The Magic Makers
SYNOPSIS.—Sergeant MacTier, of the North-West Mounted Police, accepts a private cjmmission 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 the walrus countryMacTier charters the ship "Siren" and its crew, with Salty Bill, its owner, in charge, and sets sail fur Hudson’s Bay. 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. 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. They find a supply of dynamite left by the deserting crew and blow up their igloo, escaping in the confusion that results.
A Story of Adventure in Northern Canada
Author of “The Inner Door,” “Blantyre-Alien," etc.
"WHAT took you here in the first place?" he demanded, with a touch of awkwardness, being mindful of many things.
“Nanook, of course,” came the grim answer. “I had drifted north from Cobalt, always north, till I reach Moose Factory. There the wanderlust was still on me and I went out with a free trader.
He naturally avoided the Hudson Bay coast, and we ran into a tribe, some of whose members had come across the ice from some island in the Bay and were heading for Little Whale River with their fur. Nanook was the principal man among them and just for pure deviltry one day I gave him a shock with my pocket battery. I don’t know why I had taken it with me, but anyway I had carted it everywhere. The free trader told me that it helped business with the Huskies, because they took it for some kind of magic. When I tried it on Nanook he jumped a foot high and then, after thinking hard for a whole day, brought me a big chunk of metal. See!”
He pulled up his sleeve and around his arm a broad flat band .gleamed whitely in the strengthening light. “It’s silver, native silver. It lies in the rocks at a place twenty miles past the village and just near the north end of the island. I don’t know how much there ' is, but there’s a good deal. Well, anyway, Nanook told me about this and said if I would keep it a secret and come with him to where the rest of the tribe were and make magic for them, he would load me up with silver and send me back again. And like a fool I took him on.”
“Then it was. Nanook from the very first?”
“Of course. But when I reached the village I found I was a prisoner.” He hesitated a moment, then : “I was crazy, MacTier, when I left Scotland—I know it now, but,” he added with queer solemnity, “I think I’ve paid the price.”
\JOON next day found the travellers I’' skirting the westerly shore of the Great Lake. Almost due north and south it ran and it was, by Rintoul’s reckoning, not less than forty miles long. By this time he had been able to tell his rescuers much of this mysterious land. It lay, he said, some eighty miles due west of the Little Whale River, which, to common knowledge, runs into the easterly side of Hudson Bay, having taken its rise in the unexplored hinterland of Central Ungava. Just opposite the belly of Richmond Gulf, which is bisected by the mouth of Little Whale River, Jock remembered having noted on the Government chart that series of small indefinite specks which, as Salty Bill now reaffirmed with breathless earnestness, were invariably avoided by all skillful and sober mariners. And at this Rintoul laughed with the first touch of mirth he had known for two long grim years.
“You’re tramping down the middle of those very specks now, only instead of reefs it’s solid land, inhabited by a tribe most of whom are unknown to history. From the hills I’ve picked up land as far as I could see, north and south, and I take it that between us we’ve added three or four thousand miles to the area of Canada, and that within ninety miles of a spot where the Hudson Bay Company have traded for a hundred years and within nine hundred miles of the City of Toronto. Do you realize it?” he jerked out.
Salty Bill shook his head and cast an anxious eye at the horizon. “Nope,” he said resignedly. “I quit realizing things some time ago. Say, mean to tell me that for the last twenty years I’ve been sailing around this darned island without seeing it?”
“According to your own statement, you were so darned afraid of it that you didn t get near enough. As for the Hudson Bay factors, they are not travellers but traders, and their job is to stick behind the counter and rope in fur. So vou can count them out.”
Aye/7 broke in Jock, nodding his heac wisely, but now that we’ve found it what’s it good for?”
For answer Rintoul swerved a few feel to the right to where a lift of dark browr rock shouldered naked through the snow After a moment’s effort he broke off £ fragment as large as his hand and tossec to the giant. “Know what that is?’ The big man balanced its weight ir outstretched hands. “Iron,” he said briefly.
“Yes, iron,” came back Rintoul, with a lift in his voice, “there’s iron under youi feet, and if you walk two days north and two days south it’s still iron. This island is built of it, and the next one too. And wnat’s more, if it is there’s no place on top of the earth where there’s
so much for the taking. In summertime you can see it stretching in great long brown waves that have been rubbed down and polished off by thousands of years of weather. Nanook once told me that it is believed by the Huskies that this whole country was a mass of ice, many, many winters ago, and if you look at those rocks you’ll believe it too, because you can see where the ice has smoothed them like piecrust.”
