The Magic Makers
A Story of Adventure in Northern Canada
Author of “The Inner Door,” “Blantyre-Alien,” etc.
Synopsis.—Sergeant MacTier, of the North-West Mounted Police, accepts a private commission from a wealthy family in Scotland to search in the far Canadian north for Henry Iiintoul, who has disappeared. The only clue is an imperfect map which came through the mails which indicates that Rintoul is held a prisoner on an island in the walrus country. MacTier charters the ship “Siren" and its crew, with Salty Bill, its owner, in charge, and sets sail for Hudson's Bay. At Chimo Trading Post they pick up an Esquimo named Nanook, who mysteriously offers to guide them to the country from which the map came. The ship is landed on a strange island in Hudson’s Bay. MacTier and Salty Bill go ashore, taking Nanook with them. He gives them the slip during the night spent on shore and in the morning they find the ship gone. They are captured by Nanook and borne off to on Esquimo settlement to act as magic makers for the tribe; the magic being provided by means of an electric battery. A strange legend reaches them of a madman who travels with a pack of wolves and who comes by night to the village, and MacTier one night goes out to meet the pack, "discovering that the mysterious leader is Henry Rintoul. He makes a plan to escape based on the finding of a supply of dynamite, left by the deserting crew.
RAPTURE was on these brown faces, a rapture mingled with ecstatic and bewildered abandonment. Presently, in the big man’s breast moved a slow throb of regret. He was deceiving those whose naked and elemental ignorance had no defence, but just as a half formed impulse moved in his mind, the grim alternative stood out sharp and forbidding. Then he cut off the current invisibly and the shaggy circle blinked its passionate pleasure, till Nanook, rising with great formality, intimated that he had on the end of his tongue great words which he desired to speak, and which until he spoke them cut off the breath of his body because they filled his throat. And at this silence fell in the igloo.
The speech was very short, broken intermittently by a pause after which he repeated for the white men’s benefit and in their own tongue the thing that had slipped so unintelligibly from his lips.
“Many and strange things have we seen,” he began, “since the tribe came to the islands to live. In those days my father told me, as his grandfather had told him, the ground was covered with caribou like thick moss and there was meat for all and easy hunting. Then came a time when, in the middle of the winter, the Great Spirit wept because the tribe was lazy and wicked. In the month of the little suns suddenly his tears came down and the deep snow was made soft and wet until by and by half of it ran away into the sea with the noise of many rivers. And after that the Great Spirit wept no more but his heart turned cold within him, and he breathed over the islands till the snow that was left turned into ice, hard and clear like the ice on the Great Lake when the eagles fly southward, or like the thing which the trader puts in his window, and his eye but not his hand may pass through. All this has been told you many times by the old men and women of the tribe, just as you yourselves tell it to your children. You have heard also how, when the island was covered with thick ice the caribou, which were here like fleas on a dog’s back, could not break away the ice to feed on the moss which lay beneath, which they could see but not touch, so very quickly they died till their bodies lay rotting like seaweed on the shore, and from very far off the eagle and raven came through the air to feast, while over sea and land travelled the wolf and the bear, the fox and the wolverine, to fill their bellies at their
Nanook paused and rolled his eyes meaningly at Jock, whereupon the big man nodded affably and grunted his approval, while Salty Bill shot a swift signal of content. The thing had begun to work and they held their breath and waited till the high-pitched voice continued. In it there was just a trace of rising excite-
“So after the caribou died,” Nanook
chanted on, “the tribe clothed itself in the skins of the sea-duck because there was nothing else wherein they might live, the hide of the bear being too heavy, of the seal too stiff, and of the wolf too cold and too hard to hunt. Thus it comes that the island folk waddle like the duck when they walk. And after that came many years in which the tribe, through much marrying of their sisters got sick and weak and many died and it was known that the Great Spirit was angry, till one day there came to the island a white man and then everything was changed. When first he came it was in the spring time and after the snow had melted he walked abroad and said strange things about the very rocks which the Great Spirit used to build the island. He told us, moreover, that this rock was iron out of which the white men make knives and guns and traps for animals and more things than I can remember. He said also that the white metal, which lies like the veins in a man’s leg on the hills near the village, was silver, which the white men use for trade. Much else he told us but of it all we thought nothing for with that white man had come magic that was to heal our
ONCE more Nanook halted while across his flat forehead deepened a sudden wrinkle. He glanced with apparent anxiety at Jock as though for some confirmation of his words and unspoken assurance of a mutual bargain. But, as before, Jock only nodded genially. He was to all intent lost in interest and attention, and it was only by the tiny lines about his mouth that Bill, himself keyed up almost
beyond endurance, recognized the tension under which the giant maintained so immovable an exterior.
