WINNER TAKE ALL

Fugitives both and enemies—little wonder that open war flared when Marvin Small came to Kellar’s cabin by the Kla-wheen

Bertrand W. Sinclair August 15 1932

WINNER TAKE ALL

Fugitives both and enemies—little wonder that open war flared when Marvin Small came to Kellar’s cabin by the Kla-wheen

Bertrand W. Sinclair August 15 1932

WINNER TAKE ALL

Fugitives both and enemies—little wonder that open war flared when Marvin Small came to Kellar’s cabin by the Kla-wheen

THREE miles above Bick’s Crossing, Archie Kellar dropped into the bed of the Kla-wheen. West of the Crossing, which he purposely avoided, the undulating solitude of dark spruce forest and frozen swamp lifted to a range of mountains that divided the Kla-wheen from the Upper Yukon. Kellar had learned farther south that the Kla-wheen was a prime fur country where trappers had ceased to trap. They had all turned prospector since Bick Russell discovered a streak of rich placer and put Bick’s Crossing on the map.

Archie knew fur sign. He had seen it everywhere as he neared the Kla-wheen. He saw it more plentifully now. When he came to thé mouth of a nameless creek emptying into the river ten miles or so above the Crossing, he turned south along that narrow, winding streak of ice until he found an ideal site for a cabin.

In ten days he had a primitive sort of roof over his head, log walls, a window of deerskin, scraixxi parchment thin, a bed to sleep in with a mattress of springy hemlock boughs, a rude fireplace to cook his fmxl and keep him warm.

Thus domiciled, he went about the business that brought him there. That is to say, he began running out a line of traps. Furs are money. That women in New York. London, Haris might walk gay in skins of marten, fisher, otter, mink, ermine, down to the humble muskrat and townplanning beaver. Archie Kellar cunningly picked spots and cunningly baited his traps over many a mile. No romantic occupation, this. Work. Frost-nipped fingers. Isolation. A trapper earns his pay.

Archie came in from a second day's journey upstream long after dark. A light glowed through the single deerskin window. Smoke Hung a banner against the Aurora-tinted sky. Strange dogs fraternized with his own. He flung the open. A man sat with his feet to the hearth. The light of a rag wick in a saucer of grease fell on his features when he turned his head. Archie Kellar’s face didn’t alter. Hut his heart seemed to stand still. It leaped to beat with a loud drumlike thumping in his breast after that first stop. And his voice sounded raspy, harsh, resentful, when he said :

“What are you doing here?’’

Archie’s rifle jutted forward. The stock cuddled under his armpit. One upward flip and a crook of his finger. For

the moment he was not simply a trapper surprised by a stranger in his cabin. He was a desperate fugitive emotionally primed to kill or be killed, to die rather than surrender his liberty which had always seemed to him infinitely more precious than his life.

Then he read the startled look, the uncomprehending blankness on the man’s face. Marvin Small didn’t know him. Archie’s brain worked like one of his steel traps. He remembered that two years is a long time. That he had thickened through the shoulders. That his face was weatherbeaten beyond its old urban smoothness. That a year’s beard spread in a brown fan over his chest.

“Why—ah—I just stopped in,” Small murmured. “Coming on night—and—and—”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Archie answered. “Kinda surprised me to find somebody here. You’re welcome.”

Small wasn’t. But the North decrees that phrase, that gesture of hospitality to friend or enemy when night falls in winter. Archie laid aside his gun, threw the carcases of four marten and three mink in a comer to be skinned later, and set about preparing supper.

He had moose steak sizzling in a pan and stewed com steaming before Marve Small spoke again.

“How about having a nip of Scotch before dinner, eh?’’ he asked.

“Scotch?” Archie stared at him. He hadn’t tasted whisky for months.

“Johnny Walker,” Small nodded. “Brought a modicum along from the Crossing.”

nPHEY DRANK. The mellow liquor sent a glow through Archie Kellar. Small poured a second drink before they drew up to the table. After that he grew affable, loquacious in an impersonal way. To Archie, feeling secure behind the mask of change, the world seemed brighter, the wilderness outside less hostile. But after the second drink he took no more. Whereas Small kept taking little drinks from that square bottle, until at last an hour or so after the dishes were washed and put away he burst suddenly into raucous song.

