THE FROST GIRL
Robert E. Pinkerton
Author of “The Print of the French Heel,” etc.
Allan Baird, who has been running a preliminary survey line for a new railroad to Hudson’s Bay, finds a book on a lonely trail in the far north. The name, “Hertha MacLure,’’ is written inside and he traces the owner. She proves to be a strikingly attractive but very mysterious girl. He learns from his chief assistant, Hughey Munro, that the girl runs a trading post which was formerly managed by her father and that she is known all through the north country as “The Frost Girl’’ on account of her coldness to all the men who visit the post. Baird completes his survey and returns to headquarters at Toronto where he receives peremptory orders to start at once on a complete survey line, from his chief, McGregor, a big railway magnate. McGregor is a financier who has big visions, but he warns Baird that an opposition syndicate will attempt to prevent him from completing his survey as they have, by wire-pulling at Ottawa, had a limit fixed on the time for filing the plans. Baird must complete his work and file his plans at Ottawa by April 1 ; which means a ivinter’s strenuous work in the frozen north.
The Missionary Brings News
ALLAN BAIRD’S sensations on finding Hertha MacLure sitting beside an Indian wigwam, cuddling a sick little savage and talking of Jane Austen, differed slightly from those of the girl herself. To Allan there had been something mysterious as well as romantic in the strange meeting and, what was to him, the equally strange topic of their conversation. Old Hughey had cleared up the mystery, but he had eliminated this element only to add to the other.
To the girl, however, Allan remained equally a mystery and something akin to a fairy prince. Had she not been an intensely practical young woman, more accustomed to doing than dreaming, she might have made herself believe that the appearance of the young man on the portage had been imagined.
Hertha could not have imagined, however, that Allan had stepped out of one of her novels. He was not the sort she had ever seen before, either in print or in the flesh. Of the few men who had entered her life none had been like him. In the first place, he had been at ease, almost intimate, she thought. He showed
clearly that he was accustomed to meeting and talking with women. Men she had known were always silent.
He had read, too, she knew, even if he did laugh at Jane Austen and think Scott ancient. Men who had read books were rare in Hertha’s world. She could remember only one, besides her father, with whom she had talked of books. He had been a Hudson’s Bay Company factor, a man who had read more extensively than Hertha herself. But he had ended it by trying to kiss her; and he had never passed her trading post since.
Allan was the first man who had ever come to her direct from the great world to the south, the world of which she had heard but to which she had given little thought, in which she had never been interested. Her father had told her of it, warned her of it, but never had he told of men like this one. His pictures had been filled with thieves and cheats, blackhearted scoundrels of the order of pirates, men who ruthlessly robbed and crushed and left a trail of misery and death and degradation, who considered nothing except their own selfish interests.
1ITHO Allan could be, where he had ' » come from, where he was going, were questions that occupied the girl’s mind as she paddled back up the river to her home the day after meeting him. She half hoped she would find him, but only Me-mi-je-is, the tall, powerful Ojibway, who had worked for her, and for her father, since his youth, was at the post. Silently he turned over the money he had received for the flour and the sugar.
“Who bought it?” asked Hertha.
“Two white men,” answered the Indian. “One was old, a company man who has been here before. The other was young, not like the men of the company or any other men in the woods. They had two Indians from the bay for canoemen. Their camp was beside the river at the edge of the clearing. They left very early in the morning.”
“What were they doing?”
“The Indians would not talk. They came first. The white men came after dark, from the great swamp. They had
come a long ways, and they were in a great hurry.”
“Did you talk with their Indians?”
“Yes, but it was easy to see that they had been told to keep quiet. They would tell nothing.”
For two days Hertha turned this question over and over. Her first thought was that the great company was planning to establish a post in her district. Perhaps they believed that, with her father dead, it would be easy to win back the territory over which he had obtained control. This did not disturb her, however. She had too much confidence in her own ability to hold that which the elder MacLure had gained.
There were no other possibilities. She had known of prospectors penetrating to her country from the South. But they were all men of the same stamp. They were not in a hurry, but moved slowly, always looking for gold. Sportsmen, amateur explorers, city men driven by primal desires to long, hazardous trips in the north country, had never passed her way, were unknown to her. In no way did Allan fit into her limited ideas of life, of life’s activities, of life’s standards.
* I ' HE mystery of his coming was still fresh when another presented itself. Three days after her return from her visit to the sick Indian child down the river another stranger arrived at the post. He, too, presented a new type, but one known to Hertha through her father’s descriptions and what her Indians had told her.
“Is this Miss MacLure?” the stranger asked as he stopped before the open door of the store, in which Hertha was standing.
