The Magic Makers
A Story of Mystery and Adventure in the North
Author of “The Inner Door," “ llluntyreAlien," etc.
Synopsis of Previous Chapters on Page 36
HAD they crawled back again their wonder would have increased. Beside the box sat Salty Bill plunging ruthless hands into its close packed depths. “This is battery wire,” he grunted, holding an irregular coil under the sickly seal oil flame, “there’s about two hundred feet of it, and if we’ve got any dodgasted luck there ought to be a box of caps as well.” He fumbled excitedly, and with a grunt of triumph held them aloft. “Here they are, large as life and a darned sight more vicious. Now, if I remember, there are about ten sticks of forty per cent, stuff under this sawdust. Cripes, it’s frozen stiff! And say, how the devil are we going to thaw her out without a fire? and, what’s more, she’s no good if she ain’t thawed. What d’ye know about that?” The sudden animation died in his face while he stared gloomily at the useless treasure.
“Tell you what’s happened. The blamed Huskies have been tasting this sawdust and its taken up some of the nitroglycerine out of the powder and that’s what sickened ’em."
He reflected a moment and concluded vindictively: “Why can’t we have another of their blasted feasts, then feed ’em some of this and finish up with a round or two out of the battery?
Say,” he added, grinning at his own conception,
“that would be magic for sure, and no darned fake about it either.”
Jock burst into a peal laughter that did much to shake off the weight that had been steadily oppressing the skipper’s spirit. “But you say it isn’t any good unless its thawed. You mean it won’t blow up?”
“Nary a blow,” A said Bill dejectedly. *
“Aint the high priest j of this expedition got s nothing to say?” He cast a cynical eye at the big man who sat plunged in sudden thought. “How about it? I’ve seen dynamite raise everything, including hopes. Don’t you reckon we can get something out of this lot?”
“We can,” said Jock quietly, “If we go the right way about it. We can scare this tribe stiff, but—” he paused with a touch of uncertainty.
“But what?” interjected Bill.
“What comes after that? It’s no use starting anything unless we can see it
through. If we just scare this tribe half to death and do nothing else, so much the worse for us. Our lives wouldn’t be worth a moment’s purchase.”
Bill swung his feet over the side of the ledge and began cracking his big knuckles. “Reckon you didn’t quite get my meaning, MacTier.”
“Which was —?” hazarded Jock.
“I wasn’t calculatin’ on just scaring them,” protested the skipper grimly. “That’d be sheer waste of the only high explosive there’s likely to be in these parts for some time to come. I was figuring that if we could thaw out this blamed stuff and rope in the men of this blasted tribe to another nice little feast, nice pretty little thing same as the last, and then, by
accident, we should step outside and the darned stuff happen to go off unexpected like before we got back, there’d be less talk and more action in this here Husky village. Then,” he went on,
warming to his project, “what’s to prevent us helping ourselves to a dog team and starting out. Eh! what’s the matter with that?”
“You mean to blow them all up?” “Sure,” said Bill heartily, “I don’t see how we can move ’em anyways else, and these here ten sticks are just nothing but a God-send if we use ’em, as I guess the Lord meant us to use ’em. Say,” he demanded cynically, “aint you gettin’ just a mite sentimental?”
'T'HE big man sat brooding in motionless concentration while his eyes, half lidded, rested steadily on the partially emptied box. Seated thus he seemed at the moment to be the ultimate intelligence to which the other inevitably turned in time of stress. Moments passed and still Sergeant MacTier stirred not, till, faint but very clear from some far point in the outer wilderness, there drifted once more the long-drawn howl of a wolf.
“There is another way,” he said slowly while into his gaze came an expression that was almost awe, “but whether it is possible I cannot yet tell.”
With silch difficulty had he spoken that Bill, in spite of a swiftly awakened curiosity, hesitated at demanding more, till almost sub-consciously, he shot a final question. “When do you think you will know?”
Ere Jock had time to answer the lone wolf howled again, and it seemed that as he spoke his reply was linked mysteriously with that wild and heart-searching sound.
