The Living Forest
-Jfter th~'r lo/1~ and arduous journey through the `~coods Old Bill and the boys find fulfililient, wit/i a final thrill and an unexpectedly s~dd~'~i deiioiit'inent at the end of the trail.
DURING the night the temperature seemed to have dropped around twenty below zero.In the morning, when the sun caught the mist rising from the open rapids, it suggested golden smoke amid a winter forest in Fairyland.
Making good headway up the river valley. se came upon two mare camp site~ here at each. O'Brien and his gang s~nt but a cingle night. At least that was what th. ald iunter 4aid, and he further added that (rant the signs he read their sleds must have been so heavily ioaded that theycould not travel more than a &:ngie mile, to our three or four. Farther on `ae caught sight of a w,1verine r•~...'tc the :itt:e sunht a1,y about fifty yards aheal of us, and though it saw us too, it did not hurry. .tppare!tCy it was not in the least afraid of us it `aaiked `aith a roll and a good deal of sa ajcer When `ae came upon tts tracks we noticed t'.y were very similar to those of a small hear. The daw n:arks `acre long and very pronounced. For tts s~sø :ts ste~ were quite short. Sitting down on our £eds beside the tracks, we rested a while in the sun
"Bill, you promised to tell us about wolverines,” Link reminded him. ”1 wish you would,” I chimed in “So you want to hear about \V ar-sa-ka-tchak—
The Mischief Maker; for that's what th’ Indians often call him. The wolverine’s much mixed up in Indian folk-lore— especially when the teller of tales leaps about the campfire, chantin’ an’ pantominin’ his story of the most destructive animal in all the Northl4 mischief maker an’ in that way he’s
in a class by himself. As you've seen, he looks somethin’ like a little bear. In fact "he's often called a skunk-bear, an’ there’s a reason; he frequently emits a strong smell somewhat after the manner of the skunk. In many ways he’s different from other forest creatures, an’ it seems to me he’s endowed with more brains. But he doesn't often make use of ’em in a nice way.
"The color an’ quality of the wolverine’s fur varies accordin' to the locality in which he lives. When livin’ in the Strong Woods Country, especially the part north o’ Lake Superior, or in British Columbia, where the timber’s extra thick an’ heavy, the wolverine’s coat is much softer an’ thicker in texture, an’ darker an’ richer in color, the reason bein’ better food an’ better shelter. But when livin' on the prairies or the Barren Grounds, his coat’s much coarser in texture an' lighter in color, bein’ caused, no doubt, by the lack o’ shelter from sun an’ storm, an’ the greater action required in securin’ food. In the Barren Grounds the wolverine has to keep up with the migratin’ caribou. But when driven to the extreme, he'll eat any food he can secure, whether it be flesh, fish, fowl, vegetable or fruit. An’ he’ll try any kind o’ game from a moose to a
' UXTREMELY bad weather -*—1 which so often depresses other animals, seems to add to the wolverine’s keenness of action. For while nearly all other animals seek shelter durin’ storms, it’s then he seems to enjoy huntin’ most. No doubt it betters his chances o’ securin’ game. For then there’s less chance of his quarry travelin’. .Also it enables the short-legged brute to more easily overhaul his prey. An’ it’s then, owin’ to failin' branches, that there’s less chance of hi3 approach bein’ overheard.
“While some other animals, as for instance, the wolf, shows much persistence in followin’ a certain track, even when it happens to be crossed by other trails, no other bea3t can compare with the wolverine in the great determination it displays in keepin’ to th’ original trail. At such a time the wolverine’s all eyes, ears an’ nose for the trail he started to follow. He’ll follow it, too, for days, even though it may be crossed by a perfect maze of other tracks. Perhaps it’s the fact that the wolverine’s a
poor traveler that makes him so persistent. His short legs hamper him in gettin’ over the ground. But though he’s slow, he has a sure way of overhaulin’ his prey.
“When night overtakes him on the trail, he doesn’t have to leave it to seek shelter the same as other animals do. He’ll merely take a few turns round, like a dog, an’ then lie down in his quarry’s track. But, of course, he’ll take care to lie down facin’ his back trail, while he counts on his senses o’ hearin’ an’ smellin’ to guard against attack from the unknown part o’ the track he’s followin’.”