The song itself was nothing much. But it happened to be a popular piece current when this sodden waster and himself were seniors together in a high school in a little Ontario town. And it stirred Archie Kellar to a strange inner frenzy.

“For lord’s sake, shut up!” he cried harshly.

Small rose to his feet. He was half a head taller than Archie, a wide-shouldered, flat-backed man. Four inches longer in the reach. A shifty boxer. On fire with whisky. Archie knew the Small temper, the mean streak that ran in their blood. It had put him where he was.

For the moment he had temper to match. When Small, without warning, slapped him contemptuously, openhanded, across the mouth, Archie tore into him with a curse and his teeth set between parted lips.

It was like a battle between a bull terrier and an Airedale. Small could murder him with those long driving arms. Archie knew that. So he got to close quarters, clinched. They went to the floor, a heaving, squirming tangle of arms, bodies and legs. They sent the table hurtling aside, spilled the crude lamp. Thereafter they fought wordless, panting, on the dirt floor by the glow of the fireplace, until at last Archie got Small’s neck in the crook of his right arm. scissored his short powerful legs about Small’s midriff and kept that hold against Small’s desperate struggle to break loose. Archie was thrown from side to side, banged against the wrall. Once a heave brought him so close to the fire that his hair and beard w'ere singed. But he held on. His grip was like an iron clamp. His legs squeezed the breath out of Small’s lungs, bent his ribs under that fierce pressure. His arm tightened and tightened around the other man’s neck.

Until at last Small suddenly went slack all over.

Archie stood up. Once before he had reduced a Small to that limp stage and he had never regretted the deed. He opened the door, half-dragged, half-carried the unconscious

man to the threshold and heaved him out into the snow.

Then he reconstructed his grease lamp, straightened up his table, felt the bruises on his face with a muttered curse.

As he righted the disorder in his cabin, anger died. The distant howl of a w'olf filled him with a strange awareness of the bitter cold, the dark surrounding forest, the forlorn emptiness that walled in himself and the man he had thrown out into the subarctic night.

“Aw, rats!” he muttered. He opened the door.

Small was sitting up on his haunches, still dazed. Bloody smears stained the snow where he bled as he lay. Archie got his hands under Small’s armpits and dragged him in.

“Don’t act like a fool, Small, just because you got full of Scotch,” he said harshly. “You have to stay here till morning anyway.”

The other man put his elbows on the table and stared at Archie. Small ! It had slipped out unawares. Archie could have bitten his tongue out. Old habit betrayed a man.

“My name’s Kelly,” Small said thickly. “Fat Kelly.”

“Yeah?” Archie answered drily. “Mine’s Murphy. Tim Murphy—from Tipperary. Kelly—from Cork, I suppose.”

Small rocked in a fit of hysterical laughter.

“Kelly from Cork! Murphy from Tipperary!”

He laid his head on his folded arms and wept, choking sobs that wrung something in Archie Kellar’s breast—for all he knew it was the whisky crying, a self-pity loosed by alcohol.

“Here,” he said roughly, “I’ll spread your blankets in a comer. Tum in and sleep it off.”

Small staggered to his bed. Archie piled green chunks on the fire, lay down on his bunk, lay w'ide-eyed, staring at the dim roof-poles above.

The world was too full of Smalls. It had been a mistake to let that name slip out. He fell asleep with that uneasiness in his mind.

'“THEY faced -*• each other at breakfast, by lamplight.

“I’ve got to make a round of my trap line,” Archie said curtly. “You can pull out when you’re ready.”

But Small was still there when Archie returned at nightfall. He had supper ready.

“Think I’m running a boarding house?’’ Archie asked irritably, when he had shed his heavy outer clothing and pulled off the icicles that festooned his beard and mustache.

Bertrand W. Sinclair

The man’s presence troubled him like a threat, a menace to his safety.

