The Magic Makers
A Story of Adventure in Northern Canada
Author of "The Inner Door,” “Iilantyre-Alien,” etc■
Synopsis.—Sergeant MacTier, of the. NorthWest Mounted Police, accepts a private commission from a wealthy family in Scotland 'to search in the far Canadian north for kHenry Rintoul, who has disappeared. The only clue is an imperfect map which came 'through the mails which indicates that Rin,toul is held a prisoner on an island in the walrus country. MacTier charters the ship “Siren" and its crew, with Salty Bill, its fowner, in charge, and sets sail for Hudson's Bay. .fs they approach the northern end of jLabrador the crew, led by Black Matt, the fmate, shows mutinous symptoms. At Chimo :Trading Post they pick up an Esquimo mamed Nanook, who mysteriously offers to 1guide them to the country from which the map came. Early in the voyage MacTier Wnds 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, and MacTier one night goes out to meet the pack, discovering that the mysterious leader is Henry Rintoul.
"I CAN’T tell you anything to-night,” answered Rintoul, “except that I’m not safe myself, not as safe as you are. Don’t think those brutes are my servants because they’re not. God! if you only knew half of it. I can’t hold them long at any time, and without one particular wolf I couldn't hold them for a minute. That’s something I’ll have to tell you about afterwards. I can’t finish these letters now but I’ll read them ten miles from here to-morrow.” He turned
sharply to MacTier. “Have n’t you planned any th i ng? Don’t waste any time but tell me
Salty Bill seemed turned to stone save that from his impotent lips came strange and meaningless sounds, but Jock, now as always, master of his soul, gave instant answer.
“Yes we have. That is I have. Is there no time to explain it?”
“Not another minute. Just tell me what you want me to do, if you can.”
“Yes I can.” MacTier’s voice was like ringing steel. “On the seventh night from this you will wait outside the village a mile to the south. If you can safely bring the wolves with you, then bring them, but if not try and repeat what happened tonight, and that’s all. You yourself must be ready to strike south with us. We will have at least one dog team, but as for rifles I cannot tell. We may get them and we may not.”
“Pursuit!” snapped Rintoul. “You can count on that.”
“Not if your pack is abroad,” was the instant answer, “That’s your end of it.”
The outcast smiled grimly. “I think,”
he rasped, “I can answer for that. But when shall I know you are coming?” Again a single deep-mouthed howl sounded hard by. It was nearer than before and he glanced up anxiously. “I’ve got to clear out now. Quick—how can 1 be sure you are coming?”
A saturnine smile settled on the lips of Sergeant MacTier. “We’ll send you such a signal 2s has never been known in this country before.”
NANOOK sat on a block of snow at the mouth of the big igloo and pondered deeply. For the last few days he had been curiously conscious that the manner of the white men was not that of prisoners who had said good-bye to former things and were now faced with a life which though to Nanook and the rest of the tribe was comfortable enough to the captives must have been anything but luxurious. For Salty Bill he had the same regard as before. a slightly contemptuous and cynical indifference. But in the big man, the maker of magic, he recognized that element of power to which above all else the white skinned race owe their domination over the trackless North. Nanook could tell almost at a glance what was in the mind of Salty Bill, but the thoughts which might pervade the quiet brain of his companion were another thing altogether, so different, indeed, that there had dawned a growing suspicion that, by some means which he himself had so far failed to discover, MacTier proposed to achieve freedom. And just as this suspicion was growing more uncomfortable, the big man emerged from the igloo and, seating himself on a neighboring block, began to talk in the most friendly manner possible. He spoke of the bear hunt, the feast of the previous week and also of the visit of those evil spirits from the moonlit wilderness. After which, looking straight into Nanook’s beady eyes, he demanded bluntly whether he was satisfied with the progress of his plans.
“You are the great one of the tribe,” he concluded, “but is that enough?”
“It is very good,” said Nanook simply. “You have done much,” resumed Jock thoughtfully, “more than any Husky in the North. But there is yet one thing you have not done.”
The black eyes narrowed. “What is that?”
“You have not made magic yourself,” replied the big man as though in sudden contemplation.
FOR a moment Nanook was silent. It had seemed at the present sufficient that he should hold under a masterful thumb the one who made magic at his bidding, but never had he remotely dreamed that from his own fingers might stream the marvellous thing which, in the
minds of the tribe, was linked with the Great Spirit Himself. The conception was too great, and he shook his head.
