The Magic Makers
Author of “The Inner Door," “BlantyreAlien," etc.
OF the eight pursuers four had somersaulted over the snow and lay stiffening in the gripping frost, but still remained the others, young dog wolves all, sound in wind and limb, mad with indescribable ferocity.
So closely did they draw that of the three white men there was but Jock whose nerve and eye were swift enough to shoot. Again his rifle barked and at the report a dog-wolf suddenly ran his muzzle and shoulders downward, and, spinning grotesquely, lay kicking at the feathery ground. Blackmouth, summoning his remaining strength, doubled and, with a swift gash, cut the hamstring of another which, whining with intolerable pain, staggered giddily along on three legs harmless for ever. In another instant the two survivors had drawn up each on one side and level with their former leader began tearing at his rippling shoulders.
Then was to be seen the wisdom of the great brute for, as though knowing that a single bullet might penetrate both himself and his adversaries, he swung in a long untiring circle round the barricade and headed straight into the storm hidden north. Ere they disappeared, Jock’s rifle spoke once and out of the gloom came the choking cough that told where a bullet had found its
mark. There was flung back to them a long deep-mouthed bay, full of undaunted courage. In it vibrated the strange soul of Blackmouth. “I have fought a great fight,” it said, “but my spirit is unbroken and my heart is yet strong though my blood has been spilling from my body. There is but one fight more and that you can leave to me for it will be fought by one who will die content.” And that there was a great silence.
Gradually the darkness increased but still the white men waited, their rifles ready, till around them the oncoming day revealed the ghastly relics of that great battle. Dotted here and there on the sparkling snow were the grey bodies stiffened grimly into their dying contortions. Tooth and bullet had done their work and the strength of the pack was utterly destroyed. No more would it sweep across these naked plains with death in its jaws and terror in its train. By rapine and fury it had lived, and thus, too, it had died, even while the black lips lifted from the cruel teeth and defiance gurgled in the shaggy throats. Somewhere, too, in that wilderness was the lost leader. Rintoul’s mind strained to determine his fate. Had he killed the solitary foe and marched proudly back to the desolation from which he first emerged, there to wonder in a queer dog-like fashion, while his gory wounds healed, and muse with wolfish wisdom on the marvels of his
past? Or, conjectured Rintoul, had those two, locked in fierce and final conflict, gone down to death together till over them the ivory-beaked ravens should gather and the blue foxes tug snarling at their matted hides? For all of this the North had no answer and Rintoul, his heart troubled in his breast, turned gravely to Sergeant MacTier.
“It’s done with now,” he said unsteadily, “and for the present we’ll not talk about Blackmouth. You see,” he added with a curious note in his rough voice, “you’ve never been where you’ve only had a wolf to love.”
For a little while MacTier did not answer and when he did speak it seemed that the memory of the night just past had been effaced from his mind, for he only turned and stared wistfully south. “It’ll be about now,” he remarked quizzically, “that Nanook will be crawling out of his igloo. Man, man, but this is a queer country of yours, Henry Rintoul.”
THE day brought with it a blissful serenity as though peril had folded its wings and departed with the darkness. After which the white men turned their faces toward the cabin that lay but five miles away.
Three hours later they found it, half buried in curling drifts through which its chimney thrust a black and vertical finger. Around it could be seen tracks of
the wild things of the island and, planted firmly opposite the smothered door, were the footmarks where a white bear had stood a few hours past, while he gathered into his black nostrils the faint human scent that still lingered in this deserted edifice. Inside, when they broke through the snow had drifted in a fine impalpable powder and lay deep on floor and bunks. It could be seen at a glance that Nanook and his hunters had made a clean sweep for only the naked boards themselves remained. So cold was the place, so barren and forbidding, that instinctively they turned away from its empty shell and, heading down a well remembered trail, struck directly seaward. But as he stepped from the land, Salty Bill halting for an instant, unloosed his poignant spirit.