“It’s just possible that I may know tomorrow,” he said under his breath.
Night crept over the village. Salty Bill, with a rumbling of resentful
oaths, rolled himself in a bearskin and slid off into sullen slumber. But still Jock did not stir. In the feeble light of the sputtering lamp, his great form showed indistinctly and cast uncouth shadows on the curving wall. Outside there came the complaint of dogs as, scratching deep in the snow, they buried themselves from the searching wind, while high over head the stars hung blazing in an atmosphere of crystalline purity.
An hour later there sounded again the long drawn cry. Jock started as though suddenly recalled by this weird echo, and, bending over Bill, listened intently to his regular breathing. Finally his great hand went out and, for an instant, rested lightly on his shoulder. It seemed that in that touch there was both affection and a lingering benediction. In another moment he picked up the spear which Nanook had presented to him, the trophy of a memorable fight, and, dropping noiselessly to the ground, crawled out into the stinging silence.
Around him the igloo showed ivory white and all was as still as death. One dog raised an inquiring head, but, seeing the muffled figure, sent forth only a communicable whimper and re-coiled himself into a yellow ball. Jock, who on the instant, had stiffened into a statue, stepped warily on. Here in these igloos were the rifles which, once in his possession, meant safety and escape, but here also, slumbering lightly, as all good hunters slumber, were the brown skinned masters of spear and dog to arouse whom meant inevitable death. It was not, he concluded, the policy of a wise man to court their wrath. There were bigger and stranger things in his mind that night.
A hundred yards on, the village had dropped behind and the land rose slowly to a great plateau that stretched northward far as the eye could see. To the west was a low line of ridge, its crest sprinkled with great masses of boulders that stood out in irregular distinction against the sky. As he stared there came from somewhere in this bleak region once more the howl of the questing wolf. At the sound Jock turned and tramped deliberately toward it.
Now it is not given to many to describe the voice of the grey wolf to those who have never heard it, but of all cries which drift through the silent wilderness there is none that is both so ghostly and so fearful. Menace is in it, and trickery, and hunger and relentless pursuit, and the far-flung threat of an intelligence which seems at once half animal and half human. The white bear, hearing it, seeks a vantage point where at least he can meet danger face to face and not be torn by a yelping pack that divides and encircles him in a ring of snapping jaws. The caribou hear it and a shiver runs through their multitudinous herds while the great warm bodies of the does jostle each other in headlong flight and the bucks, snorting with anger, barricade their retreating kin with a network of mighty horns. The fox, blue and white, hears it and straightway slinks to his burrow where he sits trembling in darkness till the fleet footed peril be past. The lesser fur hear it and dart one and all to their warrens, till it comes that for months the grey wolf lives only on the dead mammals cast up by the tireless sea or on that which through disease or misadventure cannot escape his ravening jaws. Thus it happens that in his note, as it floats across these riven wastes, there is that which is querulous yet threatening, pleading yet defiant, mournful but yet throbbing with the lust to kill. Never is the grey wolf
satisfied, however his belly may bulge, for he is hunger itself incarnate, and cruelty throbs unpacified beneath his long grey fur.
DUT with tightening lip and a glance hardened into cold steel Jock marched steadily on, for there was now seething in his brain a thought, one that weeks before had been flashed to him from some unnameable source and since then had, with growing strength, been slowly displacing all else from his imagination. And the solution of it lay straight ahead.
An hour from the village he toiled up the last slope of the ridge and, as the moon came clear, stepped into a dark angle between two titanic rocks. Here, with the living stone at his back, he waited breathless, till, close at hand a long and tremulous howl proclaimed the nearness of the master of the night. Simultaneously across an open space of gleaming snow there stalked a gaunt and grisly form. The moon, now dropping in the west, received the formidable outline on her pallid sphere till Jock could see with startling distinction the deep breasted body, the long and trailing tail, the sharp muzzle, the short and pointed ears. Even while he stared, the great beast lifted up his voice till it was flung far out and, in the distance, picked up and repeated with ghostly satisfaction by another outlier of the pack. At the sound of it Jock’s breath came faster and the blood slowed in his veins.
