Part 3 out of 4
"Yes--but you. How--"
"Oh, I'll swim!" said Wabi in rank bravado. "I don't mind a little
whirlpool like that at all!"
Mukoki chuckled in high humor, and Roderick asked no more questions,
but at Wabi's command dug in his paddle and kept at it until the birch
bark safely made the point of land beyond the rock. When he looked
back Wabi had tied the rope around his body and was already waist
deep in the water. At a signal from Mukoki the young Indian plunged
fearlessly into the edge of the whirlpool and like a great floundering
fish he was quickly pulled across to safety. Most of his clothes had
been brought over in the canoe, and after Wabigoon had exchanged his
wet garments for these the adventurers were ready to continue their
journey down the chasm. A short portage brought them to the main
channel of the stream, where they once more launched their birch bark.
"If the whole trip is as exciting as this we'll never reach our gold,"
said Wabi, as they slipped out into the swift current. "A madman, a
whirlpool and a prison, all in one night, is almost more than we can
"There's a good deal of truth in the old saying that it never rains
but it pours," replied Rod. "Maybe we'll have smooth sailing from now
"Mebby!" grunted the old pathfinder from behind.
Rod's optimism was vindicated for that day, at least. Until noon the
canoe sped swiftly down the chasm without mishap. The stream, to which
each mile added its contribution of flood water from the mountain
tops, increased constantly in width and depth, but only now and then
was there a rock to threaten their progress, and no driftwood at all.
When the gold seekers landed for dinner they were confident of two
things: that they had passed far beyond the mad hunter's reach,
and were very near to the first waterfall. Memory of the thrilling
experiences through which they had so recently run the gauntlet was
replaced by the most exciting anticipation of the sound and sight
of that first waterfall, which was so vitally associated with their
search for the lost treasure. This time a hearty dinner was cooked,
and it took more than an hour to prepare and eat it.
When the journey was resumed Mukoki placed himself in the bow, his
sharp eyes scanning the rocks and mountain walls ahead of him. Two
hours after the start he gave an exultant exclamation, and raised a
warning hand above his head. The three listened. Faintly above the
rush of the swift current there came to their ears the distant rumble
of falling water!
Forgetful now of the madman back in the chasm, oblivious of everything
but the fact that they had at last reached the first of the three
falls which were to lead them to the gold, Wabi gave a whoop that
echoed and reechoed between the mountain walls, and Rod joined him
with all the power of his lungs. Mukoki grinned, chuckled in his
curious way, and a few moments later signaled Wabi to guide the canoe
"We portage here," he explained. "Current swift there--mebby go over
A short carry of two or three hundred yards brought them to the
cataract. It was, as Mukoki had said after his long trip of
exploration a few months before, a very small fall, not more than a
dozen feet in height. But over it there was now rushing a thundering
deluge of water. An easy trail led to the stream below it, and no time
was lost in getting under way again.
Although they had traveled fully forty miles since morning, the day
had been an easy and most interesting one for the three adventurers.
On the swift current of the chasm stream they had worked but little,
and the ceaseless change of scenery in this wonderful break between
the mountain ridges held an ever-increasing fascination for them. Late
in the afternoon, the course changed from its northeasterly direction
to due north, and at this point there was an ideal spot for camping.
Over an extent of an acre or more there was a sweeping hollow of fine
white sand, with great quantities of dry wood cluttering the edge of
"That's a curious spot!" said Wabi as they drew up their canoe. "Looks
"A lake," grunted Mukoki. "Long time ago--a lake."
"The curve of the stream right here has swept up so much sand that the
water can't get into it," added Rod, looking the place over.
Wabi had gone a few paces back. Suddenly he stopped, and with a half
shout he gesticulated excitedly to his companions. Something in his
manner took Rod and Mukoki to him on the run.
When they came up the Indian youth stood mutely pointing at something
in the sand.
Clearly imprinted in that sand was the shape of a human foot, a foot
that had worn neither boot nor moccasin when it left its trail in the
lake bed, but which was as naked as the quivering hand which Wabigoon
now held toward it!
And from that single footprint the eyes of the astonished adventurers
traveled quickly to a hundred others, until it seemed to them that a
dozen naked savages must have been dancing in these sands only a few
And Rod, glancing toward the driftwood, saw something else,--something
toward which he pointed, speechless, white with that same strange
excitement that had taken possession of Wabigoon!
THE THIRD WATERFALL
The others followed Rod's arm. Behind him he heard the gentle click
of Wabigoon's revolver and the sharp, vicious snap of the safety on
From beyond the driftwood there was rising a thin spiral of smoke!
"Whoever they are, they have certainly seen or heard us!" said Wabi,
after they had stood in silence for a full minute.
"Unless they are gone from camp," replied Rod in a whisper.
"Keep eyes open!" warned Mukoki as they advanced cautiously in the
direction of the smoke. "No can tell what, I guess so!"
He was first to mount the driftwood, and then he gave vent to a huge
grunt. The smoke was rising from beside a charred log which was heaped
half-way up its side with ashes and earth. In a flash the meaning
of the ash and dirt dawned on Rod and his companions. The fire was
banked. Those who had built it were gone, but they expected to return.
The naked footprints were thick about the camp-fire, and close to one
end of the charred log were scattered a number of bones. One after
another Mukoki picked up several of these and closely examined
them. While Rod and Wabigoon were still gazing about them in blank
astonishment, half expecting attack from a savage horde at any moment,
the old warrior had already reached a conclusion, and calling to his
companions he brought their attention to the tracks in the sand.
"Same feet!" he exclaimed. "One man mak' all track!"
"Impossible!" cried Wabi. "There are--thousands of them!"
Mukoki grunted and fell upon his knees.
"Heem big toe--right foot--broke sometime. Same in all track. See?"
Disgusted at his own lack of observation, Wabigoon saw at once that
the old pathfinder was right. The joint of the big toe on the right
foot was twisted fully half an inch outward, a deformity that left
a peculiar impression in the sand, and every other track bore
this telltale mark. No sooner were the two boys convinced of the
correctness of Mukoki's assertion than another and still more
startling surprise was sprung on them. Holding out his handful of
bones, Mukoki said:
"Meat no cook--eat raw!"
"Great Scott!" gasped Rod.
Wabi's eyes flashed with a new understanding, and as he gazed into
Rod's astonished face the latter, too, began to comprehend the
significance of it all.
"It must have been the madman!"
"And he was here yesterday!"
"Probably the day before," said Wabi. The young Indian turned suddenly
to Mukoki. "What did he want of the fire if he didn't cook meat?" he
Mukoki shrugged his shoulders but did not answer.
"Well, it wasn't cooked, anyway," declared Wabi, again examining the
bones. "Here are chunks of raw flesh clinging to the bones. Perhaps he
just singed the outside of his meat."
The old Indian nodded at this suggestion and turned to investigate the
fire. On the end of the log were two stones, one flat and the other
round and smooth, and after a moment's inspection of these he dropped
an exclamation which was unusual for him, and which he used only in
those rare intervals when all other language seemed to fail him.
"Bad dog man--mak' bullet--here!" he called, holding out the stones.
The boys hurried to his side.
"See--gold!" he repeated excitedly.
In the center of the flat stone there was a gleaming yellow film. A
single glance told the story. With the round stone for a hammer the
mad hunter had pounded his golden bullets into shape upon the flat
stone! There was no longer a doubt in their minds; they were in the
madman's camp. That morning they had left this strange creature of the
wilderness fifty miles away. But how far away was he now? The fire
slumbering under its covering of ash and earth proved that he meant to
return--and soon. Would he travel by night as well as by day? Was it
possible that he was already close behind them?
"He travels with the swiftness of an animal," said Wabi, speaking in a
low voice to Rod. "Perhaps he will return to-night!"
Mukoki overheard him and shook his head.
"Mak' heem through chasm in two day on snow-shoe," he declared,
referring to his trip of exploration to the first waterfall over the
snows of the previous winter. "No mak' in t'ree day over rock!"
"If Mukoki is satisfied, I am," said Rod. "We can pull up behind the
driftwood on the farther edge of the lake bed."
Wabi made no objection, and the camp site was chosen. Strangely
enough, with the discovery of the footprints, the fire, the picked
bones and the stones with which the mad hunter had manufactured his
golden bullets, Mukoki seemed to have lost all fear of the wild
creature of the chasm. He was confident now that he had only a man to
deal with, a man who had gone "bad dog," and his curiosity overcame
his alarm. His assurance served to dispel the apprehension of his
companions, and sleep came early to the tired adventurers. Nor did
anything occur during the night to awaken them.
Soon after dawn the trip down the chasm stream was resumed. With the
abrupt turning of the channel to the north, however, there was an
almost immediate change in the topography of the country. Within
an hour the precipitous walls of the mountains gave place to
verdure-covered slopes, and now and then the gold seekers found
themselves between plains that swept back for a mile or more on either
side. Frequent signs of game were observed along the shores of the
river and several times during the morning moose and caribou were
seen in the distance. A few months before, when they had invaded the
wilderness to hunt and trap, this country would have aroused the
wildest enthusiasm among Rod and his friends, but now they gave but
little thought to their rifles. That morning they had set out with the
intention of reaching the second waterfall before dusk, and it was
with disappointment rather than gladness that they saw the swift
current of the chasm torrent change into the slower, steadier sweep of
a stream that had now widened into a fair-sized river. According
to the map the second fall was about fifty-five miles from the mad
hunter's camp. Darkness found them still fifteen miles from where it
Excitement kept Rod awake most of that night. Try as he would, he
could not keep visions of the lost treasure out of his mind. The next
day they would be far on their way to the third and last waterfall.
And then--the gold! That they might not find it, that the passing of
half a century or more might have obliterated all traces left by its
ancient discoverers, never for a moment disturbed his belief.
He was the first awake the following morning, the first to take his
place in the canoe. Every minute now his ears were keenly attuned for
that distant sound of falling water. But hours passed without a
sign of it. Noon came. They had traveled six hours and had covered
twenty-five miles instead of fifteen! Where was the waterfall?
