The Wolf Hunters
James Oliver Curwood
Part 2 out of 3
_never_ shoot? He seemed now to be within a stone's throw of the herd.
"How far, Wabi?"
"Four hundred yards, perhaps five," replied the Indian. "It's a long
shot! He can't see them yet."
Rod gripped his companion's arm.
Mukoki had stopped. Down and down he slunk, until he became only a blot
in the snow.
There came a moment of startled silence. In the midst of their play the
animals in the open stood for a single instant paralyzed by a knowledge
of impending danger, and in that instant there came to the young hunters
the report of Mukoki's rifle.
"No good!" cried Wabi.
In his excitement he leaped to his feet. The caribou had turned and the
whole eight of them were racing across the open. Another shot, and
another--three in quick succession, and one of the fleeing animals fell,
scrambled to its knees--and plunged on again! A fifth shot--the last in
Mukoki's rifle! Again the wounded animal fell, struggled to its
knees--to its forefeet--and fell again.
"Good work! Five hundred yards if it was a foot!" exclaimed Wabigoon
with a relieved laugh. "Fresh steak for supper, Rod!"
Mukoki came out into the open, reloading his rifle. Quickly he moved
across the wilderness playground, now crimson with blood, unsheathed his
knife, and dropped upon his knees close to the throat of the slain
"I'll go down and give him a little help, Rod," said Wabi. "Your legs
are pretty sore, and it's a hard climb down there; so if you will keep
up the fire, Mukoki and I will bring back the meat."
During the next hour Rod busied himself with collecting firewood for the
night and in practising with his snow-shoes. He was astonished to find
how swiftly and easily he could travel in them, and was satisfied that
he could make twenty miles a day even as a tenderfoot.
Left to his own thoughts he found his mind recurring once more to the
Woongas and Minnetaki. Why was Wabi worried? Inwardly he did not believe
that it was a dream alone that was troubling him. There was still some
cause for fear. Of that he was certain. And why would not the Woongas
penetrate beyond this mountain? He had asked himself this question a
score of times during the last twenty-four hours, in spite of the fact
that both Mukoki and Wabigoon were quite satisfied that they were well
out of the Woonga territory.
It was growing dusk when Wabi and the old Indian returned with the meat
of the caribou. No time was lost in preparing supper, for the hunters
had decided that the next day's trail would begin with dawn and probably
end with darkness, which meant that they would require all the rest they
could get before then. They were all eager to begin the winter's hunt.
That day Mukoki's eyes had glistened at each fresh track he encountered.
Wabi and Rod were filled with enthusiasm. Even Wolf, now and then
stretching his gaunt self, would nose the air with eager suspicion, as
if longing for the excitement of the tragedies in which he was to play
such an important part.
"If you can stand it," said Wabi, nodding at Rod over his caribou steak,
"we won't lose a minute from now on. Over that country we ought to make
twenty-five or thirty miles to-morrow. We may strike our hunting-ground
by noon, or it may take us two or three days; but in either event we
haven't any time to waste. Hurrah for the big camp, I say--and our fun
It seemed to Rod as though he had hardly fallen asleep that night when
somebody began tumbling him about in his bed of balsam. Opening his eyes
he beheld Wabi's laughing face, illuminated in the glow of a roaring
"Time's up!" he called cheerily. "Hustle out, Rod. Breakfast is sizzling
hot, everything is packed, and here you are still dreaming of--what?"
"Minnetaki!" shot back Rod with unblushing honesty.
In another minute he was outside, straightening his disheveled garments
and smoothing his tousled hair. It was still very dark, but Rod assured
himself by his watch that it was nearly four o'clock. Mukoki had already
placed their breakfast on a flat rock beside the fire and, according to
Wabigoon's previous scheme, no time was lost in disposing of it.
Dawn was just breaking when the little cavalcade of adventurers set out
from the camp. More keenly than ever Rod now felt the loss of his rifle.
They were about to enter upon a hunter's paradise--and he had no gun!
His disappointment was acute and he could not repress a confession of
his feelings to Wabi. The Indian youth at once suggested a happy remedy.
They would take turns in using his gun, Rod to have it one day and he
the next; and Wabi's heavy revolver would also change hands, so that the
one who did not possess the rifle would be armed with the smaller
weapon. This solution of the difficulty lifted a dampening burden from
Rod's heart, and when the little party began its descent into the
wilderness regions under the mountain the city lad carried the rifle,
for Wabi insisted that he have the first "turn."
Once free of the rock-strewn ridge the two boys joined forces in pulling
the toboggan while Mukoki struck out a trail ahead of them. As it became
lighter Rod found his eyes glued with keen interest to Mukoki's
snow-shoes, and for the first time in his life he realized what it
really meant to "make a trail." The old Indian was the most famous
trailmaker as well as the keenest trailer of his tribe, and in the
comparatively open bottoms through which they were now traveling he was
in his element. His strides were enormous, and with each stride he threw
up showers of snow, leaving a broad level path behind him in which the
snow was packed by his own weight, so that when Wabi and Rod came to
follow him they were not impeded by sinking into a soft surface.
Half a mile from the mountain Mukoki stopped and waited for the others
to come up to him.
"Moose!" he called, pointing at a curious track in the snow.
Rod leaned eagerly over the track.
"The snow is still crumbling and falling where he stepped," said Wabi.
"Watch that little chunk, Rod. See--it's slipping--down--down--there! It
was an old bull--a big fellow--and he passed here less than an hour
Signs of the night carnival of the wild things now became more and more
frequent as the hunters advanced. They crossed and recrossed the trail
of a fox; and farther on they discovered where this little pirate of
darkness had slaughtered a big white rabbit. The snow was covered with
blood and hair and part of the carcass remained uneaten. Again Wabi
forgot his determination to waste no time and paused to investigate.
"Now, if we only knew what kind of a fox he was!" he exclaimed to Rod.
"But we don't. All we know is that he's a fox. And all fox tracks are
alike, no matter what kind of a fox makes them. If there was only some
difference our fortunes would be made!"
"How?" asked Rod.
Mukoki chuckled as if the mere thought of such a possibility filled him
"Well, that fellow may be an ordinary red fox," explained the Indian
youth. "If so, he is only worth from ten to twenty dollars; or he may be
a black fox, worth fifty or sixty; or what we call a 'cross'--a mixture
of silver and black--worth from seventy-five to a hundred. Or--"
"Heap big silver!" interrupted Mukoki with another chuckle.
"Yes, or a silver," finished Wabi. "A poor silver is worth two hundred
dollars, and a good one from five hundred to a thousand! Now do you see
why we would like to have a difference in the tracks? If that was a
silver, a black or a 'cross,' we'd follow him; but in all probability he
Every hour added to Rod's knowledge of the wilderness and its people.
For the first time in his life he saw the big dog-like tracks made by
wolves, the dainty hoof-prints of the red deer and the spreading
imprints of a traveling lynx; he pictured the hugeness of the moose that
made a track as big as his head, discovered how to tell the difference
between the hoof-print of a small moose and a big caribou, and in almost
every mile learned something new.
Half a dozen times during the morning the hunters stopped to rest. By
noon Wabi figured that they had traveled twenty miles, and, although
very tired, Rod declared that he was still "game for another ten." After
dinner the aspect of the country changed. The river which they had been
following became narrower and was so swift in places that it rushed
tumultuously between its frozen edges. Forest-clad hills, huge boulders
and masses of rock now began to mingle again with the bottoms, which in
this country are known as plains. Every mile added to the roughness and
picturesque grandeur of the country. A few miles to the east rose
another range of wild and rugged hills; small lakes became more and more
numerous, and everywhere the hunters crossed and recrossed frozen
And each step they took now added to the enthusiasm of Wabi and his
companions. Evidences of game and fur animals were plenty. A thousand
ideal locations for a winter camp were about them, and their progress
became slow and studied.
A gently sloping hill of considerable height now lay in their path and
Mukoki led the ascent. At the top the three paused in joyful
astonishment. At their feet lay a "dip," or hollow, a dozen acres in
extent, and in the center of this dip was a tiny lake partly surrounded
by a mixed forest of cedar, balsam and birch that swept back over the
hill, and partly inclosed by a meadow-like opening. One might have
traveled through the country a thousand times without discovering this
bit of wilderness paradise hidden in a hilltop. Without speaking Mukoki
threw off his heavy pack. Wabi unbuckled his harness and relieved his
shoulders of their burden. Rod, following their example, dropped his
small pack beside that of the old Indian, and Wolf, straining at his
babeesh thong, gazed with eager eyes into the hollow as though he, too,
knew that it was to be their winter home.
Wabi broke the silence.
"How is that, Muky?" he asked.
Mukoki chuckled with unbounded satisfaction.
"Ver' fine. No get bad wind--never see smoke--plenty wood--plenty
Relieved of their burdens, and leaving Wolf tied to the toboggan, the
hunters made their way down to the lake. Hardly had they reached its
edge when Wabi halted with a startled exclamation and pointed into the
forest on the opposite side.
"Look at that!"
A hundred yards away, almost concealed among the trees, was a cabin.
Even from where they stood they could see that it was deserted. Snow was
drifted high about it. No chimney surmounted its roof. Nowhere was there
a sign of life.
Slowly the hunters approached. It was evident that the cabin was very
old. The logs of which it was built were beginning to decay. A mass of
saplings had taken root upon its roof, and everything about it gave
evidence that it had been erected many years before. The door, made of
split timber and opening toward the lake, was closed; the one window,
also opening upon the lake, was tightly barred with lengths of sapling.
Mukoki tried the door, but it resisted his efforts. Evidently it was
strongly barred from within.
Curiosity now gave place to astonishment.
How could the door be locked within, and the window barred from within,
without there being somebody inside?
For a few moments the three stood speechless, listening.
"Looks queer, doesn't it?" spoke Wabi softly.
Mukoki had dropped on his knees beside the door. He could hear no sound.
Then he kicked off his snow-shoes, gripped his belt-ax and stepped to
A dozen blows and one of the bars fell. The old Indian sniffed
suspiciously, his ear close to the opening. Damp, stifling air greeted
his nostrils, but still there was no sound. One after another he knocked
off the remaining bars and thrust his head and shoulders inside.
Gradually his eyes became accustomed to the darkness and he pulled
Half-way--and he stopped.
"Go on, Muky," urged Wabi, who was pressing close behind.
There came no answer from the old Indian. For a full minute he remained
poised there, as motionless as a stone, as silent as death.
Then, very slowly--inch by inch, as though afraid of awakening a
sleeping person, he lowered himself to the ground. When he turned toward
the young hunters it was with an expression that Rod had never seen upon
Mukoki's face before.
"What is it, Mukoki?"