“She’s gone,” he said thickly. “The stoutest ship that ever hoisted a ton of blubber over her side. If I had Nanook here I’d choke him with my own hands for a lying blackguard. You feel bad about that darned wolf,” he went on with a sidelong glance at Rintoul, “but I feel a damn sight worse about my ship, and the insurance aint goin’ to put it right either. I’ve sailed her from Greenland to Nova Zembla and from Jan Mayen clear round the Horn into the Pacific. Sperm whales and right, fin and bottlenose, rorqual and humpbacked, they were all the same to the Siren. She’s stood up to more pounding and rammed her nose through heavier ice than any craft that ever carried a harpoon gun forward and rendering vats on her main deck. She was built of juniper and teak and white oak, and there wasn’t a soft spot in her. Say,” he continued furiously. “I’d be most willing to give the insurance on that darned old wreck—for I’ll gamble they’ve wrecked her—for the chance of getting even with Black Matt and that pagan.”
And just then Jock, who had been staring intently along the shore, raised his right hand and pointed north to a dark speck that was moving slowly out to the sea ice.
“There’s your pagan,” he said quietly.
piVE miles from the edge of the land, Nanook, who had been travelling due east, thrust his head cautiously over the pressure ridge that for the last hour had sheltered him from further observation, and peered due south.
A mile away he saw, very distinctly, three figures, the largest of which was slowly trailing a laden sledge, while the others walked, one behind and one ahead, with rifles carried loosely in the hollow of an arm. In Nanook’s soul stern conflict was being waged between shame and an insensate passion for revenge. The shame was due to the fact that so great had been his eagerness to get well on to the ice before the others and thus secure a vantage point from which he might attack that he had allowed the unmistakable outline of his figure to show for one careless instant. It was the shame of the hunter for a failure of judgment.
But his passion for revenge had had a deeper origin. Three nights before, when the big igloo had suddenly vanished before the gaping crowd, and a spirit very evil and mighty spoke with the voice of much thunder, and the earth rocked beneath their feet, he had experienced a supreme delight and triumph. Magic had been made, strong magic that surpassed even his own anticipation, and of it he was to be, thereafter, sole interpreter and lord. But when, upon rising, from the ground, to which he like the others had
been precipitated, he fumbled under the hollow block of snow, and, finding a square wooden box, pushed just as he had seen the big white man push, there ensued, instead of a duplicate uproar, absolutely nothing whatever. By this time, to be sure, the rest of the tribe had scurried into imagined safety, and Nanook had opportunity to test the thing thoroughly. Again there had been no result. Plucking angrily at the ends of the lead wires, he jerked these up and, following their length, arrived shortly at the point where once had curved the sweeping dome of the great igloo. Here, to his amazement, he discovered that instead of the igloo there was a hole which ran deep into the earth itself, and which was filled with strange and sickening odours while a pale sluo^ish smoke curled lazily in its splintered depth.
Staring at this for a long while, he had been driven to the grim conclusion that his own powers of deception had not only met their match but were as well hopelessly outclassed. With fury in his heart he had dashed after the fugitives—and found them to his cost. Then, writhing with pain from his battered face, he had decided that while the Crees were tricky and the Yellowknives thieves, one and all, there was no man, red or brown, beneath whose breast lay such undiluted guile as beneath that of the white man. In a word, Nanook was outraged.
There remained for him but one thing to do, and this was to sow the seed of anger among the other hunters and, choosing the best and strongest of them, start in pursuit.
NOW it is not easy for any man to confess that he has been outwitted but least easy of all for him whose reputation is based on craftiness and whose strength is in deceit, thus it was that with feelings mingled and many Nanook renaired to the nearest igloo and, summoning his still trembling brethren, unfolded both his story and his plan. The manner of his telling matters not, but it came that he was immediately confronted with difficulty unforeseen, the difficulty being that even while his own voice lifted in argument, there were streaming from out of the night other voices more savage even and inhuman than his own, and these were the voices of the pack. Suffice it to say that hours passed before cajolery assembled the scant half dozen men who ultimately set out in stern pursuit.
Later had come the memorable night when their dogs, crazy with fear, had revolted under the lash of those whose hearts were almost as tremulous, and Nanook had been left to wreak his vengeance alone. And from that hour till now, drunk with the lust to kill, his face battered into a disfigured pulp from the mighty blow of Sergeant MacTier, he had pushed on, a solitary figure, maddened by the undying hunger that throbbed in his relentless breast. Viewless himself, for hours past he had been slinking like an apparition behind the travellers till, as they halted, at the spot to which his own crafty instinct had thrust them in the storm, he made a dash from the shelter of the shore toward the tumbled plain of sea ice that stretched interminably to the horizon.
