The Wolf Hunters
James Oliver Curwood
Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Dave Macfarlane and PG Distributed
THE WOLF HUNTERS
A Tale of Adventure in the Wilderness
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
To my comrades of the great northern wilderness, those faithful
companions with whom I have shared the joys and hardships of the "long
silent trail," and especially to Mukoki, my red guide and beloved
friend, does the writer gratefully dedicate this volume
I The Fight in the Forest
II How Wabigoon Became a White Man
III Roderick Sees the Footprint
IV Roderick's First Taste of the Hunter's Life
V Shots in the Wilderness
VI Mukoki Disturbs the Ancient Skeletons
VII Roderick Discovers the Buckskin Bag
VIII How Wolf Became the Companion of Men
IX Wolf Takes Vengeance Upon His People
X Roderick Explores the Chasm
XI Roderick's Dream
XII The Secret of the Skeleton's Hand
XIII Snowed In
XIV The Rescue of Wabigoon
XV Roderick Holds the Woongas at Bay
XVI The Surprise at the Post
With his rifle ready Rob approached the fissure (Frontispiece)
The leader stopped in his snow-shoes
THE WOLF HUNTERS
THE FIGHT IN THE FOREST
Cold winter lay deep in the Canadian wilderness. Over it the moon was
rising, like a red pulsating ball, lighting up the vast white silence of
the night in a shimmering glow. Not a sound broke the stillness of the
desolation. It was too late for the life of day, too early for the
nocturnal roamings and voices of the creatures of the night. Like the
basin of a great amphitheater the frozen lake lay revealed in the light
of the moon and a billion stars. Beyond it rose the spruce forest, black
and forbidding. Along its nearer edges stood hushed walls of tamarack,
bowed in the smothering clutch of snow and ice, shut in by impenetrable
A huge white owl flitted out of this rim of blackness, then back again,
and its first quavering hoot came softly, as though the mystic hour of
silence had not yet passed for the night-folk. The snow of the day had
ceased, hardly a breath of air stirred the ice-coated twigs of the
trees. Yet it was bitter cold--so cold that a man, remaining motionless,
would have frozen to death within an hour.
Suddenly there was a break in the silence, a weird, thrilling sound,
like a great sigh, but not human--a sound to make one's blood run faster
and fingers twitch on rifle-stock. It came from the gloom of the
tamaracks. After it there fell a deeper silence than before, and the
owl, like a noiseless snowflake, drifted out over the frozen lake. After
a few moments it came again, more faintly than before. One versed in
woodcraft would have slunk deeper into the rim of blackness, and
listened, and wondered, and watched; for in the sound he would have
recognized the wild, half-conquered note of a wounded beast's suffering
Slowly, with all the caution born of that day's experience, a huge bull
moose walked out into the glow of the moon. His magnificent head,
drooping under the weight of massive antlers, was turned inquisitively
across the lake to the north. His nostrils were distended, his eyes
glaring, and he left behind a trail of blood. Half a mile away he caught
the edge of the spruce forest. There something told him he would find
safety. A hunter would have known that he was wounded unto death as he
dragged himself out into the foot-deep snow of the lake.
A dozen rods out from the tamaracks he stopped, head thrown high, long
ears pitched forward, and nostrils held half to the sky. It is in this
attitude that a moose listens when he hears a trout splash
three-quarters of a mile away. Now there was only the vast, unending
silence, broken only by the mournful hoot of the snow owl on the other
side of the lake. Still the great beast stood immovable, a little pool
of blood growing upon the snow under his forward legs. What was the
mystery that lurked in the blackness of yonder forest? Was it danger?
The keenest of human hearing would have detected nothing. Yet to those
long slender ears of the bull moose, slanting beyond the heavy plates of
his horns, there came a sound. The animal lifted his head still higher
to the sky, sniffed to the east, to the west, and back to the shadows of
the tamaracks. But it was the north that held him.
From beyond that barrier of spruce there soon came a sound that man
might have heard--neither the beginning nor the end of a wail, but
something like it. Minute by minute it came more clearly, now growing in
volume, now almost dying away, but every instant approaching--the
distant hunting call of the wolf-pack! What the hangman's noose is to
the murderer, what the leveled rifles are to the condemned spy, that
hunt-cry of the wolves is to the wounded animal of the forests.
Instinct taught this to the old bull. His head dropped, his huge antlers
leveled themselves with his shoulders, and he set off at a slow trot
toward the east. He was taking chances in thus crossing the open, but to
him the spruce forest was home, and there he might find refuge. In his
brute brain he reasoned that he could get there before the wolves broke
cover. And then--
Again he stopped, so suddenly that his forward legs doubled under him
and he pitched into the snow. This time, from the direction of the
wolf-pack, there came the ringing report of a rifle! It might have been
a mile or two miles away, but distance did not lessen the fear it
brought to the dying king of the North. That day he had heard the same
sound, and it had brought mysterious and weakening pain in his vitals.
With a supreme effort he brought himself to his feet, once more sniffed
into the north, the east, and the west, then turned and buried himself
in the black and frozen wilderness of tamarack.
Stillness fell again with the sound of the rifle-shot. It might have
lasted five minutes or ten, when a long, solitary howl floated from
across the lake. It ended in the sharp, quick yelp of a wolf on the
trail, and an instant later was taken up by others, until the pack was
once more in full cry. Almost simultaneously a figure darted out upon
the ice from the edge of the forest. A dozen paces and it paused and
turned back toward the black wall of spruce.
"Are you coming, Wabi?"
A voice answered from the woods. "Yes. Hurry up--run!"
Thus urged, the other turned his face once more across the lake. He was
a youth of not more than eighteen. In his right hand he carried a club.
His left arm, as if badly injured, was done up in a sling improvised
from a lumberman's heavy scarf. His face was scratched and bleeding, and
his whole appearance showed that he was nearing complete exhaustion. For
a few moments he ran through the snow, then halted to a staggering walk.
His breath came in painful gasps. The club slipped from his nerveless
fingers, and conscious of the deathly weakness that was overcoming him
he did not attempt to regain it. Foot by foot he struggled on, until
suddenly his knees gave way under him and he sank down into the snow.
From the edge of the spruce forest a young Indian now ran out upon the
surface of the lake. His breath was coming quickly, but with excitement
rather than fatigue. Behind him, less than half a mile away, he could
hear the rapidly approaching cry of the hunt-pack, and for an instant he
bent his lithe form close to the snow, measuring with the acuteness of
his race the distance of the pursuers. Then he looked for his white
companion, and failed to see the motionless blot that marked where the
other had fallen. A look of alarm shot into his eyes, and resting his
rifle between his knees he placed his hands, trumpet fashion, to his
mouth and gave a signal call which, on a still night like this, carried
for a mile.
At that cry the exhausted boy in the snow staggered to his feet, and
with an answering shout which came but faintly to the ears of the
Indian, resumed his flight across the lake. Two or three minutes later
Wabi came up beside him.
"Can you make it, Rod?" he cried.
The other made an effort to answer, but his reply was hardly more than a
gasp. Before Wabi could reach out to support him he had lost his little
remaining strength and fallen for a second time into the snow.
"I'm afraid--I--can't do it--Wabi," he whispered. "I'm--bushed--"
The young Indian dropped his rifle and knelt beside the wounded boy,
supporting his head against his own heaving shoulders.
"It's only a little farther, Rod," he urged. "We can make it, and take
to a tree. We ought to have taken to a tree back there, but I didn't
know that you were so far gone; and there was a good chance to make
camp, with three cartridges left for the open lake."
"That's all, but I ought to make two of them count in this light. Here,
take hold of my shoulders! Quick!"
He doubled himself like a jack-knife in front of his half-prostrate
companion. From behind them there came a sudden chorus of the wolves,
louder and clearer than before.
"They've hit the open and we'll have them on the lake inside of two
minutes," he cried. "Give me your arms, Rod! There! Can you hold the
He straightened himself, staggering under the other's weight, and set
off on a half-trot for the distant tamaracks. Every muscle in his
powerful young body was strained to its utmost tension. Even more fully
than his helpless burden did he realize the peril at their backs.
Three minutes, four minutes more, and then--
A terrible picture burned in Wabi's brain, a picture he had carried from
boyhood of another child, torn and mangled before his very eyes by these
outlaws of the North, and he shuddered. Unless he sped those three
remaining bullets true, unless that rim of tamaracks was reached in
time, he knew what their fate would be. There flashed into his mind one
last resource. He might drop his wounded companion and find safety for
himself. But it was a thought that made Wabi smile grimly. This was not
the first time that these two had risked their lives together, and that
very day Roderick had fought valiantly for the other, and had been the
one to suffer. If they died, it would be in company. Wabi made up his
mind to that and clutched the other's arms in a firmer grip. He was
pretty certain that death faced them both. They might escape the wolves,
but the refuge of a tree, with the voracious pack on guard below, meant
only a more painless end by cold. Still, while there was life there was
hope, and he hurried on through the snow, listening for the wolves
behind him and with each moment feeling more keenly that his own powers
of endurance were rapidly reaching an end.
For some reason that Wabi could not explain the hunt-pack had ceased to
give tongue. Not only the allotted two minutes, but five of them, passed
without the appearance of the animals on the lake. Was it possible that
they! had lost the trail? Then it occurred to the Indian that perhaps he
had wounded one of the pursuers, and that the others, discovering his
injury, had set upon him and were now participating in one of the
cannibalistic feasts that had saved them thus far. Hardly had he thought
of this possibility when he was thrilled by a series of long howls, and
looking back he discerned a dozen or more dark objects moving swiftly
over their trail.
Not an eighth of a mile ahead was the tamarack forest. Surely Rod could
travel that distance!
"Run for it, Rod!" he cried. "You're rested now. I'll stay here and
He loosened the other's arms, and as he did so his rifle fell from the
white boy's nerveless grip and buried itself in the snow. As he relieved
himself of his burden he saw for the first time the deathly pallor and
partly closed eyes of his companion. With a new terror filling his own
faithful heart he knelt beside the form which lay so limp and lifeless,
his blazing eyes traveling from the ghastly face to the oncoming wolves,
his rifle ready in his hands. He could now discern the wolves trailing
out from the spruce forest like ants. A dozen of them were almost within
rifle-shot. Wabi knew that it was with this vanguard of the pack that he
must deal if he succeeded in stopping the scores behind. Nearer and
nearer he allowed them to come, until the first were scarce two hundred
feet away. Then, with a sudden shout, the Indian leaped to his feet and
dashed fearlessly toward them. This unexpected move, as he had intended,
stopped the foremost wolves in a huddled group for an instant, and in
this opportune moment Wabi leveled his gun and fired. A long howl of
pain testified to the effect of the shot. Hardly had it begun when Wabi
fired again, this time with such deadly precision that one of the
wolves, springing high into the air, tumbled back lifeless among the
pack without so much as making a sound.