The old Indian gasped, as if for fresh air.
"Cabin--she filled with twent' t'ousand dead men!" he replied.
[Illustration: "Knife--fight--heem killed!"]
RODERICK DISCOVERS THE BUCKSKIN BAG
For one long breath Rod and Wabi stared at their companion, only half
believing, yet startled by the strange look in the old warrior's face.
"Twent' t'ousand dead men!" he repeated. As he raised his hand, partly
to give emphasis and partly to brush the cobwebs from his face, the boys
saw it trembling in a way that even Wabi had never witnessed before.
In another instant Wabi was at the window, head and shoulders in, as
Mukoki had been before him. After a little he pulled himself back and as
he glanced at Rod he laughed in an odd thrilling way, as though he had
been startled, but not so much so as Mukoki, who had prepared him for
the sight which had struck his own vision with the unexpectedness of a
shot in the back.
"Take a look, Rod!"
With his breath coming in little uneasy jerks Rod approached the black
aperture. A queer sensation seized upon him--a palpitation, not of fear,
but of something; a very unpleasant feeling that seemed to choke his
breath, and made him wish that he had not been asked to peer into that
mysterious darkness. Slowly he thrust his head through the hole. It was
as black as night inside. But gradually the darkness seemed to be
dispelled. He saw, in a little while, the opposite wall of the cabin. A
table outlined itself in deep shadows, and near the table there was a
pile of something that he could not name; and tumbled over that was a
chair, with an object that might have been an old rag half covering it.
His eyes traveled nearer. Outside Wabi and Mukoki heard a startled,
partly suppressed cry. The boy's hands gripped the sides of the window.
Fascinated, he stared down upon an object almost within arm's reach of
There, leaning against the cabin wall, was what half a century or more
ago had been a living man! Now it was a mere skeleton, a grotesque,
terrible-looking object, its empty eye-sockets gleaming dully with the
light from the window, its grinning mouth, distorted into ghostly life
by the pallid mixture of light and gloom, turned full up at him!
Rod fell back, trembling and white.
"I only saw one," he gasped, remembering Mukoki's excited estimate.
Wabi, who had regained his composure, laughed as he struck him two or
three playful blows on the back. Mukoki only grunted.
"You didn't look long enough, Rod!" he cried banteringly. "He got on
your nerves too quick. I don't blame you, though. By George, I'll bet
the shivers went up Muky's back when he first saw 'em! I'm going in to
open the door."
Without trepidation the young Indian crawled through the window. Rod,
whose nervousness was quickly dispelled, made haste to follow him, while
Mukoki again threw his weight against the door. A few blows of Wabi's
belt-ax and the door shot inward so suddenly that the old Indian went
sprawling after it upon all fours.
A flood of light filled the interior of the cabin. Instinctively Rod's
eyes sought the skeleton against the wall. It was leaning as if, many
years before, a man had died there in a posture of sleep. Quite near
this ghastly tenant of the cabin, stretched at full length upon the log
floor, was a second skeleton, and near the overturned chair was a small
cluttered heap of bones which were evidently those of some animal. Rod
and Wabi drew nearer the skeleton against the wall and were bent upon
making a closer examination when an exclamation from Mukoki attracted
their attention to the old pathfinder. He was upon his knees beside the
second skeleton, and as the boys approached he lifted eyes to them that
were filled with unbounded amazement, at the same time pointing a long
forefinger to come object among the bones.
Plunged to the hilt in what had once been the breast of a living being,
the boys saw a long, heavy-bladed knife, its handle rotting with age,
its edges eaten by rust--but still erect, held there by the murderous
road its owner had cleft for it through the flesh and bone of his
Rod, who had fallen upon his knees, gazed up blankly; his jaw dropped,
and he asked the first question that popped into his head.
Mukoki chuckled, almost gleefully, and nodded toward the gruesome thing
reclining against the wall.
Moved by a common instinct the three drew near the other skeleton. One
of its long arms was resting across what had once been a pail, but
which, long since, had sunk into total collapse between its hoops. The
finger-bones of this arm were still tightly shut, clutching between them
a roll of something that looked like birch-bark. The remaining arm had
fallen close to the skeleton's side, and it was on this side that
Mukoki's critical eyes searched most carefully, his curiosity being
almost immediately satisfied by the discovery of a short, slant-wise cut
in one of the ribs.
"This un die here!" he explained. "Git um stuck knife in ribs. Bad way
die! Much hurt--no die quick, sometime. Ver' bad way git stuck!"
"Ugh!" shuddered Rod. "This cabin hasn't had any fresh air in it for a
century, I'll bet. Let's get out!"
Mukoki, in passing, picked up a skull from the heap of bones near the
"Dog!" he grunted. "Door lock'--window shut--men fight--both kill. Dog
As the three retraced their steps to the spot where Wolf was guarding
the toboggan, Rod's imaginative mind quickly painted a picture of the
terrible tragedy that had occurred long ago in the old cabin. To Mukoki
and Wabigoon the discovery of the skeletons was simply an incident in a
long life of wilderness adventure--something of passing interest, but of
small importance. To Rod it was the most tragic event that had ever come
into his city-bound existence, with the exception of the thrilling
conflict at Wabinosh House. He reconstructed that deadly hour in the
cabin; saw the men in fierce altercation, saw them struggling, and
almost heard the fatal blows as they were struck--the blows that slew
one with the suddenness of a lightning bolt and sent the other,
triumphant but dying, to breathe his last moments with his back propped
against the wall. And the dog! What part had he taken? And after
that--long days of maddening loneliness, days of starvation and of
thirst, until he, too, doubled himself up on the floor and died. It was
a terrible, a thrilling picture that burned in Roderick's brain. But why
had they quarreled? What cause had there been for that sanguinary night
duel? Instinctively Rod accepted it as having occurred at night, for the
door had been locked, the window barred. Just then he would have given a
good deal to have had the mystery solved.
At the top of the hill Rod awoke to present realities. Wabi, who had
harnessed himself to the toboggan, was in high spirits.
"That cabin is a dandy!" he exclaimed as Rod joined him. "It would have
taken us at least two weeks to build as good a one. Isn't it luck?"
"We're going to live in it?" inquired his companion.
"Live in it! I should say we were. It is three times as big as the shack
we had planned to build. I can't understand why two men like those
fellows should have put up such a large cabin. What do you think,
Mukoki shook his head. Evidently the mystery of the whole thing, beyond
the fact that the tenants of the cabin had killed themselves in battle,
was beyond his comprehension.
The winter outfit was soon in a heap beside the cabin door.
"Now for cleaning up," announced Wabi cheerfully. "Muky, you lend me a
hand with the bones, will you? Rod can nose around and fetch out
anything he likes."
This assignment just suited Rod's curiosity. He was now worked up to a
feverish pitch of expectancy. Might he not discover some clue that would
lead to a solution of the mystery?
One question alone seemed to ring incessantly in his head. Why had they
fought? _Why had they fought?_
He even found himself repeating this under his breath as he began
rummaging about. He kicked over the old chair, which was made of
saplings nailed together, scrutinized a heap of rubbish that crumbled to
dust under his touch, and gave a little cry of exultation when he found
two guns leaning in a corner of the cabin. Their stocks were decaying;
their locks were encased with rust, their barrels, too, were thick with
the accumulated rust of years. Carefully, almost tenderly, he took one
of these relics of a past age in his hands. It was of ancient pattern,
almost as long as he was tall.
"Hudson Bay gun--the kind they had before my father was born!" said
With bated breath and eagerly beating heart Rod pursued his search. On
one of the walls he found the remains of what had once been
garments--part of a hat, that fell in a thousand pieces when he touched
it; the dust-rags of a coat and other things that he could not name. On
the table there were rusty pans, a tin pail, an iron kettle, and the
remains of old knives, forks and spoons. On one end of this table there
was an unusual-looking object, and he touched it. Unlike the other rags
it did not crumble, and when he lifted it he found that it was a small
bag, made of buckskin, tied at the end--and heavy! With trembling
fingers he tore away the rotted string and out upon the table there
rattled a handful of greenish-black, pebbly looking objects.
Rod gave a sharp quick cry for the others.
Wabi and Mukoki had just come through the door after bearing out one of
their gruesome loads, and the young Indian hurried to his side. He
weighed one of the pieces in the palm of his hand.
"It's lead, or--"
"Gold!" breathed Rod.
He could hear his own heart thumping as Wabi jumped back to the light of
the door, his sheath-knife in his hand. For an instant the keen blade
sank into the age-discolored object, and before Rod could see into the
crease that it made Wabi's voice rose in an excited cry.
"It's a gold nugget!"
"And _that's_ why they fought!" exclaimed Rod exultantly.
He had hoped--and he had discovered the reason. For a few moments this
was of more importance to him than the fact that he had found gold. Wabi
and Mukoki were now in a panic of excitement. The buckskin bag was
turned inside out; the table was cleared of every other object; every
nook and cranny was searched with new enthusiasm. The searchers hardly
spoke. Each was intent upon finding--finding--finding. Thus does
gold--virgin gold--stir up the sparks of that latent, feverish fire
which is in every man's soul. Again Rod joined in the search. Every rag,
every pile of dust, every bit of unrecognizable debris was torn, sifted
and scattered. At the end of an hour the three paused, hopelessly
baffled, even keenly disappointed for the time.
"I guess that's all there is," said Wabi.
It was the longest sentence that he had spoken for half an hour.
"There is only one thing to do, boys. We'll clean out everything there
is in the cabin, and to-morrow we'll tear up the floor. You can't tell
what there might be under it, and we've got to have a new floor anyway.
It is getting dusk, and if we have this place fit to sleep in to-night
we have got to hustle."
No time was lost in getting the debris of the cabin outside, and by the
time darkness had fallen a mass of balsam boughs had been spread upon
the log floor just inside the door, blankets were out, packs and
supplies stowed away in one corner, and everything "comfortable and
shipshape," as Rod expressed it. A huge fire was built a few feet away
from the open door and the light and heat from this made the interior of
the cabin quite light and warm, and, with the assistance of a couple of
candles, more home-like than any camp they had slept in thus far.
Mukoki's supper was a veritable feast--broiled caribou, cold beans that
the old Indian had cooked at their last camp, meal cakes and hot coffee.
The three happy hunters ate of it as though they had not tasted food for
The day, though a hard one, had been fraught with too much excitement
for them to retire to their blankets immediately after this meal, as
they had usually done in other camps. They realized, too, that they had
reached the end of their journey and that their hardest work was over.