There was a little more of anxiety in Wabigoon's eyes when they
resumed their journey after dinner. Again and again Rod looked at his
map, figuring out the distances as drawn by John Ball, the murdered
Englishman. Surely the second waterfall could not be far away now! And
still hour after hour passed, and mile after mile slipped behind them,
until the three knew that they had gone fully thirty miles beyond
where the cataract should have been, if the map was right. Twilight
was falling when they stopped for supper. For the last hour Mukoki
had spoken no word. A feeling of gloom was on them all; without
questioning, each knew what the fears of the others were.
Was it possible that, after all, they had not solved the secret of the
The more Rod thought of it the more his fears possessed him. The
two men who fought and died in the old cabin were on their way to
civilization. They were taking gold with them, gold which they meant
to exchange for supplies. Would they, at the same time, dare to have
in their possession a map so closely defining their trail as the rude
sketch on the bit of birch bark? Was there not some strange key, known
only to themselves, necessary to the understanding of that sketch?
Mukoki had taken his rifle and disappeared in the plain along the
river, and for a long time after they had eaten their bear steak and
drank their hot coffee Rod and Wabigoon sat talking in the glow of
the camp-fire. The old warrior had been gone for about an hour when
suddenly there came the report of a gun from far down the stream,
which was quickly followed by two others--three in rapid succession.
After an interval of a few seconds there sounded two other shots.
"The signal!" cried Rod. "Mukoki wants us!"
Wabigoon sprang to his feet and emptied the five shots of his magazine
into the air.
Hardly had the echoes died away when there came again the reports of
Without another word the two boys hurried to the canoe, which had not
"He's a couple of miles down-stream," said Wabi, as they shoved off.
"I wonder what's the matter?"
"I can make a pretty good guess," replied Rod, his voice trembling
with a new excitement. "He has found the second waterfall!"
The thought gave fresh strength to their aching arms and the canoe
sped swiftly down the stream. Fifteen minutes later another shot
signaled to them, this time not more than a quarter of a mile away,
and Wabi responded to it with a loud shout. Mukoki's voice floated
back in an answering halloo, but before the young hunters came within
sight of their comrade another sound reached their ears,--the muffled
roar of a cataract! Again and again the boys sent their shouts of joy
echoing through the night, and above the tumult of their own voices
they heard the old warrior calling on them to put into shore. Mukoki
was waiting for them when they landed.
"This is big un!" he greeted. "Mak' much noise, much swift water!"
"Hurrah!" yelled Rod for the twentieth time, jumping up and down in
"Hurrah!" cried Wabi.
And Mukoki chuckled, and grinned, and rubbed his leathery hands
together in high glee.
At last, when they had somewhat cooled down, Wabi said:
"That John Ball was a pretty poor fellow at a guess, eh? What do you
"Or else pretty clever," added Rod. "By George, I wonder if he had a
reason for making his scale fifty miles or so out of the way?"
Wabi looked at him, only partly understanding.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that our third waterfall is more than likely to be mighty
close to this one! And if it is--well, John Ball had a reason, and a
good one! If we strike the last fall to-morrow it will be pretty
good proof that he drew the map in a way intended to puzzle
somebody,--perhaps his two partners, who were just about to start for
"Muky, how far have we come?" asked Wabigoon.
"T'ree time first fall," replied the old Indian quickly.
"A hundred and fifty miles--in three days and one night. I don't
believe that is far out of the way. Then, according to the map, we
should still be a hundred miles from the third fall."
"And we're not more than twenty-five!" declared Rod confidently.
"Let's build a fire and go to bed. We'll have enough to do
to-morrow--hunting gold!" The fourth day's journey was begun before it
was yet light. Breakfast was eaten in the glow of the camp-fire, and
by the time dawn broke the adventurers were already an hour upon their
way. Nothing but confidence now, animated them. The mad hunter and his
golden bullets were entirely forgotten in these last hours of their
exciting quest. Once, far back, Rod had thought with chilling dread
that this might be the madman's trail, that his golden bullets might
come from the treasure they were seeking. But he gave no thought to
this possibility now. His own belief that the third and last fall was
not far distant, in spite of the evidence of the map, gradually gained
possession of his companions, and the nerves of all three were keyed
to the highest tension of expectancy. The preceding night Mukoki had
made himself a paddle to replace the one he had broken, and not a
stroke of the three pairs of arms was lost. Early in the morning a
young moose allowed them to pass within a hundred yards of him. But no
shot was fired, for to obtain the meat would have meant an hour's loss
Two hours after the start the country again began taking on a sudden
change. From east and west the wild mountain ridges closed in, and
with each mile's progress the stream narrowed and grew swifter, until
again it was running between chasm walls that rose black and silent
over the adventurers' heads. Darker and gloomier became the break
between the mountains. Far above, a thousand feet or more, dense
forests of red pine flung their thick shadows over the edge of the
chasm, in places almost completely shutting out the light of day.
This was not like the other chasm. It was deeper and darker and more
sullen. Under its walls the gloom was almost that of night. Its
solitude was voiceless; not a bird fluttered or chirped among
its rocks; the lowest of whispered words sounded with startling
distinctness. Once Rod spoke aloud, and his voice rose and beat itself
in the cavernous depths of the walls until it seemed as though he had
shouted. Now they ceased paddling, and Mukoki steered. Noiselessly the
current swept them on. In the twilight gloom Rod's face shone
with singular whiteness. Mukoki and Wabigoon crouched like bronze
silhouettes. It was as if some mysterious influence held them in its
power, forbidding speech, holding their eyes in staring expectancy
straight ahead, filling them with indefinable sensations that made
their hearts beat faster and their blood tingle.
Softly, from far ahead, at last there came a murmur. It was like the
first gentle whispering of an approaching wind, the soughing of a
breath among the pines at the top of the chasm. But a wind among the
trees rises, and then dies away, like a chord struck low and gently
upon some soft-toned instrument. This whisper that came up the chasm
remained. It grew no louder, and sometimes it almost faded away, until
the straining ears of those who listened could barely detect it; but
after a moment it was there again, as plainly as before. Little by
little it became more distinct, until there were no longer intervals
when it died away, and at last Wabigoon turned in the bow and faced
his companions, and though he spoke no word there was the gleam of a
great excitement in his eyes. Rod's heart beat like a drum. He, too,
began to understand. That moaning, whispering sound floating up
the chasm was not the wind, but the far-away rumble of the third
Mukoki's voice broke the tense silence from behind.
"That the fall!"
Wabigoon replied in words scarcely louder than a whisper. There was no
joyful shouting now, as there had been at the discovery of the second
fall. Even Mukoki's voice was so low that the others could barely
hear. Something between these chasm walls seemed to demand silence
from them, and as the rumble of the cataract came more and
more clearly to their ears they held their breath in voiceless
anticipation. A few hundred yards ahead of them was the treasure which
men long since dead had discovered more than half a century before;
between the black mountain walls that so silently guarded that
treasure there seemed to lurk the spirit presence of the three men who
had died because of it. Here, somewhere very near, John Ball had been
murdered, and Rod almost fancied that along the sandy edge of the
chasm stream they might stumble on the footprints of the men whose
skeletons they had discovered in the ancient cabin.
Mukoki uttered no sound as he guided the canoe ashore. Still without
word, the three picked up their rifles and Wabigoon led the way along
the edge of the stream. Soon it dashed a swift racing torrent between
the rocks, and Rod and his companions knew that they were close upon
the fall. A hundred yards or more and they saw the white mist of it
leaping up before their eyes. Wabi began to run, his moccasined feet
springing from stone to stone with the caution of a hunter approaching
game, and Mukoki and Rod came close behind him.
They paused upon the edge of a great mass of rock with the spray of
the plunging cataract rising in their faces. Breathless they gazed
down. It was not a large fall. Wabi silently measured it at forty
feet. But it added just that much more to the depth and the gloom of
the chasm beyond, into which there seemed no way of descent. The rock
walls rose sheer and black, with clumps of cedar and stunted pine
growing at their feet. Farther on the space between the mountains
became wider, and the river reached out on either side, frothing and
beating itself into white fury in a chaos of slippery water-worn
Down there--somewhere--was the golden treasure they had come to seek,
unless the map lied! Was it among those rocks, where the water dashed
and fumed? Was it hidden in some gloomy cavern of the mountain sides,
its trail concealed by the men who discovered it half an age ago?
Would they find it, after all--would they find it?
A great gulp of excitement rose in Rod's throat, and he looked at
The Indian youth had stretched out an arm. His eyes were blazing, his
whole attitude was one of tense emotion.
"There's the cabin," he cried, "the cabin built by John Ball and the
two Frenchmen! See, over there among those cedars, almost hidden in
that black shadow of the mountain! Great Scott, Muky--Rod--can't you
see? Can't you see?"
THE PAPER IN THE OLD TIN BOX
Slowly out of that mysterious gloom there grew a shape before Rod's
eyes. At first it was only a shadow, then it might have been a rock,
and then the gulp in his throat leaped out in a shout when he saw that
Wabigoon's sharp eyes had in truth discovered the old cabin of the
map. For what else could it be? What else but the wilderness home of
the adventurers whose skeletons they had found, Peter Plante and Henri
Langlois, and John Ball, the man whom these two had murdered?
Rod's joyous voice was like the touch of fire to Wabi's enthusiasm and
in a moment the oppressive silence of their journey down the chasm was
broken by the wild cheers which the young gold seekers sent echoing
between the mountains. Grimacing and chuckling in his own curious way,
Mukoki was already slipping along the edge of the rock, seeking some
break by which he might reach the lower chasm. They were on the point
of turning to the ascent of the mountain, along which they would have
to go until they found such a break, when the old pathfinder directed
the attention of his companions to the white top of a dead cedar stub
projecting over the edge of the precipice.
"Go down that, mebby," he suggested, shrugging his shoulders to
suggest that the experiment might be a dangerous one.
Rod looked over. The top of the stub was within easy reach, and the
whole tree was entirely free of bark or limbs, a fact which in his
present excitement did not strike him as especially unusual. Swinging
his rifle strap over his shoulders he reached out, caught the slender
apex of the stub, and before the others could offer a word of
encouragement or warning was sliding down the wall of the rock into
the chasm. Wabi was close behind him, and not waiting for Mukoki's
descent the two boys hurried toward the cabin. Half-way to it Wabi
"This isn't fair. We've got to wait for Muky."