Running to the prostrate Roderick, Wabi drew him quickly upon his back,
clutched his rifle in the grip of his arm, and started again for the
tamaracks. Only once did he look back, and then he saw the wolves
gathering in a snarling, fighting crowd about their slaughtered
comrades. Not until he had reached the shelter of the tamaracks did the
Indian youth lay down his burden, and then in his own exhaustion he fell
prone upon the snow, his black eyes fixed cautiously upon the feasting
pack. A few minutes later he discerned dark spots appearing here and
there upon the whiteness of the snow, and at these signs of the
termination of the feast he climbed up into the low branches of a spruce
and drew Roderick after him. Not until then did the wounded boy show
visible signs of life. Slowly he recovered from the faintness which had
overpowered him, and after a little, with some assistance from Wabi, was
able to place himself safely on a higher limb.
"That's the second time, Wabi," he said, reaching a hand down
affectionately to the other's shoulder. "Once from drowning, once from
the wolves. I've got a lot to even up with you!"
"Not after what happened to-day!"
The Indian's dusky face was raised until the two were looking into each
other's eyes, with a gaze of love, and trust. Only a moment thus, and
instinctively their glance turned toward the lake. The wolf-pack was in
plain view. It was the biggest pack that Wabi, in all his life in the
wilderness, had ever seen, and he mentally figured that there were at
least half a hundred animals in it. Like ravenous dogs after having a
few scraps of meat flung among them, the wolves were running about,
nosing here and there, as if hoping to find a morsel that might have
escaped discovery. Then one of them stopped on the trail and, throwing
himself half on his haunches, with his head turned to the sky like a
baying hound, started the hunt-cry.
"There's two packs. I thought it was too big for one," exclaimed the
Indian. "See! Part of them are taking up the trail and the others are
lagging behind gnawing the bones of the dead wolf. Now if we only had
our ammunition and the other gun those murderers got away from us, we'd
make a fortune. What--"
Wabi stopped with a suddenness that spoke volumes, and the supporting
arm that he had thrown around Rod's waist tightened until it caused the
wounded youth to flinch. Both boys stared in rigid silence. The wolves
were crowding around a spot in the snow half-way between the tamarack
refuge and the scene of the recent feast. The starved animals betrayed
unusual excitement. They had struck the pool of blood and red trail made
by the dying moose!
"What is it, Wabi?" whispered Rod.
The Indian did not answer. His black eyes gleamed with a new fire, his
lips were parted in anxious anticipation, and he seemed hardly to
breathe in his tense interest. The wounded boy repeated his question,
and as if in reply the pack swerved to the west and in a black silent
mass swept in a direction that would bring them into the tamaracks a
hundred yards from the young hunters.
"A new trail!" breathed Wabi. "A new trail, and a hot one! Listen! They
make no sound. It is always that way when they are close to a kill!"
As they looked the last of the wolves disappeared in the forest. For a
few moments there was silence, then a chorus of howls came from deep in
the woods behind them.
"Now is our chance," cried the Indian. "They've broken again, and their
He had partly slipped from his limb, withdrawing his supporting arm from
Rod's waist, and was about to descend to the ground when the pack again
turned in their direction. A heavy crashing in the underbrush not a
dozen rods away sent Wabi in a hurried scramble for his perch.
"Quick--higher up!" he warned excitedly. "They're coming out here--right
under us! If we can get up so that they can't see us, or smell us--"
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a huge shadowy bulk rushed
past them not more than fifty feet from the spruce in which they had
sought refuge. Both of the boys recognized it as a bull moose, though it
did not occur to either of them that it was the same animal at which
Wabi had taken a long shot that same day a couple of miles back. In
close pursuit came the ravenous pack. Their heads hung close to the
bloody trail, hungry, snarling cries coming from between their gaping
jaws, they swept across the little opening almost at the young hunters'
feet. It was a sight which Rod had never expected to see, and one which
held even the more experienced Wabi fascinated. Not a sound fell from
either of the youths' lips as they stared down upon the fierce, hungry
outlaws of the wilderness. To Wabi this near view of the pack told a
fateful story; to Rod it meant nothing more than the tragedy about to be
enacted before his eyes. The Indian's keen vision saw in the white
moonlight long, thin bodies, starved almost to skin and bone; to his
companion the onrushing pack seemed filled only with agile, powerful
beasts, maddened to almost fiendish exertions by the nearness of their
In a flash they were gone, but in that moment of their passing there was
painted a picture to endure a lifetime in the memory of Roderick Drew.
And it was to be followed by one even more tragic, even more thrilling.
To the dazed, half-fainting young hunter it seemed but another instant
before the pack overhauled the old bull. He saw the doomed monster turn,
in the stillness heard the snapping of jaws, the snarling of
hunger-crazed animals, and a sound that might have been a great, heaving
moan or a dying bellow. In Wabi's veins the blood danced with the
excitement that stirred his forefathers to battle. Not a line of the
tragedy that was being enacted before his eyes escaped this native son
of the wilderness. It was a magnificent fight! He knew that the old bull
would die by inches in the one-sided duel, and that when it was over
there would be more than one carcass for the survivors to gorge
themselves upon. Quietly he reached up and touched his companion.
"Now is our time," he said. "Come on--still--and on this side of the
He slipped down, foot by foot, assisting Rod as he did so, and when both
had reached the ground he bent over as before, that the other might get
upon his back.
"I can make it alone, Wabi," whispered the wounded boy. "Give me a lift
on the arm, will you?"
With the Indian's arm about his waist, the two set off into the
tamaracks. Fifteen minutes later they came to the bank of a small frozen
river. On the opposite side of this, a hundred yards down, was a sight
which both, as if by a common impulse, welcomed with a glad cry. Close
to the shore, sheltered by a dense growth of spruce, was a bright
camp-fire. In response to Wabi's far-reaching whoop a shadowy figure
appeared in the glow and returned the shout.
"Mukoki!" cried the Indian.
"Mukoki!" laughed Rod, happy that the end was near.
Even as he spoke he swayed dizzily, and Wabi dropped his gun that he
might keep his companion from falling into the snow.
HOW WABIGOON BECAME A WHITE MAN
Had the young hunters the power of looking into the future, their
camp-fire that night on the frozen Ombabika might have been one of their
last, and a few days later would have seen them back on the edges of
civilization. Possibly, could they have foreseen the happy culmination
of the adventures that lay before them, they would still have gone on,
for the love of excitement is strong in the heart of robust youth. But
this power of discernment was denied them, and only in after years, with
the loved ones of their own firesides close about them, was the whole
picture revealed. And in those days, when they would gather with their
families about the roaring logs of winter and live over again their
early youth, they knew that all the gold in the world would not induce
them to part with their memories of the life that had gone before.
A little less than thirty years previous to the time of which we write,
a young man named John Newsome left the great city of London for the New
World. Fate had played a hard game with young Newsome--had first robbed
him of both parents, and then in a single fitful turn of her wheel
deprived him of what little property he had inherited. A little later he
came to Montreal, and being a youth of good education and considerable
ambition, he easily secured a position and worked himself into the
confidence of his employers, obtaining an appointment as factor at
Wabinosh House, a Post deep in the wilderness of Lake Nipigon.
In the second year of his reign at Wabinosh--a factor is virtually king
in his domain--there came to the Post an Indian chief named Wabigoon,
and with him his daughter, Minnetaki, in honor of whose beauty and
virtue a town was named in after years. Minnetaki was just budding into
the early womanhood of her race, and possessed a beauty seldom seen
among Indian maidens. If there is such a thing as love at first sight,
it sprang into existence the moment John Newsome's eyes fell upon this
lovely princess. Thereafter his visits to Wabigoon's village, thirty
miles deeper in the wilderness, were of frequent occurrence. From the
beginning Minnetaki returned the young factor's affections, but a most
potent reason prevented their marriage. For a long time Minnetaki had
been ardently wooed by a powerful young chief named Woonga, whom she
cordially detested, but upon whose favor and friendship depended the
existence of her father's sway over his hunting-grounds.
With the advent of the young factor the bitterest rivalry sprang up
between the two suitors, which resulted in two attempts upon Newsome's
life, and an ultimatum sent by Woonga to Minnetaki's father. Minnetaki
herself replied to this ultimatum. It was a reply that stirred the fires
of hatred and revenge to fever heat in Woonga's breast. One dark night,
at the head of a score of his tribe, he fell upon Wabigoon's camp, his
object being the abduction of the princess. While the attack was
successful in a way, its main purpose failed. Wabigoon and a dozen of
his tribesmen were slain, but in the end Woonga was driven off.
A swift messenger brought news of the attack and of the old chief's
death to Wabinosh House, and with a dozen men Newsome hastened to the
assistance of his betrothed and her people. A counter attack was made
upon Woonga and he was driven deep into the wilderness with great loss.
Three days later Minnetaki became Newsome's wife at the Hudson Bay Post.
From that hour dated one of the most sanguinary feuds in the history of
the great trading company; a feud which, as we shall see, was destined
to live even unto the second generation.
Woonga and his tribe now became no better than outlaws, and preyed so
effectively upon the remnants of the dead Wabigoon's people that the
latter were almost exterminated. Those who were left moved to the
vicinity of the Post. Hunters from Wabinosh House were ambushed and
slain. Indians who came to the Post to trade were regarded as enemies,
and the passing of years seemed to make but little difference. The feud
still existed. The outlaws came to be spoken of as "Woongas," and a
Woonga was regarded as a fair target for any man's rifle.
Meanwhile two children came to bless the happy union of Newsome and his
lovely Indian wife. One of these, the eldest, was a boy, and in honor of
the old chief he was named Wabigoon, and called Wabi for short. The
other was a girl, three years younger, and Newsome insisted that she be
called Minnetaki. Curiously enough, the blood of Wabi ran almost pure to
his Indian forefathers, while Minnetaki, as she became older, developed
less of the wild beauty of her mother and more of the softer loveliness
of the white race, her wealth of soft, jet black hair and her great dark
eyes contrasting with the lighter skin of her father's blood. Wabi, on
the other hand, was an Indian in appearance from his moccasins to the
crown of his head, swarthy, sinewy, as agile as a lynx, and with every
instinct in him crying for the life of the wild. Yet born in him was a
Caucasian shrewdness and intelligence that reached beyond the factor
One of Newsome's chief pleasures in life had been the educating of his
woodland bride, and it was the ambition of both that the little
Minnetaki and her brother be reared in the ways of white children.
Consequently both mother and father began their education at the Post;
they were sent to the factor's school and two winters were passed in
Port Arthur that they might have the advantage of thoroughly equipped
schools. The children proved themselves unusually bright pupils, and by
the time Wabi was sixteen and Minnetaki twelve one would not have known
from their manner of speech that Indian blood ran in their veins. Yet
both, by the common desire of their parents, were familiar with the life
of the Indian and could talk fluently the tongue of their mother's
It was at about this time in their lives that the Woongas became
especially daring in their depredations. These outlaws no longer
pretended to earn their livelihood by honest means, but preyed upon
trappers and other Indians without discrimination, robbing and killing
whenever safe opportunities offered themselves. The hatred for the
people of Wabinosh House became hereditary, and the Woonga children grew
up with it in their hearts. The real cause of the feud had been
forgotten by many, though not by Woonga himself. At last so daring did
he become that the provincial government placed a price upon his head
and upon those of a number of his most notorious followers. For a time
the outlaws were driven from the country, but the bloodthirsty chief
himself could not be captured.