There was no long jaunt ahead of them to-morrow. Their new life--the
happiest life in the world to them--had already begun. Their camp was
established, they were ready for their winter's sport, and from this
moment on they felt that their evenings were their own to do with as
So for many hours that night Rod, Mukoki and Wabigoon sat up and talked
and kept the fire roaring before the door. Twenty times they went over
the tragedy of the old cabin; twenty times they weighed the half-pound
of precious little lumps in the palms of their hands, and bit by bit
they built up that life romance of the days of long ago, when all this
wilderness was still an unopened book to the white man. And that story
seemed very clear to them now. These men had been prospectors. They had
discovered gold. Afterward they had quarreled, probably over some
division of it--perhaps over the ownership of the very nuggets they had
found; and then, in the heat of their anger, had followed the knife
But where had they discovered the gold? That was the question of supreme
interest to the hunters, and they debated it until midnight. There were
no mining tools in the camp; no pick, shovel or pan. Then it occurred to
them that the builders of the cabin had been hunters, had discovered
gold by accident and had collected that in the buckskin bag without the
use of a pan.
There was little sleep in the camp that night, and with the first light
of day the three were at work again. Immediately after breakfast the
task of tearing up the old and decayed floor began. One by one the split
saplings were pried up and carried out for firewood, until the earth
floor lay bare. Every foot of it was now eagerly turned over with a
shovel which had been brought in the equipment; the base-logs were
undermined, and filled in again; the moss that had been packed in the
chinks between the cabin timbers was dug out, and by noon there was not
a square inch of the interior of the camp that had not been searched.
There was no more gold.
In a way this fact brought relief with it. Both Wabi and Rod gradually
recovered from their nervous excitement. The thought of gold gradually
faded from their minds; the joy and exhilaration of the "hunt life"
filled them more and more. Mukoki set to work cutting fresh cedars for
the floor; the two boys scoured every log with water from the lake and
afterward gathered several bushels of moss for refilling the chinks.
That evening supper was cooked on the sheet-iron "section stove" which
they had brought on the toboggan, and which was set up where the ancient
stove of flat stones had tumbled into ruin. By candle-light the work of
"rechinking" with moss progressed rapidly. Wabi was constantly bursting
into snatches of wild Indian song, Rod whistled until his throat was
sore and Mukoki chuckled and grunted and talked with constantly
increasing volubility. A score of times they congratulated one another
upon their good luck. Eight wolf-scalps, a fine lynx and nearly two
hundred dollars in gold--all within their first week! It was enough to
fill them with enthusiasm and they made little effort to repress their
During this evening Mukoki boiled up a large pot of caribou fat and
bones, and when Rod asked what kind of soup he was making he responded
by picking up a handful of steel traps and dropping them into the
"Make traps smell good for fox--wolf--fisher, an' marten, too; heem
come--all come--like smell," he explained.
"If you don't dip the traps," added Wabi, "nine fur animals out of ten,
and wolves most of all, will fight shy of the bait. They can smell the
human odor you leave on the steel when you handle it. But the grease
When the hunters wrapped themselves in their blankets that night their
wilderness home was complete. All that remained to be done was the
building of three bunks against the ends of the cabin, and this work it
was agreed could be accomplished at odd hours by any one who happened to
be in camp. In the morning, laden with traps, they would strike out
their first hunting-trails, keeping their eyes especially open for signs
of wolves; for Mukoki was the greatest wolf hunter in all the Hudson Bay
HOW WOLF BECAME THE COMPANION OF MEN
Twice that night Rod was awakened by Mukoki opening the cabin door. The
second time he raised himself upon his elbows and quietly watched the
old warrior. It was a brilliantly clear night and a flood of moonlight
was pouring into the camp. He could hear Mukoki chuckling and grunting,
as though communicating with himself, and at last, his curiosity getting
the better of him, he wrapped his blanket about him and joined the
Indian at the door.
Mukoki was peering up into space. Rod followed his gaze. The moon was
directly above the cabin. The sky was clear of clouds and so bright was
the light that objects on the farther side of the lake were plainly
Besides, it was bitter cold--so cold that his face began to tingle as he
stood there. These things he noticed, but he could see nothing to hold
Mukoki's vision in the sky above unless it was the glorious beauty of
"What is it, Mukoki?" he asked.
The old Indian looked silently at him for a moment, some mysterious,
all-absorbing joy revealed in every lineament of his face.
"Wolf night!" he whispered.
He looked back to where Wabi was sleeping.
"Wolf night!" he repeated, and slipped like a shadow to the side of the
unconscious young hunter. Rod regarded his actions with growing wonder.
He saw him bend over Wabi, shake him by the shoulders, and heard him
repeat again, "Wolf night! Wolf night!"
Wabi awoke and sat up in his blankets, and Mukoki came back to the door.
He had dressed himself before this, and now, with his rifle, slipped out
into the night. The young Indian had joined Rod at the open door and
together they watched Mukoki's gaunt figure as it sped swiftly across
the lake, up the hill and over into the wilderness desolation beyond.
When Rod looked at Wabi he saw that the Indian boy's eyes were wide and
staring, with an expression in them that was something between fright
and horror. Without speaking he went to the table and lighted the
candles and then dressed. When he was done his face still bore traces of
He ran back to the door and whistled loudly. From his shelter beside the
cabin the captive wolf responded with a snarling whine. Again he
whistled, a dozen times, twenty, but there came no reply. More swiftly
than Mukoki the Indian youth sped across the lake and to the summit of
the hill. Mukoki had completely disappeared in the white, brilliant
vastness of the wilderness that stretched away at his feet.
When Wabi returned to the cabin Rod had a fire roaring in the stove. He
seated himself beside it, holding out a pair of hands blue with cold.
"Ugh! It's an awful night!" he shivered.
He laughed across at Rod, a little uneasily, but with the old light back
in his eyes. Suddenly he asked:
"Did Minnetaki ever tell you--anything--queer--about Mukoki, Rod?"
"Nothing more than you have told me yourself."
"Well, once in a great while Mukoki has--not exactly a fit, but a little
mad spell! I have never determined to my own satisfaction whether he is
really out of his head or not. Sometimes I think he is and sometimes I
think he is not. But the Indians at the Post believe that at certain
times he goes crazy over wolves."
"Wolves!" exclaimed Rod.
"Yes, wolves. And he has good reason. A good many years ago, just about
when you and I were born, Mukoki had a wife and child. My mother and
others at the Post say that he was especially gone over the kid. He
wouldn't hunt like other Indians, but would spend whole days at his
shack playing with it and teaching it to do things; and when he did go
hunting he would often tote it on his back, even when it wasn't much
more than a squalling papoose. He was the happiest Indian at the Post,
and one of the poorest. One day Mukoki came to the Post with a little
bundle of fur, and most of the things he got in exchange for it, mother
says, were for the kid. He reached the store at night and expected to
leave for home the next noon, which would bring him to his camp before
dark. But something delayed him and he didn't get started until the
morning after. Meanwhile, late in the afternoon of the day when he was
to have been home, his wife bundled up the kid and they set out to meet
A weird howl from the captive wolf interrupted Wabi for a moment.
"Well, they went on and on, and of course did not meet him. And then,
the people at the Post say, the mother must have slipped and hurt
herself. Anyway, when Mukoki came over the trail the next day he found
them half eaten by wolves. From that day on Mukoki was a different
Indian. He became the greatest wolf hunter in all these regions. Soon
after the tragedy he came to the Post to live and since then he has not
left Minnetaki and me. Once in a great while when the night is just
right, when the moon is shining and it is bitter cold, Mukoki seems to
go a little mad. He calls this a 'wolf night.' No one can stop him from
going out; no one can get him to talk; he will allow no one to accompany
him when in such a mood. He will walk miles and miles to-night. But he
will come back. And when he returns he will be as sane as you and I, and
if you ask him where he has been he will say that he went out to see if
he could get a shot at something."
Rod had listened in rapt attention. To him, as Wabi proceeded with his
story of the tragedy in Mukoki's life, the old Indian was transformed
into another being. No longer was he a mere savage reclaimed a little
from the wilderness. There had sprung up in Rod's breast a great, human,
throbbing sympathy for him, and in the dim candle-glow his eyes
glistened with a dampness which he made no attempt to conceal.
"What does Mukoki mean by 'wolf night'?" he asked.
"Muky is a wizard when it comes to hunting wolves," Wabi went on. "He
has studied them and thought of them every day of his life for nearly
twenty years. He knows more about wolves than all the rest of the
hunters in this country together. He can catch them in every trap he
sets, which no other trapper in the world can do; he can tell you a
hundred different things about a certain wolf simply by its track, and
because of his wonderful knowledge he can tell, by some instinct that is
almost supernatural, when a 'wolf night' comes. Something in the air
to-night, something in the sky--in the moon--in the very way the
wilderness looks, tells him that stray wolves in the plains and hills
are 'packing' or banding together to-night, and that in the morning the
sun will be shining, and they will be on the sunny sides of the
mountains. See if I am not right. To-morrow night, if Mukoki comes back
by then, we shall have some exciting sport with the wolves, and then you
will see how Wolf out there does his work!"
There followed several minutes of silence. The fire roared up the
chimney, the stove glowed red hot and the boys sat and looked and
listened. Rod took out his watch. It lacked only ten minutes of
midnight. Yet neither seemed possessed with a desire to return to their
"Wolf is a curious beast," mused Wabi softly. "You might think he was a
sneaking, traitorous cur of a wolf to turn against his own breed and
lure them to death. But he isn't. Wolf, as well as Mukoki, has good
cause for what he does. You might call it animal vengeance. Did you ever
notice that a half of one of his ears is gone? And if you thrust back
his head you will find a terrible sear in his throat, and from his left
side just back of the fore leg a chunk of flesh half as big as my hand
has been torn away. We caught Wolf in a lynx trap, Mukoki and I. He
wasn't much more than a whelp then--about six months old, Mukoki said.
And while he was in the trap, helpless and unable to defend himself,
three or four of his lovely tribe jumped upon him and tried to kill him
for breakfast. We hove in sight just in time to drive the cannibals off.
We kept Wolf, sewed up his side and throat, tamed him--and to-morrow
night you will see how Mukoki has taught him to get even with his
It was two hours later when Rod and Wabigoon extinguished the candles
and returned to their blankets. And for another hour after that the
former found it impossible to sleep. He wondered where Mukoki
was--wondered what he was doing, and how in his strange madness he found
his way in the trackless wilderness.
When he finally fell asleep it was to dream of the Indian mother and her
child; only after a little there was no child, and the woman changed
into Minnetaki, and the ravenous wolves into men. From this unpleasant
picture he was aroused by a series of prods in his side, and opening his
eyes he beheld Wabi in his blankets a yard away, pointing over and
beyond him and nodding his head. Rod looked, and caught his breath.
There was Mukoki--peeling potatoes!
"Hello, Muky!" he shouted.