They looked back. Mukoki was not following. The old warrior was upon
his knees at the base of the dead tree, as though he was searching for
something among the rocks at its foot. Then he rose slowly, and rubbed
his hands along the stub as high as he could reach. When he saw that
Rod and Wabi were observing him he quickly came toward them, and
Wabigoon, who was quick to notice any change in him, was confident
that he had made a discovery of some kind.
"What have you found, Muky?"
"No so ver' much. Funny tree," grunted the Indian.
"Smooth as a fireman's brass pole," added Rod, seeing no significance
in Mukoki's words. "Listen!"
He stopped so suddenly that Wabigoon bumped into him from behind.
"Did you hear that?"
For a few moments the three huddled close together in watchful
silence. Mukoki was behind the boys or they would have seen that his
rifle was ready to spring to his shoulder and that his black eyes were
snapping with something not aroused by curiosity alone. The cabin was
not more than twenty paces away. It was old, so old that Rod wondered
how it had withstood the heavy storms of the last winter. A growth of
saplings had found root in its rotting roof and the logs of which it
was built were in the last stage of decay. There was no window,
and where the door had once been there had grown a tree a foot in
diameter, almost closing the narrow aperture through which the
mysterious inhabitants had passed years before. A dozen paces, five
paces from this door, and Mukoki's hand reached out and laid itself
gently upon Wabi's shoulder. Rod saw the movement and stopped. A
strange look had come into the old Indian's face, an expression in
which there was incredulity and astonishment, as if he believed and
yet doubted what his eyes beheld. Mutely he pointed to the tree
growing before the door, and to the reddish, crumbling rot into which
the logs had been turned by the passing of generations.
"Red pine," he said at last. "That cabin more'n' twent' t'ous'nd year
There was an awesome ring in his voice. Rod understood, and clutched
Wabi's arm. In an instant he thought of the other old cabin, in which
they had found the skeletons. They had repaired that cabin and had
passed the winter in it, and they knew that it had been built half a
century or more before. But this cabin was beyond repair. To Rod it
seemed as though centuries of time instead of decades had been at work
on its timbers. Following close after Wabi he thrust his head through
the door. Deep gloom shut out their vision. But as they looked,
steadily inuring their eyes to the darkness within, the walls of the
old cabin took form, and they saw that everywhere was vacancy. There
was no ancient table, as in the other cabin they had discovered at the
head of the first chasm, there were no signs of the life that had once
existed, not even the remnants of a chair or a stool. The cabin was
Foot by foot the two boys went around its walls. Mukoki took but a
single glance inside and disappeared. Once alone he snapped down the
safety of his rifle. Quickly, as if he feared interruption, he hurried
around the old cabin, his eyes close to the earth. When Rod and Wabi
returned to the door he was at the edge of the fall, crouching low
among the rocks like an animal seeking a trail. Wabi pulled his
The old warrior rose, suddenly erect, and turned toward them, but the
boys were hidden in the gloom. Then he hurried to the dead stub beside
the chasm wall. Again he reached far up, rubbing his hand along its
"I'm going to have a look at that tree!" whispered Wabi. "Something is
puzzling Are you coming?"
He hurried across the rock-strewn opening, but Rod hung back. He could
not understand his companions. For weeks and months they had planned
to find this third waterfall. Visions of a great treasure had been
constantly before their eyes, and now that they were here, with the
gold perhaps under their very feet, both Mukoki and Wabigoon were more
interested in a dead stub than in their search for it! His own heart
was almost bursting with excitement. The very air which he breathed
in the old cabin set his blood leaping with anticipation. Here those
earlier adventurers had lived half a century or more ago. In it the
life-blood of the murdered John Ball might have ebbed away. In this
cabin the men whose skeletons he had found had slept, and planned, and
measured their gold. And the gold! It was that and not the stub that
interested Roderick Drew! Where was the lost treasure? Surely the old
cabin must hold some clue for them, it would at least tell them more
than the limbless white corpse of a tree!
From the door he looked back into the dank gloom, straining his eyes
to see, and then glanced across the opening. Wabi had reached the
stub, and both he and Mukoki were on their knees beside it. Probably
they have found the marks of a lynx or a bear, thought Rod. A dozen
paces away something else caught his eyes, a fallen red pine, dry and
heavy with pitch, and in less than a minute he had gone to it and was
back with a torch. Breathlessly he touched the tiny flame of a match
to the stick. For a moment the pitch sputtered and hissed, then flared
into light, and Rod held the burning wood above his head.
The young gold seeker's first look about him was disappointing.
Nothing but the bare walls met his eyes. Then, in the farthest corner,
he observed something that in the dancing torch-light was darker than
the logs themselves, and he moved toward it. It was a tiny shelf, not
more than a foot long, and upon it was a small tin box, black and
rust-eaten by the passing of ages. With trembling fingers Rod took it
in his hand. It was very light, probably empty. In it he might find
the dust of John Ball's last tobacco. Then, suddenly, as he thought of
this, he stopped in his search and a muffled exclamation of surprise
fell from him. In the glow of the torch he looked at the tin box. It
was crumbling with age and he might easily have crushed it in his
hand--and yet it was still a tin box! If this box had remained why
had not other things? Where were the pans and kettles, the pail and
frying-pan, knives, cups and other articles which John Ball and the
two Frenchmen must at one time have possessed in this cabin?
He returned to the door. Mukoki and Wabigoon were still at the dead
stub. Even the flare of light in the old cabin had not attracted them.
Tossing his torch away Rod tore off the top of the tin box. Something
fell at his feet, and as he reached for it he saw that it was a little
roll of paper, almost as discolored as the rust-eaten box itself. As
gently as Mukoki had unrolled the precious birchbark map a few months
before he smoothed out the paper. The edges of it broke and crumbled
under his fingers, but the inner side of the roll was still quite
white. Mukoki and Wabigoon, looking back, saw him suddenly turn toward
them with a shrill cry on his lips, and the next instant he was racing
in their direction, shouting wildly at every step.
"The gold!" he shrieked. "The gold! Hurrah!"
He was almost sobbing in his excitement when he stopped between them,
holding out the bit of paper.
"I found it in the cabin--in a tin box! See, it's John Ball's
writing--the writing that was on the old map! I found it--in a tin
Wabi seized the paper. His own breath came more quickly when he saw
what was upon it. There were a few lines of writing, dim but still
legible, and a number of figures. Across the top of the paper was
"Account of John Ball, Henri Langlois, and Peter Plante for month
ending June thirtieth, 1859."
Below these lines was the following:
"Plante's work: nuggets, 7 pounds, nine ounces; dust, 1 pound, 3
ounces. Langlois' work: nuggets, 9 pounds, 13 ounces; dust, none.
Ball's work: nuggets, 6 pounds, 4 ounces; dust, 2 pounds, 3 ounces.
Total, 27 pounds.
Plante's share, 6 pounds, 12 ounces.
Langlois' share, 6 pounds, 12 ounces.
Ball's share, 13 pounds, 8 ounces.
Softly Wabigoon read the words aloud. When he finished his eyes met
Rod's, Mukoki was still crouching at the foot of the stub, staring at
the two boys in silence, as if stupefied by what he had just heard.
"This doesn't leave a doubt," said Wabi at last. "We've struck the
"The gold is somewhere--very near--"
Rod could not master the tremble in his voice. As though hoping to see
the yellow treasure heaped in a pile before his eyes he turned to the
waterfall, to the gloomy walls of the chasm, and finally extended an
arm to where the spring torrent, leaping over the edge of the chasm
above, beat itself into frothing rage among the rocks between the two
"In the stream?"
"Yes. Where else near this cabin would they have found pure nuggets
of gold? Surely not in rock! And gold-dust is always in the sands of
streams. It's there--without a doubt!"
Both Indians went with him to the edge of the water.
"The creek widens here until it is very shallow," said Wabi. "I don't
believe that it is more than four feet deep out there in the middle.
What do you say--" He paused as he saw Mukoki slip back to the dead
stub again, then went on, "What do you say to making a trip to the
canoe after grub for our dinner, and the pans?"
The first flash of enthusiasm that had filled Wabigoon on reading the
paper discovered by Rod was quickly passing away, and the white youth
could not but notice the change which came over both Mukoki and his
young friend when they stood once more beside the smooth white stub
that reached up to the floor of the chasm above. He controlled his
own enthusiasm enough to inspect more closely the dead tree which had
affected them so strangely. The discovery he made fairly startled him.
The surface of the stub was not only smooth and free of limbs, but was
polished until it shone with the reflecting luster of a waxed pillar!
For a moment he forgot the paper which he held in his hand, forgot
the old cabin, and the nearness of gold. In blank wonder he stared at
Mukoki, and the old Indian shrugged his shoulders.
"Ver' nice an' smooth!"
"Ver' dam' smooth!" emphasized Wabi, without a suggestion of humor in
"What does it mean?" asked Rod.
"It means," continued Wabigoon, "that this old stub has for a good
many years been used! by something as a sort of stairway in and out of
this chasm! Now if it were a bear, there would be claw marks. If it
were a lynx, the surface of the stub would be cut into shreds. Any
kind of animal would have left his mark behind, and no animal would
have put this polish on it!"
"Then what in the world--"
Rod did not finish. Mukoki lifted his shoulders to a level with his
chin, and Wabi whistled as he looked straight at him.
"Not a hard guess, eh?"
"That it's a man! Only the arms and legs of a man going up and down
that stub hundreds and thousands of times could have worn it so
smooth! Now, can you guess who that man is?"
In a flash the answer shot into Rod's brain. He understood now why
this old stub had drawn his companions away from their search for
gold, and he felt the flush of excitement go out of his own cheeks,
and an involuntary thrill pass up his back.
"The mad hunter!"
Wabi nodded. Mukoki grunted and rubbed his hands.
"Gold in bullet come from here!" said the old pathfinder. "Bad dog man
ver' swift on trail. We hurry get canoe--cut down tree!"
"That's more than you've said in the last half-hour, and it's a good
idea!" exclaimed Wabi. "Let's get our stuff down here and chop this
stub into firewood! When he comes back and finds his ladder gone he'll
give a screech or two, I'll wager, and then it will be our chance to
do something with him. Here goes!"
