The Magic Makers
A Story of Mystery and Adventure in Canada
Author of “The Inner Door,” “Blantyre-Alien," etc.
"I DON’T know what deviltry you’re up to,” said a grim voice, "but if aught goes wrong you’ll answer to me with every bone in your bodies. As for you, Nanook, I am told you are a strong man, so come and show me how strong you are.” A forbidding chill had crept into the tones of Sergeant MacTier. He stepped back a pace and waited for the answer.
But Nanook, for the present at least, was satisfied. He only stared with his dark face sullenly blank, though the blood was coursing hotly through every vein. And as he stared the moon slid from behind a cloud and its pale gleam fell on the oily lustre of his black eyes. Matt, trembling with fear and anger, swallowed a lump in his throat. He too, for the present, had had enough, so he only muttered some unintelligible reply and the two moved noiselessly away while Jock looked after them and wondered whether for once he had been remiss in the administration of justice. Later that night he told Salty Bill—told him at least a third of what had taken place. There were reasons, he reflected, for not saying more. After which the big man turned in and slept like a child.
But he might not have slept so soundly
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 Rintoul, 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 Walrus country. MacTier charters the ship “Siren" and its crew, with Salty Bill, its owner, t'n charge, and sets sail for Hudson's Bay. vt* they approach the northern end of Labrador the crew, led by Black Matt, the mate, shows mutinous symptoms. 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. Early in the voyage MacTier finds Nanook plotting with Black Matt to secure control of the
had he known that Nanook was back on deck, and in a moment of profound thought was scratching on the rough gunwale a diagram that had a certain significant resemblance to the undeciphered map of Henry Rintoul. The only difference was that Nanook’s drawing seemed,
so far as it went, to be complete and intelligible.
TWO hundred miles south of Mansel Island the Siren began to roll heavily before a north-westerly gale, and Salty Bill, glancing searchingly into the lowering sky, made everything fast and refused to leave the jumping wheel. The wind took them at midday, and by nightfall the broad-beamed craft was reeling.
“We’re in for it now!” roared Salty Bill to Jock, wiping the brine out of his smarting eyes. “This gale is coming clear across from Chesterfield Inlet and it has a run of a thousand miles.”
“Can’t you head up into it?” Sergeant MacTier’s words were almost snatched out of his mouth.
Bill braced himself against two feet of solid water that suddenly climbed up over the Siren's stern and swirled hissing along her decks. “We — we can’t beat against this, she won’t sail close enough to the wind. I reckon we’re nearly abreast of Smith Island and by morning, if it’s clear, we ought to run in for shelter. It’s too thick now to do anything but let her
The black hours passed slowly, but so overcast was the sky that morning
brought with it only a wintry gloom that seemed obliterated by the fragments of torn clouds which now dipped close to earth and, sodden with half frozen moisture, were swept with extraordinary rapidity across the angry surface of the Bay. During the night the wind seemed to have taken on additional weight, so that the waves, racing from the northwest, appeared like semi-flattened ridges from which the crests had been snapped and whipped away. No opportunity was here for dead reckoning, as Salty Bill grimly admitted, standing half frozen at the wheel.
“I’m damned if I know where we are, but we can’t be far off shore. We’re well down past Smith Island and we ought to be inside the Ottawa Group. God help us if we are, because I can’t round up in the face of this.”
Jock glanced forward to the jumping bows where, crouched low, the figure of Nanook had rested motionless since the night before. Putting his mouth close to the hunter’s ear he shouted aloud:
“Do you know where we are?”
The brown face turned slowly and into the black eyes crept a gleam that seemed almost one of triumph. “Not far now— a little more—just the same as this. Wind change by and by, then Nanook will take the wheel.”
When Salty Bill heard of this he scoffed indignantly. That the Siren should be entrusted to a tricky Husky, of whom from the first he had had the most profound suspicions, seemed something worse than insult. “I tell you,” he growled, while his frame stiffened against the savage jerking of the wheel, “what he wants is to pile up the Siren near where his own tribe is wintering so they can loot everything that’s in her, and then burn her hull. That’s happened before this.”
“But what becomes of Nanook if he does pile her up?” objected Jock, after a moment’s grim reflection.
“He clears out, that’s what he does, and it’s up to us to look after ourselves if we can. Mind you we’re not equipped for winter travel. We’ve got no dogs.”
ALL that day the whaler reeled drunkenly southward. Early in the afternoon a flurry of snow whipped down from the west and instantly the air became opaque. A little later the wind shifted, also to the west, and in the shallow and uncharted waters beneath the plunging keel there was set up a hideous commotion. The sea now lost any semblance of regularity and became a chaotic maelstrom in which great irregular masses were torn bodily from the surface and flung screaming, as though in some titanic sport. Such was the turmoil and so insupportable was life beneath the springing deck that the Siren's crew, to a man, deserted her echoing bowels, and found a precarious shelter where there was at least air and a semblance of light. But in the bows Nanook alone remained unmoved, while over him the seas broke constantly and poured aft in freezing cataracts of foam.
