The Wolf Hunters
James Oliver Curwood
Part 3 out of 3
Montreal t'ree hundred more!"
Wabi strode across the cabin and thrust out his hand.
As the two gripped hands he turned to Mukoki.
"Bear witness, Mukoki, that this young gentleman is no longer a
tenderfoot. He has shot a silver fox. He has done a whole winter's work
in one day. I take off my hat to you, Mr. Drew!"
Roderick's face reddened with a flush of pleasure.
"And that isn't all, Wabi," he said. His eyes were filled with a sudden
intense earnestness, and in the strangeness of the change Wabi forgot to
loosen the grip of his fingers about his companion's hand.
"You don't mean that you found--"
"No, I didn't find gold," anticipated Rod. "But the gold is there! I
know it. And I think I have found a clue. You remember that when you and
I examined the skeleton against the wall we saw that it clutched
something that looked like birch-bark in its hand? Well, I believe that
birch-bark holds the key to the lost mine!"
Mukoki had come beside them and stood listening to Rod, his face alive
with keen interest. In Wabi's eyes there was a look half of doubt, half
"It might," he said slowly. "It wouldn't do any harm to see."
He stepped to the stove and took off the partly cooked steak. Rod
slipped on his coat and hat and Mukoki seized his belt-ax and the
shovel. No words were spoken, but there was a mutual understanding that
the investigation was to precede dinner. Wabi was silent and thoughtful
and Rod could see that his suggestion had at least made a deep
impression upon him. Mukoki's eyes began to gleam again with the old
fire with which he had searched the cabin for gold.
The skeletons were buried only a few inches deep in the frozen earth in
the edge of the cedar forest, and Mukoki soon exposed them to view.
Almost the first object that met their eyes was the skeleton hand
clutching its roll of birch-bark. It was Rod who dropped upon his knees
to the gruesome task.
With a shudder at the touch of the cold bones he broke the fingers back.
One of them snapped with a sharp sound, and as he rose with the bark in
his hand his face was bloodlessly white. The bones were covered again
and the three returned to the cabin.
Still silent, they gathered about the table. With age the bark of the
birch hardens and rolls itself tightly, and the piece Rod held was
almost like thin steel. Inch by inch it was spread out, cracking and
snapping in brittle protest. The hunters could see that the bark was in
a single unbroken strip about ten inches long by six in width. Two
inches, three, four were unrolled--and still the smooth surface was
blank. Another half-inch, and the bark refused to unroll farther.
"Careful!" whispered Wabi.
With the point of his knife he loosened the cohesion.
"I guess--there's--nothing--" began Rod.
Even as he spoke he caught his breath. A mark had appeared on the bark,
a black, meaningless mark with a line running down from it into the
Another fraction of an inch and the line was joined by a second, and
then with an unexpectedness that was startling the remainder of the roll
released itself like a spring--and to the eyes of the three wolf hunters
was revealed the secret of the skeleton hand.
Spread out before them was a map, or at least what they at once accepted
as a map, though in reality it was more of a crude diagram of straight
and crooked lines, with here and there a partly obliterated word to give
it meaning. In several places there were mere evidences of words, now
entirely illegible. But what first held the attention of Rod and his
companions were several lines in writing under the rough sketch on the
bark, still quite plain, which formed the names of three men. Roderick
read them aloud.
"John Ball, Henri Langlois, Peter Plante."
Through the name of John Ball had been drawn a broad black line which
had almost destroyed the letters, and at the end of this line, in
brackets, was printed a word in French which Wabi quickly translated.
"Dead!" he breathed. "The Frenchmen killed him!"
The words shot from him in hot excitement.
Rod did not reply. Slowly he drew a trembling finger over the map. The
first word he encountered was unintelligible. Of the next he could only
make out one letter, which gave him no clue. Evidently the map had been
made with a different and less durable substance than that with which
the names had been written. He followed down the first straight black
line, and where this formed a junction with a wider crooked line were
two words quite distinct:
Half an inch below this Rod could make out the letters T, D and L,
"That's the third waterfall," he exclaimed eagerly.
At this point the crude lines of the diagram stopped, and immediately
below, between the map and the three names, it was evident that there
had been considerable writing. But not a word of it could the young
hunters make out. That writing, without doubt, had given the key to the
lost gold. Rod looked up, his face betraying the keenness of his
disappointment. He knew that under his hand he held all that was left of
the secret of a great treasure. But he was more baffled than ever.
Somewhere in this vast desolation there were three waterfalls, and
somewhere near the third waterfall the Englishman and the two Frenchmen
had found their gold. That was all he knew. He had not found a waterfall
in the chasm; they had not discovered one in all their trapping and
Wabi was looking down into his face in silent thought. Suddenly he
reached out and seized the sheet of bark and examined it closely. As he
looked there came a deeper flush in his face, his eyes brightened and he
gave a cry of excitement.
"By George, I believe we can peel this!" he cried. "See here, Muky!" He
thrust the birch under the old Indian's eyes. Even Mukoki's hands were
"Birch-bark is made up of a good many layers, each as thin as the
thinnest paper," he explained to Rod as Mukoki continued his
examination. "If we can peel off that first layer, and then hold it up
to the light, we shall be able to see the impression of every word that
was ever made on it--even though they were written a hundred years ago!"
Mukoki had gone to the door, and now he turned, grinning exultantly.
He showed them where he had stripped back a corner of the film-like
layer. Then he sat down in the light, his head bent over, and for many
minutes he worked at his tedious task while Wabi and Rod hung back in
soundless suspense. Half an hour later Mukoki straightened himself, rose
to his feet and held out the precious film to Rod.
As tenderly as though his own life depended upon its care, Rod held the
piece of birch, now a silken, almost transparent sheet, between himself
and the light. A cry welled up into his throat. It was repeated by Wabi.
And then there was silence--a silence broken only by their bated breaths
and the excited thumpings of their hearts.
As though they had been written but yesterday, the mysterious words on
the map were disclosed to their eyes. Where Rod had made out only three
letters there were now plainly discernible the two words "third
waterfall," and very near to these was the word "cabin." Below them were
several lines, clearly impressed in the birch film. Slowly, his voice
trembling, Rod read them to his companions.
"We, John Ball, Henri Langlois, and Peter Plante, having discovered gold
at this fall, do hereby agree to joint partnership in the same, and do
pledge ourselves to forget our past differences and work in mutual good
will and honesty, so help us God. Signed,
"JOHN BALL, HENRI LANGLOIS, PETER PLANTE."
At the very top of the map the impression of several other words caught
Rod's eyes. They were more indistinct than any of the others, but one by
one he made them out. A hot blurring film seemed to fall over his eyes
and he felt as though his heart had suddenly come up into his throat.
Wabi's breath was burning against his cheek, and it was Wabi who spoke
the words aloud.
"Cabin and head of chasm."
Rod went back to the table and sat down, the precious bit of birch-bark
under his hand. Mukoki, standing mute, had listened and heard, and was
as if stunned by their discovery. But now his mind returned to the moose
steak, and he placed it on the stove. Wabi stood with his hands in his
pockets, and after a little he laughed a trembling, happy laugh.
"Well, Rod, you've found your mine. You are as good as rich!"
"You mean that we have found our mine," corrected the white youth. "We
are three, and we just naturally fill the places of John Ball, Henri
Langlois and Peter Plante. They are all dead. The gold is ours!"
Wabi had taken up the map.
"I can't see the slightest possibility of our not finding it," he said.
"The directions are as plain as day. We follow the chasm, and somewhere
in that chasm we come to a waterfall. A little beyond this the creek
that runs through the gorge empties into a larger stream, and we follow
this second creek or river until we come to the third fall. The cabin is
there, and the gold can not be far away."
He had carried the map to the door again, and Rod joined him.
"There is nothing that gives us an idea of distance on the map," he
continued. "How far did you travel down the chasm?"
"Ten miles, at least," replied Rod.
"And you discovered no fall?"
With a splinter picked up from the floor Wabi measured the distances
between the different points on the diagram.
"There is no doubt but what this map was drawn by John Ball," he said
after a few moments of silent contemplation. "Everything points to that
fact. Notice that all of the writing is in one hand, except the
signatures of Langlois and Plante, and you could hardly decipher the
letters in those signatures if you did not already know their names from
this writing below. Ball wrote a good hand, and from the construction of
the agreement over the signatures he was a man of pretty fair education.
Don't you think so? Well, he must have drawn this map with some idea of
distance in his mind. The second fall is only half as far from the first
fall as the third fall is from the second, which seems to me conclusive
evidence of this. If he had not had distance in mind he would not have
separated the falls in this way on the map."
"Then if we can find the first fall we can figure pretty nearly how far
the last fall is from the head of the chasm," said Rod.
"Yes. I believe the distance from here to the first fall will give us a
key to the whole thing."
Rod had produced a pencil from one of his pockets and was figuring on
the smooth side of a chip.