He started to climb the stub, and a minute or two later stood safely
on the rock above.
"Slippery as a greased pole!" he called down. "Bet you can't make it,
But Rod did, after a tremendous effort that left him breathless and
gasping by the time Wabi stretched out a helping hand to him. Mukoki
came up more easily. Taking only their revolvers with them the
three hurried to the birch bark, and in a single load brought their
possessions to the rock. By means of ropes the packs and other
contents of the canoe, and finally the canoe itself, were lowered into
the chasm, and while the others looked on Mukoki seized the ax and
chopped down the stub.
"There!" he grunted, as a last blow sent the tree crashing among the
rocks. "Too high for heem jump!"
"But a mighty good place for him to shoot from," said Wabi, looking
up. "We'd better camp out of range."
"Not until we know what we've struck," cried Rod, unstrapping a pan
from one of the packs. "Boys, the first thing to do is to wash out a
little of that river-bed!"
He started for the creek, with Wabi close behind him bearing a second
pan. Mukoki looked after them and chuckled softly to himself as he
began making preparations for dinner. Choosing a point where the
current had swept up a small bar of pebbles and sand Wabi and Rod both
set to work. The white youth had never before panned gold, but he
had been told how it was done, and there now shot through him that
strange, thrilling excitement which enthralls the treasure hunter
when he believes that at last he has struck pay dirt. Scooping up a
quantity of the gravel and sand he filled his pan with water, then
moved it, quickly back and forth, every few moments splashing some of
the "wash" or muddy water, over the side. Thus, filling and refilling
his pan with fresh water, he excitedly went through the process of
"washing" everything but solid substance out of it.
With each fresh dip into the stream the water in the pan became
clearer, and within fifteen minutes the three or four double handfuls
of sand and gravel with which he began work dwindled down to one.
Scarcely breathing in his eagerness he watched for the yellow gleam of
gold. Once a glitter among the pebbles drew a low cry from him, but
when with the point of his knife he found it to be only mica he was
glad that Wabi had not heard him. The young Indian was squatting upon
the sand, with his pan turned toward a gleam of the sun that shot
faintly down into the chasm. Without raising his head he called to
"No. Have you?"
"No--yes--but I don't think it's gold"
"What does it look like?"
"It gleams yellow but is as hard as steel."
"Mica!" said Rod.
Neither of the boys looked up during the conversation. With the point
of his hunting-knife Rod still searched in the bottom of his pan,
turning over the pebbles and raking the gravelly sand with a
painstaking care that would have made a veteran gold seeker laugh.
Some minutes had passed when Wabi spoke again.
"I say, Rod, that's a funny-looking thing I found! If it wasn't so
hard I'd swear it was gold? Want to see it?"
"It's mica," repeated Rod, as another gleam, of "fool's gold" in his
own pan caught his eyes. "The stream is full of it!"
"Never saw mica in chunks before," mumbled Wabi, bending low over his
"Chunks!" cried Rod, straightening as if some one had run a pin into
his back. "How big is it?"
"Big as a pea--a big pea!"
The words were no sooner out of the young Indian's mouth than Roderick
was upon his feet and running to his companion.
"Mica doesn't come in chunks! Where--"
He bent over Wabi's pan. In the very middle of it lay a suspiciously
yellow pebble, worn round and smooth by the water, and when Rod took
it in his fingers he gave a low whistle of mock astonishment as he
gazed down into Wabigoon's face.
"Wabi, I'm ashamed of you!" he said, trying hard to choke back the
quiver in his voice. "Mica doesn't come in round chunks like this.
Mica isn't heavy. And this is _both_!"
From the cedars beyond the old cabin came Mukoki's whooping signal
that dinner was ready.
THE TREASURE IN THE POOL
For a few moments after Rod's words and Mukoki's signal from the
cedars Wabigoon sat as if stunned.
"It isn't--gold," he said, his voice filled with questioning doubt.
"That's just what it is!" declared Rod, his words now rising in the
excitement which he was vainly striving to suppress. "It's hard, but
see how your knife point has scratched it! It weighs a quarter of an
ounce! Are there any more nuggets in there?"
He fell upon his knees beside Wabi, and their two heads were close
together, their four eyes eagerly searching the contents of the pan,
when Mukoki came up behind them. Rod passed the golden nugget to the
old Indian, and rose to his feet.
"That settles it, boys. We've hit the right spot. Let's give three
cheers for John Ball and the old map, and go to dinner!"
"I agree to dinner, but cut out the cheers." said Wabi, "or else let's
give them under our breath. Notice how hollow our voices sound in this
chasm! I believe we could hear a shout half a dozen miles away!"
For their camp Mukoki had chosen a site in the edge of the cedars,
and had spread dinner on a big flat rock about which the three now
gathered. For inspiration, as Wabi said, the young Indian placed
the yellow nugget in the center of the improvised table, and if the
enthusiasm with which they hurried through their meal counted for
anything there was great merit in the golden centerpiece. Mukoki
joined the young gold seekers when they again returned to the chasm
stream, and the quest of the yellow treasure was vigorously renewed in
trembling and feverish expectancy.
Only those who have lived in this quest and who have pursued that
elusive _ignis fatuus_ of all nations--the lure of gold--can realize
the sensations which stir the blood and heat the brain of the treasure
seeker as he dips his pan into the sands of the stream where he
believes nature has hidden her wealth. As Roderick Drew, a child of
that civilization where the dollar is law as well as might, returned
to the exciting work which promised him a fortune he seemed to be in
a half dream. About him, everywhere, was gold! For no moment did he
doubt it; not for an instant did he fear that there might be no more
gold in the sand and gravel from which Wabigoon's nugget had come.
Treasure was in the very sandbar under his feet! It was out there
among the rocks, where the water beat itself angrily into sputtering
froth; it was under the fall, and down in the chasm, everywhere,
everywhere about him. In one month John Ball and his companions had
gathered twenty-seven pounds of it, a fortune of nearly seven thousand
dollars! And they had gathered it here! Eagerly he scooped up a fresh
pan of the precious earth. He heard the swish-swish of the water in
Wabigoon's and Mukoki's pans. But beyond this there were no sounds
made by them.
In these first minutes of treasure seeking no words were spoken. Who
would give the first shout of discovery? Five minutes, ten, fifteen of
them passed, and Rod found no gold. As he emptied his pan he saw Wabi
scooping up fresh dirt. He, too, had failed. Mukoki had waded out
waist deep among the rocks. A second and a third pan, and a little
chill of disappointment cooled Rod's blood. Perhaps he had chosen an
unlucky spot, where the gold had not settled! He moved his position,
and noticed that Wabigoon had done the same. A fourth and a fifth pan
and the result was the same. Mukoki had waded across the stream, which
was shallow below the fall, and was working on the opposite side. A
sixth pan, and Rod approached the young Indian. The excitement was
gone out of their faces. An hour and a half--and no more gold!
"Guess we haven't hit the right place, after all," said Wabi.
"It must be here," replied Rod. "Where there is one nugget there must
be more. Gold is heavy, and settles. Perhaps it's deeper down in the
Mukoki came across to join them. Out among the rocks he had found a
fleck of gold no larger than the head of a pin, and this new sign gave
them all fresh enthusiasm. Taking off their boots both Rod and Wabi
joined the old pathfinder in midstream. But each succeeding pan added
to the depressing conviction that was slowly replacing their hopes.
The shadows in the chasm began growing longer and deeper. Far overhead
the dense canopies of red pine shut out the last sun-glow of day, and
the gathering gloom between the mountains gave warning that in this
mysterious world of the ancient cabin the dusk of night was not far
away. But not until they could no longer see the gleaming mica in
their pans did the three cease work. Wet to the waist, tired, and with
sadly-shattered dreams they returned to their camp. For a short time
Rod's hopes were at their lowest ebb. Was it possible that there was
no more gold, that the three adventurers of long ago had discovered a
"pocket" here, and worked it out? The thought had been growing in his
head. Now it worried him.
But his depression did not last long. The big fire which Mukoki
built and the stimulating aroma of strong coffee revived his natural
spirits, and both Wabi and he were soon laughing and planning again as
they made their cedar-bough shelter. Supper on the big flat stone--a
feast of bear steak, hot-stone biscuits, coffee, and that most
delectable of all wilderness luxuries, a potato apiece,--and the two
irrepressible young gold hunters were once more scheming and building
their air-castles for the following day. Mukoki listened, and attended
to the clothes drying before the fire, now and then walking out into
the gloom of the chasm to look up to where the white rim of the fall
burst over the edge of the great rock above them. All that afternoon
Wabi and Rod had forgotten the mad hunter and the strange, smoothly
worn tree. Mukoki had not.
In the glow of the camp-fire the two boys read over again the old
account of John Ball and the two Frenchmen. The tiny slip of paper,
yellow with age, was the connecting link between them and the dim
and romantic past, a relic of the grim tragedy which these black and
gloomy chasm walls would probably keep for ever a secret.
"Twenty-seven pounds," repeated Rod, as if half to himself. "That was
one month's work!"
"Pretty nearly a pound a day!" gasped Wabi. "I tell you, Rod, we
haven't hit the right spot--yet!"
"I wonder why John Ball's share was twice that of his companions'? Do
you suppose it was because he discovered the gold in the first place?"
"In all probability it was. That accounts for his murder. The
Frenchmen were getting the small end of the deal."
"Eighteen hundred fifty-nine," mused Rod. "That was forty-nine years
ago, before the great Civil War. Say--"
He stopped and looked hard at Wabigoon.
"Did it ever strike you that John Ball might not have been murdered?"
Wabi leaned forward with more than usual eagerness.
"I have had a thought--" he began.
"That perhaps he was not killed."
"And that after the two Frenchmen died in the knife duel he returned
and got the gold," continued Rod.
"No, I had not thought of that," said Wabi. Suddenly he rose to his
feet and joined Mukoki out in the gloom of the chasm.
Rod was puzzled. Something in his companion's voice, in his face and
words, disturbed him. What had Wabigoon meant?
The young Indian soon rejoined him, but he spoke no more of John Ball.
When the two boys went to their blankets Mukoki still remained awake.