Midnight approached. Over the staggering vessel had settled a black and impenetrable pall. The gale, that now seemed to rock with its own velocity, changed its tune and vented itself in varying assaults, each more vicious than the last. Whither the Siren was being hurled was past comprehension and, shivering and half-famished, her stiffened crew could only cling more desperately to her trembling frame and make mute
but ceaseless conjecture as to the manner of the end. Far in the north glowed a pale phosphorescent shimmer of light that, struggling weakly through the flying spume, illumined for successive and poignant instants the surrounding desolation. At this moment, Nanook, crawling cautiously back from the bows, laid a lean hand upon the wheel and, with unmoved confidence, asked that the Siren be turned over to him.
“I know where we are,” he said calmly, “and, if you are wise, death will not come.”
Salty Bill looked up inquiringly. “What do you say, MacTier?” he whispered thickly.
The big man turned unshaker.ly. “You know of a harbor near here and you can make it?”
Nanook nodded. “Yes, good harbor. We can be there by morning.”
“Is it the place of which you told me?” Be careful, because if you do not speak the truth perhaps death will come.” Jock’s eyes were bloodshot and his voice ragged.
For answer Nanook’s brown fingers closed over the whirling spokes. “If we are not in harbor by morning, I lose the wealth of five black fox skins and get much anger instead. I have told you there is much that is not on the white man’s maps. Now I will show you.”
At that Jock, turning to Salty Bill, nodded assent. So it was that after one last look at the tossing circuit of sea, and into the mocking and still stormswept sky, the wheel was consigned to Nanook and the two worked perilously forward, till, gaining the hatchway, they descended gingerly between decks for
THUS towards its end drew on the voyage. Ever through the gloom raced the Siren, seemingly gathering more speed as though to escape the interminable battering of the hungry sea. Her canvas, long since ripped into shreds, streamed out like ragged oriflammes as she tossed and lurched, league after league, over the heaving waves. In the stern stood Nanook. His lips were set tight, his black eyes flashed brilliantly and over his face there settled a strange look of triumph. Master of the ship at last, he had come, it seemed, to something towards which from the first he had irresistibly moved, and the very gale, as it howled about him, appeared, in some mysterious way, to acknowledge this pagan soul as its master.
In that transitory hour when the night begins to yield insensibly to the grey battalions of dawn, Jock and Salty Bill scrambled forward and strained their eyes into the murky profundity ahead. Since sunset the wind had been gradually shifting and now held fiercely from the north-east, so that the Siren, still driving before it, was headed toward the southerly extremity of the great bay. Suddenly the skipper raised his arm and pointed to a spot in the torn sea a hundred yards away and just abeam.
“We’re in the reefs!” he shouted. Simultaneously, on the other side of the ship, and at about the same distance, a jagged ledge of rock showed black in the valley between two great waves. Further ahead came the sound of a dull crashing roar, as though here at last the long sweep of storm were piling itself up against some immovable barrier.
“There, is land there,” screamed Bill,
and we’re going to pile up on it. Come back and help me to get that wheel.” Jock nodded, then worked strenuously aft. “Harbor!” he shouted with his lips jammed against Nanook’s ear. “Is there harbor ahead?”
The black eyes gleamed confidently. “Yes, good harbor. The ship will stay there all winter. It will be very soon
Even while he spoke there came a second savage burst of wind and the Siren, projected violently forward, grated across a sunken reef. At the touch a shiver ran through her stout timbers and her masts quivered rapidly. Another heave and she was over.
“She can’t stand much of that!” shouted Salty Bill, his face drawn with exposure and anxiety. “If we’d hit a little harder we’d have stayed there and been pounded to splinters.”
HARDLY had the words left his lips when, before one ultimate gust, the Siren was picked up and flung onward at giddy speed. The boundaries of the channel became suddenly constricted, and on either side a low hog-back of rock gleamed in the half light. Across the end of this funnel stretched a black wall which received the full thrust of the hurricane on its stony breast. And, just as the Siren neared this infrangible parapet, there opened to the south the mouth of a long and sheltered bay. At the sight of it Nanook raised his arm and pointed triumphantly.
TEN minutes later the Siren shot into safety and comparatively smooth water. The wind still whistled through her topmasts, but a barrier of living rock was interposed between her and the long sweep of tortured waves. Sergeant MacTier breathed hard, and, wiping the salt water from his smarting eyes, turned to the Husky who still stood immovable at the wheel.
“You were right, Nanook,” he said guardedly, “and it is a good harbor. Is this the land of which you told me?”
A curious light dawned in the hunter’s eyes. “It is a strange land of strange people. Of these you will learn. It is also the land where magic was made, and perhaps of that you will learn also."
His glance wandered to the far sweep of the horizon where a line of low hills lifted irregularly. “You have come a long way,” he said quietly, “and it would not be well that you come for nothing.” From the creaking shrouds MacTier and the skipper stared at this new found area of the great Dominion. To the north the land stretched out of sight To the west there was a glint of water ten miles away, while to the east was a long channel running north. Across this there was more land.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” breathed Salty Bill, his eyes rounding.
