Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Bjoern Lijnema and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: The canoe sped out into the gloom.]
THE GOLD HUNTERS
A Story of Life and Adventure in the Hudson Bay Wilds
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
To the sweet-voiced, dark-eyed little half-Cree maiden
at Lac-Bain, who is the Minnetaki of this story; and to "Teddy" Brown,
guide and trapper, and loyal comrade of the author in many of his
adventures, this book is affectionately dedicated.
THE PURSUIT OF THE HUDSON BAY MAIL
The deep hush of noon hovered over the vast solitude of Canadian
forest. The moose and caribou had fed since early dawn, and were
resting quietly in the warmth of the February sun; the lynx was curled
away in his niche between the great rocks, waiting for the sun to
sink farther into the north and west before resuming his marauding
adventures; the fox was taking his midday slumber and the restless
moose-birds were fluffing themselves lazily in the warm glow that was
beginning to melt the snows of late winter.
It was that hour when the old hunter on the trail takes off his pack,
silently gathers wood for a fire, eats his dinner and smokes his pipe,
eyes and ears alert;--that hour when if you speak above a whisper, he
will say to you,
"Sh-h-h-h! Be quiet! You can't tell how near we are to game.
Everything has had its morning feed and is lying low. The game won't
be moving again for an hour or two, and there may be moose or caribou
a gunshot ahead. We couldn't hear them--now!"
And yet, after a time one thing detached itself from this lifeless
solitude. At first it was nothing more than a spot on the sunny side
of a snow-covered ridge. Then it moved, stretched itself like a dog,
with its forefeet extended far to the front and its shoulders hunched
low--and was a wolf.
A wolf is a heavy sleeper after a feast. A hunter would have said that
this wolf had gorged itself the night before. Still, something had
alarmed it. Faintly there came to this wilderness outlaw that most
thrilling of all things to the denizens of the forest--the scent of
man. He came down the ridge with the slow indifference of a full-fed
animal, and with only a half of his old cunning; trotted across the
softening snow of an opening and stopped where the man-scent was so
strong that he lifted his head straight up to the sky and sent out to
his comrades in forest and plain the warning signal that he had struck
a human trail. A wolf will do this, and no more, in broad day. At
night he might follow, and others would join him in the chase; but
with daylight about him he gives the warning and after a little slinks
away from the trail.
But something held this wolf. There was a mystery in the air which
puzzled him. Straight ahead there ran the broad, smooth trail of a
sled and the footprints of many dogs. Sometime within the last hour
the "dog mail" from Wabinosh House had passed that way on its long
trip to civilization. But it was not the swift passage of man and
dog that held the wolf rigidly alert, ready for flight--and yet
hesitating. It was something from the opposite direction, from the
North, out of which the wind was coming. First it was sound; then it
was scent--then both, and the wolf sped in swift flight up the sunlit
In the direction from which the alarm came there stretched a small
lake, and on its farther edge, a quarter of a mile away, there
suddenly darted out from the dense rim of balsam forest a jumble of
dogs and sledge and man. For a few moments the mass of animals seemed
entangled in some kind of wreck or engaged in one of those fierce
battles in which the half-wild sledge-dogs of the North frequently
engage, even on the trail. Then there came the sharp, commanding cries
of a human voice, the cracking of a whip, the yelping of the
huskies, and the disordered team straightened itself and came like a
yellowish-gray streak across the smooth surface of the lake. Close
beside the sledge ran the man. He was tall, and thin, and even at that
distance one would have recognized him as an Indian. Hardly had the
team and its wild-looking driver progressed a quarter of the distance
across the lake when there came a shout farther back, and a second
sledge burst into view from out of the thick forest. Beside this
sledge, too, a driver was running with desperate speed.
The leader now leaped upon his sledge, his voice rising in sharp cries
of exhortation, his whip whirling and cracking over the backs of his
dogs. The second driver still ran, and thus gained upon the team
ahead, so that when they came to the opposite side of the lake, where
the wolf had sent out the warning cry to his people, the twelve dogs
of the two teams were almost abreast.
Quickly there came a slackening in the pace set by the leading dog of
each team, and half a minute later the sledges stopped. The dogs flung
themselves down in their harness, panting, with gaping jaws, the snow
reddening under their bleeding feet. The men, too, showed signs of
terrible strain. The elder of these, as we have said, was an Indian,
pure breed of the great Northern wilderness. His companion was a youth
who had not yet reached his twenties, slender, but with the strength
and agility of an animal in his limbs, his handsome face bronzed by
the free life of the forest, and in his veins a plentiful strain of
that blood which made his comrade kin.
In those two we have again met our old friends Mukoki and Wabigoon:
Mukoki, the faithful old warrior and pathfinder, and Wabigoon, the
adventurous half-Indian son of the factor of Wabinosh House. Both
were at the height of some great excitement. For a few moments, while
gaining breath, they gazed silently into each other's face.
"I'm afraid--we can't--catch them, Muky," panted the younger. "What do
He stopped, for Mukoki had thrown himself on his knees in the snow a
dozen feet in front of the teams. From that point there ran straight
ahead of them the trail of the dog mail. For perhaps a full minute he
examined the imprints of the dogs' feet and the smooth path made
by the sledge. Then he looked up, and with one of those inimitable
chuckles which meant so much when coming from him, he said:
"We catch heem--sure! See--sledge heem go _deep_. Both ride. Big load
for dogs. We catch heem--sure!"
"But our dogs!" persisted Wabigoon, his face still filled with doubt.
"They're completely bushed, and my leader has gone lame. See how
The huskies, as the big wolfish sledge-dogs of the far North are
called, were indeed in a pitiable condition. The warm sun had weakened
the hard crust of the snow until at every leap the feet of the animals
had broken through, tearing and wounding themselves on its ragged,
knife-like edges. Mukoki's face became more serious as he carefully
examined the teams.
"Bad--ver' bad," he grunted. "We fool--fool!"
"For not bringing dog shoes?" said Wabigoon. "I've got a dozen shoes
on my sledge--enough for three dogs. By George--" He leaped quickly to
his toboggan, caught up the dog moccasins, and turned again to the old
Indian, alive with new excitement. "We've got just one chance, Muky!"
he half shouted.
"Pick out the strongest dogs. One of us must go on alone!"
The sharp commands of the two adventurers and the cracking of Mukoki's
whip brought the tired and bleeding animals to their feet. Over the
pads of three of the largest and strongest were drawn the buckskin
moccasins, and to these three, hitched to Wabigoon's sledge, were
added six others that appeared to have a little endurance still left
in them. A few moments later the long line of dogs was speeding
swiftly over the trail of the Hudson Bay mail, and beside the sled ran
Thus this thrilling pursuit of the dog mail had continued since early
dawn. For never more than a minute or two at a time had there been a
rest. Over mountain and lake, through dense forest and across barren
plain man and dog had sped without food or drink, snatching up
mouthfuls of snow here and there--always their eyes upon the fresh
trail of the flying mail. Even the fierce huskies seemed to understand
that the chase had become a matter of life and death, and that they
were to follow the trail ahead of them, ceaselessly and without
deviation, until the end of their masters was accomplished. The human
scent was becoming stronger and stronger in their wolf-like nostrils.
Somewhere on that trail there were men, and other dogs, and they were
to overtake them!
Even now, bleeding and stumbling as they ran, the blood of battle, the
excitement of the chase, was hot within them. Half-wolf, half-dog,
their white fangs snarling as stronger whiffs of the man-smell came to
them, they were filled with the savage desperation of the youth who
urged them on. The keen instinct of the wild pointed out their road to
them, and they needed no guiding hand. Faithful until the last they
dragged on their burden, their tongues lolling farther from their
jaws, their hearts growing weaker, their eyes bloodshot until they
glowed like red balls. Now and then, when he had run until his
endurance was gone, Wabigoon would fling himself upon the sledge to
regain breath and rest his limbs, and the dogs would tug harder,
scarce slackening their speed under the increased weight. Once a huge
moose crashed through the forest a hundred paces away, but the huskies
paid no attention to it; a little farther on a lynx, aroused from
his sun bath on a rock, rolled like a great gray ball across the
trail,--the dogs cringed but for an instant at the sight of this
mortal enemy of theirs, and then went on.
Slower and slower grew the pace. The rearmost dog was now no more than
a drag, and reaching a keen-edged knife far out over the end of the
sledge Wabi severed his breast strap and the exhausted animal rolled
out free beside the trail. Two others of the team were pulling scarce
a pound, another was running lame, and the trail behind was spotted
with pads of blood. Each minute added to the despair that was growing
in the youth's face. His eyes, like those of his faithful dogs, were
red from the terrible strain of the race, his lips were parted, his
legs, as tireless as those of a red deer, were weakening under him.
More and more frequently he flung himself upon the sledge, panting
for breath, and shorter and shorter became his intervals of running
between these periods of rest. The end of the chase was almost at
hand. They could not overtake the Hudson Bay mail!
With a final cry of encouragement Wabi sprang from the sledge and
plunged along at the head of the dogs, urging them on in one last
supreme effort. Ahead of them was a break in the forest trail and
beyond that, mile upon mile, stretched the vast white surface of Lake
Nipigon. And far out in the glare of sun and snow there moved an
object, something that was no more than a thin black streak to
Wabi's blinded eyes but which he knew was the dog mail on its way to
civilization. He tried to shout, but the sound that fell from his lips
could not have been heard a hundred paces away; his limbs tottered
beneath him; his feet seemed suddenly to turn into lead, and he sank
helpless into the snow. The faithful pack crowded about him licking
his face and hands, their hot breath escaping between their gaping
jaws like hissing steam For a few moments it seemed to the Indian
youth that day had suddenly turned into night. His eyes closed, the
panting of the dogs came to him more and more faintly, as if they were
moving away; he felt himself sinking, sinking slowly down into utter
Desperately he fought to bring himself back into life. There was one
more chance--just one! He heard the dogs again, he felt their tongues
upon his hands and face, and he dragged himself to his knees, groping
out with his hands like one who had gone blind. A few feet away was
the sledge, and out there, far beyond his vision now, was the Hudson
Foot by foot he drew himself out from among the tangle of dogs. He
reached the sledge, and his fingers gripped convulsively at the cold
steel of his rifle. One more chance! One more chance! The words--the
thought--filled his brain, and he raised the rifle to his shoulder,
pointing its muzzle up to the sky so that he would not harm the dogs.
And then, once, twice, five times he fired into the air, and at the
end of the fifth shot he drew fresh cartridges from his belt,
and fired again and again, until the black streak far out in the
wilderness of ice and snow stopped in its progress--and turned back.
