The Gold Hunters
James Oliver Curwood

Part 4 out of 4

him," rejoined the young Indian. "It means little to us but work. We
know where the rest of the gold is and can return to it within a few

If there had been a doubt in the boys' minds as to the right course to
pursue John Ball settled it himself that very afternoon. He awakened
from an unusually long stupor. His eyes were burning with a new light,
and as Rod bent over him he whispered softly, but distinctly,

"Dolores--Dolores--Where is Dolores?"

"Who is Dolores, John Ball?" whispered the white youth, his heart
thumping wildly. "Who is Dolores?"

Ball drew up one of his emaciated hands and clasped it to his head,
and a sobbing moan fell from his lips. Then, after a moment, he
repeated, as though to himself,

"Dolores--Dolores--Who is Dolores?"

The Indians had come near, and heard. But John Ball said no more. He
swallowed a few spoonfuls of soup and fell again into his death-like

"Who is Dolores?" repeated Wabigoon, his face whitening as he looked
at Rod. "Is there somebody else in the cavern?"

"He is talking of some one whom he probably knew forty or fifty years
ago," replied Rod. But his own face was white. He stared hard at
Wabigoon, and a strange look came into Mukoki's face.

"Dolores," he mused, without taking his eyes from Wabi. "It's a
woman's name, or a girl's name. We must save John Ball! We must start
for Wabinosh House--now!"

"While he's unconscious we can tie the rope about him and hoist him
into the upper chasm," quickly added Wabigoon. "Muky, get to work. We
move this minute!"

It was still two hours before dusk, and now that they had determined
on returning to Wabinosh House the adventurers lost no time in getting
under way. Wabi climbed the rope that was suspended from the upper
chasm, and that part of their equipment which it was necessary to take
back with them was hoisted up by him. Mukoki sheltered the rest in the
old cabin. John Ball was drawn up last. For an hour after that, until
the gray shadows of night began settling about them, the three waded
up the shallow stream, pulling the canoe and its unconscious burden
after them. That night the madman was not left unwatched for a minute.
Mukoki sat beside him until eleven o'clock. Then Wabi took his turn. A
little after midnight Rod was aroused by being violently pulled from
his bed of balsam boughs.

"For the love of Heaven, get up!" whispered the young Indian. "He's
talking, Rod! He's talking about Dolores, and about some kind of a
great beast that's bigger than anything that ever lived up here!

The madman was moaning softly.

"I've killed it, Dolores--I've killed it--killed it! Where is Dolores?
Where--is--" There came a deep sigh, and John Ball was quiet.

"Killed what?" panted Rod, his heart thumping until it choked him.

"The beast--whatever it was," whispered Wabi. "Rod, something terrible
happened in that cavern! We don't know the whole story. The Frenchmen
who killed themselves for possession of the birch-bark map played
only a small part in it. The greater part was played by John Ball and

For a long time the two listened, but the old man made no sound or

"Better go back to bed," said Wabi. "I thought if he was going to keep
it up you would like to hear. I'll call you at two."

But Rod could not sleep. For a long time he lay awake thinking of John
Ball and his, strange ravings. Who was Dolores? What terrible tragedy
had that black world under the mountains some time beheld? Despite his
better reason an indefinable sensation of uneasiness possessed him as
the madman's sobbing out of the woman's name recurred to him. He spoke
nothing of this to Wabi when he relieved him, and he said nothing of
it during the days that followed. They were days of unending toil, of
fierce effort to beat out death in the race to Wabinosh House.

For it seemed that the end of time was very near for John Ball. On the
fourth day his thin cheeks showed signs of fever, and on the fifth he
was tossing in delirium. The race now continued by night as well as
by day, only an hour or two of rest being snatched at a time. During
these days John Ball babbled ceaselessly of Dolores, and great beasts,
and the endless cavern; and now the beasts began taking the form of
strange people whose eyes gleamed from out of masses of fur, and who
had hands, and flung spears. On the eighth day the madman sank
back into his old lethargy. On the fourth day after that the three
adventurers, worn and exhausted, reached the shore of Lake Nipigon.
Thirty miles across the lake was Wabinosh House, and it was decided
that Mukoki and Rod should leave for assistance, while Wabigoon
remained with John Ball. The two rolled themselves in their blankets
immediately after supper, and after three hours' sleep were awakened
by the young Indian. All that night they paddled with only occasional
moments of rest. The sun was just rising over the forests when they
grounded their canoe close to the Post. As Rod sprang ashore he saw a
figure walk slowly out from the edge of the forest an eighth of a mile
away. Even at that distance he recognized Minnetaki! He looked at the
sharp-eyed Mukoki. He, too, had seen and recognized the girl.

"Muky, I'm going along in the edge of the woods and give her a
surprise," said Rod courageously. "Will you wait here?"