MacTier said nothing, but his brain was on fire. This was a new discovery, a discovery of great magnitude, hitherto uncharted, in well-known and travelled water. The mystery of it worked in his mind, filling him with strange sensations, till it was borne on him with redoubled assurance that somewhere in this wilderness Henry Rintoul awaited rescue. And just then the voice of Salty Bill broke in again.
“Well,” he drawled, with a curious lift in his tones, “what now?"
“We’ll go ashore and look about, then I’ll tell you, and I’d be surprised if there’s.
not a good deal about it. ‘ But,” he demanded suddenly, “where are we? You said you knew the Bay, now tell me!”
The skipper’s lips moved soundlessly while amazement deepened in his face. “I know where we must be,” he hazarded presently, "but I’m darned if I know where we are.”
Jock’s eyes glittered as they rested on league after league of wilderness. “That doesn’t tell me much."
“We cleared the Ottawa Islands,” began Bill uncertainly, “and came down between them and the Sleepers. I know' that much. Then, after we got inside the Sleepers it wasn’t easy to follow, but when the wind changed we drove southward. Now, according to the chart there is no land where there ought to be, but I admit there’s some where we are, and that," h e concluded gruffly, “is my limit.”
Jock descended to the deck and reappeared with the Government chart. “There are just reefs marked here," he said, -after a careful scrutiny, “and those must be the reefs we see. Now how do you suppose they can be in while this land is left out?”
“God knows,” answered Bill despondently, “but I wish it had been all left out. Say,” he added, with a touch of rising truculence, “what are we going to do now?”
“Just one thing — stay.”
“What? We can’t stay here. We haven’t got enough fuel and we’d freeze to death."
He shook his head vigorously. “We’ve got to make for the coast, -1 mean the mainland.” He clambered down the ratlines and stalked up to Nanook and Black Matt, who had been watching his survey with absorbed interest. “Here, you fellows, get a boat out and find some fresh water. We’ll clear as soon as this gale is over.”
“We’ll do nothing of the sort,” came in a steady voice from MacTier, “and from this minute I’m in command. Otherwise.” here the accents hardened perceptibly, “I cancel the charter.”
Salty Bill drew a long breath. “Either we stay here and freeze to death before spring, or else we pull out and lose our money. Nice sort of choice, ain’t it?” he went on sarcastically. “Say,” he added, “when I chartered the Siren I reckoned I was dealing with a sane man who didn’t want to spend his winter holidays on top of a frost-bitten pile of rock.” A wave of recklessness took him, and he laughed out loud. “Look here, MacTier, I’ll leave it to these two,” he jerked his thumb at Nanook and Black Matt. “Matt, you’ve
always been figuring on having the say, now you’ve got it.”
Slowly and almost imperceptibly Nanook’s elbow shifted till it touched the seaman with the slightest possible pressure. MacTier caught the movement and the eyes of the two crossed like rapiers. Then Matt’s voice, husky with ill-concealed sullenness, replied: *
“MacTier is the boss, and what he says goes."
And at that Nanook grunted assent.
NOW on the exploration of the immediate neighborhood in search of some sheltered site for a cabin which would make the nightly return of the explorers to the ship unnecessary, should they so desire, and on the finding of this site some half a mile distant, it is not necessary to dwell. Suffice it to say that within the next few days the cabin was built out of spare planks unearthed in the Siren’s hold and roofed with canvas from her tattered sails. To it there was brought
a barrel of the crude oil used for the whaler’s auxiliary engine, and a small store of provisions such as might serve the occasion. With this cabin as a base, MacTier reckoned to explore the new found island with Nanook as guide, but not for an instant did he relax his guarded watch on the hunter and Black Matt. It appeared, now that the Siren was safely harbored, that the worst of possible danger was over, and he took unceasing care that the two men spent but little time together. Always, while this work continued, Salty Bill and MacTier divided themselves, one remaining on land the other on the Siren. Rifles and ammunition were removed to safety and kept almost within arm’s reach. It was noticeable. however, that during these arduous days Matt displayed no desire for further conversation with the Husky. He seemed, indeed, imbued with a new and more agreeable spirit and worked with unremitting willingness and ability. But for
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The Magic Makers
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til of this the big man regarded him with distrustful eyes.
North and east of the cabin the land was void of everything save bleak and thallow valleys and bleaker ridges from which it appeared the very intensity of the seasons had smitten all vegetable growth. It was naked rock that seemed to have been stiffened into strange and crystalline waves, the rigid tops of which aad been ground slowly down by the passage of some inconceivably vast and ieavy body. And this, as geologists afterwards proved, was the actual truth, for these naked formations, into which the Siren had been shot like a projectile, had in the slow cycle of past ages been worn gradually away by the transit of glaciers, prodigious beyond imagination. So vast were these ice fields, so crushing their weight, and relentless their elemental action, that there was left only the bare framework of the uncomplaining earth. Jock, tramping across them at high noon, became one day suddenly aware that he was walking on iron that projected above the surrounding rock. Instantly his mind flashed to Rintoul’s half legible scrawl. That was the meaning of the two words •cratch ed near the bottom of the map. '“Iron here,” Rintoul had said ; and iron there was beneath the feet of his wouldbe rescuer. The consciousness of it sent a swift glow through MacTier’s massive frame and he registered a mighty oath that, come what might, his back would not be turned on this desolate region till the truth had been established beyond peradventure. So inspiring was this discovery that he determined, then and there, that the time had come to strike out into the unknown. That night on the deck of the Siren he gave his orders.
