animal. He made quite certain that the shack was untenanted, then entered boldly. He struck a match and found a candle, which he lighted. There was the silver fox, where Bob had left it. It was dry enough to remove from the board and he loosened it and pulled it off. He examined it critically and gloated over it.
"As black an' fine a one as I ever seen!" he exclaimed. "It'll bring a big price at Mingen. That boy'll never see it again, an' I'll clean out th' rest o' th' fur too, at th' river. Old Campbell'll be sorry when I get through with 'em, he let that feller hunt th' path. He's a fool, an' if he gives me th' slip he'll go back an' say th' Mingen Injuns took his fur. I fixed that wi' my story all right. I'll take th' lot t' Mingen an' get cash fer 'em, an' be back t' th' Bay with open water with 'nuff martens so's they won't suspect me."
He started a fire and slept until shortly after daylight. Then had breakfast and started down the trail towards the river at the same rapid pace that he had held before.
It was not quite dark when he glimpsed the tilt, and approached it with even more caution than he had observed above.
"He don't know enough to lie," said he to himself, referring to Bob, "but it's best t' take care, fer one o' th' others might be here."
When he was satisfied that the tilt was unoccupied he entered boldly and appropriated every skin of fur he found—not only all of Bob's, but also a few martens Bill had left there. No time was lost, for any accident might send Bill or one of the others here at an unexpected moment. The pelts were packed quickly but carefully into his hunting bag and within twenty minutes after his arrival he was retreating up the trail at a half run.
Some time after dark he reached the first tilt above the river, where he spent the night. Short cuts and fast travelling brought him on Sunday night to the tilt at the end of the trail where he had left Bob. He made quite certain that the lad had really gone on his caribou hunt, and then went boldly in and made himself as comfortable as he could for the night without a stove, for Bob had taken the stove with him, to heat his tent.
"If he comes back t'-night and finds me here," he said, "I'll just tell him I changed my mind an' came back t' go on th' deer hunt. I'll lie t' him about what I got in my bag an' he'll never suspicion; he don't know enough."
Micmac John's work was not yet finished. He had arranged a full and complete revenge. Bob's hunt for caribou would carry him far away from the tilt and into a section where no searching party would be likely to go. The half-breed's plan was now to follow and shoot the lad from ambush. If by chance any one ever should find the body—which seemed a quite improbable happening—Bob's death would no doubt be laid at the door of the Nascaupee Indians.