“How does a wolverine attack its prey?” I asked. “When a wolverine has eventually run down his quarry, he’ll not attack at once, but’ll devote some time to spyin’ about to size up the situation. If in a wooded country he’ll try to choose in advance a certain tree that his quarry may pass under. Then he’ll carefully work round in order to climb it an’ lay upon one of its branches in readiness to drop upon th’ unsuspectin’ animal as it passes under. When attackin’ from a tree, a wolverine doesn’t spring upon his quarry as a lynx would do, but simply
drops down upon his prey.” “But what would he do if there were no trees?” asked Link.
“My boy, when stalkin’ game in an open country the wolverine’ll wait until th’ animal lies down an’ goes to sleep. Then he’ll approach up wind an’ leap upon its back. Straddlin’ his prey with his legs an’ diggin’ in his claws, he’ll seize it by the back of its neck, just behind th’ ears, an’ chew away with all his might until his powerful jaws cut the spinal cord. Of course, the prey’ll try to dislodge the wolverine. If in a wooded country, it’ll dash beneath low branches o’ trees in the hope o’ knockin’ its enemy off. You remember I told you a wolf leaps for the throat, but a wolverine tries for the spinal cord, an’ when he takes hold, he hangs on an’ chews with almost the same determination as a bull dog.”
“But, Bill . . . how do you know?” I hesitantly asked.
Gordon, my boy, why don't you make use of your power o' reasonin'? You city people never seem to use your brains when you enter the woods. How is it? Can't you understand that even if I, or any of my Indian friends, had never even witnessed such a sight, we could easily read it all from the signs we would see in the snow or on the skin. Sometimes a hunter'll come upon a caribou that has been desperately wounded, an' when the hunter kills the deer, he learns the name of th' animal that made the attack. If it was a wolverine, the hunter sees where the brute dug his claws into the back o' the deer, an' where he chewed the back of its neck into a palp. Then a little back trackin' on the caribou's trail will not only tell the hunter the middle but the beginnin' of the story. My sons, it's about time you both learnt how to read such happenings for your own enlightenment; but in order to do that you'll have to make use o' the brains God gave you. You'll have to do a little thinkin'. An' that reminds me of two things life's taught me: hard drinkin' raises the devil, but hard thinkin' raises the man."
ON THE morning of the third day of our search for the trail, old Bill halted at a place where another story was printed in the snow.
“Now, my lads, look around an’ tell me what you make of it,” smiled the old hunter.
Several times we slowly turned about, and here and there we gazed both hard and long, but I saw nothing to read beyond a number of snow-capped stumps and several mounds of cut brush.
“Well . . . what’s the newrs?” Bill chuckled. “A lot of wood cut. Somebody must have stayed here quite a while,” I replied. “What’s your verdict, Lincoln?” the old man asked. “I guess the same as Gordon,” answered Link.
“Now I’m gom’ to read you a real woodland story— a story you’ve never read before. Yet for thousands of years such stories have been printed . . . but never anywhere but in the snow. An’ to read ’em, it takes a heap o’ knowledge,” smiled old Bill. “Now if you boys'll go over there an’ light a fire an' make yourselves comfortable, an’ then about noon cook some grub an’ call me when dinner’s ready . . I’ll then read you a story. When grub’s ready a shout or two w-on’t hurt ... for they’re miles away by now.”
While w-e boys w^ent off to one side to cut brush, lay a mattress and make fire, the old trailer got busy. Slipping off his snow-shoes, he made use of one as a shovel, and began digging here and there in the deep, soft snow1. In one place I could see he was uncovering a mattress of evergreen brush; in another place he dug out a few sticks of unburnt firewmod; then he brought to view some half burnt logs in an old fireplace, beside which he left standing a few little sticks he had uncovered. Then he studied the brush mattress for a while, and even t urned it up and looked underneath. After that he walked about among the tree stumps, knocking off their snow caps and examining their tops.
He also scanned the brush piles. Then putting on his snowshoes, he began circling the old camp site, at first working on a radius of about a hundred feet and next about a hundred yards, during much of which time he was lost to view.
WHEN dinner was ready we waited a while, but still he did not come; later, however, Lincoln shouted, and the old hunter soon appeared. He was still all smiles.
“Well, boys, it’s all hunkadory, so I’ll read you the story as soon as I tuck in some grub.” When our meal was over, he told us:
“Six white men were camped here for many days, but they left several weeks ago. During their stay they lived under tents. They were waitin’ for the freeze-up. They made six pairs o’ bear-paw snowshoes, an’ six toboggans, but they were mighty poor workmen. They also tried tannin’ caribou hides for moccasins an’ mittens an’ snowshoe mesh an’ thongs. They had firearms an’ axes an’ knives, as well as cookin’ utensils. An’ their axes each weighed three-an’-a-half pounds.