"You men,” he said curtly, “will stay here for the present anyway. Bill, Nanook and I are going to be ashore for the next few weeks. In case of trouble hoist your flag half mast and we’ll come aboard. You can’t,” here his eye rested coldly on Black Matt, “you can’t steal the ship, because I’ve got the compass ashore, and what’s more, since you've plenty of grub. I’ve taken the rifles and ammunition. My instructions are that Nanook is not to be allowed on board and, if he tries it, I’ve a hundred dollars for the man who stops him. There’s just one thing more. I’d like to remind you that you’ve all signed on for the duration of this cruise and that as I happen to be an officer of the Crown I can arrest you if you break your contract And, what’s more, I will.” Once more his glance wandered to Black Matt, who stood staring at bim with inscrutable eyes. "Anyone got anything to say?”
A silence fell over the deck and overhead a westerly wind whistled briskly through the shrouds. The crew of the Siren, with the exception of Black Matt, bad, it appeared, no objections. Full wages, plenty of food and nothing to do, formed, it seemed, a combination so remarkable as to rob them of speech. But, for all of this, Jock had an instant of wonder whether behind the silence there
was not something he had left ungauged. Then Black Matt, touching a greasy forelock, advanced half a pace.
“I’ll answer for these men,” he said, briskly. “I guess we all know a good thing when we see it. As for Nanook, I’m just as glad he’s ordered off the ship. There’s reasons. And,” he added with a covert glance at MacTier, “I guess you know them. Nanook and I have agreed to start fresh and I don’t mind saying I’m damned glad to see the last of him. That’s all I’ve got.”
“Well,” answered Jock evenly, “you’ve got your orders and you’ve got the alternative.” And with that he dropped into a boat and sculled thoughtfully ashore.
' I ' HERE followed, the same evening, a -*• long talk during which he outlined his plans. Salty Bill listened unconvinced. He was indubitably assured that Nanook was lying, that MacTier was crazy, and that the whole expedition had degenerated into a wild goose chase, from which something worse than nothing might be expected. He glanced at the motionless figure of the Husky who crouched over a tiny driftwood fire. It was moving in Nanook’s mind that the big man had meant what he said when he warned him that an attempt at flight meant a bullet between the shoulders.
“I’ll tell you,” interjected the skipper sullenly. “I’ll anchor this blackguard to you and take a watch till midnight—then it’s your shift”
Jock grinned and, summoning the suspect, they tied him with a cord that went twice round MacTier’s mighty wrist. After which the big man pulled a blanket over himself and instantly fell asleep.
IGHT deepened in and with it came 1 ^ the advance guard of winter. There was a crisping of shallow pools while the first fall of snow drifted lightly from the north and shrouded the bleak hills in a shining and crystalline coverlet. Plunged deep in sleep Jock seemed to feel, even through his dreams, the pressure of the cord around his wrist, but his spirit had moved out and was now searching these solitudes in lonely persistence. In the little cabin the crude oil stove sputtered and finally expired. Salty Bill, sitting beside it, felt stealing over him an irresistible languor and beneath its soothing touch the problems of life, one by one, smoothed themselves out in his drowsy brain. To his ears came nothing but the low whine of the wind and the ceaseless lapping of icy waters on the rocky shore. Presently he breathed deeply and his head dropped forward.
At three in the morning, while it was still pitch dark, Sergeant MacTier woke with a start. The pressure of the cord about his wrist had become painful and he fingered it to relieve a throbbing vein. Simultaneously he noticed that the cord slipped to him without resistance. Jerking it swiftly a loose end swung in his face. Instantly he sprang to his feet with a shout. A moment later he and Bill
were examining the clean-cut end in the murky light of a lamp. The skipper’s lips were pressed tight. Presently, in utter humiliation, he raised a shame-covered face and met the accusing stare of MacTier’s grey eys.
“Didn’t I tell you,” he stammered, “that Nanook was the kind of kid that needed
A flood of anger stirred in the big man’s breast. He seemed about to answer but mastered himself with iron discipline. Whatever happened now he must not break with Salty Bill. They would need each other as few men had ever needed each other before. Then, in a flash, he thought of Black Matt.
“Take the boat,” he said icily, “and see that all’s well on the Siren. I’ll stay here and watch this stuff. That is, if I don’t fall asleep,” he added sardonically.
Without a word Bill disappeared and the rattle of loose rock sounded with a curious sharpness in the gloom as he picked his way to the shore. Then came a pause, a pause which MacTier had in some extraordinary way almost expected, till Bill’s voice sounded, ragged with new surprise.
“There’s no boat here!”
Once more that deadly flood surged through the big man’s body. “Of course.* there isn’t,” he muttered under his breath, “and there’s no Siren in the bay either.”
So it was, for three hours later, staring from the top of the ridge against which the cabin huddled its squat outline, the two could discern the feathery spars of the whaler three miles out, picking a tortuous course through the barrier of reefs, with the westerly wind swelling her tattered jibs and a tiny figure, perched far forward, swinging the sounding lead with rhythmical precision.