Jock glanced at him shrewdly. “I’m thinking,” he said, “that an iron mine in a frozen wilderness is not the making of any great fortune.”
At this Salty Bill laughed outright. “Say, take it from me, that you aint got no darned enthusiast in MacTier. I learned that long ago. Aint you got anything else up here except wolves and iron and Huskies that dress in feathers?” In reply Rintoul smiled triumphantly and flashed before the skipper’s wondering eyes the broad, flat armband. “There’s that,” he said curtly, recounting his story.
“Like Cobalt?" The skipper had heard of Cobalt, and the name suggested untold riches.
“I can’t say how much there is because I don’t know, but I do know that the formation is the same, and after all, why shouldn’t it be?”
Instantly the skipper asserted that without doubt the formation was probably exactly the same, and that in fact he believed that, compared to this new found land, Cobalt would look like thirty cents. His mind was open now, wide open. A few additional marvels were hardly worth considering.
“Say,” he demanded with mock seriousness, “you aint said anything about diamonds yet.”
D INTOUL’S lips were twisting into a smile when suddenly from far behind them came the hoarse-throated cry of a wolf, and at this he pulled himself up abruptly and stared back over their dwindling trail. So grim grew his face that Jock, noting it silently, unslung his rifle from its case, and, dropping the taut rope from his shoulder, retraced a few hurried steps and stood motionless at Rintoul’s elbow.
“You know what that means?” asked the latter, after a breathless pause.
Jock shook his head. “I’m thinking it may mean anything.”
“It means: first, Blackmouth, then
Nanook,” was the grave answer. “Blackmouth is the only wolf that stirs in the open after sun up. He’s been following us, as I thought he would, in a sort of rear guard. Now he’s spotted someone coming up from the north, for that’s not a hunting signal, but a man signal. You remember I told you that our daylight danger was Nanook. It seems I’m right.” “You reckon he’s travelling with dogs?” “Certainly. He’ll come up as close as he can; then at sundown build an igloo for shelter for himself and the team till sunrise. He’ll try and pot us either this afternoon or to-morrow, and out of all the hunters he’s the best shot of the lot. What’s more, he’s not travelling alone.” “I’m not exactly putting myself up as a first-class shot,” remarked Sergeant MacTier, contentedly, “but if yon Husky can pick the head off a spruce partridge at a hundred yards with a Ross rifle he’s not doing so badly, and I’m verra willing to see which of the two of us can shoot the straightest.”
And with that the big man turned again to his labours.
An hour before dark Rintoul halted
for the night. They were by this more than half way down the length o: the great lake and already there wa: looming far to the south the outline oi that bold promontory they had notec from the long-deserted cabin. The sighi of it roused in them that ineffable hope and inexplicable delight known only the heart of the explorer who, after fac ing danger and hardship, wins gradually back to kindlier and well-rememberec scenes.
“The cabin’s just opposite that?” saic Rintoul with a curious light in his eyes
“Within five or six miles,” answerec the big man cheerfully, “but it’s not mucl we’ll be finding in the cabin, for yor brown-faced devils have gone through it at their ease.”
“Then you couldn’t have chosen a bet ter place, for that’s where we strike across to the mainland. We’ve twentj miles to go yet to the jumping-off place and one night more on the Belcher Is-
•-“That’s what they’re called on the chart.” MacTier stretched his stiff legs “And what was that line you put on youi map. Hold on a minute, here it is. Man man, to think we haven’t shown it tc you before.”