“Look here,” Small said placatingly. “In a way I’m up against it. What’s the matter with me staying here with you? I’ll share up for the grub. I can’t winter in Bick’s Crossing. I’d drink myself to death before spring with nothing to do. I’m too green in this country to be able to go it alone.”

“I don’t need a partner,” Kellar said slowly.

“That scrap last night?” Small went on. “You’re not sore about that, are you? It won’t happen again. I was just drunk.”

Again Archie shook his head.

“We ought to get along,” Small chuckled. “Two Micks from the ould sod—Kelly and Murphy.”

“Listen,” Archie said irritably, “I’m not planted in this God-forsaken hole because I love the hermit existence. I’m trapping to make money. I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to be wet nurse to a greenhorn.”

“You might do worse—Archie,” Small answered with a peculiar crinkling of his eyebrows.

So there it was. Run to earth at last. A fierce blaze of anger burned for an instant in Archie Kellar’s breast.

“You know me, then,” he said.

Small’s lip turned up.

“The minute you spoke,” he said. “Even if my name hadn’t slipped off your tongue last night. You don’t have to be scared of me, though—unless you get mean about it.”

“What brings you into this North country?” Archie asked after a minute.

“The tribe shipped me west to get rid of me.” Small answered sullenly. “I got into a mix-up in the bank. Accounts didn’t tally with the cash. The family fixed it up. They send me money—on condition that I never show my face in Ontario again. I just drifted up here. Sort of on the dodge—like yourself. Thought I might do some good up here. But it’s a rotten country. I’ll get out of here, over to the Alaska coast, in the spring.”

Archie digested this thoughtfully.

“Well, how about it?” Small asked presently. “Better let me stick around. I won’t yeep. I hate the Small clan as bad as you do. Self-righteous hypocrites!”

Archie had a quick vision of himself beating Corky Small’s head against a lamp standard and a girl screaming in the street. Marvin Small’s tongue could hang him. Better go easy. He felt that he could almost read Small’s mind.

“Well, we’d better get something to eat,” he said at last.

When the supper dishes were washed they sat by the fire smoking. Small talked,He didn’t threaten. But he made himself understood. If Archie kicked him out to fend for himself next door to the Arctic—well.

“All right,” Archie agreed, “But you’ve got to hold your end up.”

Marvin Small was a poor tool. Archie knew that. The waster of an able if arrogant crowd that had run Pine Centre for three generations. They walked on lesser folk. They had walked on Archie and he had struck back at one of them in a passion of reprisal. And here was this poor stick asserting the Small dominance, in his own feeble way, for his own ends.

But in a sense he was a link with a past that Archie missed. He was a spark of life, a human voice in this white emptiness, and Archie thought he could stand him till spring. After which Marvin Small, drunk or sober, could talk because Archie Kellar meant to shift fast and far. He had had enough of the North.

Small merely wanted to put in the time. I le knew nothing about trapping. He would stand half the grub bill. Putting aside his hatred of the whole Small tribe, Archie reckoned it might not be so bad.

Within a month he regretted his bargain.

SMALL loafed around the camp while Archie tramped miles from trap to trap, stung by the knife-edged cold, leg weary from swinging snowshoes. He would sling his load of furry carcases in a corner to be skinned and stretched later in the long evening. Small was a miserable cook, a poor woodchopper. Lazy and unkempt, except when Archie in disgust shamed him out of his slackness and untidiness.

Archie came home one night to find Small absent. Late, under a sky bright with the awesome gleam of the Northern Lights, Small came in with a sack on his back. He reeked with whisky. Thereafter for three days he remained in various stages of drunkenness, maudlin, a cursed nuisance, until Archie found his cache and hid the three remaining quarts.

Whereupon Small flew into a drunken rage. They fought again. This time Small got Archie foul, beat him until his face was an unsightly mess and he had to reveal the whisky. Until the last drink was down Small kept up his debauch.

Then, sober and nerveshaken, he seemed sorry. Put he wouldn’t go. And Archie couldn’t make him, didn't dare.