“Now of this magic,” resumed Nanook, “it is not well to waste words so short is the time since it became sick and weak, and disappeared altogether. But it is wise to say that before it became sick it made the tribe strong like young whales, and happy like the blue foxes that live in holes along the shore. Then after a while, when the magic was quite dead, the white man himself disappeared because, no doubt, he could not keep alive when that which was in him had fled, and until I returned with this new maker of strong magic the tribe was very mournful, and many died because their health ran out in the sickness that chokes a man’s throat and makes his skin like the breast of a seagull when the feathers are plucked out. What this new magic is and how strong it is you have already seen, for have not your stomacks turned round within you and your toes doubled under your feet. But to-night there will be even bigger and greater magic, and it is about this that the white men have told me and what they have said I, in turn, tell you, lest by foolishness you die suddenly.”
Nanook drew a long breath. Slowly and with infinite care he had built up his story and, carrying his auditors with him at every step, had now reached the point at which he was to reveal its climax.
“Listen carefully,” he continued with deep solemnity, “for I will tell you about this thing, the most wonderful of all. So strong is it that only from a distance of three casts of a spear can it be witnessed. Its voice is like that of the Great Spirit when He is most angry, and the earth trembles at His word. It is well to remember also that having seen and heard this thing, those who have seen and heard it must run very quickly to their igloos for the thing itself walks abroad on the earth in the manner of other evil spirits of which you know, only this time even to see it is to die. Hide, therefore, till the morning when there is not any spirit to which it is permitted to work evil to mankind in the daylight.”
The hunter shot a final and inquiring glance at Sergeant MacTier and, for the last time, the big man replied with the slightest perceptible nod. Silence like death had filled the igloo. Lips parted, black eyes staring, squat, motionless, seventeen Husky hunters leaned forward, transformed at this instant into breathing and fascinated images. Nanook’s words had penetrated their very souls, and their flashing orbs fixed on him with hungry intentness. Salty Bill’s blistered lips were being continually moistened and his knotted fingers clasped and unclasped convulsively. Long ere this the matter had changed from something ridiculous into something of momentous import and, glancing at MacTier, the spirit in Bill’s weatherbeaten body paid its swift and voluntary tribute.
And just then Jock nodded to Nanook,
remarking in the most ordinary tone possible : “The big magic is now ready to be made.”
THREE minutes later there was formed an irregular line two hundred yards due south of the great igloo. The weather had thickened, as MacTier instantly noted with inward thankfulness, and through the flying snow that danced steadily from the West the rounded dome looked ghostly and indistinct. Between his feet was the hollow block of snow placed there the night before and over this he now flung a wolf skin while his fingers fumbled busily beneath. On either side stood Nanook and Salty Bill, tense with almost uncontrollable excitement. Flanking them were the hunters, while behind the hunters, grouped irregularly, the women and children of the tribe clung to each other with ecstatic anticipation. Fear was in their souls, fear mixed with dreadful delight. Of what was about to take place they had no conception, nor indeed had Nanook himself. The only thing they knew was that the great igloo, would shortly be banished from their sight by an evil spirit whereupon they must forthwith dash into their own houses and remain till daybreak, such being the sole avenue to salvation. It was mooted also that, while this evil spirit which the big magic maker was to summon, should linger in the village, it would be impossible for those other and wolfish spirits to do them harm. It was written, so Nanook assured them, that there was not room on the island for both at the same time.
Beneath the wolf skin Jock felt the terminals of the lead wires prick his stiffening fingers, but he stared smiling at the breathless Nanook, while he clamped the copper filaments to the terminals of the battery which had already been slid into place. In the nerve shaking moment that ensued, he strained his ears lest peradventure a far-flung howl from the distant masters of the night wreck his plan even while it blossomed to ultimate maturity, but he heard only the drone of the wind as it whistled down from the great plateau, and the smothered and irrepressible sound that escaped from the tense mass of humanity around him. Then, with a spontaneous petition in his valiant heart, he jerked up the wooden handle.