For a long time he sat beside the fire, his hands gripping the rifle
across his knees, his head slightly bowed in that statue-like posture
so characteristic of the Indian. For fully an hour he sat motionless,
and in his own way he was deeply absorbed in thought. Soon after their
discovery of the first golden bullet Wabigoon had whispered a few
words into his ear, unknown to Rod; and to-night out in the gloom of
the chasm, he had repeated those same words. They had set Mukoki's
mind working. He was thinking now of something that happened long ago,
when, in his reasoning, the wilderness was young and he was a youth.
In those days his one great treasure was a dog, and one winter he
went with this faithful companion far into the hunting regions of the
North, a long moon's travel from his village. When he returned,
months later, he was alone. From his lonely hunting shack deep in the
solitudes his comrade had disappeared, and had never returned. This
all happened before Mukoki met the pretty Indian girl who became his
wife, and was afterward killed by the wolves, and he missed the dog
as he would have missed a human brother. The Indian's love, even
for brutes, is some thing that lives, and more than twenty moons
later--two years in the life of a man--he returned once again to the
old shack, and there he found Wholdaia, the dog! The animal knew him,
and bounded about on three legs for joy, and because of the missing
leg Mukoki understood why he had not returned to him two years before.
Two years is a long time in the life of a dog, and the gray hairs of
suffering and age were freely sprinkled in Wholdaia's muzzle and along
Mukoki was not thinking of Wholdaia without a reason. He was thinking
of Wabigoon's words--and the mad hunter. Could not the mad hunter do
as Wholdaia had done? Was it possible that the bad-dog man who shot
golden bullets and who screamed like a lynx was the man who had lived
there many, many years ago, and whom the boys called John Ball? Those
were the thoughts that Wabi had set working in his brain. The young
Indian had not suggested this to Rod. He had spoken of it to Mukoki
only because he knew the old pathfinder might help him to solve the
riddle, and so he had started Mukoki upon the trail.
The next morning, while the others were finishing their breakfast,
Mukoki equipped himself for a journey.
"Go down chasm," he explained to Rod "Fin' where get out to plain.
That day the gold hunters were more systematic in their work,
beginning close to the fall, one on each side of the stream, and
panning their way slowly down the chasm. By noon they had covered two
hundred yards, and their only reward was a tiny bit of gold, worth
no more than a dollar, which Rod had found in his pan. By the time
darkness again compelled them to stop they had prospected a quarter
of a mile down stream without discovering other signs of John Ball's
treasure. In spite of their failure they were less discouraged than
the previous evening, for this failure, in a way, was having a
sedative and healthful effect. It convinced them that there was a hard
and perhaps long task ahead of them, and that they could not expect to
find their treasure winnowed in yellow piles for them.
Early in the evening Mukoki returned laden with caribou meat, and with
the news that the first break in the chasm walls was fully five miles
below. The adventurers now regretted that they had chopped down the
stub, for it was decided that the next work should be in the stream
above the fall, which would necessitate a ten-mile tramp, five miles
to the break and five miles back. When the journey was begun at dawn
the following morning several days' supplies were taken along, and
also a stout rope by means of which the gold hunters could lower
themselves back into their old camp when their work above was
completed. Rod noticed that the rocks in the stream seemed much
larger than when he had first seen them, and he mentioned the fact to
"The floods are going down rapidly," explained the young Indian. "All
of the snow is melted from the sides of the mountains, and there are
no lakes to feed this chasm stream. Within a week there won't be more
than a few inches of water below the fall."
"And that is when we shall find the gold!" declared Rod with his old
enthusiasm. "I tell you, we haven't gone deep enough! This gold has
been here for centuries and centuries, and it has probably settled
several feet below the surface of the river-bed. Ball and the
Frenchmen found twenty-seven pounds in June, when the creek was
practically dry. Did you ever read about the discoveries of gold in
Alaska and the Yukon?"
"A little, when I was going to school with you."
"Well, the richest finds were nearly always from three to a dozen
feet under the surface, and when a prospector found signs in surface
panning he knew there was rich dirt below. Well find our gold in this
chasm, and near the fall!"
Rod's confidence was the chief thing that kept up the spirits of the
treasure seekers during the next few days, for not the first sign
of gold was discovered above the fall. Yard by yard the prospectors
worked up the chasm until they had washed its sands for more than a
mile. And with the passing of each day, as Wabigoon had predicted, the
stream became more and more shallow, until they could wade across it
without wetting themselves above their knees. At the close of the
fourth day the three lowered themselves over the face of the rock into
the second chasm. So convinced was Rod in his belief that the gold was
hidden deep down under the creek bed that he dug a four-foot hole by
torch-light and that night after supper washed out several pans of
dirt in the glow of the camp-fire. He still found no signs of gold.
The next day's exertions left no room for doubt. Beyond two or three
tiny flecks of gold the three adventurers found nothing of value
in the deeper sand and gravel of the stream. That night absolute
dejection settled on the camp. Both Rod and Wabigoon made vain efforts
to liven up their drooping spirits. Only Mukoki, to whom gold
carried but a fleeting and elusive value, was himself, and even his
hopefulness was dampened by the gloom of his companions. Rod could see
but one explanation of their failure. Somewhere near the cataract John
Ball and the Frenchmen had found a rich pocket of gold, and they had
worked it out, probably before the fatal tragedy in the old cabin.
"But how about the mad hunter and his golden bullets?" insisted Wabi,
in another effort to brighten their prospects. "The bullets weighed an
ounce each, and I'll stake my life they came from this chasm. He knows
where the gold is, if we don't!"
"Come back soon!" grunted Mukoki. "Watch heem. Fin' gol'!"
"That's what we'll do!" cried the young Indian, jumping suddenly to
his feet and toppling Rod backward off the rock upon which he was
sitting. "Come, cheer up, Rod! The gold is here, somewhere, and we're
going to find it! I'm heartily ashamed of you; you, whom I thought
would never get discouraged!"
Rod was laughing when he recovered from the playful mauling which Wabi
administered before he could regain his feet.
"That's right, I deserve another licking! We've got all the spring and
summer before us, and if we don't find the gold by the time snow flies
we'll come back and try it again next year! What do you say?"
"And bring Minnetaki with us!" added Wabi, jumping into the air and
kicking his heels together. "How will you like that, Rod?" He nudged
his comrade in the ribs, and in another moment both were puffing and
laughing in one of their good-natured wrestling bouts, in which the
cat-like agility of the young Indian always won for him in the end.
In spite of momentary times like this, when the natural buoyancy and
enthusiasm of the young adventurers rose above their discouragement,
the week that followed added to their general depression. For miles
the chasm was explored and at the end of the week they had found less
than an ounce of gold. If their pans had given them no returns at all
their disappointment would have been less, for then, as Wabi said,
they could have given up the ghost with good grace. But the few
precious yellow grains which they found now and then lured them on, as
these same grains have lured other hundreds and thousands since the
dawn of civilization. Day after day they persisted in their efforts;
night after night about their camp-fire they inspired each other with
new hope and made new plans. The spring sun grew stronger, the poplar
buds burst into tiny leaf and out beyond the walls of the chasm the
first promises of summer came in the sweetly scented winds of the
south, redolent with the breath of balsam and pine and the thousand
growing things of the plains.
But at last the search came to an end. For three days not even a grain
of gold had been found. Around the big rock, where they were eating
dinner, Rod and his friends came to a final conclusion. The following
morning they would break camp, and leaving their canoe behind, for the
creek was now too shallow for even birch-bark navigation, they would
continue their exploration of the chasm in search of other adventures.
The whole summer was ahead of them, and though they had failed
in discovering a treasure where John Ball and the Frenchmen had
succeeded, they might find one farther on. At least the trip deeper
into the unexplored wilderness would be filled with excitement.
Mukoki rose to his feet, leaving Rod and Wabi still discussing their
plans. Suddenly he turned toward them, and a startled cry fell from
his lips, while with one long arm he pointed beyond the fall into the
The old warrior's face twitched with excitement, and for a full half
minute he stood motionless, his arm still extended, his black eyes
staring steadily at Rod and Wabigoon who sat as silent as the rocks
about them. Then there came to them from a great distance a quavering,
thrilling sound, a sound that filled them again with the old horror of
the upper chasm--the cry of the mad hunter.
At that distant cry Wabigoon sprang to his feet, his eyes leaping
fire, his bronzed cheeks whitening in an excitement even greater than
that of Mukoki.
"Muky, I told you!" he cried. "I told you!" The young Indian's body
quivered, his hands were clenched, and when he turned upon Rod the
white youth was startled by the look in his face.
"Rod, John Ball is coming back to his gold!"
Hardly had he spoken the words when the tenseness left his body and
his hands dropped to his side.
The words shot from him before he could control himself enough to hold
them back. In another moment he was sorry. The thought that John Ball
and the mad hunter were the same person he had kept to himself, until
for reasons of his own he had let Mukoki into his secret. While the
idea had taken larger and larger growth in his mind he knew that
from every logical point of view the thing was impossible, and that
constraint which came of the Indian blood in him held him from
discussing it with Rod. But now the words were out. A quick flush
replaced the whiteness that had come into his face. In another instant
he was leaning eagerly toward Rod, his eyes kindling into fire again.
He had not expected the change that he now saw come over the white
"I have been thinking that for a long time," he continued. "Ever since
we found the footprints in the sand. There's just one proof that we
need, just one, and--"
Rod fairly hissed the word as he held up a warning hand.
This time the cry of the mad hunter came to them more distinctly. He
was approaching through the upper chasm!
The white youth rose to his feet, his eyes steadily fixed upon
Wabigoon's. His face was deathly pale.
"John Ball!" he repeated, as if he had just heard what the other had
said. "John Ball!" What seemed to him to be the only truth swept upon
him like a flood, and for a score of seconds, in every one of which he
could hear his heart thumping excitedly, he stood like one stunned.
John Ball! John Ball returned to life to find their gold for them, to
tell them of the tragedy and mystery of those days long dead and gone!
Like powder touched by a spark of fire his imagination leaped at
Wabi's thrilling suggestion.
Mukoki set to work.
"Hide!" he exclaimed. "Hide thees--thees--thees!" He pointed about him
at all the things in camp.
Both of the boys understood.
"He must see no signs of our presence from the top of the fall!" cried
Wabi, gathering an armful of camp utensils. "Hide them back among the
Mukoki hurried to the cedar bough shelter and began tearing it down.