D INTOUL smiled curiously as the soft -*•'■ crumpled thing was laid in his hands Two years before he had made it, begging the hide from a good-natured hunter, and pleading for a morsel of red dye with a Husky woman who, years before had filched it from a squaw of the Yellowknife tribe somewhere in the land of little sticks. A small thing this map bul pregnant with the expression of all hope: despair and unutterable longing. Mutely wondering at the strange and incomprehensible ways of Providence, he noted now the faint line where once he had carefully inscribed “fifty-eight latitude,’ for this he had reckoned, should it evei reach civilization and be deciphered would be the greatest guidance of all, With a lump in his throat he stared at his own delineation of the big lake and of that parallel island whose southern end now lifted into the great promontory that loomed dark in the horizon. Slowly his gaze travelled to the motionless figure of Sergeant MacTier, the driving force of this indomitable pair, and, to the blisttered face of Salty Bill, whose quizzical and growling cynicism had contributed its own note of particular value, both welded now to the rescued man by infrangible bonds of spirit and courage. And at that something suddenly snapped in the breast of Henry Rintoul and there was unsealed a flood of emotion which, for past years, had slowly been congealing within him in the bitter struggle for life. A moment later, when the storm had passed and left him trembling, he noted that Jock was cleaning the breech of his rifle and humming, in extreme absentmindness, the lilt of a well-known Scotch air, while Salty Bill, his legs spread wide apart and oblivious, apparently, to the presence of wolves and all other danger, human or four-footed, had thrown back his head and was hurling at the inoffensive sky a string of the most vivid oaths that ever echoed over land or sea from the reeling deck of an oil-sodden whaler.
'T'HAT night inside the circular barri-Icade of snow the travellers had hastily erected, Rintoul sat motionless hour after hour peering into the dark-ness through which the lean shape of Blackmouth appeared at intervals and, flitted into obscurity. Strange things were moving inside the wolf’s flat skull, things that had awakened his wild instinct into that which in its attributes was almost human. Ever since the day when, in sudden passionate worship, he had licked the hand that bound up the long gash in his shoulder, Blackmouth had been divided between something utterly cruel and relentless and some other thing that made him unhappy in a grotesque and pathetic way. This two-legged animal that touched him so gently was the only animal that had never bared its teeth in his presence, the only animal that had never shown either flight or battle, and when the red welt in his flesh began slowly to heal, he had a curious longing for the presence of the human who did not carry a long thing that spat fire and killed almost as far as he could see. It came to Blackmouth also that there, was danger for the human from the rest of the pack, and, being the strongest and fleetest among them, he set his wolfish brain at work to stand between his own brethren and this thing he had begun to love with such uncomfortable intensity.
Thus, day after day. and week after week, strengthened the amazing friendship. Rintoul, in the progress of his battle for life, had acquired a contempt for danger which cemmunicated itself in some extraordinary fashion to the great brute, who so often slunk along at a little distance regarding him with terrible yet kindly eyes, till gradually the distance lessened and there arrived that wonderful morning when Rintoul, setting forth from his hiding place to seek food, found the gaunt beast ambling at his heels, his jaws open, his red tongue lolling between his wicked teeth. After that came another amazing period in which the two seemed to have reached back thousands of years till they recreated for each other those prehistoric days in which man. himself clad in the skins of beasts, maintained a primordial friendship with the ravening forerunners of Blackmouth, and, kindred in hunger and danger, fought side by side against prodigious and long vanished mammals.
But with the pack it was different. No debts had their wild brotherhood to the thing that-walked on two legs and slept, not in villages, but in the open. It was true that he did not hunt them nor run at their approach but that was only because, whenever he walked, the leader of them all walked with him. There spread, however, amongst the pack the consciousness of Blackmouth’s mastery. No other wolf was there that could so harrass an infuriated bear, that could so cleverly raid the fox holes along the pitted shore, that knew so instinctively where the white whales would be cast up by the heaving waters of the bay, for be it known that the pack lived not on the caribou, whose fat flanks nature elsewhere provides with which to fill their bellies, but only on the offal of the sea and on the quivering bodies of other beasts as wise and as cunning, as strong and almost as tireless as themselves. True it was that Blackmouth worshipped the two-legged thing with unquestion -ing fidelity and dog-like gratitude but true it also was that the pack only followed the lead of Blackmouth, or scattered at his signal, or attacked at his battle-cry, because he was by virtue of bone, blood, muscle and courage, the king of them all.
The night had grown blacker when out of the darkness came a single howl at which Rintoul leaned tensely forward and put his hand on Jock’s slumbering form. Instantly the big man was awake and alert, such is the training of those to whom danger wears a well accustomed
“What is it?” he whispered. His rifle lay across his knees.
“The beginning of trouble with the pack. Hark to that.”
As he spoke the howl sounded again, this time angrier and closer than before. Even while it echoed, there moved past the low’ barricade the shape of Blackmouth as, growling savagely, he vanished into the gloom. Rintoul’s eye caught the speeding blur and his fingers closed instinctively over the wrist of his companion.