When they left here they were haulin’ very heavily loaded sleds.
An’ they were headin’ south, an’ makin’ mighty poor time of it. At the rate they were goin’ it looks to me as if they would have to cache the bulk o’ their loads, or they’ll be all winter gettin’ anywheres. An’ I guess we’ll overhaul ’em without much trouble, because anyway they’re mighty poor trippers. They don’t know how to travel. But what can you expect . . . they’re from the city.”
“You’re still sure it’s O’Brien and his gang?” Lincoln asked.
“Certainly who else would they be? They’re the ones we’re after. An’ we’re goin’ to overhaul ’em before many days. They can’t shake us now. I’ve found their trail. It’s ...” “But, Bill, where did you see it?” I asked. “I didn’t see it,” replied the hunter. “But you just said you found it,” added Link. “True. But I haven’t seen it.
I only felt it. An’ you can feel it, too. I’ll take you there. But first I want to prove to you what I’ve read around here,” said the trailer, as he got up and led the way.
“Any tripper ought to know how to read an old camp site. Now to begin with, look at that bed. See those three hollows? Three men bunked there. Here’s where th’ other three slept. Even
a child could read that. The width o’ mattress would also indicate how many men. The length o’ bed from fireplace to windbreak would indicate whether they were white or reds. In winter Indians draw up their legs more than white men do. An’ see those rows o’ standin’ sticks? Tent pegs, my boys. See? To get the warmth of an open fire, they used two tents, facin’ each other, lean-to fashion, with the fire between.”
* I 'URNING up some brush, he said: “See, there’s no A rime under this mattress. Now if we were hot foot after ’em an’ they were only a day ahead, the chances are there’d be rime underneath. That would indicate the bed had been used last night. An’ to make sure we’d stick our hand in the ashes. If it felt hot, that would be another sign. But if they’d used the camp for several days the underneath ashes might remain warm for over forty hours. Another way to gauge their stay would be the number of trees cut. The amount of ashes would also tell the same tale. White men are usually neater about the fire than Indians. White men usually make one pile o’ wood beside the fire, whereas Indians will throw it down anywhere near.
“Other signs to examine are the cuttings on the stumps. The Indian hunter usually carries a three-quarter or a one-pound axe, that is, a single handed or ‘trapper’s axe,’ an’ it’s more often carried in the belt. The white hunter usually carries a ‘half axe,’ that is, a two-handed axe, weighin’ one-an’-a-half,or two pounds. See?
You can read from the stumps the size o’ the axe. These stumps were cut with three-an’-a’-
half pounders. Also the stumps would tell you exactly the quality of the choppers’ skill as woodsmen.
“If you saw that fairly small trees had been felled by givin’ ’em a few hacks on either side, an’ then by pushin’ an’ pullin’ the tree back an’ forth till it crashed, you’d be pretty safe in sayin’ an Indian did the work. The white man usually fells a tree by choppin’ it through, an’ on account o’ the size of his axe, his tree would be larger than th’ Indian’s. The white man would cut his tree into regular lengths an’ carry the sticks on his shoulder, while the chances are th’ Indian wouldn’t cut his tree into sticks, but drag it full length to the fire. So from the stumps an’ chips an’ snow, you can read what’s taken place.
“See that smooth round-topped stump over there? That’s where they were tryin’ to tan deerskins. I’ll bet
they made a mess of it,” said old Bill, pointing that way. “Then there’s the difference of fires. While th’ Indian gets up in the night to keep his fire goin’ with small wood, the white man builds a big fire of larger wood an’ sleepin through the night, he counts on the fire bein’ out in the mornin’. In most cases that could be learned by the chips about the fire, or the lack of ’em, an’ by the axe marks on a log where kindlin’ had been cut in the mornin’. Th’ Indian before goin’ to sleep usually rakes all th’ embers together, to which he’ll add a few handfuls o’ dry twigs, which he’d break up fine an’ then blow into flame
J^URING the night the temperature seemed to have dropped around twenty below zero. In the morning, when the sun caught the mist rising from the open rapids, it suggested golden smoke amid a winter forest in Fairyland. Making good headway up the river valley, we came upon two more camp sites where, at each, O’Brien and his gang had spent but a night.
—to cast a light while arrangin’ his beddin’ an’ sayin’ his prayers. The white man before turnin’ in usually makes a big fire that leaves unburnt ends o’ sticks, an’ more often he never says any prayers—especially if he comes from the city. ' Indians usually put the butt ends cf their sticks in the fire, with the thin ends stickin’ out like the spokes of a wheel, while white men generally lay their wood parallel.