And still the sharp signals rang out again and again, until the barrel
of Wabi's rifle grew hot, and his cartridge belt was empty.
Slowly the gloom cleared away before his eyes. He heard a shout, and
staggered to his feet, stretching out his arms and calling a name as
the dog mail stopped half a hundred yards from his own team.
With something between a yell of joy and a cry of astonishment a youth
of about Wabi's age sprang from the second sleigh and ran to the
Indian boy, catching him in his arms as for a second time, he sank
fainting upon the snow.
"Wabi--what's the matter?" he cried. "Are you hurt? Are you--"
For a moment Wabigoon struggled to overcome his weakness.
"Rod--" he whispered, "Rod--Minnetaki--"
His lips ceased to move and he sank heavily in his companion's arms.
"What is it, Wabi? Quick! Speak!" urged the other. His face had grown
strangely white, his voice trembled. "What about--Minnetaki?"
Again the Indian youth fought to bring himself back to life. His words
"Minnetaki--has been captured--by--the--Woongas!"
Then even his breath seemed to stop, and he lay like one dead.
MINNETAKI IN THE HANDS OF THE OUTLAWS
For a brief time Roderick believed that life had indeed passed from
the body of his young friend. So still did Wabi lie and so terrifying
was the strange pallor in his face that the white boy found himself
calling on his comrade in a voice filled with choking sobs. The driver
of the dog mail dropped on his knees beside the two young hunters.
Running his hand under Wabi's thick shirt he held it there for an
instant, and said, "He's alive!"
Quickly drawing a small metal flask from one of his pockets he
unscrewed the top, and placing the mouthpiece to the Indian youth's
lips forced a bit of its contents down his throat. The liquor had
almost immediate effect, and Wabigoon opened his eyes, gazed into the
rough visage of the courier, then closed them again. There was relief
in the courier's face as he pointed to the dogs from Wabinosh House.
The exhausted animals were lying stretched upon the snow, their heads
drooping between their forefeet. Even the presence of a rival team
failed to arouse them from their lethargy. One might have thought that
death had overtaken them upon the trail were it not for their panting
sides and lolling tongues.
"He's not hurt!" exclaimed the driver, "see the dogs! He's been
running--running until he dropped in his tracks!"
The assurance brought but little comfort to Rod. He could feel the
tremble of returning life in Wabi's body now, but the sight of the
exhausted and bleeding dogs and the memory of his comrade's last words
had filled him with a new and terrible fear. What had happened to
Minnetaki? Why had the factor's son come all this distance for him?
Why had he pursued the mail until his dogs were nearly dead, and he
himself had fallen unconscious in his tracks? Was Minnetaki dead? Had
the Woongas killed Wabi's beautiful little sister?
Again and again he implored his friend to speak to him, until the
courier pushed him back and carried Wabi to the mail sled.
"Hustle up there to that bunch of spruce and build a fire," he
commanded. "We've got to get something hot into him, and rub him down,
and roll him in furs. This is bad enough, bad enough!"
Rod waited to hear no more, but ran to the clump of spruce to which
the courier had directed him. Among them he found a number of birch
trees, and stripping off an armful of bark he had a fire blazing upon
the snow by the time the dog mail drew up with its unconscious burden.
While the driver was loosening Wabi's clothes and bundling him in
heavy bearskins Rod added dry limbs to the fire until it threw a warm
glow for a dozen paces around. Within a few minutes a pot of ice and
snow was melting over the flames and the courier was opening a can of
The deathly pallor had gone from Wabi's face, and Rod, kneeling close
beside him, was rejoiced to see the breath coming more and more
regularly from between his lips. But even as he rejoiced the other
fear grew heavier at his heart. What had happened to Minnetaki? He
found himself repeating the question again and again as he watched
Wabi slowly returning to life, and, so quickly that it had passed in a
minute or two, there flashed through his mind a vision of all that had
happened the last few months. For a few moments, as his mind traveled
back, he was again in Detroit with his widowed mother; he thought of
the day he had first met Wabigoon, the son of an English factor and a
beautiful Indian princess, who had come far down into civilization to
be educated; of the friendship that had followed, of their weeks and
months together in school, and then of those joyous days and nights in
which they had planned a winter of thrilling adventure at Wabi's home
in the far North.
And what adventures there had been, when, as the Wolf Hunters, he and
Wabi and Mukoki had braved the perils of the frozen solitudes! As
Wabigoon's breath came more and more regularly he thought of that
wonderful canoe trip from the last bit of civilization up into the
wilds; of his first sight of moose, the first bear he had killed, and
of his meeting with Minnetaki.
His eyes became blurred and his heart grew cold as he thought of what
might have happened to her. A vision of the girl swept between him and
Wabi's face, in which the glow of life was growing warmer and warmer,
a vision of the little half-Indian maiden as he had first seen her,
when she came out to meet them in her canoe from Wabinosh House, the
sun shining on her dark hair, her cheeks flushed with excitement, her
eyes and teeth sparkling in glad welcome to her beloved brother
and the white youth of whom she had heard so much--the boy from
civilization--Roderick Drew. He remembered how his cap had blown off
into the water, how she had rescued it for him. In a flash all that
passed after that came before him like a picture; the days that he and
Minnetaki had rambled together in the forest, the furious battle
in which, single-handed, he had saved her from those fierce outlaw
Indians of the North, the Woongas; and after that he thought of
the weeks of thrilling adventure they three--Mukoki, Wabigoon and
himself--had spent in the wilderness far from the Hudson Bay Post, of
their months of trapping, their desperate war with the Woongas, the
discovery of the century-old cabin and its ancient skeletons, and
their finding of the birch-bark map between the bones of one of the
skeleton's fingers, on which, dimmed by age, was drawn the trail to a
land of gold.
Instinctively, as for an instant this map came into his mental
picture, he thrust a hand into one of his inside pockets to feel that
his own copy of that map was there, the map which was to have brought
him back into this wilderness a few weeks hence, when they three would
set out on the romantic quest for the gold to which the skeletons in
the old cabin had given them the key.
The vision left him as he saw a convulsive shudder pass through
Wabigoon. In another moment the Indian youth had opened his eyes, and
as he looked up into Rod's eager face he smiled feebly. He tried to
speak, but words failed him, and his eyes closed again. There was a
look of terror in Roderick's face as he turned to the courier, who
came to his side. Less than twenty-four hours before he had left
Wabigoon in the full strength of his splendid youth at Wabinosh House,
a lithe young giant, hardened by their months of adventure, quivering
with buoyant life, anxious for the spring that they might meet again
to take up another trail into the unexplored North.
And now what a change! The glimpse he had caught of Wabi's bloodshot
eyes, the terrible thinness of the Indian youth's face, the chilling
lifelessness of his hands, made him shiver with dread. Was it
possible that a few short hours could bring about that remarkable
transformation? And where was Mukoki, the faithful old warrior from
whose guardianship Wabigoon and Minnetaki were seldom allowed to
It seemed an hour before Wabi opened his eyes again, and yet it was
only a few minutes. This time Rod lifted him gently in his arms and
the courier placed a cup of the hot soup to his lips. The warmth of
the liquid put new life into the famished Indian youth. He drank
slowly of it at first, then eagerly, and when he had finished the cup
he made an effort to sit up.
"I'll take another," he said faintly. "It's mighty good!"
He drank the second cup with even greater relish. Then he sat bolt
upright, stretched out his arms, and with his companion's assistance
staggered to his feet. His bloodshot eyes burned with a strange
excitement as he looked at Rod.
"I was afraid--I wouldn't--catch you!"
"What is it, Wabi? What has happened? You say--Minnetaki--"
"Has been captured by the Woongas. Chief Woonga himself is her captor,
and they are taking her into the North. Rod, only you can save her!"
"Only--I--can--save--her?" gasped Rod slowly. "What do you mean?"
"Listen!" cried the Indian boy, clutching him by the arm. "You
remember that after our fight with the Woongas and our escape from the
chasm we fled to the south, and that the next day, while you were away
from camp hunting for some animal that would give us fat for Mukoki's
wound, you discovered a trail. You told us that you followed the
sledge tracks, and that after a time the party had been met by others
on snow-shoes, and that among the imprints in the snow was one that
made you think of Minnetaki. When we reached the Post we learned that
Minnetaki and two sledges had gone to Kenegami House and at once
concluded that those snow-shoe trails were made by Kenegami people
sent out to meet her. But they were not! They were made by Woongas!
"One of the guides, who escaped with a severe wound, brought the news
to us last night, and the doctor at the Post says that his hurt is
fatal and that he will not live another day. Everything depends on
you. You and the dying guide are the only two who know where to find
the place where the attack was made. It has been thawing for two days
and the trail may be obliterated. But you saw Minnetaki's footprints.
You saw the snow-shoe trails. You--and you alone--know which way they
Wabi spoke rapidly, excitedly, and then sank down on the sledge,
weakened by his exertion.
"We have been chasing you with two teams since dawn," he added, "and
pretty nearly killed the dogs. As a last chance we doubled up the
teams and I came on alone. I left Mukoki a dozen miles back on the
Rod's blood had turned cold with horror at the knowledge that
Minnetaki was in the clutches of Woonga himself. The terrible change
in Wabi was no longer a mystery. Both Minnetaki and her brother had
told him more than once of the relentless feud waged against Wabinosh
House by this bloodthirsty savage and during the last winter he had
come into personal contact with it. He had fought, had seen people
die, and had almost fallen a victim to Woonga's vengeance.
But it was not of these things that he thought just now. It was of the
reason for the feud, and something rose in his throat and choked him
until he made no effort to speak. Many years before, George Newsome, a
young Englishman, had come to Wabinosh House, and there he had met
and fallen in love with a beautiful Indian princess, who loved him in
turn, and became his wife. Woonga, chief of a warlike tribe, had been
his rival, and when the white man won in the battle for love his
fierce heart blazed with the fire of hatred and revenge. From that day
the relentless strife against the people of Wabinosh House began. The
followers of Woonga turned from trappers and hunters to murderers and
outlaws, and became known all over that wilderness country as the
Woongas. For years the feud had continued. Like a hawk Woonga watched
his opportunities, killing here, robbing there, and always waiting a
chance to rob the factor of his wife or children. Only a few weeks
before Rod had saved Minnetaki in that terrible struggle in the
forest. And now, more hopelessly than before, she had fallen into the
clutches of her enemies, and alone with Woonga was being carried into
the far North country, into those vast unexplored regions from which
she would probably never return!