IT is written in the history of valiant deeds that a man, being confronted with danger and uncertainty, will, if he be a man, bring to bear new powers and new resources with which he may fight And it is written, furthermore, that there are no circumstances, however arduous and threatening, above which it is impossible for the human spirit to rise triumphant. In the heart of Sergeant MacTier this mysterious sequence now began to move. The situation was, he concluded, no worse than others he had successfully met. The two were well armed. The provisions on hand would last, with care, for at least a month even without game. As for the rest of it they could live, as many men had lived before, by their rifles. At the most he reckoned they could not be more than one hundred miles from the mainland, and since this region of the Bay was invariably frozen in winter there remained but the simple problem of exploring their discovery from end to end and then striking east across the field ice for the nearest trading post. The Siren, he was assured, could never escape from this inland ocean before winter took her in its grip, and the inevitable result would be that Black Matt would reap arrest and punishment.
When it came to Nanook, however, the question took on a different aspect. He had yet to determine what mysterious ambition had moved in the Husky’s shifty brain. The only solution which presented itself was that during the last few weeks there had been worked out a plot by which Snlty Bill and he himself were to be marooned on some hitherto unknown shore
and Nanook was to deliver the Siren to the tender mercies of his compatriots. All this, and much more, stirred in MacTier’s brain, but most curiously and deeply of all rested the conviction that by some strange trick of fortune he had come amazingly near the man he had set out to find.
By the second day a new element of uncertainty appeared.. Staring north into the unexplored districts, Jock could see nothing of life and nothing to support life. Long ere this he had expected to discover one of the multitudinous and roving bands of coast caribou that tenant this inhospitable neighborhood. But so far there was no sign of caribou. And it was on this point that discussion was hottest and most frequent
“They must be here,” persisted Salty Bill, doggedly, “because there are Huskies all over this country and the Huskies can’t live without them. They mean food to them, and clothing, and rawhide, and most everything else. Did you ever see a Husky where there were no caribou?” he demanded with rising truculence.
“No,” admitted Jock, “I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean the Husky can’t live without them.”
“Then they’ve got to be here and the sooner we get after them the better, eh? What about that?”
MacTier thought hard. Unless the outlying portions of this newly discovered land were less barren than those which lay before their view there was little chance of finding meat and, while this question loomed large in his mind, winter came down in earnest from the north.
FAINTLY at first, but with gradually increasing strength, sounded the steady drone of the wind, and before it was driven a multitude of whirling flakes that imperceptibly changed the naked earth into an undulating expanse of gleaming white. Day after day fell the snow until the sharp toothed ridges took on smoother outlines and the shallow valley between every flat depression was filled level. Colder grew the air and brighter the stars, while beneath its crystalline shroud the wrinkled rocks seemed to shiver and contract. Ere long the castaways’ cabin was like something that, after drifting aimlessly through these speechless solitudes, had come to anchor in what shelter might be found and was being slowly but steadily buried in a vast and fleecy blanket.
That night, with the wind fiercer than ever, Salty Bill lay awake, his wide eyes staring into the darkness, when from the wilderness something wordless communicated itself. Half rising on one elbow, he listened intently till through the drone of the gale there reached him, it appeared from infinite distance, the sound of howling. Instantly his body became rigid and he strained every swiftly awakened faculty. There was no doubt about it, dogs were there, and, he reasoned, where there were dogs there were men. “MacTier, do you hear that?”
Out of the gloom come an indefinite grunt. “Eh?” said a drowsy voice, “what’s the matter?”
“It’s dogs. I’ve heard them twice.” “Dogs!” snapped Jock, instantly alert. Once more, and from a little nearer, came the echoing howl, that carried with it suggestions of things savage and untamed. From the viewless distance it sounded so ghostly and hollow that Salty Bill had visions of a phantom Husky
driving a phantom team across the frostsmitten wilderness.
“They’re not dogs,” said Jock after a tense moment, “they’re wolves, and they’re fighting. Listen to that!”
AS he spoke there rose a fiendish and yelping scream from some great beast in agony. This blended and was ultimately smothered in a frenzy of short and choking coughs. These in turn were followed by rumbling growls through which ran an indescribable note of bestial contentment. Then silence till, from another point, came the flying echo of some wild chase. That, too, ended abruptly and with repetitions of the same demoniacal glee.
“It’s wolves all right,” continued Jock, terminating a breathless pause, “and they’re mad with hunger. It isn’t often that wolves will turn on each other. In fact I’ve only known it once. Of course,” he added, as though this were a thing of common knowledge, “they don’t mind killing their own outcasts—I mean the ones who are sick or lame and have to follow the pack from a distance, but this fight didn’t sound anything like that”
“You bet they’re wolves,” broke in Salty Bill with invisible gratification, “but where there are wolves there are caribou, and that’s what I told you, and I’m darned well pleased to hear them, too. In fact,” he growled placidly, “it’s the best thing I’ve heard since that misbegotten Husky got away with the Siren.”
“And if they were killing caribou,” countered Jock, “ we’ll soon find out. There’ll be a good deal of a mess there.”