“Yes,” she answered, and she looked from the man to his canoe at the river bank, manned by two Indians she had never seen before.
“My name is Hardisty, Alfred Hardisty, Miss MacLure,” said the newcomer. "“I have heard of you, heard many nice things said of you, and it gives me great pleasure to meet you here at this post which both you and your father have made famous. My first object in coming to-day is to learn if it will be possible for me to remain here for a while, until ice makes travel possible again, and also to get supplies for the winter.”
“I have flour, sugar, pork and tea to sell,” Hertha replied, “and Me-mi-je-is has room for you and your Indians in his cabin.”
“I am more fortunate than I had hoped, and it is very kind of you, I am sure. I will try not to make a nuisance of myself. And I hope that we become friends as I •expect to remain in this district for some time.”
Hertha did not reply to this but silently studied the man. He was older than Allan Baird not only in years but in spirit. He talked as easily, was as lacking in embarrassment, and, though of another type, was as handsome as the young man who had found her on the portage. Evidently he, too, came from the great world to the south; and Hertha wondered if he would laugh at Jane Austen. Somehow, she felt that he would not.
But the object of his coming was of more concern to the girl. He had said that he expected to remain in the district
for some time. Clearly he was not a trader. He would not have come to her if he had been. He might be a company agent, but she would learn that soon enough and knew how to deal with him if he were.
'T'HE mystery was deepened almost immediately when the newcomer’s Indians, after carrying several packs to Me-mi-je-is’ cabin, returned to the canoe and departed at once for the south, from which they had come. Hertha, from the window of her cabin, watched them paddle away and then began to prepare her noonday meal. After it was eaten and the dishes had been washed, there was a knock.
Still puzzling over the possible object of Hardisty’s presence at her post, she opened the door to find him, hat in hand and smiling.
“I have come over, Miss MacLure,” he began at once, “to talk with you if you are not busy. I want to explain my object in coming here. And I hope to enlist your co-operation in the work I am about to begin.”
“Please come in,” Hertha replied. “I am not busy this afternoon.”
There were three rooms in Bertha’s home, a large living-room with a great box stove in the centre, a kitchen and a bedroom. Homes of wilderness dwellers are much the same, mud-plastered log walls, low, small windows, hewed doors and window frames, floors of dressed logs, ceilings low, dark and raftered.
In general appearance Hertha’s home was not unusual. But a few things marked it as different. First of these was the bookcase that filled the wall between two windows on one side, an imposing, incongruous affair with its large, faded volumes. Across from the books was an old print of Edinburgh Castle, guarded on either side by the awkward antlers of the caribou.
* I 'HERE was a feminine atmosphere about the place, as there is wherever women dwell. But this was noticeable more because it was pitifully groping rather than confidently expressed. A sewing basket contained only heavy woolen socks. A couch was covered only with a neatly folded blanket. A bunch of scarlet autumn leaves seemed hardly at home in a window. Hardisty, as he entered the room, saw the bookshelves and went immediately to them.
“What a large library for a wilderness home!” he exclaimed. “It must have been quite a task to get so many books into this place.”
He began to study the titles and did not appear to notice that Hertha had not replied. Across one shelf he read. Then, stooping, he went further until he had made a quick inventory of the entire collection. In perplexity he turned to the girl.
“Quite remarkable,” he said wonderingly. “Where on earth did you get them?”
“My father brought them from Scotland.”
“I see. And you have never added to them.”
“No. I have found them quite sufficient.”
Puzzled, Hardisty studied the girl for a moment. Then with a slight hesitation, he asked:
“And you have read nothing modern?” Allan Baird had asked the same question, in another way. What did they mean by it? Could better books be written than those she had? Why did these two men appear to be surprised that she should have such books. To her they were the most natural things in the world. She had always known them, could remember looking at the shelves even before she had learned to read.
“They are the only books I have ever read,” she answered.
“And do you read much?”
“I have read them all, some many times.”
HARDISTY turned in surprised and again looked at a few of the titles. There was nothing less than fifty years old. Some had been printed a hundred yeai'9 before. Here and there was a rare volume.
“Quite remarkable,” he said as he again turned to Hertha. “Of course, some of your works on philosophy, science and travel are hardly recognized just now, but, altogether, it is a remarkable collection, and I don’t know but that, in the fiction at your disposal, you are far better off than if you were equipped with the more modern article.”
“Then you don’t like Beach and London?” asked Hertha eagerly.
“Yes, I like both of them, and I imagine you would like them, London especially.” “I must send for them this winter. Will you suggest the ones I should get?” “Please let me get them for you,” said Hardisty eagerly. “I will be sending out about Christmas time and—”
Hertha interrupted. Gifts from men were unknown to her and she did not like to be under obligations to anyone. Her life had been singularly independent and had developed perfect self-reliance. But Hardisty held up a warning hand.