For five minutes the adventurers worked on the run. Once during that
time they heard the madman's wailing cry, and hardly had they finished
and concealed themselves in the gloom of the old cabin when it came
again, this time from not more than a rifle-shot's distance beyond
the cataract. It was not a scream that now fell from the mad hunter's
lips, but a low wail and in it there was something that drove the old
horror from the three wildly beating hearts and filled them with a
measureless, nameless pity. What change had come over the madman? The
cry was repeated every few seconds now, each time nearer than before,
and in it there was a questioning, appealing note that seemed to end
in sobbing despair, a something that gripped at Rod's heart and filled
him with a great half-mastering impulse to answer it, to run out and
stretch his hands forth in greeting to the strange, wild creature
coming down the chasm!
Then, as he looked, something ran out upon the edge of the great rock
beside the cataract, and he clutched at his own breast to hold back
what he thought must burst forth in words. For he knew--as surely as
he knew that Wabi was at his side--that he was looking upon John Ball!
For a moment the strange creature crouched where the stub had been,
and when he saw that it was gone he stood erect, and a quavering,
pitiful cry echoed softly through the chasm. And as he stood there
motionless the watchers saw that the mad hunter was an old man, tall
and thin, but as straight as a sapling, and that his head and breast
were hidden in shaggy beard and hair. In his hands he carried a
gun--the gun that had fired the golden bullets--and even at that
distance those who were peering from the gloom of the cabin saw that
it was a long barreled weapon similar to those they had found in the
other old cabin, along with the skeletons of the Frenchmen who had
died in the fatal knife duel.
In breathless suspense the three waited, not a muscle of their bodies
moving. Again the old man leaned over the edge of the rock, and his
voice came to them in a moaning, sobbing appeal, and after a little
he stretched out his arms, still crying softly, as if beseeching help
from some one below. The spectacle gripped at Rod's soul. A hot film
came into his eyes and there was an odd little tremble in his throat.
The Indians were looking with dark, staring eyes. To them this was
another unusual incident of the wilderness. But to Rod it was the
white man's soul crying out to his own. The old man's outstretched
arms seemed reaching to him, the sobbing voice, filled with its
pathos, its despair, its hopeless loneliness, seemed a supplication
for him to come forth, to reach up his own arms, to respond to this
lost soul of the solitudes. With a little cry Rod darted between his
companions. He threw off his cap and lifted his white face to the
startled creature on the rock, and as he advanced step by step,
reaching out his hands in friendship, he called softly a name:
"John Ball, John Ball, John Ball!"
In an instant the mad hunter had straightened himself, half turned to
"John Ball! Hello, John Ball--John Ball--"
In his earnestness Rod was almost sobbing the name. He forgot
everything now, everything but that lonely figure on the rock, and he
drew nearer and nearer, gently calling the name, until the mad hunter
dropped on his knees and, crumpled in his long beard and gray lynx
skin, looked down upon Rod and sent back a low moaning, answering cry.
"John Ball! John Ball, is that you?"
Rod stopped, with the madman forty feet above him, and something
seemed choking back the very breath in him when he saw the strange
look that had come into the old man's eyes.
The wild eyes above shifted for a moment. They caught a glimpse of two
heads thrust from the door of the old cabin, and the madman sprang to
his feet. For a breath he stood on the edge of the rock, then with a
cry he leaped with the fierce agility of an animal far out into the
swirl of the cataract! For an instant he was visible in the downward
plunge of the water. Another instant and with a heavy splash he
disappeared in the deep pool under the fall!
Wabi and Mukoki had seen the desperate leap and the young Indian
was beside the pool before Rod had recovered from his horrified
astonishment. For centuries the water of the chasm stream had been
tumbling into this pool wearing it deeper and deeper each year, until
the water in it was over a man's head. In width it was not more than a
"Watch for him! He'll drown if we don't get him out," shouted Wabi.
Rod leaped to the edge of the pool, with Mukoki between him and
Wabigoon. Ready to spring into the cold depths at the first sign of
the old man's gray head or struggling arms the three stood with every
muscle ready for action. A second, two seconds, five seconds passed,
and there was no sign of him. Rod's heart began to beat with drum-like
fierceness. Ten seconds! A quarter of a minute! He looked at Wabigoon.
The young Indian had thrown off his caribou-skin coat; his eyes, as he
turned them for a moment toward Rod, flashed back the white youth's
"I'm going to dive for him!"
In another instant he had plunged head foremost into the pool.
Mukoki's coat fell to the ground. He crouched forward until it seemed
he must topple from the stone upon which he stood. Another fifteen
seconds and Wabigoon's head appeared above the water, and the old
warrior gave a shout.
He shot out and disappeared in a huge splash close to Wabi. Rod stood
transfixed, filled with a fear that was growing in him at every breath
he drew. He saw the convulsions of the water made by the two Indians,
who were groping about below the surface. Wabigoon came up again for
breath, then Mukoki. It seemed to him that an age had passed, and he
felt no hope. John Ball was dead!
Not for a moment now did he doubt the identity of the mad hunter. The
strange, wistful light that had replaced the glare in the old man's
eyes when he heard his own name called to him had spoken more than
words. It was John Ball! And he was dead! For a third time, a fourth,
and a fifth Mukoki and Wabigoon came up for air, and the fifth time
they dragged themselves out upon the rocks that edged the pool. Mukoki
spoke no word but ran back to the camp and threw a great armful of dry
fuel upon the fire. Wabigoon still remained at the edge of the pool,
dripping and shivering. His hands were clenched, and Rod could see
that they were filled with sand and gravel. Mechanically the Indian
opened his fingers and looked at what he had unconsciously brought up
from under the fall.
For a moment he stared, then with his gasping breath there came a low,
He held out his hands to Rod.
Gleaming richly among the pebbles which he held was a nugget of pure
gold, a nugget so large that Rod gave a wild yell, and in that one
moment forgot that John Ball, the mad hunter, was dead or dying
beneath the fall!
JOHN BALL AND THE MYSTERY OF THE GOLD
Mukoki, hearing Rod's cry, hurried to the pool, but before he reached
the spot where the white youth was standing with the yellow nugget in
his hand Wabigoon had again plunged beneath the surface. For several
minutes he remained in the water, and when he once more crawled out
upon the rocks there was something so strange in his face and eyes
that for a moment Rod believed he had found the dead body of the
"He isn't--in--the--pool!" he panted. Mukoki shrugged his shoulders
"Dead!" he grunted
"He isn't in the pool!"
Wabigoon's black eyes gleamed in uncanny emphasis of his words.
"He isn't in the pool!"
The others understood what he meant. Mukoki's eyes wandered to where
the water of the pool gushed between the rocks into the broader
channel of the chasm stream. It was not more than knee deep!
"He no go out there!"
He shrugged his shoulders suggestively again, and pointed into the
"Body slip under rock. He there!"
"Try it!" said Wabigoon tersely.
He hurried to the fire, and Rod went with him to gather more fuel
while the young Indian warmed his chilled body. They heard the old
pathfinder leap into the water under the fall as they ran.
Ten minutes later Mukoki joined them.
"Gone! Bad-dog man no there!"
He stretched out one of his dripping arms.
"Gol' bullet!" he grunted.
In the palm of his hand lay another yellow nugget, as large as a
"I told you," said Wabi softly, "that John Ball was coming back to his
gold. And he has done so! The treasure is in the pool!"
But where was John Ball?
Dead or alive, where could he have disappeared?
Under other conditions the chasm would have rung with the wild
rejoicing of the gold seekers. But there was something now that
stilled the enthusiasm in them. At last the ancient map had given up
its secret, and riches were within their grasp. But no one of the
three shouted out his triumph. Somehow it seemed that John Ball had
died for them, and the thought clutched at their hearts that if they
had not cut down the stub he would still be alive. Indirectly they had
brought about the death of the poor creature who for nearly half a
century had lived alone with the beasts in these solitudes. And that
one glimpse of the old man on the rock, the prayerful entreaty in his
wailing voice, the despair which he sobbed forth when he found his
tree gone, had livened in them something that was more than sympathy.
At this moment the three adventurers would willingly have given up all
hopes of gold could sacrifice have brought back that sad, lonely old
man who had looked down upon them from the wall of the upper chasm.
"I am sorry we cut down the stub," said Rod.
They were the first words spoken.
"So am I," replied Wabi simply, beginning to strip off his wet
clothes. "But--" He stopped, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, we're taking it for granted that John Ball is dead. If he is
dead why isn't he in the pool? By George, I should think that Mukoki's
old superstition would be getting the best of him!"
"I believe he is in the pool!" declared Rod.
Wabi turned upon him and repeated the words he had spoken to the old
warrior half an hour before.
After the attempts of the two Indians, who could dive like otter, Rod
had no inclination to follow Wabi's invitation. Mukoki, who had hung
up a half of his clothes near the fire, was fitting one of the pans
to the end of a long pole which he had cut from a sapling, and it was
obvious that his intention was to begin at once the dredging of
the pool for gold. Rod joined him, and once more the excitement of
treasure hunting stirred in his veins. When the pan was on securely
Wabi left the fire to join his companions, and the three returned to
the pool. With a long sweep of his improvised dredge Mukoki scooped up
two quarts or more of sand and gravel and emptied it upon one of the
flat rocks, and the two boys pounced upon it eagerly, raking it out
with their fingers and wiping the mud and sand from every suspicious
"The quickest way is to wash it!" said Rod, as Mukoki dumped another
load upon the rock. "I'll get some water!"
He ran to the camp for the remaining pans and when he turned back he
saw Wabi leaping in a grotesque dance about the rock while Mukoki
stood on the edge of the pool, his dredge poised over it, silent and
"What do you think of that?" cried the young Indian as Rod hurried to
him. "What do you think of that?"
He held out his hand, and in it there gleamed a third yellow nugget,
fully twice as large as the one discovered by Mukoki!
Rod fairly gasped. "The pool must be full of 'em!"