Again the call went forth but this time a pause followed in which the very stars seemed to palpitate anew, for, faint but clear, there was borne across the shudderingwildernessthe echo of a wild unearthly laugh. Rising at first it seemed a mile away; it was repeated and repeated in ever nearing volume till the very heavens themselves seemed to reel with unhallowed mirth. The great wolf heard it and, opening his long throat, he cast loose his own wild spirit in a frenzied welcome. It sounded to Jock, as he trembled in the shadow, that madness indeed was abroad that night, madness of man and of beast, and that something worse than death awaited him who ceased for an instant to be master of his own soul. And then, even while he shivered, there stirred in his breast with renewed and astonishing assurance the amazing conception that had guided his feet to this grim trysting place.
In another moment he discerned against the skyline the figure of a man.
Now how it happened or what careless movement he had made Jock could never remember but simultaneously the great wolf wheeled and, after a steady and searching stare, growled with sudden suspicion and, breaking into a shambling gallop, headed directly for him. On the instant Jock, dropping to one knee, levelled his spear. The glint of metal shone for a second in the chill moonlight. With a coughing bark, the wolf pulled up short and, settling on his haunches, flung out a long high-pitched note that, almost ere its echoes dispersed, was answered in similar tones from half a dozen points on the far horizon. It was the call of the outlier to the pack, the pack that had spread on its several quests, but even while it hunted waited nevertheless for that unmistakeable brother signal which would bring it in one wild race of savage response. So it was that Jock, not daring to take his eye from the crouching brute, heard closing in on him the farflung patrol of the grey brethren.
DUT even while the peril drew swiftly nearer the soul of Sergeant MacTier nerved itself for battle. Deliberately
grimly, there was, he instantly decided, just one way to fight. If he lost his head and drove the spear clean through an assailant, and this would be a small thing for a giant to do, the hour was lost, for ere he could withdraw it the pack would engulf him. No bear was this whose single heart might be reached by one sturdy thrust, but an avalanche of lean grey bodies, each of them formidable beyond words. Only by playing a stabbing game, and by extraordinarily swift actions multiplying his one blade into many could he survive. Even while his decision hardened there came to him a vision of Bill lying in tumbled sleep in the gloom of the igloo. Then his mind shot strangely back to Marget and, just as her wistful eyes seemed to shine in the darkness, one after another of the grey brothers emerged from the rocky obscurity and, panting, squatted on the skyline. Followed then a space during which a young wolf, venturing too close to the crouching giant, swung within reach of the balanced spear. Instantly the cold flame streaked out and the beast jerked himself back with a howl of pain.
“First blood to me,” grunted Jock and settled again to the defence.
Moments passed and there came no move from the waiting pack. Gaunt and grim they sat with death between their jaws and hunger in their bellies till there dawned in the tense mind of the giant a strange and nameless anticipation. He perceived that the great brutes were waiting, waiting for something stranger even than his wildest imagination had anticipated. Then, even while his brain still strove to comprehend, the figure of a man strode up toward the dreadful and panting semi-circle.
\ylIAT ensued was so uncouth that to ' ' this day there remains in Jock’s mind only a fragmentary picture. From the man’s lips proceeded the same wild laugh as before and at the sound of it the wolves broke into their own derisive chorus. Beneath the moon they seemed conjoined in some weird drama of the North, a thing not to be spoken of or even dreamed in more kindly latitudes. That the man exercised control there was no doubt, for, at a shout, the grey brutes seemed to approach or slink away, lifted their wild salute or were silent. Then it appeared that very suddenly the man’s eyes were drawn to the gleaming spear for he straightened and stood in mute and startled attention, till, at a curt but unintelligible command, the first outlier advanced with a deep and threatening growl, while behind the grey brethren gathered for the assault. After that Jock found his own lips moving. He wanted desperately to shout but for the life of him no words came. Somewhere within him, he felt strangely assured, was that which, if he could only get it out, would save him and save them all but so tense was the unreality of this moment that speech seemed to have deserted his dry throat, till, just as the advancing wolf got within spear length, and his arm stiffened for the thrust, something broke loose inside him.