"The gold is a long way from here at the best, Wabi. I explored the
chasm for ten miles. Say that we find the first fall within fifteen
miles. Then, according to the map, the second fall would be about twenty
miles from the first, and the third forty miles from the second. If the
first fall is within fifteen miles of this cabin the third fall is at
least seventy-five miles away."
"But we may not find the first fall within that distance," he said. "By
George--" He stopped and looked at Rod with an odd look of doubt in his
face. "If the gold is seventy-five or a hundred miles away, why were
those men here, and with only a handful of nuggets in their possession?
Is it possible that the gold played out--that they found only what was
in the buckskin bag?"
"If that were so, why should they have fought to the death for the
possession of the map?" argued Rod.
Mukoki was turning the steak. He had not spoken, but now he said:
"Mebby going to Post for supplies."
"That's exactly what they were doing!" shouted the Indian youth. "Muky,
you have solved the whole problem. They were going for supplies. And
they didn't fight for the map--not for the map alone!"
His face flushed with new excitement.
"Perhaps I am wrong, but it all seems clear to me now," he continued.
"Ball and the two Frenchmen worked their find until they ran out of
supplies. Wabinosh House is over a hundred years old, and fifty years
ago that was the nearest point where they could get more. In some way it
fell to the Frenchmen to go. They had probably accumulated a hoard of
gold, and before they left they murdered Ball. They brought with them
only enough gold to pay for their supplies, for it was their purpose not
to arouse the suspicion of any adventurers who happened to be at the
Post. They could easily have explained their possession of those few
nuggets. In this cabin either Langlois or Plante tried to kill his
companion, and thus become the sole possessor of the treasure, and the
fight, fatal to both, ensued. I may be wrong, but--by George, I believe
that is what happened!"
"And that they buried the bulk of their gold somewhere back near the
"Yes; or else they brought the gold here and buried it somewhere near
this very cabin!"
They were interrupted by Mukoki.
"Dinner ready!" he called.
Until the present moment Rod had forgotten to speak of the mysterious
man-trail he had encountered in the chasm. The excitement of the past
hour had made him oblivious to all other things, but now as they ate
their dinner he described the strange maneuvers of the spying Woonga. He
did not, however, voice those fears which had come to him in the gorge,
preferring to allow Mukoki and Wabigoon to draw their own conclusions.
By this time the two Indians were satisfied that the Woongas were not
contemplating attack, but that for some unaccountable reason they were
as anxious to evade the hunters as the hunters were to evade them.
Everything that had passed seemed to give evidence of this. The outlaw
in the chasm, for instance, could easily have waylaid Rod; a dozen times
the almost defenseless camp could have been attacked, and there were
innumerable places where ambushes might have been laid for them along
So Rod's experience with the Woonga trail between the mountains
occasioned little uneasiness, and instead of forming a scheme for the
further investigation of this trail on the south, plans were made for
locating the first fall. Mukoki was the swiftest and most tireless
traveler on snow-shoes, and it was he who volunteered to make the first
search. He would leave the following morning, taking with him a supply
of food, and during his absence Rod and Wabigoon would attend to the
"We must have the location of the first fall before we return to the
Post," declared Wabi. "If from that we find that the third fall is not
within a hundred miles of our present camp it will be impossible for us
to go in search of our gold during this trip. In that event we shall
have to go back to Wabinosh House and form a new expedition, with fresh
supplies and the proper kind of tools. We can not do anything until the
spring freshets are over, anyway."
"I have been thinking of that," replied Rod, his eyes softening. "You
know mother is alone, and--her--"
"I understand," interrupted the Indian boy, laying a hand fondly across
his companion's arm.
"--her funds are small, you know," Rod finished. "If she has been
sick--or--anything like that--"
"Yes, we've got to get back with our furs," helped Wabi, a tremor of
tenderness in his own voice. "And if you don't mind, Rod, I might take a
little run down to Detroit with you. Do you suppose she would care?"
"Care!" shouted Rod, bringing his free hand down upon Wabi's arm with a
force that hurt. "Care! Why, she thinks as much of you as she does of
me, Wabi! She'd be tickled to death! Do you mean it?"
Wabi's bronzed face flushed a deeper red at his friend's enthusiasm.
"I won't promise--for sure," he said. "But I'd like to see her--almost
as much as you, I guess. If I can, I'll go."
Rod's face was suffused with a joyful glow.
"And I'll come back with you early in the summer and we'll start out for
the gold," he cried. He jumped to his feet and slapped Mukoki on the
back in the happy turn his mind had taken. "Will you come, too, Mukoki?
I'll give you the biggest 'city time' you ever had in your life!"
The old Indian grinned and chuckled and grunted, but did not reply in
words. Wabi laughed, and answered for him.
"He is too anxious to become Minnetaki's slave again, Rod. No, Muky
won't go, I'll wager that. He will stay at the Post to see that she
doesn't get lost, or hurt, or stolen by the Woongas. Eh, Mukoki?" Mukoki
nodded, grinning good-humoredly. He went to the door, opened it and
"Devil--she snow!" he cried. "She snow like twent' t'ousand--like
This was the strongest English in the old warrior's vocabulary, and it
meant something more than usual. Wabi and Rod quickly joined him. Never
in his life had the city youth seen a snow-storm like that which he now
gazed out into. The great north storm had arrived--a storm which comes
just once each year in the endless Arctic desolation. For days and weeks
the Indians had expected it and wondered at its lateness. It fell
softly, silently, without a breath of air to stir it; a smothering,
voiceless sea of white, impenetrable to human vision, so thick that it
seemed as though it might stifle one's breath. Rod held out the palm of
his hand and in an instant it was covered with a film of white. He
walked out into it, and a dozen yards away he became a ghostly, almost
When he came back a minute later he brought a load of snow into the
cabin with him.
All that afternoon the snow fell like this, and all that night the storm
continued. When he awoke in the morning Rod heard the wind whistling and
howling through the trees and around the ends of the cabin. He rose and
built the fire while the others were still sleeping. He attempted to
open the door, but it was blocked. He lowered the barricade at the
window, and a barrel of snow tumbled in about his feet. He could see no
sign of day, and when he turned he saw Wabi sitting up in his blankets,
laughing silently at his wonder and consternation.
"What in the world--" he gasped.
"We're snowed in," grinned Wabi. "Does the stove smoke?"
"No," replied Rod, throwing a bewildered glance at the roaring fire.
"You don't mean to say--"
"Then we are not completely, buried," interrupted the other. "At least
the top of the chimney is sticking out!"
Mukoki sat up and stretched himself.
"She blow," he said, as a tremendous howl of wind swept over the cabin.
"Bime-by she blow some more!"
Rod shoveled the snow into a corner and replaced the barricade while his
"This means a week's work digging out traps," declared Wabi. "And only
Mukoki's Great Spirit, who sends all blessings to this country, knows
when the blizzard is going to stop. It may last a week. There is no
chance of finding our waterfall in this."
"We can play dominoes," suggested Rod cheerfully. "You remember we
haven't finished that series we began at the Post. But you don't expect
me to believe that it snowed enough yesterday afternoon and last night
to cover this cabin, do you?"
"It didn't exactly _snow_ enough to cover it," explained his comrade.
"But we're covered for all of that. The cabin is on the edge of an open,
and of course the snow just naturally drifts around us, blown there by
the wind. If this blizzard keeps up we shall be under a small mountain
"Won't it--smother us?" faltered Rod.
Wabi gave a joyous whoop of merriment at the city-bred youth's
half-expressed fear and a volley of Mukoki's chuckles came from where he
was slicing moose-steak on the table.
"Snow mighty nice thing live under," he asserted with emphasis.
"If you were under a mountain of snow you could live, if you weren't
crushed to death," said Wabi. "Snow is filled with air. Mukoki was
caught under a snow-slide once and was buried under thirty feet for ten
hours. He had made a nest about as big as a barrel and was nice and
comfortable when we dug him out. We won't have to burn much wood to keep
After breakfast the boys again lowered the barricade at the window and
Wabi began to bring small avalanches of snow down into the cabin with
his shovel. At the third or fourth upward thrust a huge mass plunged
through the window, burying them to the waist, and when they looked out
they could see the light of day and the whirling blizzard above their
"It's up to the roof," gasped Rod. "Great Scott, what a snow-storm!"
"Now for some fun!" cried the Indian youth. "Come on, Rod, if you want
to be in it."
He crawled through the window into the cavity he had made in the drift,
and Rod followed. Wabi waited, a mischievous smile on his face, and no
sooner had his companion joined him than he plunged his shovel deep into
the base of the drift. Half a dozen quick thrusts and there tumbled down
upon their heads a mass of light snow that for a few moments completely
buried them. The suddenness of it knocked Rod to his knees, where he
floundered, gasped and made a vain effort to yell. Struggling like a
fish he first kicked his feet free, and Wabi, who had thrust out his
head and shoulders, shrieked with laughter as he saw only Rod's boots
sticking out of the snow.
"You're going the wrong way, Rod!" he shouted. "Wow--wow!"