He half-filled his pan with the sand and gravel and ran knee-deep out
into the running stream. In his eagerness he splashed over a part of
his material with the wash, but he, excused himself by thinking that
this was his first pan, and that with the rest he would be more
careful. He began to notice now that all of the sand was not washing
out, and when he saw that it persisted in lying heavy and thick among
the pebbles his heart leaped into his mouth. One more dip, and he held
his pan to the light coming through the rift in the chasm. A thousand
tiny, glittering particles met his eyes! In the center of the pan
there gleamed dully a nugget of pure gold as big as a pea! At last
they had struck it rich, so rich that he trembled as he stared down
into the pan, and the cry that had welled up in his throat was choked
back by the swift, excited beating of his heart. In that moment's
glance down into his treasure-laden pan he saw all of his hopes
and all of his ambitions achieved. He was rich! In those gleaming
particles he saw freedom for his mother and himself. No longer a
bitter struggle for existence in the city, no more pinching and
striving and sacrifice that they might keep the little home in which
his father had died! When he turned toward Wabigoon his face was
filled with the ecstasy of those visions. He waded ashore and held his
pan under the other's eyes.
"Another nugget!" exclaimed Wabi excitedly.
"Yes. But it isn't the nugget. It's the--" He moved the pan until the
thousand little particles glittered and swam before the Indian's eyes.
"It's the dust. The sand is full of gold!"
His voice trembled, his face was white. From his crouching posture
Wabi looked up at him, and they spoke no more words.
Mukoki looked, and was silent. Then he went back to his dredging.
Little by little Rod washed down his pan. Half an hour later he showed
it again to Wabigoon. The pebbles were gone. What sand was left was
heavy with the gleaming particles, and half buried in it all was the
yellow nugget! In Wabi's pan there was no nugget but it was rich with
the gleam of fine gold.
Mukoki had dredged a bushel of sand and gravel from the pool, and was
upon his knees beside the heap which he had piled on the rock. When
Rod went to that rock for his third pan of dirt the old warrior made
no sign that he had discovered anything. The early gloom of afternoon
was beginning to settle between the chasm walls, and at the end of his
fourth pan Rod found that it was becoming so dark that he could
no longer distinguish the yellow particles in the sand. With the
exception of one nugget he had found only fine gold. With Wabi's dust
were three small nuggets.
When they ceased work Mukoki rose from beside the rock, chuckling,
grimacing, and holding out his hand. Wabi was the first to see, and
his cry of astonishment drew Rod quickly to his side. The hollow of
the old warrior's hand was filled with nuggets! He turned them into
Wabigoon's hand, and the young Indian turned them into Rod's, and
as he felt the weight of the treasure he held Rod could no longer
restrain the yell of exultation that had been held in all that
afternoon. Jumping high into the air and whooping at every other step
he raced to the camp and soon had the small scale which they had
brought with them from Wabinosh House. The nuggets they had found that
afternoon weighed full seven ounces, and the fine gold, after allowing
the deduction of a third for sand, weighed a little more than eleven
"Eighteen ounces--and a quarter!"
Rod gave the total in a voice tremulous with incredulity.
"Eighteen ounces--at twenty dollars an ounce--three hundred and sixty
dollars!" he figured rapidly. "By George--" The prospect seemed too
big for him, and he stopped.
"Less than half a day's work," added Wabi. "We're doing better than
John Ball and the Frenchmen. It means eighteen thousand dollars a
"And by autumn--" began Rod.
He was interrupted by the inimitable chuckling laugh of Mukoki and
found the old warrior's face a map of creases and grimaces.
"In twent' t'ous'nd moon--mak' heem how much?" he questioned.
In all his life Wabigoon had never heard Mukoki joke before, and with
a wild whoop of joy he rolled the stoical old pathfinder off the rock
on which he was sitting, and Rod joined heartily in Wabi's merriment.
And Mukoki's question proved not to be so much of a joke after all,
as the boys were soon to learn. For several days the work went on
uninterrupted. The buckskin bags in the balsam shelter grew heavier
and heavier. Each succeeding hour added to the visions of the gold
seekers. On the fifth day Rod found seventeen nuggets among his fine
gold, one of them as large as the end of his thumb. On the seventh
came the richest of all their panning, but on the ninth a startling
thing happened. Mukoki was compelled to work ceaselessly to keep the
two boys supplied with "pay dirt" from the pool. His improvised dredge
now brought up only a handful or two of sand and pebbles at a dip. It
was on this ninth day that the truth dawned upon them all.
The pool was becoming exhausted of its treasure!
But the discovery brought no great gloom with it. Somewhere near that
pool must be the very source of the treasure itself, and the gold
hunters were confident of finding it. Besides, they had already
accumulated what to them was a considerable fortune, at least two
thousand dollars apiece. For three more days the work continued, and
then Mukoki's dredge no longer brought up pebbles or sand from the
bottom of the pool.
The last pan was washed early in the morning, and as the warm
weather had begun to taint the caribou meat Mukoki and Wabigoon left
immediately after dinner to secure fresh meat out on the plains, while
Rod remained in camp. The strange thick gloom of night which began to
gather in the chasm before the sun had disappeared beyond the plains
above was already descending upon him when Rod began preparations for
supper. He knew that the Indians would not wait until dark before
reentering the break between the mountains, and confident that they
would soon appear he began mixing up flour and water for their usual
batch of hot-stone biscuits. So intent was he upon his task that he
did not see a shadowy form creeping up foot by foot from the rocks. He
caught no glimpse of the eyes that glared like smoldering coals from
out of the half darkness between him and the fall.
His first knowledge of another presence came in a low, whining cry, a
cry that was not much more than a whisper, and he leaped to his feet,
every nerve in his body once more tingling with that excitement which
had possessed him when he stood under the rock talking to the madman.
A dozen yards away he saw a face, a great, white, ghost-like face,
staring at him from out of the thickening shadows, and under that face
and its tangled veil of beard and hair he saw the crouching form of
the mad hunter!
In that moment Roderick Drew thanked God that he was not afraid.
Standing full in the glow of the fire he stretched out his arms, as he
had once before reached them out to this weird creature, and again,
softly, pleadingly, he called the name of John Ball! There came in
reply a faint, almost unheard sound from the wild man, a sound that
was repeated again and again, and which sent a thrill into the young
hunter, for it was wondrously like the name he was calling: "John
Ball! John Ball! John Ball!" And as the mad hunter repeated that sound
he advanced, foot by foot, as though creeping upon all fours, and Rod
saw then that one of his arms was stretched out to him, and that in
the extended hand was a fish.
He advanced a step, reaching out his own hands eagerly, and the wild
creature stopped, cringing as if fearing a blow.
"John Ball! John Ball!" he repeated. He thought of no other words but
those, and advanced bit by bit as he called them gently again and
again. Now he was within ten feet of the old man, now eight, presently
he was so near that he might have reached him in a single leap. Then
The mad hunter laid down his fish. Slowly he retreated, murmuring
incoherent sounds in his beard, then sprang to his feet and with a
wailing cry sped back toward the pool. Swiftly Rod followed. He saw
the form leap from the rocks at its edge, heard a heavy splash, and
all was still!
For many minutes Rod stood with the spray of the cataract dashing in
his face. This time the madman's plunge into the cold depths at his
feet filled him with none of the horror of that first insane leap from
the rock above. Somewhere in that pool the old man was seeking refuge!
What did it mean? His eyes scanned the thin sheet of water that
plunged down from the upper chasm. It was a dozen feet in width and
hid the black wall of rock behind it like a thick veil. What was there
just behind that falling torrent? Was it possible that in the wall
of rock behind the waterfall there was a place where John Ball found
Rod returned to camp, convinced that he had at last guessed a solution
to the mystery. John Ball was behind the cataract! The strange
murmurings of the old man who for a few moments had crouched so
close to him still rang in his ears, and he was sure that in these
half-articulate sounds had been John Ball's own name. If there had
been a doubt in his mind before, it was wiped away now. The mad hunter
was John Ball, and with that thought burning in his brain Rod stopped
beside the fish--the madman's offering of peace--and turned his face
once more back toward the black loneliness of the pool.
Unconsciously a sobbing cry of sympathy fell softly from Rod's lips,
and he called John Ball's name again, louder and louder, until
it echoed far down the gloomy depths of the chasm. There came no
response. Then he turned to the fish. John Ball wished them to be
friends, and he had brought this offering! In the firelight Rod saw
that it was a curious looking, dark-colored fish, covered with small
scales that were almost black. It was the size of a large trout, and
yet it was not a trout. The head was thick and heavy, like a sucker's,
and yet it was not a sucker. He looked at this head more closely, and
gave a sudden start when he saw that it had no eyes!
In one great flood the truth swept upon him, the truth of what lay
behind the cataract, of where John Ball had gone! For he held in his
hands an eyeless creature of another world, a world hidden in the
bowels of the earth itself, a proof that beyond the fall was a great
cavern filled with the mystery and the sightless things of eternal
night, and that in this cavern John Ball found his food and made his
IN A SUBTERRANEAN WORLD
When Mukoki and Wabigoon returned half an hour later the hot-stone
biscuits were still unbaked. The fire was only a bed of coals. Beside
it sat Rod, the strange fish upon the ground at his feet. Before
Mukoki had thrown down the pack of meat which he was carrying he was
showing them this fish. Quickly he related what had happened. He added
to this some of the things which he had thought while sitting by the
fire. The chief of these things were that just behind the cataract was
the entrance to a great cavern, and that in this cavern they would not
only find John Ball, but also the rich storehouse of that treasure of
which they, had discovered a part in the pool.
And as the night lengthened there was little talk about the gold and
much about John Ball. Again and again Rod described the madman's
visit, the trembling, pleading voice, the offering of the fish, the
eager glow that had come into the wild eyes when he talked to him and
called him by name. Even Mukoki's stoic heart was struck by the deep
pathos of it all. The mad hunter no longer carried his gun. He no
longer sought their lives. In his crazed brain something new and
wonderful was at work, something that drew him to them, with the
half-fear of an animal, and yet with growing trust. He was pleading
for their companionship, their friendship, and deep down in his heart
Rod felt that the spark of sanity was not completely gone from John
When the three adventurers retired to their blankets in the cedar
shelter it was not the thought of gold that quickened their blood in
anticipation of the morning. The passing of an age would not dull the
luster of what they had come to seek. It would wait for them. The
greatest of all things--the sympathy of man for man--had stilled that
other passion in them. John Ball's salvation, and not more gold, was
the day's work ahead of them now.