“Henry Rintoul, Henry Rintoul!” boomed his deep voice, “I have found you at last.”
And after that everything grew strangely black.
IT does not fall to the lot of many to 1 emerge from a fainting spell in an hitherto undiscovered country and be tended by a man presumably mad, while
in the background roves a ragged circle of yelping wolves; but Jock, struggling back to consciousness, found just this and nothing else. Over him was stooping a man of middle height, his hair, beard and moustache, long and uncouth, his face seamed and bitten by the fierce assault of wind and frost, his eyes cold with the immutable gaze of one to whom death is not a stranger or apparition and, emanating from him, untamed and inexplicable authority by virtue of which he ruled the great gaunt brutes that now followed his every movement with such quick and terrible eyes.
“Henry Rintoul,” whispered Jock, “speak to me, man. Speak to me.”
At the sound of the name the stranger’s breast heaved and the blood flew to his seared temples, while from the throat which so lately had given vent to that unearthly laugh, struggled the halting syllables of one who for months past had not heard a human voice.
“Yes, I am—Henry Rintoul. Who are you?”
Jock propped himself on one elbow and rejoiced to feel his strength surge quickly back. Simultaneously a grim smile spread
over his weather-beaten features. “Man,” he said, eyeing the wolves with unmixed awe, “I’m just wondering who I am. It’s sufficient for the present to know about you. Yon Husky, Nanook,” he went on slowly, with struggling memory, “told me you were dead, that is—” his voice trailed out with increasing wonder.
“It’s not Nanook’s fault that I’m not dead,” said Rintoul grimly. “We’ll attend to that later on. Where do you come from? How did you get here?”
“I’m thinking,” said Jock, with extreme deliberation, “that if yon pack of yours went about their business, whatever that is, conversation would be a bit more comfortable. They may be friends of yours but they’re none of my choosing.”
Rintoul laughed harshly and, rising to his feet, turned towards the pack. Raising one arm he flung it out and, simultaneously, shouted something that to Jock’s ears was more animal than human, but at the sound the semi-circle scattered. There was no general departure, nor heading of grey bodies into the distance. One moment the pack was there, the next it was not.
JOCK stared incredulously and, blinking, rubbed his eyes. “Man,” he said simply, “it’s small wonder that they Huskies in the village ken what to do when you and your friends come down from the hills. But,” he stumbled on with ever growing wonder, “how did you do it?” Rintoul shook his head. “It’s too long a tale for now. Who’s with you?”
Jock stared straight into the blistered face. “The skipper of the ship I chartered. They’re gone, the rest of them.” “But in God’s name what brought you
“Yon map that you made,” said Jock simply, “along with an Edinburgh lawyer that wouldn’t take no for an answer. And now that I’m here it looks likely I'll stay.” “The map ! I’d given up hope of that long ago. Your ship lost? How' did that happen?”
“Nanook,” said Jock briefly. “He conspired with another man who stole it.” Rintoul nodded. “Trickster from the start. He fooled me like a baby. And you too, eh?”
“I reckoned that in spite of that I’d fetch up somewhere near the man I’d set
out to find. It was in the back of my head from the start.” Jock’s tones were expressionless. “What’s the use of talking like this. Come to the village, man.”
Rintoul shook his head. “Not now, for the pack has gone and I can’t get them together again to-night. But to-morrow, yes, to-morrow I will come.”
“When?” demanded Jock, searching the horizon in vain for the vanished masters of the gloom.
“There will be no mistake,” here the outcast smiled grimly. “You’ll hear me coming.”
Jock, perforce content, turned unsteadily toward the village.