"I ought to blow your head off, you no-good parasite!” Archie raged. “If you had the guts of a louse you’d go about your business and leave me alone to mine.”

“I will in the spring,” Small answered sullenly. “Meantime shut up. I’m staying."

Christmas came and passed. A white, hard Yuletide, with barely two hours daylight at midday. Archie's take of fur grew. He spent hours abroad in dark and the thin dawn and lingering twilight. Marten and mink, ermine and otter, foxes; scores of muskrat hung in clusters to the ridge logs. Small had money. He bought a greater variety of food than Archie could have afforded every time he went to Bick's Crossing to lug home bottles of whisky. They were wellfed, comfortable in that Arctic frigidity.

But the cabin reeked w i t h hate. Archie despised his enforced companion. Small felt that bitter contempt, resented it. Sometimes for twenty-four hours they exchanged only mumbled, grudging phrases.

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Continued from page 19

Archie became aware that Small’s animus increased as the long winter closed tighter about them. Small would stare at him sometimes in utter malevolence. Once or twice he broke into a senseless tirade of abuse. The second time he did that, Archie felled him with a single blow of his hard fist.

“Play the game or get out,” he shouted in passion. “I didn’t get you into this jackpot. Don’t snarl at me.”

Small settled back on his bunk. His eyes were red. He had tramped to Bick’s Crossing that day and returned empty-handed except for one bottle. No grub. Archie wondered but said nothing.

Small stared at the ridge logs. His eyes rested on the pelts.

“How much are those skins worth?” he asked suddenly, the first time he had ever shown the least interest in furs or furtaking. It was curious, coming in a purely casual tone, after that brief and bitter clash.

Archie looked up at the skins. “Five or six hundred dollars, I guess,” he answered casually. “Why?”

Small sat up. He had emptied the bottle in half a dozen drinks. He was in that state where a man becomes cantankerous, or boastful, or weepy, according to his nature.

A deck of cards lay on the table where Archie had been playing solitaire by the yellow glimmer of the grease lamp. Small took a bill-fold from his pocket, threw it down beside the cards.

“I’ve got money,” he said truculently. ■ “You’ve got fur. I’m sick of looking at you, listening to you. I’ll play you a hand of poker—my money against your furs and the shack. Winner take all.”

Archie shook his head.

“Come on. Don’t be a cheap piker,” Small taunted. “Let’s play for it and the loser gets out.”

“You’re drunk,” Archie replied contemptuously. “And if you lost you wouldn’t get out anyway.”

“I’ll play you for money, chalk or marbles, you tightwad, you cheapskate!” Small leered. “Come on, you rabbit-skinning nickel pincher. Winner take all !”

“How much money have you got?” Archie asked coldly.

“Plenty,” Small bellowed. “Enough to buy out a dozen like you.”

He staggered up to grab Archie roughly by the shoulder. Kellar shook him off with a thrust that sent Small back on his bunk. Archie picked up the bill-fold, looked inside. There was nothing in it but a few folded papers, one single two-dollar bill.

“And you were going to play that against a thousand dollars’ worth of fur that I’ve sweated blood to get, you dirty cheat!” he sneered. “Winner take all!”

The days were lengthening perceptibly now. February drew to a close. Archie didn’t tell Small that the beginning of March finished trapping. The hair began to slip a little after that.

He meant to wait until the iron grip of winter relaxed a trifle. Then south, swiftly and alone to the nearest post where he could trade in his fur. He had done well. He had enough to leave the North. He hated the eternal white night, the cold and the silence. He was afraid of Marvin Small, of his loose tongue. It could hang him or bury him for life. And Small hated him now so much that he would deliberately betray him as soon as spring opened, and gloat over his accomplishment. Archie felt sure of that.

For a week Small sulked and brooded, snarled at times as if something troubled him deeply, and he longed to take it out on Archie but didn’t quite dare. Then he went to Bick’s Crossing, remained two days and returned to camp sober, empty-handed, morose.

"Say,” he addressed Archie that evening, “let me have a few of those skins. I can sell 'em in the Crossing. Mail’s delayed or something. My money’s long overdue.”