The old Indian looked up with a grin. His face bore no signs of his mad
night on the trail. He nodded cheerfully and proceeded with the
preparation of breakfast as though he had just risen from his blankets
after a long night's rest.
"Better get up," he advised. "Big day's hunt. Much fine sunshine to-day.
Find wolves on mountain--plenty wolves!"
The boys tumbled from their blankets and began dressing.
"What time did you get in?" asked Wabi.
"Now," replied Mukoki, pointing to the hot stove and the peeled
potatoes. "Just make fire good."
Wabi gave Rod a suggestive look as the old Indian bent over the stove.
"What were you doing last night?" he questioned.
"Big moon--might get shot," grunted Mukoki. "See lynx on hill. See
wolf-tracks on red deer trail. No shot."
This was as much of the history of Mukoki's night on the trail as the
boys could secure, but during their breakfast Wabi shot another glance
at Rod, and as Mukoki left the table for a moment to close the damper in
the stove he found an opportunity to whisper:
"See if I'm not right. He will choose the mountain trail." When their
companion returned, he said: "We had better split up this morning,
hadn't we, Muky? It looks to me as though there are two mighty good
lines for traps--one over the hill, where that creek leads off through
the range of ridges to the east, and the other along the creek which
runs through the hilly plains to the north. What do you think of it?"
"Good" agreed the old hunter. "You two go north--I take ridges."
"No, you and I will take the ridges and Wabi will go north alone,"
amended Rod quickly. "I'm going with you, Mukoki!"
Mukoki, who was somewhat flattered by this preference of the white
youth, grinned and chuckled and began to talk more volubly about the
plans which were in his head. It was agreed that they all would return
to the cabin at an early hour in the afternoon, for the old Indian
seemed positive that they would have their first wolf hunt that night.
Rod noticed that the captive wolf received no breakfast that morning,
and he easily guessed the reason.
The traps were now divided. Three different sizes had been brought from
the Post--fifty small ones for mink, marten and other small fur animals;
fifteen fox traps, and as many larger ones for lynx and wolves. Wabi
equipped himself with twenty of the small traps and four each of fox and
lynx traps, while Rod and Mukoki took about forty in all. The remainder
of the caribou meat was then cut into chunks and divided equally among
them for bait.
The sun was just beginning to show itself above the wilderness when the
hunters left camp. As Mukoki had predicted, it was a glorious day, one
of those bitterly cold, cloudless days when, as the Indians believe, the
great Creator robs the rest of the world of the sun that it may shine in
all its glory upon their own savage land. From the top of the hill that
sheltered their home Rod looked out over the glistening forests and
lakes in rapt and speechless admiration; but only for a few moments did
the three pause, then took up their different trails.
At the foot of this hill Mukoki and his companion struck the creek. They
had not progressed more than fifty rods when the old Indian stopped and
pointed at a fallen log which spanned the stream. The snow on this log
was beaten by tiny footprints. Mukoki gazed a moment, cast an observant
eye along the trail, and at once threw off his pack.
"Mink!" he explained. He crossed the frozen creek, taking care not to
touch the log. On the opposite side the tracks spread out over a
windfall of trees. "Whole family mink live here," continued Mukoki.
"T'ree--mebby four--mebby five. Build trap-house right here!"
Never before had Rod seen a trap set as the old Indian now set his. Very
near the end of the log over which the mink made their trail he quickly
built a shelter of sticks which when completed was in the form of a tiny
wigwam. At the back of this was placed a chunk of the caribou meat, and
in front of this bait, so that an animal would have to spring it in
passing, was set a trap, carefully covered with snow and a few leaves.
Within twenty minutes Mukoki had built two of these shelters and had set
"Why do you build those little houses?" asked Rod, as they again took up
"Much snow come in winter," elucidated the Indian. "Build house to keep
snow off traps. No do that, be digging out traps all winter. When
mink--heem smell meat--go in house he got to go over trap. Make house
for all small animal like heem. No good for lynx. He see house--walk
roun' 'n' roun' 'n' roun'--and then go 'way. Smart fellow--lynx. Wolf
and fox, too."
"Is a mink worth much?"
"Fi' dollar--no less that. Seven--eight dollar for good one."
During the next mile six other mink traps were set. The creek now ran
along the edge of a high rocky ridge and Mukoki's eyes began to shine
with a new interest. No longer did he seem entirely absorbed in the
discovery of signs of fur animals. His eyes were constantly scanning the
sun-bathed side of the ridge ahead and his progress was slow and
cautious. He spoke in whispers, and Rod followed his example. Frequently
the two would stop and scan the openings for signs of life. Twice they
set fox traps where there were evident signs of runways; in a wild
ravine, strewn with tumbled trees and masses of rock, they struck a lynx
track and set a trap for him at each end of the ravine; but even during
these operations Mukoki's interest was divided. The hunters now walked
abreast, about fifty yards apart, Rod never forging a foot ahead of the
cautious Mukoki. Suddenly the youth heard a low call and he saw his
companion beckoning to him with frantic enthusiasm.
"Wolf!" whispered Mukoki as Rod joined him.
In the snow were a number of tracks that reminded Rod of those made by a
"T'ree wolf!" continued the Indian jubilantly. "Travel early this
morning. Somewhere in warm sun on mountain!"
They followed now in the wolf trail. A little way on Rod found part of
the carcass of a rabbit with fox tracks about it. Here Mukoki set
another trap. A little farther still they came across a fisher trail and
another trap was laid. Caribou and deer tracks crossed and recrossed the
creek, but the Indian paid little attention to them. A fourth wolf
joined the pack, and a fifth, and half an hour later the trail of three
other wolves cut at right angles across the one they were following and
disappeared in the direction of the thickly timbered plains. Mukoki's
face was crinkled with joy.
"Many wolf near," he exclaimed. "Many wolf off there 'n' off there 'n'
off there. Good place for night hunt."
Soon the creek swung out from the ridge and cut a circuitous channel
through a small swamp. Here there were signs of wild life which set
Rod's heart thumping and his blood tingling with excitement. In places
the snow was literally packed with deer tracks. Trails ran in every
direction, the bark had been rubbed from scores of saplings, and every
step gave fresh evidence of the near presence of game. The stealth with
which Mukoki now advanced was almost painful. Every twig was pressed
behind him noiselessly, and once when Rod struck his snow-shoe against
the butt of a small tree the old Indian held up his hands in mock
horror. Ten minutes, fifteen--twenty of them passed in this cautious,
breathless trailing of the swamp.
Suddenly Mukoki stopped, and a hand was held out behind him warningly.
He turned his face back, and Rod knew that he saw game. Inch by inch he
crouched upon his snow-shoes, and beckoned for Rod to approach, slowly,
quietly. When the boy had come near enough he passed back his rifle, and
his lips formed the almost noiseless word, "Shoot!"
Tremblingly Rod seized the gun and looked into the swamp ahead, Mukoki
doubling down in front of him. What he saw sent him for a moment into
the first nervous tremor of buck fever. Not more than a hundred yards
away stood a magnificent buck browsing the tips of a clump of hazel, and
just beyond him were two does. With a powerful effort Rod steadied
himself. The buck was standing broadside, his head and neck stretched
up, offering a beautiful shot at the vital spot behind his fore leg. At
this the young hunter aimed and fired. With one spasmodic bound the
animal dropped dead.
Hardly had Rod seen the effect of his shot before Mukoki was traveling
swiftly toward the fallen game, unstrapping his pack as he ran. By the
time the youth reached his quarry the old Indian had produced a large
whisky flask holding about a quart. Without explanation he now proceeded
to thrust his knife into the quivering animal's throat and fill this
flask with blood. When he had finished his task he held it up with an
air of unbounded satisfaction.
"Blood for wolf. Heem like blood. Smell um--come make big shoot
to-night. No blood, no bait--no wolf shoot!"
Mukoki no longer maintained his usual quiet, and it was evident to Rod
that the Indian considered his mission for that day practically
accomplished. After taking the heart, liver and one of the hind quarters
of the buck Mukoki drew a long rope of babeesh from his pack, tied one
end of it around the animal's neck, flung the other end over a near
limb, and with his companion's assistance hoisted the carcass until it
was clear of the ground.
"If somethin' happen we no come back to-night heem safe from wolf," he
The two now continued through the swamp. At its farther edge the ground
rose gently from the creek toward the hills, and this sloping plain was
covered with huge boulders and a thin growth of large spruce and birch.
Just beyond the creek was a gigantic rock which immediately caught
Mukoki's attention. All sides except one were too precipitous for
ascent, and even this one could not be climbed without the assistance of
a sapling or two. They could see, however, that the top of the, rock was
flat, and Mukoki called attention to this fact with an exultant chuckle.
"Fine place for wolf hunt!" he exclaimed. "Many wolf off there in swamp
an' in hill. We call heem here. Shoot from there!" He pointed to a clump
of spruce a dozen rods away.
By Rod's watch it was now nearly noon and the two sat down to eat the
sandwiches they had brought with them. Only a few minutes were lost in
taking up the home trail. Beyond the swamp Mukoki cut at right angles to
their trap-line until he had ascended to the top of the ridge that had
been on their right and which would take them very near their camp. From
this ridge Rod could look about him upon a wild and rugged scene. On one
side it sloped down to the plains, but on the other it fell in almost
sheer walls, forming at its base five hundred feet below a narrow and
gloomy chasm, through which a small stream found its way. Several times
Mukoki stopped and leaned perilously close to the dizzy edge of the
mountain, peering down with critical eyes, and once when he pulled
himself back cautiously by means of a small sapling he explained his
interest by saying:
"Plenty bear there in spring!"
But Rod was not thinking of bears. Once more his head was filled with
the thought of gold. Perhaps that very chasm held the priceless secret
that had died with its owners half a century ago. The dark and gloomy
silence that hung between those two walls of rock, the death-like
desolation, the stealthy windings of the creek--everything in that dim
and mysterious world between the two mountains, unshattered by sound and
impenetrable to the winter sun, seemed in his mind to link itself with
the tragedy of long ago.
Did that chasm hold the secret of the dead men?
Again and again Rod found himself asking this question as he followed
Mukoki, and the oftener he asked it the nearer he seemed to an answer,
until at last, with a curious, thrilling certainty that set his blood
tingling he caught Mukoki by the arm and pointing back, said:
"Mukoki--the gold was found between those mountains!"
WOLF TAKES VENGEANCE UPON HIS PEOPLE
From that hour was born in Roderick Drew's breast a strange,
imperishable desire. Willingly at this moment would he have given up the
winter trapping to have pursued that golden _ignis fatuus_ of all
ages--the lure of gold. To him the story of the old cabin, the skeletons
and the treasure of the buckskin bag was complete. Those skeletons had
once been men. They had found a mine--a place where they had picked up
nuggets with their fingers. And that treasure ground was somewhere near.