“Another thing, my boys, you ought to remember, is that th’ Indian usually hangs his tea-pail on a pole,leanin’ it over the fire, with the thin end of the stick shoved into the ground or snow. The white man puts his tea-pail on a burnin’ log an’ often smokes his tea-water, which th’ Indian seldom does. Also the white man fills his tea-pail with surface snow by plungin’ his pail through the crust, whereas th’ Indian to fill his teapail uses the lid to dig down deep where the snow is clean, an’ has become granulated ice. Thus th’ Indian gets more w7ater from his pailful o’ snow. Even the size o’ pails have their signs, for Indians generally use smaller ones—the old time, round edge, copper kind.
“Another sign that’s well worth notin’ is that an Indian takes off his snowshoes before he startsT'choppin’ wood, an’ he stands ’em in the snow well back from where the fire’ll be, toes up an’ thongs hangin’ down, w ith th’ upperside facin’ the wind, in order that they may dry. But the white man sticks his snow7shoes where the windbreak will be where they’ll probably gather snow, an’ bein’ near the fire, the heat may turn the snow into ice. In the mornin’ the white man’ll advertise his*! carelessness by holdin’ his shoes over the fire to dry, an’ likely as not, burnin’ the babiche. There’s another thing the w7hite man does; he usually drives his axe into a log close to the fire an’ leaves it there all night. Th’ Indian shoves his little axe'into the snow7 beside his bed, handle up an’ blade aw7ay, so that if more snow falls durin’ the night, he’ll know exactly where to find it in the dark, an’ within easy reach, too.
“When campin’ for the night, th’ Indian stands his toboggan on end against a tree, so it’ll dry in the breeze, but the white man usually turns his over on its side at the head of his bed with his brush wdndbreak leanin’ over it, which certainly won’t improve its runnin’ next day. Because meltin’ snow7 will drop on it an’ make it w7et in patches, besides causin’ ice to form on it.
“My boys, should you find little standin’ sticks between the bed an’ the fire, you can conclude that white men used them upon which to dry t;heir mocassins an’ socks. A mighty good way to burn ’em too. An Indian would be more cautious. He’d merely wave his duffel socks a few times before the fire, an then put ’em inside his shirt to let ’em dry by the heat of his body while he slept.”
“What are duffel socks?” Lincoln asked. “Just pieces o’ blanket twelve by eighteen inches that are wrapped about the foot. |TheyTe easily dried an’ keep free o’ holes much longer. Burnin’ socks or moccasins on a winter trip is a mighty serious business. It may cost a man a frozen foot. Now, my lads, don’t expectHo read a w7hole story from just one sign, but put ’em all together in a heap before you start readin’ aloud. An’ that s what I’m goin’ to do now7, so come along an’ listen.”
He led us about fifty yards from camp to where we came upon much trampled snow, where he had previously stopped in his circling.
“Now7 look among those trees ahead. Can you see any sign of a trail there?”
The snow w7as in perfectly natural formation. It gave no hint of ever having been disturbed. There w7as absolutely no sign whatever of a trail of any kind, and we told him so.
“That’s right, my boys, no livin man could see a trail there, but any old duffer, even if he had lost both eyes and had two wooden legs, could find a trail" there. An' now I'll prove it.” From dead branches he broke off thirty or forty little sticks and divided them between us. “Now, boys, you go ahead in that direction, Continued on page 49 but zig-zag back an’ forth from one side to tit' other; an’ every time your feet tell you tito consistency of the snow lias changed that is, every time you feel it harder in one place than another, plant a stick there.”
Continued from page 31
We followed his direction and when we ran out of sticks, we turned and looking back saw a slightly curved line of sticks among the trees. Coming up to us the old hunter said:
"That’s the trail th’ outlaws followed. You've marked it well. Remember, my boys, followin’ an invisible trail in the snow is much the same as if you came to a creek that you wanted to cross, yet could see no way o’ doin' it because you could see no bridge or log spannin’ the stream. Yet if someone told you that, though the water was so muddy you couldn’t see into it, if you felt around* with your foot you could feel a flat topped log beneath the surface, an’ on which you could cross the stream, you'd get busy, wouldn’t you? An' you'd cross right over. That would be exactly like followin’ an invisible trail in the snow. Besides, in walkin’ across the stream on the log you'd also know that if you stepped off the log you’d go down deeper. So it is with the trail under the snow. Every time you boys stepped off this trail you sank deeper, didn’t you?”