He seized his companion's legs and helped to drag him out, and then
stood shaking, the tears streaming down his face, and continued to laugh
until he leaned back in the drift, half exhausted. Rod was a curious and
ludicrous-looking object. His eyes were wide and blinking; the snow was
in his ears, his mouth, and in his floundering he had packed his coat
collar full of it. Slowly he recovered from his astonishment, saw Wabi
and Mukoki quivering with laughter, grinned--and then joined them in
It was not difficult now for the boys to force their way through the
drift and they were soon standing waist-deep in the snow twenty yards
from the cabin.
"The snow is only about four feet deep in the open," said Wabi. "But
look at that!"
He turned and gazed at the cabin, or rather at the small part of it
which still rose triumphant above the huge drift which had almost
completely buried it. Only a little of the roof, with the smoking
chimney rising out of it, was to be seen. Rod now turned in all
directions to survey the wild scene about him. There had come a brief
lull in the blizzard, and his vision extended beyond the lake and to the
hilltop. There was not a spot of black to meet his eyes; every rock was
hidden; the trees hung silent and lifeless under their heavy mantles and
even their trunks were beaten white with the clinging volleys of the
storm. There came to him then a thought of the wild things in this
seemingly uninhabitable desolation. How could they live in this endless
desert of snow? What could they find to eat? Where could they find water
to drink? He asked Wabi these questions after they had returned to the
"Just now, if you traveled from here to the end of this storm zone you
wouldn't find a living four-legged creature," said Wabigoon. "Every
moose in this country, every deer and caribou, every fox and wolf, is
buried in the snow. And as the snow falls deeper about them the warmer
and more comfortable do they become, so that even as the blizzard
increases in fury the kind Creator makes it easier for them to bear.
When the storm ceases the wilderness will awaken into life again. The
moose and deer and caribou will rise from their snow-beds and begin to
eat the boughs of trees and saplings; a crust will have formed on the
snow, and all the smaller animals, like foxes, lynx and wolves, will
begin to travel again, and to prey upon others for food. Until they find
running water again snow and ice take the place of liquid drink; warm
caverns dug in the snow give refuge in place of thick swamp moss and
brush and leaves. All the big animals, like moose, deer and caribou,
will soon make 'yards' for themselves by trampling down large areas of
snow, and in these yards they will gather in big herds, eating their way
through the forests, fighting the wolves and waiting for spring. Oh,
life isn't altogether bad for the animals in a deep winter like this!"
Until noon the hunters were busy cleaning away the snow from the cabin
door. As the day advanced the blizzard increased in its fury, until,
with the approach of night, it became impossible for the hunters to
expose themselves to it. For three days the storm continued with only
intermittent lulls, but with the dawn of the fourth day the sky was
again cloudless, and the sun rose with a blinding effulgence. Rod now
found himself suffering from that sure affliction of every tenderfoot in
the far North--snow-blindness. For only a few minutes at a time could he
stand the dazzling reflections of the snow-waste where nothing but
white, flashing, scintillating white, seemingly a vast sea of burning
electric points in the sunlight, met his aching eyes. On the second day
after the storm, while Wabi was still inuring Rod to the changed world
and teaching him how to accustom his eyes to it gradually, Mukoki left
the cabin to follow the chasm in his search for the first waterfall.
That same day Wabi began his work of digging out and resetting the
traps, but it was not until the day following that Rod's eyes would
allow him to assist. The task was a most difficult one; rocks and other
landmarks were completely hidden, and the lost traps averaged one out of
four. It was not until the end of the second day after Mukoki's
departure that the young hunters finished the mountain trap-line, and
when they turned their faces toward camp just at the beginning of dusk
it was with the expectant hope that they would find the old Indian
awaiting them. But Mukoki had not returned. The next day came and
passed, and a fourth dawned without his arrival. Hope now gave way to
fear. In three days Mukoki could travel nearly a hundred miles. Was it
possible that something had happened to him? Many times there recurred
to Rod a thought of the Woonga in the chasm. Had the mysterious spy, or
some of his people, waylaid and killed him?
Neither of the hunters had a desire to leave camp during the fourth day.
Trapping was exceptionally good now on account of the scarcity of animal
food and since the big storm they had captured a wolf, two lynx, a red
fox and eight mink. But as Mukoki's absence lengthened their enthusiasm
In the afternoon, as they were watching, they saw a figure climb wearily
to the summit of the hill.
It was Mukoki.
With shouts of greeting both youths hurried through the snow toward him,
not taking time to strap on their snow-shoes. The old Indian was at
their side a couple of minutes later. He smiled in a tired good-natured
way, and answered the eagerness in their eyes with a nod of his head.
"Found fall. Fift' mile down mountain."
Once in the cabin he dropped into a chair, exhausted, and both Rod and
Wabigoon joined in relieving him of his boots and outer garments. It was
evident that Mukoki had been traveling hard, for only once or twice
before in his life had Wabi seen him so completely fatigued. Quickly the
young Indian had a huge steak broiling over the fire, and Rod put an
extra handful of coffee in the pot.
"Fifty miles!" ejaculated Wabi for the twentieth time. "It was an awful
jaunt, wasn't it, Muky?"
"Rough--rough like devil th'ough mountains," replied Mukoki. "Not like
that!" He swung an arm in the direction of the chasm.
Rod stood silent, open-eyed with wonder. Was it possible that the old
warrior had discovered a wilder country than that through which he had
passed in the chasm?
"She little fall," went on Mukoki, brightening as the odor of coffee and
meat filled his nostrils. "No bigger than--that!" He pointed to the roof
of the cabin.
Rod was figuring on the table. Soon he looked up.
"According to Mukoki and the map we are at least two hundred and fifty
miles from the third fall," he said.
Mukoki shrugged his shoulders and his face was crinkled in a suggestive
"Hudson Bay," he grunted.
Wabi turned from his steak in sudden astonishment.
"Doesn't the chasm continue east?" he almost shouted.
"No. She turn--straight north."
Rod could not understand the change that came over Wabi's face.
"Boys," he said finally, "if that is the case I can tell you where the
gold is. If the stream in the chasm turns northward it is bound for just
one place--the Albany River, and the Albany River empties into James
Bay! The third waterfall, where our treasure in gold is waiting for us,
is in the very heart of the wildest and most savage wilderness in North
America. It is safe. No other man has ever found it. But to get it means
one of the longest and most adventurous expeditions we ever planned in
all our lives!"
"Hurrah!" shouted Rod. "Hurrah--"
He had leaped to his feet, forgetful of everything but that their gold
was safe, and that their search for it would lead them even to the last
fastnesses of the snow-bound and romantic North.
"Next spring, Wabi!" He held out his hand and the two boys joined their
pledge in a hearty grip.
"Next spring!" reiterated Wabi.
"And we go in canoe," joined Mukoki. "Creek grow bigger. We make
birch-bark canoe at first fall."
"That is better still," added Wabi. "It will be a glorious trip! We'll
take a little vacation at the third fall and run up to James Bay."
"James Bay is practically the same as Hudson Bay, isn't it?" asked Rod.
"Yes. I could never see a good reason for calling it James Bay. It is in
reality the lower end, or tail, of Hudson Bay."
There was no thought of visiting any of the traps that day, and the next
morning Mukoki insisted upon going with Rod, in spite of his four days
of hard travel. If he remained in camp his joints would get stiff, he
said, and Wabigoon thought he was right. This left the young Indian to
care for the trap-line leading into the north.
Two weeks of ideal trapping weather now followed. It had been more than
two months since the hunters had left Wabinosh House, and Rod now began
to count the days before they would turn back over the homeward trail.
Wabi had estimated that they had sixteen hundred dollars' worth of furs
and scalps and two hundred dollars in gold, and the white youth was
satisfied to return to his mother with his share of six hundred dollars,
which was as much as he would have earned in a year at his old position
in the city. Neither did he attempt to conceal from Wabi his desire to
see Minnetaki; and his Indian friend, thoroughly pleased at Rod's liking
for his sister, took much pleasure in frequent good-natured banter on
the subject. In fact, Rod possessed a secret hope that he might induce
the princess mother to allow her daughter to accompany himself and Wabi
to Detroit, where he knew that his own mother would immediately fall in
love with the beautiful little maiden from the North.
In the third week after the great storm Rod and Mukoki had gone over the
mountain trap-line, leaving Wabi in camp. They had decided that the
following week would see them headed for Wabinosh House, where they
would arrive about the first of February, and Roderick was in high
On this day they had started toward camp early in the afternoon, and
soon after they had passed through the swamp Rod expressed his intention
of ascending the ridge, hoping to get a shot at game somewhere along the
mountain trail home. Mukoki, however, decided not to accompany him, but
to take the nearer and easier route.
On the top of the mountain Rod paused to take a survey of the country
about him. He could see Mukoki, now hardly more than a moving speck on
the edge of the plain; northward the same fascinating, never-ending
wilderness rolled away under his eyes; eastward, two miles away, he saw
a moving object which he knew was a moose or a caribou; and westward--
Instinctively his eyes sought the location of their camp. Instantly the
expectant light went out of his face. He gave an involuntary cry of
horror, and there followed it a single, unheard shriek for Mukoki.