'T'HE next thing Jock knew was that he L had been flung violently forward on his face while the very earth rocked around him. The great igloo had spouted into the air in a vast pyramid of flying snow and such was the prodigious concussion of the volcano, so terrific the upward rush of air that, one and all, those who had stood rapt in expectation were caught like puppets by the inward sweeping dust and projected earthward like worshippers who flung themselves headlong before some august shrine. The thickness of the weather and the low elevation of the grey snow-laden clouds that drifted overhead, combined to redouble the echoing roar that rolled out to the wilderness.
Ere its booming peals died away there came from the prostrate pagans a medley of terrified cries. The great igloo had vanished just as Nanook prophesied. The Great Spirit, who was not only great but in this case also evil, had appeared and spoken in a voice of many storms. He had plucked up the house from the earth and was now raining it in fragments over the island; and lest death seize upon them swiftly they must hasten to find hiding
Slowly the white men raised themselves and stared at that terrified group. Already there was a snatching up of children and a hurried racing to nearby igloos into which the short broad figures dived like frightened rabbits. The blood had surged back into MacTier’s heart while Salty Bill’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly. The thing was now beyond words. Then, just as silence settled from the skies, there broke out from far in the south the hollow-throated chorus of the masters of the night. Henry Rintoul had heard and was flinging back his promised signal.
“Quick!” grunted Jock; and dashed into the darkness with Bill at his heels.
NOW of the finding of the waiting sledge and of the dog team that, yelping with terror, was tugging madly to break away from the restraining grip of two panting Huskies, of the lashing by which the frenzied animals were whipped into position, of the eve r-increasing clamour to the southward, neither, to this day, retains any clear impression.
The thing they remember is 'that, just as they reached the sledge and had bidden the two young Huskies depart swiftly to their igloos lest death overtake them where they stood, Nanook dashed up with a shout, planted himself squarely in front of Sergeant MacTier and announced in a high pitched voice, quavering with passion, that the white men were liars, that both the wolves and the new and most evil spirit of all were abroad together and that not by any means should the maker of magic or his friend be allowed to de-
What followed was a matter, it seemed, only of seconds. Jock snapped out one ultimate demand and, as Nanook shook his head doggedly and motioned the two Huskies to come closer, the big man, stiffening ever so slightly, sent his mighty fist crashing into the broad, brown face. Home it drove, impelled by all the concentrated force of a man not only powerful almost beyond imagining but also grimly desperate. Home it drove, smashing bone and flesh to a pulp, and under its impact the jaw of Nanook cracked like an egg. Blackness came unon him as his senses fled and, spinning round where he stood, he slipped softly and soundlessly to earth. Almost ere he landed both the giant’s arms extended and, seizing the two younger Huskies as though they were children, dashed their flat skulls together. There came a dull knock, as, with twitching limbs, they also slid helpless to the trampled snow, and through MacTier’s limbs there coursed a wild and savage joy. Thus, for an instant, till with a shiver, he seemed to waken as though from a trance and stood blinking at his handiwork, while Salty Bill regarded him speechlessly.
“Say!” he jerked out, “You’re some scrapper. That’s three straight.”
“We’ll be setting out now,” said the big man, thickly. “I’m thinking we’ve passed the worst of it already.”
But for once in his life Jock had spoken too soon.
TN the half hour that ensued it appeared that the fugitives were heading straight into the ever widening jaws of peril. On their left lay the indistinct line of the shore, but in front and to the right they
began to catch glimpses of ghostly and speeding forms that circled restlessly, breaking now and then into their aweinspiring chorus. Just when further progress seemed more than ever impossible, so wild with terror were the dogs, the gusts of snow parted and there stalked out the weird figure of Henry Rintoul. He, too, was breathing hard.
“Thank God, you’re here,” he said quickly. “Now we’ve got to drive on as fast as possible. I’ve had trouble with the wolves to-night, more than ever before, though it’s always been a hazardous job. There’s only one of them I’m sure I’m safe with. That’s him over there.” He pointed to a shadowy form that flitted across their trail fifty feet ahead. “Come on, I’ll have to tell you the rest afterwards.”
They swung forward after this strange and hurried greeting. Beyond them the wilderness seemed peopled with ghosts whose weird voices rent the night, while behind lay three battered Huskies slowly recovering consciousness.