“I could never make magic,” he answered with undisguised longing in his
. “Why not?” said Jock curtly.
Nanook’s reply was a shifting of his coal black orbs and a gradual opening of his wide mouth, but Jock, noting it, only stared more thoughtfully than ever at the horizon and went amiably on.
“It would seem,” he hazarded, “that the one who now makes magic can if he wishes show another how to make it also. In fact,” here the voice dropped into a confidential murmur, “it is in my mind that I may be willing to show you how to make even greater magic, such magic as has never been seen in the North before.”
“When?” grunted Nanook, with a slight stiffening of his body.
“Of that it is too soon to speak. All I would say is that the man who makes this greatest magic of all will be master of the evil spirit who travels by night in human shape and behind whom run the wolves, his servants. There is no evil that can withstand the thing of which I tell you.”
“You mean,” said Nanook with ill concealed excitement, “that, if what you say is brought about, the madman who runs by night will go away and not any more bring death to the tribe?”
Jock drew a long breath. “I have spoken."
THE Husky sat very still on his block of snow, the pagan soul within him throbbing in extraordinary activity. Already he was convinced that this amazing possibility was simply a matter of bargain. The big man, he swiftly concluded, was ready to reveal the secret but only in fair exchange. Instantly it flashed upon him that the only acceptable offering for so great a revelation would be freedom. He stumbled over that till, gradually, it became quite clear that even though the white men were set free, he himself would remain behind, lord more than ever of the tribe, endowed with the magical powers that heretofore had throbbed so mysteriously only in the body of his strongest captive. Slowly there broadened out before him an intoxicating vision in which he occupied an exalted position never hitherto attained by one of his own race. And it was all a matter of bargain.
“How shall I do this thing?” he said, tremulously.
“To-morrow night,” answered Jock, “there will be a feast in the big igloo and after that will come the magic of which you know. For this all things are now prepared. But, if you yourself would make the greatest magic of all, it is-necessary that we be allowed to depart very
swiftly lest there be two kinds of magic in the village and much evil follow. If, therefore, there waits a dog team with food and rifles and the cartridges which your hunters took from the cabin, and if for three days you, the new maker of magic, will show your powers to the tribe so that no man shall follow us, I in whose body this thing runs at the appointed time will make all clear. I have spoken.” Again Nanook drew a long breath. “To-morrow night?” he answered with a touch of awe.
Jock nodded. “I have thought much about this thing, and it is only because you are wise and strong that I speak of it, for not to any Husky but yourself can it be revealed. If you are not willing, then perhaps the magic will get weak and sick, as it did once before, and the man who made it will disappear for the second time.” He paused and glanced shrewdly at the brown face. “You have never told me just what happened to this other
Over Nanook’s eyes craftiness fell like a veil. “How could I tell you when I do not know?”
“Then he is perhaps alive?”
The hunter shrugged his shoulders. “You ask of my tongue that which is not in my head. Does it matter?”
Jock chuckled softly. “No,” he admitted, “it doesn’t matter now, but to the thing I have asked you have not replied.
“With sleep comes much wisdom,” rejected Nanook. “To-morrow I will tell you.”
“To-morrow will be too late,” dissented MacTier. “This new and great magic of vhich I speak is made the night before »nd in darkness. It is well, therefore, hat you tell me now.”
“One dog team, and food, and the rifles -ind cartridges, and three days’ journey without pursuit? That is what you ask? It :eems that you have forgotten the madnan and the wolves that travel with him. dy friend is either very bold or very abolish.”
“Of all this have I thought,” said Jock iriefly, “and it may be that by and by vhen the spring comes you will find our iones in a valley. And if so it does not natter.”
MANOOK’S eyes wandered to the hori’ zon as though seeking to descry those raunt forms on its hard clear line. Perlaps, he reflected, the thing was not so Hazardous for him as he had imagined, or was there not that wild patrol which lightly swept ravening across the gleaning wastes. By promising the prisoners iberty he promised nothing more than to ast them loose to this omnipresent peril. ?he thought glowed within him comortably.