Rod turned to Wabi, his hands clenched, his eyes blazing.
"I can find the trail, Wabi! I can find the trail--and we'll follow
it to the North Pole if we have to! We beat the Woongas in the
chasm--we'll beat them now! We'll find Minnetaki if it takes us until
From far back in the forest there came the faint pistol-like cracks of
a whip, the distant hallooing of a voice.
For a few moments the three stood listening.
The voice came again.
"It's Mukoki," said Wabigoon, "Mukoki and the other dogs!"
ON THE TRAIL OF THE WOONGAS
The cries came nearer, interspersed with the cracking of Mukoki's whip
as he urged on the few lagging dogs that Wabi had left with him upon
the trail. In another moment the old warrior and his team burst into
view and both of the young hunters hurried to meet him. A glance
showed Rod that a little longer and Mukoki would have dropped in his
tracks, as Wabi had done. The two led their faithful comrade to the
heap of bearskins on the mail sled and made him sit there while fresh
soup was being made.
"You catch heem," grinned Mukoki joyously. "You catch heem--queek!"
"And pretty nearly killed himself doing it, Muky," added Rod. "Now--"
he glanced from one to the other of his companions, "what is the first
thing to be done?" "We must strike for the Woonga trail without a
moment of unnecessary delay," declared Wabi. "Minutes are priceless,
an hour lost or gained may mean everything!"
"But the dogs--"
"You can take mine," interrupted the courier. "There are six of them,
all good heavy fellows and not overly bushed. You can add a few of
your own and I'll take what's left to drive on the mail. I would
advise you to rest for an hour or so and give them and yourselves a
good feed. It'll count in the long run."
Mukoki grunted his approval of the driver's words and Rod at once
began gathering more fuel for the fire. The temporary camp was soon
a scene of the liveliest activity. While the courier unpacked his
provisions, Mukoki and Wabigoon assembled the teams and proceeded to
select three of the best of their own animals to put in harness with
those of the Hudson Bay mail. The dogs from Wabinosh House were wildly
famished and at the sight and odor of the great piece of meat which
the courier began cutting up for them they set up a snarling and
snapping of jaws, and began fighting indiscriminately among themselves
until the voices of their human companions were almost drowned in the
tumult. A full pound of the meat was given to each dog, and other
pieces of it were suspended over beds of coals drawn out from the big
fire. Meanwhile Rod was chopping through the thick ice of the lake in
search of water.
After a little Wabi came down to join him.
"Our sledge is ready," he said, as Rod stopped to rest for a moment.
"We're a little short on grub for nine dogs and three people, but
we've got plenty of ammunition. We ought to find something on the
"Rabbits, anyway," suggested Rod, resuming his chopping. A few more
strokes, and water gushed through. Filling two pails the boys returned
The shadows from the sharp pointed cedars of the forest were falling
far out upon the frozen lake when the meal was finished, and the sun,
sinking early to its rest beyond the homeless solitudes, infused but
little warmth as the three hunters prepared to leave. It was only
three o'clock, but a penetrating chill was growing in the air. Half
an hour more and only a reddish glow would be where the northern sun
still shone feebly. In the far North winter night falls with the
swiftness of wings; it enshrouds one like a palpable, moving thing, a
curtain of gloom that can almost be touched and felt, and so it came
now, as the dogs were hitched to their sledge and Rod, Mukoki and
Wabigoon bade good-by to the driver of the Hudson Bay mail.
"You'll make the other side in four hours," he called, as Mukoki's
cries sent the dogs trotting out upon the lake. "And then--I'd camp!"
Running on ahead Mukoki set the pace and marked the trail. Wabi took
the first turn on the sledge, and Rod, who was fresher than either of
his comrades, followed close behind. After a little he drew up beside
the young Indian and placed a hand on his shoulder as he ran.
"We will reach our old camp--in the plain--to-morrow?" he questioned,
"To-morrow," affirmed Wabi. "Mukoki will show us the shortest cut to
it. After that, after we reach the camp, everything will depend upon
Rod fell behind in the path made by the sledge, and saved his breath.
His mind was working as never before in his life. When they reached
the camp in which the wounded Mukoki had lain after their escape from
the Woongas, could he find the old trail where he had seen Minnetaki's
footprints? He was quite sure of himself, and yet he was conscious of
an indefinable something growing in him as he noticed more and more
what the sun had done that day. Was it nervousness, or fear? Surely he
could find the trail, even though it was almost obliterated! But he
wished that it had been Mukoki or Wabigoon who had discovered it,
either of whom, with the woodcraft instinct born in them, would have
gone to it as easily as a fox to the end of a strong trail hidden in
autumn leaves. If he did fail--He shuddered, even as he ran, as he
thought of the fate that awaited Minnetaki. A few hours before he had
been one of the happiest youths in the world. Wabi's lovely little
sister, he had believed, was safe at Kenegami House; he had bade adieu
to his friends at the Post; every minute after that had taken him
nearer to that far city in the South, to his mother, and home. And now
so suddenly that he had hardly come to realize the situation he was
plunged into what gave promise of being the most thrilling and tragic
adventure of his life. A few weeks more, when spring had come, he
would have returned to his friends accompanied by his mother, and they
three--Mukoki, Wabigoon and he--would have set out on their romantic
quest for the lost gold-mine that had been revealed to them by the
ancient skeletons in the old cabin. Even as these visions were glowing
in his brain there had come the interruption, the signal shots on the
lake, the return of the dog mail, and now this race to save the life
In his eagerness he ran ahead of the sledge and urged Mukoki into a
faster pace. Every ten minutes the one who rode exchanged place with
one of the runners, so that there were intervals of rest for each two
times an hour. Quickly the red glow over the southwestern forests
faded away; the gloom grew thicker; far ahead, like an endless sheet
losing itself in a distant smother of blackness, stretched the ice and
snow of Lake Nipigon. There was no tree, no rock for guidance over
the trackless waste, yet never for an instant did Mukoki or Wabigoon
falter. The stars began burning brilliantly in the sky; far away the
red edge of the moon rose over this world of ice and snow and forest,
throbbing and palpitating like a bursting ball of fire, as one sees it
now and then in the glory of the great northern night.
Tirelessly, mile after mile, hour after hour, broken only by the
short intervals of rest on the sledge, continued the race across Lake
Nipigon. The moon rose higher; the blood in it paled to the crimson
glow of the moose flower, and silvered as it climbed into the sky,
until the orb hung like a great golden-white disk. In the splendor of
it the solitude of ice and snow glistened without end. There was no
sound but the slipping of the sledge, the pattering of the dogs'
moccasined feet, and now and then a few breathless words spoken by Rod
or his companions. It was a little after eight o'clock by Rod's watch
when there came a change in the appearance of the lake ahead of them.
Wabi, who was on the sledge, was the first to notice it, and he
shouted back his discovery to the white youth.
"The forest! We're across!"
The tired dogs seemed to leap into new life at his words, and the
leader replied with a whining joyous cry as the odors of balsam and
fir came to him. The sharp pinnacles of the forest, reaching up into
the night's white glow, grew more and more distinct as the sledge sped
on, and five minutes later the team drew up in a huddled, panting
bunch on the shore. That day the men and dogs from Wabinosh House had
traveled sixty miles.
"We'll camp here!" declared Wabi, as he dropped on the sledge. "We'll
camp here--unless you leave me behind!"
Mukoki, tireless to the last, had already found an ax.
"No rest now," he warned, "Too tired! You rest now--build no camp.
Build camp--then rest!"
"You're right, Muky," cried Wabi, jumping to his feet with forced
enthusiasm. "If I sit down for five minutes I'll fall asleep. Rod, you
build a fire. Muky and I will make the shelter."
In less than half an hour the balsam bough shelter was complete, and
in front of it roared a fire that sent its light and heat for twenty
paces round. From farther back in the forest the three dragged several
small logs, and no sooner had they been added to the flames than both
Mukoki and Wabigoon wrapped themselves in their furs and burrowed deep
into the sweet-scented balsam under the shelter. Rod's experience that
day had not been filled with the terrible hardships of his companions,
and for some time after they had fallen asleep he sat close to the
fire, thinking again of the strangeness with which his fortunes had
changed, and watching the flickering firelight as it played in a
thousand fanciful figures in the deeper and denser gloom of the
forest. The dogs had crept in close to the blazing logs and lay as
still as though life no longer animated their tawny bodies. From far
away there came the lonely howl of a wolf; a great white man-owl
fluttered close to the camp and chortled his crazy, half-human "hello,
hello, hello;" the trees cracked with the tightening frost, but
neither wolf howl nor frost nor the ghostly visitant's insane voice
aroused those who were sleeping.
An hour passed and still Rod sat by the fire; his rifle lying across
his knees. His imagination had painted a thousand pictures in that
time. Never for an instant had his mind ceased to work. Somewhere in
that great wilderness there was another camp-fire that night, and in
that camp Minnetaki was a captive. Some indefinable sensation seemed
to creep into him, telling him that she was awake, and that she was
thinking of her friends. Was it a touch of sleep, or that wonderful
thing called mental telepathy, that wrought the next picture in his
brain? It came with startling vividness. He saw the girl beside a
fire. Her beautiful hair, glistening black in the firelight, hung in a
heavy braid over her shoulder; her eyes were staring wildly into the
flames, as if she were about to leap into them, and back of her so
close that he might have touched her, was a figure that sent a chill
of horror through him. It was Woonga, the outlaw chief! He was
talking, his red face was fiendish, he stretched out a hand!
With a cry that startled the dogs Rod sprang to his feet. He was
shivering as if in a chill. Had he dreamed? Or was it something more
than a dream? He thought of the vision that had come to him weeks
before in the mysterious chasm, the vision of the dancing skeletons,
and which had revealed the secret of the old cabin and the lost gold.
In vain he tried to shake off his nervousness and his fear. Why had
Woonga reached out his hands for Minnetaki? He worked to free himself
of the weight that had fallen on him, stirred the fire until clouds of
sparks shot high up into the gloom of the trees, and added new fuel.