Over the spot where he knew their camp to be now rose a huge volume of
smoke. The sky was black with it, and in the terrible moment that
followed his piercing cry for Mukoki he fancied that he heard the sound
"Mukoki! Mukoki!" he shouted.
The old Indian was beyond hearing. Quickly it occurred to Rod that early
in their trip they had arranged rifle signals for calling help--two
quick shots, and then, after a moment's interval, three others in rapid
He threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired into the air; once,
twice--and then three times as fast as he could press the trigger.
As he watched Mukoki he reloaded. He saw the Indian pause, turn about
and look back toward the mountain.
Again the thrilling signals for help went echoing over the plains. In a
few seconds the sounds had reached Mukoki's ears and the old warrior
came swinging back at running speed.
Rod darted along the ridge to meet him, firing a single shot now and
then to let him know where he was, and in fifteen minutes Mukoki came
panting up the mountain.
"The Woongas!" shouted Rod. "They've attacked the camp! See!" He pointed
to the cloud of smoke. "I heard shots--I heard shots--"
For an instant the grim pathfinder gazed in the direction of the burning
camp, and then without a word he started at terrific speed down the
The half-hour race that followed was one of the most exciting
experiences of Rod's life. How he kept up with Mukoki was more than he
ever could explain afterward. But from the time they struck the old
trail he was close at the Indian's heels. When they reached the hill
that sheltered the dip his face was scratched and bleeding from contact
with swinging bushes; his heart seemed ready to burst from its
tremendous exertion; his breath came in an audible hissing, rattling
sound, and he could not speak. But up the hill he plunged behind Mukoki,
his rifle cocked and ready. At the top they paused.
The camp was a smoldering mass of ruins. Not a sign of life was about
With a gasping, wordless cry Rod caught Mukoki's arm and pointed to an
object lying in the snow a dozen yards from where the cabin had been.
The warrior had seen it. He turned one look upon the white youth, and it
was a look that Rod had never thought could come into the face of a
human being. If that was Wabi down there--if Wabi had been killed--what
would Mukoki's vengeance be! His companion was no longer Mukoki--as he
had known him; he was the savage. There was no mercy, no human instinct,
no suggestion of the human soul in that one terrible look. If it was
They plunged down the hill, into the dip, across the lake, and Mukoki
was on his knees beside the figure in the snow. He turned it over--and
rose without a sound, his battle-glaring eyes peering into the smoking
Rod looked, and shuddered.
The figure in the snow was not Wabi.
It was a strange, terrible-looking object--a giant Indian, distorted in
death--and a half of his head was shot away!
When he again looked at Mukoki the old Indian was in the midst of the
hot ruins, kicking about with his booted feet and poking with the butt
of his rifle.
THE RESCUE OF WABIGOON
Rod had sunk into the snow close to the dead man. His endurance was gone
and he was as weak as a child. He watched every movement Mukoki made;
saw every start, every glance, and became almost sick with fear whenever
the warrior bent down to examine some object.
Was Wabi dead--and burned in those ruins?
Foot by foot Mukoki searched. His feet became hot; the smell of burning
leather filled his nostrils; glowing coals burned through to his feet.
But the old Indian was beyond pain. Only two things filled his soul. One
of these was love for Minnetaki; the other was love for Wabigoon. And
there was only one other thing that could take the place of these, and
that was merciless, undying, savage passion--passion at any wrong or
injury that might be done to them. The Woongas had sneaked upon Wabi. He
knew that. They had caught him unaware, like cowards; and perhaps he was
dead--and in those ruins!
He searched until his feet were scorched and burned in a score of
places, and then he came out, smoke-blackened, but with some of the
terrible look gone out of his face.
"He no there!" he said, speaking for the first time.
Again he crouched beside the dead man, and grimaced at Rod with a
triumphant, gloating chuckle.
"Much dead!" he grinned.
In a moment the grimace had gone from his face, and while Rod still
rested he continued his examination of the camp. Close around it the
snow was beaten down with human tracks. Mukoki saw where the outlaws had
stolen up behind the cabin from the forest and he saw where they had
gone away after the attack.
Five had come down from the cedars, only four had gone away!
Where was Wabi?
If he had been captured, and taken with the Indians, there would have
been five trails. Rod understood this as well as Mukoki, and he also
understood why his companion went back to make another investigation of
the smoldering ruins. This second search, however, convinced the Indian
that Wabi's body had not been thrown into the fire. There was only one
conclusion to draw. The youth had made a desperate fight, had killed one
of the outlaws, and after being wounded in the conflict had been carried
off bodily. Wabi and his captors could not be more than two or three
miles away. A quick pursuit would probably overtake them within an hour.
Mukoki came to Rod's side.
"Me follow--kill!" he said. "Me kill so many quick!" He pointed toward
the four trails. "You stay--"
Rod clambered to his feet.
"You mean we'll kill 'em, Muky," he broke in. "I can follow you again.
Set the pace!"
There came the click of the safety on Mukoki's rifle, and Rod, following
suit, cocked his own.
"Much quiet," whispered the Indian when they had come to the farther
side of the dip. "No noise--come up still--shoot!"
The snow-shoe trail of the outlaws turned from the dip into the timbered
bottoms to the north, and Mukoki, partly crouched, his rifle always to
the front, followed swiftly. They had not progressed a hundred yards
into the plain when the old hunter stopped, a puzzled look in his face.
He pointed to one of the snow-shoe trails which was much deeper than the
"Heem carry Wabi," he spoke softly. "But--" His eyes gleamed in sudden
excitement. "They go slow! They no hurry! Walk very slow! Take much
Rod now observed for the first time that the individual tracks made by
the outlaws were much shorter than their own, showing that instead of
being in haste they were traveling quite slowly. This was a mystery
which was not easy to explain. Did the Woongas not fear pursuit? Was it
possible that they believed the hunters would not hasten to give them
battle? Or were they relying upon the strength of their numbers, or,
perhaps, planning some kind of ambush?
Mukoki's advance now became slower and more cautious. His keen eyes took
in every tree and clump of bushes ahead. Only when he could see the
trail leading straight away for a considerable distance did he hasten
the pursuit. Never for an instant did he turn his head to Rod. But
suddenly he caught sight of something that brought from him a guttural
sound of astonishment. A fifth track had joined the trail! Without
questioning Rod knew what it meant. Wabi had been lowered from the back
of his captor and was now walking. He was on snow-shoes and his strides
were quite even and of equal length with the others. Evidently he was
not badly wounded.
Half a mile ahead of them was a high hill and between them and this hill
was a dense growth of cedar, filled with tangled windfalls. It was an
ideal place for an ambush, but the old warrior did not hesitate. The
Woongas had followed a moose trail, with which they were apparently well
acquainted, and in this traveling was easy. But Rod gave an involuntary
shudder as he gazed ahead into the chaotic tangle through which it led.
At any moment he expected to hear the sharp crack of a rifle and to see
Mukoki tumble forward upon his face. Or there might be a fusillade of
shots and he himself might feel the burning sting that comes with rifle
death. At the distance from which they would shoot the outlaws could not
miss. Did not Mukoki realize this? Maddened by the thought that his
beloved Wabi was in the hands of merciless enemies, was the old
pathfinder becoming reckless?
But when he looked into his companion's face and saw the cool deadly
resolution glittering in his eyes, the youth's confidence was restored.
For some reason Mukoki knew that there would not be an ambush.
Over the moose-run the two traveled more swiftly and soon they came to
the foot of the high hill. Up this the Woongas had gone, their trail
clearly defined and unswerving in its direction. Mukoki now paused with
a warning gesture to Rod, and pointed down at one of the snow-shoe
tracks. The snow was still crumbling and falling about the edges of this
"Ver' close!" whispered the Indian.
It was not the light of the game hunt in Mukoki's eyes now; there was a
trembling, terrible tenseness in his whispered words. He crept up the
hill with Rod so near that he could have touched him. At the summit of
that hill he dragged himself up like an animal, and then, crouching, ran
swiftly to the opposite side, his rifle within six inches of his
shoulder. In the plain below them was unfolded to their eyes a scene
which, despite his companion's warning, wrung an exclamation of dismay
from Roderick's lips.
[Illustration: The leader stopped in his snow-shoes]
Plainly visible to them in the edge of the plain were the outlaw Woongas
and their captive. They were in single file, with Wabi following the
leader, and the hunters perceived that their comrade's arms were tied
But it was another sight that caused Rod's dismay.
From an opening beside a small lake half a mile beyond the Indians below
there rose the smoke of two camp-fires, and Mukoki and he could make out
at least a score of figures about these fires.
Within rifle-shot of them, almost within shouting distance, there was
not only the small war party that had attacked the camp, but a third of
the fighting men of the Woonga tribe! Rod understood their terrible
predicament. To attack the outlaws in an effort to rescue Wabi meant
that an overwhelming force would be upon them within a few minutes; to
allow Wabi to remain a captive meant--he shuddered at the thought of
what it might mean, for he knew of the merciless vengeance of the
Woongas upon the House of Wabinosh.