When Wabi was seventeen years of age it was decided that he should be
sent to some big school in the States for a year. Against this plan the
young Indian--nearly all people regarded him as an Indian, and Wabi was
proud of the fact--fought with all of the arguments at his command. He
loved the wilds with the passion of his mother's race. His nature
revolted at the thoughts of a great city with its crowded streets, its
noise, and bustle, and dirt. It was then that Minnetaki pleaded with
him, begged him to go for just one year, and to come back and tell her
of all he had seen and teach her what he had learned. Wabi loved his
beautiful little sister beyond anything else on earth, and it was she
more than his parents who finally induced him to go.
For three months Wabi devoted himself faithfully to his studies in
Detroit. But each week added to his loneliness and his longings for
Minnetaki and his forests. The passing of each day became a painful task
to him. To Minnetaki he wrote three times each week, and three times
each week the little maiden at Wabinosh House wrote long, cheering
letters to her brother--though they came to Wabi only about twice a
month, because only so often did the mail-carrier go out from the Post.
It was at this time in his lonely school life that Wabigoon became
acquainted with Roderick Drew. Roderick, even as Wabi fancied himself to
be just at this time, was a child of misfortune. His father had died
before he could remember, and the property he had left had dwindled
slowly away during the passing of years. Rod was spending his last week
in school when he met Wabigoon. Necessity had become his grim master,
and the following week he was going to work. As the boy described the
situation to his Indian friend, his mother "had fought to the last ditch
to keep him in school, but now his time was up." Wabi seized upon the
white youth as an oasis in a vast desert. After a little the two became
almost inseparable, and their friendship culminated in Wabi's going to
live in the Drew home. Mrs. Drew was a woman of education and
refinement, and her interest in Wabigoon was almost that of a mother. In
this environment the ragged edges were smoothed away from the Indian
boy's deportment, and his letters to Minnetaki were more and more filled
with enthusiastic descriptions of his new friends. After a little Mrs.
Drew received a grateful letter of thanks from the princess mother at
Wabinosh House, and thus a pleasant correspondence sprang up between the
There were now few lonely hours for the two boys. During the long winter
evenings, when Roderick was through with his day's work and Wabi had
completed his studies, they would sit before the fire and the Indian
youth would describe the glorious life of the vast northern wilderness;
and day by day, and week by week, there steadily developed within Rod's
breast a desire to see and live that life. A thousand plans were made, a
thousand adventures pictured, and the mother would smile and laugh and
plan with them.
But in time the end of it all came, and Wabi went back to the princess
mother, to Minnetaki, and to his forests. There were tears in the boys'
eyes when they parted, and the mother cried for the Indian boy who was
returning to his people. Many of the days that followed were painful to
Roderick Drew. Eight months had bred a new nature in him, and when Wabi
left it was as if a part of his own life had gone with him. Spring came
and passed, and then summer. Every mail from Wabinosh House brought
letters for the Drews, and never did an Indian courier drop a pack at
the Post that did not carry a bundle of letters for Wabigoon.
Then in the early autumn, when September frosts were turning the leaves
of the North to red and gold, there came the long letter from Wabi which
brought joy, excitement and misgiving into the little home of the mother
and her son. It was accompanied by one from the factor himself, another
from the princess mother, and by a tiny note from Minnetaki, who pleaded
with the others that Roderick and Mrs. Drew might spend the winter with
them at Wabinosh House.
"You need not fear about losing your position." wrote Wabigoon. "We
shall make more money up here this winter than you could earn in Detroit
in three years. We will hunt wolves. The country is alive with them, and
the government gives a bounty of fifteen dollars for every scalp taken.
Two winters ago I killed forty and I did not make a business of it at
that. I have a tame wolf which we use as a decoy. Don't bother about a
gun or anything like that. We have everything here."
For several days Mrs. Drew and her son deliberated upon the situation
before a reply was sent to the Newsomes. Roderick pleaded, pictured the
glorious times they would have, the health that it would give them, and
marshaled in a dozen different ways his arguments in favor of accepting
the invitation. On the other hand, his mother was filled with doubt.
Their finances were alarmingly low, and Rod would be giving up a sure
though small income, which was now supporting them comfortably. His
future was bright, and that winter would see him promoted to ten dollars
a week in the mercantile house where he was employed. In the end they
came to an understanding. Mrs. Drew would not go to Wabinosh House, but
she would allow Roderick to spend the winter there--and word to this
effect was sent off into the wilderness.
Three weeks later came Wabigoon's reply. On the tenth of October he
would meet Rod at Sprucewood, on the Black Sturgeon River. Thence they
would travel by canoe up the Sturgeon River to Sturgeon Lake, take
portage to Lake Nipigon, and arrive at Wabinosh House before the ice of
early winter shut them in. There was little time to lose in making
preparations, and the fourth day following the receipt of Wabi's letter
found Rod and his mother waiting for the train which was to whirl the
boy into his new life. Not until the eleventh did he arrive at
Sprucewood. Wabi was there to meet him, accompanied by an Indian from
the Post; and that same afternoon the journey up Black Sturgeon River
RODERICK SEES THE FOOTPRINT
Rod was now plunged for the first time in his life into the heart of the
Wilderness. Seated in the bow of the birch-bark canoe which was carrying
them up the Sturgeon, with Wabi close behind him, he drank in the wild
beauties of the forests and swamps through which they slipped almost as
noiselessly as shadows, his heart thumping in joyous excitement, his
eyes constantly on the alert for signs of the big game which Wabi told
him was on all sides of them. Across his knees, ready for instant use,
was Wabi's repeating rifle. The air was keen with the freshness left by
night frosts. At times deep masses of gold and crimson forests shut them
in, at others, black forests of spruce came down to the river's edge;
again they would pass silently through great swamps of tamaracks. In
this vast desolation there was a mysterious quiet, except for the
occasional sounds of wild life. Partridges drummed back in the woods,
flocks of ducks got up with a great rush of wings at almost every turn,
and once, late in the morning of the first day out, Rod was thrilled by
a crashing in the undergrowth scarcely a stone's throw from the canoe.
He could see saplings twisting and bending, and heard Wabi whisper
They were words to set his hands trembling and his whole body quivering
with anticipation. There was in him now none of the old hunter's
coolness, none of the almost stoical indifference with which the men of
the big North hear these sounds of the wild things about them. Rod had
yet to see his first big game.
That moment came in the afternoon. The canoe had skimmed lightly around
a bend in the river. Beyond this bend a mass of dead driftwood had
wedged against the shore, and this driftwood, as the late sun sank
behind the forests, was bathed in a warm yellow glow. And basking in
this glow, as he loves to do at the approach of winter nights, was an
animal, the sight of which drew a sharp, excited cry from between Rod's
lips. In an instant he had recognized it as a bear. The animal was taken
completely by surprise and was less than half a dozen rods away. Quick
as a flash, and hardly realizing what he was doing, the boy drew his
rifle to his shoulder, took quick aim and fired. The bear was already
clambering up the driftwood, but stopped suddenly at the report, slipped
as if about to fall back--then continued his retreat.
"You hit 'im!" shouted Wabi. "Quick-try 'im again!"
Rod's second shot seemed to have no effect In his excitement he jumped
to his feet, forgetting that he was in a frail canoe, and took a last
shot at the big black beast that was just about to disappear over the
edge of the driftwood. Both Wabi and his Indian companion flung
themselves on the shore side of their birch and dug their paddles deep
into the water, but their efforts were unavailing to save their reckless
comrade. Unbalanced by the concussion of his gun, Rod plunged backward
into the river, but before he had time to sink, Wabi reached over and
grabbed him by the arm.
"Don't make a move--and hang on to the gun!" he warned. "If we try to
get you in here we'll all go over!" He made a sign to the Indian, who
swung the canoe slowly inshore. Then he grinned down into Rod's
dripping, unhappy face.
"By George, that last shot was a dandy for a tenderfoot! You got your
Despite his uncomfortable position, Rod gave a whoop of joy, and no
sooner did his feet touch solid bottom than he loosened himself from
Wabi's grip and plunged toward the driftwood. On its very top he found
the bear, as dead as a bullet through its side and another through its
head could make it. Standing there beside his first big game, dripping
and shivering, he looked down upon the two who were pulling their canoe
ashore and gave, a series of triumphant whoops that could have been
heard half a mile away.
"It's camp and a fire for you," laughed Wabi, hurrying up to him. "This
is better luck than I thought you'd have, Rod. We'll have a glorious
feast to-night, and a fire of this driftwood that will show you what
makes life worth the living up here in the North. Ho, Muky," he called
to the old Indian, "cut this fellow up, will you? I'll make camp."
"Can we keep the skin?" asked Rod. "It's my first, you know, and--"
"Of course we can. Give us a hand with the fire, Rod; it will keep you
from catching cold."
In the excitement of making their first camp, Rod almost forgot that he
was soaked to the skin, and that night was falling about them. The first
step was the building of a fire, and soon a great, crackling, almost
smokeless blaze was throwing its light and heat for thirty feet around.
Wabi now brought blankets from the canoe, stripped off a part of his own
clothes, made Rod undress, and soon had that youth swathed in dry togs,
while his wet ones were hung close up to the fire. For the first time
Rod saw the making of a wilderness shelter. Whistling cheerily, Wabi got
an ax from the canoe, went into the edge of the cedars and cut armful
after armful of saplings and boughs. Tying his blankets about himself,
Rod helped to carry these, a laughable and grotesque figure as he
stumbled about clumsily in his efforts. Within half an hour the cedar
shelter was taking form. Two crotched saplings were driven into the
ground eight feet apart, and from one to the other, resting in the
crotches, was placed another sapling, which formed the ridge-pole; and
from this pole there ran slantwise to the earth half a dozen others,
making a framework upon which the cedar boughs were piled. By the time
the old Indian had finished his bear the home was completed, and with
its beds of sweet-smelling boughs, the great camp-fire in front and the
dense wilderness about them growing black with the approach of night,
Rod thought that nothing in picture-book or story could quite equal the
reality of that moment. And when, a few moments later, great bear-steaks
were broiling over a mass of coals, and the odor of coffee mingled with
that of meal-cakes sizzling on a heated stone, he knew that his dearest
dreams had come true.
That night in the glow of the camp-fire Rod listened to the thrilling
stories of Wabi and the old Indian, and lay awake until nearly dawn,
listening to the occasional howl of a wolf, mysterious splashings in the
river and the shrill notes of the night birds. There were varied
experiences in the following three days: one frosty morning before the
others were awake he stole out from the camp with Wabi's rifle and shot
twice at a red deer--which he missed both times; there was an exciting
but fruitless race with a swimming caribou in Sturgeon Lake, at which
Wabi himself took three long-range shots without effect.
It was on a glorious autumn afternoon that Wabi's keen eyes first
descried the log buildings of the Post snuggled in the edge of the
seemingly unending forest. As they approached he joyfully pointed out
the different buildings to Rod--the Company store, the little cluster of
employees' homes and the factor's house, where Rod was to meet his
welcome. At least Roderick himself had thought it would be there. But as
they came nearer a single canoe shot out suddenly from the shore and the
young hunters could see a white handkerchief waving them greeting. Wabi
replied with a whoop of pleasure and fired his gun into the air.