"Yes,” we both agreed. "So now you know’ how to find an’ keep an invisible trail, that no livin’ soul can see, but which even a blind man can follow. Another thing to remember is that a trailer can follow by the feel of the foot better by night than by day, because at night he concentrates more on what he feels than on what he sees. An’ remember, too, that the moccasined foot’s better than the hand in testin’ wrhether a trail’s made by beast or man.”
ON OUR way back to our toboggans the old man showed us where they had cut dowrn birch trees for the making of their snowshoes and sleds. Resuming our southward journey, we traveled but a few miles before we passed three spots where the outlaws had stopped to melt snowand have a snack; and a few miles farther on we came to where they had spent a night. Though their trail could not be seen, it was not hard to follow by the feel of the foot. The old hunter even let us boys take turns at leading the way and breaking a new trail for our sleds on top of their track. When we stood beside their night camp site, old Bill remarked: “They grabbed the gold, an’ now the gold’s goin’ to grab them. My boys, life’s nothin’ but a series o’ boomerangs. An’ we throw ’em ourselves. If we throw a boomerang o’ good, it swings round an’ comes back to us as sure as fate.”
That afternoon we came upon another of their night camps. How slowly they must have traveled. Bill said it was caused by their overloaded sleds. But this time when the old trailer circled the camp site to pick up the outgoing track, he discovered two invisible trails. One led westward toward a range of hills; and the other followed the valley southward as usual.
“We’ll tackle this one,” he decided. And as he headed for the hills he smiled: “It feels mighty good to me.”
But at about a mile’s distance it suddenly ended, and after much circling, and some digging about with snowshoes and sharpened sticks, we made a thrilling discovery. Beneath the ashes of a dead fireplace we found unfrozen crumbly earth, and digging down we came upon a cache i small deerskin bags. And when Bill opened some of them we saw that they were filled with nuggets of gold.
We camped right there for the night and so excited were we that we could not sleep. We would lie down, cover upsnugly, remain quiet for a while, then someone would turn over, sit up, or put a stick on the fire. Then we would all get up and start talking again. I remember I felt very happy and every once in a while I would burst out laughing over anything or nothing at all. Lincoln seemed to be affected in the same way, and I guess old Bill was, too, but he seldom gave any sign of that sort of thing. At last we boys lay down again.
“They told me at the Fort there was a Mounted Police patrol coming out this
way,” Lincoln remarked. “Wouldn’t it be great if they overtook us in time. Gosh! How I hope t hey’ll bag O’Brien!”
“Don’t worry, my boy . . . the Police’ll get ’em . . . they always do. It’s just a matter o’ time. So go to sleep.”
ON RETURNING to our old camp, we picked up the still invisible southbound trail, and followed it toward the height of land. Its condition told the old hunter that even yet the bandits’ sleds were so heavily loaded that their speed of travel was greatly checked. During the next two days their trail was steadily nearing the surface of the snow, and at one of their camps, where a heavy snowstorm had overtaken them in the night, their outgoing trail for the first time now came out into full view. From there on, as no snow had since fallen or no wind had since blown, their trail remained in sight. And as we must have been following them at double or treble their speed, we came shortly after noon upon another of their night camping sites. The signs were now so fresh everything could be read with ease. It all lay as an open book before us.
“My boys, danger’s steadily increasing; soon 1 must travel some distance ahead. But before leavin’ you, I’ll wait an’ see how the trail looks when we stop to camp this afternoon.”
All signs were now constantly growing fresher; and when we stopped to camp at dusk the old trailer told us he would travel several miles in advance of us tomorrow. We camped in a dense grove to lessen the chance of our fire being seen, and before we turned in, the old hunter spent some time instructing us as to how we should conduct ourselves the following day, and as to how we should read his trail while he was traveling ahead of us.
“My boys, should danger threaten, an’ should I want to signal you to stop followin’ me, I’ll slant two sticks in the form of an X across my trail. Should I want you to hurry up, I’ll blaze a tree twice with my knife. Should I want you to follow as fast as you can with caution, I’ll blaze a tree three times. But should I want you to throw caution to the wind an’ follow at your utmost speed, I’ll cut a long blaze an’ tear it off. An’ should I want you to stop an’ camp at a certain place, I’ll cross two sticks like an X over my track an’ leave beside the trail an arrangement o’ little standin’ sticks all leanin’ together like the poles of a tepee.”