No longer was he puzzled by the fact that they had discovered no more
gold in the old log cabin. In a flash he had solved that mystery. The
men had just begun to gather their treasure when they had fought. What
was more logical than that? One day, two, three--and they had quarreled
over division, over rights. That was the time when they were most likely
to quarrel. Perhaps one had discovered the gold and had therefore
claimed a larger share. Anyway, the contents of the buckskin bag
represented but a few days' labor. Rod was sure of that.
Mukoki had grinned and shrugged his shoulders with an air of stupendous
doubt when Rod had told him that the gold lay between the mountains, so
now the youth kept his thoughts to himself. It was a silent trail home.
Rod's mind was too active in its new channel, and he was too deeply
absorbed in impressing upon his memory certain landmarks which they
passed to ask questions; and Mukoki, with the natural taciturnity of his
race, seldom found occasion to break into conversation unless spoken to
first. Although his eyes were constantly on the alert, Rod could see no
way in which a descent could be made into the chasm from the ridge they
were on. This was a little disappointing, for he had made up his mind to
explore the gloomy, sunless gulch at his first opportunity. He had no
doubt that Wabi would join in the adventure. Or he might take his own
time, and explore it alone. He was reasonably sure that from somewhere
on the opposite ridge a descent could be made into it.
Wabi was in camp when they arrived. He had set eighteen traps and had
shot two spruce partridges. The birds were already cleaned for their
early supper, and a thick slice of venison steak was added to the menu.
During the preparation of the meal Rod described their discovery of the
chasm and revealed some of his thoughts concerning it, but Wabi betrayed
only passing flashes of interest. At times he seemed strangely
preoccupied and would stand in an idle, contemplative mood, his hands
buried deep in his pockets, while Rod or Mukoki proceeded with the
little duties about the table or the stove. Finally, after arousing
himself from one of these momentary spells, he pulled a brass shell from
his pocket and held it out to the old Indian.
"See here," he said. "I don't want to stir up any false fears, or
anything of that sort--but I found that on the trail to-day!"
Mukoki clutched at the shell as though it had been another newly found
nugget of gold. The shell was empty. The lettering on the rim was still
very distinct. He read ".35 Rem."
"A shell from Rod's gun!"
For a few moments Rod and Mukoki stared at the young Indian in blank
"It's a .35 caliber Remington," continued Wabi, "and it's an auto-loading
shell. There are only three guns like that in this country. I've got
one, Mukoki has another--and you lost the third in your fight with the
The venison had begun to burn, and Mukoki quickly transferred it to the
table. Without a word the three sat down to their meal.
"That means the Woongas are on our trail," declared Rod presently.
"That is what I have been trying to reason out all the afternoon,"
replied Wabi. "It certainly is proof that they are, or have been quite
recently, on this side of the mountain. But I don't believe they know we
are here. The trail I struck was about five miles from camp. It was at
least two days old. Three Indians on snow-shoes were traveling north. I
followed back on their trail and found after a time that the Indians had
come from the north, which leads me to believe that they were simply on
a hunting expedition, cut a circle southward, and then returned to their
camp. I don't believe they will come farther south. But we must keep our
Wabi's description of the manner in which the strange trail turned gave
great satisfaction to Mukoki, who nodded affirmatively when the young
hunter expressed it as his belief that the Woongas would not come so far
as their camp. But the discovery of their presence chilled the buoyant
spirits of the hunters. There was, however, a new spice of adventure
lurking in this possible peril that was not altogether displeasing, and
by the time the meal was at an end something like a plan of campaign had
been formed. The hunters would not wait to be attacked and then act in
self-defense, possibly at a disadvantage. They would be constantly on
the lookout for the Woongas, and if a fresh trail or a camp was found
they would begin the man-hunt themselves.
The sun was just beginning to sink behind the distant hills in the
southwest when the hunters again left camp. Wolf had received nothing to
eat since the previous night, and with increasing hunger the fiery
impatience lurking in his eyes and the restlessness of his movements
became more noticeable. Mukoki called attention to these symptoms with a
The gloom of early evening was enveloping the wilderness by the time the
three wolf hunters reached the swamp in which Rod had slain the buck.
While he carried the guns and packs, Mukoki and Wabigoon dragged the
buck between them to the huge flat-top rock. Now for the first time the
city youth began to understand the old pathfinder's scheme. Several
saplings were cut, and by means of a long rope of babeesh the deer was
dragged up the side of the rock until it rested securely upon the flat
space. From the dead buck's neck the babeesh rope was now stretched
across the intervening space between the rock and the clump of cedars in
which the hunters were to conceal themselves. In two of these cedars, at
a distance of a dozen feet from the ground, were quickly made three
platforms of saplings, upon which the ambushed watchers could
comfortably seat themselves. By the time complete darkness had fallen
the "trap" was finished, with the exception of a detail which Rod
followed with great interest.
From inside his clothes, where it had been kept warm by his body, Mukoki
produced the flask of blood. A third of this blood he scattered upon the
face of the rock and upon the snow at its base. The remainder he
distributed, drop by drop, in trails running toward the swamp and
There still remained three hours before the moon would be up, and the
hunters now joined Wolf, who had been fastened half-way up the ridge. In
the shelter of a big rock a small fire was built, and during their long
wait the hunters passed the time away by broiling and eating chunks of
venison and in going over again the events of the day.
It was nine o'clock before the moon rose above the edge of the
wilderness. This great orb of the Northern night seemed to hold a
never-ending fascination for Rod. It crept above the forests, a glowing,
throbbing ball of red, quivering and palpitating in an effulgence that
neither cloud nor mist dimmed in this desolation beyond the sphere of
man; and as it rose, almost with visible movement to the eyes, the blood
in it faded, until at last it seemed a great blaze of soft light between
silver and gold. It was then that the whole world was lighted up under
it. It was then that Mukoki, speaking softly, beckoned the others to
follow him, and with Wolf at his side went down the ridge.
Making a circuit around the back of the rock, Mukoki paused near a small
sapling twenty yards from the dead buck and secured Wolf by his babeesh
thong. Hardly had he done so when the animal began to exhibit signs of
excitement. He trotted about nervously, sniffing the air, gathering the
wind from every direction, and his jaws dropped with a snarling whine.
Then he struck one of the clots of blood in the snow.
"Come," whispered Wabi, pulling at Rod's sleeve, "come--quietly."
They slipped back among the shadows of the spruce and watched Wolf in
unbroken silence. The animal now stood rigidly over the blood clot. His
head was level with his quivering back, his ears half aslant, his
nostrils pointing to a strange thrilling scent that came to him from
somewhere out there in the moonlight. Once more the instinct of his
breed was flooding the soul of the captive wolf. There was the odor of
blood in his widening nostrils. It was not the blood of the camp, of the
slaughtered game dragged in by human hands before his eyes. It was the
blood of the chase!
A flashing memory of his captors turned the animal's head for an instant
in backward inspection. They were gone. He could neither hear nor see
them. He sniffed the sign of human presence, but that sign was always
with him, and was not disturbing. The blood held him--and the strange
scent, the game scent--that was coming to him more clearly every
He crunched about cautiously in the snow. He found other spots of blood,
and to the watchers there came a low long whine that seemed about to end
in the wolf song. The blood trails were leading him away toward the game
scent, and he tugged viciously at the babeesh that held him captive,
gnawing at it vainly, like an angry dog, forgetting what experience had
taught him many times before. Each moment added to his excitement He ran
about the sapling, gulped mouthfuls of the bloody snow, and each time he
paused for a moment with his open dripping jaws held toward the dead
buck on the rock. The game was very near. Brute sense told him that. Oh,
the longing that was in him, the twitching, quivering longing to
He made another effort, tore up the snow in his frantic endeavors to
free himself, to break loose, to follow in the wild glad cry of freed
savagery in the calling of his people. He failed again, panting, whining
in piteous helplessness.
Then he settled upon his haunches at the end of his babeesh thong.
For a moment his head turned to the moonlit sky, his long nose poised at
right angles to the bristling hollows between his shoulders.
There came then a low, whining wail, like the beginning of the
"death-song" of a husky dog--a wail that grew in length and in strength
and in volume until it rose weirdly among the mountains and swept far
out over the plains--the hunt call of the wolf on the trail, which calls
to him the famished, gray-gaunt outlaws of the wilderness, as the
bugler's notes call his fellows on the field of battle.
Three times that blood-thrilling cry went up from the captive wolf's
throat, and before those cries had died away the three hunters were
perched upon their platforms among the spruce.
There followed now the ominous, waiting silence of an awakened
wilderness. Rod could hear his heart throbbing within him. He forgot the
intense cold. His nerves tingled. He looked out over the endless plains,
white and mysteriously beautiful as they lay bathed in the glow of the
moon. And Wabi knew more than he what was happening. All over that wild
desolation the call of the wolf had carried its meaning. Down there,
where a lake lay silent in its winter sleep, a doe started in trembling
and fear; beyond the mountain a huge bull moose lifted his antlered head
with battle-glaring eyes; half a mile away a fox paused for an instant
in its sleuth-like stalking of a rabbit; and here and there in that
world of wild things the gaunt hungry people of Wolf's blood stopped in
their trails and turned their heads toward the signal that was coming in
wailing echoes to their ears.
And then the silence was broken. From afar--it might have been a mile
away--there came an answering cry; and at that cry the wolf at the end
of his babeesh thong settled upon his haunches again and sent back the
call that comes only when there is blood upon the trail or when near the
There was not the rustle of a bough, not a word spoken, by the silent
watchers in the spruce. Mukoki had slipped back and half lay across his
support in shooting attitude. Wabi had braced a foot, and his rifle was
half to his shoulder, leveled over a knee. It was Rod's turn with the
big revolver, and he had practised aiming through a crotch that gave a
rest to his arm.
In a few moments there came again the howl of the distant wolf on the
plains, and this time it was joined by another away to the westward. And
after that there came two from the plains instead of one, and then a far
cry to the north and east. For the first time Rod and Wabi heard the
gloating chuckle of Mukoki in his spruce a dozen feet away.
At the increasing responses of his brethren Wolf became more frantic in
his efforts. The scent of fresh blood and of wounded game was becoming
maddening to the captive. But his frenzy no longer betrayed itself in
futile efforts to escape from the babeesh thong. Wolf knew that his
cries were assembling the hunt-pack. Nearer and nearer came the
responses of the leaders, and there were now only momentary rests
between the deep-throated exhortations which he sent in all directions
into the night.
Suddenly, almost from the swamp itself, there came a quick, excited,
yelping reply, and Wabi gripped Rod by the arm.