“Then after the feast,” he said grimly, there will be the lesser magic, and after
that I will make the greater magic, and after that again, while the tribe is still wandering, and perhaps frightened, you will depart very quickly wifh that I have prepared for you.” “Exactly,” rumbled Jock. “Then there is only one more thing, which is that when you reach the first trading post, you will leave there for me a writing and on it a white man’s promise so that when I give that writing to the trader he will give me the wealth of five black fox skins, and if in his post there is not so much wealth this year, he will give me credit for next winter. I have spoken.”
Once more Jock nodded. “It shall be as you say, and if ever you come to that post,” here his voice turned cold like ice, “you will find the wealth of five black fox skins waiting for you. But,” he added sharply, “you have not yet told me the name of the post that is nearest to the cabin.”
“It is Little Whale River.” Nanook pronounced the words with studious distinctness.
INSTANTLY there was unroll-l ed in Jock’s brain the half deciphered scrawl of Henry Rintoul’s laborious map. And there was now completed for him the mysterious hieroglyphic that, scrawled on its right hand edge, had for months baffled them all. “Little Whale River it was, and it came in from the east. His heart leaped as he realized that not more than a hundred miles of sea ice lay between their deserted cabin and this outpost of civilization. Once reaching the former, it needed only three days of hard going to achieve escape. Once, indeed, clear of this forbidding coast, they would be in comparative safety. It would, at any rate, be a fight in the open, and for this his spirit expanded with grim joy. Then the squat figure of Nanook moved between him and the suddenly opened
“It is well,” he suggested, apparently unmoved, “that of all this you should say nothing to the tribe, and thus their amazement will be greater. It is well also that until the greater magic is made we should not talk too much together lest they begin to think strange things. And thirdly, it is well that for to-night the village sleep soundly and the hunters and their families stay in their igloos, for much preparation will be made for that which will take
“And the dog team,” questioned Nanook, “where will that wait?”
For answer Jock pointed to a little knoll that rose smoothly on the edge of the great plateau whose rim, swinging shoreward, passed just south of the village. “The dog team will wait there, but not on any account must he who waits with the dogs leave them when the magic is wrought. His stomach will roll in his body and his knees knock together, but he will have nothing to do save to come back at the appointed hour. To-night, when the moon is set, you will come to the igloo and I will give you that which I would have you put on the sledge with the food, and after that you, too, will cover yourself with sleep, for it may be that tomorrow night there will be but little sleep in the village.”
THE moon had just slid behind the western ridge when Nanook crept into the big igloo, and, squatting on the skin covered floor, rolled his black eyes at the two white men. During the intervening hours the magnitude of the whole conception had engulfed his pagan soul. It was impossible, he silently admitted, to compare the position he would shortly hold with any picture his imagination was capable of forming. The thing almost stifled him. There was no particular pleasure or interest, he had long ago found, in trading off inferior fur in barter with the free traders who had now begun to drift through the country in fierce competition with the Hudson Bay. The white man, he had decided, was only there to get what he could out of the North and for as little as possible. And in this Nanook was not far astray. His own people were, after all, the ones who were there for ever, and who, at the end, could match him in most things he undertook. He was the strongest Husky in the North, but, it seemed, his strength was not over profitable. The immediate future, however, was something to which he responded with extraordinary vigor. He would be a king, not one who, like a white man’s king, lived across an endless sea, but who walked up and down amongst his tribe in undisputed authority. So it was, that regarding the one who now stared at him with keen and understandable interest, Nanook’s whole soul resolved itself into a determination to carry the thing through exactly as he had promised. Then he became aware that Jock was pointing out three small bundles which he said were to be placed on the sledge next night together with food, white man’s food he stipulated, and rifles and ammunition.
TO all of this the hunter assented, and, five minutes after he disappeared with his burden, the igloo became a hive of remarkable activity. With extreme care Salty broke away the sides of the box that contained his God sent explosive and very deftly separated the closely cemented yellow sticks.
“This darned stuff is frozen harder than the devil,” he complained, “and blamed if I know how to thaw her out.”
“Hot water,” suggested Jock with a
SI“Talk like you could turn on the gas,” grunted Bill disgustedly. “Say,’’ he added, his brows wrinkling, “how inblazes are we going to thaw her anyhow?”
“Sit on it.”