By noon of the following day we came upon the outlawr’s last night’s camp. There was rime beneath their beds, and the under-lying ashes of their fireplace were still warm.
“To-night, my boys, I’m goin’ to have a look at the brutes. Then we’ll settle our future plans,” smiled Bill.
On resuming our way, the old trailer went ahead and was soon lost to view, but before we boys had covered another half-mile, he was waiting for us, and again he was all smiles as he pointed:
“See those marks in the snow? One of ’em broke a snowshoe there.”
Again the old hunter went ahead, and again we followed far behind him. About an hour before dusk two crossed sticks halted us, and beside the trail stood a lot of little sticks in the form of a tepee. Bill had back-tracked to set them there. We could read that from his snowshoe prints. After a whispered consultation we set about making camp, and gathering firewood, but we did not start a fire, as he had warned us not to make a fire before dark because of the smoke being visible for miles around. After shovelling away the snow, laying our brush bed, erecting our windbreak and piling a stock of wood near at hand, we arranged our fire-making kit in readiness. Then, wrapped in our deerskin robes, we sat waiting for the coming of night.
When at last it did arrive we were soon warmed by a blazing fire, and refreshed with water and food. Hours then crept slowly by, and when Lincoln got up to fix the fire he said:
“Isn’t Bill Hill a wonderful old chap? Think of him creeping up to O’Brien and his gang, as they sit around their fire, and think of him doing it, too, when he’s armed with nothing but a knife.” Continued on page 44,
Continued from page 40
“Old Bill is certainly a brick! And I’ll bet he helps the Police to bag the whole outfit,” 1 added.
Suddenly out of the nearby shadows came a sound that filled me with fright. Yet it was only a human voice. And all it "Hello, Lincoln.”
IT CAMH from a thick clump of young pines that stood about fifty feet away, quite near our back trail, but what frightened me most was that 1 had never heard that voice before.
Instantly leaping up, we gazed upon a human facea human head without a body. Yet it was coming straight for us. The face, however, began to smile. Presently it said:
"So this is your new friend, Gordon Douglas?”
But speechless we remained.
Coming nearer the head began to assume a body, then a pair of legs. It was a man.
“Mighty glad to see you . . . boys,” the tall stranger exclaimed, as he gave us each a hearty handshake.
“Well, Gordon,” the newcomer smiled, “that was a pretty close call you had when the mother caribou dumped you in the river. As soon as old Bill returns I want to have a talk with him about O’Brien and his bunch. I’ll be back in a few minutes ... I want to give Constable Evans a hand with the sleds.” “Oh, gee! . . . did you say: ‘Constable?’ ” 1 exclaimed.
“Yes . . . I’m staff-Sergeant Wright of the North-West Mounted Police.” “Lordy . . . what luck!” exclaimed Link, throwing up his arms and jumping about from sheer delight.
“You’re mighty lucky boys to have fallen in with such a woodsman as old Bill Hill,” replied the Sergeant, as he turned away and was presently lost in shadow.
“Where did you meet him, Link?” I asked. “Me? Never saw him before?” “But he called you by name.”
“That doesn’t make any difference. First I ever saw of him. Is he an old friend of yours?” Lincoln asked.
“Friend? He’s new to me,” I replied. “Then how did he know us? And how did he know about the caribou dumping you in the river?” Link asked.
Filled with the pleasure of meeting friendly strangers after passing months without seeing a new face, and thrilling with the adventure of helping to catch the murderers, we piled more wood on our fire to welcome the Police.
Presently we heard the sliding and and swishing of sleds and snowshoes, and soon both men were beside our fire. Throwing down his sled line, Constable Evans shook hands with us.
"You must’ve had a hard time doing everything with nothing but a knife,” he remarked. “But then I’ve always heard old Bill’s a wonder in the woods.” “Yes,” added Sergeant Wright, “think of the old boy running down a bunch of bandits and even finding the buried gold. It’s just as . . .”
“Good evening, Staff-Sergeant Wright,” came another voice from out the dancing shadows. Instantly both Policemen wheeled about, and two holster flaps flew open. But it was only the voice of old Bill, and Link and I, calling out his name, greeted him with joy. And when the firelight caught his fine old face, all three men shook hands together.
“I’ve wanted to meet you for years,” said Sergeant Wright. “You’ve done great work. I congratulate you. What luck did you have to-night?”
“Fine! . . . fine! . . .” the old
trailer beamed. “The brutes are all there . just over the hill, about three miles away . . . six of ’em . . . an’ they must be snorin’ by now . . . we better tackle ’em before dawn.”