Mukoki grinned a nodding assent, and the youth darted into the edge of
the forest. He was breathless when he came up a hundred yards behind
the girl, screened from view by the trees. Softly he whistled. It was
a signal that Minnetaki had taught him on his first trip into the
North, and he knew of only two who used it in all that Northland, and
those two were the Indian maiden and himself. The girl turned as
she heard the trilling note, and Rod drew himself farther back.
He whistled again, more loudly than before, and Minnetaki came
hesitatingly toward the forest's edge, and when he whistled a third
time there came a timid response from her, as if she recognized and
yet doubted the notes that floated to her from the shadows of the

Again Rod whistled, laughing as he drew a little farther back, and
again Minnetaki answered, peering in among the trees. He saw the
wondering, half-expectant glow in her eyes, and suddenly crying out
her name he sprang from his concealment. With a little cry of joy and
with hands outstretched Minnetaki ran to meet him.



That same morning two big canoes set out across Lake Nipigon for
Wabigoon and John Ball. Mukoki returned with the canoes, but Rod
remained at the Post, and not a moment's rest did he have during the
whole of that day from the eager questions of those whom he had so
completely surprised by his unexpected return. Few stories could have
been more thrilling than his, though he told it in the simplest manner
possible. Rod's appearance more than his words was evidence of
the trials he and his companions had passed through. His face was
emaciated to startling thinness by desperate exertion and lack of
sleep, and both his face and his hands were covered with scratches and
bruises. Not until late in the afternoon did he go to bed, and it was
noon the following day when he awoke from his heavy slumber.

The canoes had returned, and John Ball was in the doctor's care. At
dinner Rod and Wabi were made to go over their adventures again, and
even Mukoki, who had joined them in this reunion, was not allowed to
escape the endless questioning of Minnetaki, the factor's wife, and
Rod's mother. Rod was seated at the table between Mrs. Drew and
Minnetaki. Several times during the conversation he felt the young
girl's hand touch his arm. Once, when the factor spoke about their
return to the gold in the cavern, this mysterious signaling of
Minnetaki's took the form of a pinch that made him squirm. Not until
after dinner, and the two were alone, did he begin to comprehend.

"I'm ashamed of you, Roderick Drew!" said the girl, standing before
him in mock displeasure. "You and Wabi were the stupidest things I
ever saw at dinner! Have you all forgotten your promise to me?--your
promise that I should go with you on your next trip? I wanted you to
speak about it right there at dinner!"

"But I--I--couldn't!" stammered Rod awkwardly.

"But I'm going!" said Minnetaki decisively. "I'm going with you boys
on this next trip--if I have to run away! It's not fair for Wabi and
Mukoki and you to leave me alone all of the time. And, besides, I've
been making all the arrangements while you were gone. I've won over
mamma and your mother, and Maballa, mamma's Indian woman, will go with
me. There's just one who says--'No!'" And Minnetaki clasped her hands

"And that's papa," completed Rod, laughing.


"Well, if he is the only one against us we stand a good chance of

"I'm going to have mamma and Wabigoon get him by themselves to-night,"
said the girl. "Papa will do anything on earth for her, and he thinks
Wabi is the best boy on earth. Mamma says she will lock the door and
won't let him out until he has given his promise. Oh, what a glorious
time we'll have!"

"Perhaps he would go with us," suggested Rod.

"No, he couldn't leave the Post. If he went Wabi would have to stay."

Rod was counting on his fingers.

"That means six in our next expedition,--Wabi, Mukoki, John Ball and
myself, and you and Maballa. Why, it'll be a regular picnic party!"

Minnetaki's eyes were brimming with fun.

"Do you know," she said, "that Maballa thinks Mukoki is just about the
nicest Indian that ever lived? Oh, I'd be so glad if--if--"

She puckered her mouth into a round, red O, and left Rod to guess the
rest. It was not difficult for him to understand.

"So would I," he cried. Then he added,

"Muky is the best fellow on earth."

"And Maballa is just as good," said the girl loyally.

The boy held out his hand.

"Let's shake on that, Minnetaki! I'll handle Mukoki, you take care of
Maballa. What a picnic this next trip will be!"

"And there'll be lots and lots of adventures, won't there?" asked the
girl a little anxiously.

"Plenty of them." Rod became immediately serious. "This will be the
most important of all our trips, Minnetaki, that is, if John Ball
lives. I haven't told the others, but I believe that great cavern
holds something for us besides gold!"

The smile left the girl's face. Her eyes were soft and eager.

"You believe that--Dolores--"

"I don't know what to believe. But--we'll find something there!"

For an hour Rod and Minnetaki talked of John Ball and of the strange
things he said in his delirium. Then the girl rejoined Mrs. Drew and
the princess mother, while Rod went in search of Mukoki and Wabigoon.
That night the big event happened. George Newsome, the factor, gave
a reluctant consent which meant that Wabi's sister and Maballa would
accompany the adventurers on their next journey into the untraveled
solitudes of Hudson Bay.