“No,” Archie said shortly. “We have

grub enough to get along. All you want money for is whisky. You can get along without that if I have to pay for it.”

"You—you—” Small almost choked on the words. Archie shrugged his shoulders. He was beyond insult.

SMALL kept going to the Crossing, returning empty-handed. He changed his snarling attitude. He talked placatingly to Archie Kellar. His funds had ceased to come. He couldn’t understand why. The Smalls were financially as strong as Gibraltar. He had two hundred dollars due every quarter. Man couldn’t get along without money.

“We’re getting along,” Archie pointed out. “We’ve got grub and a place to sleep. Sometimes mail takes months to get up here in winter. You’re better off without it. You’re impossible when you’re drinking.” “You’re impossible any time,” Small flared. “Well, they’d better send me that money or I’ll go back and make ’em wish they had.”

When March was a week old, Archie lugged the last load of traps into a cold, dark cabin. Small was away again. Not till he was warm and cooking supper did Archie notice anything amiss. Then his eye fell on his hanging pelts and a cold fury filled him. Two otter and two cross fox, the most precious skins he had taken, were gone from the cluster above.

For a minute Archie shook with rage. If he could have laid hands on Marve Small he would have beaten his head to a bloody pulp as he had beaten Corky Small, even though it outlawed him doubly. But he cooled off as he ate. There was going to be an end soon to this damnable situation. In two or three days he would be ready to go himself. It didn’t matter so much that Marve Small had stolen those skins to buy liquor, that he would come home craftily, knowing that drunkenness on trail means death in a snowbank, and get himself filthy drunk there and taunt Archie Kellar with being a fugitive.

Archie’s reckoning was correct. He could hear Small coming up the creek bed, singing a ribald song, yapping at his dogs. He came into the cabin with an armful of packages, a bottle sticking out of each pocket. He was happy again.

“Why, you blasted fool,” he answered Archie’s quiet protest. “What was the sense in us needing things when you had furs worth money? Be a sport for once in your life.”

Archie kept the stopper on his wrath until late that night. Small drank himself into the state where he always began to sneer, to hint darkly that he held Archie Kellar’s life and liberty in the hollow of his hand—or the slack of his tongue !

Archie blew up at last. He leaped at Small with his short thick arms flailing. He scarcely felt Small’s defensive blows; to such a pitch did hjs anger against the man rise. He drove ináide those long arms and smashed Small down into a corner of the room, hammered at him until Small’s defiant cursing became a submissive moan.

“You’ve got to get out of here right now,” Archie panted when he let up and they stood glaring into each other’s bloody faces. “I can’t stand you any longer. You’ve devilled me until I’m crazy enough to kill you. Nobody could stomach you. A man that’ll steal his shack partner’s fur to buy whisky! You’re a dirty, lowdown dog!” “All right,” Small said sullenly. “If I die in a snowbank it’ll be your fault, blast you !”

That was the whisky talking, Archie knew. Small could act the martyr just like a hysterical woman, become the aggrieved and abused party to cover his own shortcomings. He wouldn’t go.

Still, he got his things together while Archie watched in contemptuous silence. When Small had cleaned his marked face, stood fully clothed and went to the door to whistle up his dogs, Archie felt the swift

inrush of air that stabbed flesh like a hot iron. And he relented. Wind had risen. There was a blizzard in the making. Fine articles of snow flung into the room. And apparently Small, half-drunk, meant to fare out into that inhospitable night.

"Daylight’s time enough,” Archie said grudgingly. "It’s turned into an awful night.”

‘Think I’d stay here now with a cheap stinker like you?” Small flared up.

He got his dogs hitched, put his roll of bedding and part of their food supply, his axe and snowshoes and rifle, on the sled.

"I’ll see you hanged yet for killing Corky Small,” he flung spitefully over his shoulder and banged the door.

Archie sat looking into the fire, fingering the bruises on his face. That parting shot didn’t trouble him. Before Marvin Small could put the law on his trail he would be far away and his trail obliterated.