TT was a strange tramp back. For half * the way Rintoul accompanied him and then slipped back to some corner of the wilderness, for, as he explained, should the village dogs pick up the wolf smell that now saturated his fur garments, he would, lacking the protection of the pack, be torn in pieces. So for the last mile or so Jock journeyed alone, but with many a long and searching glance towards the desolation into which this terror of the village had disappeared. He confessed to himself that not yet could his numb brain grasp the full meaning of all that had transpired in this last and extraordinary hour. He only knew that the thing most amazing and unbelievable, which for a month had been haunting his very soul, had turned out to be real and veritable, and not only that, but also so strangely caught up in baffling circumstances that it surpassed the wildest conception of his startled brain. Henry Rintoul was alive, the outlaw and terror of a pagan tribe, armed only with the companionable ferocity of beasts of prey. The expedition which had so marvellously found him was itself impotent and captive, but, and here dawned in Jock’s restless mind one ultimate and prodigious solution, it would be strange if, out of circumstances so extraordinary, there could not be built up salvation for all.
Very quietly he slipped back through the gleaming village, very quietly he crawled into the great central igloo and, with curious and wistful lines carven deep on his brown face, he tiptoed to the ledge, falling instantly into the profound slumber of mental exhaustion.
IT would be impossible to depict eloquentA ly all that transpired when the giant, rousing himself next morning, poured into the startled ears of Salty Bill the extraordinary recital of the night that was past. The reception accorded to the news was entirely characteristic. Receiving Jock’s tale at first with open incredulity, he developed a satirical silence that grew more pointed as the story went on. When finally the big man described his regaining of consciousness and the waiting semicircle of grey brutes that disappeared as though at a magic wand, he coughed contemptuously and hazarded the opinion that instead of there being one madman at large in the wilds it seemed there were two, and he reserved his own opinion as to which was possessor of the greater lunacy. These were not exactly the terms employed to set forth his intimate and personal convictions, but his conclusion was as unmistakable.
“How am I to believe there’s a pack of wolves on this island that’s led by a white man and understands what he says, much less that the white man isn’t as mad as Nanook tells us? Is there anyone but a madman that would live with a pack of wolves anyway? That’s what I want to know. As for it
being Henry Rintoul, I believe he was dead long ago. Look here, MacTier,” he went on angrily, “you fetch your wolves and Harry Rintoul into the village and show ’em up, both of ’em, and then I’ll believe you. Darn it’ I want to believe you. I smell like a dead seal, and what’s more I feel like one. I had enough of this life long ago. But as for Rintoul I’m from Missouri, even though we are held up by a bunch of high-smelling pagans. And, say, when you get your madman here, we’ll start that feast I spoke of and blow all the Huskies to blazes and then we’ll hitch up the wolves and start south and for the rest of my time I’ll believe every darned thing you say, so help me.”
Jock grinned imperturbably. “Didn’t I tell you that Rintoul was coming to the village to-night?"
Salty Bill sat up straight. “No you didn’t, and how do you know he’s coming?”
“Rintoul says we’ll hear him,” answered Sergeant MacTier quietly.
The rest of the happenings of that day consisted of a long and careful conclave broken periodically by the advent of Nanook, who finally inquired with unusual diffidence whether it was not possible that more magic should be made that very evening when the hunters returned from the sealing grounds. There was a man, he said, whose bones were turning soft like the snow in springtime and needed the thing that ran in at his fingers and down through his stomach.
Jock stared thoughtfully into the hunter’s black eyes. There had been conceived in his own brain that which, if he could guide it aright, would mean for them all more than he dai’ed experess. Of this not a word had he vouchsafed to either of the others for the elemental factors with which he had yet to deal were so slippery and unstable that only by the exercise of the most steadfast resolution could he achieve his end. It came to him now that it would be well that to-night there should be no magic, that indeed there should not be any more until a certain hour towards which he would now contrive with all the shrewdness of which he was master.
“It is not well,” he said slowly, “that this magic be made too common, unless
you are ready that every man should have it when he desires it and thus weaken its strength. The magic maker too is still weary. Think, Nanook, what it would mean to you if this thing were born under your own skin instead of his.”