“If it is what I think it is, we’ll know now. There!” From the north came Blackmouth’s challenge, more deepthroated, more menacing than anything Jock had ever hea.rd, then a sudden hoarse snarling and the, sharp ringing snap of locking jaws. For an instant this continued till there was borne a curious choking cough that gradually lifted into a wild and half human shriek of pain. After this a short irregular gasping and then silence.
“Look!” whispered Rintoul. “Here he comes.”
Out of the night loped Blackmouth, one hind foot swinging a little stiffly. As he approached they could hear him panting. His jaws, half open, were bright and glistening and, from a short gash in the great scar that ran along his side, the blood was oozing in congealing welts. Out of the night he came and, swerving in his coming, passed swiftly in front of the barricade and darted a sidelong glance at the three humans. Amongst them he apparently found that which satisfied him for, wheeling, he cantered off noiselessly as before. So swift and silent was his transit that he seemed a ghostly beast that had for a moment visited the earth and now sped back to some viewless obscurity.
“That means,” said Rintoul slowly, “that the pack has broken away from Blackmouth and is out to kill.”
As he spoke there came from the distance the sharp crackle of rifle shot.
“And that’s Nanook standing them off.” Sergeant MacTier's voice had in it a curious note as though he drew a certain comfort from the occasion.
Rintoul nodded. “It won’t last long. At any rate not after daylight.”
“That’s when we stand off Nanook,” put in Salty Bill with undisguished anticipation.
Rintoul cast an anxious glance southward. “We’ve got twenty-four hours more of it and then we’ll be out on the sea ice. After that it’s free for all, with chances even.”
' I 'HUS drew on the last day during T which the fugitives were to traverse this forgotten land. At high noon they had only fifteen miles to go but the travelling was heavy with new fallen snow, and through this impalpable mass Jock steadily dragged the burdened sledge.
Periodically, each put forth his utmost to assist the giant, but neither of them could muster anything approaching the big man’s amazing strength. The twisted trace rope had sunk into a crimson furrow across his massive shoulder, a slow fire was darting through the tendons of back and arms, but ever with indomitable persistence he forged ahead, a modern Atlas on whom denended the safety of this cast away and minute world.
The sun was at its Arctic height when, nearer than before, sounded the crack of a rifle and a bullet whined thinly overbadInstantly Sergeant MacTier, as though recalled to old time discipline by
separated his forces.
That s Nanook from behind yon ridge! he snapped. “Here, Rintoul, you get out on the right flank while Bill takes the left. 111 plug ahead. Put your best foot forward straight south as fast as you can, but keep out of line with me We’re most beyond range as it is and he’s just taking a pot shot at the thick of us.”
In a moment the new formation was completed and all three toiled strenuously on. Jock, straining to the trace, his rf0“1 LSet’ yielded to a sudden conviction that brought a new light into his grey
“What do you make of it, Rintoul7” 1 said presently.
Pursuit for another twentv-foi hours. What else is there!”
‘.‘Aye,” grunted the big man, “but pu suit by how many?”
Rintoul stared back at the slow lift ( «,r£ídge“Just what do y°u mean?” That there’s only one Husky ther and that s Nanook. Didna’ you mark th; there was but a single shot. There w¡ more trouble than our own last night ar the wolves were too much for the dogs : the rest of Nanook’s party started and have left him to see the thing throu* by himself. Have you heard a single d( bark the morn?”
“No,” answered Riñtoul, “I haven’t.” “Then you can take the truth when you hear it. And now it’s a three-cornered fight.”
IT seemed in the next few hours that, even as the weary miles dropped slowly behind, the distance still be traversed actually increased. At nightfall, so thick and threatening was the weather, that Sergeant MacTier determined to make camp where they were, and be ready for any emergency rather than push on through the pitch darkness. There was, too, an unnatural consolation in the fact .that just as the light failed, Blackmouth appeared out of the gloom, and started once more a solitary and swift-footed patrol. So restless was the great beast, so continually did he lift his muzzle and sniff into the wind, that it seemed to be all part of some preconceived plan when the voices of the pack began to sound yapping in the distance. More black grew the night and with the drone of the gale, which was now whipping steadily from the north-west, came the elusive assurance that there was shortly to be played out the last scene in this extraordinary drama.