Then he sat down again, and for the twentieth time since leaving
Wabinosh House drew from his pocket the map that was to have led them
on their search for gold when he returned with his mother. It was a
vision that had guided him to the discovery of this precious map, and
the knowledge of it made him more uneasy now. A few moments before he
had seen Minnetaki as plainly as though she had been with him there
beside the fire; he fancied that he might almost have sent a bullet
through the Indian's chief face as he reached out his long arms toward
He stirred the fire again, awakened one of the dogs to keep him
company, and then went in to lie down between Mukoki and Wabigoon in
an attempt at slumber. During the hours that followed he secured only
short snatches of sleep. He dreamed, dreamed constantly of Minnetaki
whenever he lost consciousness. Now he saw her before the fire, as he
had seen her in his vision; again, she was struggling in the Woonga's
powerful grasp. At one time the strife between the two--the young girl
and the powerful savage--became terrible for him to behold, and at
last he saw the Indian catch her in his arms and disappear into the
blackness of the forest.
This time when he wakened Rod made no further effort to sleep. It was
only a little past midnight. His companions had obtained four hours of
rest. In another hour he would arouse them. Quietly he began making
preparations for breakfast, and fed the dogs. At half-past one o'clock
he shook Wabigoon by the shoulder.
"Get up!" he cried, as the Indian youth sat erect. "It's time to go!"
He tried to suppress his nervousness when Mukoki and Wabi joined him
beside the fire. He determined not to let them know of his visions,
for there was gloom enough among them as it was. But he would hurry.
He was the first to get through with breakfast, the first to set to
work among the dogs, and when Mukoki started out at the head of the
team through the forest he was close beside him, urging him to greater
speed by his own endeavors.
"How far are we from the camp, Mukoki?" he asked.
"Four hour--twent' mile," replied the old pathfinder.
"Twenty miles. We ought to make it by dawn."
Mukoki made no answer, but quickened his pace as the cedar and balsam
forest gave place to an open plain which stretched for a mile or two
ahead of them. For an hour longer the moon continued to light up the
wilderness; then, with its descent lower and lower into the west, the
gloom began to thicken, until only the stars were left to guide the
pursuers. Even these were beginning to fade when Mukoki halted the
panting team on the summit of a mountainous ridge, and pointed into
For several minutes the three stood silent, gazing out into the gloom
of the vast solitudes that swept unbroken to Hudson Bay. Again Rod's
blood was thrilled with the romance of what lay at his feet and far
beyond, thrilled with the romance and mystery of that land of the wild
which reached for hundreds of miles into the North, and into which the
foot of the white man had as yet scarce left its imprint.
Before him, enveloped now in the deep gloom of the northern night,
slept a vast unexplored world, a land whose story the passing of
ages had left unrevealed. What tragedies of nature had its silent
fastnesses beheld? What treasure did they hold? Half a century or more
ago the men whose skeletons they had found in the old cabin had braved
the perils of those trackless solitudes, and somewhere hundreds of
miles out in that black gloom they had found gold, the gold that
had fallen as an inheritance to them in the discovery of the old
birch-bark map. And somewhere, somewhere out there was Minnetaki!
Across the plain at their feet the three adventurers had raced for
their lives from the bloodthirsty Woongas only a week or so before;
now they crossed it a second time and at even greater speed, for then
they had possessed no dogs. At the end of another hour Mukoki no
longer traveled faster than a walk. His eyes were constantly on the
alert. Occasionally he would stop the dogs and strike off to the right
or the left of the trail alone. He spoke no word to his companions,
and neither Rod nor Wabigoon offered a suggestion. They knew, without
questioning, that they were approaching their old camp, and just as
the experienced hunter makes no sign or sound while his dog is nosing
out a half-lost trail so they held back while Mukoki, the most famous
pathfinder in all those regions, led them slowly on. The last of the
stars went out. For a time the blackness of the night grew deeper;
then, in the southeast, came the first faint streak of dawn. Day is
born as suddenly as it dies in these regions, and it was soon light
enough for Mukoki to resume his trail at a trot. A few minutes more
and a clump of balsam and spruce loomed up out of the plain ahead of
them. Neither Rod nor Wahigoon recognized it until the old warrior
halted the dogs close in its shadows and they saw the look of triumph
in his face.
"The camp!" breathed Wabi.
Trembling, his voice quivering with suppressed excitement, the Indian
youth turned to Roderick Drew.
"Rod--it's all up to you!"
Mukoki, too, had come close to his side.
"There--camp!" he whispered. "Now--where Minnetaki's trail?"
The old warrior's eyes were blazing.
A dozen paces away was the balsam shelter they had built. But that was
all. Not a track was left in the snow. The warm sun had obliterated
every sign of their presence of a short time before!
If their own trail was gone what could he hope to find of Minnetaki's
Deep down in his heart Rod prayed for guidance in this moment of
ROD FOLLOWS THE MAN-FOOTED BEAR
"I must wait until it is lighter," he said. He tried to control
himself, to fortify himself with the assurance which he no longer
"We will have breakfast," suggested Wabi. "We have cold meat and there
will be no need of a fire."
Finishing before the others, Rod grasped his rifle and walked out from
among the trees. Wabi made a movement as if to follow, but Mukoki held
him back. There was a shrewd light in his eyes.
"He do better--alone," he warned.
The red glow of the sun was rising above the forest and Rod could now
see far about him. He had come out from the cedars, like this, on the
afternoon that he had gone to hunt and had found Minnetaki's trail. A
mile away he saw the snow-covered ridge where he had hunted for moose.
That ridge was his first guide, and he hurried toward it while Mukoki
and Wabigoon followed far behind him with the dogs and the sledge.
He was breathless when he reached the top. Eagerly he gazed into the
North. It was in that direction he had gone on the afternoon of his
discovery of the strange trail. But nothing that he recognized met his
eyes now, no familiar landmark or tree to guide him again over his
wandering footsteps of that day. Vainly he sought along the ridge for
some slight sign of his former presence there. But everything was
gone. The sun had destroyed his last hope.
He was glad that Mukoki and Wabigoon were at the foot of the ridge,
for he knew that his despair almost brought tears to his eyes,
Minnetaki's fate was in his hands--and he had failed. He dreaded to
tell his companions, to let them see his face. For once in his life,
though he was as courageous a youth as ever lived, Roderick Drew
almost wished that he was dead.
Suddenly, as in their hopeless search for some familiar object Rod's
eyes traveled again over the endless waste of snow, he saw, far away,
something that glittered in the morning sun like a pane of glass, and
from his lips there fell a low exultant cry. He remembered now that he
had seen that strange gleam before, that he had gone straight to it
from the ridge and had found it to be a sheet of crystal ice frozen
to the side of a rock from above which the water of a spring gushed
forth. Without waiting for his companions he hurried down the
ridge and sped like a deer across the narrow plain at its foot. A
five-minute run brought him to the rock, and for a moment he paused,
his heart almost choking him in its excitement. Just beyond this he
had first encountered the strange trail. There were no signs of it
left in the snow, but he saw other things which led him on: a huge
rock thrusting itself out of the chaos of white, a dead poplar which
stood in his path, and at last, half a mile ahead, the edge of a dense
He turned and waved his arms wildly to Mukoki and Wabigoon, who were
far behind. Then he ran on, and when he reached the forest he waved
his arms again, and his joy was flung back in a thrilling shout to his
comrades. There was the log on which Minnetaki had been forced to sit
while awaiting the pleasure of her savage captors; he found the very
spot where her footprint had been in the snow, close to a protruding
stub! The outlaw Indians and their captives had rested here for a
brief spell, and had built a fire, and so many feet had beaten the
snow about it that their traces still remained.
He pointed to these signs as Mukoki and Wabigoon joined him.
For several minutes no one of the three spoke a word. Crouched over
until his eyes were within a foot of the snow the old pathfinder
examined every inch of the little clearing in which the Woongas had
built their fire, and when at last he drew himself erect his face
betrayed the utmost astonishment.
The boys saw that in those faint marks in the snow he had discovered
something of unusual if not startling significance.
"What is it, Muky?" asked the young Indian.
Mukoki made no reply, but returning to the charred remains of the
fire he again fell upon his hands and knees and repeated his strange
scrutiny of the snow even more closely than before. When he arose a
second time the astonishment had grown deeper in his face.
"Only six!" he exclaimed. "Two guides from Post--four Woongas!"
"But the wounded driver told us that there were at least a dozen
Woongas in the attacking party," said Wabi.
The old warrior chuckled, and for a moment his face twisted itself
into a ludicrous grimace.
"Driver lie!" he declared. "He run when fight begin. Shot in back
while heem run!"
He pointed into the cold depths of the forest.
"No sun there! Follow trail easy!"
There was no uneasiness in Mukoki's manner now. His eyes gleamed, but
it was with the fire of battle and resolution, not with excitement.
Once before Rod had seen that look in the old warrior's face, when
they two had fought to save Wabigoon's life as they were now about to
fight to save Minnetaki. And he knew what it meant. Cautiously they
penetrated the forest, their eyes and ears alert, and, as Mukoki had
predicted, the trail of the retreating savages was quite distinct.
They had taken both of the captured sledges, and Rod knew that on one
of these Minnetaki was being carried. Hardly had the three progressed
a hundred paces when Mukoki, who was in the lead, stopped short with
a huge grunt. Squarely across the trail lay the body of a dead man. A
glance at the upturned face showed that it was one of the two drivers
from Wabinosh House.
"Head split," said Mukoki, as he led the team around the body. "Shot,
mebby--then killed with ax."
The dogs sniffed and cringed as they passed the slain man, and Rod
shuddered. Involuntarily he thought of what might have happened to
Minnetaki, and he noticed that after passing this spectacle of death
Mukoki doubled his speed. For an hour the pursuit continued without
interruption. The Woongas were traveling in a narrow trail, single
file, with the two sledges between their number. At the end of that
hour the three came upon the remains of another camp-fire near which
were built two cedar-bough shelters. Here the tracks in the snow were
much fresher; in places they seemed to have been but lately made.
Still there were no evidences of the captured girl. The boys could see
that Mukoki himself had found no explanation for the sudden freshness
of the trail and for the absence of Minnetaki's footprints among the
tracks. Again and again the shrewd old pathfinder went over the camp.
Not a sign escaped his eyes, not a mark or a broken stick but that was
examined by him. Rod knew that Minnetaki's capture must have occurred
at least three days before, and yet the tracks about this camp were
not more than a day old, if they were that. What did it mean?
The very mystery of the thing filled him with a nameless fear. Why had
not the outlaw Woongas continued their flight? Why this delay so near
the scene of their crime? He glanced at Wabi, but the Indian youth was
as bewildered as himself. In his eyes, too, there was the gleam of a
fear which he could not have named.
Mukoki was beside the charred remains of the fire. He had buried his
hand deep among them, and when he rose be made a sign toward Rod's
"Eight o'clock, Mukoki."
"Woonga here las' night," declared the old Indian slowly. "Leave camp
four hour ago!"