With the dawn they were up, and by the time it was light enough to see
they were ready for the exploration of whatever was hidden behind the
fall. In a rubber blanket Wabigoon wrapped a rifle and half a dozen
pine torches. Mukoki carried a quantity of cooked meat. Standing on
the edge of the pool Rod pointed into the falling torrent.
"He dived straight under," he said. "The opening to the cavern is
directly behind the shoot of falling water."
Wabi placed his hat and coat upon a rock.
"I'll try it first. Wait until I come back," he said.
Without another word he plunged into the pool. Minute after minute
passed, and he did not reappear. Rod was conscious of a nervous chill
creeping into his blood. But Mukoki was chuckling confidently.
"Found heem!" he replied in response to the white youth's inquiring
As he spoke Wabigoon came up out of the pool like a great fish. Rod
helped him upon the rocks.
"We're two bright ones, we are, Muky!" he exclaimed, as soon as he
gained his breath. "Just behind the fall I ran up against the wall of
rock we found when we were hunting for John Ball, stood on my feet,
and--" he swung his arms suggestively--"there I was, head and
shoulders out of water, looking into a hole as big as a house!"
"Dive easy!" warned the old pathfinder, turning to Rod. "Bump head on
"We won't have to dive," continued Wabi. "The water directly under the
fall of the stream isn't more than four feet deep. If we wade into it
from over there we can make it easy."
Taking his waterproof bundle the young Indian slipped into the pool
close up against the wall of rock that formed the foundation of the
upper chasm and plunged straight into the tumbling cataract. Mukoki
followed close behind and preparing himself with a long breath Rod
hurried into this new experience. For a moment he was conscious of a
smothering weight upon him and a thunderous roaring in his ears, and
he was borne irresistibly down. There was still air in his lungs when
he found himself safely through the deluge so he knew that its passage
had taken him only a brief but thrilling instant. For a time he could
see nothing. Then he made out a dark form drawing itself up out of the
water. Beyond that there lay a chaos of midnight blackness, and he
knew that his eyes were staring into the depths of a great cavern!
Gripping the edge of the rock ledge he dragged himself up as both
Wabigoon and Mukoki had done, and found his feet upon a soft floor of
sand. Suddenly he felt a hand clutch his arm. A half-shout, rising
faintly above the wash of the cataract, sounded in his ear.
He wiped the water from his eyes and gazed ahead of him. For a moment
he saw nothing. Then, so faintly that at first it appeared no larger
than a star, he caught the faint glimmer of a light. As he looked it
became more and more distinct, and to his astonishment he saw that
it was slowly rising, like a huge will-o'-the-wisp that had suddenly
risen from the floor of the cavern to float off into the utter
blackness of space above. And even as he stared, gripping Wabi's arm
in his excitement, the strange light began to descend, and quickly
The two boys saw Mukoki slip off into the gloom, and without
questioning his motive they followed close behind. As they progressed
the sound of the fall came more and more faintly to their ears. A
blackness deeper than the gloom of the darkest night environed them,
and the three now held to one another's arms. Rod understood why his
companions lighted no torches. Somewhere ahead of them was another
light, carried by the mad hunter. His blood thrilled with excitement.
Where would John Ball lead them?
Suddenly he became conscious that they were no longer walking on a
level floor of sand but that they were ascending, as the light had
done. Mukoki stopped and for a full minute they stood and listened.
The tumult of the fall came to them in a far, subdued murmur. Beyond
that there was not the breath of a sound in the strange world of gloom
about them. They were about to start on again when something held
them, a whispering, sobbing echo, and Rod's heart seemed to stop its
beating. It died away slowly, and a weird stillness fell after it.
Then came a low moaning cry, a cry that was human in its agony, and
yet which had in it something so near the savage that even Wabigoon
found himself trembling as he strained in futile effort to pierce
the impenetrable gloom ahead. Before the cry had lost itself in the
distances of the cavern Mukoki was leading them on again.
Step by step they followed in the path taken by the strange light. Rod
knew that they were climbing a hill of sand, and that just beyond
it they would see the light again, but he was not prepared for the
startling suddenness with which the next change came. As if a black
curtain had dropped from before their eyes the three adventurers
beheld a scene that halted them in their tracks. A hundred paces away
a huge pitch-pine torch a yard in length was burning in the sand, and
crouching in the red glow of this, his arms stretched out as if in the
supplication of a strange prayer, was John Ball! Just beyond him was
the gleam of water, inky-black in the weird flickerings of the torch,
and toward this John Ball reached out in his grief. His voice came up
softly to the three watchers now, so low that even in the vast silence
of the cavern it could barely be heard. To Roderick Drew it was as if
the strange creature below him was sobbing like a heart-broken child,
and he whispered in Wabigoon's ear. Then, foot by foot, so gently that
his moccasined feet made no sound, he approached the madman.
Half-way to him he paused.
"Hello, John Ball!" he called softly.
The faint light of the torch was falling upon him, and he advanced
another step. The murmuring of the wild man ceased, but he made no
movement. He still knelt in his rigid posture, his arms stretched
toward the black chaos beyond him. Rod came very close to him before
he spoke again.
"Is that you, John Ball?"
Slowly the kneeling figure turned, and once more Rod saw in those wild
eyes, gleaming brightly now in the torch-light, the softer, thrilling
glow of recognition and returning reason. He reached out his own arms
and advanced boldly, calling John Ball's name, and the madman made no
retreat but crouched lower in the sand, strange, soft sounds again
falling from his lips. Rod had come within half a dozen feet of him
when he sprang up with the quickness of a cat, and with a wailing
cry plunged waist deep into the water. With his arms stretched
entreatingly into the mysterious world beyond the torch-light he
turned his face to the white youth, and Rod knew that he was trying as
best he could to tell him something.
"What is it, John Ball?"
He went to the edge of the black water and waded out until it rose to
his knees, his eyes staring into the blackness.
"What is it?"
He, too, pointed with one arm, and the madman gave an excited gesture.
Then he placed his hands funnel-shaped to his mouth, as Rod had often
seen Wabi and Mukoki do when calling moose, and there burst from him a
far-reaching cry, and Rod's heart gave a sudden bound as he listened,
for the cry was that of a woman's name!
The cry died away in distant murmuring echoes, and with an answering
cry Rod shouted forth the name which he fancied John Ball had spoken.
"Dolores! Dolores! Dolores!"
There came a sudden leaping plunge, and John Ball was at his feet,
clasping him about the knees, and sobbing again and again that
name--Dolores. Rod put his arms about the old man's shoulders, and the
gray, shaggy head fell against him. The sobbing voice grew lower, the
weight of the head greater, and after a little Rod called loudly for
Mukoki and Wabigoon, for there was no longer movement or sound from
the form at his feet, and he knew that something had happened to John
Ball. The two Indians were quickly at his side, and together they
carried the unconscious form of Ball within the circle of torch-light.
The old man's eyes were closed, his claw-like fingers were clenched
fiercely upon his breast, and not until Mukoki placed a hand over his
heart did the three know that he was still breathing.
"Now is our time to get him to camp," said Wabi. "Lead the way with
the torch, Rod!"
There was not much weight to John Ball, and the two Indians carried
him easily. At the fall the rubber blanket was wound about his head
and the adventurers plunged under the cataract with their burden. It
was an hour after that before the old man opened his eyes again. Rod
was close beside him and for a full minute the mad hunter gazed
up into his face, then once more he sank off into that strange
unconsciousness which had overcome him in the cavern. Rod rose
white-faced and turned to Mukoki and Wabigoon.
"I'm afraid--he's dying," he said.
The Indians made no answer. For several minutes the three sat silently
about John Ball watching for signs of returning consciousness. At
last Mukoki roused himself to take a pot of soup from the fire. The
movement seemed to stir John Ball into life, and Rod was at his side
again, holding a cup of water to his lips. After a little he helped
the old man to sit up, and a spoonful at a time the warm soup was fed
Through the whole of that day he returned to consciousness only for
brief intervals, lapsing back into a death-like sleep after each
awakening. During one of these periods of unconsciousness Wabi cut
short the tangled beard and hair, and for the first time they saw
in all its emaciation the thin, ghastly face of the man who, half a
century before, had drawn the map that led them to the gold. There was
little change in his condition during the night that followed, except
that now and then he muttered incoherently, and at these times Rod
always caught in his ravings the name that he had heard in the cavern.
The next day there was no change. And there was still none on the
third. Even Mukoki, who had tried every expedient of wilderness craft
in nursing, gave up in despair. So far as they could see John Ball had
no fever. Yet three-quarters of the time he lay as if dead. Nothing
but soup could be forced between his lips.
On the second day Wabi revisited the subterranean world beyond the
cataract. When he came back he had discovered the secret of the
treasure in the pool. The gold came from the cavern. The soft sand
through which they had followed the strange light was rich in dust and
nuggets. During the floods of spring water came into the cavern from
somewhere, and flowing for a brief space out through the mouth of the
cave brought with it the precious burden of treasure-laden sand which
was dumped into the pool. The constant wash of the cataract had caused
most of the sand to overflow into the running stream, but the heavier
gold-dust and nuggets remained in the trap into which they had fallen.
But the joy that came of this discovery was subdued by thoughts of
John Ball. The gold meant everything to Rod, the realization of his
hopes and ambitions; and he knew that it meant everything to his
mother, and to all those who belonged to Mukoki and Wabigoon. But the
gold could wait. They had already accumulated a small fortune, and
they could return for the rest a little later. At present they must do
something for John Ball, the man to whom they were indebted for all
that they had found, and to whom the treasure really belonged. On the
third day Rod laid his plans before Wabi and Mukoki.
"We must take John Ball back to the Post as quickly as we can," he
said. "It is our only chance of saving him. If we start now, while
the water in the creek is deep enough to float our canoe, we can make
Wabinosh House in ten or fifteen days."
"It will be impossible to paddle against the swift current," said
"That is true. But we can put John Ball into the canoe and tow him
up-stream. It will be a long wade and hard work, but--"
He looked at Wabi in silence, then added,
"Do we want John Ball to live, or do we want him to die?"
"If I thought he would live I would wade a thousand miles to save