"He has struck the place where you killed the buck," he whispered.
"There'll be quick work now!"
Hardly had he spoken when a series of excited howls broke forth from the
swamp, coming nearer and nearer as the hunger-crazed outlaw of the
plains followed over the rich-scented trail made by the two Indians as
they carried the slaughtered deer. Soon he nosed one of the trails of
blood, and a moment later the watchers saw a gaunt shadow form running
swiftly over the snow toward Wolf.
For an instant, as the two beasts of prey met, there fell a silence;
then both animals joined in the wailing hunt-pack cry, and the wolf that
was free came to the edge of the great rock and stood with his fore feet
on its side, and his cry changed from that of the chase to the still
more thrilling signal that told the gathering pack of game at bay.
Swiftly the wolves closed in. From over the edge of the mountain one
came and joined the wolf at the rock without the hunters seeing his
approach. From out of the swamp there came a pack of three, and now
about the rock there grew a maddened, yelping horde, clambering and
scrambling and fighting in their efforts to climb up to the game that
was so near and yet beyond their reach. And sixty feet away Wolf
crouched, watching the gathering of his clan, helpless, panting from his
choking efforts to free himself, and quieting, gradually quieting, until
in sullen silence he looked upon the scene, as though he knew the moment
was very near when that thrilling spectacle would be changed into a
scene of direst tragedy.
And it was Mukoki who had first said that this was the vengeance of Wolf
upon his people.
From Mukoki there now came a faint hissing warning, and Wabi threw his
rifle to his shoulder. There were at least a score of wolves at the base
of the rock. Gradually the old Indian pulled upon the babeesh rope that
led to the dead buck--pulled until he was putting a half of his strength
into the effort, and could feel the animal slowly slipping from the flat
ledge. A moment more and the buck tumbled down in the midst of the
As flies gather upon a lump of sugar the famished animals now crowded
and crushed and fought over the deer's body, and as they came thus
together there sounded the quick sharp signal to fire from Mukoki.
For five seconds the edge of the spruce was a blaze of death-dealing
flashes, and the deafening reports of the two rifles and the big Colt
drowned the cries and struggles of the animals. When those five seconds
were over fifteen shots had been fired, and five seconds later the vast,
beautiful silence of the wilderness night had fallen again. About the
rock was the silence of death, broken only faintly by the last gasping
throes of the animals that lay dying in the snow.
In the trees there sounded the metallic clink of loading shells.
Wabi spoke first.
"I believe we did a good job, Mukoki!"
Mukoki's reply was to slip down his tree. The others followed, and
hastened across to the rock. Five bodies lay motionless in the snow. A
sixth was dragging himself around the side of the rock, and Mukoki
attacked it with his belt-ax. Still a seventh had run for a dozen rods,
leaving a crimson trail behind, and when Wabi and Rod came up to it the
animal was convulsed in its last dying struggles.
"Seven!" exclaimed the Indian youth. "That is one of the best shoots we
ever had. A hundred and five dollars in a night isn't bad, is it?"
The two came back to the rock, dragging the wolf with them. Mukoki was
standing as rigid as a statue in the moonlight, his face turned into the
north. He pointed one arm far out over the plains, and said, without
turning his head,
Far out in that silent desolation the hunters saw a lurid flash of
flame. It climbed up and up, until it filled the night above it with a
dull glow--a single unbroken stream of fire that rose far above the
swamps and forests of the plains.
"That's a burning jackpine!" said Wabigoon.
"Burning jackpine!" agreed the old warrior. Then he added, "Woonga
RODERICK EXPLORES THE CHASM
To Rod the blazing pine seemed to be but a short distance away--a mile,
perhaps a little more. In the silence of the two Indians as they
contemplated the strange fire he read an ominous meaning. In Mukoki's
eyes was a dull sullen glare, not unlike that which fills the orbs of a
wild beast in a moment of deadly anger. Wabi's face was filled with an
eager flush, and three times, Rod observed, he turned eyes strangely
burning with some unnatural passion upon Mukoki.
Slowly, even as the instincts of his race had aroused the latent,
brutish love of slaughter and the chase in the tamed wolf, the long
smothered instincts of these human children of the forest began to
betray themselves in their bronzed countenances. Rod watched, and he was
thrilled to the soul. Back at the old cabin they had declared war upon
the Woongas. Both Mukoki and Wabigoon had slipped the leashes that had
long restrained them from meting first vengeance upon their enemies. Now
the opportunity had come. For five minutes the great pine blazed, and
then died away until it was only a smoldering tower of light. Still
Mukoki gazed, speechless and grim, out into the distance of the night.
At last Wabi broke the silence.
"How far away is it, Muky?"
"T'ree mile," answered the old warrior without hesitation.
"We could make it in forty minutes."
Wabi turned to Rod.
"You can find your way back to camp alone, can't you?" he asked.
"Not if you're going over there!" declared the white boy. "I'm going
Mukoki broke in upon them with a harsh disappointed laugh.
"No go. No go over there." He spoke with emphasis, and shook his head.
"We lose pine in five minutes. No find Woonga camp--make big trail for
Woongas to see in morning. Better wait. Follow um trail in day, then
Rod found immense relief in the old Indian's decision. He did not fear a
fight; in fact, he was a little too anxious to meet the outlaws who had
stolen his gun, now that they had determined upon opening fire on sight.
But in this instance he was possessed of the cooler judgment of his
race. He believed that as yet the Woongas were not aware of their
presence in this region, and that there was still a large possibility of
the renegades traveling northward beyond their trapping sphere. He hoped
that this would be the case, in spite of his desire to recapture his
gun. A scrimmage with the Woongas just now would spoil the plans he had
made for discovering gold.
The "Skeleton Mine," as he had come to call it, now absorbed his
thoughts beyond everything else. He felt confident that he would
discover the lost treasure ground if given time, and he was just as
confident that if war was once begun between themselves and the Woongas
it would mean disaster or quick flight from the country. Even Wabi,
worked up more in battle enthusiasm than by gold fever, conceded that if
half of the Woongas were in this country they were much too powerful for
them to cope with successfully, especially as one of them was without a
It was therefore with inward exultation that Rod saw the project of
attack dropped and Mukoki and Wabigoon proceed with their short task of
scalping the seven wolves. During this operation Wolf was allowed to
feast upon the carcass of the buck.
That night there was but little sleep in the old cabin. It was two
o'clock when the hunters arrived in camp and from that hour until nearly
four they sat about the hot stove making plans for the day that was
nearly at hand. Rod could but contrast the excitement that had now taken
possession of them with the tranquil joy with which they had first taken
up their abode in this dip in the hilltop. And how different were their
plans from those of two or three days ago! Not one of them now but
realized their peril. They were in an ideal hunting range, but it was
evidently very near, if not actually in, the Woonga country. At any
moment they might be forced to fight for their lives or abandon their
camp, and perhaps they would be compelled to do both.
So the gathering about the stove was in reality a small council of war.
It was decided that the old cabin should immediately be put into a
condition of defense, with a loophole on each side, strong new bars at
the door, and with a thick barricade near at hand that could be quickly
fitted against the window in case of attack. Until the war-clouds
cleared away, if they cleared at all, the camp would be continually
guarded by one of the hunters, and with this garrison would be left both
of the heavy revolvers. At dawn or a little later Mukoki would set out
upon Wabi's trap-line, both to become acquainted with it and to extend
the line of traps, while later in the day the Indian youth would follow
Mukoki's line, visiting the houses already built and setting other
traps. This scheme left to Rod the first day's watch in camp.
Mukoki aroused himself from his short sleep with the first approach of
dawn but did not awaken his tired companions until breakfast was ready.
When the meal was finished he seized his gun and signified his intention
of visiting the mink traps just beyond the hill before leaving on his
long day's trail. Rod at once joined him, leaving Wabi to wash the
They were shortly within view of the trap-houses near the creek.
Instinctively the eyes of both rested upon these houses and neither gave
very close attention to the country ahead or about them. As a result
both were exceedingly startled when they heard a huge snort and a great
crunching in the deep snow close beside them. From out of a small growth
of alders had dashed a big bull moose, who was now tearing with the
speed of a horse up the hillside toward the hidden camp, evidently
seeking the quick shelter of the dip.
"Wait heem git top of hill!" shouted Mukoki, swinging his rifle to his
It was a beautiful shot and Rod was tempted to ignore the old Indian's
advice. But he knew that there was some good reason for it, so he held
his trembling finger. Hardly had the animal's huge antlered head risen
to the sky-line when Mukoki shouted again, and the young hunter pressed
the trigger of his automatic gun three times in rapid succession. It was
a short shot, not more than two hundred yards, and Mukoki fired but once
just as the bull mounted the hilltop.
The next instant the moose was gone and Rod was just about to dash in
pursuit when his companion caught him by the arm.
"We got um!" he grinned. "He run downhill, then fall--ver' close to
camp. Ver' good scheme--wait heem git on top hill. No have to carry meat
As coolly as though nothing had occurred the Indian turned again in the
direction of the traps. Rod stood as though he had been nailed to the
spot, his mouth half open in astonishment.
"We go see traps," urged Mukoki. "Find moose dead when we go back."
But Roderick Drew, who had hunted nothing larger than house rats in his
own city, was not the young man to see the logic of this reasoning, and
before Mukoki could open his mouth again he was hurrying up the hill. On
its summit he saw a huge torn-up blotch in the snow, spattered with
blood, where the moose had fallen first after the shots; and at the foot
of the hill, as the Indian had predicted, the great animal lay dead.
Wabi was hastening across the lake, attracted by the shots, and both
reached the slain bull at about the same time. Rod quickly perceived
that three shots had taken effect; one, which was undoubtedly Mukoki's
carefully directed ball, in a vital spot behind the fore leg, and two
through the body. The fact that two of his own shots had taken good
effect filled the white youth with enthusiasm, and he was still
gesticulating excitedly in describing the bull's flight to Wabi when the
old Indian came over the hill, grinning broadly, and holding up for
their inspection a magnificent mink.
The day could not have begun more auspiciously for the hunters, and by
the time Mukoki was ready to leave upon his long trail the adventurers
were in buoyant spirits, the distressing fears of the preceding night
being somewhat dispelled by their present good fortune and the glorious
day which now broke in full splendor upon the wilderness.
Until their early dinner Wabi remained in camp, securing certain parts
of the moose and assisting Rod in putting the cabin into a state of
defense according to their previous plans. It was not yet noon when he
started over Mukoki's trap-line.