What did it mean?
Had Minnetaki been hurt, so dangerously hurt that her captors had not
dared to move her?
Rod asked himself no more questions. But he was trembling. And Mukoki
and Wabigoon went on with strange, unnatural faces and breathed not
the whisper of a word between them. The mystery was beyond them all.
But one thing they realized, whatever had happened they were close
upon the heels of the savages. And each step brought them nearer,
for with every mile the freshness of the trail increased. Then came
another great surprise.
The trail divided!
At the edge of a small opening the Indians had separated themselves
into two parties. The trail of one sledge led into the northeast, that
of the other into the northwest!
With which sledge was Minnetaki? They looked at one another in
Mukoki pointed to the trail into the northeast.
"We must fin' sign--sign of Minnetaki. You take that--I take this!"
Rod started off at a dog trot over the easternmost trail. At the
farther side of the opening, where the sledge had plunged into a clump
of hazel, he suddenly stopped, and for a second time that morning
a thrilling cry escaped his lips. On a projecting thorny twig,
glistening full in the sun, there fluttered a long, silken strand of
hair. He reached out for it, but Wabi caught his hand, and in another
moment Mukoki had joined them. Gently he took the raven tress between
his fingers, his deep-set eyes glaring like red coals of fire. It was
a strand of Minnetaki's beautiful hair, not for a moment did one of
them doubt that; but what held them most, what increased the horror in
their eyes, was the quantity of it! Suddenly Mukoki gave it a gentle
pull and the tress slipped free of the twig.
In the next breath he uttered the only expression of supreme disgust
in his vocabulary a long-drawn, hissing sound which he used only in
those moments when his command of English was entirely inadequate to
"Minnetaki on other sledge!"
He showed the end of the strand to his young companions.
"See--hair been cut! No pulled out by, twig. Woonga hang heem
there--make us think wrong."
He waited for no reply, but darted back to the other trail, with Wabi
and Rod close behind him. A quarter of a mile farther on the old
pathfinder paused and pointed in exultant silence at a tiny footprint
close beside the path of the sledge. At almost regular intervals now
there appeared this sign of Minnetaki's moccasin. Her two guards were
running ahead of the sledge, and it was apparent to the pursuers that
Wabi's sister was taking advantage of her opportunities to leave these
signs behind for those whom she knew would make an attempt at her
rescue. And yet, as they left farther and farther behind them the
trail which ran into the northeast, an inexplicable feeling of
uneasiness began to steal over Rod. What if Mukoki had made a mistake?
His confidence in the old warrior's judgment and sagacity was usually
absolute, but it occurred to him, like an ugly humor to stir up his
fears, that if the Woongas could cut off a bit of the girl's hair they
could also take off one of her shoes! Several times he was on the
point of giving audible voice to his suspicions but refrained from
doing so when he saw the assurance with which both Wabi and Mukoki
followed the trail.
Finally he could hold himself no longer.
"Wabi, I'm going back," he cried softly, forging alongside his
companion. "I'm going back and follow the other trail. If I don't find
anything in a mile or so I'll return on the double-quick and overtake
Wabi's efforts to dissuade him were futile, and a few minutes later
Rod was again at the clearing. What presentiment was it that caused
his heart to beat faster and his breath to come in tense excitement as
he stole through the bushes where they had found the silken tress of
hair? What something was it, away down in his soul, that kept urging
him on and on, even after he had gone a mile, and then two miles, in
fruitless search? Rod could not have answered these questions had he
stopped to ask them of himself. He was not superstitious. He did not
believe in dreams. And yet each moment, without apparent reason added
to his conviction that Mukoki had made a mistake, and that Minnetaki
was on the sledge ahead of him.
The country into which he was penetrating grew wilder. Rocky ridges
rose before him, split by rifts and gullies through which the water
must have rushed in torrents in the spring. He listened, and proceeded
more cautiously; and through his mind there flashed a memory of his
thrilling exploration of the mysterious chasm of a few weeks before,
when, in his lonely night camp, he had dreamed of the skeletons. He
was thinking of this when he came around the end of a huge rock which
lay as big as a house in his path. Upon the snow, almost at his feet,
was a sight that froze the blood in his veins. For the second time
that day he gazed upon the distorted features of a dead man. Squarely
across the trail, as the other had lain, was the body of an Indian,
his arms outstretched, his twisted face turned straight up to the
clear sky, the snow about his head glistening a sickening red in the
sun. For a full minute Rod gazed in silent horror on the scene. There
was no sign of a struggle, there were no footprints in the snow. The
man had been killed while upon the sledge, and the only mark he had
made was when he had fallen off.
Who had killed him?
Had Minnetaki saved herself by taking her captor's life?
For a moment Rod was almost convinced that this was so. He examined
the stains in the snow and found that they were still damp and
unfrozen. He was sure that the tragedy had occurred less than an hour
before. More cautiously, and yet swifter than before, he followed the
trail of the sledge, his rifle held in readiness for a shot at
any moment. The path became wilder and in places it seemed almost
inaccessible. But between the tumbled mass of rock the sledge had
found its way, its savage driver not once erring in his choice of the
openings ahead. Gradually the trail ascended until it came to the
summit of a huge ridge. Hardly had Rod reached the top when another
trail cut across that of the sledge.
Deeply impressed in the softening snow were the footprints of a big
The first warm sunshine, thought Rod, had aroused the beast from his
winter sleep, and he was making a short excursion from his den. From
where the bear had crossed the trail the sledge turned abruptly in the
direction from which the bear had come.
Without giving a thought to his action, Rod began his descent of the
ridge in the trail made by the bear, at the same time keeping his eyes
fixed upon the sledge track and the distant forest. At the foot of the
ridge the great trunk of a fallen tree lay in his path, and as he went
to climb over it he stopped, a cry of amazement stifling itself in his
throat. Over that tree the bear had scrambled, and upon it, close to
the spot where the animal had brushed off the snow in his passage, was
the imprint of a human hand!
For a full minute Rod stood as motionless as if he had been paralyzed,
scarcely breathing in his excitement. The four fingers and thumb of
the hand had left their impressions with startling clearness. The
fingers were long and delicately slender, the palm narrow. The imprint
had assuredly not been made by the hand of a man!
Recovering himself, Rod looked about him. There were no marks in the
snow except those of the bear. Was it possible that he was mistaken?
He scrutinized the mysterious handprint again. As he gazed an uncanny
chill crept through him, and when he raised his head he knew that he
was trembling in spite of his efforts to control himself. Turning
about he swiftly followed the trail to the top of the ridge, recrossed
the sledge track, and descended again into the wildness of the gorge
on the other side. He had not progressed twenty rods when without a
sound he dropped behind a rock. He had seen no movement ahead of him.
He had heard nothing. Yet in that moment he was thrilled as never
before in his life.
For the bear trail had ceased.
And ahead of him, instead of the tracks of a beast, there continued
_the footprints of a man_!
ROD'S FIGHT FOR LIFE
It was some time before Roderick moved from his concealment behind the
rock. It was not fear that held him there, but a knowledge within
him that he needed to think, to collect his senses as he would have
expressed it if Wabi had been with him. For a brief spell he was
stunned by the succession of surprises which he had encountered, and
he felt that now, if ever in his life, he needed control of himself.
He did not attempt to solve the mystery of the trail beyond the fact
that it was not made by a bear and that the handprint on the log
was not made by a man. But he was certain of one thing. In some way
Minnetaki was associated with both.
When he continued his pursuit he made his way with extreme caution. At
each new turn in the trail he fell behind some rock or clump of bushes
and scanned the gorge as far as he could see ahead of him. But each
moment these distances of observation became shorter. The ridge on his
left became almost a sheer wall; on his right a second ridge closed
in until the gorge had narrowed to a hundred feet in width, choked by
huge masses of rock thrown there in some mighty upheaval of past ages.
It was very soon apparent to Rod that the mysterious person whom he
was pursuing was perfectly at home in the lonely chasm. As straight as
a drawn whip-lash his trail led from one break in the rocky chaos to
another. Never did he err. Once the tracks seemed to end squarely
against a broad face of rock, but there the young hunter found a cleft
in the granite wall scarcely wider than his body, through which he
cautiously wormed his way. Where this cleft opened into the chasm
again the fugitive had rested for a few moments, and had placed some
burden upon the snow at his feet. A single glance disclosed what
this burden had been, for in the snow was that same clearly-defined
impression of a human hand!
There was no longer a doubt in Roderick's mind. He was on the trail
of Minnetaki's captor, and the outlaw was carrying his victim in his
arms! Minnetaki was injured! Perhaps she was dead. The fear gripped at
his heart until he looked again at the imprint in the snow--the widely
spread fingers, the flat, firm palm. Only a living hand would have
left its mark in that manner.
As on that autumn day in the forest, when he had fought for
Minnetaki's life, so now all hesitation and fear left him. His blood
leaped with anticipation rather than excitement, and he was eager for
the moment when he would once more throw his life in the balance in
behalf of Wabi's sister. He was determined to take advantage of the
Woonga fighting code and fire upon his enemy from ambush if the
opportunity offered, but at the same time he had no dread at the
thought of engaging in a closer struggle if this should be necessary.
He looked well to his rifle, loosened his big army revolver in its
holster, and saw that his hunting-knife did not stick in its scabbard.
A short distance from the cleft in the wall of rock the outlaw had
rested again; and this time, when he continued his flight, Minnetaki
had walked beside him.
A peculiarity in the new trail struck Rod, and for some moments he was
at a loss to account for it. One of the girl's dainty feet left its
moccasin imprint very distinctly; the mark of the other was no more
than a formless blotch in the snow. Then the youth thought of the
footprints that were leading on Mukoki and Wabigoon, and despite his
desperate situation he could not repress a smile. He had been right.
The Woongas had taken off one of Minnetaki's moccasins and were using
it to make a false trail into the northwest. Those formless tracks
ahead of him meant that one of the Indian maiden's feet was wrapped
with a bit of cloth or fur to protect it from the cold.
Rod soon perceived that the flight of the outlaw and his captive was
now much more rapid, and he quickened his own pace. The chasm grew
wilder. At times it appeared impassable, but always the trail of the
fugitives led straight to some hidden cleft through which the boy
followed, holding his breath in tense expectancy of what might happen
at any instant.