"It's Minnetaki!" he cried. "She said she would watch for us and come
out to meet us!"
Minnetaki! A little nervous thrill shot through Rod. Wabi had described
her to him a thousand times in those winter evenings at home; with a
brother's love and pride he had always brought her into their talks and
plans, and somehow, little by little, Rod had grown to like her very
much without ever having seen her.
The two canoes swiftly approached each other, and in a few minutes more
were alongside. With a glad laughing cry Minnetaki leaned over and
kissed her brother, while at the same time her dark eyes shot a curious
glance at the youth of whom she had read and heard so much.
At this time Minnetaki was fifteen. Like her mother's race she was
slender, of almost woman's height, and unconsciously as graceful as a
fawn in her movements. A slightly waving wealth of raven hair framed
what Rod thought to be one of the prettiest faces he had ever seen, and
entwined in the heavy silken braid that fell over her shoulder were a
number of red autumn leaves. As she straightened herself in her canoe
she looked at Rod and smiled, and he in making a polite effort to lift
his cap in civilized style, lost that article of apparel in a sudden
gust of wind. In an instant there was a general laugh of merriment in
which even the old Indian joined. The little incident did more toward
making comradeship than anything else that might have happened, and
laughing again into Rod's face Minnetaki urged her canoe toward the
"You shouldn't wear such things until it gets cold," she said, after
retrieving the cap and handing it to him. "Wabi does--but I don't!"
"Then I won't," replied Rod gallantly, and at Wabi's burst of laughter
That first night at the Post Rod found that Wabi had already made all
plans for the winter's hunting, and the white youth's complete equipment
was awaiting him in the room assigned to him in the factor's house--a
deadly looking five-shot Remington, similar to Wabi's, a long-barreled,
heavy-caliber revolver, snow-shoes, and a dozen other articles necessary
to one about to set out upon a long expedition in the wilderness. Wabi
had also mapped out their hunting-grounds. Wolves in the immediate
neighborhood of the Post, where they were being constantly sought by the
Indians and the factor's men, had become exceedingly cautious and were
not numerous, but in the almost untraveled wilderness a hundred miles to
the north and east they were literally overrunning the country, killing
moose, caribou and deer in great numbers.
In this region Wabi planned to make their winter quarters. And no time
was to be lost in taking up the trail, for the log house in which they
would pass the bitterly cold months should be built before the heavy
snows set in. It was therefore decided that the young hunters should
start within a week, accompanied by Mukoki, the old Indian, a cousin of
the slain Wabigoon, whom Wabi had given the nickname of Muky and who had
been a faithful comrade to him from his earliest childhood.
Rod made the most of the six days which were allotted to him at the
Post, and while Wabi helped to handle the affairs of the Company's store
during a short absence of his father at Port Arthur, the lovely little
Minnetaki gave our hero his first lessons in woodcraft. In canoe, with
the rifle, and in reading the signs of forest life Wabi's sister
awakened constantly increasing admiration in Rod. To see her bending
over some freshly made trail, her cheeks flushed, her eyes sparkling
with excitement, her rich hair filled with the warmth of the sun, was a
picture to arouse enthusiasm even in the heart of a youngster of
eighteen, and a hundred times the boy mentally vowed that "she was a
brick" from the tips of her pretty moccasined feet to the top of her
prettier head. Half a dozen times at least he voiced this sentiment to
Wabi, and Wabi agreed with great enthusiasm. In fact, by the time the
week was almost gone Minnetaki and Rod had become great chums, and it
was not without some feeling of regret that the young wolf hunter
greeted the dawn of the day that was to see them begin their journey
deeper into the wilds.
Minnetaki was one of the earliest risers at the Post. Rod was seldom
behind her. But on this particular morning he was late and heard the
girl whistling outside half an hour before he was dressed--for Minnetaki
could whistle in a manner that often filled him with envy. By the time
he came down she had disappeared in the edge of the forest, and Wabi,
who was also ahead of him, was busy with Mukoki tying up their equipment
in packs. It was a glorious morning, clear and frosty, and Rod noticed
that a thin shell of ice had formed on the lake during the night. Once
or twice Wabi turned toward the forest and gave his signal whoop, but
received no reply.
"I don't see why Minnetaki doesn't come back," he remarked carelessly,
as he fastened a shoulder-strap about a bundle. "Breakfast will be ready
in a jiffy. Hunt her up, will you, Rod?"
Nothing loath, Rod started out on a brisk run along the path which he
knew to be a favorite with Minnetaki and shortly it brought him down to
a pebbly stretch of the beach where she frequently left her canoe. That
she had been here a few minutes before he could tell by the fact that
the ice about the birch-bark was broken, as though the girl had tested
its thickness by shoving the light craft out into it for a few feet. Her
footsteps led plainly up the shelving shore and into the forest.
Rod called loudly and listened. There was no response. As if impelled by
some presentiment which he himself could not explain, the boy hurried
deeper into the forest along the narrow path which Minnetaki must have
taken. Five minutes--ten minutes--and he called again. Still there was
no answer. Possibly the girl had not gone so far, or she might have left
the path for the thick woods. A little farther on there was a soft spot
in the path where a great tree-trunk had rotted half a century before,
leaving a rich black soil. Clearly traced in this were the imprints of
Minnetaki's moccasins. For a full minute Rod stopped and listened,
making not a sound. Why he maintained silence he could not have
explained. But he knew that he was half a mile from the Post, and that
Wabi's sister should not be here at breakfast time. In this minute's
quiet he unconsciously studied the tracks in the ground. How small the
pretty Indian maiden's feet were! And he noticed, too, that her
moccasins, unlike most moccasins, had a slight heel.
But in a moment more his inspection was cut short. Was that a cry he
heard far ahead? His heart seemed to stop beating, his blood
thrilled--and in another instant he was running down the path like a
deer. Twenty rods beyond this point the path entered an opening in the
forest made by a great fire, and half-way across this opening the youth
saw a sight which chilled him to the marrow. There was Minnetaki, her
long hair tumbling loosely down her back, a cloth tied around her
head--and on either side an Indian dragging her swiftly toward the
For as long as he might have drawn three breaths Rod stood transfixed
with horror. Then his senses returned to him, and every muscle in his
body seemed to bound with action. For days he had been practising with
his revolver and it was now in the holster at his side. Should he use
it? Or might he hit Minnetaki? At his feet he saw a club and snatching
this up he sped across the opening, the soft earth holding the sound of
his steps. When he was a dozen feet behind the Indians Minnetaki
stumbled in a sudden effort to free herself, and as one of her captors
half turned to drag her to her feet he saw the enraged youth, club
uplifted, bearing down upon them like a demon. A terrific yell from Rod,
a warning cry from the Indian, and the fray began. With crushing force,
the boy's club fell upon the shoulder of the second Indian, and before
he could recover from the delivery of this blow the youth was caught in
a choking, deadly grip by the other from behind.
Freed by the sudden attack, Minnetaki tore away the cloth that bound her
eyes and mouth. As quick as a flash she took in the situation. At her
feet the wounded Indian was half rising, and upon the ground near him,
struggling in close embrace, were Rod and the other. She saw the
Indian's fatal grip upon her preserver's throat, the whitening face and
wide-open eyes, and with a great, sobbing cry she caught up the fallen
club and brought it down with all her strength upon the redskin's head.
Twice, three times the club rose and fell, and the grip on Rod's throat
relaxed. A fourth time it rose, but this time was caught from behind,
and a huge hand clutched the brave girl's throat so that the cry on her
lips died in a gasp. But the relief gave Rod his opportunity. With a
tremendous effort he reached his pistol holster, drew out the gun, and
pressed it close up against his assailant's body. There was a muffled
report and with a shriek of agony the Indian pitched backward. Hearing
the shot and seeing the effect upon his comrade, the second Indian
released his hold on Minnetaki and ran for the forest. Rod, seeing
Minnetaki fall in a sobbing, frightened heap, forgot all else but to run
to her, smooth back her hair and comfort her with all of the assurances
at his boyish command.
It was here that Wabi and the old Indian guide found them five minutes
later. Hearing Rod's first piercing yell of attack, they had raced into
the forest, afterward guided by the two or three shrill screams which
Minnetaki had unconsciously emitted during the struggle. Close behind
them, smelling trouble, followed two of the Post employees.
The attempted abduction of Wabi's sister, Rod's heroic rescue and the
death of one of the captors, who was recognized as one of Woonga's men,
caused a seven-day sensation at the Post.
There was now no thought of leaving on the part of the young wolf
hunters. It was evident that Woonga was again in the neighborhood, and
Wabi and Rod, together with a score of Indians and hunters, spent days
in scouring the forests and swamps. But the Woongas disappeared as
suddenly as they came. Not until Wabi had secured a promise from
Minnetaki that she would no longer go into the forests unaccompanied did
the Indian youth again allow himself to take up their interrupted plans.
Minnetaki had been within easy calling distance of help when the
Woongas, without warning, sprang upon her, smothered her attempted cries
and dragged her away, compelling her to walk alone over the soft earth
where Rod had seen her footsteps, so that any person who followed might
suppose she was alone and safe. This fact stirred the dozen white
families at the Post into aggressive action, and four of the most
skillful Indian track-hunters in the service were detailed to devote
themselves exclusively to hunting down the outlaws, their operations not
to include a territory extending more than twenty miles from Wabinosh
House in any direction. With these precautions it was believed that no
harm could come to Minnetaki or other young girls of the Post.
It was, therefore, on a Monday, the fourth day of November, that Rod,
Wabi and Mukoki turned their faces at last to the adventures that
awaited them in the great North.
RODERICK'S FIRST TASTE OF THE HUNTER'S LIFE
By this time it was bitter cold. The lakes and rivers were frozen deep
and a light snow covered the ground. Already two weeks behind their
plans, the young wolf hunters and the old Indian made forced marches
around the northern extremity of Lake Nipigon and on the sixth day found
themselves on the Ombabika River, where they were compelled to stop on
account of a dense snow-storm. A temporary camp was made, and it was
while constructing this camp that Mukoki discovered signs of wolves. It
was therefore decided to remain for a day or two and investigate the
hunting-grounds. On the morning of the second day Wabi shot at and
wounded the old bull moose which met such a tragic end a few hours
later, and that same morning the two boys made a long tour to the north
in the hope of finding that they were in a good game country, which
would mean also that there were plenty of wolves.
This left Mukoki alone in camp. Thus far, in their desire to cover as
much ground as possible before the heavy snows came, Wabi and his
companions had not stopped to hunt for game and for six days their only
meat had been bacon and jerked venison. Mukoki, whose prodigious
appetite was second only to the shrewdness with which he stalked game to
satisfy it, determined to add to their larder if possible during the
others' absence, and with this object in view he left camp late in the
afternoon to be gone, as he anticipated, not longer than an hour or so.
With him he carried two powerful wolf-traps slung over his shoulders.