At that the hunter nodded sagely. “It may be,” he answered with a touch of diffidence, “that you speak wise words, but you have not told me how long the magic should sleep before it is strong again. There are many men who wait to hear this.”
“Seven days and not less should it sleep,” came back Jock imperiously, and on the seventh night from this let there again be a feast, and after the feast will be that of which you know. I have spoken.”
The hunter, sullenly content, shuffled out and Jock turned to Salty Bill with a broadening grin. “He’s mad, too, I sup-
“ You’re all about the same, I reckon,” said the skipper airily. “There aint no difference to me now if it’s one more or less. Say, what do you aim at putting over this poor benighted heathen seven days from now? Seems I remember that you objected when I figured on cleaning up the whole job at once, but darned if I don’t believe you’ve got something just as bad up your sleeve. Come on, what, is it?”
“On the seventh night from this,” ruminated the giant, “you ought to be trotting along beside a dog sledge heading due south, with Nanook just as glad to get rid of you as he was to welcome you.”
“Sure you don’t mean a wolf sledge?” growled Salty Bill cynically. “Sure you don’t mean that that man whom you say aint mad will be tripping along in front of the wolves talking to ’em friendly like same as they were Skye terriers? Sure you don’t mean,” he went on with rising contempt,” them wolves aint going to sidle right up to him and lick his hand? Say,” he concluded abruptly, “darned if I don’t believe I’m goin’ mad myself along with the rest of you.”
But to all this the giant vouchsafed no answer. His quiet brain was intent on piecing together the clear mosaic of his plan and, for the meantime, it mattered little what Salty Bill thought or said. Automatically he ferreted out a flat oilskin packet in which were two letters, one in the stiff writing of an Edinburgh solicitor, the other in the trembling hand of a girl who had refused to allow her lover to sacrifice himself on the altar of devotion. By strange and devious routes had they travelled, in peril of land and sea, till at last they rested beneath the springing dome of the great igloo against the hour when out of the North should come that mysterious mortal for whose eyes alone they had been penned thousands of miles away. How little, thought Jock, as he fingered this precious parcel, had the writers dreamed of those amazing circumstances which were to attend the ultimate reception of their missives. Presently he glanced up and caught the sardonic eye of Salty Bill.
“You’ll be mindful,” he said cheerfully, “of what Rintoul has been through for the last two years, and especially the last year. He smells like a wolf and almost looks like one, and his lips are cracked, ar.d his teeth yellow, and his hair long and towsled, but the eyes in him are like sparks of fire, and I’m thinking he could put you on your back with one hand.”
A little silence fell in the igloo during which Salty Bill raised his unkempt head from a bundle of skins.
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 his disappeared. The only clue is an imperfect map which came through the mails which indicates that Rintoul is held a prisoner on an island in the walrus country. MacTier charters the ship “Siren” and its crew, with Salty Bill, its owner, in charge, and sets sail for Hudson’s Bay. As 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 ship. The ship is landed on a strange island in Hudson's Bay. MacTier and Salty Bill go ashore, taking Nanook with them. He gives them the slip during the night spent on shore and in the morning they find the ship gone. They are captured by Nanook and borne off to an Esquimo settlement to act as magic makers for the tribe; the magic being provided by means of an electric battery. A strange legend reaches them of a madman who travels with a pack of wolves and who comes by night to the village.
Continued, on page 89
Continued from page 36
“Say you make me tired. Why don’t you congratulate yourself over something real and sober and not over the fact that a madman has given his word of honor that he’s going to drop in casual like with a lot of crazy wolves to spend a quiet evening in a gentleman’s igloo. Don’t know but what I’ll take a stroll along the shore while you-all are mixin’ up sociable like, and, dodgast it, I reckon I would if 1 weren’t scared that one of them pesky critters might take the same idea. Say,’’ he went on accusingly, “ever think about me in strikin’ up these sudden friendships, ever think that I’m slowly freezing to death in a cold storage vault while way down in St. John’s them insurance papers is just getting mouldy for lack of attention? Anything of that kind ever strike you?”