“Please,” he said. “It would be a pleasure to select new books for a reader who must be so discriminating, whose tastes must be so elevated. You don’t know how glad I am, Miss MacLure, to find a well read young woman in this district. I am not only glad to meet her, but I am sure that I shall find the assistance^ desire for my work.”
Hertha did not speak, but her eyes asked the question that had been in her mind since Hardisty’s arrival, a question so important to her that she failed to notice the flattering statements of the visitor.
“My work,” began Hardisty as he took a chair across the table from Hertha, “is among the Indians of this district. This is. I believe, a virgin field, and it is my hope that, in a short time, I can establish a mission near here for the advancement of the natives.”
HE stopped, for Hertha had turned suddenly and was leaning across the table, her eyes hard, her mouth straight, her chin square. In an instant the beauty of the girl had almost vanished, and in its place was a grimness of expression more masculine than feminine.
“Do you mean that you are a missionary?” she demanded in a low tone.
“I am,” replied Hardisty, mistaking the gin’s sudden change for interest, “ and I consider myself a fortunate one to be working in a district in which you, with your influence over the Indians, can assist me.”
“I will not assist you!” cried Hertha defiantly. “Further, I will do all that I can to prevent your establishing a mission anywhere near here. The Indians in a big district trade with me, and I will use all the influence I have against you.”
The missionary stared at her in amazement but when he spoke he smiled slightly,
“At least, Miss MacLure, I can depend on having a frank, honest foe, I see. I appreciate that much, but I am forced to admit that I am greatly disappointed. From what I had heard of you and your influence with the Indians, I had counted a great deal on your assistance.”
He turned away from her and for some time sat staring at the books between the
windows. Hertha did not speak. Had her own feelings not been so strong she would have felt compassion for the man across the table. His head was bowed, and there was a worried, strained expression about his eyes that, more quickly than any other, melts a woman’s heart. At last he looked up and turned to her.
“Will you tell me,” he asked quietly, “what your objections to a mission among the Indians can be?”
“Yes,” she answered quickly, almost sharply. “The Indian as he exists with a minimum of white influence is an industrious, honest, healthy, moral man. As white influence increases his efficiency decreases, his moral tone is lower, he works less, and he dies of diseases to which his race is not accustomed.”
“But you do not mean to contend, Miss MacLure,” interrupted Hardisty, “that the missionary has a degrading influence on the savage, that preaching the gospel of Christ makes him less of a man, lowers his moral tone and brings disease?” “Exactly,” replied Hertha instantly.
“My opposition is not to the teaching of the Christian religion, although I believe the Indian gets along very well with the religion he ‘has. But I do object to the things which accompany the usual methods of mission work and, as long as I can, I will fight it among my Indians.”
AAHardisty gazed for some time at the bookshelves. This time his express i o n was that of deep thought, and when he again turned to Hertha it was not with a question.
“In my mission work, Miss MacLure,” he began, “I have found that the advice of an i n t e 11i gent white person in the country where I am to begin work is of the utmost value. I have learned to take it rather than follow my own
ideas. I might add that your standpoint is not new to me and I think I understand how you feel in this matter. I would like to have you go more deeply into details, however, for I am greatly interested in anything you may have to offer on this subject.”
For ten minutes Hertha talked without pausing. Hardisty, watching her face, sat motionless. She began at the beginning, describing the Indian as she knew him, as she and her father had found him and had tried to keep him. She told of many instances of Indian integrity, industry, high morals and the happiness of the race when left to itself. She knew the Indian thoroughly, intimately, and she liked him, respected him, admired him, as her tone, her words, her manner, showed.
Then, candidly explaining that her facts were second-hand, gathered from her father, from Indians themselves, she told what she knew of the mission Indian, induced to live in ill-ventilated, disease-breeding houses, inveigled into labor to which his race was not accustomed and which was distasteful and unprofitable, and taught things which he could not understand because there had never been, anything in his life, nor could there ever be, which would furnish the comparison necessary for comprehension.
AS the girl spoke she forgot Hardisty, herself, everything except the cause in which she was enlisted, in which her father had trained her. When she finished, breathless, defiant, still leaning tensely across the table, the missionary looked at her with frank admiration in his eyes.
“Did you learn oratory from your red friends?” he asked with a smile. “It is most convincing and, the strange part of it is, while you are strictly original in ideas, you have really repeated what several explorers and travelers in this northern country have already said, both in print and on the platform.”
“Do you mean others have fought against missions?” asked Hertha wonderingly.