It must be admitted that, though greater caution would have been the part of wisdom, the white men, relieved from the immediate grip of danger, regarded the distant appearance of Nanook with a certain casual indifference. Before them lay seventy miles of ice, open to the sky, untenanted save by themselves and this
single pursuer. If Nanook was armed, so were they. If the pressure ridges afforded him periodic shelter, did not their irregular folds shelter the pursued as well, and, above all, so lofty over their heads was the magnificent sweep of cloudless sky, so clean and hard was the eastern horizon, so immense was this space to which at last they had won, that Nanook, would-be murderer though he was, seemed a pigmy thing, devoid of menace and almost of powers of attack. Thus it came that when Jock extended his flanks to right and left there was a twinkle in his grey eyes and a cheerful ring in his deep voice.
“Straight east it is now and if you two will keep a hundred yards on either side it’s small chance Nanook will have. What’s more I’m thinking that he’ll not trust himself very far from shore, for, mind you, just soon as the Hudson Bay folk at Little Whale River hear what’s going on, ’tis the short end of the rope they’ll be giving Nanook, as soon as they get word to Ottawa. So it’s straight away for Little Whale River and Scotland with your eye peeled and best foot foremost.” After which the giant bent to his task and the sledge, now lightened of much of its load, lurched steadily ahead.
MILE after mile in front of them stretched the sea ice, here à flat expanse of driven snow, there a pressure ridge where the crumpled edges, expanding irresistibly, had tilted upwards and threw out their ragged length in tumbled and contorted masses that glistened sparkling in the sun. Twenty, even thirty feet high these rose, presenting to the sledge an arduous passage, for here, by main force, it was lifted, pulled and thrust over miniature crevasses and sharp and angular peaks. It was on top of one of these ridges that Jock paused and, filling his vast lungs, swept the surrounding plain for some sign of their pursuer. But Nanook had apparently vanished from the surface of the earth.
Poise now in mid air and survey this white and crystalline expanse whose rim cuts sharply the inverted bowl of the sky. How puny appear those animate specks that toil across this shining abyss, how infinitesimal their ant-like steps. Who are they that dare to strike out into this infinity, into whose voiceless bosom their souls would so swiftly pass where it not for the tiny flame which, springing eternal, nerves their diminutive and fragile bodies, and that supreme intelligence which links them mysteriously with the Creator of all created things? So it is, and so always it must be in the North. Ever does her speechless embrace welcome to herself those who, being simple and clean, are thereby brave, those who joyously strip themselves and enter full hearted into the elemental contest. The silence of the North breeds courage and the coward shrinks from her chill caress. Mighty and understanding is she, with strange rewards for those who trust her, hut in her tameless bosom waits a vengeance that is all her own. And at the end there is silence for those whom she takes unto herself.
BEHIND a hummock crouched Nanook peering through a cleft at the black specks which seemed to be heading directly for him. His eyes were hard and bright and his cheek, aching under its frozen bandages, rested lightly against the stock of his rifle. Now and again for the sheer sport of it he laid his sights till, fair over the long barrel, appeared a slowly moving figure. As yet the white
inen were far out of range and he knew it, but revelling in the lust to kill, time and time again, he took meaningless aim and, pulling an imaginary trigger, abandoned himself to the joy of revenge. The white men would pass, he reckoned, less than three hundred yards away. There was no wind so it would be good shooting, and lest perchance they peer about too curiously he had flicked snow over legs back and shoulders till only the greyness of his capote and the dull barrel of his rifle were visible. But in this very moment, and just as he was nearing the peak of his ambition Nanook was also making his last and most fatal error.
Hard behind him there had moved for miles a long grey shape that, slinking light-footed from the shore, had won out to the sea ice, taking cover with the instinct of all wild things, flattening itself against drift and hummock, treading cautiously the maze of pressure-ridges, a great grey shape with torn sides and gory flanks and long narrow skull, indented with innumerable scars. Even as Nanook trailed his enemy, so was he himself trailed by a foe, the deadliest and most relentless that ever set forth in grim pursuit. Match as Nanook might his hunter’s skill against the white men’s confident progress, he was outmatched by the sleuth-like thing that for hours past had followed him with slim noiseless pads and cold terrible eyes. Even while the black specks broadened and heightened over the sharp foresight of Nanook’s rifle, so behind him the avenging beast took on clearer and more definite form.