Jock laughed outright, and in his sudden mirth was something so contagious that it penetrated the skipper’s truculent exterior and a wry smile dawned on the strong unshaven face. “It’s all right,” he went on grudgingly,” and all you’ve got to do to make me take backwater, and take it quick, is to bring on this here Henry Rintoul before morning, and I aint asking for any wolves either. That's square, aint it?” he blurted, wrinkling his shaggy brows.
In that very moment, and as though in answer to this ultimate challenge, there came from over the hills a well remembered note. Bill heard it and almost ere his own words had left his lips his eyes began to round with incredulous surprise.
“Say,” he whispered under his breath, “was I talking just a mite too fast?”
For response Jock lifted a mighty hand and the two sat motionless while, deep in the west, there gathered the first highpitched and querulous tone of the savage chorus. Into every^¿y| it drifted, till there came a swiÄ'wBBffng out of broad squat figures, a seizing of cowering dogs and cbj¿eing of them through low-roofed tunneVrhen a blocking of these narrow entrances. Bill caught it anew and there moved within him the first breathless admission that perhaps after all he was wrong, and that MacTier was the man of judgment and resources he looked. The giant heard it and was forthwith fil.ed with merciless and primordial triumph, for was there not about to take place that amazing thing at which his restless mind had leaped a month before and for which he himself had so greatly dared?
ON swept the full-mouthed chorus, while, in the igloos of the lonely village the brown skinned people glanced at each other silently and stifled the whimpers of their shrinking dogs, hearer it drew, this loud-mouthed frenzy, this terrible ecstasy of untamed things. Masters were they of hill and shore, and where they went fear travelled with them. Closer swelled the clamour, more threatening this insensate diapason, till, at the very edge of the village, there came a break in the storm, a break that was instantly filled by that demoniac laugh, which, days before, had roused such an
extraordinary conviction in the mind of Sergeant MacTier. And after the laugh another pause and then a voice, rough and throaty, that moved gradually onward and lifted itself into a wild and chanting paean. Then at the mouth of the igloo came the sound of something that pushed in between its narrow walls and in another moment appeared the head and shoulders of a man clad in worn and feathered garments.
Jock shot one triumphant glance at Salty Bill. The latter was still standing stiffly but his body was bent forward, his hands hung rigidly at his side, and his eyes bulged into a long unwinking stare. Presently his lips began to move.
“I’ll be damned!” he said thickly, and turning, blinked stupidly. “Did you hear me?” he repeated stubbornly. “I said I’d be damned.”
Jock cleared his throat of a lump. “I knew you would,” he snapped.
“It’s yours,” went on the skipper helplessly, “it’s all yours. I’ll admit now that the wolves are hitched up outside. When do we start?”
But Jock had forgotten him. Handing Rintoul the packet he waited motionless while the brown fingers of the outcast ripped open the oilskin cover. Presently Rintoul moved over close beside the yellow flame of the lamp and his bright eyes devoured the poignant pages that crackled in his clasp. What emotion ran through him then the others could only guess at, but after a while he raised a softened glance that dwelt with a sudden intensity on MacTier.
“I owe all this to you,” he said unsteadily.
Jock shook his great head. “It’s nothing at all, man. At least,” he added with a grin, “so far as we’ve got. I was just kicking my heels in Edinburgh when yon solicitor got hold of me. He talked hard and well and though I seemed to object and raise difficulties I don’t mind saying that I was aching to come the minute I saw yon map. But I have done no more than Bill here.”
At this Bill,in a depth of contrition, protested vigorously. He had, he confessed, scouted the whole idea from start to finish and he was just embarking on a lengthy oblation of repentance when Rintoul, catching a single warning note from a nearby wolf, folded the letters with extreme care and demanded to know what next. It seemed to one watching them that between him and that wolf there was something which had in it an unnamable understanding.
“It’s for you to say,” put in MacTier, “you know the country, and” he added, “what’s in it.”
To be continued