“Yes, have spoken against them, have shown that the Indian is not the man he was before the missionary came. I myself, Miss MacLure, have long held similar views. Whenever I have expressed them among my fellow workers there has been so much opposition that I have been forced, for want of better evidence, to be silent.
“I was silent when I first spoke to you, for I imagined that you would also look with disfavor upon any such plan as I have outlined in my mind, and which I hope to try out in this district. I have waited several years for the opportunity. Now it is here and I feel sure that you will help me.”
“What is it?” asked Hertha suspiciously.
“It is simply this. Leave the Indian alone so far as his work, his methods of living, his housing and so on are concerned. Let him live his life as he has always lived it, as he wants to live it, as he can best live it. Only, wherever possible, help him to improve, if we can, upon what he already does so well. As
for the main object, teaching him the gospel, teach it to him only in its most simple and rudimentary forms. Give him the bare, simple truths of Christ’s teachings.”
“Don’t you see what I mean?” he cried. “We will build up on the old foundation, instead, as the others have tried to do, of tearing everything down and trying to build from the ground up. The woods Indian furnishes an excellent foundation, better than we can construct. Don’t you see? My idea is to make a better Indian of him, not a poorer white man.”
T T ERTHA did not answer. It was a * new thought, and because she was not accustomed to dealing quickly with new ideas, she withheld her judgment.
“Can you object still?” pleaded Hardisty earnestly.
“My objections have been to all white influences, except those of the person who is sincerely the Indian’s friend and seeks to help him,” Hertha replied. “In this district you will find the Indian much as he has always been. The white influence has never reached him. That is, the evil white influence, the dishonest trader, the whisky smuggler, and the others. It is the one thing I live for—to guard my Indians from it in every form.”
Hardisty studied her closely for a minute.
“Do I understand that you oppose anything modern, anything that will change the condition of the Indian in this district?” he asked.
“Anything!” exclaimed Hertha fiercely. “My father learned the lesson once. It was a bitter one, and I don’t want the same experience.”
“What was that?” questioned the missionary.
“When he first came to this country, long before I was born, he built a trading post and began his sort of missionary work among the Indians. He was successful and his influence became very great. I know it was a great benefit to the Indians. He treated them fairly, honestly, as if they were white men, and they came to believe in him and to respect him as he respected them. Then the railroad come through that district, close to his trading post. With it came all the evil effects of civilization upon his Indians. He remained to see them become lazy, drunkards and thieves. He saw them die rapidly of white men’s diseases, saw half-breed babies in their wigwams. The work of all the years he had been there was wiped out. Do you wonder that he became bitter?”
Hardisty, who had been watching her intently, shook his head.
“What then?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
“Father came here. He said a railroad never would come near this place, that the influences of civilization would never touch the Indians he found here. He began his work all over again ; and, when he died, he asked me to continue it. That’s what I have done, what I always will do.”
'C' OR a long time Hardisty stared at the table between them. When he spoke it was in a subdued tone that instantly aroused Hertha’s interest.
“It pleases me a great deal, Miss Mac-
Lure,” he began, “to know that my humble views, gained from a comparatively meagre experience, coincide so perfectly with yours. The injury, irreparable, gigantic, which the white man has inflicted upon the red, is, to me, one of the greatest tragedies in history. I have seen so many instances of it, have felt ashamed of my race so often, that it has long been my desire to do my little share to repay what others have taken. It is a cause to which I would like to dedicate my life.
“It pleases me a great deal to know that I have, in you, a strong supporter, one who is in sympathy with me and my aims. More properly, I should say that I am glad to be a supporter of yours, Miss MacLure, of you and your father’s memory. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to remain here the rest of my life and aid you in what you are doing. I hope to do so. But, I am afraid, I am a bearer of bad news. It may not be true, but I have every reason to believe that it is. I am sorry that I am to be the one who brings it to you.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Hertha, leaning toward him.
“There is a plan on foot in Toronto to run a railroad past your very door.”
“A railroad here! Impossible!”
“So it would seem. But I was told that the work was already begun. Perhaps you have seen evidences of it.”
‘ÍI have seen nothing,” said Hertha.
“I was told that a party running a trial line passed through this district. Perhaps they avoided you.”
“When was this?”
“How many were there?”
“Only a small crew, I heard.”
“And when will they come again?” “This winter, I imagine.”
Hertha sprang to her feet and strode to the window and back. Her square chin was thrust forward, her eyes were hard, her hair rippled from the quivering of her entire body.
“They will not!” she cried, stopping before Hardisty. “They cannot! Why, that would mean the end for me.”