The consciousness of it affected them all differently. Rintoul muttered nameless exhortations to Blackmouth, who shot in and out of view with fleet persistency. Salty Bill swore with something more than customary color and began to calculate audibly the amount of insurance he expected to collect on the Siren, while Jock himself said nothing whatever but only strained his grey eyes into the unrevealing night while his finger crooked beside the trigger guard of his rifle.
“Nanook won’t trouble us to-night,” whispered Rintoul after a tense period. “He’s built an igloo by this time and is safe inside.”
“I’m thinking you might as well have learned how to build one yourself. Lord knows you’ve had time enough.”
“I tried it, many’s the night, but the roof always fell in. It’s the last six rounds that does it. Did you ever try it your—
A flashing report interrupted him and MacTier, who had fired almost ere the rifle reached his shoulder, contentedly jerked out an empty cartridge. “Yon was a small wolf. He was just prospecting like and I’m thinking he found what he didn’t look for. You didn’t see him?” “No. It wasn’t Blackmouth, was it?” For answer the other pointed to a gaunt form just within vision. “Yon’s Blackmouth. Ma conscience! did you see that?”
TpVEN while he spoke the great form L-1 had shot forward and disappeared. An instant afterward there came out of the darkness a new and frenzied howling. It seemed almost that Blackmouth were giving battle singlehanded to the whole pack. Presently a group of them dashed into view. The master wolf, his shoulders lifting highest of all, seized the nearest of his brethren and, with a curious jerk of his long grey head, tugged at the loose skin under the shaggy throat. Even while they stared the wolf dropped. At this the group, seemingly aware that one of their own kin was waging desperate battle against them, jerked round and, in a second Blackmouth was the centre of a leaping and chocking mound.
“Don’t shoot!” whispered Jock, breathlessly. “Man, but he’s making a grand fight. Now’s your time.”
The mound, heaving, broke apart and, flattening itself into a small and undulating blanket of grey, streamed after the racing Blackmouth. Closer they came and .closer, till, simultaneously, three rifles spoke. At that the blanket seemed torn into shreds, of which some dropped behind and lay writhing, while others circled on with undiminished speed. Blackmouth turned southward and, with a few prodigious leaps, increased his
“You see that?” hissed Rintoul in a passion of excitement. “That’s to give us a chance to shoot — now — take the three last.”
Again the rifles spat flame and this time there was left but one pursuer whose straining body maintained its pace in a wild and solitary chase. Suddenly Blackmouth curved his great neck and, seeing his single assailant, doubled on his own tracks with astonishing swiftness, and hurled himself straight at his panting brother. So great was the shock with which these two flying creatures locked, that heads and shoulders were heaved up till they stood on hind legs slashing at each other with fierce and sabre-like strokes, while, all the time, there sounded a dreadful staccato of short and furious snarls. To those who watched breathlessly it appeared that evil, dreadful in form and ferocity, was fighting with evil before their staring eyes, till, with one master stroke, Blackmouth got home.
After that came a pause. The great grey animal, squatting, licked his wounds while still through the night came the diminished chorus of the pack. Half of them were done for but infinite danger still survived ere morning should enlighten the earth. To Rintoul’s summons the battle-scarred wolf paid no attention. The lust of conflict was blazing in its breast and it may be that, in the thing mysterious and baffling which served Blackmouth for a soul, there moved the consciousness that this, of many fights, was to be the last and the greatest. He did not feel any longer the quick protective impulse which had animated him through so many changing months. He only felt that the pack had challenged him and defied his leadership and that, cost what it might, it was for them to learn that they should either acknowledge him as master or pay the price.
SLOWLY from the north approached the yelping chorus, and Jock, hearing it, knew that the next few moments would determine the issue of the night. Blackmouth heard it but only sat motionless, licking his long jaws till there appeared through the driving snow the misty cohorts of his brethren. Then, in lonely dignity, he moved ahead and halted directly between the nearing pack and the crouching figures that peered so intently over their low and glistening barricade.
Followed now his ultimate strategy. Blackmouth, weak from many wounds, but preserving still in his throbbing body the magnificent strength which is born of courage, flung himself straight at the advancing rank and, just as the impact seemed inevitable, swung off sharp at right angles and began once more his circling race. Hard at his heels swept the pack, bellowing their rage while into the fleeting blur the bullets sang incessantly. Pursuers and pursued both had achieved that last great frenzy to which there is but one outcome. Once Blackmouth’s wind failed him and for a terrific instant he was overtaken with a tearing of white teeth at his grey flanks.
To be concluded.