Left to his own uninterrupted thoughts, Rod's mind was once more
absorbed in his scheme of exploring the mysterious chasm. He had noticed
during his inspection from the top of the ridge that the winter snows
had as yet fallen but little in the gloomy gulch between the mountains,
and he was eager to attempt his adventure before other snows came or the
fierce blizzards of December filled the chasm with drifts. Later in the
afternoon he brought forth the buckskin bag from a niche in the log wall
where it had been concealed, and one after another carefully examined
the golden nuggets. He found, as he had expected, that they were worn to
exceeding smoothness, and that every edge had been dulled and rounded.
Rod's favorite study in school had been a minor branch of geology and
mineralogy, and he knew that only running water could work this
smoothness. He was therefore confident that the nuggets had been
discovered in or on the edge of a running stream. And that stream, he
was sure, was the one in the chasm.
But Rod's plans for an early investigation were doomed to
disappointment. Late that day both Mukoki and Wabi returned, the latter
with a red fox and another mink, the former with a fisher, which
reminded Rod of a dog just growing out of puppyhood, and another story
of strange trails that renewed their former apprehensions. The old
Indian had discovered the remnants of the burned jackpine, and about it
were the snow-shoe tracks of three Indians. One of these trails came
from the north and two from the west, which led him to believe that the
pine had been fired as a signal to call the two. At the very end of
their trap-line, which extended about four miles from camp, a single
snow-shoe trail had cut across at right angles, also swinging into the
These discoveries necessitated a new arrangement of the plans that had
been made the preceding night. Hereafter, it was agreed, only one
trap-line would be visited each day, and by two of the hunters in
company, both armed with rifles. Rod saw that this meant the abandonment
of his scheme for exploring the chasm, at least for the present.
Day after day now passed without evidences of new trails, and each day
added to the hopes of the adventurers that they were at last to be left
alone in the country. Never had Mukoki or Wabigoon been in a better
trapping ground, and every visit to their lines added to their hoard of
furs. If left unmolested it was plainly evident that they would take a
small fortune back to Wabinosh House with them early in the spring.
Besides many mink, several fisher, two red foxes and a lynx, they added
two fine "cross" foxes and three wolf scalps to their treasure during
the next three weeks. Rod began to think occasionally of the joy their
success would bring to the little home hundreds of miles away, where he
knew that the mother was waiting and praying for him every day of her
life; and there were times, too, when he found himself counting the days
that must still elapse before he returned to Minnetaki and the Post.
But at no time did he give up his determination to explore the chasm.
From the first Mukoki and Wabigoon had regarded this project with little
favor, declaring the impossibility of discovering gold under snow, even
though gold was there; so Rod waited and watched for an opportunity to
make the search alone, saying nothing about his plans.
On a beautiful day late in December, when the sun rose with dazzling
brightness, his opportunity came. Wabi was to remain in camp, and
Mukoki, who was again of the belief that they were safe from the
Woongas, was to follow one of the trap-lines alone. Supplying himself
well with food, taking Wabi's rifle, a double allowance of cartridges, a
knife, belt-ax, and a heavy blanket in his pack, Rod set out for the
chasm. Wabi laughed as he stood in the doorway to see him off.
"Good luck to you, Rod; hope you find gold," he cried gaily, waving a
final good-by with his hand.
"If I don't return to-night don't you fellows worry about me," called
back the youth. "If things look promising I may camp in the chasm and
take up the hunt again in the morning."
He now passed quickly to the second ridge, knowing from previous
experience that it would be impossible to make a descent into the gulch
from the first mountain. This range, a mile south of the camp, had not
been explored by the hunters, but Rod was sure that there was no danger
of losing himself as long as he followed along the edge of the chasm
which was in itself a constant and infallible guide. Much to his
disappointment he found that the southern walls of this mysterious break
between the mountains were as precipitous as those on the opposite side,
and for two hours he looked in vain for a place where he might climb
down. The country was now becoming densely wooded and he was constantly
encountering signs of big game. But he paid little attention to these.
Finally he came to a point where the forest swept over and down the
steep side of the mountain, and to his great joy he saw that by
strapping his snow-shoes to his back and making good use of his hands it
was possible for him to make a descent.
Fifteen minutes later, breathless but triumphant, he stood at the bottom
of the chasm. On his right rose the strip of cedar forest; on his left
he was shut in by towering walls of black and shattered rock. At his
feet was the little stream which had played such an important part in
his golden dreams, frozen in places, and in others kept clear of ice by
the swiftness of its current. A little ahead of him was that gloomy,
sunless part of the chasm into which he had peered so often from the top
of the ridge on the north. As he advanced step by step into its
mysterious silence, his eyes alert, his nerves stretched to a tension of
the keenest expectancy, there crept over him a feeling that he was
invading that enchanted territory which, even at this moment, might be
guarded by the spirits of the two mortals who had died because of the
treasure it held.
Narrower and narrower became the walls high over his head. Not a ray of
sunlight penetrated into the soundless gloom. Not a leaf shivered in the
still air. The creek gurgled and spattered among its rocks, without the
note of a bird or the chirp of a squirrel to interrupt its monotony.
Everything was dead. Now and then Rod could hear the wind whispering
over the top of the chasm. But not a breath of it came down to him.
Under his feet was only sufficient snow to deaden his own footsteps, and
he still carried his snow-shoes upon his back.
Suddenly, from the thick gloom that hung under one of the cragged walls,
there came a thundering, unearthly sound that made him stop, his rifle
swung half to shoulder. He saw that he had disturbed a great owl, and
passed on. Now and then he paused beside the creek and took up handful
after handful of its pebbles, his heart beating high with hope at every
new gleam he caught among them, and never sinking to disappointment
though he found no gold. The gold was here--somewhere. He was as certain
of that as he was of the fact that he was living, and searching for it.
Everything assured him of that; the towering masses of cleft rock, whole
walls seeming about to crumble into ruin, the broad margins of pebbles
along the creek--everything, to the very stillness and mystery in the
air, spoke this as the abode of the skeletons' secret.
It was this inexplicable _something_--this unseen, mysterious element
hovering in the air that caused the white youth to advance step by step,
silently, cautiously, as though the slightest sound under his feet might
awaken the deadliest of enemies. And it was because of this stealth in
his progress that he came very close upon something that was living, and
without startling it. Less than fifty yards ahead of him he saw an
object moving slowly among the rocks. It was a fox. Even before the
animal had detected his presence he had aimed and fired.
Thunderous echoes rose up about him. They rolled down the chasm, volume
upon volume, until in the ghostly gloom between the mountain walls he
stood and listened, a nervous shiver catching him once or twice. Not
until the last echo had died away did he approach where the fox lay upon
the snow. It was not red. It was not black. It was not--
His heart gave a big excited thump. The bleeding creature at his feet
was the most beautiful animal he had ever seen--and the tip of its thick
black fur was silver gray.
Then, in that lonely chasm, there went up a great human whoop of joy.
"A silver fox!"
Rod spoke the words aloud. For five minutes he stood and looked upon his
prize. He held it up and stroked it, and from what Wabi and Mukoki had
told him he knew that the silken pelt of this creature was worth more to
them than all the furs at the camp together.
He made no effort to skin it, but put the animal in his pack and resumed
his slow, noiseless exploration of the gulch.
He had now passed beyond those points in the range from which he had
looked down into this narrow, shut-in world. Ever more wild and gloomy
became the chasm. At times the two walls of rock seemed almost to meet
far above his head; under gigantic, overhanging crags there lurked the
shadows of night. Fascinated by the grandeur and loneliness of the
scenes through which he was passing Rod forgot the travel of time. Mile
after mile he continued his tireless trail. He had no inclination to
eat. He stopped only once at the creek to drink. And when he looked at
his watch he was astonished to find that it was three o'clock in the
It was now too late to think of returning to camp. Within an hour the
day gloom of the chasm would be thickening into that of night. So Rod
stopped at the first good camp site, threw off his pack, and proceeded
with the building of a cedar shelter. Not until this was completed and a
sufficient supply of wood for the night's fire was at hand did he begin
getting supper. He had brought a pail with him and soon the appetizing
odors of boiling coffee and broiling moose sirloin filled the air.
Night had fallen between the mountain walls by the time Rod sat down to
A chilling loneliness now crept over the young adventurer. Even as he
ate he tried to peer out into the mysterious darkness. A sound from up
the chasm, made by some wild prowler of the night, sent a nervous tremor
through him. He was not afraid; he would not have confessed to that. But
still, the absolute, almost gruesome silence between the two mountains,
the mere knowledge that he was alone in a place where the foot of man
had not trod for more than half a century, was not altogether quieting
to his nerves. What mysteries might not these grim walls hold? What
might not happen here, where everything was so strange, so weird, and so
different from the wilderness world just over the range?
Rod tried to laugh away his nervousness, but the very sound of his own
voice was distressing. It rose in unnatural shivering echoes--a low,
hollow mockery of a laugh beating itself against the walls; a ghost of a
laugh, Rod thought, and that very thought made him hunch closer to the
fire. The young hunter was not superstitious, or at least he was not
unnaturally so; but what man or boy is there in this whole wide world of
ours who does not, at some time, inwardly cringe from something in the
air--something that does not exist and never did exist, but which holds
a peculiar and nameless fear for the soul of a human being?
And Rod, as he piled his fire high with wood and shrank in the warmth of
his cedar shelter, felt that nameless dread; and there came to him no
thought of sleep, no feeling of fatigue, but only that he was alone,
absolutely alone, in the mystery and almost unending silence of the
chasm. Try as he would he could not keep from his mind the vision of the
skeletons as he had first seen them in the old cabin.
Many, many years ago, even before his own mother was born, those
skeletons had trod this very chasm. They had drunk from the same creek
as he, they had clambered over the same rocks, they had camped perhaps
where he was camping now! They, too, in flesh and life, had strained
their ears in the grim silence, they had watched the flickering light of
their camp-fire on the walls of rock--and they had found gold!
Just now, if Rod could have moved himself by magic, he would have been
safely back in camp. He listened. From far back over the trail he had
followed there came a lonely, plaintive, almost pleading cry.
It sounded like a distant human greeting, but Rod knew that it was the
awakening night cry of what Wabi called the "man owl." It was weirdly
human-like; and the echoes came softly, and more softly, until ghostly
voices seemed to be whispering in the blackness about him.
The boy shivered and laid his rifle across his knees. There was
tremendous comfort in the rifle. Rod fondled it with his fingers, and
two or three times he felt as though he would almost like to talk to it.
Only those who have gone far into the silence and desolation of the
unblazed wilderness know just how human a good rifle becomes to its
owner. It is a friend every hour of the night and day, faithful to its
master's desires, keeping starvation at bay and holding death for his
enemies; a guaranty of safety at his bedside by night, a sharp-fanged
watch-dog by day, never treacherous and never found wanting by the one
who bestows upon it the care of a comrade and friend. Thus had Rod come
to look upon his rifle. He rubbed the barrel now with his mittens; he
polished the stock as he sat in his loneliness, and long afterward,
though he had determined to remain awake during the night, he fell
asleep with it clasped tightly in his hands.