Allan Chooses a Crew
THE competent Hughey Munro, a man who could cross the northern end of the continent without a compass or a map, who never in his long, adventurous life had seen anything that dismayed or frightened him, was a most miserable person. One day in Port Arthur had given him more trouble, more discomfort and more anxiety than he had known in fifty years.
When he saw Allan Baird push through the crowd at the station and start up the street toward the big hotel, his long, sober, wistful face lighted up, and he ran after him with light, leaping bounds.
“Lad!” he cried, grasping the young engineer’s hand and hanging on to it, “I’m mighty glad to see you.”
Allan shook the woodsman’s hand heartily, looking at him questioningly as he did so.
“Oh, I see,” he laughed. “More than four houses here, Hughey?”
“It’s the first time I ever saw a city,” Munro replied seriously. “It makes me sort of nervous.”
“Never mind,” soothed the younger man as he led the way to the hotel. “You won’t see anything but the bush until spring, and then, Hughey, I’m going to take you out and show you a real town. We’ll go to Toronto and Montreal and then drop down to New York. We’ll have a good time coming to us then.”
“Is it the bush again, lad?” asked Hughey eagerly.
“You’ll think you’ve never been in the bush when you tackle this job, old fellow.”
The woodsman was not at ease until they were in Allan’s room and the door was locked. The clerk, the elevator, the uniformed bellboys, each was a foe, a new experience.
“Lord, I’m still breathing through my toes,” he said as he looked out of the window at the blue stretch of Lake Superior below them.
“Wait until you go down,” laughed Allan.
“Ain’t they got any stairs?” came the terrified question; and Alan’s heart was softened by the misery in his friend’s face.
“Now listen, Hughey,” he began. “Here’s the idea. We’ve got to run that survey through, make a real preliminary survey from the head of the old survey at the south end of Kabetogama to the bay. The Government, aided by the National people, has decided that we must file maps, notes and so on in Ottawa on or before April first or lose the charter. The National people think it can’t be done but, as soon as they know we are going to attempt it, they’ll try to block us. They want that line but they don’t want it for several years; and in the meantime they don’t want anyone else to have it.
“Maybe you’ve known some crooked breeds, free traders and the like in your time, Hughey. Well, we’re up against the same sort of an outfit. They’ll do anything, not even stopping short of killing a man or two, to get what they want. And we’ve got to keep on the job every minute.
“Now, running the survey alone is a big job. It will take all my time. Getting in supplies from the railroad, moving camp, looking after the dog teams and all that sort of stuff will depend on you. You’ll have to take entire charge. I don’t care how you do it, only the grub’s got to go through, and camp’s got to be moved on time.”
“How big a crew will there be?” asked Hughey.
“Three transit men, three rodmen, six axemen, a cook, a bull-cook and the dog-team drivers. How many teams will it take?”
“Six anyhow. That means thirty-six dogs.”
‘“Can you get them?”
“I could in ten minutes if I was up at the bay.”
“We’ll take a run over to Nipigon tomorrow and see what we can do. There’s dogs to be had around here, but they’re mostly domestic. Now, Hughey, make out (Continued on page 71.)
Continued from Page 38.
a list of what’s needed for such a trip. For all winter, mind you. And a list of what the dogs need.”
FOR an hour they worked steadily, Allan writting at the table, Hughey sitting across from him. They figured out the amount of food required for men and dogs, eiderdown quilts, blankets, dishes, tents, stoves, clothing, snowshoes, axes, rifles, and ammunition for getting fresh meat, dog harnesses, toboggans and the host of minor things necessary for such an enterprise.
It was a formidable list when completed. Its weight ran into many tons, its numbers into the hundreds, and Allan showed his dismay when the totals were reached.
It’s four hundred and fifty miles, Hughey!” he exclaimed. “How much can a dog team haul?”
“Six dogs can make good time with a quarter of a ton. They can take twice that on a good trail. Better figure on the lowest.”
“Well, anyhow, it’s got to be done, so there’s no need worrying. Now I’m going to wire orders for all this stuff I can’t get here and have it shipped to Sabawe. We’ll drift down to the employment agencies and see what we can get in the way of men. We’ll need some now to take care of the dogs when we get them.”
IT was a busy two days. Allan hired men by the dozen, ordered supplies by the ton, and the second night he and Hughey were back in Port Arthur with forty dogs, most of them huskies from the Nipigon country, and half as many men to take care of them. That day the three transit men arrived from Toronto and early the next morning dogs, men and supplies were on their way westward.
“Say, lad, what you want of all these men?” asked Hughey in a whisper when he and Allan were establishnd in the she smoking compartment of the Pullman. “There’s three times as many as you need.”
“I’ll show you when we get to Sabawe, Hughey.” And Allan turned the discussion to details they had not covered in the rush of the last few days.