“And freeze your own blasted carcass.
ly, I’m in earnest.’ ,
The big man relapsed into a moment s ought. “At what temperature does rnamite freeze?” ,
“Hanged if I know exactly, but its
“Then if we carried those sticks next our skins till to-morrow night, you reckon they’d be ready for business?” J(
Salty Bill gaped widely. “Say, mate, he ejaculated, “you’re some^ thinker. Reckon you could take most of ’em yourself, couldn’t you? Hanged if I ever wore dynamite under my shirt before.”
MacTier grinned. “You’re doing a pile of things you never did before.”
Bill, who was gingerly separating the last two sticks, lifted a protesting hand. “Say, don’t make me nervous and don’t get frisky and start killing polar bears or skylarking round with them wolves. Mebbe I can stand a few myself. They’re
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sort of chilly like,” here he thrust an icy cylinder against his hairy chest, “but after the first nip is out of ’em, blamed if I don’t think they’re down right comfortable. How are you fixed, MacTier; how does she feel?”
The giant grunted and the last stick of all disappeared. “Where are the caps?”
“Right there beside you. Say you don’t reckon on accommodating them too? They don’t need it.”
V7ERY carefully the big man shifted the * detonaters to the furthest part of the igloo. “Sort of bad combination, I’m thinking. Now what else have we got to do?”
“Well,” said Bill, swelling visibly with new authority as he spoke, “the way I work it out is this: We’ve got what I
reckon will make two hundred yards of lead wire and that means we can set our battery just that far off. As for this stuff,” here he began to scratch himself vigorously, but stopped with sudden embarrassment, “that’s got to go into a hole right under this ledge. We stick it in with the detonators in place and the lead wire attached, and then scratch out a little trench right through the tunnel and two hundred yards long to the point where we’re going to use the battery. The whole darned thing has to be covered except the very ends of the wire, because these blamed dogs wouldn’t stop at chewing anything they found loose.”
“But the stuff will freeze just as soon as you stick it under the ledge,” objected MacTier.
“Of course it will, and for that reason we wear it, modest like, till the very minute we want to use it. Blamed if I see how I’m going to help laughing right out to-morrow night when I look across them gorging heathens and see you sitting there calm as Jupiter with your chest loaded with this stuff. The only thing that bothers me is how we’re going to clear out ourselves and leave them Huskies to finish their party alone till she goes off. Say,” he interjected suddenly, “couldn’t Rintoul help us in that by arranging something private with them wolves?”
Jock grinned and shook his head. “You’re about the most cheerful murderer I’ve come across. No, no, we won’t do anything like that.”
With extreme care he outlined the plan that was already seething tumultuously in Nanook's brain. “We’re going to get out clean of blood,” he concluded, “unless it’s in self-defence.”
“Include Nanook in that?” queried Bill disgustedly. “Say that black hearted pagan aint fit to live.”
“Nanook will have his hands full for a while,” answered Jock grimly. And without further words gave himself over to final preparations.
N the blackest portion of that night 1 there emerged from the big igloo a dark figure that, stooping, scraped a long and laborious trench in the trampled snow. Into this wrere laid, with extreme care, the twin lead wires, after which the trench was refilled and stamped carefully down. Now it happened that the ends of the wires came in a place midway between two igloos and here Jock carved out a hollow block and rammed it firmly down. Simultaneously, Bill was on his knees inside the igloo scooping beneath the ledge at a widening hole which he finally lined with wolfskin and plastered up with ex-
treme care. This done, the continuation of the trench was chiselled out along the floor of the tunnel and the wire terminals brought in. After which, by Jock’s orders, they stuffed themselves with food and settled down for the long sleep that might be the only rest the next few days had in store for them. And all the time there came from the outer wilderness not a single echo of a howl to denote that somewhere in the sparkling distance Henry Rintoul and his long-toothed pack bided their time.
There is in sleep a beneficent healing which winging from unknown fields visits all men alike, whether they be worthy or unworthy. In these clouded hours the spirit unleashes itself from its earthly tenement and, in its marvellous and untrammelled course, merges itself with things profound beyond understanding. Mortality, yielding to its touch, gathers from strange sources new power and courage to meet the coming day. There is revived in the breast of man the divine and ineffable glimmer that links him with infinity. Distance is obliterated and before the eyes of his soul there are recreated for him poignant scenes and memories with many an exquisite embodiment of vanished things. So that when sleep departs and realities grim and inevitable return with the day man is, for the moment, a changed being, washed clean of former harassment and doubt, an intelligence half divine, armed anew with amazing confidence and strength.