Yet as he cooled off he began to visualize that half-drunken incompetent staggering under the lash of the blizzard with ¿he thermometer at fifty below. If he took two or three more drinks he would get drowsy and lie down. In half an hour or less he would be a rigid corpse.

Archie opened the door and looked into the night. Spruce tops bent in the wind. Eerie signs and sibilant whinings ran through the forest. Gusts of wind flung up loose snow in cutting particles.

“I can’t let the drunken fool go in this,” he muttered. “It’s murder.”

He cursed Marvin Small’s petty soul into the bottomless pit, but he hurried into his clothes, took a pitchy knot and lit it in the fire. Along the snowy bed of the creek this torch showed him Small’s track. It was drifting full already. But sufficient remained to show him the way.

INSTEAD of going downstream to reach the Kla-wheen and Bick’s Crossing, Small had gone up, headed south. Whether by accident or design, Archie couldn’t know. But as he followed that vanishing trail his uneasiness grew. He had trapped miles of that country to the south, guiding himself by blazed lines. The creek ran out in a swampy area. There were patches of thin ice over bubbling springs. Even if Small, blundering in the dark, escaped these traps, once he got into that range of swamps and glades and stretches of spruce he could never find his way out again.

The drunken fool! Archie raged. And hurried with quick strides to overtake him. The wind pressed at his back along that dark aisle between the trees, lighted by the spluttering flame of his pitchy torch.

Small had no great start. Archie Kellar could outwalk most men. He overtook Small after a mile or so. The blaze of his torch made a yellow haze through which the driven snow swirled.

“You’re headed out into the bush,” Archie said. “You’ll never get anywhere. Come on back and start right. There’s no sense in this.”

“There isn’t, eh?” Small snarled. He thrust his face forward. He had been hitting the bottle. He had it in his hand by the neck. And with a quick snakelike motion he struck Archie squarely on top of the head with the bottle. Archie dropped like a man shot, like a pedestrian slugged with a blackjack on a dark street.

He came out of that unconsciousness alone in the glimmer and whine of the storm. The torch had guttered out beside him. He felt a deadly languor. He would have been well content to close his eyes again. But he knew that was the end of him if he did. That portion of his brain which had roused him urged him to his feet. He stumped laboriously forward on legs he could scarcely compel to do his bidding, step by step against that knife-edged wind until he reached his cabin.

He knew the moment he stirred after Small had knocked him out that something had happened to his feet and hands while he lay there. As his blood warmed his fingers began to sting, to burn. But his feet remained wooden, unfeeling.

He got his moccasins and socks off.

Thrust his feet in a basin of cold water. The frost had bitten deep. All his toes, a goodly portion of each heel, were white and stiff to touch. When the blood began to stir in that frosted flesh he could have screamed with agony. It was like being seared with a hot iron.

His feet grew swollen. He smeared them with grease, piled more wood on the hearth and crawled into his bunk, on fire with pain. And while he lay there, wondering if he would lose his toes, if he would go crippled through life hereafter, the door flew open. Marvin Small staggered in.

“I couldn’t make it,” he whimpered. “When the cold sobered me up I got scared I’d be lost.”

“You knocked me cold and left me lying there,” Archie said. “I froze my feet before I come to.”

Small stared at him silently.

“Try to act like a man and not like a vindictive fool,” Archie continued. “You’ll have to stick around here and look after me for a few days. Till I can stand on my feet again—if I ever do.”

By morning his feet were swollen twice their size and full of intolerable pain, red and angry like boils. Small cooked him food after a fashion, kept the fireplace stoked. Otherwise he smoked, brooding by the fire. Now and then Archie caught him staring through narrow-lidded eyes with a mixture of apprehension and calculation.

“What’s eating on you?’’ Archie demanded at last.

“I ought to go in to the Crossing and see if there’s any mail for me,” he answered slowly. “I got to have money. They promised to send it as long as I stayed outside Ontario.”

“You’d only go on another big bust,” Archie remarked cynically. “Better let it slide till I can walk.”

But Small wouldn’t. He left food and a pan of water beside Archie, piled green wood in the fireplace and struck out in the hard bright sunshine that followed the storm. He came back empty-handed, sourfaced.