Sabawe never had seen so much commotion, so much excitement, as upon the arrival of Allan’s party, snapping, snarling dogs, excited shouting men, bundles and boxes without end, the small station platform could not hold them. By supper time the supplies were stowed away in the station, the dogs had been chained in long rows in the shelter of a spruce thicket back of the tracks with three men to watch them, and the big crew, now numbering more than forty men, was waiting turns for places in the small hotel diningroom.
Hughey was busy looking after details, but Allan did not seem to have a care in the world. The bar was crowded both before and after supper and Allan, buying an occasional drink for all, mingled with
the men, laughing and joking and listening to them. Once Hughey, seeking advice on a small matter, had difficulty in getting him away from the crowd at the bar.
“This is no time for that sort of thing, lad,” he advised gently.
“You watch me,” replied Allan with a laugh. “I’m loading up a nice little bomb, Hughey. I’ll let you see it go off in the morning.”
T TNTIL closing time the revelry in the ^ the bar continued. Twice more Hughey looked in disapprovingly, only to be captured by Allan and dragged through the crowd for a drink.
“I’m sorry, boys,” said the proprietor when ten o’clock came; but he meant he was sorry for himself, for never before had his place been so well filled.
“Give me a bottle!” shouted a man at the rear of the crowd.
“Me, too!” cried another, and a dozen joined in the chorus.
“No bottles, boys,” said Allan. “This ends it. You’ve had a good time. To-morrow the job starts. Clear out, now.”
“I’ll buy a bottle if I want it,” came a belligerent voice from the middle of the crowd.
“You’ll not!” snapped Allan, leaning forward and looking straight at the man who had spoken. The stare was returned for an instant, and then the man laughed.
“All right, I’ll not,” he said; and the crowd, laughing left the room.
f I 'HE next morning immediately after breakfast Allan took a chair behind the table in the small waiting room. He had a sheet of paper, a neat stack of railroad tickets and a small heap of bills and silver arranged in front of him.
“Step up, boys, one at a time,” he commanded: And there was none of the good fellowship of the night before in his tone.
Hesitatingly, the first man approached.
“Your name?” demanded Allan.
“You worked as a rodman once, didn’t you, Bill?”
A big, confident, grinning young fellow stepped up to the table. Allan glanced at him and then picked up a railroad ticket.
“Here’s three days’ pay and a ticket to Port Arthur. Next.”
“But—” stammered the young fellow in confusion.
“I don’t want you,” interrupted Allan. “Next.”
And so he went through the crowd. After the first dozen a strange silence pervaded the room. The men waited their turns anxiously. Some were quick to step up. Others hesitated. There was some grumbling but Allan ignored it. When the last name was down on the list and the last ticket gone, he jumped to his feet.
“All you fellows whose names I took get busy now,” he called. Hughey Munro is boss of the dog teams. All you dog drivers report to him. The axemen are expected to break trail ahead of the teams. We start at noon.”
“What was your idea?” asked Hughey in a whisper when he and Allan were
alone. “You let some good men go and kept some bad ones.”
“It’s this way, Hughey. This is going to be a hard winter in more ways than one. So far from the railroad, we can’t have men quitting. We want men who will stick, and men who are not going to be trouble makers, kickers, grouches. I suppose we got some, but that’s to be expected.
“I mixed up with that crowd last night because I’ve found that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he talks. I talked with everyone, in the bar and coming up on the train, and everyone who tried to make a hit with me got his ticket back to town. I didn’t care how much they drank or cussed. I’m not a Sunday School teacher and some of the hardest drinkers I’ve run into were the hardest workers, and the hardest fighters.
“But what did you bring so many for? That cost money.”
“It was cheap, Hughey. I had all the more to pick from. And I’m satisfied with the crew I’ve got. It was the most important part of our work, getting the right crew. And there wasn't time to try them out. Then, in vino veritas, you know.”
“No, I don’t know. I never learned Eskimo.”
“Freely, Hughey, it means that, when a man’s soused, he blatts. Throw a few drinks into a man and, if he don’t like his mother-in-law, he’ll tell you so. If he does like her he’s a good sort and you take him. See?”
“They’re not like the men around the bay,” said Hughey, still unconvinced.
“That’s the reason. These fellows work where they please, when they please and as long as they please. Canada’s needed a lot of men in the last ten years, in construction camps, surveys, Government work and in the lumber camps. There’s been lots of work for good bushmen for as long as they can remember, and they’ve got into bad habits. They quit for no reason at all, grumble and growl, and make trouble if they get a grouch on the outfit. Times have been too easy for them. They all knew that there was always a job waiting. But there’s always been good men among them, and I think I got the pick of the bunch.”