Suddenly Rod stopped. From ahead of him he was sure that he had heard
a sound. He scarcely breathed while he listened. But there came no
repetition of the noise. Had some animal, a fox or a wolf, perhaps,
set a stone rolling down one of the precipitous walls of the chasm? He
went on slowly, listening, watching. A few paces more and he stopped
again. There was a faint, suspicious odor in the air; a turn around
the end of a huge mass of rock and his nostrils were filled with it,
the pungent odor of smoke mingled with the sweet scent of burning
There was a fire ahead of him. More than that, it was not a gunshot
For a space of sixty seconds he stood still, nerving himself for the
final step. His resolution was made. He would creep upon the outlaw
and shoot him down. There would be no warning, no quarter, no parley.
Foot by foot he advanced, as stealthily as a fox. The odor of smoke
came to him more plainly; over his head he saw thin films of it
floating lazily up the chasm. It came from beyond another of those
walls of rock which seemed to bar his way, creeping up over it as
though the fire were just on the other side. With his rifle half to
his shoulder Rod stole through the break in this wall. At its farther
end he peered out cautiously, exposing his face an inch at a time.
Wider and wider became his vision. There was no trail ahead. The
outlaw and his captive were behind the rock!
With his rifle now full to his shoulder Rod stepped boldly forth and
whirled to the left. Twenty feet away, almost entirely concealed among
the tumbled masses of boulders, was a small cabin. About it there were
no signs of life with the exception of a thin wreath of smoke rising
like a ghostly spiral up the side of the chasm wall; from it there
came no sound. Rod's index finger quivered on the trigger of his
rifle. Should he wait--until the outlaw came forth? Half a minute he
stood there, a minute, two minutes, and still he heard nothing, saw
nothing. He advanced a step, then another, and still another, until
he saw the open door of the cabin. And as he stood there, his rifle
leveled, there came to him a faint, sobbing cry, a cry that reached
out and caught him like a strong hand and brought him in a single
desperate leap to the door itself.
Inside the cabin was Minnetaki, alone! She was crouched upon the
floor, her beautiful hair tumbling in disheveled masses over her
shoulders and into her lap, her face, as white as death, staring
wildly at the youth who had appeared like an apparition before her.
In an instant Rod was at her side, upon his knees. For that brief
moment he had lost his caution, and only a terrible cry from the girl
turned him back again, half upon his feet, to the door. Standing
there, about to spring upon him, was one of the most terrifying
figures he had ever seen. In a flash he saw the huge form of an
Indian, a terrible face, the gleam of an uplifted knife. In such a
crisis one's actions are involuntary, machine-like, as if life itself,
hovering by a thread, protects itself in its own manner without
thought or reasoning on the part of the human creature it animates.
Rod neither thought nor reasoned; without any motive on his own part,
he flung himself face downward upon the cabin floor. And the move
saved him. With a guttural cry the savage leaped toward him, struck
out with his knife and missed, stumbled over the boy's prostrate form
and fell beside him.
Months of hardship and adventure in the wilderness had made Rod as
lithe as a forest cat, his muscles like steel. Without rising he flung
himself upon his enemy, his own knife raised in gleaming death above
the savage's breast. But the Woonga was as quick. Like a flash he
struck up with one of his powerful arms and the force of the blow that
was descending upon him fell to the earth floor. In another instant
his free arm had encircled Rod's neck, and for a few brief moments the
two were locked in a crushing embrace, neither being able to use the
weapon in his hand without offering an advantage to the other.
In that respite, which only death could follow, Rod's brain worked
with the swiftness of fire. He was lying face downward upon his enemy;
the Woonga was flat upon his back, the latter's knife hand stretched
out behind his head with Rod's knife hand locking it. For either to
strike a blow both of their fighting hands must be freed. In the first
instant of that freedom, the savage, with his arm already extended,
could deliver a blow sooner than his antagonist, who would have to
raise his arm as well as strike. In other words, by the time Rod's
knife was poised his enemy's would be buried in his breast. With a
curious thrill the white youth saw the fearful odds against him in
their position. If he remained clutched in the Indian's embrace there
would be only one end. He would die, and Minnetaki would be more than
ever in the power of her captor.
There was only one chance now, and that was to break away, at least
to free himself enough to get hold of his revolver. He was nerving
himself for the strain when, turning his head a trifle sidewise, he
saw Minnetaki. The girl had risen to her feet, and Rod saw that her
hands were bound behind her. She, too, realized the disadvantage of
Rod's position in the contest, and now with a thrilling cry she sprang
to the outlaw's head and stepped with all her weight upon his extended
"Quick, Rod--quick!" she cried. "Strike! Strike!"
With a terrible yell the powerful savage wrenched his arm free; in a
last superhuman effort he swung his knife upward as Rod's blade sank
to the hilt in his breast, and the blow fell with a sickening thud
under Rod's arm. With a sharp cry the young hunter staggered to his
feet, and the Indian's knife fell from him, red with blood. Making
an effort to control himself he picked up the knife and loosed the
captive girl's arms.
There came over him then a strange dizziness, a weakness in his limbs.
He was conscious that his head was sinking, and he knew, too, that a
pair of arms was about him, and that from what seemed to be a great,
great distance a voice was calling to him, calling his name. And then
he seemed to be sinking into a deep and painless sleep.
When he regained consciousness his eyes were first turned to the door,
which was still open, and through which he caught the white gleam of
the snow. A hand was pressed gently upon his face.
Minnetaki spoke in a whisper, a whisper that trembled with gladness,
with relief. Rod smiled. Weakly he lifted a hand and touched the
sweet, white face above him.
"I'm glad to see you--Minnetaki--" he breathed.
The girl quickly put a cup of cold water to his lips.
"You mustn't try to move," she said softly, her eyes glowing. "It
isn't a very bad wound, and I've dressed it nicely. But you mustn't
move--or talk--or it may begin bleeding again."
"But I'm so glad to see you, Minnetaki," persisted the youth. "You
don't know how disappointed I was to find you gone when we returned to
Wabinosh House from our hunting trip. Wabi and Mukoki--"
Minnetaki placed her hand upon his lips.
"You must keep quiet, Roderick. Don't you know how curious I am to
know how you are here? But you must not tell me--now. Let me do the
talking. Will you? Please!"
Involuntarily the young girl's eyes left his face, and Rod, weakly
following her gaze, saw that a blanket had been spread over a huddled
heap in the middle of the floor. He shuddered, and feeling the sudden
tremor in his hand Minnetaki turned to him quickly, her cheeks whiter
than before, but her eyes shining like stars.
"It is Woonga," she whispered. In her voice was a thrilling tremble.
"It is Woonga, and he is dead!"
Rod understood the look in her face now. Woonga, the Nemesis of her
people, the outlaw chief who had sworn vengeance on the house of
Wabinosh, and whose murderous hand had hovered for years like a
threatening cloud over the heads of the factor and his wife and
children, was dead! And he, Roderick Drew, who once before had saved
Minnetaki's life, had killed him. In his weakness and pain he smiled,
"I am glad, Minne--"
He did not finish. There had come a stealthy, crumbling step to the
door, and in another moment Mukoki and Wabigoon were in the little
THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Rod was hardly conscious of what passed during the next half-hour. The
excitement of the sudden entrance of Minnetaki's brother and the old
Indian set his head reeling, and he sank back upon the blankets, from
which he had partly raised himself, fainting and weak. The last that
he heard was Minnetaki's warning voice, and then he felt something
cool upon his face. It seemed a long time before he heard sound again,
and when he stirred himself, struggling toward consciousness, there
came a whisper in his ear urging him to be quiet. It was Minnetaki,
and he obeyed.
After a little he heard low voices, and then movement, and opened his
eyes. He could feel Minnetaki's gentle hand stroking his face and
hair, as if weaning him to sleep, and at his feet he saw Mukoki, the
old warrior, crouching like a lynx, his beady eyes glaring at him. The
glare fascinated Roderick. He had seen it in Mukoki's eyes before,
when the Indian believed that injury had come to those he loved; and
when the white boy saw it now, bent upon himself, he knew that he,
too, had become more than a friend to this savage pathfinder of the
wilderness. Minnetaki's caressing hand and the fearful anxiety in the
crouching posture of the old hunter thrilled him, and two words fell
from his lips before they knew that he had come back into life.
Instantly the old Indian was at his side, kneeling there silent,
trembling, his face twitching with joy, his eyes gleaming, and where
he had crouched a moment before there came Wabigoon, smiling down upon
Rod in his own bursting happiness, which was only held in check by
Minnetaki's hand and the almost inaudible "Sh-h-h-h!" that fell from
"You right--me wrong," the white boy heard Mukoki saying. "You save
Minnetaki--kill Woonga. Very much dam'--dam'--dam'--brave man!"
Mukoki was pressed back by Wabi's sister before he could say more, and
a cool drink of spring water was placed to Roderick's lips. He felt
feverish and the water gave him new strength. He turned his face to
Minnetaki, and she smiled at him. Then he saw that the dead outlaw had
been removed from the cabin. When he made an effort to raise himself a
little the girl helped him, and rolled a blanket under his shoulders.
"You're not so badly hurt as I thought you were, Rod," she said. "That
is, you're not dangerously hurt. Mukoki has dressed your wound, and
you will be better soon." Wabigoon, coming nearer, put both arms
around his lovely little sister and kissed her again and again.
"Rod, you're a hero!" he cried softly, gripping his comrade's hand.
"God bless you!"
Rod blushed, and to restrain further effusions closed his eyes. During
the next quarter of an hour Minnetaki prepared some coffee and meat,
while both Mukoki and Wabi cared for the sledge-dogs outside.
"To-morrow, if you are stronger, we're going to take you on to
Kenegami House," the girl said to him. "Then you can tell me all about
your adventures during the winter. Wabi has told me just enough about
your battles with the Indians and about the old skeletons and the lost
gold-mine to set me wild. Oh, I wish you would take me with you on
your hunt for gold!"
"By George, I wish we could!" exclaimed Rod with enthusiasm. "Coax
Wabi, Minnetaki--coax him hard."
"You'll coax him, too, won't you, Rod? But then, I don't suppose it
will do any good. And father and mother wouldn't listen to it for a
moment. All of them are so afraid that some harm is going to befall
me. That's why they sent me from Wabinosh House just before you boys
returned. You see the Indians were more hostile than ever, and they
thought I would be safer at Kenegami House. How I do wish they'd let
me go! I'd love to hunt bears, and wolves, and moose, and help you
find the gold. Please coax him hard, Roderick!"
And that very day, when he was strong enough to sit up, Rod did plead
with his half-Indian comrade that Minnetaki might be allowed to
accompany them. But Wabi stanchly refused even to consider the
proposition, and Mukoki, when he learned of the girl's desire, grinned
and chuckled in his astonishment for the next half-hour.