The following night Archie Kellar was faintly conscious of a stir in that dark cabin. But the pain in his feet had lessened. He was naturally a heavy sleeper. He didn’t really awaken. He was only drowsily conscious enough to wonder what Small was doing up in the middle of the night.

The Northern nights were still long. Archie wakened from habit long before daybreak. He didn’t hear the accustomed snore. He struck a match to see the time. The glimmer showed Small’s bunk empty of man and blankets.

“Hey,” Archie called. “Oh, Small.”

No answer. Archie stretched to the table and lit the grease lamp. By its glow he saw a looted interior. Item by item he missed things, bare grub shelves and sacks, the last least one of all those stretched furs gone from the ridge-log pegs.

“The dirty, low-lifed dog!’’ Archie muttered. “He’s robbed me and lit out.”

Even so. And he couldn’t follow the treacherous thief. Not a step. He might crawl on all fours about the cabin. He did. But he couldn’t put his weight on those swollen feet. The inflamed flesh would burst open if he did.

HE WAITED till dawn crept in through the parchment-thin deerskin window. Then he crawled to the fireplace. Then he crawled outside and heaved in sticks of wood. Small’s dogs and sled were gone. All that he left behind was a little black bag which had been stowed under Archie’s bunk for lack of room elsewhere, and there was nothing in that but a few papers and : trinkets of no value. The sled track ran downstream this time.

Luckily he had a great stack of chopped wood. There was a little flour, a slab of frozen moosemeat hanging outside, and tea. Everything else was looted, traps, fur, grub. Cleaned out and left helpless. Archie gritted his teeth.

Within forty-eight hours he began to ! contemplate his toes with the conviction { that he would lose them. They were

blackened and his heels were purple. Presently they would begin to rot. He reflected upon such ghastly things as gangrene and bkxxl poisoning.

There might be a doctor in Bick’s Crossing. But unless that swelling and inflammation subsided he couldn’t stand up long j enough to harness his dogs, and the huskies would tear him to pieces if he went creeping ' among them. Even to sit on a sled all the way to Bick’s Crossing meant almost certain freezing again. Winter in its last throes held the North in a steel-band grip. The air coruscated with frost particles. The snow crunched like dry salt.

So Archie lay in his bunk, waiting as a wounded animal waits with brooding patience for death or relief from pain. He kept a fire and he ate. But he was cracking under the strain. Sometimes it seemed to him that he must be living in some terrible nightmare from which he must soon awaken.

He began to hear things, sled runners creaking, voices. Once or twice he crawled to open the door and look out, crawled back with a sound in his throat that was half sob and half curse.

He had never shown his face in Bick’s Crossing. Unless Small had talked, no one knew the location of Archie’s cabin, nor that such a trapper existed on an unnamed fork of the Kla-wheen. Not even an Indian’s snowshoe track had crossed his trap lines all that winter. He was buried alive. What he heard was merely an illusion born of hope.

And so he stared with incredulous eyes at the figure of a man bending over him at noon of the fifth day after Marvin Small’s nocturnal flight.

A fire burned. The room was warm where Archie remembered it last as chill and lonely. He stared at the man.

He was middle-aged, rubicund, welldressed. He lacked the brown, hard look of trappers and prospectors, all such as traffic in the North’s lonely spaces. A town man. Archie glared. Nemesis? His rifle was tucked under his sleeping bag. His hand stole beneath to close on the weapon.

‘‘You appear to be in rather bad shape,”

I the man broke silence first. ‘‘Are you ill or injured?”

‘‘Frost-bitten feet,” Archie replied.

! ‘‘Mow’d you happen along here?”

The man cleared his throat.

“I was—er—commissioned in Edmonton ! to come up here and get in touch with you personally, Mr. Small,” he said.

Archie blinked. The man took him for Marvin Small, was looking for Small. Archie held his peace. This was no officer come to drag him back to Ontario for killing Corky Small. Let it stand.