A T midnight the wind changed suddenly, and, whipping into the south, drove at their faces in streaming lines of great flakes that plastered their straining bodies and added enormously to their efforts. By this time, too, the dogs seemed convinced that they were being urged into the very jaws of the invisible pack, for only under a merciless lashing could they
be forced onward. And ever between the fugitives and the gaunt and unseen brutes that heralded their march moved the tall lean form of >ne great questing beast. At dayOreak utter weari-
ness h a i vertak en them all ; so, building a rough shelter from the wind, Henry Rintoul squatted between Jock and Salty Bill. It was while they stared into the blizzard till strength should return that Rintoul unfolded something which compressed the big man’s lips and tightened the muscles round his
“So far it’s all right,” he said grimly, “but we’re a long way from being out of the woods. Now, don’t move, and I’ll show you something.”
Into the dai'kness he sent a strange cry, half animal and half human. Hardly had it left his lips when there loomed through the sleet the dim figure of a huge wolf that, approaching with lightfooted caution, presently halted and stood motionless. Again Rintoul flung out his signal and at this the brute, growling softly, drew still nearer.
At the sight of him the hair bristled on Jock’s head, while Salty Bill shrank back with a gasp. Over four feet he stood, lean as a racer, with deep barrel-like chest and long tapering flanks. On the sharp skull the black, pointed ears were pitched forward, and from the great sabre-like teeth the dark and curling lips lifted menacingly. He seemed a creature designed for some ruthless and terrible purpose, an incarnation of pursuit, a phantasm of bloody revenge. As Jock stared he noted that along one shoulder
ran a broad white gash from which the hair had been ripped clean away.
“I’ve seen that brute before,” said MacTier, under his breath.
Rintoul blinked at him. “Where?”
With painstaking accuracy the big man told his story of the bear hunt and the rescue of Bill while Rintoul stared thoughtfully from between narrowed lids. Into the recital Salty Bill threw explosive remarks which the outcast put quietly aside as though the tale he was hearing had in it no amazing quality whatever.
“And if it hadn’t been for yon wolf I’m thinking you and I would never have met,” concluded MacTier reflectively.
Rintoul nodded understanding^. “I remember now. Some weeks ago he disappeared for two days. I thought he had been killed by the tribe, for a little before that the pack tore in pieces a hunter who thought he could stand up to them.”
SALTY BILL had begun to smile affably, as though an introduction to a grey wolf were with him a thing of almost nightly occurrence. His brain, it seemed, was losing even the power of incredulity and he was reduced to a condition of im-
potent acceptance. All things were now the same to him.
“Nice boy,” he drivelled, “nice boy, come here.” He extended a welcoming hand. “Say,” he added, with an almost idiotic laugh, “where are the rest - of your friends?—no occasion to stand on ceremony
For answer, the wolf rumbled far down in his
throat. Then Rintoul’s voice came in quietly. “ ‘Blackmouth’ I call him, and he won’t come any nearer now. That’s on account of you.”
“How did he get that mark on his shoulder?” remarked Jock, with a last effort at control.
“From a white bear. He was dying when I found him and plastered the thing up. After that it was like a nightmare for months—I couldn’t get rid of him. You see,” he went on evenly, “when my old battery played out the Huskies got angry and thought I was deceiving them, so they decided to kill me. Then I got a wild idea and pretended to go mad, and at that it was their turn to be frightened because they thought an evil spirit was inside of me. So, instead of doing any butchering, they did what was their custom when one of their chiefs was about to die. That is, they built a separate igloo on the ice and stuck me into it and gave me a fishing line, a crooked knife, and some seal meat, and then went off to another part of the island so that my spirit would not disturb them when the end came. As it turned out it was the best thing that could have happened for I
waited till the coast was clear and then chopped my way out. You see they reckoned that the wolves would take care of me in case I decided not to die.”
Jock nodded gravely. “And what then?”
“After I got out I wandered south on the island. I was wondering all the time whether the map a Husky girl had promised me to take to the nearest post had ever reached anybody.” At this point Rintoul paused as though memories overwhelmed him. Jock had a vision of him entrusting this strange communication to a brown-faced girl. He was just trying to imagine by what remote chance it had reached its destination when Rintoul’s voice came in a little unsteadily.