And while he was thinking of these things the faithful old warrior
beside him had already formed his plan of attack. He would die with
Wabi, gladly--a fighting, terrible slave to devotion to the last; but he
would not see Wabi die alone. A whispered word, a last look at his
rifle, and Mukoki hurried down into the plains.
At the foot of the hill he abandoned the outlaw trail and Rod realized
that his plan was to sweep swiftly in a semicircle, surprising the
Woongas from the front or side instead of approaching from the rear.
Again he was taxed to his utmost to keep pace with the avenging Mukoki.
Less than ten minutes later the Indian peered cautiously from behind a
clump of hazel, and then looked back at Rod, a smile of satisfaction on
"They come," he breathed, just loud enough to hear. "They come!"
Rod peered over his shoulder, and his heart smote mightily within him.
Unconscious of their peril the Woongas were approaching two hundred
yards away. Mukoki gazed into his companion's face and his eyes were
almost pleading as he laid a bronzed crinkled hand upon the white boy's
"You take front man--ahead of Wabi," he whispered. "I take other t'ree.
See that tree--heem birch, with bark off? Shoot heem there. You no
tremble? You no miss?"
"No," replied Rod. He gripped the red hand in his own. "I'll kill,
Mukoki. I'll kill him dead--in one shot!"
They could hear the voices of the outlaws now, and soon they saw that
Wabi's face was disfigured with blood.
Step by step, slowly and carelessly, the Woongas approached. They were
fifty yards from the marked birch now--forty--thirty--now only ten.
Roderick's rifle was at his shoulder. Already it held a deadly bead on
the breast of the leader.
Five yards more--
The outlaw passed behind the tree; he came out, and the young hunter
pressed the trigger. The leader stopped in his snow-shoes. Even before
he had crumpled down into a lifeless heap in the snow a furious volley
of shots spat forth from Mukoki's gun, and when Rod swung his own rifle
to join again in the fray he found that only one of the four was
standing, and he with his hands to his breast as he tottered about to
fall. But from some one of those who had fallen there had gone out a
wild, terrible cry, and even as Rod and Makoki rushed out to free
Wabigoon there came an answering yell from the direction of the Woonga
Mukoki's knife was in his hand by the time he reached Wabi, and with one
or two slashes he had released his hands.
"You hurt--bad?" he asked.
"No--no!" replied Wabi. "I knew you'd come, boys--dear old friends!"
As he spoke he turned to the fallen leader and Rod saw him take
possession of the rifle and revolver which he had lost in their fight
with the Woongas weeks before. Mukoki had already spied their precious
pack of furs on one of the outlaw's backs, and he flung it over his own.
"You saw the camp?" queried Wabi excitedly.
"They will be upon us in a minute! Which way, Mukoki?"
"The chasm!" half shouted Rod. "The chasm! If we can reach the chasm--"
"The chasm!" reiterated Wabigoon.
Mukoki had fallen behind and motioned for Wabi and Rod to take the lead.
Even now he was determined to take the brunt of danger by bringing up
There was no time for argument and Wabigoon set off at a rapid pace.
From behind there came the click of shells as the Indian loaded his
rifle on the run. While the other two had been busy at the scene of the
ambush Rod had replaced his empty shell, and now, as he led, Wabi
examined the armament that had been stolen from them by the outlaws.
"How many shells have you got, Rod?" he asked over his shoulder.
"There's only four left in this belt besides five in the gun," called
back the Indian youth. "Give me--some."
Without halting Rod plucked a dozen cartridges from his belt and passed
Now they had reached the hill. At its summit they paused to recover
their breath and take a look at the camp.
The fires were deserted. A quarter of a mile out on the plain they saw
half a dozen of their pursuers speeding toward the hill. The rest were
already concealed in the nearer thickets of the bottom.
"We must beat them to the chasm!" said the young Indian.
As he spoke Wabi turned and led the way again.
Rod's heart fell like a lump within him. We must beat them to the chasm!
Those words of Wabi's brought him to the terrible realization that his
own powers of endurance were rapidly ebbing. His race behind Mukoki to
the burning cabin had seemed to rob the life from the muscles of his
limbs, and each step now added to his weakness. And the chasm was a mile
beyond the dip, and the entrance into that chasm still two miles
farther. Three miles! Could he hold out?
He heard Mukoki thumping along behind him; ahead of him Wabi was
unconsciously widening the distance between them. He made a powerful
effort to close the breach, but it was futile. Then from close in his
rear there came a warning halloo from the old Indian, and Wabi turned.
"He run t'ree mile to burning cabin," said Mukoki. "He no make chasm!"
Rod was deathly white and breathing so hard that he could not speak. The
quick-witted Wabi at once realized their situation.
"There is just one thing for us to do, Muky. We must stop the Woongas at
the dip. We'll fire down upon them from the top of the hill beyond the
lake. We can drop three or four of them and they won't dare to come
straight after us then. They will think we are going to fight them from
there and will take time to sneak around us. Meanwhile we'll get a good
lead in the direction of the chasm."
He led off again, this time a little slower. Three minutes later they
entered into the dip, crossed it safely, and were already at the foot of
the hill, when from the opposite side of the hollow there came a
triumphant blood-curdling yell.
"Hurry!" shouted Wabi. "They see us!" Even as he spoke there came the
crack of a rifle.
For the first time in his life Rod heard that terrible death-song of a
bullet close to his head and saw the snow fly up a dozen feet beyond the
For an interval of twenty seconds there was silence; then there came
another shot, and after that three others in quick succession. Wabi
"Not hit!" he called, scrambling to his feet. "Confound--that rock!"
He rose to the hilltop with Rod close behind him, and from the opposite
side of the lake there came a fusillade of half a dozen shots.
Instinctively Rod dropped upon his face. And in that instant, as he lay
in the snow, he heard the sickening thud of a bullet and a sharp sudden
cry of pain from Mukoki. But the old warrior came up beside him and they
passed into the shelter of the hilltop together.
"Is it bad? Is it bad, Mukoki? Is it bad--" Wabi was almost sobbing as
he turned and threw an arm around the old Indian. "Are you hit--bad?"
Mukoki staggered, but caught himself.
"In here," he said, putting a hand to his left shoulder. "She--no--bad."
He smiled, courage gleaming with pain in his eyes, and swung off the
light pack of furs. "We give 'em--devil--here!"
Crouching, they peered over the edge of the hill. Half a dozen Woongas
had already left the cedars and were following swiftly across the open.
Others broke from the cover, and Wabi saw that a number of them were
without snow-shoes. He exultantly drew Mukoki's attention to this fact,
but the latter did not lift his eyes. In a few moments he spoke.
"Now we give 'em--devil!"
Eight pursuers on snow-shoes were in the open of the dip. Six of them
had reached the lake. Rod held his fire. He knew that it was now more
important for him to recover his wind than to fight, and he drew great
drafts of air into his lungs while his two comrades leveled their
rifles. He could fire after they were done if it was necessary.
There was slow deadly deliberation in the way Mukoki and Wabigoon
sighted along their rifle-barrels. Mukoki fired first; one shot,
two--with a second's interval between--and an outlaw half-way across the
lake pitched forward into the snow. As he fell, Wabi fired once, and
there came to their ears shriek after shriek of agony as a second
pursuer fell with a shattered leg. At the cries and shots of battle the
hot blood rushed through Rod's veins, and with an excited shout of
defiance he brought his rifle to his shoulder and in unison the three
guns sent fire and death into the dip below.
Only three of the eight Woongas remained and they had turned and were
running toward the shelter of the cedars.
"Hurrah!" shouted Rod.
In his excitement he got upon his feet and sent his fifth and last shot
after the fleeing outlaws. "Hurrah! Wow! Let's go after 'em!"
"Get down!" commanded Wabi. "Load in a hurry!"
Clink--clink--clink sounded the new shells as Mukoki and Wabigoon thrust
them into their magazines. Five seconds more and they were sending a
terrific fusillade of shots into the edge of the cedars--ten in all--and
by the time he had reloaded his own gun Rod could see nothing to shoot
"That will hold them for a while," spoke Wabi. "Most of them came in too
big a hurry, and without their snow-shoes, Muky. We'll beat them to the
chasm--easy!" He put an arm around the shoulders of the old Indian, who
was still lying upon his face in the snow. "Let me see, Muky--let me
"Chasm first," replied Mukoki. "She no bad. No hit bone. No
From behind Rod could see that Mukoki's coat was showing a growing
blotch of red.
"Are you sure--you can reach the chasm?"
In proof of his assertion the wounded Indian rose to his feet and
approached the pack of furs. Wabi was ahead of him, and placed it upon
his own shoulders.
"You and Rod lead the way," he said. "You two know where to find the
opening into the chasm. I've never been there."