It was an uneasy, troubled slumber in which the young adventurer's
visions and fears took a more realistic form. He half sat, half lay,
upon his cedar boughs; his head fell forward upon his breast, his feet
were stretched out to the fire. Now and then unintelligible sounds fell
from his lips, and he would start suddenly as if about to awaken, but
each time would sink back into his restless sleep, still clutching the
The visions in his head began to take a more definite form. Once more he
was on the trail, and had come to the old cabin. But this time he was
alone. The window of the cabin was wide open, but the door was tightly
closed, just as the hunters had found it when they first came down into
the dip. He approached cautiously. When very near the window he heard
sounds--strange sounds--like the clicking of bones!
Step by step in his dream he approached the window and looked in. And
there he beheld a sight that froze him to the marrow. Two huge skeletons
were struggling in deadly embrace. He could hear no sound but the
click-click-click of their bones. He saw the gleam of knives held
between fleshless fingers, and he saw now that both were struggling for
the possession of something that was upon the table. Now one almost
reached it, now the other, but neither gained possession.
The clicking of the bones became louder, the struggle fiercer, the
knives of the skeleton combatants rose and fell. Then one staggered back
and sank in a heap on the floor.
For a moment the victor swayed, tottered to the table, and gripped the
mysterious object in its bony fingers.
As it stumbled weakly against the cabin wall the gruesome creature held
the object up, and Rod saw that it was a roll of birch-bark!
An ember in the dying fire snapped with a sound like the report of a
small pistol and Rod sat bolt upright, awake, staring, trembling. What a
horrible dream! He drew in his cramped legs and approached the fire on
his knees, holding his rifle in one hand while he piled on wood with the
What a horrible dream!
He shuddered and ran his eyes around the impenetrable wall of blackness
that shut him in, the thought constantly flashing through his mind, what
a horrible dream--what a horrible dream!
He sat down again and watched the flames of his fire as they climbed
higher and higher. The light and the heat cheered him, and after a
little he allowed his mind to dwell upon the adventure of his slumber.
It had made him sweat. He took off his cap and found that the hair about
his forehead was damp.
All the different phases of a dream return to one singly when awake, and
it was with the suddenness of a shot that there came to Rod a
remembrance of the skeleton hand held aloft, clutching between its
gleaming fleshless fingers the roll of birch-bark. And with that memory
of his dream there came another--the skeleton in the cabin was clutching
a piece of birch-bark when they had buried it!
Could that crumpled bit of bark hold the secret of the lost mine?
Was it for the possession of that bark instead of the buckskin bag that
the men had fought and died?
As the minutes passed Rod forgot his loneliness, forgot his nervousness
and only thought of the possibilities of the new clue that had come to
him in a dream. Wabi and Mukoki had seen the bark clutched in the
skeleton fingers, but they as well as he had given it no special
significance, believing that it had been caught up in some terrible part
of the struggle when both combatants were upon the floor, or perhaps in
the dying agonies of the wounded man against the wall. Rod remembered
now that they had found no more birch-bark upon the floor, which they
would have done if a supply had been kept there for kindling fires. Step
by step he went over the search they had made in the old cabin, and more
and more satisfied did he become that the skeleton hand held something
of importance for them.
He replenished his fire and waited impatiently for dawn. At four
o'clock, before day had begun to dispel the gloom of night, he cooked
his breakfast and prepared his pack for the homeward journey. Soon
afterward a narrow rim of light broke through the rift in the chasm.
Slowly it crept downward, until the young hunter could make out objects
near him and the walls of the mountains.
Thick shadows still defied his vision when he began retracing his steps
over the trail he had made the day before. He returned with the same
caution that he had used in his advance. Even more carefully, if
possible, did he scrutinize the rocks and the creek ahead. He had
already found life in the chasm, and he might find more.
The full light of day came quickly now, and with it the youth's progress
became more rapid. He figured that if he lost no time in further
investigation of the creek he would arrive at camp by noon, and they
would dig up the skeleton without delay. There was little snow in the
chasm, in spite of the lateness of the season, and if the roll of bark
held the secret of the lost gold it would be possible for them to locate
the treasure before other snows came to baffle them.
At the spot where he had killed the silver fox Rod paused for a moment.
He wondered if foxes ever traveled in pairs, and regretted that he had
not asked Wabi or Mukoki that question. He could see where the fox had
come straight from the black wall of the mountain. Curiosity led him
over the trail. He had not followed it more than two hundred yards when
he stopped in sudden astonishment. Plainly marked in the snow before him
was the trail of a pair of snow-shoes! Whoever had been there had passed
since he shot the fox, for the imprints of the animal's feet were buried
under those of the snow-shoes.
Who was the other person in the chasm?
Was it Wabi?
Had Mukoki or he come to join him? Or--
He looked again at the snow-shoe trail. It was a peculiar trail, unlike
the one made by his own shoes. The imprints were a foot longer than his
own, and narrower. Neither Wabi nor Mukoki wore shoes that would make
At this point the strange trail had turned and disappeared among the
rocks along the wall of the mountain, and it occurred to Rod that
perhaps the stranger had not discovered his presence in the chasm. There
was some consolation in this thought, but it was doomed to quick
disappointment. Very cautiously the youth advanced, his rifle held in
readiness and his eyes searching every place of concealment ahead of
him. A hundred yards farther on the stranger had stopped, and from the
way in which the snow was packed Rod knew that he had stood in a
listening and watchful attitude for some time. From this point the trail
took another turn and came down until, from behind a huge rock, the
stranger had cautiously peered out upon the path made by the white
It was evident that he was extremely anxious to prevent the discovery of
his own trail, for now the mysterious spy threaded his way behind rocks
until he had again come to the shelter of the mountain wall.
Rod was perplexed. He realized the peril of his dilemma, and yet he knew
not what course to take to evade it. He had little doubt that the trail
was made by one of the treacherous Woongas, and that the Indian not only
knew of his presence, but was somewhere in the rocks ahead of him,
perhaps even now waiting behind some ambuscade to shoot him. Should he
follow the trail, or would it be safer to steal along among the rocks of
the opposite wall of the chasm?
He had decided upon the latter course when his eyes caught a narrow
horizontal slit cleaving the face of the mountain on his left, toward
which the snow-shoe tracks seemed to lead. With his rifle ready for
instant use the youth slowly approached the fissure, and was surprised
to find that it was a complete break in the wall of rock, not more than
four feet wide, and continuing on a steady incline to the summit of the
ridge. At the mouth of this fissure his mysterious watcher had taken off
his snow-shoes and Rod could see where he had climbed up the narrow exit
from the chasm.
With a profound sense of relief the young hunter hurried along the base
of the mountain, keeping well within its shelter so that eyes that might
be spying from above could not see his movements. He now felt no fear of
danger. The stranger's flight up the cleft in the chasm wall and his
careful attempts to conceal his trail among the rocks assured Rod that
he had no designs upon his life. His chief purpose had seemed to be to
keep secret his own presence in the gorge, and this fact in itself added
to the mystification of the white youth. For a long time he had been
secretly puzzled, and had evolved certain ideas of his own because of
the movements of the Woongas. Contrary to the opinions of Mukoki and
Wabigoon, he believed that the red outlaws were perfectly conscious of
their presence in the dip. From the first their actions had been
unaccountable, but not once had one of their snow-shoe trails crossed
Was this fact in itself not significant? Rod was of a contemplative
theoretical turn of mind, one of those wide-awake, interesting young
fellows who find food for conjecture in almost every incident that
occurs, and his suspicions were now aroused to an unusual pitch. A chief
fault, however, was that he kept most of his suspicions to himself, for
he believed that Mukoki and Wabigoon, born and taught in the life of the
wilderness, were infallible in their knowledge of the ways and the laws
and the perils of the world they were in.
THE SECRET OF THE SKELETON'S HAND
A little before noon Rod arrived at the top of the hill from which he
could look down on their camp. He was filled with pleasurable
anticipation, and with an unbounded swelling satisfaction that caused
him to smile as he proceeded into the dip. He had found a fortune in the
mysterious chasm. The burden of the silver fox upon his shoulders was a
most pleasing reminder of that, and he pictured the moment when the
good-natured raillery of Mukoki and Wabigoon would be suddenly turned
into astonishment and joy.
As he approached the cabin the young hunter tried to appear disgusted
and half sick, and his effort was not bad in spite of his decided
inclination to laugh. Wabi met him in the doorway, grinning broadly, and
Mukoki greeted him with a throatful of his inimitable chuckles.
"Aha, here's Rod with a packful of gold!" cried the young Indian,
striking an expectant attitude. "Will you let us see the treasure?" In
spite of his banter there was gladness in his face at Rod's arrival.
The youth threw off his pack with a spiritless effort and flopped into a
chair as though in the last stage of exhaustion.
"You'll have to undo the pack," he replied. "I'm too tired and hungry."
Wabi's manner changed at once to one of real sympathy.
"I'll bet you're tired, Rod, and half starved. We'll have dinner in a
hurry. Ho, Muky, put on the steak, will you?"
There followed a rattle of kettles and tin pans and the Indian youth
gave Rod a glad slap on the back as he hurried to the table. He was
evidently in high spirits, and burst into a snatch of song as he cut up
a loaf of bread.
"I'm tickled to see you back," he admitted, "for I was getting a little
bit nervous. We had splendid luck on our lines yesterday. Brought in
another 'cross' and three mink. Did you see anything?"
"Aren't you going to look in the pack?"
Wabi turned and gazed at his companion with a half-curious hesitating
"Anything in it?" he asked suspiciously.
"See here, boys," cried Rod, forgetting himself in his suppressed
enthusiasm. "I said there was a treasure in that chasm, and there was. I
found it. You are welcome to look into that pack if you wish!"
Wabi dropped the knife with which he was cutting the bread and went to
the pack. He touched it with the toe of his boot, lifted it in his
hands, and glanced at Rod again.
"It isn't a joke?" he asked.
Rod turned his back upon the scene and began to take off his coat as
coolly as though it were the commonest thing in the world for him to
bring silver foxes into camp. Only when Wabi gave a suppressed yell did
he turn about, and then he found the Indian standing erect and holding
out the silver to the astonished gaze of Mukoki.
"Is it a good one?" he asked.
"A beauty!" gasped Wabi.
Mukoki had taken the animal and was examining it with the critical eyes
of a connoisseur.
"Ver' fine!" he said. "At Post heem worth fi' hundred dollars--at
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