Long before, at the close of that wild night, Blackmouth had fought it out, tooth against tooth, claw against claw with the sole survivor of the pack, and, when the young dog-wolf went under in a welter of blood, the victor had raised his scarred head and flung a triumphant bay to the mocking sky. But after that, and when the glow' of combat had passed and he felt stealing over him a strange weakness, there was born in him an insenate hunger for one more sight of the two-legged thing he had loved so well. The wilderness meant nothing to him now. It was scattered with the stiffening bodies of his kin on which he himself must feed to revive his rapidly failing strength. Hunger was in him and a consuming thirst, but deeper than both lay the sudden and irresistible passion that now he knew he must appease ere he could taste food.
So it was that Blackmouth turned from the battle field and, trailing steadily, picked up in the distance the figures of the two-legged things among whom was the one he desired so greatly to smell once more. He noted this time, however, that they did not even look round, nor did his own two-legged thing once call him. At this his wounds seemed to open afresh and he grew weaker even than before. An hour later his pointed ears went up as there came to him another man-smell, and, doubling on his own tracks, he at once made out a fourth figure. While he was still regarding it this figure lifted the long thing in his hand and, pointing it at the three humans, stood for a moment,
till the long thing which, reasoned Blackmouth, was the death-stick, dropped back again without speaking. Now for Blackmouth that was quite sufficient. The death-stick he knew of old was for killing, so it was quite evident that this human meant evil to the others. From that very moment he had taken up the trail. It hurt him grievously to run, or even to walk, but arguing that his own human was in danger, his failing spirit resolved itself into one last and unutterable rapture of protection. Somewhere in his brute body moved the conviction that now he should make his final and greatest kill.
SLOWLY Nanook shifted his elbow for steadier support, slowly his foresight rose past feet, knees and waist of the big man who bent so powerfully to the drag of the lurching sledge, slowly it steadied itself over the broad breast. Fifty paces more and the range would be just right Slowly the hunter’s lips moved, counting those unflagging paces in the Husky tongue while the ache in his battered face was drowned in the glow of savage anticipation. Ten paces more now and he w’ould send revenge whining over the sea ice. But, just as the big man’s knee crooked to the eighth step and Nanook’s figure curved stiffly over the trigger, death flung itself through the air behind him and he felt the long teeth of the avenger crunching through bone and sinew. A shriek that died almost ere it left his lips, a twitching that sent a harmless bullet high in the air, a writhing of Continued on page 96
The Magic Makers
Continued from page 45
strong limbs, as death swift and terrible sank to his vertebrae, an irregular jerking of muscles in which life was arrested with appalling abruptness, and there passed the murderous soul of Nanook the Bear. Over him stood Blackmouth, pouring through his clashing jaws the uttermost strength that still remained in his own gaunt and mangled body, wasting himself royally and prodigally for the human he loved with such unquestioning faith, till, having achieved this last act of wolfish homage, his force, too, dripped out through wounds many and grievous, a weakness took him and hushed the tempestuous heat beneath that great grey hide, and, toppling over, he stretched himself wearily while through the thin keen air a few flakes of snow drifted wistfully down and settled like some benison of the skies upon them both.
A few moments later Henry Rintoul stared down at hunter and hunted as they lay stiffening, and said not a word. It seemed that at the moment there were no words to be said. The others, too, after heaping snow in a great mound over the spot gave themselves up to thoughts of
that time when spring would come and, borne on a drifting floe, Nanook and Blackmouth, linked in death, would move majestically onward and outward. It seemed that the last tragic moment had passed and, with its passing, there had gone also the last shadow that overhung the travelers. Their spirits, released from innumerable threats, rose buoyantly. The very ice itself grew kinder and more level, and when, at dark, they halted for rest and food, Jock announced cheerfully that two more such marches would bring them to the post of Little Whale River.
IN this Sergeant MacTier spoke truth, for at noon on the third day the post was in sight. The arrival to which they had looked forward with such longing seemed somehow curiously flat and uneventful. It was, it appeared, nothing unusual that three white men should trail along the shore and finally pull up in front of the massive, low-roofed buildings that squat close to earth on the banks of the river. It was not, indeed, until the factor casually inquiring about their dogs and learning that they had none
broke into an exclamation, that Bill, piqued at the drabness of their advent, burst into a spirited account of the strange land from which they came. But in this Jock brought him up short.