WINTER had come to the northland since Allan and Hughey had arrived in Sabawe by canoe. There was a foot of snow on the ground and the lakes and streams were frozen. Some of the larger bodies of water might be unsafe, or even still open in the centre. But travel by dog team was possible; and at noon the start was made.
It was a strange, halting, noisy, broken procession, that long line of dogs and men that followed Hughey and Allan out onto the lake. The sun glittered on the level, white expanse, the freshly broken trail showing pure white against the more brilliant surrounding surface. The scene was beautiful but it was not enticing. The quiet was ominous rather than peaceful. The whiteness and purity seemed to be only a mask.
Sounds came from the long line, oaths, shouts, yelps, barks, but they made little impression. The silence was so great it swallowed them instantly as water closes
over a falling stone. Only there were no ripples.
Men stopped to adjust snowshoe thongs. Dog teams halted when traces were tangled, or fights started. Gaps came in the line, gaps that closed to reappear in other places. Once an entire team, strung out in heavy toil, suddenly became a compact mass of snarling, snapping, slashing fury. Whips snapped, men swore and shouted. Strange huskies never fit well together for a week or so, and even then the rivalry between teams never ceases.
But at last men became accustomed to their webbed footwear and plodded on more regularly. The dogs, soft but spirited, began to feel the steady strain and settled soberly to work. The pace increased, and the journey to Hudson Bay was on.
Darkness came but for another hour they pressed on. Then, In the gloom of a spruce swamp, the column halted. Axes began to crack instantly. Trees swished down into the snow. Fires were lighted. Dog food was mixed and hung in the blaze. Tents showed suddenly against the dark foliage. Great piles of firewood were brought in. Camp was made.
'C' OR four days this continued. At the -Iend of the third day four of the long toboggans were unloaded, a cache built, and the next morning four teams, drawing only their drivers and a little food, raced back to Sabawe. The crew and the two remaining dog teams kept on, and late that night camped at the south end of Kabetogama.
Allan was in the best of spirits. In less than ten days after his interview with MacGregor the actual work of surveying would begin. His men had worked well, there was good feeling, almost enthusiasm, in the crew. The dogs were willing workers, there was not too much snow for the beginning.
The fact that there was food for only four days did not bother him. One of the two dog teams that had come through with the crew would return to the cache in the morning and be back in forty-eight hours with a quarter of a ton. A day later the four teams that had returned to Sabawe would be starting out with a ton of provisions. There was nothing to worry about, and Allan did not worry as he went to bed that night.
“April first,” he thought, just as he was dropping off to sleep. “It will be easy.”
The next morning the dog drivers reported to Allan that nine of the twelve dogs had been poisoned in the night.
The Second Blow Falls
THE blow was so sudden, so totally unexpected, the results so threatening, that Allan, his mind tuned to the joyous hum of success, was dazed. Hughey, who had spent a lifetime meeting emergencies, was the first to act.
“See here, lad,” he whispered to Allan. “Whoever did this left a track. It’ll be hard to pick up because the men have been tramping through the brush getting wood and looking up those old stakes. But there’s tracks somewhere, and I’m go-
ing to find them. It looks like it might snow to-day, and I’ve got to hurry.
“Now you take these three dogs and move camp just as you planned. You can get twelve miles up the lake and make two trips. Then to-morrow morning go on over to the Frost Girl’s post with the dogs and get enough grub to do until the teams get in from Sabawe.”
“What will you do?” asked Allan, still not fully comprehending.
“I’m going to see who did this. I’m thinking whoever it was took our back track, where they could go without leaving much sign, because it’s packed and fi oze so hard. It may take me a long way south for they’ll be foxy about it. Anyhow, I got to keep on going and hurry those teams straight through, for they’ll come only as far as the cache and then turn back.”
“All right, Hughey,” replied Allan, his spirits reviving. “Catch them if you can. The sooner we stop this sort of thing the better.”
The entire crew knew, of course, of the poisoning of the dogs. But the work began as planned, and the men were not told what Hughey and Allan expected to do. The axemen, rodmen and transit men began their work at once, while Alan directed the packing of the toboggan and the beginning of the journey on up the lake to the camping spot agreed upon. The surveying outfit carried a lunch and was to find the camp that night.
It was difficult work for the few men who remained to transport what food there was, the bedding, tents and other equipment, up the lake. Allan saw it started and then joined the surveyors, where he ordered two axemen to return to camp and assist in the moving. Then, with an axe in his hands, he toiled through the day with the crew. Night found the survey well begun.