Stealing cautiously along the edge of the river, his eyes and ears alert
for game, Mukoki suddenly came upon the frozen and half-eaten carcass of
a red deer. It was evident that the animal had been killed by wolves
either the day or night before, and from the tracks in the snow the
Indian concluded that not more than four wolves had participated in the
slaughter and feast. That these wolves would return to continue their
banquet, probably that night, Mukoki's many experiences as a wolf hunter
assured him; and he paused long enough to set his traps, afterward
covering them over with three or four inches of snow.
Continuing his hunt, the old Indian soon struck the fresh spoor of a
deer. Believing that the animal would not travel for any great distance
in the deep snow, he swiftly took up the trail. Half a mile farther on
he stopped abruptly with a grunt of unbounded surprise. Another hunter
had taken up the trail!
With increased caution Mukoki now advanced. Two hundred feet more and a
second pair of moccasined feet joined in the pursuit, and a little later
still a third!
Led on by curiosity more than by the hope of securing a partnership
share in the quarry, the Indian slipped silently and swiftly through the
forest. As he emerged from a dense growth of spruce through which the
tracks led him Mukoki was treated to another surprise by almost
stumbling over the carcass of the deer he had been following. A brief
examination satisfied him that the doe had been shot at least two hours
before. The three hunters had cut out her heart, liver and tongue and
had also taken the hind quarters, leaving the remainder of the carcass
and the skin! Why had they neglected this most valuable part of their
spoils? With a new gleam of interest in his eyes Mukoki carefully
scrutinized the moccasin trails. He soon discovered that the Indians
ahead of him were in great haste, and that after cutting the choicest
meat from the doe they had started off to make up for lost time by
With another grunt of astonishment the old Indian returned to the
carcass, quickly stripped off the skin, wrapped in it the fore quarters
and ribs of the doe, and thus loaded, took up the home trail. It was
dark when he reached camp. Wabi and Rod had not yet returned. Building a
huge fire and hanging the ribs of the doe on a spit before it, he
anxiously awaited their appearance.
Half an hour later he heard the shout which brought him quickly to where
Wabi was holding the partly unconscious form of Rod in his arms.
It took but a few moments to carry the injured youth to camp, and not
until Rod was resting upon a pile of blankets in their shack, with the
warmth of the fire reviving him, did Wabi vouchsafe an explanation to
the old Indian.
"I guess he's got a broken arm, Muky," he said. "Have you any hot
"Shot?" asked the old hunter, paying no attention to the question. He
dropped upon his knees beside Rod, his long brown fingers reaching out
"No--hit with a club. We met three Indian hunters who were in camp and
who invited us to eat with them. While we were eating they jumped upon
our backs. Rod got that--and lost his rifle!"
Mukoki quickly stripped the wounded boy of his garments, baring his left
arm and side. The arm was swollen and almost black and there was a great
bruise on Rod's body a little above the waist. Mukoki was a surgeon by
necessity, a physician such as one finds only in the vast unblazed
wildernesses, where Nature is the teacher. Crudely he made his
examination, pinching and twisting the flesh and bones until Rod cried
out in pain, but in the end there was a glad triumph in his voice as he
"No bone broke--hurt most here!" and he touched the bruise. "Near broke
rib--not quite. Took wind out and made great deal sick. Want good
supper, hot coffee--rub in bear's grease, then be better!"
Rod, who had opened his eyes, smiled faintly and Wabi gave a half-shout
"Not so bad as we thought, eh, Rod?" he cried. "You can't fool Muky! If
he says your arm isn't broken--why, it _isn't_, and that's all there is
to it. Let me bolster you up in these blankets and we'll soon have a
supper that will sizzle the aches out of you. I smell meat--fresh meat!"
With a chuckle of pleasure Mukoki jumped to his feet and ran out to
where the ribs of the doe were slowly broiling over the fire. They were
already done to a rich brown and their dripping juice filled the
nostrils with an appetizing odor. By the time Wabi had applied Mukoki's
prescription to his comrade's wounds, and had done them up in bandages,
the tempting feast was spread before them.
As a liberal section of the ribs was placed before him, together with
corn-meal cakes and a cup of steaming coffee, Rod could not suppress a
happy though somewhat embarrassed laugh.
"I'm ashamed of myself, Wabi," he said. "Here I've been causing so much
bother, like some helpless kid; and now I find I haven't even the excuse
of a broken arm, and that I'm as hungry as a bear! Looks pretty yellow,
doesn't it? Just as though I was scared to death! So help me, I almost
wish my arm _was_ broken!"
Mukoki had buried his teeth in a huge chunk of fat rib, but he lowered
it with a great chuckling grunt, half of his face smeared with the first
results of his feast.
"Whole lot sick," he explained. "Be sick some more--mighty sick! Maybe
"Waugh!" shrieked Wabi. "How is that for cheerful news, Rod?" His
merriment echoed far out into the night. Suddenly he caught himself and
peered suspiciously into the gloom beyond the circle of firelight.
"Do you suppose they would follow?" he asked.
A more cautious silence followed, and the Indian youth quickly related
the adventures of the day to Mukoki--how, in the heart of the forest
several miles beyond the lake, they had come upon the Indian hunters,
had accepted of their seemingly honest hospitality, and in the midst of
their meal had suffered an attack from them. So sudden and unexpected
had been the assault that one of the Indians got away with Rod's rifle,
ammunition belt and revolver before any effort could be made to stop
him. Wabi was under the other two Indians when Rod came to his
assistance, with the result that the latter was struck two heavy blows,
either with a club or a gun-stock. So tenaciously had the Indian boy
clung to his own weapon that his assailants, after a brief struggle,
darted into the dense underbrush, evidently satisfied with the white
"They were of Woonga's people, without a doubt," finished Wabi. "It
puzzles me why they didn't kill us. They had half a dozen chances to
shoot us, but didn't seem to want to do us any great injury. Either the
measures taken at the Post are making them reform, or--"
He paused, a troubled look in his eyes. Immediately Mukoki told of his
own experience and of the mysterious haste of the three Indians who had
slain the doe.
"It is certainly curious," rejoined the young Indian. "They couldn't
have been the ones we met, but I'll wager they belong to the same gang.
I wouldn't be surprised if we had hit upon one of Woonga's retreats.
We've always thought he was in the Thunder Bay regions to the west, and
that is where father is watching for him now. We've hit the hornets'
nest, Muky, and the only thing for us to do is to get out of this
country as fast as we can!"
"We'd make a nice pot-shot just at this moment," volunteered Rod,
looking across to the dense blackness on the opposite side of the river,
where the moonlight seemed to make even more impenetrable the wall of
As he spoke there came a slight sound from behind him, the commotion of
a body moving softly beyond the wall of spruce boughs, then a curious,
suspicious sniffing, and after that a low whine.
Wabi's command came in a tense whisper. He leaned close against the
boughs, stealthily parted them, and slowly thrust his head through the
"Hello, Wolf!" he whispered. "What's up?"
An arm's length away, tied before a smaller shelter of spruce, a gaunt,
dog-like animal stood in a rigid listening attitude. An instant's
glance, however, would have assured one that it was not a dog, but a
full-grown wolf. From the days of its puppyhood Wabi had taught it in
the ways of dogdom, yet had the animal perversely clung to its wild
instincts. A weakness in that thong, a slip of the collar, and Wolf
would have bounded joyously into the forests to seek for ever the packs
of his fathers. Now the babeesh rope was taut, Wolf's muzzle was turned
half to the sky, his ears were alert, half-sounding notes rattled in his
"There is something near our camp!" announced the Indian boy, drawing
himself back quickly. "Muky--"
He was interrupted by a long mournful howl from the captive wolf.
Mukoki had jumped to his feet with the alertness of a cat, and now with
his gun in his hand slunk around the edge of the shelter and buried
himself in the gloom. Roderick lay quiet while Wabi, seizing the
remaining rifle, followed him.
"Lie over there in the dark, Rod, where the firelight doesn't show you
up," he cautioned in a low voice. "Probably it is only some animal that
has stumbled on to our camp, but we want to make sure."
Ten minutes later the young hunter returned alone.
"False alarm!" he laughed cheerfully. "There's a part of a carcass of a
red deer up the creek a bit. It has been killed by wolves, and Wolf
smells some of his own blood coming in to the feast. Muky has set traps
there and we may have our first scalp in the morning."
"Where is Mukoki?"
"On watch. He is going to keep guard until a little after midnight, and
then I'll turn out. We can't be too careful, with the Woongas in the
Rod shifted himself uneasily.
"What shall we do--to-morrow?" he asked.
"Get out!" replied Wabi with emphasis. "That is, if you are able to
travel. From what Mukoki tells me, and from what you and I already know,
Woonga's people must be in the forests beyond the lake. We'll cut a
trail up the Ombabika for two or three days before we strike camp. You
and Muky can start out as soon as it is light enough."
"And you--" began Rod.
"Oh, I'm going to take a run back over our old wolf-trail and collect
the scalps we shot to-day. There's a month's salary back there for you,
Rod! Now, let's turn in. Good night--sleep tight--and be sure to wake up
early in the morning."
The boys, exhausted by the adventures of the day, were soon in profound
slumber. And though midnight came, and hour after hour passed between
then and dawn, the faithful Mukoki did not awaken them. Never for a
moment neglecting his caution the old Indian watched tirelessly over the
camp. With the first appearance of day he urged the fire into a roaring
blaze, raked out a great mass of glowing coals, and proceeded to get
breakfast. Wabi discovered him at this task when he awoke from his
"I didn't think you would play this trick on me, Muky," he said, a flush
of embarrassment gathering in his brown face. "It's awfully good of you,
and all that, but I wish you wouldn't treat me as if I were a child any
longer, old friend!"
He placed his hand affectionately upon the kneeling Mukoki's shoulder,
and the old hunter looked up at him with a happy, satisfied grin on his
weather-beaten visage, wrinkled and of the texture of leather by nearly
fifty years of life in the wilderness. It was Mukoki who had first
carried the baby Wabi about the woods upon his shoulders; it was he who
had played with him, cared for him, and taught him in the ways of the
wild in early childhood, and it was he who had missed him most, with
little Minnetaki, when he went away to school. All the love in the grim
old redskin's heart was for the Indian youth and his sister, and to them
Mukoki was a second father, a silent, watchful guardian and comrade.
This one loving touch of Wabi's hand was ample reward for the long
night's duty, and his pleasure expressed itself in two or three low
"Had heap bad day," he replied. "Very much tired. Me feel good--better
than sleep!" He rose to his feet and handed Wabi the long fork with
which he manipulated the meat on the spits. "You can tend to that," he
added. "I go see traps."
Rod, who had awakened and overheard these last remarks, called out from
"Wait a minute, Mukoki. I'm going with you. If you've got a wolf, I want
to see him."
"Got one sure 'nuff," grinned the old Indian.
In a few minutes Rod came out, fully dressed and with a much healthier
color in his face than when he went to bed the preceding night. He stood
before the fire, stretched one arm then the other, gave a slight grimace
of pain, and informed his anxious comrades that he seemed to be as well
as ever, except that his arm and side were very sore.