“You’re across from the Belchers, you say?” demanded the factor curiously.
“Aye,” answered Jock guardedly, “I don’t mind saying that much.”
“But the Belchers are nothing but reefs. I’ve lived here for twenty years and I ought to know.”
“Perhaps,” hazarded the big man cynically, “it’s just because you have lived here, right here for twenty years, that you don’t know anything about it. Stretch your legs for seventy miles and see for yourself.”
“What’s on these islands?” broke out the factor visibly startled. “Any fur?” “They’re fair crawlin’ with fur,” grinned Sergeant MacTier.
“Say, look here, will you make me a sort of a map? Anything will do.”
Jock shook his head shrewdly. “It’s my observation,” he chuckled, “collected in various parts of the North, that the Hudson Bay is mostly after something for next to nothing. But I’m not trading in maps or fur either. And besides, being as I’m a Sergeant in the North-west Mounted Police, it’s my duty to report first at Ottawa.” He sent a swift glance at Salty Bill, “Eh ! What about that. What are you thinking?”
“Insurance,” grunted the skipper contentedly.
And at that the factor more bewildered than ever assailed them with questions. But it seemed that the whole party had become strangely uncommunicative and demanded with united vigor to know when the next post would leave for Moose Factory.
“In about two days,” said the factor gruffly, “you’ve just caught it.”
MacTier breathed an inward prayer of thankfulness, then, with a side glance at the skipper, shot a swift enquiry. “Did you see anything of a two-masted schooner along this coast last fall?”
The trader’s lips tightened into a hard line. “Did I? Well I should say I did.” In a flash Salty Bill jumped forward and laid trembling hands on the speaker’s shoulders. “Where is she? Cough it up,
A LOOK of blank amazement spread over the other man’s face, and he stared hard and long into Bill’s excited features. “There aint much to tell you except that she blew in here just as the ice was taking. I don’t know that I remember any vessel arriving so late before. There were only four men aboard her, which seemed queer, and what’s more, I didn’t fancy the look of her captain; at least he called himself captain. They hung about for a week till one morning I fotfnd they had started south on the new ice, and—”
“But the Siren?” croaked Bill, swaying the factor back and forth in an agony of suspense. “Where is she?”
“If you’ll keep your hands to yourself,” was the curt response, “I’ll try and tell you. After the crew started south I went aboard and found everything in a devil of a mess, but the ship herself was sound enough. So some of us ran her up river about a mile, where she’s anchored now and frozen in tight. And she’s all right till spring. Say, what the devil’s the matter with you?"
But Salty Bill never heard him. With one leap he had cleared the doorstep. Dashing toward the river bank he struck out over the ice and as far as a bend in
the river they could see his figure taking prodigious leaps through snow drifts that, here and there, stretched from bank to bank. In a few minutes he turned the bend and just as he disappeared there came back a wild and hilarious shout. The skipper had sighted the slender topmasts of the whaler. Then silence fell in the Post after which the factor’s lips began to move soundlessly. Presently his wondering eyes rested on the featherclad form of Rintoul.
“Seems to me,” he hazarded with a little break in his voice, “that it’s about time we had a drink.”
LJERE then, in this far-flung outpost of civilization, ended the quest of Sergeant MacTier. Of the return of Henry Rintoul to his own, and of the welcome that awaited the grey-eyed giant when once more he enfolded Marget in his mighty embrace, it is not necessary to write. But it is said that after his report was sent in to Ottawa the Department of Surveys hesitated for weeks before plotting the new found area over the scattered specks which, on government charts, had been known for a hundred years as the Belcher Reefs. Nor did MacTier ever guess that long after the door of the office of the Deputy Comptroller of the Mounted Police had closed behind him, that dignitary sat motionless in his chair, murmuring indefinite things about the honor of the Force he had the privilege of directing. The principal matter that occupied the mind of Sergeant MacTier was that he had done his duty, and perhaps a little more. But, by and by, the world at large will discover that his amazing find has established questions of geology of tremendous import and value, and that the iron deposits over which his dauntless feet tramped so many arduous miles rival in size those great ore fields upon which America bases her metallurgical wealth.
MacTier is not dead. To-day, also, his spirit lives in the North and throbs in the breasts of those who, strangers to fear and uncertainty, carry on their lonely and valiant campaign in the far corners of the great unknown.