"Minnetaki ver' brave--ver' brave girl," he confided to Rod, "but she
die up there, I guess so! You want Minnetaki die?"
Rod assured him that he did not, and the subject was dropped.
That day and night in the old cabin was one of the pleasantest within
Rod's memory, despite the youth's wound. A cheerful fire of dry pine
and poplar burned in the stone fireplace, and when Minnetaki announced
that the evening meal was ready Rod was for the first time allowed to
leave his bunk. For the greater part of the day Wabi and Mukoki had
searched in the chasm and along the mountains for signs of the outlaw
Indian's band, but their search had revealed nothing to arouse their
fears. As mysterious and unaccountable as the fact seemed, there
was no doubt that the old cabin was a retreat known only to Woonga
himself, and as the four sat in the warm glow of the fire, eating and
drinking, the whole adventure was gone over again and again until
there seemed no part of it left in doubt. Minnetaki described her
capture and explained the slowness of their flight after the massacre.
Woonga was ill and had refused to move far from the scene of the
slaughter until he had fully regained his strength.
"But why did Woonga kill the Indian back on the trail?" asked Rod.
Minnetaki shuddered as she thought of the terrible scene that had been
enacted before her eyes.
"I heard them quarreling," she said, "but I couldn't understand. I
know that it was about me. We had gone but a short distance after the
sledges separated when Woonga, who was ahead of me, turned about and
shot the other in the breast. It was terrible! And then he drove on as
coolly as though nothing had happened."
"I'm curious to know how he used the bear's feet," exclaimed Rod.
"They were huge pads into which he slipped his feet, moccasins and
all," explained Minnetaki. "He told me that the dogs would go on to
Kenegami House, and that if pursuers followed us they would follow the
sledge trail and never give a thought to the bear tracks."
Mukoki chuckled deep down in his throat.
"He no fool Rod," he said. "Nobody fool Rod!"
"Especially when he's on Minnetaki's trail," laughed Wabi happily.
"Wasn't it Rod who discovered the secret of the lost gold, after you
had given up all hope?" retorted Minnetaki.
The lost gold!
How those three words, falling clearly from the girl's lips, thrilled
the hearts of Mukoki and the young adventurers. Night had closed in,
and only the fitful flashes of the fire illumined the interior of the
old cabin. The four had finished eating, and as they drew themselves
close about the fire there fell a strange silence among them. The lost
gold. Rod gazed across at Wabigoon, whose bronzed face was half hid in
the dancing shadows, and then at Mukoki, whose wrinkled visage shone
like dull copper as he stared like some watchful animal into the flame
glow. But it was Minnetaki who sent the blood in a swift rush of joy
and pride through his veins. He caught her eyes upon him, shining like
stars from out of the gloom, and he knew that she was looking at him
in that way because he was her hero.
For many minutes no one broke the stillness. The fire burned down, and
with its slow dying away the gloom in the corners of the old cabin
thickened, and the faces became more and more like ghostly shadows,
until they reminded Rod of his first vision of the ancient skeletons
in that other old cabin many miles away. Then came Wabigoon's voice,
as he stirred the coals and added fresh fuel.
"Yes, it was Rod. This is the map he found, Minnetaki."
He kneeled close beside his sister and drew forth his copy of the
precious secret which the skeletons had guarded. With a little cry
of excitement the girl took the map in her hands, and step by step,
adventure by adventure, was gone over the thrilling story of the Wolf
Hunters, until the late hours of night had changed into the first of
morning. Twice did Minnetaki insist on having repeated to her the
story of Rod's wild adventure in the mysterious chasm, and when he
came to the terrors of that black night and its strange sounds Rod
felt a timid little hand come close to him, and as Wabigoon continued
the narration, and told of the map in the skeleton hand, and of the
tale of murder and tragedy it revealed, Minnetaki's breath came in
quick, tense eagerness.
"And you are going back in the spring?" she asked.
"In the spring," replied Rod.
Again Wabigoon urged Rod, as he had done at the Post, to send down to
civilization for his mother instead of going for her himself. Time
would be saved, he argued. They could set out on their search for the
gold within a few weeks. But Rod was firm.
"It would not be fair to mother," he declared. "I must go home first,
even if I have to arrange for a special sledge at Kenegami House to
take me down to civilization."
But even while he was stoutly declaring what it was his intention to
do, fate was stealthily at work weaving another of her webs of destiny
for Roderick Drew, and his friends' anxious eyes saw the first signs
of it when they bade him good night. For fever had laid its hand on
the white youth, the fever that foreshadows death unless a surgeon
is near, the fever of a wound going bad. Even Mukoki, graduated by
Nature, taught by half a century's battle with life in this great
desolation of the North, knew that his own powers were now of no
So Roderick was bundled in blankets, and the race for life to Kenegami
House was begun. It was a race of which Rod could only guess the
import, for he did not know that Death was running a fierce pursuit
behind. Many days and nights of delirium followed. One morning he
seemed to awaken from a terrible dream, in which he was constantly
burning and roasting, and when he opened his eyes he knew for the
first time that it was Minnetaki who sat close beside him, and that it
was her hand that was gently stroking his forehead. From that day on
he gained strength rapidly, but it was a month before he could sit up,
and another two weeks before he could stand. And so it happened that
it was full two months after he had made his assertion in the old
cabin before Rod was in good health again.
One day Minnetaki had a tremendous surprise in store for him. Rod had
never seen her look quite so pretty, or quite so timid, as she did on
this particular morning.
"Will you forgive me for--for--keeping something from you, Rod?" she
asked. She did not wait for the boy's reply, but went on. "When you
were so sick, and we thought you might die, I wrote to your mother and
we sent the letter down by a special sledge. And--and--oh, Rod, I just
can't keep it in any longer, no matter if you do scold me! Your mother
has come--and she is at Wabinosh House now!"
For a moment Rod stood like one struck dumb. Then he found his voice
in a series of war-whoops which quickly brought Wabi in, only to see
his friend dancing around Minnetaki like one gone crazy.
"Forgive you!" he shouted again and again. "Minnetaki, you're a
brick--you certainly are a brick!"
As soon as Wabi was made acquainted with the cause of Roderick's
excitement he also joined in the other's wild rejoicing, and their
antics startled half the house of Kenegami. Mukoki shared their joy,
and Wabi hugged and kissed his sister until her pretty face was like a
"Hurrah!" shouted Wabi for the twentieth time. "That means we start on
our hunt for the lost gold-mine within a fortnight!"
"It means--" began Roderick.
"It means--" interrupted Minnetaki, "it means that you're all happy
but me--and I'm glad for Rod's sake, and I want to know his mother.
But you're all going--and I'm to be left behind!"
There was no laughter in her voice, and Rod and Wabigoon became
suddenly quiet as she turned away.
"I'm sorry," said Wabi. "But--we can't help it."
Mukoki broke the tension.
"How bright the sun shine!" he exclaimed. "Snow an' ice go.
ON THE TRAIL OF GOLD
And each day thereafter the sun rose earlier, and the day was longer,
and the air was warmer; and with the warmth there now came the sweet
scents of the budding earth and the myriad sounds of the deep, unseen
life of the forests, awakening from its long slumber in its bed of
snow. The moose-birds chirped their mating songs and flirted from
morning till night in bough and air, and the jays and ravens fluffed
themselves in the sun, and the snowbirds, little black and white
beauties that were wont to whisk about like so many flashing gems,
became fewer and fewer, until they were gone altogether. The poplar
buds swelled more and more in their joy, until they split like
over-fat peas, and the partridges feasted upon them.
And Mother Bear came out of her winter den, accompanied by her little
ones born two months before, and taught them how to pull down the
slender saplings for these same buds; and the moose came down from the
blizzardy tops of the great ridges, which are called mountains in the
North, and where for good reasons they had passed the winter, followed
by the wolves, who fed upon their weak and sick. Everywhere there were
the rushing torrents of melting snows, the crackle of crumbling ice,
the dying frost-cries of rock and earth and tree, and each night the
cold, pale glow of the Aurora Borealis crept farther and farther
toward the Pole in fading glory.
It was spring, and at Wabinosh House it brought more joy than
elsewhere, for there Roderick Drew joined his mother. We have not time
here to dwell on the things that happened at the old Hudson Bay Post
during the ten days after their first happy reunion--of the love that
sprang up between Rod's mother and Minnetaki, and the princess wife
of George Newsome, the factor; of the departure of the soldiers whose
task of running down Woonga ended with Rod's desperate fight in the
cabin, or of the preparations of the gold hunters themselves.
On a certain evening in April, Wabi, Mukoki and Rod had assembled in
the latter's room. The next morning they were to start on their long
and thrilling adventure into the far North, and on this last night
they went carefully over their equipment and plans to see that nothing
had been forgotten. That night Rod slept little. For the second time
in his life the fever of adventure was running wild in his blood.
After the others had gone he studied the precious old map until his
eyes grew dim; in the half slumber that came to him afterward his
brain worked ceaselessly, and he saw visions of the romantic old cabin
again, and the rotting buckskin bag filled with nuggets of gold on the
He was up before the stars began fading in the dawn, and in the big
dining-room of the Post, in which had gathered the factors and their
families for two hundred years, the boys ate their last breakfast with
those whom they were about to leave for many weeks, perhaps months.
The factor himself was boisterously cheerful in his efforts to keep
up the good cheer of Mrs. Drew and the princess mother, and even
Minnetaki forced herself to smile, and laugh, though her eyes were
red, and all knew that she had been crying. Rod was glad when the meal
was over and they went out into the chill air of the morning, and down
to the edge of the lake, where their big birch-bark canoe was loaded
and waiting for their departure, and he was still more relieved when
they had bade a last good-by to the two mothers. But Minnetaki came
down to the canoe with them, and when Wabi kissed her she burst into
tears, and Rod felt a queer thickening in his throat as he took her
firm little hand and held it for a moment between both his own.
"Good-by, Minnetaki," he whispered.
He turned and took his position in the middle of the canoe, and with a
last shout Wabi shoved off and the canoe sped out into the gloom.
For a long time there was silence, except for the rhythmic dip of the
three paddles. Once Minnetaki's voice came to them faintly, and they
answered it with a shout. But that was all. After a time Rod said,
"By George, this saying good-by is the toughest part of the whole
His words cleared away the feeling of oppression that seemed to have
fallen on them.
"It's always hard for me to leave Minnetaki," replied Wabigoon. "Some
day I'm going to take her on a trip with me."