Walking slowly, that Rod might "find himself," as Wabi expressed it, the
two went up the river. It was a dull gray morning and occasionally large
flakes of snow fell, giving evidence that before the day was far
advanced another storm would set in. Mukoki's traps were not more than
an eighth of a mile from camp, and as the two rounded a certain bend in
the river the old hunter suddenly stopped with a huge grant of
satisfaction. Following the direction in which he pointed Rod saw a dark
object lying in the snow a short distance away.
"That's heem!" exclaimed the Indian.
As they approached, the object became animate, pulling and tearing in
the snow as though in the agonies of death. A few moments more and they
were close up to the captive.
"She wolf!" explained Mukoki.
He gripped the ax he had brought with him and approached within a few
feet of the crouching animal. Rod could see that one of the big steel
traps had caught the wolf on the forward leg and that the other had
buried its teeth in one of the hind legs. Thus held the doomed animal
could make little effort to protect itself and crouched in sullen quiet,
its white fangs gleaming in a noiseless, defiant snarl, its eyes shining
with pain and anger, and with only its thin starved body, which jerked
and trembled as the Indian came nearer, betraying signs of fear. To Rod
it might have been a pitiful sight had not there come to him a thought
of the preceding night and of his own and Wabi's narrow escape from the
Two or three quick blows of the ax and the wolf was dead. With a skill
which can only be found among those of his own race, Mukoki drew his
knife, cut deftly around the wolf's head just below the ears, and with
one downward, one upward, and two sidewise jerks tore off the scalp.
Suddenly, without giving a thought to his speech, there shot from Rod,
"Is that the way you scalp people?"
Mukoki looked up, his jaw fell--and then he gave the nearest thing to a
real laugh that Rod ever heard come from between his lips. When Mukoki
laughed it was usually in a half-chuckle, a half-gurgle--something that
neither Rod nor Wabi could have imitated if they had tried steadily for
"Never scalped white people," the old Indian shot back. "Father did
when--young man. Did great scalp business!"
Mukoki had not done chuckling to himself even when they reached camp.
Scarcely ten minutes were taken in eating breakfast. Snow was already
beginning to fall, and if the hunters took up their trail at once their
tracks would undoubtedly be entirely obliterated by midday, which was
the best possible thing that could happen for them in the Woonga
country. On the other hand, Wabi was anxious to follow back over the
wolf-trail before the snow shut it in. There was no danger of their
becoming separated and lost, for it was agreed that Rod and Mukoki
should travel straight up the frozen river. Wabi would overtake them
Arming himself with his rifle, revolver, knife, and a keen-edged
belt-ax, the Indian boy lost no time in leaving camp. A quarter of an
hour later Wabi came out cautiously on the end of the lake where had
occurred the unequal duel between the old bull moose and the wolves. A
single glance told him what the outcome of that duel had been. Twenty
rods out upon the snow he saw parts of a great skeleton, and a huge pair
As he stood on the arena of the mighty battle, Wabi would have given a
great deal if Rod could have been with him. There lay the heroic old
moose, now nothing more than a skeleton. But the magnificent head and
horns still remained--the largest head that the Indian youth, in all his
wilderness life, had ever seen--and it occurred to him that if this head
could be preserved and taken back to civilization it would be worth a
hundred dollars or more. That the old bull had put up a magnificent
fight was easily discernible. Fifty feet away were the bones of a wolf,
and almost under the skeleton of the moose were those of another. The
heads of both still remained, and Wabi, after taking their scalps,
hurried on over the trail.
Half-way across the lake, where he had taken his last two shots, were
the skeletons of two more wolves, and in the edge of the spruce forest
he found another. This animal had evidently been wounded farther back
and had later been set upon by some of the pack and killed. Half a mile
deeper in the forest he came upon a spot where he had emptied five
shells into the pack and here he found the bones of two more wolves. He
had seven scalps in his possession when he turned back over the home
Beside the remains of the old bull Wabi paused again. He knew that the
Indians frequently preserved moose and caribou heads through the winter
by keeping them frozen, and the head at his feet was a prize worth some
thought. But how could he keep it preserved until their return, months
later? He could not suspend it from the limb of a tree, as was the
custom when in camp, for it would either be stolen by some passing
hunter or spoiled by the first warm days of spring. Suddenly an idea
came to him. Why could it not be preserved in what white hunters called
an "Indian ice-box"? In an instant he was acting upon this inspiration.
It was not a small task to drag the huge head to the shelter of the
tamaracks, where, safely hidden from view, he made a closer examination.
The head was gnawed considerably by the wolves, but Wabi had seen worse
ones skillfully repaired by the Indians at the Post.
Under a dense growth of spruce, where the rays of the sun seldom
penetrated, the Indian boy set to work with his belt-ax. For an hour and
a half he worked steadily, and at the end of that time had dug a hole in
the frozen earth three feet deep and four feet square. This hole he now
lined with about two inches of snow, packed as tight as he could jam it
with the butt of his gun. Then placing in the head he packed snow
closely about it and afterward filled in the earth, stamping upon the
hard chunks with his feet. When all was done he concealed the signs of
his work under a covering of snow, blazed two trees with his ax, and
resumed his journey.
"There is thirty dollars for each of us if there's a cent," he mused
softly, as he hurried toward the Ombabika. "That ground won't thaw out
until June. A moose-head and eight scalps at fifteen dollars each isn't
bad for one day's work, Rod, old boy!"
He had been absent for three hours. It had been snowing steadily and by
the time he reached their old camp the trail left by Rod and Mukoki was
already partly obliterated, showing that they had secured an early start
up the river.
Bowing his head in the white clouds falling silently about him, Wabi
started in swift pursuit. He could not see ten rods ahead of him, so
dense was the storm, and at times one side or the other of the river was
lost to view. Conditions could not have been better for their flight out
of the Woonga country, thought the young hunter. By nightfall they would
be many miles up the river, and no sign would be left behind to reveal
their former presence or to show in which direction they had gone. For
two hours he followed tirelessly over the trail, which became more and
more distinct as he proceeded, showing that he was rapidly gaining on
his comrades. But even now, though the trail was fresher and deeper, so
disguised had it become by falling snow that a passing hunter might have
thought a moose or caribou had passed that way.
At the end of the third hour, by which time he figured that he had made
at least ten miles, Wabi sat down to rest, and to refresh himself with
the lunch which he had taken from the camp that morning. He was
surprised at Rod's endurance. That Mukoki and the white boy were still
three or four miles ahead of him he did not doubt, unless they, too, had
stopped for dinner. This, on further thought, he believed was highly
The wilderness about him was intensely still. Not even the twitter of a
snow-bird marred its silence. For a long time Wabi sat as immovable as
the log upon which he had seated himself, resting and listening. Such a
day as this held a peculiar and unusual fascination for him. It was as
if the whole world was shut out, and that even the wild things of the
forest dared not go abroad in this supreme moment of Nature's handiwork,
when with lavish hand she spread the white mantle that was to stretch
from the border to Hudson Bay.
As he listened there came to him suddenly a sound that forced from
between his lips a half-articulate cry. It was the clear, ringing report
of a rifle! And following it there came another, and another, until in
quick succession he had counted five!
What did it mean? He sprang to his feet, his heart thumping, every nerve
in him prepared for action. He would have sworn it was Mukoki's
rifle--yet Mukoki would not have fired at game! They had agreed upon
Had Rod and the old Indian been attacked? In another instant Wabi was
bounding over the trail with the speed of a deer.
MYSTERIOUS SHOTS IN THE WILDERNESS
As the Indian youth sped over the trail in the direction of the
rifle-shots he flung his usual caution to the winds. His blood thrilled
with the knowledge that there was not a moment to lose--that even now,
in all probability, he would be too late to assist his friends. This
fear was emphasized by the absolute silence which followed the five
shots. Eagerly, almost prayerfully, he listened as he ran for other
sounds of battle--for the report of Mukoki's revolver, or the whoops of
the victors. If there had been an ambush it was all over now. Each
moment added to his conviction, and as he thrust the muzzle of his gun
ahead of him, his finger hovering near the trigger and his snow-blinded
eyes staring ahead into the storm, something like a sob escaped his
Ahead of him the stream narrowed until it almost buried itself under a
mass of towering cedars. The closeness of the forest walls now added to
the general gloom, intensified by the first gray pallor of the Northern
dusk, which begins to fall in these regions early in the afternoon of
November days. For a moment, just before plunging into the gloomy trail
between the cedars, Wabi stopped and listened. He heard nothing but the
beating of his own heart, which worked like a trip-hammer within his
breast. The stillness was oppressive. And the longer he listened the
more some invisible power seemed to hold him back. It was not fear, it
was not lack of courage, but--
What was there just beyond those cedars, lurking cautiously in the snow
With instinct that was almost animal in its unreasonableness Wabi sank
upon his knees. He had seen nothing, he had heard nothing; but he
crouched close, until he was no larger than a waiting wolf, and there
was a deadly earnestness in the manner in which he turned his rifle into
the deeper gloom of those close-knit walls of forest. Something was
approaching, cautiously, stealthily, and with extreme slowness. The
Indian boy felt that this was so, and yet if his life had depended upon
it he could not have told why. He huddled himself lower in the snow. His
eyes gleamed with excitement. Minute after minute passed, and still
there came no sound. Then, from far up that dusky avenue of cedars,
there came the sudden startled chatter of a moose-bird. It was a warning
which years of experience had taught Wabi always to respect. Perhaps a
roving fox had frightened it, perhaps the bird had taken to noisy flight
at the near tread of a moose, a caribou, or a deer. But--
To Wabi the soft, quick notes of the moose-bird spelled man! In an
instant he was upon his feet, darting quickly into the sheltering cedars
of the shore. Through these he now made his way with extreme caution,
keeping close to the bank of the frozen stream. After a little he paused
again and concealed himself behind the end of a fallen log. Ahead of him
he could look into the snow gloom between the cedars, and whatever was
coming through that gloom would have to pass within a dozen yards of
him. Each moment added to his excitement. He heard the chatter of a red
squirrel, much nearer than the moose-bird. Once he fancied that he heard
the striking of two objects, as though a rifle barrel had accidentally
come into contact with the dead limb of a tree.
Suddenly the Indian youth imagined that he saw something--an indistinct
shadow that came in the snow gloom, then disappeared, and came again. He
brushed the water and snow from his eyes with one of his mittened hands
and stared hard and steadily. Once more the shadow disappeared, then
came again, larger and more distinct than before. There was no doubt
now. Whatever had startled the moose-bird was coming slowly,
Wabi brought his rifle to his shoulder. Life and death hovered with his
anxious, naked finger over the gun trigger. But he was too well trained
in the ways of the wilderness to fire just yet. Yard by yard the shadow
approached, and divided itself into two shadows. Wabi could now see that
they were men. They were advancing in a cautious, crouching attitude, as
though they expected to meet enemies somewhere ahead of them. Wabi's
heart thumped with joy. There could be no surer sign that Mukoki and Rod
were still among the living, for why should the Woongas employ this
caution if they had already successfully ambushed the hunters? With the
chill of a cold hand at his throat the answer flashed into Wabigoon's
brain. His friends had been ambushed, and these two Woongas were
stealing back over the trail to slay him!