SOON after the fiat sun had started its low arc across the southerly sky the pair set out. Ahead strode Jock, his rifle loose in the hollow of his arm, his eyes narrowed to pin-points of steel grey light. Salty Bill walked with a smile on his face. They were about to find caribou, just as he had always said they would find them.
Three miles north of the camp Jock stopped abruptly. To the right lifted the still open sea and into it thrust the great promontory they had previously noted. To the left the unexplored country stretched in long waves of new fallen snow. He stared neither east nor west, but pointed to an irregular track that crossed the line of their march a few feet in advance.
“Those are wolf tracks, and he was going mighty fast. You can see the claw marks at the end of the pad. And there” —he stretched his hand swiftly—“is where the others kept inside to head him off. I’ll bet they got him at the top of the ridge.” He read these complicated imprints with extraordinary accuracy, while his own steps hastened on. “They nearly got him here,” he said a moment later, “and, look here!—just on the crest of the ridge.”
At their feet lay the mangled frame of a great grey wolf. Flanks, sides and throat had been torn away till there had stiffened on the snow only the wreck of the gaunt body. To this the long lean head was yet attached, though horribly disfigured. The lank jaws, still half open, had set rigidly in ultimate defiance, and from the black roofed mouth the great incisor teeth flashed wickedly downward. The fragmentary carcase seemed extraordinarily thin, a bony skeleton over which had been stretched a long and matted hide, now shredded and rent by the fierce
assault of vanished kinsmen. Jock stared at it grimly.
“It's as I told you, Bill," he said quietly, ‘‘there are no caribou here, and the wolves have turned upon each other. It’s a small chance that any living thing would have had abroad last night. These brutes are hunger mad.”
Salty Bill shook his head. “I’m not satisfied yet. Let’s go on.”
Sergeant MacTier chuckled, and struck out north. As they progressed there became visible, miles ahead, a range of hills, higher than any yet seen. After a moment he halted.
“That’s queer,’’ he rumbled, then turning to Bill, “how far do you suppose hills of that height are visible across the water in clear weather?”
The skipper eyed them silently, racking his brain to remember whether in all his voyages up and down these wintry seas he had caught sight of just such frozen peaks. Finally he shook his head. “Thirty miles, I reckon. But,” he paused, puzzled, “I’ve never set eyes on ’em be-
“Then that means,” replied Jock with wrinkling brow, "that there’s a strip of either land or water sixty miles wide in this latitude that’s never been explored. Say, haven’t the Hudson Bay people been through this country for the last two hundred years?”
“Sure, but they’re not explorers, they’re traders, and leave the exploring to the hunter, or may be to some of them surveyors that the Government send out. And look here,” continued Bill with growing assurance, “it ain’t possible that this land has never been found by a white man before. The white men that found it are either still here or dead. Reckon may be they had about the same luck as ourselves.”
Jock shook his head. “It simply means that since this part of the Bay is marked on the charts as nothing but a series of bad reefs, vessels have kept away from it. What’s more natural than that?” Presently he pointed ahead and broke into a run. “Here was the fight of last night?”
t'IVE minutes later they started down
at a little space where the snow, trampled and blood-stained, gave mute evidence of frenzied combat. In the middle of it lay the body of a man from whose frigid corpse the long teeth of the pack had torn both hands and feet He lay with his black eyes open, and in them was imprinted ultimate horror and anguish. A few feet off were the bodies of two wolves, evidently killed with the rifle that projected from the snow. Unutterably grim and revolting, the scene cried aloud for the mercy of Heaven which would enshroud both man and beast in its sparkling blanket, until, with the coming of spring, the sharp and irombeaked ravens might complete the end. Beside this mute and so lately tortured brown-faced pagan stood the two, breathless with unspoken apprehension, till, in a voice broken with surprise, Jock stretched out a great hand.
“His clothes,” he said jerkily,— “his clothes, look at them.”
From head to foot the dead hunter was clad, not in the accustomed caribou hide of these northern latitudes, but in the closely feathered skins of the Arctic eider duck.
Now of what passed through the minds of the explorers in the next few moments it would be impossible to tell, but even while they stared at the ghastly
relic of previous life there was borne on , them with absolute conviction that which they had so eagerly hoped to establish.
It was out of the question, argued Jock, that one Husky should live and hunt alone, and it was, therefore, definite that at no great distance was the tribe to which he belonged. It was to be noted, also, that there was no sign of dogs nor sleigh, though the snow was in good condition for such travel. This led him to believe that the tribe itself must be close at hand. He was puzzled, however, that no provision had apparently been made for bringing home game if, as he assumed, the dead man had been on a hunt. But over all this was the amazing nature of his dress. Sealskin, walrus hide, caribou skin, and even bearskin, these were used in various regions, but most of all did the caribou provide clothing for the small brown people of the North. Now the absence of any vestige of this abundant and essential animal re-aroused in Sergeant MacTier the lurking belief that had lain dormant in his brain.
“Why,” he said slowly, “should this man dress in feathers if there are caribou here?”
“Darned if I know,” answered Bill truculently, for he too was lost in a maze of conjecture. “What do you make it? It beats me.”