GETTING out his tobacco, Sergeant Wright filled his pipe and handed it to Bill, whose smile was soon lost in a cloud of smoke. Then a tea-pail being filled with snow, was hung over the fire and we were soon drinking tea with sugar ¡n it.
The Police, havijng decided that the arrest was to be made at three o’clock in the morning, old Bill told us boys to turn in and sleep awhile. But we couldn’t sleep. We were so excited we couldn't even sit still.
They now began to talk about the robbery of the mine, so I asked:
“Sergeant Wright, how did you and Constable Evans know our names? And how did you know about my beingdumped in the river by a caribou? And how did you know all about Bill when you had never even seen him before? And how did you know about O’Brien and his gang?”
“That’s easy,” the Staff-Sergeant laughed, “our orders were to call at the mine on our way back from our northern patrol. So when we landed at the mine we learned of the robbery. The prospectors told us that when O’Brien and five other white men arrived with the supplies and mail, they welcomed the strangers and showed them all over the place, even showing them where the sacks of nuggets were stored all ready for shipment. The claims, as you know, are on an island, and are being worked by twelve men.
“The O’Brien crew made their camp for the night in the nearby bush. They aroused no suspicion, especially as they had brought the very supplies the miners had ordered and even a sack of mail for them. Besides O’Brien had brought a small keg of brandy, a present from Mr. Lee to the foreman and his men. That evening they had a high old time. Letters from home and plenty of grog. So it wasn’t long before the prospectors were all dead to the w'orld.
“Then O’Brien and his crew collected all the miners’ canoes and towed them several miles away to the mainland. Returning to the mine, they loaded all the sacked gold aboard their big canoe, and making good their escape from the island, they called at the mainland and set fire to the miners’ canoes. Thus the bandits left the prospectors not only sound asleep but absolutely stranded on their island. When we arrived at the mine, the miners were building a canoe in which to send out tw7o men to notify the Police. So, of course, we lost no time in getting after O’Brien.
“Though we wrere much delayed in trying to trace the gang, we had the good luck to find on one of the portages a lot of stuff they had thrown awray when they were heading for the mine. It ■was mostly Perkins’ property: dunnage bags and suitcases containing clothes, books, papers, cameras, films and chemicals for developing and printing. Perkins’ diary was also there. The last entry was made just before you started to run the rapids, and it mentioned the trouble the crew of the first canoe had made before they would make the run. That gave us a clue. We also developed the exposed films, and the prints told us much that we wanted to know.
“It was then that Evans and I saw the picture of you being hauled out of the river after the caribou had sunk your canoe, and it was from Perkins’ diary that we learned that your canoe had been sunk by a mother caribou when you tried to kill her calf with an axe. In the same way we got our first glimpse of Bill Hill, though, of course, we had often heard of Bill and the work he had done in former years for the Police. Besides . . .”
“But,” interrupted Lincoln, “one of the first remarks you made was about Bill being with us. How did you know he was the one man who had escaped death in the rapids?”
“I didn’t know he was with you until I heard you boys say so. And even if I hadn’t seen the photographs of you, it was easy to see who claimed your name when I said: ‘Hello, Lincoln.' Besides I’ll recognize O’Brien the moment I see him from the snapshots you and Perkins took of him, and in the same way, Evans and I will know the rest of the gang. What with the photographs, the diary and the facts we learned at the mine, it was easy to make a pretty good guess as to what had happened at the rapids . . . and as to the disappearance of the rest of your party.”
Then Bill and the Police began questioning each other, and one explanation followed another until Link and I began to nod. Presently I thought I would be more comfortable lying dowrn. The next thing I knewr Bill w:as calling me for breakfast. When I got up, I saw Sergeant Wright looking at his watch. It was twenty-five minutes after one. As I began eating. Link whispered to me:
“We’re going along, too. They’ve settled everything—just what each man is to do.”
Sleds packed and everything in readiness, Sergeant Wright handed his repeatiñg rifle to old Bill. Turning to Lincoln and me the old trailer said: “Now, my boys, follow me, an’ I’ll tell you what to do when we near their fire.”
OFF we started, each one hauling his own sled, and old Bill leading the way. The air was very still, and as we crossed a small muskeg, I noticed a great flashing and flaring of the AuroraBorealis. Already old Bill had disappeared, as it was his intention to travel in advance of us in order to do a little scouting before we arrived. We were to wait for him on the top of the hill.