EARLY the next morning Allan, a dog driver and the three remaining dogs started down the lake to the MacLure post. Far out from shore the wind had cleared the ice so that it was not necessary to break trail. Allan rode alternately with the driver, so the twelve miles were soon covered.
The cold, clear morning, after the snow of the day before, the exhilaration of running and riding with the dog team, the optimism of Allan’s nature, had restored his spirits, and he was eager, almost boyish, as he threw open the door of Hertha’s store. In the rush of events of the previous two weeks he had not forgotten her but the fact that he was to see her again so soon had not entered his thoughts until that morning.
“How do you do, Miss MacLure?” he greeted her as he entered. “I didn’t expect to be back so soon.”
“I did not know you wer^ coming back,” replied Hertha, her amazement at seeing the young man of the portage clearly evident.
Allan was about to make a facetiously gallant reply to the effect that he was compelled to see her again when something about the girl stopped him. Something told him that she would not understand, that even sincere flattery would be distasteful to her.
“I didn’t know either that I was coming,” he said. “But now I am going to be a neighbor for some time, and also a customer.”
“Neighbor? What do you mean?” Something in the girl’s question, in the tense manner in which she leaned across the counter and looked at him, sobered Allan instantly.
“Why,” he answered, “a railroad is going to run through here to Hudson Bay and I am in charge of the surveying outfit. We are camped down the lake and will move up near here to-morrow.”
“Then it was you!” Hertha exclaimed, and her eyes became hard and cold, her chin square, her mouth compressed.
“What on earth is the matter?” demanded the amazed young man.
“Nothing,” was the curt reply.
“But you seem—er, angry.”
“What is it you want?” asked Hertha, as if he had not spoken.
“I came,” he replied, wondering at this strange change in the attitude of the girl toward him, “to buy some flour, sugar, pork, and tea. Also some dried fruit if you have it. We have a cache thirty-five miles south of the upper end of Kabetogama, but we brought only enough food for a few days because the equipment was so heavy. It was the plan to run a team back to the cache yesterday, but someone poisoned nine of our twelve dogs, and we needed what was left to move camp. I knew you had a well-filled store, and that we could get enough from you to tide us over until our teams come up from Sabawe. Here is the list the cook made out.”
He laid it on the counter, but Hertha did not even glance at it.
“I have nothing to sell,” she said shortly.
“Nothing to sell;” exclaimed Allan looking at the shelves and back at the storeroom in the rear. “Why, you have tons of food!”
“That is for my Indians,” replied Hertha, looking at him steadily.
“But you wouldn’t let a white man starve so that an Indian could stuff himself?”
“My Indians are my usual customers, my regular customers. They depend upon me to have what they want when they want it. I cannot fail them.”
“I’ll pay double price.”
“I have just explained why I will not sell.”
“But you don’t understand. My men will starve before the teams get in from Sabawe.”
“You told me you have a cache thirtyfive miles south of the lake. They could reach it before they would starve.”
“But the work can’t stop for that!” exclaimed Allan, a note of anger creeping into his voice.
“The work is not my afiair. That is yours.”
“I’ll pay back everything you let me have,” said the engineer. “Then your stock will not be depleted. The teams will be here inside of a week.”
“I can’t run that chance,” replied the girl as firmly as before. “You have already failed to get in enough for yourselves. I can’t run the chance of dis-
appointing my Indians when they come in at Christmas time.”
“Hang the Indians!” cried Allan angrily. “Don’t you see that white men are going without? You wouldn’t do that.”
“They needn’t starve if you have a cache so near.
“There is no need of discussing the question further. I will not sell provisions to you.”
T HERE was something so final in the -*girl’s tone that her voice rather than her words convinced the engineer. He looked at her steadily for a moment, hoping for some sign of weakening. He could not believe that she could refuse food to a starving white man. But the girl’s gaze was as steady as his own, and he turned toward the door. Three steps and he whirled back.
“I see!” he exclaimed. “The National people have been here. Tell me what they agreed to pay you and I’ll double it.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Hertha; and her eyes showed her bewilderment.
“If they have been here you understand—and I think they have. What other reason could you have for refusing to sell to me?”
“You would not talk that way to a man!” cried Hertha, her eyes blazing angrily.
“If you were a man I would know how to talk to you. Now, I can play the game as well as they can. Just name your price and we’ll settle this.”
Hertha did not reply.Her anger was too great. She could only raise her right arm and point silently toward the door. Allan returned her look for an instant. Then he wheeled and went out. There was something so completely final in the girl’s expression he knew it was useless to argue further. Only he could not understand.
“Shall I carry it out?” asked the driver as he closed the door behind him.
“She won’t sell us anything,” replied Allan, still bewildered by the girl’s attitude. “We’ll go back to camp.”
To Be Continued.