Jock’s eyes roved over the naked rocks around him. “There is just one thing to it. There arc no caribou because there is no feed for them. This is the only place I’ve seen in the North that’s without moss, any kind of moss let alone the grey stuff the caribou feed on. As I see it,” here his voice wavered a little in spite of him, “we’ve done just four things so far. We’ve got lost, we’ve found land and plenty of it, where none was supposed to exist, we’ve found Huskies, or any way one Husky, that I don’t believe anyone knew of, and we’ve found a tribe—if it is a tribe—that lives without caribou.” He paused for a moment and a queer twinkle crept into his eyes. “Now, we’d best leave what we can’t alter and get back to camp and prepare for a journey, for there is going to be no stopping me so long as there is solid earth on which to march north.”
For the next day and the next so bitter was the wind that to face it was well nigh impossible, and it was not till the third morning that they set out. By this time more snow had fallen and the springy shoes that had come up with the last load from the Siren’s hold were overhauled and put in condition for hard tramping. Now, too, the strength of Sergeant MacTier served in good stead. Dogs there were none, and to travel it was necessary to carry most of what ordinarily would have been loaded on a sledge. As to food, after deliberation, he decided on twelve days’ rations, these to be eked out for an indefinite period by such fresh meat as should fall to his ever ready rifle. Bear, fox, walrus or seal, on these he felt he could count, even though the caribou were unavailing.
“I take it you’re heading straight north?” asked Bill as they buttressed the cabin door against the wind.
Jock shook his head. “I’m thinking we’d do better along the coast line. There’ll be open water there yet for a month to come and what life there is will be along the edge of the water.”
“Strikes me you’re mighty sure of yourself.”
“The sea has an ancient fashion of her own of sending things ashore for the wild people to eat,” grunted the big man. “In
these parts it’s mostly the small white whale, and when one of them is cast up there are committee meetings of fur and hide for miles around. In the day time it’s the white bears, for they are the lords of the North, and while the bears are filling themselves there’s generally a circle of wolves a little way off waiting till they’re offered elbow room. And behind the wolves, still farther off, and peering with their wide bright eyes, are white foxes, and maybe wolverines, and marten, and mink, and if this were a tree country,
I’d say lynx as well. And by the time they all take their turn,” he concluded with a grin, “a white whale hasn’t much to say for itself. ’Tis the law of the land that the strong and wise come first and the devil takes the hindermost.”
IT seemed as they started that for once nature had relented. The wind died away, what sun there was shone unusually clear, and, far ahead, the mysterious hills lifted with ever-inviting romance. At noon they ate, sheltered behind a rise
of ground, and Jock, lighting his pipe, drew forth the tightly-rolled map of Henry Rintoul.
“We’ve spotted just two things, so far as I can find here,” he said, spreading the tanned hide across his knee, “that's yon promontory to the east and the iron.” As he spoke his eye rolled across the four miles of bleak water that separated them from the great headland. “Now yon is either the big point of this same land or else we’re on one island and that’s another. As for this sausage thing in the
middle of the map, if we are where I think we are, we ought to trip over the end of a lake to-morrow morning. And if we can strike that then Henry Rintoul is no such a bad draughtsman after all.”
By the middle of the afternoon sharp pains were shooting up the legs of Salty Bill and the muscles of his calves burned like fire. He glanced continually at the mountainous back of Sergeant MacTier, wondering mutely what it would be like to be able to carry such a load and yet apparently not feel its weight. And just when he was casting about for an excuse for delay, an excuse that would relieve without humiliating him, the big man halted in his tracks and pointed along the shore that curved northward at no great distance from their winding trail.
“There’s a white whale, Bill, and yon snowballs beside him are two bears, and at this very minute the wolves and foxes and the rest of them are waiting for a bit sup on their account.” He glanced backward with a friendly grin, “Just like a story book, Bill, isn’t it?”
THREE hundred yards away, the larger of the two bears ceased his assault on the streaming carrion and stood stiffly inert, while the other glanced menacingly toward the sheltering ridge. A moment later both the great animals were in restless motion, during which they circled twice around the whale and finally started in uncertain quest up the bolderstrewn shore. A hundred yards further would carry them past a little bluff that projected brokenly from the higher ridge. Jock, noting this, laid his brown cheek against the stock of his rifle. “You take the one in front,” he whispered to Bill, “we fire together—justbehind the shoulder and not too far up. Are you ready?”
As he spoke the rifles cracked almost simultaneously. The leading bear whirled on his haunches and began biting savagely at his flank. The other lurched unsteadily and seemed to pitch straight forward into a rocky hollow where he lay stretching himself with uncouth and convulsive
Jock’s rifle barked again. There came back a soft thud as the nickel-pointed ball plunged into the great sinewy body, and with an ultimate shudder, the leading bear collapsed, a limp and almost shapeless heap. Bill’s rifle had also spoken, but his aim was wild and ere either could reload the second bear had whisked behind a nest of boulders where they could hear him snapping at his tortured side in a frenzy of pain and fury.
“Hold on, now,” said the big man quietly, “and don’t waste cartridges. We can’t hit him from here, and what’s more we can’t get on the other side of him. Bide your time and he’ll come out.