Though our toboggans were slipping easily and almost noiselessly—a sign of milder weather—it seemed to me as if we would never reach the hill. But, perhaps, that was due to my excitement. Eventually, however, we, did reach there, and after a hard, slow climb with an occasional rest, we gained the top. And there we found old Bill waiting for us. Already he had returned from a visit to the outlaws’ camp.
“Everything’s hunkadory,” he whispered to the Police.
“Then let’s leave our sleds here and get to work,” replied Sergeant Wright.
“Remember, boys . . . not a sound,” old Bill cautioned Link and me. “If you break a twig . . . we’re done for.”
Then in single file, slowly and carefully, we followed him down the trail, Bill with his rifle in hand and the Police with their holster flaps open. Even in the woods we could see fairly well because of the Northern Lights.
The sound of our swishing snowshoes, though scarcely to be heard, worried me.
I felt sure the bandits would hear us coming. I wondered why Bill had not thought of that. I wanted to speak to Constable Evans about it. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I picked up a stick and in order not to step on his snowshoes, I reached forward and touched him with it. Looking round, he stopped. I whispered to him. It was all right. We were to take them off when Bill gave the sign. So on we went again. But I thought we would never get the signal. Though my body was sweating, my fingers were cold and I had to draw my thumbs out of their stalls and enclose them in my hands to try and warm them.
PRESENTLY the Police stopped. Bill was slipping his feet from his snowshoes. I could see the flickering of firelight on the upper branches of some trees ahead. We all slipped off our snowshoes. The Police now withdrew their revolvers from their holsters and the old hunter slipped the cover off his rifle. Though I could not hear what Bill was whispering, I could see him pointing.
Then he went ahead as silently as if floating through space, and as the trail turned to the left, he soon disappeared. We waited. How quiet the woods'seemed! But I could hear Lincoln breathing. It annoyed me until I remembered he was only two feet away from me. Seconds seemed to grow into minutes. I began to wonder what had happened to Bill. At last he returned. Again he and the Police whispered together. Again Bill pointed in
three directions. Then Sergeant Wright and Constable Evans went ahead. Turning to us the old hunter whispered:
“You boys follow me until you come opposite to that clump o’ pines, then stop following me and then move up to those trees. I’ll go along farther, but you’ll have a good view. They’re just beyond those pines.”
It must have taken us minutes to go a hundred feet. Now I could see firelight among the tree trunks. Presently the old hunter pointed to the pines, and we boys took our cue and turned to 6ur right. When we reached the spot, we found that while those trees formed a good screen for us, we had a clear view of the outlaws’ camp.
PRESENTLY I saw Sergeant Wright come into view, and a moment later I also saw Constable Evans and old Bill. All were advancing on the camp from different angles, and holding their guns in readiness to fire. Walking straight up to the brush bed upon which slept six men, the Sergeant kicked one man’s foot, and in a voice that was almost loud enough to wake the dead, he growled: “Hands up! . . . hands up! . . . or we’ll fire!”
Instantly blankets and robes flicked into air and up shot a dozen hands above twelve scowling eyes.
“O’Brien, and you other five ... I arrest you in the name of the Queen. You’re charged with murder and robbery. Don’t drop a hand or I’ll fire! Get up . . . quick now! Line up over there . . . in line I . . .”
But the Sergeant never finished his sentence. The foul-mouthed O’Brien was the last to rise, and in doing so, he suddenly dropped his hands as if to grab a gun that protruded from his bed. Instantly the Sergeant’s revolver roared as a bullet grazed the bandit’s face . . . and his hands flew up again.
“No monkey tricks, O’Brien ... or you’re a dead man!”
After that there was no more trouble. Without turning his head or lowering his gun, the Sergeant then ordered Constable Evans to search the prisoners.
Then old Bill, without lowering his rifle, called to us boys to go back and bring down the sleds. And though we had to make three trips, we made short work of it, as it was all down hill. In the meantime Constable Evans had finished searching the prisoners, their bedding and their sleds, for firearms and knives; all of which he had packed in the Sergeant’s sled.
As everyone and everything was now in readiness, Staff-Sergeant Wright gave the word, and away we marched on our long overland journey to Fort Vengeance. Old Bill was leading the way, Lincoln and I followed, then came the six prisoners all in Indian file, with the Police on guard behind.
guaru ueluhiu. While crossing a lake the old trailer halted the party to rest a spell. The Northern Lights were flashing so vividly they attracted the attention of all; and Lincoln whispered to old Bill as he gazed up at the sky:
"The Dance of the Dead Men!" THE END