Thus did sleep spread her merciful wings over that ivory dome.
npHE dim day drew to a close while through the village excitement spread with an ecstatic thrill. Very sagely had Nanook unfolded the tidings that there would be that very night in the big igloo not only the strong magic of which they already knew but also a great demonstration that would utterly surpass! their wildest dreams. So it came that in every round roofed house there was a jabbering chatter of high-pitched voices and a gleaming of coal black eyes, while the women sawed steadily away in preparation for the feast and the old crones chewed endlessly at strips of rawhide which shortly they would fashion into Husky footware. The women had their own ideas about the function for such is the sharp line of distinction in the north that none but the hunters are bidden to these unbridled orgies. In the big igloo itself Jock rehearsed the programme with painstaking detail. It was true that he was dealing with intelligence simple and elemental, but he felt, nevertheless, that even at this last moment, on which so much depended, there might occur some unexpected diversion that would demoralize his plan. Thus not only the very words they should speak, but the very positions they should occupy in the great denouement were tirelessly rehearsed.
“It will appear,” he concluded, “that we are running straight into danger and perhaps death, but just there lies our safety. You will note that I am giving Nanook no credit for any mercy whatever, and when the blackguard believes we are done for the only thing he’ll regret is the five black fox skins for which he bargained but which I am satisfied he never expected to see. Dead men do not make the kind of writing that I believe was in his mind while yon crooked villain talked And, mark you,” he added, “the more fuss
those wolves kick up the better for our chances.”
Salty Bill sighed despondently. He had with supreme reluctance abandoned his ambition to blow eighteen Husky hunters into mingled fragments of flesh and feather, but when Jock had unfolded the scheme by which they were to escape from their harmless if comfortless surroundings into the midst of a pack of halfcrazed animals, he spent anxious moments of deliberation whether he were not jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Added to this was the fact that against his hairy skin four sticks of softened dynamite were rubbing with a constant and warning friction, and already the nitroglycerine had raised a red welt of smarting pain where its poisonous emanations struck his shrinking body. To merely blow the igloo into the air seemed an unprofitable reward for such physical and mental distress.
DRESENTLY Nanook lurched in, be* hind him a seemingly endless whiplash of short, feather-clad, copper-skinned men, who bore with them grisly burdens that they deposited soddenly on the floor and around which they forthwith grouped themselves in tense anticipation. Then the feasting began and once more was enacted the primordial scene.
For a solid hour they ate noisily and those tireless jaws had shown no disposition to come to rest when Bill beckoned to Nanook and the two went out together. Just what took place between them was not revealed when they shortly returned, but the hunter stepped quickly up to Jock, whereupon the big man turned his back on the still crunching circle and entered into an apparent invocation, during which Salty Bill busied himself in an entirely different matter. Then curiously enough, both the seal oil lamps went out and the igloo was plunged into utter dark-
With much laughter and a sharp striking of flint the wicks were relighted. Their uncertain beams revealed no change but a close observer might have noted that the flank of a large bearskin had slipped down over the shoulder of the ledge and now hung so that the great black claws lay extended on the floor. And after that it was only a moment before Jock turned where he sat and announced to Nanook that if the hunters would, as before, wet their hands, strong magic would immediately be made. It happened, too, that while this was under way there floated in from the distance the wailing cry of a lone wolf, at which the little men glanced expressively into each others’ eyes, and wondered whether the women would take instant and necessary steps to drag in whatever dogs might be sniffing unprotected about the village.
Jock nodded, the brown palms closed expectantly, and, touching, there shot once more through those broad strong bodies the tingling fire they loved so well. This time there was less shouting, less laughter, and it seemed to MacTier, whose keen eyes ran quickly round the circle, that the function had taken on a new character. It was no longer so much a matter for excited screams and a rocking hilarity, as it was something which had in it a deeper significance. Worship of sun, moon and stars, of fire, wind and water, of all these he had heard strange tales, and it appeared to him now, even while his shrewd eyes narrowed, that he was beholding the birth of some new religion, a new sacrament, stranger in its inherent essentials than anything that had preceded it.
To be continued