From behind the ridge Jock appeared and stepped cautiously down. Two hundred yards farther up, Salty Bill made a circuit. Flanking operations were now in order. These involved quick decision and straight shooting, and Jock wondered for an uncomfortable moment just what Bill’s qualifications as a marksman really were. So far, he confessed, they did not seem over assuring.
P RESENTLY, beside a boulder, ap* peared the long, sleek head, and, in a flash, Jock fired, but his own bullet was high and there resulted but a straight gash across the flat skull, while from the weed-strewn and slippery shelter came a series of deep coughing grunts. At that Jock waved an arm to the approaching Bill and motioned him to come steadily on.
Ten minutes later the two hunters and the bear formed a triangle that enclosed an area of round and ice-sheathed rocks, over which further passage was dangerous in the extreme.
The base of this triangle was parallel with the ridge and at each end of the base crept forward a hunter. At the apex moved the bear, between death and the deep sea. Feeling for better footing, Jock signalled and stole cautiously on.
Suddenly from the apex came a strange choking scream of anger, and, as though shot from a catapult, the surviving bear dashed out, and, bounding like a rubber ball, cleared the uneven ground in long, quick leaps that flung him rapidly towards Salty Bill. At sight of him the skipper fired wildly and at the same moment Jock’s rifle spoke, but such was the uncertain movement of the beast that both bullets missed their goal. On the instant Bill fired again. That his shot got home was evidenced by another infuriated grunt, but no vital spot was reached and the distance between the two narrowed with appalling speed. An ashen color rose to Bill’s cheek and his hands began to tremble.
Midway across the triangle stood Jock, his rifle at his shoulder, trying desperately to get that leaping form into the minute sphere of his foresight His'own pulse had begun to hammer. Came a flash of white and his finger crooked instinctively. Once more followed that soft and eloquent thud, while again the racing beast twisted his long neck and tore at his own straining flank. And just as Jock reloaded, his feet went out from under him, and he came down heavily, his temple hard against the glassy rocks.
What followed in the few moments that immediately ensued, Bill could never exactly describe, but it appeared that as Jock crashed to earth, a lean grey body shot out from shore toward the infuriated bear, and, speeding like a rocket, across the stony earth, launched itself snapping at the heels of the formidable brute. It appeared, too, that as this happened, the bear turned and aimed a sweep of his prodigious paw, which, had it landed, would have whisked the newly arrived enemy into oblivion, but when it did arrive the enemy had miraculously shifted his ground and was snapping with undiminished vigor at some other and equally tender spot. There then evolved a sort of animal carnival of combat to which the bear, without further thought to the strange beings it had set forth to attack, devoted itself with repeated efforts. These, missing by a hair, only seemed to further encourage its smaller, but valiant, assailant, till, in the midst of this Homeric contest, there came another sharp report, and, with a steelnosed bullet through its heart, the big brute collapsed limply, choking out its life in a crimson torrent. Upon which Jock, with a smoking rifle in his hands, stared dumbfounded at the dwindling form of a great grey wolf that vanished as mysteriously as it came.
SEATED that night beside a tiny flame which he had fanned into existence from an armful of driftwood found miraculously wedged into a seam of the rocky shore, Jock silently recapitulated the events of this amazing day. He had, it seemed, stepped from a fairly sane and understandable world into one in which every ordinary procedure of life was upset. For hours past he had been questioning himself as to how humanity could exist in this desolate waste unless it, like
the animals themselves, wrested sustenance from the sea. There were no caribou here, that seemed without question, nor had he observed, even in the most sheltered nooks, any trace of the grey moss upon which the vast herds of the north thrive and multiply. So barren was this land, so tortured with the endless assaults of the elements, that he had expected an abnormal ferocity in whatever wild life might survive. But instead of this the most deadly beast of all had interposed itself mysteriously between the explorers and death, and, its purpose accomplished, had vanished as though at some strange but imperative signal. In the silence of this hour, and beside the winking and tiny flame of a few sea-borne branches, it came to Sergeant MacTier
that he was on the edge of things still more amazing — things that would test him to the uttermost. And then, as always when the future seemed least assuring, a wave of quizzical humor stirred within him.
“Bill,” he asked genially, “what do you make of it?”
The skipper shifted his long legs and cast a reflective glance shoreward toward the scene of combat. His stomach was full of broiled bear steak, and from this comfortable centre there radiated a pleasurable glow that for the moment obliterated all thought of danger.
“Well,” he answered cheerfully, “I ain’t doing much thinkin’ now except that we’re all crazy. You were crazy to trust that darned Matt, and Nanook, too, and I was
crazy to believe you. As for this blamed island, about the only thing that ain’t apparently gone mad here is those bears, and they’re dead. Seems likely to me that some sport has got a sort of winter shooting place up here and has tamed a few wolves on the side, and in that case he’s crazy too — an’ them’s my sentiments.”
Jock nodded with extreme good nature. It was just barely possible that Salty Bill was right. Then gradually sleep took them both, while high over head marched an endless procession of stars and far in the north an aurora shimmered like a great trembling curtain of rose and violet
To be Continued.