"She'd be a bully fellow!" cried Rod with enthusiasm.
From the stern of the canoe came a delighted chuckle from Mukoki.
"She brave--she shoot, she hunt, she be dam' fine!" he added, and
both Rod and Wabi burst out laughing. The young Indian looked at his
compass by the light of a match.
"We'll strike straight across Lake Nipigon instead of following the
shore. What do you say, Muky?" he called back.
The old pathfinder was silent. In surprise Wabi ceased paddling, and
repeated his question.
"Don't you think it is safe?"
Mukoki wet his hand over the side and held it above his head.
"Wind in south," he said. "Maybe no get stronger, but--"
"If she did," added Rod dubiously, noting how heavily laden the canoe
was, "we'd be in a fix, as sure as you live!"
"It will take us all of to-day and half of to-morrow to follow the
shore," urged Wabi, "while by cutting straight across the lake we can
make the other side early this afternoon. Let's risk it!"
Mukoki grunted something that was a little less than approval, and Rod
felt a peculiar sensation shoot through him as the frail birch headed
out into the big lake. Their steady strokes sent the canoe through the
water at fully four miles an hour, and by the time broad day had come
the forest-clad shore at Wabinosh House was only a hazy outline in the
distance. The white youth's unspoken fears were dispelled when the sun
rose, warm and glorious, over the shimmering lake, driving the chill
from the air, and seeming to bring with it the sweet scents of
the forests far away. Joyfully he labored at his paddle, the mere
exhilaration of the morning filling his arms with the strength of a
young giant. Wabi whistled and sang wild snatches of Indian song by
turns, Rod joined him with _Yankee Doodle_ and _The Star Spangled
Banner_, and even the silent Mukoki gave a whoop now and then to show
that he was as happy as they.
One thought filled the minds of all. They were fairly started on that
most thrilling of all trails, the trail of gold. In their possession
was the secret of a great fortune. Romance, adventure, discovery,
awaited them. The big, silent North, mysterious in its age-old
desolation, where even the winds seemed to whisper of strange things
that had happened countless years before, was just ahead of them. They
were about to bury themselves in its secrets, to wrest from it the
yellow treasure it guarded, and their blood tingled and leaped
excitedly at the thought. What would be revealed to them? What might
they not discover? What strange adventures were they destined to
encounter in that Unknown World, peopled only by the things of the
wild, that stretched trackless and unexplored before them? A hundred
thoughts like these fired the brains of the three adventurers, and
made their work a play, and every breath they drew one of joy.
The lake was alive with ducks. Huge flocks of big black ducks,
mallards, blue bills and whistlers rose about them, and now and then,
when an unusually large flock was seen floating upon the water ahead
of them, one of the three would take a pot-shot with his rifle. Rod
and Mukoki had each killed two, and Wabi three, when the old warrior
stopped the fun.
"No waste too much shooting on ducks," he advised. "Need shells--big
Several times during the morning the three rested from their
exertions, and at noon they ceased paddling for more than an hour
while they ate the generous dinner that had been put up for them at
Wabinosh House. The farther side of the lake was now plainly visible,
and when the journey was resumed all eyes eagerly sought for signs
of the mouth of the Ombabika, where their stirring adventures of the
winter before had begun. For some time Wabi's gaze had been fixed
upon a long, white rim along the shore, to which he now called his
"It seems to be moving," he said, turning to Mukoki. "Is it
possible--" He paused doubtfully.
"What?" questioned Rod.
"That it's swans!" he completed.
"Swans!" cried the young hunter. "Great Scott, do you mean to say
there could be enough swans--"
"They sometimes cover the lake in thousands," said Wabi. "I have seen
them whitening the water as far as one could see."
"More swan as you count in twent' t'ous'nd year!" affirmed Mukoki.
After a few moments he added, "Them no swan. Ice!"
There was an unpleasant ring in his voice as he spoke the last
word, and though Rod did not fully understand what significance the
discovery held for them he could not but observe that it occasioned
both of his comrades considerable anxiety. The cause was not long in
doubt. Another half hour of brisk paddling brought them to the edge of
a frozen field of ice that extended for a quarter of a mile from the
shore. In both directions it stretched beyond their vision. Wabi's
face was filled with dismay. Mukoki sat with his paddle across his
knees, uttering not a sound.
"What's the matter?" asked Rod. "Can't we make it?"
"Make it!" exclaimed Wabigoon. "Yes--perhaps to-morrow, or the next
"Do you mean to say we can't get over that ice?"
"That's just exactly the predicament we are in. The edge of that ice
The canoe had drifted alongside the ice, and Rod began pounding it
with his paddle. For a distance of two feet it broke off in chunks,
then became more firm.
"I believe that if we cut our way in for a canoe length or so it would
hold us," he declared.
Wabi reached for an ax.
"We'll try it!"
Mukoki shook his head.
But for a second time that day Wabigoon persisted in acting against
the old pathfinder's judgment, something that Rod had never known him
to be guilty of before. Foot by foot he broke the ice ahead of the
canoe, until the frail craft had thrust its length into the rotten
field. Then, steadying himself on the bow, he stepped out cautiously
upon the ice.
"There!" he cried triumphantly. "You next, Rod! Steady!"
In a moment Rod had joined him. What happened after that seemed to
pass like a terrible nightmare. First there came a light cracking in
the ice under their feet, but it was over in an instant. Wabi was
laughing at him for the fear that had come into his face, and calling
his name, when with a thunderous, crash the whole mass gave way under
them, and they plunged down into the black depths of the lake. The
last that Rod saw was his friend's horror-stricken face sinking in the
crumbling ice; he heard a sharp, terrible cry from Mukoki, and then he
knew that the cold waters had engulfed him, and that he was battling
for his life under the surface.
Fiercely he struck out with arms and legs in an effort to rise, and in
that moment of terror he thought of the great sheet of ice. What if he
should come up under it? In which direction should he strike out?
He opened his eyes but all was a black chaos about him. The seconds
seemed like ages. There came a splitting, rending sensation in his
head, an almost overpowering desire to open his mouth, to gasp, gasp
for air where there was nothing but death! Then his head struck
something. It was the ice! He had come up under the ice, and there was
but one end to that!
He began to sink again, slowly, as if an invisible hand were pulling
him down, and in his despair he made a last frantic effort, striking
out blindly, knowing that in another second he must open his mouth.
Even under the water he still had consciousness enough left to know
that he tried to cry out, and he felt the first gurgling rush of water
into his lungs. But he did not see the long arm that reached down
where the bubbles were coming up, he did not feel the grip that
dragged him out upon the ice. His first sense of life was that
something very heavy was upon his stomach, and that he was being
rubbed, and pummeled, and rolled about as if he had become the
plaything of a great bear. Then he saw Mukoki, and then Wabigoon.
"You go build fire," he heard Mukoki say, and he could hear Wabi
running swiftly shoreward. For he knew that they were still upon the
ice. The canoe was drawn safely up a dozen feet away, and the old
Indian was dragging blankets from it. When Mukoki turned he found Rod
resting upon his elbow, looking at him.
"That--w'at you call heem--close shave!" he grinned, placing a
supporting arm under Rod's shoulder.
With Mukoki's assistance the youth rose to his feet, and a thick
blanket was wrapped about him. Slowly they made their way shoreward,
and soon Wabi came running out to meet them, dripping wet.
"Rod, when we get thawed out, I want you to kick me," he pleaded. "I
want you to kick me good and hard, and then I'll take great pleasure
in kicking you. And ever after this, when we do a thing that Mukoki
tells us not to do, we'll kick some more!"
"Who pulled us out?" asked Rod.
"Mukoki, of course. Will you kick me?"
And the two dripping, half-frozen young adventurers shook hands,
while Mukoki chuckled and grunted and gurgled until he set the others
bursting into laughter.
THE YELLOW BULLET
Before a rousing fire of logs Rod and Wabigoon began to see the
cheerful side of life again, and as soon as Mukoki had built them a
balsam shelter they stripped off their clothes and wrapped themselves
in blankets, while the old Indian dried their outfits. It was two
hours before they were dressed. No sooner were they out than Wabi
went into the bush and returned a few minutes later brandishing a
good-sized birch in his hand. There was no sign of humor in his face
as he eyed Rod.
"Do you see that log?" he said, pointing to the big trunk of a fallen
tree near the fire "That will just fit your stomach, Rod. It will be
better than kicking. Double yourself over that, face down, pantaloons
up. I'm going to lick you first because I want you to know just how
much to give me. I want it twice as hard, for I was more to blame than
In some astonishment Rod doubled himself over the log.
"Great Scott!" he ejaculated, peering up in dismay. "Not too hard,
Swish! fell the birch, and a yell of pain burst from the white youth's
"Ouch! Great Caesar--Let up!"
"Don't move!" shouted Wabi. "Take it like a man--you deserve it!"
Again and again the birch fell. Rod groaned as he rose to his feet
after Wabi had stopped. "Oh, please--please give me that whip!"
"Not too hard, you know," warned Wabi, as he fitted himself over the
"You chose your own poison," reminded Rod, rolling up his sleeve.
"Just twice as hard, no more!"
And the birch began to fall.
When it was over Rod's arm ached, and Wabi, despite his Indian
stoicism, let out a long howl at the last blow.
During the entire scene of chastisement Mukoki stood like one struck
"We'll never be bad any more, Muky," promised Wabigoon, rubbing
himself gently. "That is, if we are, we'll whip ourselves again, eh,
"Not so long as I can run!" assured Rod with emphasis. "I'm willing
to lend a helping hand at any time you think you deserve another, but
beyond that please count me out!"
For an hour after the self-punishment of the young gold hunters the
three gathered fuel for the night and balsam boughs for their beds. It
was dark by the time they sat down to their supper, which they ate in
the light of a huge fire of dry poplar.
"This is better than paddling all night, even if we did have a close
shave," said Rod, after they had finished and settled themselves
Wabi gave a grimace and shrugged his shoulders.
"Do you know how close your call was?" he asked. "It was so close that
just by one chance in ten thousand you were saved. I had pulled myself
upon the ice by catching hold of the bow of the canoe and when Muky
saw that I was safe he watched for you. But you didn't show up. We
had given you up for dead when a few bubbles came to the surface, and
quicker than a wink Mukoki thrust down his arm. He got you by the hair
as you were sinking for the last time. Think of that, Rod, and dream
of it to-night. It'll do you good."
"Ugh!" shuddered the white youth. "Let's talk of something more
cheerful. What a glorious fire that poplar makes!"