Very slowly, very gently, the young Indian's finger pressed against the
trigger of his rifle. A dozen feet more, and then--
The shadows had stopped, and now drew together as if in consultation.
They were not more than twenty yards away, and for a moment Wabi lowered
his rifle and listened hard. He could hear the low unintelligible
mutterings of their conversation. Then there came to him a single
incautious reply from one of the shadows.
Surely that was not the English of a Woonga! It sounded like--
In a flash Wabi had called softly.
In another moment the three wolf hunters were together, silently
wringing one another's hands, the death-like pallor of Rod's face and
the tense lines in the bronzed countenances of Mukoki and Wabigoon
plainly showing the tremendous strain they had been under.
"You shoot?" whispered Mukoki.
"No!" replied Wabi, his eyes widening in surprise. "Didn't _you_ shoot?"
Only the one word fell from the old Indian, but it was filled with a new
warning. Who had fired the five shots? The hunters gazed blankly at one
another, mute questioning in their eyes. Without speaking, Mukoki
pointed suggestively to the clearer channel of the river beyond the
cedars. Evidently he thought the shots had come from there. Wabi shook
"There was no trail," he whispered. "Nobody has crossed the river."
"I thought they were there!" breathed Rod. He pointed into the forest.
"But Mukoki said no."
For a long time the three stood and listened. Half a mile back in the
forest they heard the howl of a single wolf, and Wabi flashed a curious
glance into the eyes of the old Indian.
"That's a man's cry," he whispered. "The wolf has struck a human trail.
It isn't mine!"
"Nor ours," replied Rod.
This one long howl of the wolf was the only sound that broke the
stillness of approaching night. Mukoki turned, and the others followed
in his trail. A quarter of a mile farther on the stream became still
narrower and plunged between great masses of rock which rose into wild
and precipitous hills that were almost mountains a little way back. No
longer could the hunters now follow the channel of the rushing torrent.
Through a break in a gigantic wall of rock and huge boulders led the
trail of Rod and Mukoki. Ten minutes more and the three had clambered to
the top of the ridge where, in the lee of a great rock, the remains of a
fire were still burning. Here the old Indian and his companion had
struck camp and were waiting for Wabigoon when they heard the shots
which they, too, believed were those of an ambush.
A comfortable shelter of balsam had already been erected against the
rock, and close beside the fire, where Mukoki had dropped it at the
sound of the shots, was a large piece of spitted venison. The situation
was ideal for a camp and after the hard day's tramp through the snow the
young wolf hunters regarded it with expressions of pleasure, in spite of
the enemies whom they knew might be lurking near them. Both Wabi and Rod
had accepted the place as their night's home, and were stirring up the
fire, when their attention was drawn to the singular attitude of Mukoki.
The old warrior stood leaning on his rifle, speechless and motionless,
his eyes regarding the process of rekindling the fire with mute
disapprobation. Wabi, poised on one knee, looked at him questioningly.
"No make more fire," said the old Indian, shaking his head. "No dare
stay here. Go on--beyond mountain!"
Mukoki straightened himself and stretched a long arm toward the north.
"River go like much devil 'long edge of mountain," he continued. "Make
heap noise through rock, then make swamp thick for cow moose--then run
through mountain and make wide, smooth river once more. We go over
mountain. Snow all night. Morning come--no trail for Woonga. We stay
here--make big trail in morning. Woonga follow like devil, ver' plain to
Wabi rose to his feet, his face showing the keenness of his
disappointment. Since early morning he had been traveling, even running
at times, and he was tired enough to risk willingly a few dangers for
the sake of sleep and supper. Rod was in even worse condition, though
his trail had been much shorter. For a few moments the two boys looked
at each other in silence, neither attempting to conceal the lack of
favor with which Mukoki's suggestion was received. But Wabi was too wise
openly to oppose the old pathfinder. If Mukoki said that it was
dangerous for them to remain where they were during the night--well, it
was dangerous, and it would be foolish of him to dispute it. He knew
Mukoki to be the greatest hunter of his tribe, a human bloodhound on the
trail, and what he said was law. So with a cheerful grin at Rod, who
needed all the encouragement that could be given to him, Wabi began the
readjustment of the pack which he had flung from his shoulders a few
"Mountain not ver' far. Two--t'ree mile, then camp," encouraged Mukoki.
"Walk slow--have big supper."
Only a few articles had been taken from the toboggan-sled on which the
hunters were dragging the greater part of their equipment into the
wilderness, and Mukoki soon had these packed again. The three
adventurers now took up the new trail along the top of one of those wild
and picturesque ridges which both the Indians and white hunters of this
great Northland call mountains. Wabigoon led, weighted under his pack,
selecting the clearest road for the toboggan and clipping down
obstructing saplings with his keen-edged belt-ax. A dozen feet behind
him followed Mukoki, dragging the sled; and behind the sled, securely
tied with a thong of babeesh, or moose-skin rope, slunk the wolf. Rod,
less experienced in making a trail and burdened with a lighter pack,
formed the rear of the little cavalcade.
Darkness was now falling rapidly. Though Wabigoon was not more than a
dozen yards ahead, Rod could only now and then catch a fleeting vision
of him through the gloom. Mukoki, doubled over in his harness, was
hardly more than a blotch in the early night. Only the wolf was near
enough to offer companionship to the tired and down-spirited youth.
Rod's enthusiasm was not easily cooled, but just now he mentally wished
that, for this one night at least, he was back at the Post, with the
lovely little Minnetaki relating to him some legend of bird or beast
they had encountered that day. How much pleasanter that would be! The
vision of the bewitching little maiden was suddenly knocked out of his
head in a most unexpected and startling way. Mukoki had paused for a
moment and Rod, unconscious of the fact, continued on his journey until
he tumbled in a sprawling heap over the sled, knocking Mukoki's legs
completely from under him in his fall. When Wabi ran back he found Rod
flattened out, face downward, and Mukoki entangled in his site harness
on top of him.
In a way this accident was fortunate. Wabi, who possessed a Caucasian
sense of humor, shook with merriment as he gave his assistance, and Rod,
after he had dug the snow from his eyes and ears and had emptied a
handful of it from his neck, joined with him.
The ridge now became narrower as the trio advanced. On one side, far
down, could be heard the thunderous rush of the river, and from the
direction of the sound Rod knew they were near a precipice. Great beds
of boulders and broken rock, thrown there by some tumultuous upheaval of
past ages, now impeded their progress, and every step was taken with
extreme caution. The noise of the torrent became louder and louder as
they advanced and on one side of him Rod now thought that he could
distinguish a dim massive shadow towering above them, like the
precipitous side of a mountain. A few steps farther and Mukoki exchanged
places with Wabigoon.
"Muky has been here before," cried Wabi close up to Rod's ear. His voice
was almost drowned by the tumult below. "That's where the river rushes
through the mountain!"
Rod forgot his fatigue in the new excitement. Never in his wildest
dreams of adventure had he foreseen an hour like this. Each step seemed
to bring them nearer the edge of the vast chasm through which the river
plunged, and yet not a sign of it could he see. He strained his eyes and
ears, each moment expecting to hear the warning voice of the old
warrior. With a suddenness that chilled him he saw the great shadow
close in upon them from the opposite side, and for the first time he
realized their position. On their left was the precipice--on their right
the sheer wall of the mountain! How wide was the ledge along which they
were traveling? His foot struck a stick under the snow. Catching it up
he flung it out into space. For a single instant he paused to listen,
but there came no sound of the falling object. The precipice was very
near--a little chill ran up his spine. It was a sensation he had never
experienced in walking the streets of a city!
Though he could not see, he knew that the ledge was now leading them up.
He could hear Wabigoon straining ahead of the toboggan and he began to
assist by pushing on the rear of the loaded sled. For half an hour this
upward climb continued, until the sound of the river had entirely died
away. No longer was the mountain on the right. Five minutes later Mukoki
called a halt.
"On top mountain," he said briefly. "Camp here!"
Rod could not repress an exclamation of joy, and Wabigoon, as he threw
off his harness, gave a suppressed whoop. Mukoki, who seemed tireless,
began an immediate search for a site for their camp and after a short
breathing-spell Rod and Wabi joined him. The spot chosen was in the
shelter of a huge rock, and while Mukoki cleaned away the snow the young
hunters set to work with their axes in a near growth of balsam, cutting
armful after armful of the soft odorous boughs. Inside of an hour a
comfortable camp was completed, with an exhilarating fire throwing its
crackling flames high up into the night before it.
For the first time since leaving the abandoned camp at the other end of
the ridge the hunters fully realized how famished they were, and Mukoki
was at once delegated to prepare supper while Wabi and Rod searched in
the darkness for their night's supply of wood. Fortunately quite near at
hand they discovered several dead poplars, the best fuel in the world
for a camp-fire, and by the time the venison and coffee were ready they
had collected a huge pile of this, together with several good-sized
Mukoki had spread the feast in the opening of the shelter where the heat
of the fire, reflected from the face of the rock, fell upon them in
genial warmth, suffusing their faces with a most comfortable glow. The
heat, together with the feast, were almost overpowering in their
effects, and hardly was his supper completed when Rod felt creeping over
him a drowsiness which he attempted in vain to fight off a little
longer. Dragging himself back in the shelter he wrapped himself in his
blanket, burrowed into the mass of balsam boughs, and passed quickly
into oblivion. His last intelligible vision was Mukoki piling logs upon
the fire, while the flames shot up a dozen feet into the air, illumining
to his drowsy eyes for an instant a wild chaos of rock, beyond which lay
the mysterious and impenetrable blackness of the wilderness.
MUKOKI DISTURBS THE ANCIENT SKELETONS
Completely exhausted, every muscle in his aching body still seeming to
strain with exertion, the night was one of restless and uncomfortable
dreams for Roderick Drew. While Wabi and the old Indian, veterans in
wilderness hardship, slept in peace and tranquillity, the city boy found
himself in the most unusual and thrilling situations from which he would
extricate himself with a grunt or sharp cry, several times sitting bolt
upright in his bed of balsam until he realized where he was, and that
his adventures were only those of dreamland.
From one of these dreams Rod had aroused himself into drowsy
wakefulness. He fancied that he had heard steps. For the tenth time he
raised himself upon an elbow, stretched, rubbed his eyes, glanced at the
dark, inanimate forms of his sleeping companions, and snuggled down into
his balsam boughs again. A few moments later he sat bolt upright. He
could have sworn that he heard real steps this time--a soft cautious
crunching in the snow very near his head. Breathlessly he listened. Not
a sound broke the silence except the snapping of a dying ember in the
fire. Another dream! Once more he settled back, drawing his blanket
closely about him. Then, for a full breath, the very beating of his
heart seemed to cease.
What was that!
He was awake now, wide awake, with every faculty in him striving to
arrange itself. He had heard--a step! Slowly, very cautiously this time,
he raised himself. There came distinctly to his ears a light crunching
in the snow. It seemed back of the shelter--then was moving away, then
stopped. The flickering light of the dying fire still played on the face
of the great rock. Suddenly, at the very end of that rock, something
Some object was creeping cautiously upon the sleeping camp!