For a week John Ball hovered between life and death. After that his
improvement was slow but sure, and each day added strength to his
emaciated body and a new light to his eyes. At the end of the second
week there was no question but that he was slowly returning to sanity.
Gradually he came to know those who sat beside his bed, and whenever
Rod visited him he insisted on holding the youth's hand. At first the
sight of Minnetaki or her mother, or of Mrs. Drew, had a startling
effect on him and in their presence he would moan ceaselessly the name
Rod first heard in the cavern. A little at a time the language of
those about him came back to the old man, and bit by bit those who
waited and listened and watched learned the story of John Ball.
Midsummer came before he could gather the scattered threads of his
life in his memory, and even then there were breaks in this story
which seemed but trivial things to John Ball, but which to the others
meant the passing of forgotten years.

In fact, years played but a small part in the strange story that fell
from the old man's lips. "In time," said the Post physician, "he will
remember everything. Now only the most important happenings in his
life have returned to him."

John Ball could not remember the date when, as a young boy, he
left York Factory, on Hudson Bay, to come a thousand miles down to
civilization in company with the two Frenchmen who killed themselves
in the old cabin. But the slip of paper which Rod had discovered
filled that gap. He was the son of the factor at York Factory, and was
to spend a year at school in Montreal. On their trip down it was the
boy who found gold in the chasm. John Ball could remember none of the
details. He only knew that they remained to gather the treasure, and
that he, as its discoverer and the son of one of the lords of the
Hudson Bay Company, was to receive twice the share of the others, and
that in the autumn they were to return to York Factory instead of
going on to Montreal. He remembered indistinctly a quarrel over the
gold, and after that of writing some sort of agreement, and then,
early one morning, he awoke to find the two Frenchmen standing over
him, and after that, for a long time, everything seemed to pass as in
a dream.

When he awoke into life he was no longer in the chasm, but among a
strange people who were so small that they reached barely to his
shoulders, and who dressed in fur, and carried spears, and though the
sick man said no more about these people those who listened to him
knew that he had wandered far north among the Eskimos. They treated
him kindly, and he lived among them for a long time, hunting and
fishing with them, and sleeping in houses built of ice and snow.

The next that John Ball remembered was of white people. In some way
he returned to York Factory, and he knew that when this happened many
years had passed, for his father and mother were dead, and there were
strangers at the Post. At this time John Ball must have returned
fully to his reason again. He remembered, faintly, leading several
unsuccessful expeditions in search of the gold which he and the
Frenchmen had discovered, and that once he went to a great city, which
must have been Montreal, and that he stayed there a long time doing
something for the Hudson Bay Company, and met a girl whom he married.
When he spoke of the girl John Ball's eyes would glow feverishly and
her name would fall from him in a moaning sob. For as yet returning
reason had not placed the hand of age upon him. It was as if he was
awakening from a deep sleep, and Dolores, his young wife, had been
with him but a few hours before.

There came another break in John Ball's life after this. He could not
remember how, long they lived in Montreal, but he knew that after a
time he returned with his wife into the far North, and that they were
very happy, and one summer set off in a canoe to search for the lost
chasm together. They found it. How or when he could not remember.
After this John Ball's story was filled with wild visions of a great
black world where there was neither sun nor moon nor stars, and they
found gold and dug it by the light of fires. And one day the woman
went a little way back in this world and never came back.

It was then that the old madness returned. In his search for his lost
wife John Ball never found the end of the great cavern. He saw strange
people, he fought great beasts in this black world that were larger
than the biggest moose in the forests, and he told of rushing torrents
and thundering cataracts in the bowels of the earth. Even in his
returning sanity the old man told these things as true.

George Newsome, the factor, lost no time in writing to the Company at
Montreal, inquiring about John Ball, and a month later he received
word that a man by that name had worked as an inspector of raw furs
during the years 1877 and 1878. He had left Montreal for the North
thirty years before. In all probability he soon after went in search
of the lost gold, and for more than a quarter of a century had lived
as a wild man in the solitudes.

It was at this time in the convalescence of the doctor's patient that
Roderick's mother made a suggestion which took the Post by storm.
It was that the factor and his family accompany her and Rod back to
civilization for a few weeks' visit. To the astonishment of all, and
especially to Minnetaki and the princess mother, the factor fell in
heartily with the scheme, with the stipulation that the Drews return
with them early in the autumn. An agent from the head office of the
Company had come up for a month's fishing and he cheerfully expressed
his willingness to take charge of affairs at the Post during their

The happiness of Rod and Wabi was complete when Mukoki was compelled
to give his promise to go with them. For several days the old warrior
withstood their combined assaults, but at last he surrendered when
Minnetaki put her arms around his neck and nestled her soft cheek
against his leathery face, with the avowal that she would not move a
step unless he went with her.

So it happened, one beautiful summer morning, that three big canoes
put out into the lake from Wabinosh House and headed into the
South, and only Mukoki, of all the seven who were going down into
civilization, felt something that was not joy as the forests slipped
behind them. For Mukoki was to get a glimpse of a new world, a world
far from the land of his fathers, and the loyal heart inside his
caribou-skin coat quickened its pulse a little as he thought of the
wonderful journey.

Thus began the journey to civilization.



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