“Mow’d you manage to find me?” he asked. He was curious about that. The man must have come through Bick’s Crossing. If so, why had he net encountered Small? Or perhaps Marvin Small, with all that loot, had struck west. Probably.

“You were receiving mail from your family at Bick’s Crossing,” the man explained. “When I reached there and enquired for you by the—ah—name you have been using, I was directed to your camp on this creek. I engaged an Indian to guide me here.”

“Where’s your Indian now?” Archie asked quickly.

“He is waiting for me where this creek forks from the river,” the man frowned. “Indians are queer cattle. He said this creek was bad country, very bad for Indians."

Indian taboo. Archie knew something of their strange superstition about localities. He ncxided, sat up and examined his feet. He thrilled to find life in his blackened toes.

: They were sore, tender as so many boils.

I But the bkxxl coursed through them. He ■ would not go limping through life after all.

Then he came back to the visitor who fiad called him Mr. Small.

“How’d you know I’m Marve Small?” he asked.

“Your identity was easy to establish,” the other replied. “When I came in you were apparently in a sort of coma. After building a fire I looked about among your

effects. You will. I’m sure, pardon the liberty I took, but in that bag I found sufficient to identify you as the man I sought.”

ARCHIE fcilowed the pointing finger.

Small’s black bag stood on the table, open. He smiled. Small hadn’t dared go under the bed for fear of waking him.

“Well,” he said curtly. “Now you’ve found me, what’s your business with me?” For answer the man drew a letter from his pocket. Archie looked at the envelope a long time before he tore it open.

“Your Aunt Etta,” the letter ran, “died recently. She entrusted me with the administration of her estate. She stipulated that ten thousand dollars in cash should be paid to you. Personally I consider it a mistake, but I have no choice. Probably you’ll go on one grand bust instead of using it to make something of yourself.

So to carry out this last minute wish of hers I’ve engaged a man in Edmonton to locate you and deliver this bequest personally. He is to hand over the money and get a receipt for same.

You need not look to the family for any further financial assistance such as you have been receiving.

This is final. Cochran Small.”

The blood rushed to Archie Kellar’s face. Cochran Small! And he had left Corky lying in a pool of blood, thinking him dead, glad that he was dead, more than two years ago. He knew Corky’s signature. He had seen it on documents without number.

And Marve Small had known that Corky was still alive. He had traded on that all winter. The dirty, scheming dog !

Archie looked up at the roof beams where his winter catch had hung. Winner take all! The phrase rang in Archie Kellar’s brain. Why not? Ten times ten thousand would not recompense half what the Smalls had done to him.

“Corky says you are to pay over ten thousand dollars in cash,” he addressed the man.

The other nodded. Smiled faintly.

“It was so arranged by your cousin, who explained to me in Edmonton the—ah— reasons for this somewhat peculiar method he chose to adopt in dealing with this matter,” he said primly. "Kindly sign this receipt.”

He handed over a heavy manila envelope, a briefly typed sheet.

Archie ran his fingers absently through sheaf after sheaf of hundred-dollar notes. Then he signed "Marvin Small” in the bold script of his ov/n handwriting.

“Have you, by any chance, an envelope and a sheet of paper?” he asked.

The man had both in a small leather case.

“Corky Small,” Archie wrote, “Three years ago you gypped me out of everything I had, to the net value of eight thousand seven hundred dollars by one of those sharp bits of legal trickery for which the Small family is noted.

Within a few days, after dealing me four months of misery, your rotter cousin, Marvin Small, stole a thousand dollars worth of fur from me and sneaked away in the dark leaving me crippled and helpless in a cabin miles from any one.

Accounts, however, are now tolerably square between us. How, I leave you to figure out. Very truly yours,

Archibald Kellar.”

He addressed the envelope, “Mr. Cochran Small.”

Archie hobbled to the door to watch the man trudge downstream to join his Indian guide. A shaft of the noon sun struck through a black cleft in the spruce. Archie smiled. His sore feet ached, but long before that Small emissary delivered that letter to Cochran Small’s hand, those sore feet would carry him without pain. He would be on his way.

Winner take all!

He laughed aloud at the manner of his winning.

The End