Mukoki started down the hill, and Rod, close behind, could hear him
breathing heavily; there was no longer fear for himself in his soul, but
for that grim faithful warrior ahead, who would die in his tracks
without a murmur and with a smile of triumph and fearlessness on his
RODERICK HOLDS THE WOONGAS AT BAY
They traveled more slowly now and Rod found his strength returning. When
they reached the second ridge he took Mukoki by the arm and assisted him
up, and the old Indian made no demur. This spoke more strongly of his
hurt than words. There was still no sign of their enemies behind. From
the top of the second ridge they could look back upon a quarter of a
mile of the valley below, and it was here that Rod suggested that he
remain on watch for a few minutes while Wabigoon went on with Mukoki.
The young hunters could see that the Indian was becoming weaker at every
step, and Mukoki could no longer conceal this weakness in spite of the
tremendous efforts he made to appear natural.
"I believe it is bad," whispered Wabi to Rod, his face strangely white.
"I believe it is worse than we think. He is bleeding hard. Your idea is
a good one. Watch here, and if the Woongas show up in the valley open
fire on them. I'll leave you my gun, too, so they'll think we are going
to give them another fight. That will keep them back for a time. I'm
going to stop Muky up here a little way and dress his wound. He will
bleed to death if I don't."
"And then go on," added Rod. "Don't stop if you hear me fire, but hurry
on to the chasm. I know the way and will join you. I'm as strong as I
ever was now, and can catch up with you easily with Mukoki traveling as
slowly as he does."
During this brief conversation Mukoki had continued his way along the
ridge and Wabi hurried to overtake him. Meanwhile Rod concealed himself
behind a rock, from which vantage-point he could see the whole of that
part of the valley across which they had come.
He looked at his watch and in tense anxiety counted every minute after
that. He allowed ten minutes for the dressing of Mukoki's wound. Every
second gained from then on would be priceless. For a quarter of an hour
he kept his eyes with ceaseless vigilance upon their back trail. Surely
the Woongas had secured their snow-shoes by this time! Was it possible
that they had given up the pursuit--that their terrible experience in
the dip had made them afraid of further battle? Rod answered this
question in the negative. He was sure that the Woongas knew that Wabi
was the son of the factor of Wabinosh House. Therefore they would make
every effort to recapture him, even though they had to follow far and a
dozen lives were lost before that feat was accomplished.
A movement in the snow across the valley caught Rod's eyes. He
straightened himself, and his breath came quickly. Two figures had
appeared in the open. Another followed close behind, and after that
there came others, until the waiting youth had counted sixteen. They
were all on snow-shoes, following swiftly over the trail of the
The young hunter looked at his watch again. Twenty-five minutes had
passed. Mukoki and Wabigoon had secured a good start. If he could only
hold the outlaws in the valley for a quarter of an hour more--just
fifteen short minutes--they would almost have reached the entrance into
Alone, with his own life and those of his comrades depending upon him,
the boy was cool. There was no tremble in his hands to destroy the
accuracy of his rifle-fire, no blurring excitement or fear in his brain
to trouble his judgment of distance and range. He made up his mind that
he would not fire until they had come within four hundred yards. Between
that distance and three hundred he was sure he could drop at least one
or two of them.
He measured his range by a jackpine stub, and when two of the Woongas
had reached and passed that stub he fired. He saw the snow thrown up six
feet in front of the leader. He fired again, and again, and one of the
shots, a little high, struck the second outlaw. The leader had darted
back to the shelter of the stub and Rod sent another bullet whizzing
past his ears. His fifth he turned into the main body of the pursuers,
and then, catching up Wabi's rifle, he poured a hail of five bullets
among them in as many seconds.
The effect was instantaneous. The outlaws scattered in retreat and Rod
saw that a second figure was lying motionless in the snow. He began to
reload his rifles and by the time he had finished the Woongas had
separated and were running to the right and the left of him. For the
last time he looked at his watch. Wabi and Mukoki had been gone
The boy crept back from his rock, straightened himself, and followed in
their trail. He mentally calculated that it would be ten minutes before
the Woongas, coming up from the sides and rear, would discover his
flight, and by that time he would have nearly a mile the start of them.
He saw, without stopping, where Wabi had dressed Mukoki's wound. There
were spots of blood and a red rag upon the snow. Half a mile farther on
the two had paused again, and this time he knew that Mukoki had stopped
to rest. From now on they had rested every quarter of a mile or so, and
soon Roderick saw them toiling slowly through the snow ahead of him.
He ran up, panting, anxious.
"How--" he began.
Wabi looked at him grimly.
"How much farther, Rod?" he asked.
"Not more than half a mile."
Wabi motioned for him to take Mukoki's other arm.
"He has bled a good deal," he said. There was a hardness in his voice
that made Rod shudder, and he caught his breath as Wabi shot him a
meaning glance behind the old warrior's doubled shoulders.
They went faster now, almost carrying their wounded comrade between
them. Suddenly, Wabi paused, threw his rifle to his shoulder, and fired.
A few yards ahead a huge white rabbit kicked in his death struggles in
"If we do reach the chasm Mukoki must have something to eat," he said.
"We'll reach it!" gasped Rod. "We'll reach it! There's the woods. We go
They almost ran, with Mukoki's snow-shod feet dragging between them, and
five minutes later they were carrying the half-unconscious Indian down
the steep side of the mountain. At its foot Wabi turned, and his eyes
flashed with vengeful hatred.
"Now, you devils!" he shouted up defiantly. "Now!"
Mukoki aroused himself for a few moments and Rod helped him back to the
shelter of the chasm wall. He found a nook between great masses of rock,
almost clear of snow, and left him there while he hurried back to
"You stand on guard here, Rod," said the latter. "We must cook that
rabbit and get some life back into Mukoki. I think he has stopped
bleeding, but I am going to look again. The wound isn't fatal, but it
has weakened him. If we can get something hot into him I believe he will
be able to walk again. Did you have anything left over from your dinner
on the trail to-day?"
Rod unstrapped the small pack in which the hunters carried their food
while on the trail, and which had been upon his shoulders since noon.
"There is a double handful of coffee, a cupful of tea, plenty of salt
and a little bread," he said.
"Good! Few enough supplies for three people in this kind of a
wilderness--but they'll save Mukoki!"
Wabi went back, while Rod, sheltered behind a rock, watched the narrow
incline into the chasm. He almost hoped the Woongas would dare to
attempt a descent, for he was sure that he and Wabi would have them at a
terrible disadvantage and with their revolvers and three rifles could
inflict a decisive blow upon them before they reached the bottom. But he
saw no sign of their enemies. He heard no sound from above, yet he knew
that the outlaws were very near--only waiting for the protecting
darkness of night.
He heard the crackling of Wabi's fire and the odor of coffee came to
him; and Wabi, assured that their presence was known to the Woongas,
began whistling cheerily. In a few minutes he rejoined Rod behind the
"They will attack us as soon as it gets good and dark," he said coolly.
"That is, if they can find us. As soon as they are no longer able to see
down into the chasm we will find some kind of a hiding-place. Mukoki
will be able to travel then."
A memory of the cleft in the chasm wall came to Rod and he quickly
described it to his companion. It was an ideal hiding-place at night,
and if Mukoki was strong enough they could steal up out of the chasm and
secure a long start into the south before the Woongas discovered their
flight in the morning. There was just one chance of failure. If the spy
whose trail had revealed the break in the mountain to Rod was not among
the outlaws' wounded or dead the cleft might be guarded, or the Woongas
themselves might employ it in making a descent upon them.
"It's worth the risk anyway," said Wabi. "The chances are even that your
outlaw ran across the fissure by accident and that his companions are
not aware of its existence. And they'll not follow our trail down the
chasm to-night, I'll wager. In the cover of darkness they will steal
down among the rocks and then wait for daylight. Meanwhile we can be
traveling southward and when they catch up with us we will give them
another fight if they want it."
"We can start pretty soon?"
"Within an hour."
For some time the two stood in silent watchfulness. Suddenly Rod asked:
"Where is Wolf?"
Wabi laughed, softly, exultantly.
"Gone back to his people, Rod. He will be crying in the wild hunt-pack
to-night. Good old Wolf!" The laugh left his lips and there was a
tremble of regret in his voice. "The Woongas came from the back of the
cabin--took me by surprise--and we had it hot and heavy for a few
minutes. We fell back where Wolf was tied and just as I knew they'd got
me sure I cut his babeesh with the knife I had in my hand."
"Didn't he show fight?"
"For a minute. Then one of the Indians shot, at him and he hiked off
into the woods."
"Queer they didn't wait for Mukoki and me," mused Rod. "Why didn't they
"Because they didn't want you, and they were sure they'd reach their
camp before you took up the trail. I was their prize. With me in their
power they figured on communicating with you and Mukoki and sending you
back to the Post with their terms. They would have bled father to his
last cent--and then killed me. Oh, they talked pretty plainly to me when
they thought they had me!"
There came a noise from above them and the young hunters held their
rifles in readiness. Nearer and nearer came the crashing sound, until a
small boulder shot past them into the chasm.