For a moment his thrilling discovery froze the young hunter into
inaction. But in a moment the whole situation flashed upon him. The
Woongas had followed them! They were about to fall upon the helpless
camp! Unexpectedly one of his hands came in contact with the barrel of
Wabi's rifle. The touch of the cold steel aroused him. There was no time
to awaken his companions. Even as he drew the gun to him he saw the
object grow larger and larger at the end of the rock, until it stood
crouching, as if about to spring.
One bated breath--a thunderous report--a snarling scream of pain, and
the camp was awake!
"We're attacked!" cried Rod. "Quick--Wabi--Mukoki!"
The white boy was on his knees now, the smoking rifle still leveled
toward the rocks. Out there, in the thick shadows beyond the fire, a
body was groveling and kicking in death agonies. In another instant the
gaunt form of the old warrior was beside Rod, his rifle at his shoulder,
and over their heads reached Wabigoon's arm, the barrel of his heavy
revolver glinting in the firelight.
For a full minute they crouched there, breathless, waiting.
"They've gone!" broke Wabi in a tense whisper.
"I got one of them!" replied Rod, his voice trembling with excitement.
Mukoki slipped back and burrowed a hole through the side of the shelter.
He could see nothing. Slowly he slipped out, his rifle ready. The others
could hear him as he went. Foot by foot the old warrior slunk along in
the deep gloom toward the end of the rock. Now he was almost there,
The young hunters saw him suddenly straighten. There came to them a low
chuckling grunt. He bent over, seized an object, and flung it in the
light of the fire.
"Heap big Woonga! Kill nice fat lynx!"
With a wail, half feigned, half real, Rod flung himself back upon the
balsam while Wabi set up a roar that made the night echo. Mukoki's face
was creased in a broad grin.
"Heap big Woonga--heem!" he repeated, chuckling. "Nice fat lynx shot
well in face. No look like bad man Woonga to Mukoki!"
When Rod finally emerged from his den to join the others his face was
flushed and wore what Wabi described as a "sheepish grin."
"It's all right for you fellows to make fun of me," he declared. "But
what if they had been Woongas? By George, if we're ever attacked again I
won't do a thing. I'll let you fellows fight 'em off!"
In spite of the general merriment at his expense, Rod was immensely
proud of his first lynx. It was an enormous creature of its kind, drawn
by hunger to the scraps of the camp-fire feast; and it was this animal,
as it cautiously inspected the camp, that the young hunter had heard
crunching in the snow. Wolf, whose instinct had told him what a mix-up
would mean, had slunk into his shelter without betraying his whereabouts
to this arch-enemy of his tribe.
With the craft of his race, Mukoki was skinning the animal while it was
"You go back bed," he said to his companions. "I build big fire
The excitement of his adventure at least freed Rod from the
unpleasantness of further dreams, and it was late the following morning
before he awoke again. He was astonished to find that a beautiful sun
was shining. Wabi and the old Indian were already outside preparing
breakfast, and the cheerful whistling of the former assured Rod that
there was now little to be feared from the Woongas. Without lingering to
take a beauty nap he joined them.
Everywhere about them lay white winter. The rocks, the trees, and the
mountain behind them were covered with two feet of snow and upon it the
sun shone with dazzling brilliancy. But it was not until Rod looked into
the north that he saw the wilderness in all of its grandeur. The camp
had been made at the extreme point of the ridge, and stretching away
under his eyes, mile after mile, was the vast white desolation that
reached to Hudson Bay. In speechless wonder he gazed down upon the
unblazed forests, saw plains and hills unfold themselves as his vision
gained distance, followed a river until it was lost in the bewildering
picture, and let his eyes rest here and there upon the glistening,
snow-smothered bosoms of lakes, rimmed in by walls of black forest. This
was not the wilderness as he had expected it to be, nor as he had often
read of it in books. It was beautiful! It was magnificent! His heart
throbbed with pleasure as he gazed down on it, the blood rose to his
face in an excited flush, and he seemed hardly to breathe in his tense
Mukoki had come up beside him softly, and spoke in his low guttural
"Twent' t'ousand moose down there--twent' t'ousand caribou-oo! No
man--no house--more twent' t'ousand miles!"
Roderick, even trembling in his new emotion, looked into the old
warrior's face. In Mukoki's eyes there was a curious, thrilling gleam.
He stared straight out into the unending distance as though his keen
vision would penetrate far beyond the last of that visible
desolation--on and on, even to the grim and uttermost fastnesses of
Hudson Bay. Wabi came up and placed his hand on Rod's shoulder.
"Muky was born off there," he said. "Away beyond where we can see. Those
were his hunting-grounds when a boy. See that mountain yonder? You might
take it for a cloud. It's thirty miles from here! And that lake down
there--you might think a rifle-shot would reach it--is five miles away!
If a moose or a caribou or a wolf should cross it how you could see
For a few moments longer the three stood silent, then Wabi and the old
Indian returned to the fire to finish the preparation of breakfast,
leaving Rod alone in his enchantment. What unsolved mysteries, what
unwritten tragedies, what romance, what treasure of gold that vast North
must hold! For a thousand, perhaps a million centuries, it had lain thus
undisturbed in the embrace of nature; few white men had broken its
solitudes, and the wild things still lived there as they had lived in
the winters of ages and ages ago.
The call to breakfast came almost as an unpleasant interruption to Rod.
But it did not shock his appetite as it had his romantic fancies, and he
performed his part at the morning meal with considerable credit. Wabi
and Mukoki had already decided that they would not take up the trail
again that day but would remain in their present camp until the
following morning. There were several reasons for this delay.
"We can't travel without snow-shoes now," explained Wabi to Rod, "and
we've got to take a day off to teach you how to use them. Then, all the
wild things are lying low. Moose, deer, caribou, and especially wolves
and fur animals, won't begin traveling much until this afternoon and
to-night, and if we took up the trail now we would have no way of
telling what kind of a game country we were in. And that is the
important thing just now. If we strike a first-rate game country during
the next couple days we'll stop and build our winter camp."
"Then you believe we are far enough away from the Woongas?" asked Rod.
"No believe Woongas come over mountain. Heap good game country back
there. They stay."
During the meal the white boy asked a hundred questions about the vast
wilderness which lay stretched out before them in a great panorama, and
in which they were soon to bury themselves, and every answer added to
his enthusiasm. Immediately after they had finished eating Rod expressed
a desire to begin his study in snow-shoeing, and for an hour after that
Wabi and Mukoki piloted him back and forth along the ridge, instructing
him in this and in that, applauding when he made an especially good dash
and enjoying themselves immensely when he took one of his frequent
tumbles into the snow. By noon Rod secretly believed that he was
becoming quite an adept.
Although the day in camp was an exceedingly pleasant one for Rod, he
could not but observe that at times something seemed to be troubling
Wabi. Twice he discovered the Indian youth alone within the shelter
sitting in silent and morose dejection, and finally he insisted upon an
"I want you to tell me what the trouble is, Wabi," he demanded. "What
has gone wrong?"
Wabi jumped to his feet with a little laugh.
"Did you ever have a dream that bothered you, Rod?" he asked. "Well, I
had one last night, and since then--somehow--I can't keep from worrying
about the people back at the Post, and especially about Minnetaki. It's
all--what do you call it--bosh? Listen! Wasn't that Mukoki's whistle?"
As he paused Mukoki came running around the end of the rock.
"See fun!" he cried softly. "Quick--see heem quick!"
He turned and darted toward the precipitous edge of the ridge, closely
followed by the two boys.
"Cari-boo-oo!" he whispered excitedly as they came up beside him.
"Cari-boo-oo--making big play!"
He pointed down into the snowy wilderness. Three-quarters of a mile
away, though to Rod apparently not more than a third of that distance
from where they stood, half a dozen animals were disporting themselves
in a singular fashion in a meadow-like opening between the mountain and
a range of forest. It was Rod's first real glimpse of that wonderful
animal of the North of which he had read so much, the caribou--commonly
known beyond the Sixtieth Degree as the reindeer; and at this moment
those below him were indulging in the queer play known in the Hudson Bay
regions as the "caribou dance."
"What's the matter with them?" he asked, his voice quivering with
"Making big fun!" chuckled Mukoki, drawing the boy closer to the rock
that concealed them.
Wabi had thrust a finger in his mouth and now held it above his head,
the Indian's truest guide for discovering the direction of the wind. The
lee side of his finger remained cold and damp, while that side upon
which the breeze fell was quickly dried.
"The wind is toward us, Muky," he announced. "There's a fine chance for
a shot. You go! Rod and I will stay here and watch you."
Roderick heard--knew that Mukoki was creeping back to the camp for his
rifle, but not for an instant did his spellbound eyes leave the
spectacle below him. Two other animals had joined those in the open. He
could see the sun glistening on their long antlers as they tossed their
heads in their amazing antics. Now three or four of them would dash away
with the speed of the wind, as though the deadliest of enemies were
close behind them. Two or three hundred yards away they would stop with
equal suddenness, whirl about in a circle, as though flight were
interrupted on all sides of them, then tear back with lightning speed to
rejoin the herd. In twos and threes and fours they performed these
evolutions again and again. But there was another antic that held Rod's
eyes, and if it had not been so new and wonderful to him he would have
laughed, as Wabi was doing--silently--behind him. From out of the herd
would suddenly dash one of the agile creatures, whirl about, jump and
kick, and finally bounce up and down on all four feet, as though
performing a comedy sketch in pantomime for the amusement of its
companions; and when this was done it would start out in another mad
flight, with others of the herd at its heels.
"They are the funniest, swiftest, and shrewdest animals in the North,"
said Wabi. "They can smell you over a mountain if the wind is right, and
hear you for half a mile. Look!"
He pointed downward over Rod's shoulder. Mukoki had already reached the
base of the ridge and was stealing straight out in the direction of the
caribou. Rod gave a surprised gasp.
"Great Scott! They'll see him, won't they?" he cried.
"Not if Mukoki knows himself," smiled the Indian youth. "Remember that
we are looking down on things. Everything seems clear and open to us,
while in reality it's quite thick down there. I'll bet Muky can't see
one hundred yards ahead of him. He has got his bearings and will go as
straight as though he was on a blazed trail; but he won't see the
caribou until he conies to the edge of the open."
Each minute now added to Rod's excitement. Each of those minutes brought
the old warrior nearer his game. Seldom, thought Rod, had such a scene
been unfolded to the eyes of a white boy. The complete picture--the
playful rompings of the dumb children of the wilderness; the stealthy
approach of the old Indian; every rock, every tree that was to play its
part--all were revealed to their eyes. Not a phase in this drama in wild
life escaped them. Five minutes, ten, fifteen passed. They could see
Mukoki as he stopped and lifted a hand to test the wind. Then he
crouched, advancing foot by foot, yard by yard, so slowly that he seemed
to be on his hands and knees.
"He can hear them, but he can't see them!" breathed Wabigoon. "See! He
places his ear to the ground! Now he has got his bearings again--as
straight as a die! Good old Muky!"
The old Indian crept on. In his excitement Rod clenched his hands and he
seemed to live without breathing. Would Mukoki never shoot? Would he
Back to Full Books