“Now I want you to understand about the wolves. As I say, I found this big
fellow nearly dead. Why I patched him up I don’t quite know but I suppose it was because there was something kindred in our condition. He was an outcast and nearly all in, and so was I. After that he followed me, never coming up close but getting a little nearer day by day until one morning I found him trotting at my heels like a dog. You see I was never afraid of animals and somehow he seemed to know it. Just about then I found that he was the big dog wolf of the island, King of them all and leader of the pack. Now I want you to understand that it isn’t I who boss the pack. It’s Blackmouth. Without him I wouldn’t last a minute. Blackmouth himself can’t always hold them, especially if they’re hungry, and that’s what I’m afraid may happen before we’re well out on the ice. So long as he
stands between us we’re all right, but if they break away from him we’re done. The danger will be at night, and only at night. Now,” here Rintoul turned sharply, “tell me about Nanook. Did you kill him?”
“No,” said Jock slowly, “I didn’t.”
“I’m sorry, because his heart is as black as the roof of a wolf’s mouth and he’ll be after you the minute he knows he’s tricked.”
A LITTLE silence fell in which Jock noticed that Blackmouth had vanished, and that the drone of the wind was stronger than before. The danger from yon beasts,” he began quietly, “may be by. night, but the danger from Nanook is by day. He believes that you’ve got the pack
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in the hollow of your hand to work your will, and you couldn’t tempt him out after sundown for a fortune.”
“I’ve been at some trouble,” said Rintoul thoughtfully, “to put fear into the tribe and I think I’ve done it. Did Nanook actually tell you I was dead?” “No, not in so many words.”
“He knew I wasn’t, and he wasn’t the only one of the tribe who did know. And now,” he got up and stretched his stiff limbs, “if you’re good for another ten miles, we’ll tackle it.”
It was just before the grey of dawn that immediately in front of the straining team came the short and angry snarl of a wolf. So close was it, so menacing, that on the instant the dogs, weary though they were, flew into a frenzy. A moment later the gaunt figure of Blackmouth drifted
through the storm and their excitement became indescribable. Jock and Salty Bill darted back to restore order but Rintoul, with an oath, plunged straight ahead. Presently he came back his face wrinkled with anxiety.
“What I was afraid of has happened. Listen to that.”
FROM far away came the sound of furious conflict.. They could hear a tumult .of deep coughing growls that mingled with the short gasping cries of , brutes locked in deadly combat. It seemed that hell had broken loose on the island and that the spirits of the lost were venting their desperation in an ultimate inferno of battle. So unearthly was the tumult, so terrible in its invisible ferocity, that Jock turned a blank face to Rintoul, while his lips vainly endeavored’to find
speech. “What’s that?” he whispered after a moment.
“They’ve broken out,” said Rintoul gravely, “at least that’s what I’m afraid and if I’m right we’ll hear shortly from Blackmouth. It just means that now they’re out to kill anything they can find, man or beast, and if Nanook is on your trail, as I think he is, he’ll have to reckon with them too. In fact, MacTier,” here Rintoul’s eye flashed savagely, “it’s war now, war between us and every living thing in this forgotten land.”
Even while he spoke there reappeared through the blizzard the shape of Blackmouth. His side was torn and bleeding, his jaws red and dripping.
FIVE minutes later the dogs, liberated from the sledge by a few swift strokes, had fled yelping northward. So great was their terror that not even the long lash of the stinging whip could drive them onward and, Jock, grasping the fact that fear had made them worse than useless, cut them free one by one.
“Now,”' he said grimly, twisting the long traces into a knotted rope, “I’ll pui the sledge while you and Bill attend to the rest. No, no, I’ll take it myself, for I’m thinking you’ll have your hands full.” Thus progressed the expedition, robbed of transport even in the hour of delivery, faced with new and appalling danger even when freedom seemed just over the horizon. Hour after hour the great figure
bent to its toil, and ever as it moved stead-’ ily on there drifted before it the gaunt shape of Blackmouth, who, stopping periodically in his fleet and questing course, thrust his long muzzle into the wind and inquired sagely of the elements whether his brethren were nigh. Tirelessly, too, swung the broad shoes, till, with painful slowness the misty land took on form and outline in the gradually broadening light of day.
Ôncè more a hasty shelter was erected, and Salty Bill, yielding to a dreadful desire to sleep, dropped off while the others, seasoned by many such arduous nights, were unconscious of any languor. It was at a moment when silence more profound than usual seemed to have settled over this grim wilderness that MacTier put a question that had been in his mind for months.
(To be continued)