"They're up there," grinned Wabi, lowering his gun. "That was an
accident, but you'd better keep your eyes open. I'll bet the whole tribe
feel like murdering the fellow who rolled over that stone!"
He crept cautiously back to Mukoki, and Rod crouched with his face to
the narrow trail leading down from the top of the mountain. Deep shadows
were beginning to lurk among the trees and he was determined that any
movement there would draw his fire. Fifteen minutes later Wabi returned,
eating ravenously at a big hind quarter of broiled rabbit.
"I've had my coffee," he greeted. "Go back and eat and drink, and build
the fire up high. Don't mind me when I shoot. I am going to fire just to
let the Woongas know we are on guard, and after that we'll hustle for
that break in the mountain."
Rod found Mukoki with a chunk of rabbit in one hand and a cup of coffee
in the other. The wounded Indian smiled with something like the old
light in his eyes and a mighty load was lifted from Rod's heart.
"You're better?" he asked.
"Fine!" replied Mukoki. "No much hurt. Good fight some more. Wabi say,
'No, you stay.'" His face became a map of grimaces to show his
disapproval of Wabi's command.
Rod helped himself to the meat and coffee. He was hungry, but after he
was done there remained some of the rabbit and a biscuit and these he
placed in his pack for further use. Soon after this there came two shots
from the rock and before the echoes had died away down the chasm Wabi
approached through the gathering gloom.
It was easy for the hunters to steal along the concealment of the
mountain wall, and even if there had been prying eyes on the opposite
ridge they could not have penetrated the thickening darkness in the
bottom of the gulch. For some time the flight was continued with extreme
caution, no sound being made to arouse the suspicion of any outlaw who
might be patrolling the edge of the precipice. At the end of half an
hour Mukoki, who was in the lead that he might set a pace according to
his strength, quickened his steps. Rod was close beside him now, his
eyes ceaselessly searching the chasm wall for signs that would tell him
when they were nearing the rift. Suddenly Wabi halted in his tracks and
gave a low hiss that stopped them.
"It's snowing!" he whispered.
Mukoki lifted his face. Great solitary flakes of snow fell upon it.
"She snow hard--soon. Mebby cover snow-shoe trails!"
"And if it does--we're safe!" There was a vibrant joy in Wabi's voice.
For a full minute Mukoki held his face to the sky.
"Hear small wind over chasm," he said.
"She come from south. She snow hard--now--up there!"
They went on, stirred by new hope. Rod could feel that the flakes were
coming thicker. The three now kept close to the chasm wall in their
search for the rift. How changed all things were at night! Rod's heart
throbbed now with hope, now with doubt, now with actual fear. Was it
possible that he could not find it? Had they passed it among some of the
black shadows behind? He saw no rock that he recognized, no overhanging
crag, no sign to guide him. He stopped, and his voice betrayed his
uneasiness as he asked:
"How far do you think we have come?"
Mukoki had gone a few steps ahead, and before Wabi answered he called
softly to them from close up against the chasm wall. They hurried to him
and found him standing beside the rift.
Wabi handed his rifle to Rod.
"I'm going up first," he announced. "If the coast is clear I'll whistle
For a few moments Mukoki and Rod could hear him as he crawled up the
fissure. Then all was silent. A quarter of an hour passed, and a low
whistle came to their ears. Another ten minutes and the three stood
together at the top of the mountain, Rod and the wounded Mukoki
breathing hard from their exertions.
For a time the three sat down in the snow and waited, watched, listened;
and from Rod's heart there went up something that was almost a prayer,
for it was snowing--snowing hard, and it seemed to him that the storm
was something which God had specially directed should fall in their path
that it might shield them and bring them safely home.
And when he rose to his feet Wabi was still silent, and the three
gripped hands in mute thankfulness at their deliverance.
Still speechless, they turned instinctively for a moment back to the
dark desolation beyond the chasm--the great, white wilderness in which
they had passed so many adventurous yet happy weeks; and as they gazed
into the chaos beyond the second mountain there came to them the lonely,
wailing howl of a wolf.
"I wonder," said Wabi softly. "I wonder--if that--is Wolf?"
And then, Indian file, they trailed into the south.
THE SURPRISE AT THE POST
From the moment that the adventurers turned their backs upon the Woonga
country Mukoki was in command. With the storm in their favor everything
else now depended upon the craft of the old pathfinder. There was
neither moon nor wind to guide them, and even Wabi felt that he was not
competent to strike a straight trail in a strange country and a night
storm. But Mukoki, still a savage in the ways of the wilderness, seemed
possessed of that mysterious sixth sense which is known as the sense of
orientation--that almost supernatural instinct which guides the carrier
pigeon as straight as a die to its home-cote hundreds of miles away.
Again and again during that thrilling night's flight Wabi or Rod would
ask the Indian where Wabinosh House lay, and he would point out its
direction to them without hesitation. And each time it seemed to the
city youth that he pointed a different way, and it proved to him how
easy it was to become hopelessly lost in the wilderness.
Not until midnight did they pause to rest. They had traveled slowly but
steadily and Wabi figured that they had covered fifteen miles. Five
miles behind them their trail was completely obliterated by the falling
snow. Morning would betray to the Woongas no sign of the direction taken
by the fugitives.
"They will believe that we have struck directly westward for the Post,"
said Wabi. "To-morrow night we'll be fifty miles apart."
During this stop a small fire was built behind a fallen log and the
hunters refreshed themselves with a pot of strong coffee and what little
remained of the rabbit and biscuits. The march was then resumed.
It seemed to Rod that they had climbed an interminable number of ridges
and had picked their way through an interminable number of swampy
bottoms between them, and he, even more than Mukoki, was relieved when
they struck the easier traveling of open plains. In fact, Mukoki seemed
scarcely to give a thought to his wound and Roderick was almost ready to
drop in his tracks by the time a halt was called an hour before dawn.
The old warrior was confident that they were now well out of danger and
a rousing camp-fire was built in the shelter of a thick growth of
"Spruce partridge in mornin'," affirmed Mukoki. "Plenty here for
"How do you know?" asked Rod, whose hunger was ravenous.
"Fine thick spruce, all in shelter of dip," explained the Indian. "Birds
Wabi had unpacked the furs, and the larger of these, including six lynx
and three especially fine wolf skins, he divided into three piles.
"They'll make mighty comfortable beds if you keep close enough to the
fire," he explained. "Get a few spruce boughs, Rod, and cover them over
with one of the wolf skins. The two lynx pelts will make the warmest
blankets you ever had."
Rod quickly availed himself of this idea, and within half an hour he was
sleeping soundly. Mukoki and Wabigoon, more inured to the hardships of
the wilderness, took only brief snatches of slumber, one or both
awakening now and then to replenish the fire. As soon as it was light
enough the two Indians went quietly out into the spruce with their guns,
and their shots a little later awakened Rod. When they returned they
brought three partridges with them.
"There are dozens of them among the spruce," said Wabi, "but just now we
do not want to shoot any oftener than is absolutely necessary. Have you
noticed our last night's trail?"
Rod rubbed his eyes, thus confessing that as yet he had not been out
from between his furs.
"Well, if you go out there in the open for a hundred yards you won't
find it," finished his comrade. "The snow has covered it completely."
Although they lacked everything but meat, this breakfast in the spruce
thicket was one of the happiest of the entire trip, and when the three
hunters were done each had eaten of his partridge until only the bones
were left. There was now little cause for fear, for it was still snowing
and their enemies were twenty-five miles to the north of them. This fact
did not deter the adventurers from securing an early start, however, and
they traveled southward through the storm until noon, when they built a
camp of spruce and made preparations to rest until the following day.
"We must be somewhere near the Kenogami trail," Wabi remarked to Mukoki.
"We may have passed it."
"No pass it," replied Mukoki. "She off there." He pointed to the south.
"You see the Kenogami trail is a sled trail leading from the little town
of Nipigon, on the railroad, to Kenogami House, which is a Hudson Bay
Post at the upper end of Long Lake," explained Wabi to his white
companion. "The factor of Kenogami is a great friend of ours and we have
visited back and forth often, but I've been over the Kenogami trail only
once. Mukoki has traveled it many times."
Several rabbits were killed before dinner. No other hunting was done
during the afternoon, most of which was passed in sleep by the exhausted
adventurers. When Rod awoke he found that it had stopped snowing and was
Mukoki's wound was beginning to trouble him again, and it was decided
that at least a part of the next day should be passed in camp, and that
both Rod and Wabigoon should make an effort to kill some animal that
would furnish them with the proper kind of oil to dress it with, the fat
of almost any species of animal except mink or rabbit being valuable for
this purpose. With dawn the two started out, while Mukoki, much against
his will, was induced to remain in camp. A short distance away the
hunters separated, Rod striking to the eastward and Wabi into the south.
For an hour Roderick continued without seeing game, though there were
plenty of signs of deer and caribou about him. At last he determined to
strike for a ridge a mile to the south, from the top of which he was
more likely to get a shot than in the thick growth of the plains. He had
not traversed more than a half of the distance when much to his surprise
he came upon a well-beaten trail running slightly diagonally with his
own, almost due north. Two dog-teams had passed since yesterday's storm,
and on either side of the sleds were the snow-shoe trails of men. Rod
saw that there were three of these, and at least a dozen dogs in the two
teams. It at once occurred to him that this was the Kenogami trail, and
impelled by nothing more than curiosity he began to follow it.
Half a mile farther on he found where the party had stopped to cook a
meal. The remains of their camp-fire lay beside a huge log, which was
partly burned away, and about it were scattered bones and bits of bread.
But what most attracted Rod's attention were other tracks which joined
those of the three people on snow-shoes. He was sure that these tracks
had been made by women, for the footprints made by one of them were
unusually small. Close to the log he found a single impression in the
snow that caused his heart to give a sudden unexpected thump within him.
In this spot the snow had been packed by one of the snow-shoes, and in
this comparatively hard surface the footprint was clearly defined. It
had been made by a moccasin. Rod knew that. And the moccasin wore a
slight heel! He remembered, now, that thrilling day in the forest near
Wabinosh House when he had stopped to look at Minnetaki's footprints in
the soft earth through which she had been driven by her Woonga
abductors, and he remembered, too, that she was the only person at the
Post who wore heels on her moccasins. It was a queer coincidence! Could
Minnetaki have been here? Had she made that footprint in the snow?
Impossible, declared the young hunter's better sense. And yet his blood
ran a little faster as he touched the delicate impression with his bare
fingers. It reminded him of Minnetaki, anyway; her foot would have made
just such a trail, and he wondered if the girl who had stepped there was
as pretty as she.
He followed now a little faster than before, and ten minutes later he
came to where a dozen snow-shoe trails had come in from the north and
had joined the three. After meeting, the two parties had evidently
joined forces and had departed over the trail made by those who had
appeared from the direction of the Post.
"Friends from Kenogami House came down to meet them," mused Rod, and as
he turned back in the direction of the camp he formed a picture of that
meeting in the heart of the wilderness, of the glad embraces of husband
and wife, and the joy of the pretty girl with the tiny feet as she
kissed her father, and perhaps her big brother; for no girl could
possess feet just like Minnetaki's and not be pretty!
He found that Wabi had preceded him when he returned. The young Indian
had shot a small doe, and that noon witnessed a feast in camp. For his
lack of luck Rod had his story to tell of the people on the trail. The
passing of this party formed the chief topic of conversation during the
rest of the day, for after weeks of isolation in the wilderness even
this momentary nearness of living civilized men and women was a great
event to them. But there was one fact which Rod dwelt but slightly upon.
He did not emphasize the similarity of the pretty footprint and that
made by Minnetaki's moccasin, for he knew that a betrayal of his
knowledge and admiration of the Indian maiden's feet would furnish Wabi
with fun-making ammunition for a week. He did say, however, that the
footprint in the snow struck him as being just about the size that
Minnetaki would make.
All that day and night the hunters remained in camp, sleeping, eating
and taking care of Mukoki's wound, but the next morning saw them ready
for their homeward journey with the coming of dawn. They struck due
westward now, satisfied that they were well beyond the range of the
As the boys talked over their adventure on the long journey back toward
the Post, Wabi thought with regret of the moose head which he had left
buried in the "Indian ice-box," and even wished, for a moment, to go
home by the northern trail, despite the danger from the hostile Woongas,
in order to recover the valuable antlers. But Mukoki shook his head.
"Woonga make good fight. What for go again into wolf trap?"
And so they reluctantly gave up the notion of carrying the big head of
the bull moose back to the Post.
A little before noon of the second day they saw Lake Nipigon from the
top of a hill. Columbus when he first stepped upon the shore of his
newly discovered land was not a whit happier than Roderick Drew when
that joyous youth, running out upon the snow-covered ice, attempted to
turn a somersault with his snow-shoes on!
Just over there, thought Rod--just over there--a hundred miles or so, is
Minnetaki and the Post! Happy visions filled his mind all that afternoon
as they traveled across the foot of the lake. Three weeks more and he
would see his mother--and home. And Wabi was going with him! He seemed
tireless; his spirits were never exhausted; he laughed, whistled, even
attempted to sing. He wondered if Minnetaki would be very glad to see
him. He knew that she would be glad--but how glad?
Two days more were spent in circling the lower end of the lake. Then
their trail turned northward, and on the second evening after this, as
the cold red sun was sinking in all that heatless glory of the great
North's day-end, they came out upon a forest-clad ridge and looked down
upon the House of Wabinosh.
And as they looked--and as the burning disk of the sun, falling down and
down behind forest, mountain and plain, bade its last adieu to the land
of the wild, there came to them, strangely clear and beautiful, the
notes of a bugle.
And Wabi, listening, grew rigid with wonder. As the last notes died away
the cheers that had been close to his lips gave way to the question,
"What does that mean?"
"A bugle!" said Rod.
As he spoke there came to their ears the heavy, reverberating boom of a
"If I'm not mistaken," he added, "that is a sunset salute. I didn't know
you had--soldiers--at the Post!"
"We haven't," replied the Indian youth. "By George, what do you suppose
He hurried down the ridge, the others close behind him. Fifteen minutes
later they trailed out into the open near the Post. A strange change had
occurred since Rod and his companions had last seen Wabinosh House. In
the open half a dozen rude log shelters had been erected, and about
these were scores of soldiers in the uniform of his Majesty, the King of
England. Shouts of greeting died on the hunters' lips. They hastened to
the dwelling of the factor, and while Wabi rushed in to meet his mother
and father Rod cut across to the Company's store. He had often found
Minnetaki there. But his present hope was shattered, and after looking
in he turned back to the house. By the time he had reached the steps a
second time the princess mother, with Wabi close behind her, came out to
Wabi's face was flushed with excitement. His eyes sparkled.
"Rod, what do you think!" he exclaimed, after his mother had gone back
to see to the preparation of their supper. "The government has declared
war on the Woongas and has sent up a company of regulars to wipe 'em out!
They have been murdering and robbing as never before during the last two
months. The regulars start after them to-morrow!"
He was breathing hard and excitedly.
"Can't you stay--and join in the campaign?" he pleaded.
"I can't," replied Rod. "I can't, Wabi; I've got to go home. You know
that. And you're going with me. The regulars can get along without you.
Go back to Detroit with me--and get your mother to let Minnetaki go with
"Not now, Rod," said the Indian youth, taking his friend's hand. "I
won't be able to go--now. Nor Minnetaki either. They have been having
such desperate times here that father has sent her away. He wanted
mother to go, but she wouldn't."
"Sent Minnetaki away?" gasped Rod.
"Yes. She started for Kenogami House four days ago in company with an
Indian woman and three guides. That was undoubtedly their trail you
"And the footprint--"
"Was hers," laughed Wabi, putting an arm affectionately around his
chum's shoulders. "Won't you stay, Rod?"
"It is impossible."
He went to his old room, and until suppertime sat alone in silent
dejection. Two great disappointments had fallen upon him. Wabi could not
go home with him--and he had missed Minnetaki. The young girl had left a
note in her mother's care for him, and he read it again and again. She
had written it believing that she would return to Wabinosh House before
the hunters, but at the end she had added a paragraph in which she said
that if she did not do this Rod must make the Post a second visit very
soon, and bring his mother with him.
At supper the princess mother several times pressed Minnetaki's
invitation upon the young hunter. She read to him parts of certain
letters which she had received from Mrs. Drew during the winter, and Rod
was overjoyed to find that his mother was not only in good health, but
that she had given her promise to visit Wabinosh House the following
summer. Wabi broke all table etiquette by giving vent to a warlike whoop
of joy at this announcement, and once more Rod's spirits rose high above
his temporary disappointments.
That night the furs were appraised and purchased by the factor for his
Company, and Rod's share, including his third of the gold, was nearly
seven hundred dollars. The next morning the bi-monthly sled party, was
leaving for civilization, and he prepared to go with it, after writing a
long letter to Minnetaki, which was to be carried to her by the faithful
Mukoki. Most of that night Wabi and his friend sat up and talked, and
made plans. It was believed that the campaign against the Woongas would
be a short and decisive one. By spring all trouble would be over.
"And you'll come back as soon as you can?" pleaded Wabi for the
hundredth time. "You'll come back by the time the ice breaks up?"
"If I am alive!" pledged the city youth.
"And you'll bring your mother?"
"She has promised."
"And then--for the gold!"
"For the gold!"
Wabi held out his hand and the two gripped heartily.
"And Minnetaki will be here then--I swear it!" said the Indian youth,
And that night alone he slipped quietly out into the still, white night;
and he looked, longingly, far into the southeast where he had found the
footprint in the snow; and he turned to the north, and the east, and the
west, and lastly to the south, and his eyes seemed to travel through the
distance of a thousand miles to where a home and a mother lay sleeping
in a great city. And as he turned back to the House of Wabinosh, where
all the lights were out, he spoke softly to himself:
And then he added:
"But you bet I'll be back by the time the ice breaks up!"
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